PowerPop Saturday

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When I was young, I never needed anyone. And makin’ love was just for fun. Those days are gone.

So sang Eric Carmen on his big breakup hit All By Myself, a parent pleasing couple of minutes during Top of the Pops. Huge in the mid ’70s, the song signalled the man as a major contender whose career was about to go stellar.

At the time I despised the song thinking it was maudlin balladeering at its worst although those days are gone too and I’ve developed a sneaking admiration for its grandiose piano, George Harrison guitars and Carmen’s soaring vocal delivery.

You may well disagree but it is a good tune and stands the test of time and I can back this up with proof – it ‘borrows’ heavily from Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, composed in the early days of the twentieth century.

Before all this, Carmen was the singer in The Raspberries, a powerpop combo from Cleveland that also tasted success in the States and were tipped for very big things.

Incessantly catchy and with a great punchy guitar riff and exquisite harmonies, the first thirty seconds of Go All the Way sounds like Steve Marriot fronting Big Star as do the final thirty seconds, which is surely no bad thing. The in-between bits are pretty damned good too.

Here it is, three and a half minutes of powerpop gorgeosity:


According to Wikipedia, young people like myself though didn’t get the chance to hear Go All the Way at the time of its release in Britain because the BBC banned their wholesome DJs from playing it due to its suggestive title. Well, they wouldn’t want us corrupted by listening to a pop song, would they?

The Raspberries continued on a high in America. In 1974, their single Overnight Sensation charted in the Billboard top twenty and Rolling Stone raved about their Starting Over album. And maybe even better, when they played L.A.’s Whisky a Go Go, Keith Moon jammed with them.

They broke up, though, after playing a show in Pennsylvania in the spring of 1975 and Eric decided that he actually did want to go forward all by himself.

PowerPop Raspberries & The Knack

And now for a song that in 1979 became the fastest selling American single since I Want to Hold Your Hand in the Beatlemania days of 1964. This came on the jukebox in one of my locals a while back and my pal was more than a little surprised when I admitted that I was a big fan of The Knack’s finest moment.

‘The Knack? The Cack, more like.’

Admittedly this was a band that were never going to be deemed remotely cool with their identikit American ‘new wave’ skinny ties and suits and lack of charisma. Apparently George W. Bush is a fan too which doen’t retrospectively help but then again, David Cameron likes The Smiths and The Jam.

I know very little about The Knack other than My Sharona was written about a girl that that singer Doug Fieger had a major crush on. Luckily she wasn’t called Elizabeth or Lesley or even Sharon or Rhona. Just imagine Muh muh muh muh muh my Rhona. Would just not have been as good, would it?

Here’s a tip if you want to impress any female you might have a crush on yourself. Write a song about her that goes to #1 and stays there for six weeks, selling more copies than any other single in America in the year of its release. This certainly worked for Doug and the pair soon started dating but separated after four years. Sharona rose to the top herself. In the real estate business anyway, selling mansions to the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio.

And who is that good looking gal on the cover of the single?

Well, apparently that is Sharona (Alperin).

The only other Knack related story I know is that Quentin Tarantino wanted to use My Sharona in the middle section of Pulp Fiction when some rednecks take Marsellus and Butch hostage in the basement of a pawnshop, intending to do things to them that the pair really don’t want done to them.

Talking to Movieline magazine, Quentin claimed of the song: ‘It’s got a good butt-fucking beat to it.’

Something I personally hadn’t equated with it previously.

Sadly, he couldn’t secure the rights to the track, which was used instead on 1994’s Reality Bites, a Generation X romcom directed by Ben Stiller which is worth a watch if you haven’t seen it.

Anyway, here is My Sharona.


More PowerPop again next week, folks.

 

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Sometimes x 2

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This week I’ve been pondering on some of the world’s greatest mysteries.

Could Stonehange have been built in Wales and somehow transported all the way to Wiltshire? Could Jack the Ripper actually have been a woman, thus throwing the police completely off the trail? And perhaps most puzzling of all, why when people like Ed Sheeran seem to manage the task effortlessly has someone with Davy Henderson’s talent never been propelled into stardom.

