Stomptown Brass: “bit of an audacious task looking back, but we wanted to host a funeral for the truth”

Stomptown Brass are an eight-piece, sometimes-conceptual brass band famed for their live performances. The Dubliners, in short, are a bit nuts, a lot of fun, and probably far enough from the conventions of popular music that theirs will be a slow but intensely rewarding journey around the fringes. They always look like they’re having an absolute blast.

If I were to start a band, they’d be a bit like this. I caught up with them to see how it’s all going; here’s what Brian Ryan of Stomptown Brass said of their journey so far…

Hi lads, thanks for taking the time to talk to me. How is life in Stomptown Brass right now?

We’re getting a couple of laughs together for our new tour that’s kicking of this month. Having spent the summer practicing new music and getting some recording sessions down we’re looking forward to sharing with your eardrums.

Can you tell me how all this started out for you, and what you thought might come of the idea back when you started?

During the end of our college days, our pal James O’Leary (aka Mr. Music Man) brought a few of us together for Murphy’s ice-cream on Wicklow Street to tell us he wanted to first learn how to play the trombone and second, start a brass band to play his compositions. One of our first tunes was called Rutland Blues in honour of our first practice studio that suffered a collapsed roof causing us to move out fairly lively.

Obviously you’re very much focused on producing a really strong live show. What are the key elements of that, in your views?

We don’t set out to produce or engineer a strong live show. We just aim to incorporate new elements to our shows that we’re interested in and we put a good bit of welly in to try to get it the best we can. Requiem for the Truth show was our first attempt at this, incorporating theatre or something entirely new for a brass band performance. A Show Curious Eyes & Ears was an attempt to make our music more accessible to children (and parents!), and with this new upcoming tour we’re trying something entirely new for us. So hopefully at least two people out there will like it; then bingo, hello international stardom.

Twisted Wheel: “I had issues in the past, but I got the help that I needed and I have changed my lifestyle for the better”

Twisted Wheel are a Manchester institution. Beloved of Liam Gallagher and having gone through a series of ups and downs, playing huge venues and falling apart due to drug problems before recovering to their current touring status, the four-piece have a devoted following away from the radio play world of 21st-century indie.

I spoke to frontman Jonny Brown about the band’s redemption, and the journey so far.

First of all, you took a bit of a break a while back. Have things been any different since you returned?

Massively. The dynamics to the music industry is totally different to how it was ten years ago, and I believe social media has a lot to do with that. We are living in a new age generation where sounding and looking great isn’t the only factor to success as a band, your social media has to look the part too; which in some cases I don’t mind, as I can be more intimate with fans at a click of a button.

You seem pretty confident about the contents of the next album – what constitutes success for you guys at this point?

As an unsigned band, I’m pretty proud of the achievements we have made all on our own and any success big or small we achieve at this point whilst we are unsigned, let’s us know we are heading in the right direction. To name a few big successes: one is getting a number one in the physical charts for our last EP, ‘Jonny Guitar’ and being personally asked to support Liam Gallagher at both Manchester and Finsbury Park, based solely on the fact he enjoys our music. I was also pretty chuffed to hear my all-time hero Shaun Ryder said we were one of his favourite bands to come out of Manchester.

It’s been quite a long time since you last put out a record. Obviously lives change, perspectives change. Did you take a different approach this time around?

Definitely. I’ve grown up a lot. Learnt a hell of a  lot through my mistakes. Developed a better way of living and adapted my creativity to the music industry we have today.

Slowthai: “There’s this hidden side to society that most people don’t see unless they live it”

‘There’s Nothing Great about Britain’ reads the title of Slowthai’s debut album, the cover of which features the man himself in a rustic wooden stockade, restrained naked before a large block of council houses as the occupants look on. 

If you know a little about the history of the Northampton rapper – a rising star of the increasingly pervasive and hard-hitting British hip-hop scene – it’s easy to see why such sentiments would appeal. Slowthai – Tyron Frampton to his friends – was brought up in a tough estate in the East Midlands, and struggled through early life. He’s determined to pay back those less fortunate.

“The 99p tour, it’s because that’s the price of an ice cream,” he laughs about his incredibly cheap recent UK tour. “I don’t want people to miss me because they can’t afford it, you know?”

