Author Archives: Ali Maxwell

The Primrose League

I would like to introduce to you a man named Daniel Earwicker; musician, personal hero of mine, and someone who, I daresay, probably knows a fair few of Johnny Marr’s Smiths parts better than perhaps even Johnny Marr himself. 

I first got to know of him a couple of years ago, during the time when I was just beginning with the Smiths, and in particular the guitar style that Marr made them synonymous with. Being a keen beginner guitarist at this point, I naturally wanted to pick up some of their tunes, and a quick search of YouTube for covers to help me threw up Daniel Earwicker’s channel, overflowing with closeups of him and his guitar picking out each intricate note. It was great, he had every song sounding bang on, even to the point where people began to question his identity; question whether he was in fact Marr himself or not. Us mortals could now play along and follow those famous rhythms. After posting a dozen or so covers, he uploaded his first song – ‘What’s It Like To Always Be Wrong.’ It set the blueprint of what was to come; Smiths-esque riffs, abstract lyrics, rhythmic, pounding drums and beating bass. At a first listen, you would be forgiven for thinking that it is him with his band playing one of their own compositions, having possibly booked a few hours in a studio one day.

But this is what makes Earwicker so remarkable; beyond the songwriting and guitar talent, he also plays the bass, drums, piano, as well as singing on his songs. In addition to this, he records, engineers, produces and masters every song from his computer, utilising various bits of recording equipment. After about a year, he eventually released a full-length, eleven track album, entitled ‘Stigmata Playing Up Again,’ in 2008.

The bottom line of the album is this: this album is not just good for just one person’s work; this album is great full stop. Each song is a Rickenbacker symphony, backed by offbeat and driving drums, complemented by numerous superb basslines, topped off by a great vocals carrying abstract lyrics through. His words are engaging yet obscure; I’ve been listening to the album for about eighteen months now, and careful listening and wondering has left me with my own interpretation of the lyrics, but I’m sure others’ will be different, and I am sure Mr. Earwicker would have had something entirely different on his mind the day he wrote it. For me, the lyrics can be interpreted to contain a range of various themes such as oppression (‘Hyprochrondria’), war that can befall family (Guerilla Warfare), and the pressure to perform (‘The World is Waiting for Your Invention).

On a geekier side, this man clearly knows his way around Pro Tools. Each song sounds like a polished, well recorded piece of work, oozing quality and the dulcet tones of some very expensive instruments indeed (many guitarists can only hope to have one tenth of Daniel’s immense guitar collection). His recording process, that he outlines in one of his video comments, usually takes a few hours; he records drums, bass, guitars, then writes the lyrics for the music, and sings it. He spends the rest of the day editing and mastering, before cutting together a video, and uploading the video usually late on a Sunday night. He justifies this: “The latest song I uploaded, I must admit to being extremely eager to let people hear it right away, the same day I started working on it,” in a interview with MonitorDown three years ago.

The album was followed by a second effort, ‘Letters to Cyril Connolly,’ the following year. The same army of expensive guitars remained, as did the superb sparkling riffs and jangling acoustics, but a feeling of new wave began to seep in, guitar effects were used more extensively. The album was completed and all tracks previewed within 10 months, and work immediately began on the third, entitled ‘Havoc Monk Unseen.’ This album is still an in progress work, but the music continues to develop, with increasingly funkier basslines, altered guitar sounds, drum machines, and banjos as well.

Having completed and completely self-published nearly three full-length albums in five years is a feat that many bands may not achieve, so it makes it even more remarkable that one man, producing and  writing all material, can do it so well. He continues to pump out high quality covers and songs about every three weeks or so, his latest being an intense take on ‘Hand in Glove’ by the same band that launched him on YouTube, the Smiths, featuring an roaring inimitable bass part.  Every time I see his name in my subscription box, it’s like a little treat on my Sunday evening, and something I won’t be able to keep myself away from for at least the next week.

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Why I Don’t Want The Stone Roses to Reform

Not for the first time this year, and certainly not for the first time since they split, The Stone Roses are allegedly set to reform. Yesterday, The Sun (yes, not the first time that this newspaper have declared a ‘reunion’) announced that The Roses are set to reform, having set up ‘for a series of comeback gigs.’ You may think that this is just mere rumour, and there has been a lot of this in the past, but none have had as much apparent credibility as this one. A high-up music PR has announced a press conference in London to make a ‘very important announcement,’ with a another source stating that ‘It has been a tough few months getting everything sorted out, but the outcome has all the lads smiling again’ [The Sun]. In case you were wondering, this press announcement is set for Tuesday.