Just think, Sheeran could release a track of himself humming tunelessly in the shower and it would likely sell more in a couple of hours than Davy’s combined sales for Fire Engines, Win, The Nectarine No.9 and The Sexual Objects.

Yes, we all know the music business is unfair but that is just an outrageous fucking travesty, the kind of thing that would probably ensure that I would go through life bitter and twisted if I was in Davy’s position. Actually I maybe go through life like that anyway.

On the plus side, despite the lack of fame and fortune, Davy has obviously still made an impact over the years. The Fire Engines were namechecked on Losing My Edge; they shared a single with Franz Ferdinand in 2004 while Win supplied McEwan’s Lager with the music for the best advert ever produced in Scotland (shame the lager was honking, mind). Davy has also recently been named a cult hero by The Guardian and he featured prominently in Grant McPhee’s must-see documentary Big Gold Dream.

Fire Engines + collage

And that music! From the manic panic of Get Up and Use Me I was hooked. Sets only lasting fifteen minutes max? Who cares, they never felt that short. By the time of the pounding hyperpop of Win’s You’ve Got the Power I believed a breakthrough was inevitable. The song was released three times and each of those times I predicted a hit. In his 10/10 review of the album Freaky Trigger, NME‘s Stuart Macone proclaimed: ‘These are the ten best songs Salvador Dali never wrote.’ Henderson’s masterpiece, though, arguably came in 1995 with The Nectarine No. 9’s Saint Jack, which absolutely confirmed his status of pop alchemist.

Much of the best music in the world this year will come out on labels from major metropolises such as London and New York but only a tiny minority of that music where be anywhere near as good as the latest release from a wee label based in ‘the twin outposts of Crail and Achaphubuil’. Available now on Triassic Tusk, here are The Sexual Objects and Sometimes:

 
The SOBs will be sharing a bill with Vic Godard & Subway Sect and The Secret Goldfish in Edinburgh’s Wee Red Bar on October 20 and the following night the same acts will be stepping onto the stage of Glasgow’s Admiral Bar.

For more on The Sexual Objects, click here.

Here’s a remix of Sometimes from the finest Scottish act to have emerged so far in the 21st century. Compare and contrast if you like but, most importantly, enjoy. This is Boards of Canada’s superb, mesmerizing take on the song:

 
For more on Boards of Canada, click here.

And finally that TV advert I mentioned earlier. I think this is based on a Greek myth but I’m not sure which as my lack of knowledge in that area has always been my Achilles elbow. Boom boom.

Marc & Mickey, Beep & David & Henry (& the Nearest I Get to a Rock ‘n’ Roll Claim to Fame)

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Marc Bolan - Evening Times 16 09 1977

As you likely know, T.Rex frontman Marc Bolan died exactly forty years ago today. BBC 4 marked the occasion with Cosmic Dancer, an hour long documentary on the great man with contributions from some of the people who knew him best including second wife Gloria Jones, ex-John’s Children bandmate Andy Ellison and former publicist BP Fallon (more on him later).

My favourite description of Marc, though, came via another former publicist Keith Altham, who spoke of him being ‘a rainbow of contradictions’. Cosmic Dancer is definitely worth a watch and I found the sections on his time with John’s Children, and the recording of Zinc Alloy particularly interesting. I did think though that some mention of his old mucker Davy Jones might have been made.

T. Rex were absolutely massive in Britain in the early 1970s and Marc Bolan instantly became the nation’s biggest star when Hot Love knocked Mungo Jerry’s Baby Jump off the top of the charts in the Spring of 1971.

When these Glam Rock pioneers blazed in to Glasgow a few months later to play a packed out Green’s Playhouse they required a police escort just to get past a frenzied crowd and into the venue. T. Rex were experiencing Beatles style adoration and BP Fallon coined the term ‘T.Rextasy’ to describe the mass hysteria spreading across the country like wild-fire.

And here I have to say that when talking heads appear on TV to tell us all how grey the 1970s, I have to laugh. In fact, it makes me almost glad I’m middle-aged because, as a ten year old, I lived in a world of T.Rex and David Bowie and all the other androgynised peacocks with their swashbuckling stomps and glittery garbs while today bores like Ed Sheeran and Adele rule the airwaves.

From the Ringo Starr directed Born to Boogie, this is Telegram Sam, a British #1 back in 1972.