There will be plenty of people fighting for tickets for the hard-hitting lyricist, a man who’s abrasive style has seen him come on stage in body bags, make videos featuring him wrapped naked around his girlfriend, and produce cutting lyrics dealing with how at one point in his life, drug dealing seemed like the only realistic career choice.

“I did some dumb stuff and I was going nowhere,” Frampton laughs. “I was doing some labouring and working in Next. I got in trouble for giving my friends the employee discount. It was a difficult life. There’s this hidden side to society that most people don’t see unless they live it.”

Frampton found a way out, though, his almost skittishly varied music drawing the attention of the notorious tastemaker poll, BBC Sounds, where he was ranked fourth most likely in British music in 2018. “That was weird,” Slowthai says. “They just called me and told me I was on it. I wasn’t expecting it. I’ve got a lot more attention since, I guess, but these things don’t really matter. I want to be a musician, I don’t really care about that stuff.”

London African Gospel Choir: “Graceland just seemed perfect for the sounds and message of the choir”

Graceland is, for me, quite simply one of the best albums ever made. I’ve never had the time nor the talent to study the music of Paul Simon’s classic back to front, however, so I’m somewhat in awe of a group of musicians who would use their collective talents to adapt it into a beautiful interpretation of the original. Enter the London African Gospel Choir, who have worked with everyone from Tom Jones to Idris Alba in their storied journey so far.

Crystal Kassi, the choir’s founder, told me all about their exploration…

Could you tell me a little about how this project came to be?

Towards the end of 2016, the Columbo Group, who run the Jazz Café, approached us and asked us to cover the album. They had asked us to do cover other artists such as Kanye West, which wouldn’t have been a good fit, but Graceland just seemed perfect for the sounds and message of the choir. It was only supposed to be one show, but it sold out within a day, so we ended up doing 6 shows over 2 weeks in the Jazz Café, Camden and XOYO.

Does it link in with previous projects the choir have done?

Not really, we’ve covered a few songs here and there when they were requested, for corporate events. For example, when singing alongside the Soweto Gospel Choir at the O2 Arena. Graceland was actually quite a challenging project for us, but we’ve used it to push ourselves, and it’s shown us how much we are capable of.

Do you have a personal affinity with ‘Graceland’?

I always loved the album, especially the richness and colour of South African music.

Is there a specific person assigned to play Paul Simon in the performance, or is it a shared role? What about the guest vocalists on the album?

No, we have 8 incredible singers who share the lead vocals throughout the show. Some songs, like Crazy Love are sung as duets. We include Miriam Makeba’s Retreat Song, which was performed in Paul Simon’s 1987 African Graceland Concert.

Obviously, there are some quite substantial South African links on Graceland, which turned out to come at a great time for him. Musically, do the influences stand out to those more familiar with the South African music scene?

Yes, especially amongst the musicians, who are really invested in their art, so would look into the styles of Paul Simon’s band. However, they are all also heavily influenced by the music from their own specific countries, so the audience will get the South African foundation laid by the original composition, with hints of Congolese music, high-life, and East African
tones too.

Dan Sheehan: “I have been becoming increasingly aware of how greed is allowed to cause the air we breathe and the water we drink to become polluted and toxic”

Dan Sheehan, an American rocker with distinctly Irish roots, is currently on a mission to draw awareness to growing global issues through his deep-diving political album ‘Tales From Earth Incorporated’.

In it, Sheehan steps away from his pure rock background and instead dips into a more international sound, taking aim at the corporations that he sees damaging the world around him, and taking advantage of national assets. Green themes, from climate change in general to rising sea levels and an attempt to build a Wallmart next to a Mexican heritage sight fill his lyrics.

With his own musical heritage including a host of musicians who’ve toured alongside Morrissey, Pearl Jam and Yes, Sheehan doesn’t think he can change the world, but is happy lending his voice to an ever-expanding choir of discontent.

Let’s talk about the eco side to your music as, obviously, it’s a big thing for you. The world seems to be coming around to the idea that being green is really important, slowly. How did you come to write a whole album about the idea?

