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Tom Vek

Unlike football, music is generally quite a genial hobby. Favourite bands might split up, but they could always get back together, and if not there’s always new ones to take their place, whilst decent songs might eventually be used as the soundtrack to an annoying bus journey, but you can take solace in the fact that it might at least earn a band you like some money. However, there are times when it can seem as cruel as a last-minute winner against your alloted team or a loss by a penalty shoot out.

If their was one artist I could be said to support, Tom Vernon-Kell, or Tom Vek as he prefers to call himself, would probably be the most likely. Whilst other bands have been and gone, there are few other acts that have managed to stay so fundamentally frustrating and, therefore, engaging. The subject has been posted about before on these pages, with a message to Vek’s PR ending in a hopeful mention that 2010 may see the return of a man who’s been silent since an appearance on ‘The OC’ about 4 years ago. ‘We Have Sound’ was and is glorious, and the search for missing b-sides isn’t nearly half as depressing as the thought of living without them. However, as the fanbase he cultivated dwindles and memories of his (often underwhelming, reportedly) live shows fade, those still interested are reduced to scouring google for unreliable word of mouth news from forums. Some claim he’s alright, playing with The Late Greats at Latitude last year, others say he’s reclusive, reqiring his studio alone in search for the perfect sound.

Slowly, Vek’s Wikipedia entry has become something akin to my homepage as desperation for any kind of update increases. But around a week ago, things seemed to change for the worse, causing something close to a panic attack. A nameless editor had updated the page, by entering “Vek has recently stated that he is ‘unable’ to write a follow up to 2005′s We Have Sound due to having contracted writers block and it is expected his will soon announce his musical retirement.” No sources, no mention of where he might’ve stated this. Google searching threw up no further links, but it seemed to fit with the facts – 5 years, no new material and little indication of a willingness to enter the industry again. An unanswered e-mail to his manager looked like apt confirmation. Until today, at least.

At 9.50 this morning (April 13), the entry was deleted and replaced with “Island Records and Vek’s PR company (Darling) recently announced that Tom Vek would be releasing his new album in June 2010.” The unsurprising thing is that Island have done little of the sort, with no press release or news to confirm the claim, whilst Darling PR seemed unaware that they’d even added Vek to the roster, nevermind announced plans for a new album.

So, then, what now?  Rumour has it that he is in fact still working on his second album, which we can all hope he is. If you’ve got any rumours, true or false, it’d be lovely to hear them. At this point it doesn’t really matter – any news is good news.

If you’ve forgotten what he sounds like, here’s 2 b-sides. They’re probably the best thing you’re going to hear today:

Tom Vek – Music Television


Tom Vek – Roots/Branches


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What’s become increasingly clear over the past few weeks of over-indulgence and endlessly watching ‘best of the noughties’ programs is how relentlessly terrible the start of the decade was. Girls Aloud might looks pretty cool and ‘on trend’ now, but when they started they were horrible chavs, which seems to be a pretty decent analysis of how things have gone – from being generally a bit horrible and awkward to being overly glossy and sickening. It’s telling that the fashion in Fresh Prince repeats seem more relevant than pretty much every show made in the early part of this millenium.

Anyway, whereas there has been a lot of ‘best album’ of the decade articles bandied about, as well as a series of a brilliant articles by Simon Reynolds (of Rip it up and start again fame) on the Guardian website, there have been more than a few groups forgotten in the run downs. Of course, there’s a chance that bands like The Stills simply weren’t influential enough in the eyes of critics to justify even a passing reference in the run through of a decade. But there was one group who promised to be hugely popular, receiving amounts of airtime that would see an equivalent band today being relatively huge. So why doesn’t anyone remember JJ72?

If you’ve never listened to them before, then you might not want to start out now. There eponymous debut comes across as a collaboration between Hope of the States and Grammatics doing cover versions of average Placebo songs. But that’s with the benefit of hindsight – at the time they were quite exciting, with October Swimmer and Oxygen sounding like an exciting start to the new millenium. It’d be easy to say that most of their material lacks bite, and that’s because it does, with songsbased around the an effeminate chorus that never really ends. But whilst this might sound like something a bit hateful, the sound of Formulae still brings me happy memories of waiting 40 minutes for a 2MB song to download on Napster and thinking it was fast, or paying £80 for an MP3 player that held a maximum of 13 songs. we got rid of our 56k connection in about 2003, and whilst JJ72 lasted 3 years longer, they were effectively dead in the water after 2002′s I to the Sky which failed to build on the work of their debut and saw them dropped from their label. Line-up changes followed, but the Dubliners ultimately failed to live up to their early promise which saw them hit the heady heights of #16 in the UK album charts. Hardly the band of the decade, but a nice hint at what the future used to sound like.