But, there is more. Former drummer Alan ‘Reni’ Wren, who has been virtually silent since he left the group in 1995 has contacted the NME with a short message: ‘Not before 9T will I wear the hat 4 the Roses again.’

It is very unusual for a former member not to quash rumours about alleged upcoming reunions outright fairly quickly. This message is not particularly clear, and does not immediately dispel the rumours, depending on which way you look at it. What does ‘9T’ mean? Could it refer to the age of ninety, suggesting Reni will never drum with the group again, or could it be a reference to ‘9am Tuesday?’ Who knows. It is certainly not the usual scorn expressed by John Squire or Ian Brown in these circumstances.

Whatever this all means, I am very uneasy about a serious prospect of the Roses reforming. There is a part of me that would give anything to see one of the finest bands that the world has ever seen perform in real life on stage. But the other part of me, the sensible side, is a little bit more subdued.

Firstly, the band, in the fifteen or so years since they split, have attracted many new fans, gained massive status, and the legend that has come to surround them is beaten by few. This means that a reunion would be placing tremendous pressure on the band’s collective shoulders, plus the fact that they have literally only one chance at a comeback show. If they mess it up, the mystique and phenomenon surrounding them could be damaged, possibly irrecoverably.

Secondly, the thing that no fan wants their disbanded band to do: reconvene for money, and money only. A series of return shows for the band would definitely pay significantly for each member, but for a group that was always more of a gang than a musical party, the original lad’s troop, a reformation just for money would be absolutely heartbreaking.

John Squire has said in the past that a reunion for money would be ‘tragic.’ This, coupled with all the other things that members ‘would rather do’ (I will compile a list one day) than reform the Roses, puts anyone with common sense in the mindset that it would be impossible for them to be onstage with each other again. However, back in April, John and Ian apparently made up at the wake of Mani’s Mother’s funeral, but any hastily suggested possibilities of a regroup were quickly crushed from all sides. That being said, if friendships were rekindled, things could have been set in motion. Mani has maintained that it is just John and Ian that need to sort themselves out, he’s always been up for it.

A reunion will probably destroy the Roses legend of being an amazing band that died a death, that lives on through fans and the music. I would rather it stayed that way, continuing to attract drama, speculation, interest, memorial and the hype of legend, than for them to become ‘just another reformed band.’

It would still be more incredible than words can say to hear the introduction to ‘I Wanna be Adored’ pouring out over a crowd again.

Edit: I think that Mattie Bennett, of ‘Straw,’ sums up my view and feelings perfectly: ‘No. As much as I love The Stone Roses, this will be bad. Nostalgic bullshit. Leave that to Suede and Pulp. Not life changing bands. Their legacy will be destroyed’ [From the NME].


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An Introduction to…Dubstar

Sarah Blackwood first encountered Chris Wilkie and Steve Hillier in a pub up in Gateshead, where they sat, drank, and, amongst other things, discussed and appreciated the Smiths. Wilkie and Hillier needed a decent singer for their group, and Sarah, as the story goes, had been brought to their attention due to her then boyfriend leaving one of demo tapes at Hillier’s flat.

‘The Joans’ had formed after one or two of Chris’s bands had gone under, and while finding something to do in the meantime, he met Steve while he was DJing at the ‘Walkers’ nightclub. Chris struck up a conversation, and the subject turned to forming a band.

‘It turned out he’d had similar aspirations of his own, sitting in his bedroom in Jesmond, wanting to be a singer.’ remembers Chris of this first meeting. ‘He said he played the guitar a bit which disappointed me because I knew that I was a good guitarist and I thought that the guitar would be my bag. But he was also a programmer – playing keyboards – because he’d had to make his own demos at home. So he invited me over to his place to listen to what he’d been doing.’ (1)

Chris had been playing guitar since he was 6, and, like so many other budding musicians of the time, had been influenced by Johnny Marr (just as a certain Noel Gallagher had been). Marr and co had such an influence on Wilkie that the band name that him and Steve eventually chose was modelled on ‘The Smiths’ – ‘The Joans’ – an average name carrying on the simple ethos. The name was eventually changed due to concerns of being mis-labelled as another indie rock group.

