The British IBM – Where Is Matthew Smith?

The pre-teenage Sean wasn’t half a geek. I’d progressed from collecting football stickers but held court in the playground when it came to discussing all things ZX Spectrum. Others, arguably from more ‘middle class’ homes, swore by the virtues of the BBC computer (and some were swayed by the Commodore) but I was loyal to my Sinclair. I once had a program I wrote in ‘basic’ for my ZX81 published in ZX Computing and was paid the princely sum of £5 for it. Raspberry Pi – eat your heart out.

I can recall my first evening playing Manic Miner like it was yesterday. I’d only recently advanced to the ZX Spectrum and it was all set up around the family TV in an act perhaps akin to watching the coronation a generation earlier. That little black box with rubbery keys, the standalone Ferguson cassette recorder beside it a vital component in loading the games. 

Manic Miner lurched out from the screen; a blitz of colour and sound that I’d never witnessed before from older TV consoles, Binatone bat and ball configurations. Collecting keys and avoiding comic monsters whilst pixels of ground vanished beneath your feet. I’m sure that I fell asleep that night to dream of toilet-seat creatures and crushing boots. It’s perhaps explains my love of all things psychedelic now.

And then came Jet Set Willy. A wonderful sprawling mass of a game. Frustrating and seemingly impossible to complete as you wandered around Willy’s mansion collecting objects. We’d use up our school lunch breaks thinking up how we might jump further to reach those objects just out of grasp. And report back the following day. We’d be at the newsagent on the day that Crash magazine came out using up our pittance of pocket money to devour the tips and gossip from the Spectrum world. 

Even back then, Matthew Smith, writer/programmer of Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy, was something of a hero. The magazines fed the myth; a bedroom programmer who we could all aspire to be in a few years time. We waited anxiously for news of other games from this genius, snippets that we could cling to in order to convince others (and ourselves) that the influence of the Spectrum was not waning. It never came. 

Yesterday, I received details of the song, ‘Where Is Matthew Smith?’, by the British IBM. Immediately I knew what this was going to be about. I had little need to read the attached press release. 

It’s brilliant – and the accompanying video is shot in my home town (just to clarify that’s Leicester and not Catral, the place in Spain where I currently reside). I think that the fact that Leicester houses the Retro Computer Museum was vaguely etched in my head but it’s not a place I’ve ever visited. Slightly out of town, it’s just open on Sundays and run by volunteers. The British IBM got special dispensation to film the video for ‘Where Is Matthew Smith?’ at the museum. The images take you back and I’m resolved to visit when I’m next in England. 

As for the tune – ninety seconds of power pop punk, expertly dispatched by geeks like me. Their ‘Jet Set Willy’ tune brings back so many memories as well. This afternoon I’m going to load up a Spectrum emulator on this pad and reminisce whilst playing the British IBM on repeat. 

 

 

Lucy DK – Drama

Everyone who watched Lucy DK’s performances years ago at the OBS Unplugged showcases knew that they’d seen something pretty special. So taken with her talents was I that I featured her here and then reprised that with a second place in my Sonic Breakfast top ten of the year (here).

At University in America it appears that Lucy has continued to develop. Alerted to a new video via social media, I felt compelled to take a look. 

Gently unique, laidback but suitably strident, Drama is the sound of a strong, young woman finding her voice – although in Lucy’s case one suspects that the voice has always been there. 

Drama finds Lucy coming to an end of what sounds like a toxic relationship, one in which she’s taken the blame from her boyfriend for all sorts of misdemeanours. In truth though, the faults that he’s been so keen to highlight are little more than his own insecurities coming to the fore. 

Glossed with a charming pop intent,  a calypso dust and a light jazz spray bubble away under the surface in this altogether addictive piece that lures you sweetly in. The chorus, a restrained and elegant hiccup of a thing, is the catch that draws you further in and, in my case at least, necessitates repeat listens. 

Lucy DK – her stage is so clearly set. 

 

HelloLisa – Hundred Lives

I’ve always enjoyed E-mail conversations with Pat. Pat is the drummer turned guitarist in HelloLisa, a French band that I featured on Sonic Breakfast (here) back in the day. 

His E-mails are warm, chatty and convivial and when he got back in touch weeks ago to enquire if I’d be interested in reviewing the new HelloLisa record, I jumped at the chance. They’re a bright and breezy indie-pop band able to write magical tunes. The release of ‘Haunted Strange Parties’ in September had passed me by, gone under this radar, and Pat told me why. 

‘The saddest thing is a catastrophic sudden death of Julien, founding member of the band and co writer, co singer of the band at age 42, on July 22 just few days after we get our boxes of this LP from the factory. This is the main reason we didnt communicate so much on the release of this new album because we were in shock and we still are. After weeks of pain and questioning, we decided to continue the band.’

I sat and read Pat’s E-mail as a cluster of thoughts swelled. I didn’t know Julien aside from his art on record and yet still a morbid sadness descended. 42 – no age, younger than me, distinctly horrible. Revealing new material for any band has to be one of the moments they live for and, yet here was an example of extreme sorrow. 

Curiosity abounded (and I didn’t like to ask Pat) so I searched the Internet. To discover that Julien had had a cardiac arrest, that he’d left a young, grieving family just made matters worse. 

If I was feeling a certain shock for this remote loss, goodness knows how people much closer must be feeling. 

Tentatively, I began to listen to the record. It’s a masterpiece, the work of a band at the very top of their game. Lyrically, there are songs that hark back to our younger days; joyous day trips when we were half our age in cars that have long since been consigned to the scrap heap in the sky. It’s an album that grabs middle-age by the scruff of the neck yet makes you all fuzzy about what used to be. 

Clumsily, I cobbled words together to let Pat know how sorry I was to hear the news. I knew I was going to feature HelloLisa again. ‘Haunted Strange Parties’ is a quite remarkable record; one that makes reference to Neil Hannon and The Divine Comedy’s ‘Tonight, We Fly’ in opening track ‘First Black Bike’.

Yesterday. Pat sent me a video for ‘Hundred Lives’, one of the album’s stand-out tracks. It’s only recently been pulled together, a montage of video clips from the 1980’s featuring Toni Basil’s ‘Mickey’ prominently. The song, a nostalgic nod back to your early twenties when optimism is rife about what’s to follow, fits in with the images with eerie perfection. 

I feel so humbled that HelloLisa chose to share this with me. As awfully cliched as it is, life really is for living. We never know what’s around any corner and to not embrace it with every sinew seems like the most awful of cop-outs. 

It’s time to fall in love (again) with the joyful sounds of HelloLisa.  

Voice of Aiko – Interview

About a month ago, I first got news of a neat project happening in London that was all about raising the awareness of the potential dangers of prescription drugs. I thought it would be interesting to interview one of the brains behind the initiative so sent across some questions. 

‘They must be busy’, I thought, on not getting a response and life continued until yesterday. I’d just taken a couple of Nurofen to combat a monster headache when I received a mail asking when the interview might be published. Calista from Voice of Aiko had gone to great trouble to respond but for one reason or another I’d not had sight of her answers.

Here’s the interview in full; a fascinating project and the sort of concept that Sonic Breakfast was established to write about.

(1) To the uninitiated, what is Voice of Aiko? 

Hey guys! My name’s Calista Kazuko I’m a singer/songwriter from London and I’m representing Voice of Aiko today. Voice of Aiko is a new creative collective of musicians, filmmakers, dancers and artists joining forces to campaign for change. An artistic army on a mission!

(2) And what are you doing as your first project? 

Our first project is called ‘Prescription Dream’ and is a collaboration of myself with the incredible producer musicians Samim, Miguel Toro and Jack Brown and incredible filmmaker Enya Belak Gupta. We are working with charities REST, MIND & APRIL to draw a spotlight on an ongoing global prescription drug epidemic.

(3) Prescription Drugs? They’re not so bad really, are they? 

That’s what I thought before working on this project! But in fact prescription drugs can have potential devastating side effects and cause dependency. In England alone there are an estimated 1.5 million people suffering from doctor-induced Benzo drug dependency and more than 1 million patients are taking dependence-forming drugs unnecessarily. Antidepressants are also a major problem and statistics show that roughly 50 Americans die from prescription painkiller overdoses every day. Stopping medication (even low doses) cold-turkey can be dangerous, even fatal.

The figures are frightening and often people won’t realise it’s a medication they are taking, or have stopped taking, that is causing physical or mental changes or that they have become dependent on a medication.

There are great resources online to find out more at:

http://www.benzoinfo.com

http://www.w-bad.org

http://www.april.org.uk

Www.mindincamden.org.uk/resources/articles/minor-tranx

 

(4) What’s influenced you to do this? 

I saw a loved one suffer from the devastating side effects of anti-psychotic drugs when I was younger so I realised that medication can have a serious effect, but I didn’t realise that ‘everyday’ medications can have such an impact as well.

Then last year I met the incredible Millie from charity APRIL (Adverse Psychiatric Reactions Information Link). She opened my eyes to just how harmful prescription drugs can be and I was gobsmacked that I’d never even thought about it. I started talking to friends and colleagues and realised everyone has a story about medication affecting them or someone they know. We formed Voice of Aiko and wanted this to be the subject of our first project.

We live in a prescription world and are often quick to medicate, perhaps unaware of the potential side effects and often without exploring other alternatives first. Now I am aware of the potential dangers, I am able to make more informed, careful choices before popping a pill. If we can get more people talking and thinking like this too, our mission will be complete!


(5) Tell us about the live night you have planned…

To celebrate the collective’s launch and first release, Voice of Aiko are taking over Leman Locke Hotel in Aldgate on Saturday 29th September (sorry folks – missed this) for a magical evening of live music, art, dance, discussion. We will open the event with a conversation room with amazing representatives from the partner charities who will be explaining more about prescription drug problems, what we can do to help and answering any questions. This will be followed by a live performance from stunning musical artists Bumi Thomas and Sera EKE. The CA Contemporary Dance Company led by director Adrian Del Arroyo will be performing a truly unique commissioned piece inspired by the event‘s Prescription Dream theme and the night closes with a very special guest DJ set, drinks, dancing and delight!

50% of all ticket proceeds will go to REST & APRIL, supporting people with prescription drug dependencies. 

 

(6) Any plans to take the live things wider than London? 

For Voice of Aiko not for now – but we all have our own fabulous projects which take us far and wide!

I am in the process of making my debut solo studio album called ‘EMPRESS’ and am loving it! A history of Empresses throughout time this record will be a rollercoaster ride of epic sonic soundscapes! The album also explores the adversities women have had to endure throughout time and the relationship between powerful women and sexuality. I can’t wait to finish it and unleash it unto the world and plan to tour the album with my amazing band Fred Claridge and Sam Weston when it is released next Spring.

 ‘EMPRESS’ the album is available for pre-order exclusively at Pledge Music:

http://www.pledgemusic.com/calistakazuko

For live dates and updates please visit: http://www.calistakazuko.com and join the mailing list.

Awesome filmmaker Enya Belak Gupta who made the beautiful ‘Prescription Dream’ film is always working on weird and wonderful, totally inspired projects too. Enya is the most phenomenal multi-faceted artist, filmmaker, choreographer, creator. It’s super fun to admire her plentiful work in awe! You can follow her latest adventures at: http://www.enya-belak.com/

(7) What future projects do you have up your sleeve? 

Voice of Aiko are excited to start working on our next project straight away with the aim of releasing in late January 2019. This project will be focused on refugee and asylum seeker children, in particular the children who were left in Calais after the Jungle was destroyed. We have some truly incredible artists and collaborations lined up, more to be revealed soon!

And just a couple of general questions to end the interview with::-

(8) Dream festival line-up?

Kate Bush, Freddie Mercury, Supertramp, Fiona Apple, Muse, Portishead, Aqua – IMAGINE!!!

(9) Favourite joke? 

What did the number 0 say to the number 8??

……. NICE BELT!!!!!

Thanks so much for having us and supporting this project.

The Voice of Aiko army welcome you with open, haka-flailing arms! 



 

 

Brendan Leffers – I Love You Tons

I should have been worried on reading the tag line. 

A socially conscious song, giving love and hope, to all those with eating disorders“, it said. 

Those are pretty lofty aims. And, after listening to Brendan Leffers’ song ‘I love you tons’, I can’t help but feel that it doesn’t come close to achieving what it set out to. 

Granted, it’s heartfelt and Brendan can clearly sing with empathy but it’s so horrifically schmalzy, so wrapped up in laboured emotions that it absolutely fails to connect with me. Oh, to be less cynical sometimes.

And as for the dancer in the video? I’m really not sure that placing her in a surgical gown whilst she gauntly dances her contemporary masterpiece is persuasive or edifying. You almost expect to see Julia Davis appear in the video at which point you can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that it’s simply a promo for the third series of Nighty Night.

Pete Jaager is the songwriter of ‘I Love You Tons’ and I realise that I’m being uncharitable in dismissing his song in such fashion. It’s Pete who has twice sent me a PR release about the song. This is Pete’s way of dealing with the grief a ‘dear friend’ of his faces having lost his only daughter to an eating disorder. 

I should make it completely clear. I’m being critical and harsh about a song and a video. I’m in no way making light of eating disorders by doing so. 

10% of all iTunes sales are donated to help combat eating disorders“, says Pete, in a further effort to convince me of the worthiness of this project. 

10% – that makes it all worthwhile then.. 

Dusty Stray – Estranged

One of the delightful and yet unintended consequences of maintaining Sonic Breakfast for four years now (on and off admittedly) has been the occasional, ongoing contact that’s developed with a pretty wide array of musicians from around the globe. 

Two and a half years on from writing not one but two short blog posts about Dusty Stray (here and here), I receive an E-mail from Jonathan, the man behind Dusty Stray. He tells me that the new record, Estranged, is to be released imminently (on October 12th in fact). We exchange E-mails. Jonathan is now back in Amsterdam after a couple of years in Colorado and I’m now here in Spain. It’s a sort of refreshing proof that our lives haven’t stagnated. 

Jonathan sends me a private link to ‘Estranged’ and I sit down to listen (with headphones).

In my humble opinion, more people should throw themselves into the work of Dusty Stray. And perhaps for a newcomer, Estranged is as good a place as any to start. It’s an album that’s both beautiful and sad. We watch through a window as Jonathan writes about relationships that are almost done – but not quite. We listen as his voice grieves over the potential loss; a range of instruments creating a sort of ‘folk-noir’ soundtrack that simply accentuate the mood. 

The cracks and the stains have been covered, all of the locks have been changed, broken windows boarded up, and we’ve become estranged.” That’s what Jonathan sings on ‘Houses’, one of the album’s many stand-out tracks. You feel the sadness and the honesty in the story-telling. A perky solo does its best to lift the misery but any respite is temporary. 

Not that it’s an album so desolate that there’s no cause for optimism. In ‘Things Will Look Different’, the romance refreshes before the lap steel and harmonica herald further disappointment. “In the morning, you were gone”, sings Jonathan with tumbling heart. ‘After The Play’, a romantic interlude, places our protagonists in a theatre and there’s flirting-a-plenty going on as tears are shed over the actions on the stage.

The title of the new album comes from the general out-of-place feeling I had returning to the US after living so long in Europe,” says Jonathan about Estranged. And you realise that there are different ways to read the album’s grief. On a literal level, it’s about that always-odd time when a relationship might have ended but you’re not quite sure. From a wider perspective, this is an album about falling out of love with a country that you now feel estranged from. 

In a world of Brexit and Trump it’s easy to see why this might resonate.

 

 

Michael Nau – Michael Nau & The Mighty Thread

I miss my headphones. When I was working back in England, I never travelled anywhere without my Sennheisers. Comfy to wear, I got through many train rides to far-flung towns by simply putting them over my ears and allowing myself to drift away.

My headphones half-broke quite early in my Spanish travels. They still work and it’s probably nothing that a good coating of super-glue wouldn’t fix properly. The foam cushion has detached from the ear-speaker thing. I have to hunch my neck a bit now if I want the full headphone listening experience.

And mostly there’s no need for them over here. The villa is so remote from others that there’s little risk of complaint should I turn my speakers up to 11. I enjoy the peace and quiet and listening to the sounds of nature but when I need to blast music out it seems to impact upon nobody. 

In cases of emergency, I have a pair of Apple earplugs. They’ve improved since the early I-pod days and slot into my ears quite neatly. I couldn’t wear them for long periods of time though. 

This weekend, I’ve been listening to Michael Lau’s latest album through them. It’s a dreamy, reverb-laden Country soul thing. There’s a sort of laconic fuzz that drifts across the album and it draws you in. You want to get closer to the action, to hear the vocals and the pedal-steel close up, and headphones become a natural choice. 

Lyrically, it’s a record open to interpretation. The best I can deduce is that Michael feels on the edge of something. In the Autumnal ‘Shadow On’, the second tune on the disk, that something is hanging by a thread, the final leaves are falling and you wonder if Michael Nau and The Mighty Thread might be setting itself up as a break-up album. 

But as the album progresses, there are signs that whatever has been failing has turned a corner. “The shit from here on in isn’t going to be so hard”, he sings on No Faraway Star as the mood of the record lightens. The reconciliation continues during ‘On Ice’, a highlight of the album and a song about separate beds and the power of the lampshade in fixing what has gone before. 

“Could you let me help you smile?” asks Michael on ‘Funny Wind’ and you sense that the journey is nearly complete before album closer (and another highlight), ‘Smudge’, throws a bit more doubt into the mix with lines like ‘walking together, walking apart’ and ‘another sinking boat’. That all builds towards the final lyric of the record, “waiting for something to never end“. And you realise that this is probably the point of the record. 

Life drifts; there are few clear-cut beginnings and endings. That’s the preserve of films and books. For the rest of us, we wander, often aimlessly, through things. We’re curious about our future and reminiscent about our pasts. We’re all ‘waiting for something to never end’.