Thursday, 30 March 2006

what you talkin' 'bout willis?

I saw Matt Willis perform at a showcase at the Scala in King's Cross last night.

Now, I was never a fan of Busted. I thought they were a big pile of rubbish pants. And since they split (oh how I unmoved I was) we've had Charlie Simpson's slightly dull Fightstar and James Bourne's entirely pointless Son Of Dork.

But Matty boy is doing it on his own and, unlike The Other Two (as they shall henceforth be known), has remembered that tunes are what makes a hit record and has come up with a load of really good ones.

Now, the music that these boys made together was always completely derivative of punk/pop/rock bands like blink-182 and the like, and as such a couple of Matt's (the bouncy Luxury and the big ballady one Don't Let It Go To Waste) sound very Green Day. But the new single Up All Night is fucking amazing - power pop at its finest. Acoustic-y pop song From Myself Baby is scarred psyche set to a sunny tune, and Hey Kid was big enough to spill out of the Scala and into a stadium.

The parallels with Robbie Williams are obvious. Ex pop band member gone a bit to seed (Matt's packing a bit of extra weight as well as some good tunes these days, and he was completely out of breath after the frenetic performance of his first song), he's the ex-band member with the most charisma, he's the best performer, as he proved last night, and most importantly he makes the best tunes.

Basically what I'm saying is, my money's on Matt.

Tuesday, 21 March 2006


Well I got my orange belt in kickboxing. I'm so chuffed you wouldn't believe. It was incredibly hard. Like every grading before, the hardest thing I've ever done. So maybe I wasn't as fast or as fit as I would have liked, but it was enough.

And I was told my form was spot on, that of a martial artist. Well, you know, I like to look good. :)

Saturday, 11 March 2006

total:spec: Delays

It's a wet Tuesday evening in London's less than salubrious Shepherd's Bush. Tonight at the area's famous Empire venue Southampton band Delays are playing. Normally on the way to a gig in London you can spot your fellow gig-goers on the tube on the way there - bands always seem to attract a certain type of people. But Delays are different. Defying categorisation since they released their first album Faded Seaside Glamour back in 2004, Delays have garnered a mixed but dedicated core fanbase, one that, like the band, have ignored disinterest from many radio stations and corners of the music press and fallen in love anyway with the band's shimmering guitar pop. For pop music is ostensibly what Delays make. The layered guitars and record deal with influential label Rough Trade may have caught the ears of the indie fraternity, but Delays’ intensely melodic sound owes more to less credible influences
“The melodic side of things is always where we come from,” explains 28-year-old frontman Greg Gilbert, on the phone a few days earlier from his bolthole home of Southampton. “That's certainly where my interest in music came from. I mean, I like some really, well, what's perceived as being really dodgy stuff,” he laughs, “just because I like the tunes.”
Like what?
"Um, well Neil Diamond seems to be back in vogue now because of the new album [the Rick Rubin-produced 12 Songs] but I've liked him for a long time. And it was a lonely road. Being 15 at school and loving ABBA and Prince when everyone else is into The Prodigy, a lonely road man.
"But that's my way of being individual. I'm not somebody who likes to piss people off and get in people's faces necessarily but I do think all the best music is divisive and confrontational. Just through the way that I'm singing and maybe some of the things we've gravitated to [as a band], that’s my way of being confrontational.”
Delays certainly confuse people. Their comeback single Valentine - a hugely uplifting track that mixes a funky keyboard riff with soaring guitars - won rave reviews in the music press but was largely ignored by radio. Rarely is there such a mixed response from the cognoscenti.
“We don’t wilfully make music that’s different to everybody else,” says Greg. “It's just a case of us reacting between the four of us. At the point where the four of us are all excited by what we're doing, that's when we'll put it out. There's no thing of deliberately trying to distance ourselves. But I don't think my feet are in the same influences as a lot of our contemporaries. Personally I'm pretty much coming from things like [Primal Scream’s] Screamadelica, the Stone Roses, My Bloody Valentine, that era of music - melodic stuff with intellect - and I don't think that's really the predominant influence at the moment. Just by virtue of being true to that we're distanced. But I wouldn't like to be that calculated. To be honest I think most people in bands want to be accepted,” he laughs. “That's partly why we do it.”
At Shepherd’s Bush Empire the band put on a storming show. Gilbert is a blonde ball of fizzling energy, indulging in some fancy footwork while playing guitar. His younger brother Aaron, 25, steps out regularly from behind his keyboards to play up to the cheering crowd. They seem to share the position of frontman, while fellow band members Colin Fox, on bass, and Rowly, on drums, keep the pace behind them.
“I've never felt like a natural frontman,” says Greg. “I kind of felt that gigging, even though it's something I now really embrace, was a necessary evil. Initially I just did it because I believed in the songs and I found it really hard. When Aaron joined the band I thought he can stand there and take the fucking flack,” he laughs.
“But that's changing a bit now. I'm actually enjoying poncing about on stage and losing it a bit. It's actually really unhealthy man - you just crave the reaction from people, and you learn more direct ways of getting a response. As a kid I really liked the wrestling, so I guess there's that little part of me that wants to be like them," he laughs.

