Sixty for 60: 13. Gravel Samwidge

To celebrate my 60th birthday, I asked my social media friends to nominate a favourite song from 2021 – 60 to commemorate the fact I am 60.

Today. Again, today I am breaking my own rules. I do not believe this was a nomination but certainly a) I have been aware of this for some time now, and b) these are some of my old homeboys from Brisbane and as such take precedence. It has only been in recent months that I no longer miss Brisbane and its sun and isolation and massive lawns every day – this, more than five years since I moved back to the UK. Haywards Heath is similar: but as yet, I have not discovered the space or underground music scene that made Brisbane so bearable and indeed desirable. And the grunge! Sometimes, it feels like Brisbane’s Gravel Samwidge – and the much-missed, sadly departed Bek Moore – are the only people left this side of the Arm himself to understand what was meant by “the grunge”.

Today, we have Gravel Samwidge – ‘Wrong Way’ (Swashbuckling Hobo Records).

Mess. Noise. Freedom. Beer. Sprawling comatose under share houses. Loudness. Camaraderie. Loving the loud rock and most all that goes with it. Loving the weird little scuttling creatures that lurk beneath the abandoned car in the garage under your share house.

Or, as Robert Brokenmouth says about their newest vinyl Complaints:

It’s quite unpleasant, and I may never listen to it again. But if I do, it will be very loud, and I will end up in jail. I like Gravel Samwidge. They’re out of kilter with everything else around right now. The songs put the listener right in the singer’s place, their intense, irritated narrative. The Gravels write songs as natural to Australia as the King Brown Snake, and just about as cuddly.

Agreed. He goes on to mention a fair bit about The Birthday Party and The Scientists – but bearing in mind I have been cited on numerous occasions as saying Kim Salmon invented grunge in Australia years ahead of schedule, I think we can safely say me and the Brokenmouth are spewing forth syllables from the same dusty semen-impregnated hymn book here. He also adds this most excellent disclaimer:

Don’t get “Complaints” if you want to dance (get the Revillos’ Cherry Red box, “Stratoplay” instead). Don’t get “Complaints” if you think that Nirvana were stoner rock, nor if you think Mudhoney stole Nirvana’s glory. This ain’t Seattle-nostalgia. This is something very nasty out of Brisbane. Get “Complaints” if you’re a grumpy old git like me who wants the world to pay a bit more attention to itself, and you fancy a turn inside yourself. Down a wrong way street, naturally.

So true. Ain’t Seattle nostalgia at all: this is specifically Aussie RULES and more specifically Brisbane and also nasty and cuddly and twisted (though, much as I love the new Revillos box, gotta say that it’s mostly irrelevant after the first disc). So that’s that. Gravel Samwidge: two MASSIVE fucking thumbs up from ME! This is like Fontaines DC or Idles or someone, but really fucking good. (NOTE: I like Fontaines DC and Idles and someone.) THEY KICK SOME FUCKEN ASS.

As I wrote before:

I really appreciate any music that sounds this sludgy and acerbic and sarcastic. Music that captures a moment in time, and doesn’t move forwards, only sideways. I really appreciate any music that makes me feel a little less alone. I really appreciate any music that can remind me of music that’s actually near-impossible to duplicate but tries anyway and gloriously, deliriously fails. Music that makes me shuffle backwards and forwards, rooted on the spot, waving my non-hair in abandon. In my head, I’m dancing. Always dancing. In my head, I’m surrounded by music like this and I’m leaning out of a third-flight window throwing whiskey bottles at the dullards below. In my head, this is the sound to aim for: drawn-out and lingering and not a little woozy. Everything is a failed climax. Everything is anchovies.

If there were from Birmingham UK, they’d be called The Nightingales, and Stewart Lee would be making gloriously brilliant documentaries about their sadly never-realised glory years.

How NOT to write about music – 143. Kurt Cobain

16

Here is the original transcript.

Seattle, 1994

I’m walking through an airport, a bag of vinyl records under my arm.

I’m watching the lights sparkle and twinkle over the city of Seattle – my favourite sight in the world – as tears crease down my face, and I’m wishing I was anywhere but.

I’m in a hotel room, incoherent rage coursing through me and just as rapidly dying away again. I make a great show of pouring the remains of my whiskey bottle down the sink but it’s meaningless. “Have you heard the news,” cipher after cipher asks me on the phone. “Have you heard the news?” Oh, is the news important then, all of a sudden?

I’m dully asking the check-in desk whether they have any cheaper flight tickets because I have to get some place and I have to get there now. They find me cheaper flight tickets, half price death special.

I’m talking to my friend Eric on the telephone. He’s in LA and I’m in Ohio, and he’s telling me that he and his party want to meet me at the residence. Need to meet me at the residence. I want to know what to do and he’s telling me that I should go there. Now. I want to know what to do, and in the background behind his airport pay phone I can hear a babble of voices, many raised. He says he’ll send a limousine for me. He says that’s what will happen. I want to know what will happen. He says he’ll send a car for me. He’s in LA and I’m in Cincinnati. We don’t talk about it.

