The Dowling Poole – Bleak Strategies (album review)

Bleak Strategies - or are they?

It’s taken me a long time to be able to write this. The album was released through PledgeMusic in May 2014 and, strangely, it has taken a much longer time than anticipated to be able to share my own thoughts on this…

Cast your mind back to 2012. I’m in Bristol, with some very good friends, catching up briefly and sharing stories. My friend mentions an upcoming project between two of his favourite artists, Willie Dowling and Jon Poole. I am very interested and excited by this prospect – as I love both of their writing styles, crazy instrumentation and pop sensibilities, and immediately want to hear what it will sound like. Nothing is certain at this point, but things are in the pipeline. I quiz him about this regularly to see if there are any more developments.

Nothing much happens for a while (as the respective members are busy with other musical endeavours!) but then at the end of March 2014 there is an announcement – that the project will be launched at the start of April! Excitingness occurs – as the project seems to have taken off, and been recorded – however slight trepidation, as the artists are using Pledgemusic there is potentially the chance that they won’t get to 100% of their pledge target – and the music will not be released.

We find that the album is to be called Bleak Strategies (which sounds a little forlorn to start with) however there are video updates aplenty. On watching these, both me and my own musical compatriot Taz, comment on how happy they look working together in the studio. We remarked on the similarities they had to us – both of us love working with the other and feel like we’ve found a musical “equal” who will both challenge and inspire to write and perform better (and a great friend as well!).

There’s just one thing that doesn’t sit well with me – there is one video in the Pledge campaign where the mascot for the album and who features on its cover, a mannequin named Edwina One, is being washed/cleaned in preparation for her “starring role” – I’m unsure what the story is meant to be, apparently she was found in a lake – but needs to be washed. The video update about this seems very unashamedly pornographic – soft focusing or blurred focus and hands suggestively cleaning the mannequin’s “skin” – it seems a rare moment of bizarre female objectification and leaves me feeling rather uneasy watching the video. The music being showcased, a song named Clean, is very strong though – with Givvi providing lead vocals. I didn’t think by any means that the album would be an “easy” listen – as both writers contributing tend to tackle difficult, political and unusual themes in their songs – however this is a different kind of unease!

Excitement builds within their fan-sphere. The project reaches over 100% (HURRAH!) and so will be released. I share the link to the campaign with lots of friends, who I know will like the music – and who like the teasers of what they hear, and also sign up to the Pledge. Some also buy gig tickets too! The date is set for the digital release day, however this is one of the most inconvenient times ever for me – I am working in the Manchester office at this time, and will be working late into the evening!

The release day comes, and Jon and Willie start the party from 7pm. I explain to my work colleagues about the album release and manage to slip away early at around 7.40 to be able to listen to the music as well. I run upstairs to the hotel above MediaCityUK, and download the music and start playing.

It initially reminds me of Jellyfish, Blur, and many many other things I can’t quite put my finger on. Pop. Punk. Oi! Music hall. For the first listen through, I am taking it all in. The band and fans are being very active on Twitter as well – there’s lengthy discussion about songs, songwriting, opinions and meanings aplenty, and a massive “community” spirit going on too. People are excited. The time passes in a blur. The album finishes. It’s as if I have stepped into a rubbery world where time isn’t quite right, and I know I’ve heard something new, different and completely attention-seeking that won’t stop demanding to be played.

And so on the album goes again. And again. And again. At around 10.30pm I realise the air-con has been on ferociously strong for the past three hours, and I realise I’m freezing cold – but also don’t care! Manchester looks delightfully twinkly below. An early start beckons, and so bed is called for. But it feels like something has changed – it’s a very long time since I heard music and felt it had effected a profound difference.

The morning comes – but I am up very early and manage to fit in another listen to the album before work. The Sun Is Mine feels so incredibly relevant – Manchester is normally grey when I visit (it always rains!) and so seeing some sun rays from the daybreak is soothing – much more so with a perfect soundtrack!

I play Saving it All For A Saturday to my work colleagues, at the start of the meeting – who start doing a bit of a dance to it, and comment on the storytelling, life-snapshot contained in its cheery words and tune. One of them is very interested – and buys the album there and then online!

The work finishes, and I am off home again. My flatmate has bought the album and wants to have a chat about it – we listen again at home. And re-listen. And re-listen. Many other reviewers have said the same thing too – that the more you listen to it, the more you hear – whether it’s a mix-buried “you little fucker!” or a combination of perfect instruments tooting and plucking a melody. The arrangements are complex, and there’s even more the deeper you delve.

And even so – months later – there is still much more to be heard in the music. They played some Pledger-only gigs, which I was very lucky to attend two of. There was another brilliant invite-only gig at the 12 Bar Club in London, to help generate press – which was also great (and feeling very much like part of a community spirit of people who wanted to see them do well, also!)

The band also performed a live session for Marc Radcliffe, bolstered with live drums and bass – which has been recorded for BBC 6 Music, who have aired a few of their tracks over the past month. Interestingly (well, for me, anyway!) my first listen of the album took place around 10 floors above where the band played their first radio session!

There’s now even more excitement as they are doing a short acoustic tour, playing 5 dates next week, across the country!

Why don’t you snap up a ticket too – I can guarantee, if you like music, you will like their music – and they will entertain you for an evening as well.

All that remains to be said is that this album (and any more music they wish to play!) will always be on rotation here. It’s guitar based powerpop at it’s most sensible and silly. Deep, meaningful, quirky, delightful and currently woefully underrated!

The Final C Stock run

The last time a C Stock train was due to run over LU rails was on 9th July – as the last train made its way from Hammersmith depot, via Moorgate and Ealing Broadway, to Ealing Common Depot – to be broken up and sent for scrap.

I managed to snap the train at Wood Lane, on my lunch-break…

and was then incredibly lucky to be able to go for one last (short) trip on the train as well!

The mood on board was very sombre. A few colleagues had been on the train to pass their last respects – as many of those involved in the Tour and indeed in the last run had driven C Stock at some point in their lives – it was their way of saying goodbye.

I then departed at Edgware Road to go back to work for the afternoon – but very very grateful to Mark, Tom, Paul and Paul for the brief but most welcome goodbye trip! :(

Farewell C Stock

Unfortunately the latest casualty of modernisation are the C Stock trains on London Underground – which used to run on the Circle and District lines. They have been gradually withdrawn over the past year or so – and there were two railtours to celebrate their life in service.

They were one of my favourite trains – for a while, I would commute on them and so would spend a good 30 minutes or so, staring in to space, wondering what all the parts did, and how they worked. I was always, however, intrigued by the TOOLBOX motif that was on the outside of a toolbox, in the middle cab of the train (the train is normally made up of three driving motor cars, one at each end, and one in the middle – where I would normally sit and look in to the DM car opposite!). The font is lovely, the design is quirky, and I wondered why such a design was on the outside.

The answer lies in the history of what the part used to contain. There was an oil sump in the area previously (on the rear wall of the driving cab, near the instructor’s seat) which was removed at some point during refurbishment, and the very 1980s metal plate with engraved font was added over the oil gauge – so it had to be vertical in order to cover over the gauge.

I still found this very quirky and made it my mission to always sit in the Toolbox Seat, whilst the trains were still going.

For the Farewell Tour, all of the cars had information about the history of the train, old pictures, different liveries and relevant information about how the train had changed since its introduction in 1970.

The day was a wonderful success, with tickets sold out a long time in advance – and was a fitting tribute to a train that had seen many years in service. However, the last trip of the C Stock was not yet to happen…

Music review – Willie Dowling and Chris Catalyst, 12 Bar Club, London

I had a wonderful evening out the other week, at the 12-Bar club in Denmark Street!

Playing were Chris Catalyst (of Eureka Machines, Sisters of Mercy and various other Ginger Wildheart projects) and Willie Dowling – from Honeycrack, The Grip, and freshly broken-up Jackdaw 4. Support was provided by Givvi Flynn and her band – with Eli Cameron and Jay Clark.

The evening was aimed to give both Chris and Willie’s music an airing – as they’ve collaborated on many projects in the past – and both make rather a pleasant noise when playing together, as when viewing this video, I hope you agree!

Givvi> and band started off the evening in style, Givvi’s distinctive rock vocals filling the tiny dark cavern of the 12 Bar Club, and the songs from her album, Thieving From The Magpie’s Nest were played impeccably – she got a great reception from the crowd as well. The songs very much came to life with the crowd packing in more and more, and the highlight of the set for me was their rendition of “Dirty” – a Willie Dowling-penned tune from the album.

Chris and Willie then took to the stage, playing many songs from their respective back-catalogues, with tunes from Honeycrack, Eureka Machines, a Grip tune and some Jackdaw4 numbers. Although they were only playing guitar/keys (the stage at the venue doesn’t allow for much more than this!) the sound was rich with harmony. The gig was well received with a very warm and chatty atmosphere from all around – and it was absolutely fab to hear the music in a more stripped down way. Personal highlights were Chris’s Magnets – and Willie’s King of Misery.

The gig was also added to by a huge number of friends of mine showing up as well – from as far afield as Notts, Leeds, Paris, Birmingham, and… Australia! We had a pretty good catch-up before the gig – much needed as well.

All in all, a wonderful evening with lovely music! I didn’t take any photos – I was too busy having a lovely time instead! :)

Journey to Metro-Land

This weekend, there have been many goings on, on the Met, north of Harrow… A familiar friend has been back to greet passengers once more!

One of the remaining 4-car units of A Stock that have been saved, was out giving trips up and down the Met line – as part of the LTM’s Vehicles On The Move days, to coincide with Rickmansworth Canal Festival. It was rather brilliant to catch a proper train from Amersham to Harrow, and then back again.

It was also really great to see other people enjoying the train as well – a few small children, enthusiasts and past A Stock travellers were soaking up the atmosphere, noises and bouncy seats!

Amazingly, the cab door was open on the way back North, and so I peeked a look inside at the equipment and the superb view! That’s something I won’t forget in a hurry, rushing trees amidst the powder-blue of the cab.

Also taking part in this day was the lovely 1938 Tube Stock train, with amazingly shiny and heritage adverts inside, beautiful wooden floor, restored moquette and some friends as stewards!

The 38ts is available to be viewed at Acton Depot (when this is open!) and you can pop in the cab, have a wander through all the carriages, admire the 1930s styling, and marvel at the awesomely outdated adverts displayed in the carriages too! The rear cab door was open on this train as well – so I was able to snap the view of the A-Stock train at the top of the page, departing southbound from the rear cab, on the way back to Amersham!

All in all, a very lucky day – brilliant weather and beautiful trains to ride on! You can take a look at all of my pictures of the day here.