Post-gig Gilbert is in good spirits - he’s pleased with how the gig went. “It’s always hard to get a London crowd going,” he says. And he’s particularly pleased with the crowd’s reaction to Hideaway, the follow-up single to Valentine. In fact the response to the new songs generally on this initial tour to promote the band’s second album You See Colours has been to Gilbert’s great satisfaction. In a musical climate where bands get their second album out in quick succession to the first, the two year wait for You See Colours has been a long one.
“We've got this really strong core fanbase but I didn't take it for granted that this tour was going to be as busy as it has been,” says Gilbert. “I think there's still a lot of people checking us out, which is fine. I feel more than prepared to show them how good we are. They call me Gregative, the band, because I tend to look on the downside of things, but even I feel we're winning people over.”
Gilbert certainly doesn’t seem to be the type of personality suited to being the frontman of a rock band. His presence at the aftershow party at Shepherd’s Bush Empire is, he himself admits, unusual. Ever since the band’s formation he has tended to separate himself from the rest of the band while they are on tour, heading to the tourbus to be on his own while the rest of them indulge in more typical post-show activities.
“It started off out of necessity,” he says. “When Rowly and myself first started to get a band together, the people we were rehearsing with were bang into skunk and it was just fucking with my throat being around it all the time. I got this throat infection that, I swear to God, was the most painful thing I've ever had in my life, and since then I've just got a real temperamental voice. So I tend to shut myself away on the bus after gigs, mainly for preservation. But I don't find it easy going out and about. There's nothing more interesting or of a priority to me than doing a show, but I feel fucked after gigs, absolutely shot to bits. My instinct is to want to sit in the bus and write. I'm a whole bundle of neurosis you see,” he laughs. “I'm Woody Allen in a band.”
It’s this self-awareness, and an awareness of how both they and the outside world see his band, that will help Gilbert and Delays continue to garner respect both in the music world and with fans. An example is the subtly handled expression of Gilbert’s strong political views in his songs. While there are plenty of other artists out there who bang on quite happily about their views with regards to things like the war in Iraq, or the ineptitude of George Bush, Gilbert has taken a different tack - instead he looks at the human side of these issues. One song in particular, You And Me, the opening track on You See Colours, was inspired by a story Gilbert saw on CNN about deserters trying to conduct relationships with their loved ones across the American-Canadian border.
“I think it would be easy to make an anti-Blair song, or an anti-Bush song,” says Gilbert. “But it's been done to death and I think the power in that is completely gone. It's the personal things that really bring it home to people, and that aspect is more interesting to me as well.
“The thing is, you are privileged to be in a band because you do get asked about your opinions, but that doesn't mean they're right. You could quite easily be woefully misinformed and look like a dick. I mean, fundamentally, I think the war is wrong but I think that the actual essence of it is in the human side because the media is dumbing people down to the affects of it. You hear it all the time - 30 people killed by car bomb - and you completely lose sight of what that actually means on a human level.
"I don't like to shout about these things too much because there are people who know a hell of a lot more about it than I do. But there have been certain things that have driven me and a lot of other people mental. For example in the week of Live 8 there was this big tribunal held in Turkey. It was the first tribunal held into the war and I think the Allies were found guilty of illegal war, but not one newspaper has reported it, not one. It's things like that that make me realise the world works in a very different way to how I thought it did as a kid."

