False Heads: Political Noise Rock On The Rise

From supporting The Libertines to being hyped as “young, talented and going places” by Iggy Pop and mentored by former Ramones manager Danny Fields, few up and coming bands can claim the level of hype surrounding Londoners False Heads. Formed in 2016, the trio of school friends produce brutally energetic punk for the masses, and are gathering momentum off the back of a single EP, ‘Gutter Press’, released in 2017, alongside a couple of singles.

Unashamedly political and unafraid to speak their minds, they are nevertheless openly appreciative of the strength of their journey so far. They’re working on putting together the album to back it all up.

I put together a feature version of this interview for the Dublin Gazette, which you can read below, but it was also a rare case of an extremely well-answered Q+A, which I think deserves publishing in full. So here’s everything the Londoners had to say…

The Ramones former manager has been a big part of your early career. How has that helped?

Danny Fields has molded so much of our popular culture, it’s unbelievable. He was involved with Andy Warhol, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, The Doors, The Ramones and he was ahead of the curve that he was fired multiple times for not getting a ‘hit’ out some of those artists, artists that went on to shape our popular culture. So, to have that man say the things he does about us, is just humbling and it’s such an honour to have become his friend. He introduced us to Iggy and the support from Iggy has been incredible and he has put us under the nose of everyone he can, we’re eternally grateful and it’s helped incredibly.

How have your earlier bands played into False Heads?

Well, it’s just experience. Barney and Jake being in a band at school is obviously going to strengthen
their relationship as a rhythm section and make it easier to slide into being into a new band
together. Also, I just think more than anything, the experience of being in a band at school makes
you realise how brutal and frustrating the music industry and being in a band can be, and that’s
something that is vitally important.

Joshua Radin: From TV to Your Radio

Joshua Radin is one of those singers that a lot of people know without realising they do. A sentimental, storytelling singer-songwriter known for his living-room-like stage setup and soulful themes, Radin’s found a niche in TV music: the background to heartfelt scenes in medical dramas ranging from House to Grey’s Anatomy, and summer teen outings like One Tree Hill.

The Cleveland, Ohio Native’s biggest album came in 2008. Smash hit second LP ‘Simple Times’, sold close to half a million copies, and he’s been living on the same simple premise ever since.

“All my songs are pretty much journal entries set to music,” Radin tells us. “I think that’s why people respond to them. Because if you’re making yourself vulnerable as a writer, you connect to more human beings”

“I pretty much listen to my dad’s old vinyl collection. A lot of Beatles, Paul Simon, Sam Cooke, Van Morrison. My style hasn’t really changed so much over the years. I am who I am. I don’t have plans to change.”

The TV show appearances have drawn in much of Radin’s audience, and come almost out of the blue, perhaps attracted by the emotional and self-examining content of his music. This pours out in tracks like ‘I’d Rather Be With You’, the video for which was directed by Scrubs star Zach Braff, or the Sunday-morning happy buzz of album tracks like ‘Friend Like You’.

“The TV stuff comes about when I release an album and then get contacted by someone who wants to use a song in something,” Radin explains. “It’s great exposure for someone like me who is completely independent, because I don’t have the label machine pushing my songs on to the radio.”

Imagined Futures: Eight Modern Texts That Gaze Over Time’s Horizons

Ask the deepest philosopher or the cheesiest pop star: we all agree that the future’s yet unwritten. Or, at least, we all accept that we can’t know which of the countless possible futures will come to pass. That said, some fantastic books – whether based in fact, or entirely fictional – try their very best to do just that.

Whether these turn out to be the work of a modern-day Nostradamus or have more in common with an author betting on sport, each of these books offer brain-tickling insight, and in that alone we find our value. Some attempt to academically ask “what happens if we all die tomorrow?” Others fictionally examine the role of virtual reality in our lives. With each insightful in different ways, here are my top books examining future’s blank pages…

China’s Future
By David Shambaugh

The future, we’re often told, is Chinese. With the country still formally under a communist structure with distinctly capitalist overtones, however, Beijing’s cultural present can be difficult to decipher for outsiders, let alone its likely futures. David Shambaugh is a leading scholar on the politics of the Eastern powerhouse, and looks mainly at economy and society in this 2016 book, briefly exploring a series of possible outcomes based on the state’s political behaviour.

Debt, the elderly, the environment, banking transparency and regions like Tibet and Hong Kong are just some of the Chinese ‘bottlenecks’ addressed here, and while Shambaugh’s brief text might not come up with particularly conclusive predictions for any of them, it does examine how China could sit in a decade or two, from problems with the development of a less-factory and more service-based economy to the likely consequences of differing support for relatively hardline leader Xi. Written simply but from a place of transparently in-depth knowledge, we’re given a glance at the diverse potential “roundabout exits” – be they trade or conflict – of a country that’s only getting more important.

Homo Deus
By Yuval Noah Harari
Israeli author Yuval Noah Harari is best-known for his beguiling, condensed history of humankind Sapiens, in which he takes us through a ‘greatest hits’ of our years on Earth. In Homo Deus, he allows his mind to break free on a philosophical journey exploring human’s continued direction, however, and that makes for a far darker offering. It’s fair to say Harari is not positive about our path right now: he examines in-depth how our search for perfection – combined with developing technology – might slowly shred the very heart of what makes us human.In Harari’s future, we’re subservient to the technology we’ve created in almost every way. He questions whether the point of no return for human’s posited battle with technology has already passed. This leads to ethical questions surrounding such a concept, be they “what happens when we can no longer delude ourselves” (or, will Google negate the existence of arguments based on falsehoods), or where is the line between human and… well, not. It’s frightening, and feels starkly and shockingly close to reality.

The Ten Best Acts I Saw at Boomtown Fair 2018

Wow, what a festival! I’m hoping to get to a full review of the madness that was Boomtown 2018 later (because a review would only be at most half about music, which is a great sign for a festival in my view), but for now I’m going with what’s become the traditional ‘best bands’ post, which, to be honest, I write as much for the benefit of my ailing memory as anything else.

As you’ll probably gather from the below, I’m not someone who was drawn to Boomtown by its massive beat-driven lineup, though I did enjoy a few non-descript DJs later in the evenings. I found the glory in it to lie largely elsewhere, from obscure tents where 40 people watched gorgeous jazz sets, to comedy guitar northerners playing to mud-splattered courtyards. In fact, I approached this in a different way to almost any other festival I’ve ever been to.

We skipped out on Gorillaz after two tracks, as we couldn’t get close enough to the main stage to hear them at a decent volume (perhaps the festival’s only major flaw aside from uncontrollable weather was the main stage sound). I only saw three acts that appear on the top five lines of the line-up poster (see right). But this was all kind of epic. Here are my highlights, from the obvious to the less so…

Sleaford Mods

Sure, I’m probably telling you nothing with this one – the secret’s long since out – but what a band, despite one of the two of them basically spending the whole set pressing play on  Macbook. Charisma by the bucketload, controlled anger and viciously brilliant lyrics that forcefully takedown culture’s ills. I could watch Sleaford Mods running commentary on British culture unfold for an age, an hour wasn’t enough…

Capdown

I used to watch Capdown play tiny pub back room stages in Salisbury as a teenager and bounce like an idiot, so I headed along to their set on Saturday night largely for the nostalgia trip. Little did I know they’d grown wings, converted the always excellent buzz track Ska Wars (below) into a real belter, and were now able to fill a really quite chunky stage with manic fans. It went off. Class.

A Review of Bandi’s The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea

A collection of fictional short stories about life in North Korea, the content of Bandi’s The Accusation is presented anonymously (Bandi is a pseudonym) after being smuggled over the border to the South. Despite being presented as fiction, the stories seem to contain a large kernel of truth.

Passed from a defector to a member of the Citizens Coalition for Human Rights of Abductees and North Korean Refugees in Seoul, these stories deal largely with the dynamics of everyday life in the North. In one, a large group struggles for sustenance and direction as a gruelling train journey is held up by the safety requirements of Kim Jong Il on the move.

Another portrays a tiny moment that changes lives, as a young child grows to fear the symbolic portraits that occupy Pyongyang, and the entire family suffer the consequences. In a third, a man’s efforts to spend time with his dying mother take a tragic turn as he battles red tape.

The characters are at mixed levels of society, but largely not on the bottom rung of the North Korean social scale; while there are references to prison camps, no story is set in one. Instead, they portray everyday types in cities and villages, often non-specific in their location, and take in family life, political interference and the practical difficulties of survival. Whether about food or family, there’s an underlying desire to escape Pyongyang’s more obvious suppressions of freedom.

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Mosaic depicting Kim Il Sung;s homecoming, Pyongyang, North Korea

Dated in the late-80s and early-90s, these tales – simply for portraying the Kim regime in an oblique but obvious bad light – would constitute an act of severe rebellion in North Korea. The best-case scenario for the author, were he to be caught, might be an extended spell in a prison camp, yet at first glance, these passages portray such simple aspects of life in the Hermit Kingdom.

The simple nature of the stories lends itself to a suppressing, overbearing view of horrors and hardships. The presence of fear is like a constant background hum crawling from and between the lines of every page. The ‘citizen’s perspective’ lacks the horrifyingly grandiose nature and exaggerated ridicule of books closer to the leadership, but aligns with the ‘don’t draw attention to yourself’ life of the average person portrayed in many escapees’ memoirs.

Insider Knowledge: 10 Insights I Got from Speaking to Writers

In recent months, I’ve developed a passion for writers’ events – small gatherings where novelists and potential novelists gather to compare notes and talk about their approach to the written word. The events tend to have dual themes: dealing with the nuance of putting pen to paper successfully (be it in marketing, editing, structure, or dialogue), and the presence of talented and acclaimed authors. Those authors who are present tell you their thoughts, processes, and struggles, including the harsh realities of their experience writing, and what they’ve learned on the way to selling a whole lot of books.

I’ve found that listening to writers has impacted heavily on how I read. Certainly, it’s impacted how I read these particular authors’ books, as I have a small sense of where they’re coming from, but it’s also influenced how I see fictional texts in general, from what to read between the lines, to how I shop for books.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

1. For the writer, characters often run far deeper than a story might suggest.

For a long time, I was confused why J.K. Rowling kept adding little details to the Harry Potter books over the years. From confirming or denying fan theories to assigning sexualities and exploring motivations, Rowling’s clarifications of what was originally written in her award-winning novels have been regular and varied. Recently it clicked for me, when a series of authors told me they’ve already thought about all these unwritten characteristics of their own characters.

They’ve connected with their characters in a way that runs far deeper than the words that actually make it in the final version of book. They’ve envisaged sitting down for a coffee together, they’ve played out scenes in their heads, examined the hidden reasons the characters behave in certain ways, and thought about their belief systems. This works wonderfully when it is passed on subtly to the reader. Whether it’s in surmising a nationality that’s never actually been given, placing a character in a social class, or relating a fictional being to someone you know, the tenuous mental links that come into play because of character development can be what elevates a book. It’s scarcely surprising, then, that authors insist in defining their characters so carefully.

2. A lot of authors don’t like their first books.

In fact, it seems to be a firmly established theme. No doubt we’d all like to think we get progressively better at what we do, but equally, there’s certainly an argument to be made for the very best stories being written by people who’ve been storing them up for a lifetime before putting pen to paper (I can see a logical case for a bookish equivalent to ‘second album syndrome’).

For self-published authors, this dislike of first books seems to come down in a large part to editing. The ability to spot something you’ve written that doesn’t quite deliver your precise meaning in the way you intended is an acquired one, and it takes a great editor to interpret words that never left the mind in inky form. For others, it’s about clarity of point: getting across what you intended, only what you intended, and doing so unambiguously and eloquently. It’s not universal, of course, but there is a definite theme: most writers believe they’re at their best second, third, or fourth time around.

The Five Best Bands I Saw At Europavox 2018 (Clermont-Ferrand)

Clermont-Ferrand is a small town – a touch bigger than Galway – in central France. It’s famous for its dormant volcanoes, which dominate the skyline, and for its rugby team, ASM Clermont Auvergne, who currently compete in the Pro-14, and lost the European Cup Final in 2013, 2015 and 2017. There’s also a stunning cathedral hewn from the lava rocks of the nearby volcanoes sat in the town’s heart.

Every summer, the town hosts Europavox Festival, a four-day event that’s part media meeting, part music festival, and part cultural promotion. It draws bands from all over Europe, picked out by local experts to be promoted beyond their immediate local fanbase. I was lucky enough to be asked to come and check them out (I’ll also be contributing to their website on Irish music in the very near future).

As I only connected with Europavox in the last two months or so before the festival, I only made the Saturday and Sunday, so a small disclaimer before I start: this list is based on only two evenings at the event, and not the whole four. That means I missed some of the bigger names at the festival, including Norwegian breakout star Sigrid and awesome (and ridiculously named) Brit-rockers Cabbage. The only Irish act booked had to pull out, too, so there was no Rejjie Snow to enjoy.

There’s something fantastic about short, ‘show us what you can do’ slots from bands all over Europe, though, so I saw quite a few great bands in short form. Here are the ones that really caught my eye:

Σtella (Greece)

Athens electro-pop sung in English by a tight, vibrant band with the capacity to surprise. Σtella would be a little bit samey if they stuck to the same old electro-pop schtick all the way through. Instead, they delve into some extended prog-rock interludes, lay off the synths every so often, and really engage with those in the front row. Frontwoman Stella Chronopoulou is intensely charismatic, which obviously helps, too: technical problems early in their short set couldn’t do a thing to stop these guys.

Secret Garden: An Instrumental Career Built On 90s Eurovision Stardom

Unquestionably Ireland’s most famous ever Eurovision took place in 1994. As well as an Irish win, through Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan’s ‘Rock N’ Rolls Kids’, a far more lasting legacy was established through the first-ever performance of Riverdance at The Point.

Because of the win, the contest returned to Dublin in 1995, a Eurovision long thought to have been deliberately lost by the home team, due to the cost of hosting the event the following year. In an odd twist, though the winner that year, Secret Garden, has substantial Irish links. Irish-Norwegian instrumental band Secret Garden (representing Norway) had met at the contest in 1994, and through their unusual (for Eurovision) haunting track ‘Nocturne’, brought a little Irish glory through violinist and Naas native Fionnula Sherry. The band have always lived apart, working together across two countries, with songwriter Rolf Løvland based back in Oslo.

Amazingly, 23 years after forming, and following Sherry’s spectacular recovery from two broken arms back in 2015, the pair are still going strong, and have just released the first ever version of their other big hit ‘You Raise Me Up’ to feature the vocals of Johnny Logan. Logan made the original recordings, only to be bumped in favour of Brian Kennedy on the single that was ultimately released, a point of some dispute with Logan that has finally been cleared up all these years later.

“It’s like a full circle being back,” Sherry says ahead of the pair’s Late Late Show performance just ahead of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. “I’ve actually played in a lot of Eurovision’s with the orchestra, as we were having that nice run of wins at the time.”

“We connected in ’94, and thought maybe we could do something together,” Løvland recalls. “I had a lot of instrumental tunes I was working on. I started to send some songs over to Fionnuala, and that was the beginning of Secret Garden.”

“I don’t think there’s been another song like our since,” Sherry admits. “We juxtaposed the idea of instrumental and lyrics, the vocal part was the introduction to the song [Nocturne], and the outro. It was planned for the album, the development of Secret Garden. It was halfway produced, and then it was suggested we do something very different for Eurovision.”