I’m walking through the airport to the departure lounge and Steve’s taken my records from me and I have nothing with me, no hand baggage, just a passport and an old pair of jeans.

I’m in Mark’s apartment and I’m looking at my jeans and saying something about how maybe neither of us care – and he certainly wouldn’t have given a damn – but it feels disrespectful. It’s not raining outside. It’s fucking beautiful and Mark says something about that, about how weather changes moods. I cut my toenail badly, clipping it with an unfamiliar tool. The TV is on momentarily. Loads of sheep baaing in the field. We switch it off.

I’m on the plane and Seattle is twinkling and I want to stay circling the city forever. I think of all the people who’ve met me in Arrivals over the years. No friends are meeting me today, just a chauffeur who refrains from talking. The first time I landed in SeaTac it was snowing so thickly we couldn’t see the ground until the wheels hit the tarmac and even then we couldn’t see the ground. The tears spiral around my face, dried on there by the years. I’m on an airplane going nowhere. I have nothing to listen to.

I’m in a limousine and there seems to be some kind of roadblock up ahead, a scrimmage of reporters and police officers. We’ll never get through that. We’ll have to go round, won’t we? The driver turns round and looks at me, almost for the first time. “That’s our destination, buddy.”

I’m up in a bedroom and people are crying.

I’m standing by a winding staircase, and people are crying and shouting.

I’m hugging myself. I’m talking on the telephone to my mother, wondering how she’s managed to track me down to a telephone booth in an American airport. I’m missing my lost friends, badly.

I’m in a corner, and the opposing factions try and talk to me. I have nothing to say, no bag of records to show everyone to enthuse them with, to make them laugh or something. I have no stories or funny vomiting acts. Mark comes over, and says nothing.

I’m in a hotel bathroom, watching the remains of the bottle disappear down the sink.

I’m standing outside a fast food joint, looking at the sun.

I’m wondering if anyone’s ever going to want to listen to stories again.

Illustration: Vincent Vanoli

You can still buy the book. Send £13 via PayPal to ramonesfan79@yahoo.co.uk

 

How NOT to write about music – 96. The Wedding Present

the wedding present

I haven’t admitted to a love for The Wedding Present for many years, but I recall writing a spirited defence of their second album Bizarro shortly after arriving at Melody Maker, the result of which meant that none of my august new colleagues (David Stubbs, Simon Reynolds, Chris Roberts, the Stud Brothers et al) ever took my musical taste seriously again.

I’m not sure they did before, thinking about it.

My defence went something along the lines of, “It is impossible for you to dislike this music if you love music, so there is no point even arguing with me on this point because it makes no sense”. I believe it was no more or less sophisticated than that. John Peel attempted a similar line, claiming “The boy Gedge has written some of the best love songs of the rock’n’roll era – you may dispute this, but I’m right and you’re wrong.” Us Weddoes fans, we brooked no dissent. We knew what we liked, and what we liked came in surprise bursts of full-on euphoria and post-Orange Juice guitar storms, and much finer lovestruck couplets than (constant reference point) The Smiths because Morrissey never sounded sincere. Every girl I knew, or dated, had a crush on Gedge.

For myriad Maker writers howling mirth over numerous pints of Tennants Smug down the Stamford, this merely increased the sense of merriment. What, the lumpen dullard Northern proletariat articulating love and emotion? Time to get your coat, ET.

Ian Gittins used to say he always knew when a record was going to be good because I’d have given it a good kicking; and Nicky Wire later on invented an entire sub-genre: “Horrible Everett True music”. (Ironic then, that when he came to release his debut solo album it was full of horrible Everett True music.)

Fortunately, I do not have a copy of the Bizarro review to hand with which to embarrass myself further.* Also, their first album is way better. As The Guardian put it a couple of years ago, “their debut album, George Best, was like hearing your own internal monologue sung back at you by a breathless Yorkshireman.”

My colleagues’ scorn and mirth had an unlooked-for side effect: freed up of the encumbrance of having to worry about my taste, I thus had free rein to write about whatever I liked.

I could go on to destroy music for a generation: grunge.

(You don’t spot the connection? Have a listen to the riff on The Wolfhounds’ brilliant 1987 12″ single ‘Anti-Midas Touch’.)

Now it can be revealed. Grunge was Everett True’s revenge on my colleagues who refused to take my taste seriously. Sticking it to The Man by, um, becoming The Man.

It was all David Lewis Gedge’s fault.

Link to the music here.

*I find the album near unlistenable now, greatly preferring the one that came before (George Best, 1987) and the one that came after (Seamonsters, 1991), produced engineered by Steve Albini. Another grunge link.

**And they were fucking awful when they played Brisbane six years back. So bad, that me and Charlotte didn’t even look out David to say hello afterwards.

This is a good interview.