Do you feel like you can make a difference as a band in talking about this sort of thing?
"Well if Bono can't..." Gilbert laughs. "The thing is, for me music has always been something of an escape. It's been a emotional thing that I go to when I'm feeling unhappy. So I don't know, man. I’ve always been afraid to be asked that because I never like it when people in bands shout their mouth off about politics. Everybody has an opinion but being in a band doesn't make it more worthwhile. What do you think?”
Well, it’s difficult in that bands can raise awareness more than politicians, but who are people in bands to make those kind of statements? How well-informed are they?
"That's exactly it. You have an opinion on it but how articulate you can be about it, I don't know. But I would hate to think that people in other countries judged me by Tony Blair’s actions. That's the tragedy, we all get tarred by it.”
Fact is though, that Delays are yet to be in the position of the likes of Bono, Green Day and Chris Martin where Greg can throw his hat into that minefield of music and politics. For now they’re still winning over an increasing amount of fans with their zeitgeist-defying music.
It’s been a long hard slog to get here - after an initial flurry of interest after they first formed in 2001, a disastrous gig at Camden venue Dublin Castle sent a gaggle of A&R men running.
“The guitar came off the strap of our now ex-guitarist during the first song,” recalls Gilbert, obviously pained at the memory. “Then the PA started sputtering and Col's bass stopped working. You could see these A&R men just filing out one by one. Any band that's been in that position will tell you it's fucking heartbreaking, absolutely devastating.”.
But one man stuck by them – Geoff Travis, the founder of Rough Trade. At the time Travis was also working for another label he’d launched, Blanco y Negro records, and signed the band (at that time called Idoru) for a single release. But they weren’t ready to be out there just yet.
“I think deep down maybe we knew we weren't ready,” says Gilbert. “Looking back I know we weren't ready. We would have been slaughtered in the press. But the interest from all those demos put in our minds the fact that we were good enough based on the songs.”
Years on the dole went by but Travis eventually signed them to Rough Trade, and the rest is history. Rough Trade, with its long-held reputation from having helped The Smiths establish themselves and currently being home to the likes of The Strokes and Babyshambles, have undoubtedly helped Delays retain a footing that has kept interest in the band high.
“I think it confuses people on one level because people don't know what to make of us, we’re not like other Rough Trade bands,” says Gilbert. “But at the same time people do take us more seriously. I have wondered what people would make of us if we were on a major label.”

Wednesday, 1 March 2006


I just need to express how much I love Tom Hardy.

He's an actor. He was in that really pretentious drama Gideon's Daughter on BBC One on Sunday night. He was in The Virgin Queen recently as Robert Dudley (above). He was the baddie in Star Trek: Nemesis, but we can forgive him that.

Often my attention has been caught by famous people who I fancy, or who intrigue me, or who I admire. But never all three. He's amazing.
I can pinpoint the moment I fell. I was at the launch for The Virgin Queen late last year. I spotted this beautiful looking bloke in trackies and a baseball cap. He looked very out of place amongst all these poncy actorly and PR types. I was smitten. He walked past me. I was obviously staring unashamedly because he winked at me as he went past. Thank God I didn't have to interview him else I might have been hugely embarrassed/thrown out/fired/arrested.

Since then I have been scouring every available resource for information on him. This is now my favourite website: