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Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Gig of the month: The Flies & Candy Darling: Live at the Exchange, Bristol 2/9/2014

One Flies over (Sean) Cook whose nest (is filled with Candy Darling!)

Candy Darling

After an hour spent waiting for folk to fill the room, it seems that time is passing by just as slowly as they appear. Support act Candy Darling (CD) AKA Emily Breeze (EB) sits restlessly, barely hiding her humble hopes of shifting a few copies of her new 7” single ‘Money’ on ltd edition coloured vinyl.

Members of headline act The Flies (TF) infrequently flit to and fro, themselves assessing the size of a room which, according to folklore is capable of accommodating a 400-strong crowd (as yet far from likely). Wearing a welcoming yet typically wry smile expression, Sean Cook (SC) enters.

It’s 7:50pm and after briefly shooting the breeze with a soon-to-be stage-bound EB, SC once again exits the scene for what I suspect could be a visit to the cosy nearby bar. The occasional stray, straggler, photographer and fellow journalist begins to inhabit the immediate floor space upfront.

Half an hour passes and 30 people (surreal given that the room is packed solid by 9pm) are stood somewhat forlornly yet steadfast and staring towards a motionless stage. The room’s energy soon escalates however and the populace responds emphatically as CD start the first of tonight’s shows.

Unfurling their well-received sounds like a Pauline Murray-led Joy Division, CD have got it going on; something that’s particularly true of EB, our dark, endearing chanteuse.  Despite some casually shrugged off technical issues with the keyboard, tonight’s opening set is a great success.

It’s easy to imagine that the Jesus & Mary Chain/Hope Sandoval collaboration ‘Sometimes Always’ could’ve sounded like this, but as the room temperature rapidly rises, EB’s energy and enthusiastic vocals soon undermine the value of any such apathy, clearly highlighting the necessity of noise.

As I busily scrawl these notes, SC either commends my work ethic or questions my beer commitment by smirking as he sits beside me to watch CD who, by this time have dropped down a few sentiment-driven gears and are surely readying to deliver what will be a grandiose finale.

EB screams out her lyrics amidst some intense axe work and now, with an enthralled crowd eating sonic nuggets from the palm of her hand, she shares her appreciation for the increasingly rapturous applause.  How long before a 4AD/Too Pure-level label sign this sultry, streetwise Siouxsie Sioux?

The Flies

TF are up next and this flu-ridden writer is wet with anticipation (although that could be sweat!). The crowd is quick to escape the heat and I join the thirst-driven scramble for the bar, before TF appear.  Queuing I process negative feedback received from friends, who say things like TF sound too samey.

Nurturing such an opulent signature sound still in its infancy is vital when releasing a 2nd LP (even if some naysayers have compared you to a HBO in-house band). Few casual listeners ever find the time to dissect and fully appreciate TF, whose aura is further brightened by the bold lyrical content. 

As well as spending a post-show fortnight listening to nothing more than ‘Pleasure Yourself, I’ve also spent a pre-show fortnight solely listening to ‘All Too Human’, TF’s debut predecessor and It’s really been a musical month of magic… but can TF still deliver the same goods live like they did in 2007?

Despite the fact that TF spend considerable time shifting and setting up their on-stage equipment, the start of their delayed 10pm set is disappointingly met by less than half of tonight’s audience. Also, what of the 11pm curfew... can it still accommodate a worthwhile gig and LP launch?

SC disguises his frustration and at 22:10, after quickly visiting the DJ booth, the Velvet Underground’s ‘Sweet Jane’ fades and TF finally take to the stage.  Closing my eyes as the band starts to play, it’s virtually impossible to distinguish the stage-borne sound from that of the studio.

What would usually amount to a seductive opening to a live set is actually drowned out amidst a disrespectful level of audible banter and as the beauty of ‘One Day my Baby will leave you’ sadly succumbs to The Exchange’s back-room chatter, the band successfully continues undeterred.  

An influx of people finally fills the room and as ‘Pleasure Yourself’ unfurls, it’s obvious that SC & co are all set to deliver a stellar performance. The crowd warms to their solid, subtle sound which, with exception of the searing guitar, starkly contrasts with the sonic weaponry deployed by CD.

‘The Usual Unusual’ and its upbeat tempo is almost enough to engage Mr Chatterbox and his mates, who now occupy the back third of this intimate venue, but not before SC’s inaudible muttering surrenders to the evidently live brilliance of ‘Bitter Moon’ from the debut LP ‘All too Human’.

SC’s harmonica further sets the mood and as his understated vocals start to soar during the aforementioned title track ‘All too Human’, so too does the atmosphere, particularly when some ferocious feedback and the oh-so cool chorus kicks all into compliance.