After hearing that demo tape (which happened to be ‘Sunday Morning’ by The Velvet Underground (2) by Sarah, she was recruited as their lead vocalist. They recorded a few demos with the support of their now manager Graeme Robinson, of who’s attention the group first came to after he witnessed one of their shows in early 1994.

Their big break came through when one of these demos found it’s way into the hands of Andy Ross, the boss of record label Food Records. He was so enlivened by the band that he promptly met with them in Newcastle and signed them to the label. It wasn’t as if this was a hobby, start-up label either; ‘Blur’ was also one of their signings. For the young Sarah Blackwood, this was overwhelming; ‘I kept thinking either I had sold my soul or done something very very good in a previous life’ she recalls. (2)

They recorded their first album in a studio near Bath with Steven Hague, who was fresh from recording Blur’s ‘To The End’ and New Order’s ‘Republic.’ The eventual end product, the 11 track ‘Disgraceful’ (along with it’s controversial cover art, seen below, which was banned by Woolworths due to bearing a resemblance to certain part of the female anatomy) was released in October 1995 on Food Records, who by now had been absorbed into record giant EMI.

The album eventually yielded four singles, quite an achievement for a debut. ‘Stars’ and ‘Anywhere’ loitered around the bottom end of the top 40, but it was ‘Not So Manic Now’ that got the band finally noticed, achieving an entry position of 18th.

What followed was the usual run around of TV shows, festivals, and concerts. Their Reading and Top of the Pops appearances that year helped expose them to a further audience.

A follow up came in 1997, reordered this time in Stephen Hague’s own studio in New York, entitled ‘Goodbye,’ and was met with praise.This was supposed to be their big entrance to the US, paving the way for a tour, but due to corporate mergers, their album was not high on the promoter’s to-do list, and the tour never materialized. However a small UK tour was undertaken, including an appearance at one of the wettest Glastonburys to date. The band played a great rendition of ‘Stars,’ with Sarah’s vocals right on, and Chris looking as cool as hell on stage right with his guitar. The performance can be seen here.

Sessions for their third album occupied most of 1998, although hardly anything came from them, with relationships within the outfit beginning to show cracks from the pressures of touring and songwriting. After a short break however, by 1999, along with a new producer, the album eventually got recorded, finally released in August 2000 entitled ‘Make it Better.’

The band, instead of doing what every true fan would hate, and begrudgingly carrying on for the sake of a large paycheck, called it a day and agreed an amicable split in 2000, thereby retaining their dignity and image without it being blighted by infighting, and break-up horror stories. The band continued to sell however, with a ‘Best of’ compilation released in 2004.

That was, however, not the end. After a couple of false starts, the band came together to produce a charity single for Amnesty International. This reinvigorated the band, now, in August 2011, their new album ‘United States of Being’ is now at the mixing stage, with a larger audience awaiting their return.

So what of their actual music? Well, it is difficult to sum up. They span dance, pop, dream pop, and alternative rock. In particular, their earlier releases are defined by melodic vocals, atmospheric and dreamy keyboards, and ethereal guitars. ‘Stars’ and ‘The Day I See You Again’ are laden with beautiful chord progressions, and ‘The Self Same Thing’ bears all the hallmarks of a classic pop/rock song. Lyrics are, according to Wilkie, based on real life experiences, are lucid enough to give an idea while at the same time not being obviously blatant, as well as inviting further discussion as to their meaning. Subjects such as Sexual equality through to elderly abuse, as well as tales of collapsing relationships are all covered within the songs. Sputnikmusic sum up ‘Disgraceful’ as ‘Wonderful ‘The Smiths’ aping synth pop,’ (3) which is true. In some places, for example on ‘Anywhere’ it is Johnny Marr’s guitar plus keyboards.

It is the sort of music that screams summers of the nineties, providing large elements of dance and indie pop from the era. Stephen Hague also brings his electronic touch to their sound, having experienced and influenced the likes of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and the Pet Shop Boys in his time.

Dubstar are a very underrated group, having never broken through in the States, and while they had their time in the UK, they are not as well remembered as they should have been. However, release of their new album is set to bring them back into the spotlight, heralding a new era for this band.

Dubstar: Left to Right: Steve Hillier, Sarah Blackwood, Chris Wilkie

Recommended Listening: Stars and No More Talk and The Day I See You Again

Recommended Albums: ‘Disgraceful’ and ‘The Best of Dubstar.’



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