JJ72 – October Swimmer


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The common perception is that children are easy to trick and cajole into liking certain things and behaving in certain ways, being highly susceptible to peer pressure and marketing. That’s why Christmas time sees adverts aimed solely at the under 7 market, telling them how they need to have a doll that wees itself or some Lego-wannabe transformers-esque pile of rubbish. The truth is that, whilst kids cna be pretty easy to manipulate, they can also be bloody stubborn, too. Teenagers are probably easier to mould in your own image – as long as you’re not their parent, that is.

A few years ago, a band came out that were pretty exciting. They made a sound that hadn’t really been given much mainstream coverage, filled with fast, angular guitars, frenetic drumming and a panicked, high pitched vocalist yelping out semi-incomprehensible lyrics. ¡Forward, Russia! were somewhat of a mini-internet phenomenon, with their demos being passed about in a similar manner to the Arctic Monkeys before them, with forums across the internet linking to this one website that had them all there, ready for download. The songs were fantastic, and whilst lad-rock was on it’s steady ascent in the pages of the NME, it sounded like the perfect antidote to the turgid mess that post-brit-pop was churning out.

What was probably most noteworthy was the naming of everything. As far as band names go, ¡Forward, Russia! is one of the more inspired choices around, but it was the songs themselves that garnered the most attention. Numbering tracks has probably happened before, but never pulled off with such conviction. It was a masterstroke, appealing to the ‘gotta catch ‘em all’ part of human nature whilst also ensuring that you were safe in the knowledge you had all the tracks available.  The band claim – probably honestly – that this was simply a byproduct of being unable to find decent monikers for the tracks in time for their first gig, with the numbers sticking. If that was an accident, the band wearing the famous black and white ¡! t-shirts on stage was possibly a bit more cynical. Still, we lapped it up and bought the t-shirts (I had around 10 in different colour combinations), held onto the signed vinyls and attended the in-stores.

The result was something close to a cult. There weren’t masses of fans, but that’s kind of helped, like you were holding onto a secret that you were desperate to share. For a while they became my life, thanks to no more than 19 great songs, some clothes and great live shows. Steve Lamacq was even a big fan, airing various sessions by the band as well as a radio documentary about them. On myspace, you could barely move without bumping into someone copying their name (including my own positively cringe inducing ¡Forward, Matthew!) and their shows increasingly like social gatherings. Me and other fans would convince our friends to come along, promising them the time of their lives. There was a definitely something special about them, and it helped that they were amongst the best live acts in the country, with the crush of the crowd and the bizarre, jolty dancing antics of frontman Tom somehow fitting. Apart from one single, they put all their records out on their own Dance to the Radio label, and their debut LP Give me a Wall only intensified the love. Circular, with 40 seconds of hidden music at the start of the record linking up the first and last songs, as well as the fracturing ’15′ into two parts, it was, to me at least, a seminal work. As a result the band toured even more intensively.

For all the NME’s talk of ‘New Yorkshire’ and Dance to the Radio heralding a new dawn of DIY (which, you could argue, it did), it only took another 2 years for the wheels to almost completely fall off. Despite the success of the first album, the follow up Life Processes didn’t quite make the same impression. With ‘Don’t be a Doctor’, the band ended the numbers era, and with it took away some of the mystique surrounding them. The touring had also gutted them of all passion for gigging, and the hundreds of shows they played in support of their debut was replaced by a single sojourn around the UK for the second. They’d also become disconnected from Dance to the Radio, who had allegedly diverted attention and resources towards The Pigeon Detectives.

Around mid-2008, the band announced that they were to go on a hiatus, and in October they played their final gig, playing Brainwash festival at Leeds’ Brudenell Social Club. It was far from a suprise, as much of the hype around the band had already died down, and Life Processes was released with more of a whimper than a bang. Many of the bands that had been lumped together with them in the ‘New Yorkshire’ scene had already begun to move on or die out – The Cribs were the fathers of the movement and have moved on to playing arena venues, with Kaiser Cheifs doing similar. Others like shutyreyesoryoullburstintoflames and The Wallbirds either split up or never really made it.

What’s happened since then? Drummer Katie was the youngest member of the band, and has returned to education, studying something at a University in Nottingham. Singer Tom Woodhead looked as though his solo project ‘Anteater’ has legs for a while, but has since moved on to production, working with I Concur and Cats and Cats and Cats, whilst also becoming the in-house sound man for a venue in Leeds. Rob Canning, the groups bassist, has been the most elusive to track down, and results have thus far been inconclusive. Whiskas, initially the heartbeat of Dance to the Radio and the driving force behind the band has now joined Duels, though has also set himself up as a producer and possibly a manager. He also appears to be a guest lecturer, and it was a video of his telling his story to students at Leeds Metropolitan University that brought about this post.

