Interview: A Lonely Ghost Burning [Part 1]

A Lonely Ghost Burning is a really exciting project. Headed up by Jamie Downes, it’s a great series of compilations, featuring some of the best new bands around, both from here and overseas. Split into three different genres — Alt-Melodies, for rock, punk and everything inbetween; Beautiful Songwriting, featuring folky, acoustic singer/songwriters and bands; and Oneiric Escapism, which features a diverse range of ambient, electronic and all-out dreamy soundscapes — the A Lonely Ghost Burning compilations are the breath of fresh air we need in this scene. 

I sat down to chat to Jamie about it all a couple of months back, and I feel extraordinarily guilty for just posting the results up now. It was fantastic to speak to someone who loves music, and championing new music, just as much as I do, and we must have rambled on for about an hour and a half about the scene today, who our favourite bands are at the moment and what the hell we’re doing trying to get people to read our stuff on the internet. I also learned a lot about A Lonely Ghost Burning and what’s coming up next, and that part, you can read below. 

This interview is split up into two parts because it’s pretty huge. Read the second part next week!

TBO: What is A Lonely Ghost Burning and where did the idea come from?

ALGB: Well, the whole purpose of it really is to share new music. It really is as simple as that. I couldn’t really say how the idea came about — it just came to me. I was looking for something creative to do, and I’d spend about half an hour working on it before thinking ‘nah, this is crap’. However, I thought this one had some legs, so I stuck with it, and yeah, I think it’s turned out really well.

So what were some of those other projects?

Nothing substantial, really. I’d become quite disenchanted — I was writing reviews prior to this and it wasn’t really leading to where I wanted it to go. I wanted to be involved with music — finding it, sharing it, talking about it — but for me, reviews weren’t really the best avenue for doing that. I thought about live sessions and stuff like that, but like I said, none of that really stuck.

Are you the only person that works on A Lonely Ghost Burning, or is there anyone else that helps out by recommending bands, putting lists together or sourcing people?

At the moment, it is just me! The only other people working on the projects are those working on the cover art. I think it’s very important for records to have great cover art. I search for most of my music via Bandcamp, going through all the new releases on a daily basis, and while I obviously don’t listen to all of them, cover art is very important in helping records catch my eye. There are many that I won’t listen to because either the art, or the band name, or the title of whatever record it is is just gross! And likewise, if there’s anything that reeks of unprofessionalism, or where you can tell that a band is just not all that bothered and treats whatever they’re doing as a joke, then I’m just not interested.

So now, I’m trying to bring that sense of care across into what I’m working on. The cover art on the older releases were just old photos and they weren’t very good, but they were functional. And now, the two women that I’m working with are just so talented and it’s nice to be able to give them a bit of publicity and give them an opportunity to showcase their work.

Well yeah, I thought the cover for the last release was phenomenal, and I would never have guessed that the artist was so young! How old was she, about seventeen?

Nope, fifteen! When she sent through that picture, I literally just stood there and stared at it for a couple of minutes. I just couldn’t believe how much talent and vision she had at just fifteen.

Well, I can only just about draw stick figures, so I won’t be contributing to your compilation covers any time soon! Anyway, A Lonely Ghost Burning is three different series, isn’t it? You have the Alt-Melodies series, the more esoteric kind of stuff and then the Beautiful Songwriting, which is more acoustic. What’s it like putting out records that are so different in tone and style?

It’s been quite surprising as to how many people have taken an interest right across the board. I thought that there would be very distinct fanbases for each one. I’m sure there is, but there are people taking an interest in all of them which is great. It is quite difficult to flit between them when you’re putting them together though. I’m doing my daily scouting, and I’m going across all the different genres and saving all of the artists that I might be interested in featuring, but I get really into one series, and then all of a sudden, I have to switch to the next and the transition can be a bit tricky. It doesn’t take too long to get used to it, but it can be a bit jarring to start focusing on a totally different style.