 
And here’s that little Rock ‘n’ Roll claim to Fame of mine. When Born to Boogie was given a limited re-release around selected British cinemas in 2005, it was accompanied by a short film called All Over Brazil. Which I wrote. The film had already screened at a number of festivals around the globe including some biggies like Berlin and the British Pavilion at Cannes but this was somehow a bigger thrill. Kind of like supporting T.Rex.

Okay, not quite but the nearest I could ever hope to get to it.

I did also get to know Mickey Finn when I lived on the south coast for a time in the 1980s but that’s another story although since this blog likes to talk about Scottish music, I’ll just mention that he was pretty keen to find out more about what was happening in Glasgow at the time with bands like Simple Minds and Orange Juice on the rise.

And now for a tribute within a tribute.

Listening for the first time to David Holmes’ Late Night Tales compilation, I was knocked out by just how mesmerizing the tribute to BP Fallon’s old pal Henry McCullough sounded.

Fallon is one of those remarkable figures in the business whose influence weaves right through music from the sixties to the present day, with connections to everyone from Led Zeppelin to My Bloody Valentine, Iggy Pop to Jack White. He mimed bass guitar with John Lennon when the former moptop visited the Top Of The Pops studios to perform Instant Karma, he managed Johnny Thunders for a time, interviewed Morrissey at London’s ICA and was (nick)name-checked by Marc Bolan as ‘Purple browed Beep’ in the lyrics of Telegram Sam. Beep really is a guy with countless rock ‘n’ roll claims to fame.

Recorded in one take, here are David Holmes and BP Fallon with Henry McCullough:

 
For more on Marc: https://www.facebook.com/marcbolan/

And for more on Beep: http://www.bpfallon.com/

Goodbye, Holger Czukay

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Can: Animal Waves (Virgin)

I can’t claim to planned this series of my favourite 49 tracks (plus 1 bonus) from 1977 too much in advance but have always known that something from Saw Delight by Can would be included somewhere along the line.

With the recent death of Holger Czukay, it seems appropriate to post this now rather than leaving it till later.

As I’ve written before on here, I pretty missed out on Krautrock during my youth, mistakenly believing that the music was some form of German prog. I did, though, love I Want More when the song entered the charts in the second half of 1976.

Then punk exploded and by the time Can arrived in Glasgow to play Strathclyde Uni in March 1977, they had been forgotten. Filed under irrelevant. Which in hindsight was a mistake. A pretty big fucking mistake when you listen to music like this. My favourite version of Animal Waves is the edited one on Anthology but here’s a much longer version of the song that has never been officially released:


‘I have just turned 46,’ Holger Czukay told the NME back in 1984, while discussing a bathchair in the corner of his kitchen. ‘Still too young to marry! Ha ha. When I’m 80 I will get married and this bathchair will be the present to my wife!’

Unfortunately, Holger never did reach the 80 mark, dying earlier this week aged 79. He did though marry although I’m not sure if his wife Ursula ever received the chair as a wedding gift.

Sadly she died just a few months ago and with Holger’s Can bandmate Jaki Liebezeit passing away too back in January this really has been a horrible year for Can and their fans.

Also from Saw Delight, here’s Don’t Say No which obviously shares a very big resemblance to Moonshake:


RIP Holger Czukay (24 March 1938 – 5 September 2017)

These Days (Nico 1988)

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Nico 1988 Poster & Premiere

The latest in the increasingly frantic conveyor belt of rock and pop biopics, Nico, 1988, has just received its premiere at the Venice International Film Festival, where it opened the Horizons strand.

At this rate we’ll soon be running out of singer’s stories to be told. I fancy seeing a Billy Mackenzie movie myself – with the opening scene consisting of The Associates being dropped in the London offices of their record company and then cutting to Billy as he steps into a taxi, explaining to the cabbie that this will be his last free ride on the company tab. Before telling him where he wants to be taken. Dundee.

Anyway, so far, there haven’t been too many reviews of Nico, 1988 but there is evidence of a buzz building and I dare say I’ll be heading out to have a look myself when it arrives in Britain albeit I’ll be going with, at best, moderate expectations. Decades of experience have taught me that this is the best strategy to employ when going to see any biopic.