The album is more loosely about the effects of greed on the world, which inevitably brings up what’s happening to the environment. Over the last several years, I have been becoming increasingly aware of how greed is allowed to cause the air we breathe and the water we drink to become polluted and toxic, and I find it insane that we should allow this to continue, so I wanted to raise awareness about just how devastating climate change is, and we also touch on matters such as indigenous rights, which is an important issue in the Americas, and the American refugee crisis which of course also relates to the European refugee crisis.

Can you tell me about some of the people and places you speak about in the album?

There are two songs about Mexico, one called “Teotihuacan” which is an Aztec name for a town with famous Aztec pyramids, next to which Walmart (one of the big American chain stores) wanted to build a large store which was done despite historical zoning and environmental concerns via a massive bribing scheme . One is “Cross the Border” which is both about guns crossing the border from the U.S. to Mexico, and then people crossing over to the U.S. as they flee those very guns. The Pacific Island of Kiribati as while as the Maldive Islands and Bangladesh come up in the song “Wishing Well” which is about how these three nations deal with the rising sea levels from climate change. Two songs are about Africa – “Black Gold” is about Nigerian author Ken Saro-Wiwa and others who were scapegoated and hanged after protesting oil drilling off the coast of Nigeria in the ’90s, whereas “Kimberley” is about Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe forcing men, women and children to mine for diamonds to fund a counter-rebellion. There is also a song about the displacement of indigenous Brazilians currently occurring called “Dam That River.”

Clapton CFC: “Making the club an open, welcoming environment that stands up to intolerance runs right through the club’s DNA”

Having formed last year following a dispute that arose in Clapton FC, Clapton CFC are part of a growing football trend: clubs that look to distinguish themselves by stepping away from the more corporate aspects of the game, and instead taking on distinct identities relating to their community-driven nature and politics.

Having just completed their first full season, though, Clapton CFC have been successful beyond any reasonable expectations. Their away shirt, which referenced the 80th anniversary of the end of the Spanish civil war, a bright purple offering with the slogan ‘No Pasaran’ on the collar.

I came across the club through their extensive social media over the course of last year, watching their fanbase grow to an astonishing 1,400 or so for the final home league game, playing in 11th tier of English football. Having joined the club myself (at £10 for annual membership, why wouldn’t you), I got in touch with communications manager and match commentator Martin Fletcher to learn more…

Hi Martin! Before we get into the politics of the club, let’s cover some football. You’ve obviously put together a side that’s very competent for its level. What style of football do you play, and who are you stand out players?

This iteration of the club was founded in June last year, and so it was quite a rush to make sure we had a full and competitive squad for the season. Fortunately, our player coach, Geoff Ocran, has a lot of contacts and was able to pull some players in. We also held open trials which turned up quite a few gems. As you would expect, it took the new team a while to gel and at the halfway point in the season I think we’d have been happy with a good mid-table finish. However, from early 2019 the squad really started to come together, resulting in their title winning run that saw us go 9-1-1 down the stretch.

Key players in our run were keeper, Dan Anfossy, our defensive lynchpin, Dean Bouho, dead ball specialist, Stefan Nielsen and our bullet on the wing, Josh Adejokun, who scored a hat trick in our league title deciding game at the end of the season. There tends to be quite a high turnover of players at our level so it’s difficult to confirm who will be back next year. But I’m sure we’ll continue to play a pacey, attacking style of play that entertains our growing fanbase.

Clapton CFC seem to have developed into a kind of anti-facsist, alternative football club. How has this come about?

Clapton CFC grew out of a group of fans that started following Clapton FC, one of London’s oldest football clubs, back in 2012. From the beginning the fans who attended were looking to build an inclusive atmosphere and differentiate themselves from more mainstream clubs, which can sometimes be quite unwelcoming spaces for a lot of people. In the years after 2012 attendances grew largely through word of mouth as more like-minded people wanted to come along and participate.

The fans broke away to form Clapton CFC last year, as part of what is an ongoing dispute with Clapton FC’s ownership. The club was founded as a democratic, fan run organisation. Making the club an open, welcoming environment that stands up to intolerance runs right through the DNA of the organisation.

SYLK: “We want to let the past inspire us while creating something new with it, too”

They’re new to the Irish music scene, but there’s a substantial story behind SYLK. Having met and dreamed of forming a band as teenagers, they take their inspiration from the mood of 80s synth acts and dingy post-punk, and focus heavily on their atmospheric live show.