That also means it’s quite hard to publicise it all. It’s difficult to publicise the project as a whole, as some people might look at one side of it and really like it, but won’t be into the other releases.

I suppose that there are more outlets out there that might cover the Alt-Melodies collection than the collections that are a bit more out there?

You know what, I thought the electronic one (Oneiric Escapism) might be the one that might boost the project but it didn’t necessarily turn out that way! I guess I felt that the poppier artists and the electronic ones would bring in certain people that might be beneficial to the project, and you know, I didn’t do that in a kind of cynical way, but I did feel that it might provide a kind of boost.

Out of all of them, I think that actually, the Beautiful Songwriting compilations are really popular and that’s a little surprising because it’s all quite folky.

That said, folk’s kind of gone through a bit of a revival hasn’t it, so it’s not that surprising after all?

Yeah, I guess so, and that might be why they’ve done so well. As far as the Alt-Melodies collections go, I have changed those slightly recently — they used to be titled Alt-Punk and they used to be a little punkier, but I decided to tweak it slightly because of the wider range of music I wanted to cover. People are still coming back and downloading them, so I guess I’ve done something right.

The kind of demographic I’m going for are people that are quite open-minded — and although the compilations get a lot of downloads, I wish more people were!

Well, when you have such varied tastes yourself, hence why you’ve put out all of these different kinds of compilations, then it might be difficult to find someone else who will be into all three.

Oh yeah, definitely. And I think that as well as that, I’m just a nobody. I’m just saying ‘hey, this is my music taste, listen to it!’. I haven’t really got a background in the music industry, so I just need people to trust in what I’m doing — and I know I need to earn that trust. But hopefully, people feel that the stuff I’m putting on these compilations, even if they don’t necessarily connect with a certain style or artist, that they can understand that the artists I’ve chosen are talented, and even if they don’t like them, they can see why someone would.

I suppose that forms the ethos behind the whole project. I really love your mission statement, “discovery, community, honesty, pleasantness” — and have you found that these releases have helped you build a sense of community, or at least have a greater part in one?

While the project doesn’t have the biggest following as yet, its following is pretty loyal. There are more people coming along that are getting involved on a more regular basis via social media and channels like that, which is really important to me because even just liking a post shows that people care about it and are interested in what I’m doing.

I think that people have responded well to that ethos and what the project represents, and the people that have taken an interest appreciate those values, which is great to see. It’s important to me to make sure I’m showing those four values in every release — discovery, community, honesty and pleasantness — and hopefully, that will keep people interested into the future.

It’s not just the compilations that you do either. You do in-depth interviews with a few of the artists on the compilations. Is it important to get under the skin of what they create and to be able to highlight that to people?

Yeah, absolutely — that’s what I’m most interested in. I love how music can take you out of the present and just to some other time, or it can connect you to another event, even something you’ve invented in your head. Any music you like can get you out of the present, and I’m interested in the person behind all the artistry — how they manage to do that, and whether it’s deliberate. I’m fascinated by all the things that could contribute to an artist making an album or a song and I’m really keen to keep working on that kind of the site. It’s been quite sporadic so far, but there are several interviews I’ve got lined up over the next few months and I’m hoping that it’ll become more of a regular thing.

When I go into these interviews, I’m not necessarily interested in what the artist is doing, where they’re touring and so on, but I want to know how their mind works. I sometimes worry that the questions I write up are more of a psych evaluation, but so far, the response has been really good, and I think the artists have really appreciated having the chance to talk about their music in a way they may not have otherwise had the opportunity to do.

I totally agree, and I do find these days that a lot of interviews with bands focus more on the basic questions — where are you touring, where do you want to be in a year, and so on — so I really like that you get to the real heart of why they do what they do. 

Well yeah, I think that in the interviews that are all very similar, that they’re there just to provide content, rather than something more substantial. So I’m trying not to let that happen to the interviews that I do.

So what interviews have you got coming up next then? 

I can’t truly confirm whether or not they’re going to happen, but one that I’ve done recently is with an artist called Moth Rah, and she makes quite gothic tunes. She released a two-track single and I compared that to Bat For Lashes, so hopefully that gives you an idea of what she sounds like, and that interview came out really well. But keep an eye on the website to see what else is coming up — I try and get a couple of interviews a month up on there.

A Lonely Ghost Burning has just released Beautiful Songwriting Vol. 4. It’s brilliant. Check it out, along with the other great compilations, at alonelyghostburning.co.uk

Review: Bangers — Bird

So top Southern punx Bangers have gotten round to doing yet another full-length record. This is generally good news for the entire nation, and in this time of great strife and political unrest that means I spend most of my evenings screaming very bad words at the television every time George Osbourne says anything at all, the prospect of new Bangers managed to put a smile on my face.

It seems that Roo is feeling just as grumpy as I am from the off as the album launches into ‘No!’, and a clear dissatisfaction with life in general seems to be the order of the day. But even as he shouts “No! I don’t think it’s getting better!”, I’ve got one substantial grin and the urge to fist pump the shit out of everything Judd Nelson-style. Typical, chunky Bangers riffs dominate this and the following track ‘Mannequin’, with those fantastic bass licks you’ve come to expect from Andrew rumbling on in the background.

From the start, Bird demonstrates a tremendous amount of energy and purpose — something that’s never been lacking from a Bangers record, but seems to be even more urgent and ever present than ever before. There’s also a huge level of control, which may seem a little out of kilter for a punk record, but it never feels too polished. Instead, there’s a Jawbreaker-esque level of bluntness and honesty, even in slightly more metaphoric tracks like ‘The Trousers of Time’. However, if there’s any track that really grabbed my attention, it’s ‘Fleshlings’, with its jangly, guitar-led fury, relentless rhythm and the repeated mantra that “everything will fall into place”.

You might think that Mysterious Ways was the weirdest thing Bangers ever wrote — and indeed, the 48-hour recording haze that led to its creation meant some fantastically bizarre songs came out on top, including the mind-bendingly fantastic ‘Mosquito’ — but Bird is pretty weird at times, despite the greater level of polish. ‘Asimov’ is really haunting in places, mostly thanks to the oddly deep backing vocals. It leads into the intricate and puzzling ‘Vibrate’, which builds up slowly thanks to some of the tightest drumming I’ve ever heard on a Bangers record. And it’s not all bad news — ‘Partial Eclipse’ ends the record on a pretty chilled out note, with a much more upbeat feel and a reminder that it’s not all so bad after all.

It’s hard to believe that this is only Bangers’ third LP, given their fairly prolific discography over the past few years, but all of those EPs and splits, plus the non-stop touring, has meant that they’ve learned a thing or two about writing a great song. There’s something weirdly English about it — perhaps that’s the grumbling — but it offers a certain level of catharsis that I’ve been sorely needing. It’s a virtual guarantee that I’ll always like a Bangers record, but I love Bird, because even though it’s full of vitriol and existential doubt, it’s dead clever with it, relentlessly loud and a whole lot of fun. Necessary listening, no matter what you’re into.

5 out of 5 high fives!

TwoBeatsOff 3.0 (or something like that)

So it’s been a bit quiet on the Western front here. I’ve been conceptualising though, and when that happens, there’s a potential for danger. Or badly formed ideas.

So anyway, the fact of the matter is that I’ve been working on a massive motorsport event with actual work, and I’ve realised that actually, real life is busy. And hard. And it leaves little time for writing — especially when your job is writing. So I’ve gotta shake things up a little with this thing, and it means that the kind of stuff you’ll be reading might be a little different. So here’s what’s going on:

LESS REVIEWS — Yep, sorry. you’ll see less reviews. I wish we had time to do them, I really do. But I must get about ten promos a day in my inbox and we can’t cover them all. At the end of the day, if I’ve got limited time to write about stuff, I’d rather write about bands I really like, and music that’s really captured me, rather than yet another crappy pop-punk EP.