In the lecture, Whiskas mentions that the band still class themselves as being together, and his blog mentions that they’re ‘on hold’ for the time being. Whilst math-rock still inspires many different genres, it’s rarely being given much airing by itself, so it’d be nice to think that the band that took 65daysofstatic and made it pop and almost radio friendly will be back again one day. We can only hope. Anyway, here’s Whiskas saying far more interesting things about the band and the bubble around the band than I ever could:

And if you missed the boat, here’s their finest moment:

¡Forward, Russia! – Twelve


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A week or so ago, you might remember a post about Swedish pop princesses Lucky Lucky Pigeons, appealing for anyone, anyone to come forward with a copy of their (should be) seminal works Happy Birds Day and Bird Flu. Thankfully, dreams can come true and yesterday, my wish upon a star was answered in the form of a comment on the original LLP post:

 

Thank you for the beautiful post! I cant help thinking it’s so strange that you’re writing those words about our little teenage dreams and hopes, but still it feels great to be reminded. Thanks!! I actually found about 10 copies of ‘Bird flu’ next to my desk after reading this, and of course you should have the songs. I’m including the first EP as well.. Hope this works:

http://www.zshare.net/download/68559498904c72da/

LOVE! /Elin, former third of LLP

 

So there you are, go ahead and download some of the most underrated pop music from the entirity of MySpace. I’d forgotten quite how many remixes of ‘Who smells marshmallows’ there were included, but they’re all entirely listenable. Apart from the obvious, highlights include ‘Make Money Money’, a bizarre telling of a love story based in a Supermarket that plonks along with the bands trademark keyboard riffs and the incredible Casio-sponsored ‘Lucky Song’, which features the familar refrain ‘Lucky Lucky Pigeons are we’ and the line ‘When you hear us play our music/You remember it ’til you’re dead’. They’re probably right, too

 

An honorable mention goes to ‘N to the Ice’ which has probably the best chorus of all time:

‘With your Rock and Roll tees you look like a duck
And your lucky lips that sing:
Quack Quack
The way you swing your fringe on the stage
It fills me up with love
Quack Quack’

 

Lucky Lucky Pigeons – Happy Birds Day / Bird Flu (zshare)

Thank you for the beautiful post! I cant help thinking it’s so strange that you’re writing those words about our little teenage dreams and hopes, but still it feels great to be reminded. Thanks!! I actually found about 10 copies of ‘Bird flu’ next to my desk after reading this, and of course you should have the songs. I’m including the first EP as well.. Hope this works:

http://www.zshare.net/download/68559498904c72da/

LOVE! /Elin, former third of LLP

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4 years is a fairly long time. It’s the time between two World Cups. It’s enough time to get a degree, as well as taking a year out. It”s also nearly 5 years, which is how long it is soon going to be since Tom Vek released his debut album We Have Sound. Released to stores on April 4th 2005,  it did fairly well in terms of sales for a record that recieved minimal mainstream press, charting at a very respectable #73 in the UK.

wehavesound[1]

The brilliant thing about it is that, 4 years on and after repeated listenings, it’s still just as exciting and fresh as ever. ‘Nothing but Green Lights’ still buzzes with the same popping genius it always did, ‘C-C (You set the fire in me)’ is still a perfect example of an indie-pop single, whereas ‘On the Road’ is a slow burner of the highest quality. But there’s only so long that a boy can live on 10 songs that were apparently written at the beggining of the decade. Even when b-sides such as the Grand Theft Auto 4 endorsed ‘One Horse Race’ come into play, it only serves to underline how desperately a second album is needed.

Every so often a rumour pops up, and even more infrequently some truth rears it’s head – Tom was last seen in ‘Nake babes’ with Dev Hynes, with whom he released the ‘Melting Tits’ EP, which is nigh on impossible to find (if you have a copy/any songs, please get in touch). Anyway, I decided to take matters in my own hands and e-mail Tom’s PR for some kind of clarification, sending the following message:

I saw your address on Tom’s official page, so I thought it best to contact you. Of the past few months I’ve been trying to find out anything, but apart from the odd blog post claiming to have seen him on the tube or something, there’s pretty much nothing. So i’d just really like to have some idea about his second album. Is it still happening? Is he still working on it? Is he planning on touring? Oh, there’s so much. I know that his first album took years to create, but it’d just be nice to have something to cling onto.

Anyway, this morning came the fateful reply:

hi matthew

tom is still working on his second album and doesn’t seem to be in any great hurry!
cheers
It might not seem like much, but it’s still something to cling onto. In all likelihood, I doubt we’ll hear anything from Mr. Vek for another year or two – from the rumours that have been floating about the internet, it sounds like he’s living up to his label as a musical genius with some zeal, having reportedly dismantled his recording studios in order to rewire it himself. It may not be ture, but it’s just another layer to pour on top of the mystery that is Thomas Timothy Vernon-Kell.
Here’s some reminders of why he’s so very good:
Tom Vek – Nothing But Green Lights (mediafire) from ‘We Have Sound’ album
Tom Vek – One Horse Race (mediafire) B-side from ‘Nothing but Green Lights’ CD single, also featured on Grand theft Auto 4
Tom Vek – Summer Fall (mediafire) B-side from ‘I Aint Saying my Goodbyes’ CD single

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