Directed by Susanna Nicchiarelli (that’s her in the middle of the photo top right), the film stars Danish actor Trine Dyrholm, who was very impressive last year in Thomas Vinterberg’s The Commune. Trine started out as a singer herself and it’ll be particularly interesting to hear how she tackles Nico’s unique vocal style, which many have likened to a foghorn.

I’ll give you she can often be off-key but I adore that bleak but mesmerizing baritone. Her version of The End makes The Doors’ original sound like a cheery ditty but that colder than Alaska in wintertime intonation is the perfect accompaniment to her music. And timeless too. You could imagine a chanteuse in Weimar era Berlin sounding like that, or even in a peasant woman in medieval times in the Alps with that voice entertaining her fellow villagers during a local celebration. Well, I can imagine that kinda thing anyway.

From Nico’s debut album Chelsea Girl this is one of the most beautifully melancholic songs you could ever hope to hear:


Born Christa Päffgen, Nico was a model, working with the likes of Coco Chanel; an actor – she participated in some of Lee Strasberg’s method classes – along with Marilyn Monroe if the legend is true – and was given a walk-on role in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita before moving to NYC and hanging out with the Andy Warhol crowd and starring in his experimental Chelsea Girls. She was also a muse to the likes of Brian Jones and Jim Morrison but where Nico really shone was as a singer and musician.

She may still be best remembered for the three songs she sang on the greatest album ever recorded, The Velvet Underground and Nico, but her solo work can be spellbinding too. Particularly on her second and third albums, The Marble Index (1968) and Desertshore (1970).

Nico x 4

Nico, 1988, though, examines the tail end of her career, think Tony Wilson’s Factory rather than Andy Warhol’s. Grit rather than glamour. This is the era of a scagged-up singer washed up in Salford and Manchester, playing to limited audiences for little money, that money inevitably being quickly spent securing smack from some scumbag dealer. No Lou Reed, no Edie Sedgwick, no Bob Dylan but instead a number of far less famous faces like her manager and local scenester Alan Wise, a key figure in post-punk Manchester.

Nico_1988_still_2

John Gordon Sinclair plays Wise although here he seems to have been renamed Richard (he was also renamed Dr Demetrius in James Young’s Songs They Never Play on the Radio). Nico, 1988, is based to some extent on interviews with Wise, who sadly died in 2016, Peter Hook calling him: ‘A true Salford legend’ and also claiming ‘God now has a great promoter!’

Now if I happened to be the casting director whose job entailed finding an actor to play the man, I must admit Sinclair wouldn’t be someone that would immediately spring to mind for the role. The idea being even less likely than choosing his old Gregory’s Girl co-star Clare Grogan to portray Nico.

Nicchiarelli, though, is aiming for the spirit of the characters rather than going down the mimicry/lookalike route.

In an online interview for Fred TV, she stressed that her intention (together with Trine Dyrholm) was: ‘Never to imitate the real Nico or never to be blocked by reality, by the fact that it was a true story. We tried to invent, we tried to be free… At the same time with the respect that is due to a true story.’ She also stressed that she wasn’t attempting to tell the whole story.

So, if you want to see a very linear tale of Nico from her childhood through to her final days, shot with the kind of slavish veracity that New York Times fact checkers would approve of, then this is not the biopic for you. But bear in mind that factual accuracy seldom helps make a film more dramatically successful.

Here’s a little taster for the film:

 
A UK release date is yet to be confirmed. The Venice Film Festival ends on Saturday.

Late Night Shopping (The Scottish Connection #2)

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Scottish Connection Logo

Directed by Saul Metzstein in 2001, Late Night Shopping tells the tale of four unfulfilled twentysomethings trapped in tedious jobs and working night shifts, their work hours dictating that their social lives barely extend beyond meeting up at an open all hours cafe for a coffee and chat.

Don’t expect a Ken Loach bleakfest though about alienation and the evils of globalisation. Late Night Shopping is a comedy and a rather sharp comedy at that.

Late Night Shopping cover

So, what are these tedious jobs you may be wondering – and even maybe wondering too whether you might share the same job description?

Well, Jody (Kate Ashfield) works on a micro-electronics assembly line, Sean (Luke de Woolfson) is a hospital porter – which doesn’t strike me as that bad a job; Lenny (Enzo Cilenti) earns his crust as a call centre enquiries operator while Vincent (James Lance) stacks shelves in a supermarket.

As Vincent’s workmate Joe puts cheerily puts it: ‘Lovers leave. Parties end. Bad jobs go on forever.’ This wasn’t actually true back then in Britain anyway but recent governments seem to reckon it’s the way to go. Watch that retirement age continue to grow, folks.

The main premise of Late Night Shopping, it would have to be admitted, doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. But before going into that, a word on our quartet of slackers.

Lenny is hopeless with women. Asked by Jody whether he finds her attractive, he can’t answer. The correct answer being ‘highly’. He also suffers from porno reactions but I won’t go into that here. Womanising Vincent strives to be shallow as possible; Jody is feisty or at least tries to present herself as feisty and Sean’s more than a little hopeless.

Okay, the premise. Sean lives – or at least thinks he lives – with Madeline (Heike Makatsch). The couple haven’t though spoken in three weeks. After a row, Sean began trying to avoid her and this proved easy due to their conflicting shift patterns. Now he’s not even sure if she’s moved out or not so checks items like soap and towels for any signs of life.

I doubt very much Miss Marple would be required to solve this particular mystery but remember, this isn’t social realism, this is a comedy with the humour ranging from the wry – like Jody wearing an ‘On the Road’ T-shirt for the gang’s visit to the seaside – to the belly laugh funny. You might remember in a recent post I mentioned a hellish situation where, much to the annoyance of the passengers, a car radio gets jammed on an AOR station. Cue the likes of Kayleigh by Marillion, Foreigner’s I Want to Know What Love Is and China In Your Hands by T’Pau.


And now a word on the locations. Late Night Shopping is set mostly in a nocturnal neon-lit city that could be just about anywhere in Europe but is mainly Glasgow with some shots of London thrown in too. The cafe where the group of pals chew the fat is the Variety Bar on Sauchiehall Street, well the exterior anyway but other than that there’s no attempt to utilise any iconic Glasgow landmarks and this is exactly what the filmmaking team wanted.

Seeing Shallow Grave was a huge influence on writer Jack Lothian. ‘A Scottish film which is modern and contemporary and it’s not about being Scottish, it’s just actually a story, it just happens to be set in Scotland.’

Glasgow is never named in his film and none of the four leads are Scottish.

A good idea? Here I’m screwing up my face a little as I type. At least it would never be deemed necessary to subtitle the dialogue in the English speaking world outside Scotland which might help out at the box office and yeah, big cities are becoming more and more homogenised but I hate the homogenization of our towns and cities and would consequently rather see somewhere with a very individual character onscreen.

Not that the entire film is set within the boundary of a city as I hinted at earlier.

In cinema’s illustrious history many great films have made use of fantastic locations across the planet and even outer space for their climaxes.

Here Sean, Lenny, Jody and Vincent pile into a car and drive down to Light Haven (which is mainly Saltcoats), a little coastal town whose main attraction appears to be a crazy golf course adjacent to two giant King Kong inflatables. Sadly, these were built by the film’s art department especially for the shoot.

Saltcoats

Late Night Shopping is a bit like an old friend. I watch it every three or four years and always enjoy it and always laugh at the AOR tracks, although it must have been an expensive gag with a reasonably significant chunk of the budget being spent securing the rights to all that musical dross.

I should mention here that there’s an amusing commentary too as an extra which makes a change from the usual praising every single person that stepped on to the set bollocks that is guaranteed to bore me rigid. The director even has a gentle jibe at a minor cast member Nigel Buckland, the ex-presenter of Vids and the Welsh Barry Norman – well if Barry had been a potty mouthed, madcap peroxide blond, prone to sarcastically slaughtering films while wearing only Y-fronts or being pushed around in a shopping trolley.

Buckland plays Vincent’s boss and Jack Lothian himself also puts in a few blink and you’ll miss him appearances in the background as one of Vincent’s co-workers.

He was probably an ideal choice as he used to work in my local Safeway – a fact that generated some incredulous local press at the time, along the lines of ‘how amazing that someone who’d had a crap job could be capable of writing a film script let alone one that might be worth watching’.