MORE INTERVIEWS — on the topic of writing about more bands I really like, interviews are definitely the way to go. I want to dig deep into what makes great music, or at least, what keeps my favourite bands on the road.

MORE LONG-FORM FEATURES — that might even involve series! Gosh! There’s a lot of stuff in this scene that I’d like to discuss, dissect and get my teeth into. So hopefully you’ll see a lot more of that.

And that’s about the long and short of it! It might mean less frequent updates — well, probably more frequent than at the moment — but I hope it’ll be features that you’ll enjoy reading more. So thanks for keeping with us, new stuff soon!

A Few Thoughts On The Sex Pistols, Selling Out and Being Punk as Fun

So the other week, everyone had a big freak out over the Sex Pistols credit cards, at least in the marketing world. Richard Branson decided that he wanted to make finance ‘sexy’, so evidently, some bits of plastic with the word ‘bollocks’ on that you can swipe to make purchases with was the way to go about it. The Daily Fail et al have all jumped on it, the comments sections of virtually every website yelling loudly about how the Sex Pistols continue to ‘sell out’.

I hate to break it to you, aging punks everywhere, but I’ll let you in on a secret that pretty much everyone else knows – the Sex Pistols were basically sell-outs from the start.

Malcolm McLaren’s London boutique, Sex, was a mecca for obnoxious young people everywhere. One two, fuck you, here’s an expensive pair of tartan bondage pants designed by Vivienne Westwood. The Sex Pistols, at the right place at the right time, became a marketing vehicle for McLaren – tailor-made to swear, shock, and look punk as fuck. They were lucky in that they actually wrote some pretty decent songs – to this day, I still crank up the volume whenever ‘Bodies’ comes on in the car – and later, when John Lydon went off to form PiL (ultimately far, far better), their punk credentials were kind of set in stone. To the average bloke, at least, The Sex Pistols were the very definition of punk. So then when Johnny Rotten appears on the telly selling Country Life butter, or a crappy ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’ design shows up in Topshop, the average bloke is outraged. What happened to punk? Where’s all the meaning gone?

Asides from ‘Anarchy in the UK’ and ‘God Save the Queen’, and maybe ‘Pretty Vacant’, The Sex Pistols’ magnum opus was less about political unrest and far more about fun. Even ‘Anarchy in the UK’ is imbued with a sense of fiendish joy, a feeling of intense glee at the prospect of giving the world a middle finger and fucking off into the haze of the London underground. But I ask – does it need a message? Can’t we just be content with fun? If you wanted politics in your punk, the 70’s saw plenty of bands who were very good at that, whose very existence was a direct affront to the norm, but The Sex Pistols were not it. Striving to find a message other than general discontent, and a hell of a lot of fun, in Never Mind the Bollocks is fairly pointless – just enjoy it for what it is.

Similarly, the new album by Slaves, a guitar-drum-punk duo from Royal Tunbridge Wells, has raised similar questions with regards to its message. It’s rare I disagree with Punktastic, but their review of Are You Satisfied? asked when Slaves would find their message. What they missed is that it’s already there – just go out and have some bloody fun. Stop moaning about stuff. Enjoy life, in every way that you can.

Of course, there’s a world of difference between Slaves and the Pistols. For a start, Slaves can write a much better song. But at their very core, it’s all about making a lot of noise and having a lot of fun when you’re doing it. There’s a certain level of ridiculousness coming back to punk, which arguably has lost its sense of fun when it isn’t being diluted down into sub-genre after sub-genre, and I for one am pretty stoked. And admittedly, it’s actually quite nice to see a punk band back at the top of the charts in amongst all the usual tat. Now go and be nice to your pets.

TBO Update – 18 May 2015

Hey hey!

So I’m currently in the middle of moving house and internet is extremely intermittent. I’ve got a few articles and reviews coming up which will go live as and when I can get them up! But normal service will resume from 1 June.

xoxo – Robyn