The result is a distinct mood, one that fits with smoky backrooms, shoe-gazing slow dances and textured energy. They’re also a distinct part of what they view as an increasingly boisterous queer scene, and in the process of bedding in some great collaborations.

I spoke to the duo in the build-up to festival season, to check out what they’re all about…

You call your music Darkwave, which I understand is a type of underground electronica. Tell us about it…

Yes it is. And we want our music to take you underground, to somewhere dark yet somewhere vivid and energetic. Our tone is inspired by the underground darkwave culture of the 1980s, with the beginning of bands like Depeche Mode & Joy Division. When we listen & learn about past movements in music, like dark-wave, which stood out to us as it has such a mix – new wave, synth-pop, post-punk & gothic rock, we wanted to let the past inspire us while creating something new with it too.

Our sound is inspired by popular culture, we use a lot of synthesizers in our songs, experimenting with them by putting them sounds through loads of different guitar pedals, usually with a lot of distortion! We also record a lot with an electric baritone guitar to create ambient textures and then a lot of vocal manipulations too – something that we really explore after being mind blown by music concrete of the 1940s. We have a love for heavy bass lines and massive minor textures and we think this comes through in a lot of the music we create right now.

I haven’t seen you live show yet but I’m told it’s quite a trippy, spaced-out experience. Is that what you’re going for?

Yeah it is! We aspire for our live shows to be an immersive experience – we want to connect with people and in that time let them forget about everything and get lost in the music, to feel the unknown, an adrenaline buzz, to feel excitement. Our live show is the most important thing for us, we love how it feels to see an artist/band we admire and we wanna create that for our show. When we write our songs, we craft them around our live vision.

Red Wine and Arepas: New Book to Explore Venezuelan Football

I’ve been incredibly fortunate in recent months to learn a great deal about the unconventional footballing world. As a result of writing about CONIFA, I learnt of and attended the Island Games, met people who obsess over the minutiae of football on tiny island states, and became mildly fixated with a tiny London football club called Clapham CFC.

I also met, virtually at least, Jordan Florit, who was kind enough to bring me on the These Football Times podcast. I learn he has his own strange football leanings, in that he’s obsessed with one of South America’s weakest footballing nations, Venezuela, and their sporting output. Much like CONIFA, this fascinates me: you’d have done well to miss the countries economic problems in recent years, yet the team are thriving, with increasingly impressive showings at international level. They’re currently ranked 26 in the world, they’re highest ever position. Yet I know almost nothing about them. I suspect I’m not alone.

Jordan’s book isn’t out until some time in 2020, though he will be putting out his Kickstarter in the coming week, in order to fund a trip over to South America, printing, and the other aspects of such a book. He has a host of big-name interviews lined up. You can get a discount on the Kickstarter by signing up for updates on his mailing list, here

He kindly agreed to talk about it all, so here’s an informed little glance at football in a South American company you might not have had much of experience of to date. I know I hadn’t…

Obviously, South America is a real footballing powerhouse. It’s fair to say Venezuela are very much the poor relations. What attracts you to the place from a footballing perspective?

From purely a footballing perspective, it was a mixture of the appeal of the unknown, the U20s reaching the World Cup final in 2017, and the Juvenile Rule introduced in 2007. Its something I’ve already talked a lot about with many people, privately and publicly. I’m a massive fan of it. It stipulates that teams must field at least one U20 in their starting line-up and this is in place in both the men’s and the women’s game.

Within six years, it was having a noticeable impact. They finished runners-up in the U17 South American Championships in 2013 and reached the U17 World Cup finals for the first time in the same year. Four years on from their first World Cup finals, they reached the final, finishing runners-up to England. Successes have also been reaped in the women’s game. The U17s reached the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2016, won the U17 South American Championship in the same year, and then finished fourth in 2018 edition. 

Sixteen of the 23-man 2019 Copa América squad made their debuts as “juveniles de la norma,” including all three of the goalkeepers, four of the defenders, six of the midfielders, and the three strikers, including Salomón Rondón. Additionally, 91% of them play their football outside of Venezuela, compared to just 41% in 2007, when the rule was introduced.