Which Late Night Shopping definitely is.

Lenny and Vincent - Late Night Shopping

Trivia:

Saul Metzstein worked on Trainspotting, part of his job entailing him helping to find the Diane character. This task called for him to walk up to girls in Glasgow streets asking any potential Diane if she would like to be in a movie. And here I’m conjuring up an image of some gallus lassie on Argyle Street giving it, ‘Aw, never heard that wan before,’ before striding on and muttering, ‘Creep.’

And speaking of that film, the shot of Jody and Sean drinking milkshakes is a hommage to the scene in Trainspotting with Spud and Renton, where Spud has a little dab of speed before a riotous interview.

Finally, when Metzstein first met Jack Lothian, the latter was working on a novel called Last Exit to Anniesland.

Headless Children & Don’t Go Back At Ten

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As is often the case nowadays, Marc Riley’s 6 Music show is where I first came across Madonnatron, when they came in to play a session. Very good it was too. Since then they’ve recorded another sesh for Marc and their music has been showcased regularly elsewhere on 6 Music. They’ve toured with Meatraffle and The Moonlandingz as well as performing recently at the Green Man Festival.

Now they’ve released a self-titled debut album on Trashmouth Records.

Madonnatron

Movie gurus often instruct screenplay writers to outline characters when we first meet them in only three words and on their Facebook page, Madonnatron describe themselves similarly, in their case ‘Psychedelic Witch Prog’.

If you’re worried about that last part, don’t worry, the album does include a couple of fluid Pink Floydy basslines and the occasional organ sound that I’m sure Rick Wright might well have influenced but these are more from the psychedelic era Floyd. There’s no grand concept here (unless it’s escaped me), no weird time signatures, no ten minute drum solos and no fold-out sleeve designed by Roger Dean (although the Pope might have preferred that).

Psychedelic Witch Post-Punk might be a more accurate three word description – well, Microsoft Word counts hyphenated words as one, so I don’t think I’m cheating here. Saying that, Psychedelic Witch Prog does have a better ring to it.

Madonnatron have only been together for around a year and a half and apparently they couldn’t play their chosen instruments when they started off.

More proof then that Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule – which I alluded to a few posts back – is far from infallible. They might not be as technically proficient as some but they sure know how to concoct a gloriously primal racket with desperate vocals and harmonies that (I guess) are sometimes deliberately discordant but all the better for it.

It’s an often dark, searingly angry and eerie album. And, yeah, it is rather bewitching.

Highlights include Mother’s Funeral and Sangue Neuf, where they strike up a furiously feral chant like a girl gang moonlighting as a garage band; Be My Bitch has a great rockabilly guitar sound with the reverb cranked up really high while Glen Closer comes over like a female goth band that have just recruited Elena Poulou.

Best of all is album opener Headless Children. This is one of the most invigorating tracks released so far in 2017 and it comes with an inspired promo too.

Set the Controls for the Heart of the Moon (during the Witching Hour of course):


Three words to sum up the album. Top fucking notch.

Madonnatron are playing live tomorrow at the Windmill Brixton as part of the Strong Island Recordings all-dayer and they’re set to tour the country in early 2018.

If you wanna find out more, here’s where you can find them on Facebook and Bandcamp.

*

It’s been a whole fortnight since I last featured Girl Ray. Luckily they’ve just released a new video for Don’t Go Back At Ten from their fantastic debut album Earl Grey, which gives me a great excuse for including them here again.

‘The joyous visuals,’ according to the Fader, ‘transport things back to a time when TRL dominated the culture’, which I think means it’s a parody of the kind of crap videos that I spend my life attempting to avoid.

No need to avoid this though. Here is Don’t Go Back At Ten:


If you wanna see Girl Ray – and why wouldn’t you? – here are the band’s upcoming British tour dates:

Leeds, Headrow House (October 31)
Manchester, Gullivers (November 1)
Glasgow, Broadcast (November 2)
Newcastle, Think Tank Underground (November 3)
Birmingham, Hare & Hounds (November 5)
Oxford, The Cellar (November 6)
Bristol, Louisiana (November 7)
Brighton, Green Door Store (November 8)
London, The Scala (November 9)

For more on Girl Ray click here.

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