Tonight’s up close, personal performance nears perfection when ‘In her eyes’ is delivered with unprecedented vocal aplomb, before being overshadowed by a heartfelt version of ‘Lies’, a sincere and fragile track that somehow failed to capture the same magical effect recorded for the LP.

A mesmerised Ms SC sits beside me as a typically atmospheric ‘Walking on the Sand’ takes us onward and upward. After hearing the LP, I can’t help but feel that many of us here tonight will soon be sharing the expression of sheer admiration that’s now illuminating her pretty French face. 

Doth my ears deceive me or has Goldie taken to the stage? Despite any initial, justifiable enquiry, the question is validated the deeper we venture into a revamped version of ‘The Temptress’, which honestly kicks ass, deservedly placing itself far from comparison upon a pedestal of sonic supremacy.

‘We Began’ sees SC’s harmonica make a welcome return to proceedings, although it has to be said that for a new album launch, tonight’s set has featured an abundance of older tracks.  Never a bad thing of course, especially when accounting for the quality shown throughout this penultimate track.

Freestyling with his soul has always been an admirable strong point of SC’s and as the band prepare for their “last one”, my mind races with the possibilities of what’s to follow.  Somewhat fittingly, ‘Pleasure Yourself’s closing track ‘Into the Night’ ensues, soothing and sedating as it does.  

Impressively maintaining the high-level majesty displayed here in front of a staggered and hooked home crowd, TFs have surely done Bristol proud.  The upbeat finale still encapsulates that steamy, introspective poignancy that sets TF a few miles apart from a now bland and ordinary crowd.  

If you haven’t heard the impossibly catchy ‘One Day my Baby will leave you’, beware because it’ll stick inside your head like one of those horrific chart tracks that sometimes breach your safeguards, only this is sure to induce the opposite emotion and eliminate any need for rescue or recovery.

Speaking with SC after the show, he tells me the disruptive mouthpieces at the back of the room were well out of earshot and that considering this had been a live show in Bristol, it had been great. From an abandoned stage, we both watch highly motivated fans flooding a mobbed merchandise stand.

Please click thefliesmusic or CandyDarlingMusic for more information. Please click here for more Candy Darling photos or here for more Flies photos. Finally, thanks in advance for reading this and maybe even subscribing; hope to see you back here real soon dear reader! 

Friday, 22 August 2014

Pleasure Yourself: Sean Cook & The Flies are back!

Ahead of The Flies’ return to the sonic circus, charismatic spearhead Sean Cook kindly answered the questions below, to satisfy our collective thirst for beer insight into the release of ‘Pleasure Yourself’, their second LP that’ll surely astound just like its auspicious predecessor.


ANT: What inspired the LP title ‘Pleasure Yourself’?
SEAN: The title of the record, ‘Pleasure Yourself’ is taken from the name of one of the tracks, which is actually something I normally don’t do. In this case it seemed appropriate, as much of the lyrical content of the record deals with the vain and selfish nature of people and the world today… I don’t think I really need to explain that, it’s all around us and at the root of the massive downward spiral we are on as a race.

ANT: What influences your sound above all else?
SEAN: I’m not sure that there is one particular thing that influences our sound above all else and actually, I think that the influences change and evolve with each new record we make. Our first LP, ‘All Too Human’ was mainly influenced by sixties girl groups and exotica soundtracks, although there was lots of other stuff in there as well. 

Our new LP, ‘Pleasure Yourself’ has some of those same influences too, but there’s a bit more of a leaning towards the epic cinematic psych of the likes of Scott Walker and Roy Orbison (although there’s a bunch of other stuff in there as well, from The Velvets and country music to Joy Division and Kraut-rock!). 

I guess ultimately we like our records to be psychedelic, but not in the traditional sense… we essentially write quite simple songs and then try to fuck them up.

ANT: How important are the single/ album charts?
SEAN: They are irrelevant to us because we are never in them.

ANT: What changes can we expect from your last outing?
SEAN: I think the new record is possibly a bit darker (particularly in terms of lyrical content) and probably a little more ‘song’ based. On the first LP we probably leant more towards a process of playing with sounds and interesting loops and then created songs out of them. 

Whereas on the second LP we started more with simple songs and then distorted them with unusual sounds and effects. This is a generalisation however... you can find both approaches on each LP. We tend not to have a manifesto about how we approach things, but rather we do a few experiments and see what happens; if we like it, we start to develop it.

ANT: Do you enjoy playing live or are you more at home playing in a studio?
SEAN: I enjoy playing live but I probably prefer being in a studio. Live work for a band like us is very difficult, particularly so in the UK because you are very unlikely to get paid anything close to what it costs to do the gig, so you are forever in a situation of compromise. It’s a lot easier to play live with the likes of Massive Attack, as they have the budget to put on a really spectacular show and it has been a real privilege to be part of that. 

Having said that, we have been rehearsing for our upcoming shows and I have been really enjoying the challenge of stripping down the big productions into a form that we can make work live with a five piece band. The spontaneity and instant gratification of a live band is hard to top.

ANT: Where do you most enjoy playing live? 
SEAN: It depends on the circumstances. I have a country band that I do with a bunch of friends including Damon Reece (who plays drums on much of the new LP and will be with us live) and we only play in small pubs and these are some of the most enjoyable gigs I’ve done. Over the years I have played in pretty much every kind of venue from total toilets to huge stadiums and festivals. 

Toilets can have a lot of vibe, but often the equipment is shagged out or not up to the job in the first place. Stadiums and festivals have that, “Holy shit... Look at all those people!” factor and lots of posh gear, but it can also be a bit soulless. I guess, on balance, 1000ish capacity theatres are the best as they usually have a good sound, look good and are still small enough to get a good vibe.

ANT: Do politics have a place in music?
SEAN: Politics is the study and exercise of power.  Human experience and relationships are conditioned by power… who has it and who does not.  Politics is unavoidable in music, given that music and art generally reflect human experience. There are obviously different ways of doing this and some approaches are more overt than others, but I think there are places for both. Some of my favourite groups, for example The Dead Kennedys, are very political.

ANT: Are you all agreed/in control of the formats of your releases?
SEAN: Well, we are now!  On the first LP we had a deal with a major label and really wanted a vinyl release, but the label refused to do it… we’re not with that label anymore. Now we have less of a traditional artist/label relationship and more of a partnership with the like-minded friends who release our records (Library Music Recordings), so we do everything by mutual agreement. 

So, we are really prioritising the vinyl this time (both mine and Andy’s favourite format) and releasing the new LP on octagonal gatefold 180 gram vinyl. The climate is better for vinyl now, with sales being at an all-time high, as opposed to an all-time low as they were at the time of All Too Human’s release...  I guess it was easier to get everyone on board behind a very special vinyl design concept. 

The record is also available on download because I guess people want that as well but, at the moment we are not doing a CD release... I like CDs but I hate the crappy boxes they come in. Vinyl is such a nice thing to have and to hold.  When you put a lot of effort into to making the music, you want to see it manufactured in a format that is substantial and beautiful. ‘All Too Human’ will also be re-released on vinyl later in the year.

ANT: What music are you listening to of late?
SEAN: Always a tough question for me because I don’t keep up with current music really. I also have to spend so much time listening to our music, as well as the music of the other groups I play for (I was doing the Massive Attack v Adam Curtis tour last year and a lot of work with Elizabeth Fraser the year before that), so  I don’t have time to keep track of new music. 

Although I have to say that I don’t like most of what I do hear. Looking at the records I have by my deck right now, at the front of the pile I have Suicide’s first LP, Bauhaus ‘Press the Eject’, The Cramps ‘Psychedelic Jungle’, ‘The Essential’ Neil Diamond, a 50’s rockabilly compilation, Echo and the Bunnymen’s ‘Heaven up Here’ and ‘Up’ by The Perfect Disaster.

ANT: How important do you feel visuals are in relation to music?
SEAN: I think visuals are very important when presenting music. In terms of recorded music, we always try to make things look as good as we can with the resources we have. We try to do the same thing live, although the costs of a visually stunning show are prohibitive to us, so we have to try to think laterally and do the best we can with the little that we have. 

Apart from cash, I don’t think there are any limits when it comes to presenting your music… you have to throw everything you can at it to make it the most overwhelming experience you can. If we had the cash we’d go fucking crazy with that shit!

ANT: Any forthcoming plans for you/the band?
SEAN: We have a double ‘A’ side single “In Her Eyes/Turned On” out on 18th August, the LP “Pleasure Yourself” out on 1st September and gigs at The Exchange in Bristol on 2nd September (with Candy Darling) and London Water Rats on 3rd September (with Thousand Fingers). 

Later in the year we are releasing an EP of some odd covers we’ve done and then we are re-releasing our first record ‘All Too Human”, in a nice gatefold vinyl package. We’ll also be working on the new material we have for the 3rd LP.

ANT: Thanks so much for your time Sean; I’m off to listen to ‘All Too Human’ before I get hooked on ‘Pleasure Yourself’.  Dear reader, please take the time to read more here or, time out to fall for The Flies by following the links below…