Going Underground :: Sam Russo

Sam Russo, looking like a redneck.

“Do you want a tray for all those mugs?” – Sam Russo

I decided to do this issue of Going Underground on Sam Russo for one single reason, if I didn’t do it soon then I never could. There’s a big countdown-esque clock ticking away, and when it hits the “dun-nen, nen-nen, nen-a-nen, duuuun” Russo will be catapulted into the dead centre spot light of “acoustic punk.” Sam Russo is, and this isn’t arguable, the best songwriter the UK has to offer. In fact, if someone wanted to contest against this, the debate might go a little like this, “Sam’s the best!” “No he isn’t.” “You’re an idiot.” “You’re right I am, Sam’s the best.”

It’s funny though, because I was once that exact idiot. The first time I heard Russo was on the Hotel Payphone Carpark Demos track ‘All These Postcards’ and it did nothing for me. The recording was almost inaudible, and I couldn’t understand why I’d heard such great things about this guy. Then I saw Sam live. There was such a raw honesty in the way each line was sung, I not only felt like I could relate wholly, but that I’d been there next to him through every experience of his narrative lyrical style, because the words are where the true magic of Sam Russo lies.

Russo openly admits he hates recording but, thankfully, practically everything else I’ve heard on record is pure gold (can I really count ‘XXXXXXXX’ and his phone call to Giles as pure gold? Well, maybe the latter).

He’s also a fucking nice bloke and if you tell him you’re a poet and show him one you’ve wrote he might just give you a little magpie badge, or maybe that was just me.

Video :: Apologies, I Have None – ‘Clapton Pond’

Apologies, I Have None have a new record coming out really soon, and it’s shaping up really well. Having already released ’60 Miles’ earlier in the year, the London-based band have just debuted another new song. ‘Clapton Pond’ is a massive tune – which is totally indicative of the band’s previous work – and the video is an absolute masterpiece. Shot by Julian G. Harding and starring Sam Russo, it feels more like a short film than a music video and is deserving of all the praise it’s getting.

Apologies, I Have None head out on a short UK tour with Crazy Arm and Great Cynics on February 29th, and are playing a few dates with, acclaimed country singer/songwriter, Austin Lucas. Shortly after, the band will embark on the release tour for, debut album, London. This is followed by a few dates with Touche Amore and Pianos Become The Teeth.

  • White Rabbit, Plymouth – Feb 29th w/Austin Lucas
  • Croft, Bristol – March 1st w/Austin Lucas
  • The Hydrant, Brighton – March 2nd
  • Firebug, Leicester – March 3rd
  • Fighting Cocks, Kingston – March 4th
  • Karma Cafe, Norwich – March 5th
  • ManchFESTer II – Kraak Gallery, Manchester – March 17th w/Above Them, Sam Russo, Calvinball, Great Cynics + more!
  • The Central, Newcastle – March 18th
  • Santiagos, Leeeds – March 19th
  • The Flapper, Birmingham – March 20th
  • The Edge Of The Wedge, Portsmouth – March 21st
  • The Old Blue Last, London – March 22nd w/Sam Russo + ‘Special Guests’
  • Thekla, Bristol – March 26th w/Touche Amore + Pianos Become The Teeth
  • Sound Control, Manchester – March 27th w/Touche Amore + Pianos Become The Teeth
  • XOYO, London – March 28th w/Touche Amore + Pianos Become The Teeth

Don’t Panic :: Lucero – London

“She was dressed as if she’d been kicked out the arse end of the 1940’s, and would not shut the fuck up”

Giles Bidder - Asleep On A Couch

At the bus stop I was greeted by a girl who talked incessantly about Sheffield, and the book she was reading. She was dressed as if she’d been kicked out the arse end of the 1940’s, and would not shut the fuck up. Thankfully she didn’t speak to me while we rode into Manchester, which gave me time to familiarise myself with Ben Nichols lyrics. She reminded me of the book, which I forgot straight away, and also told me her name (which I also instantly forgot) before she departed somewhere near Salford. My mind was in a full though tornado, which made it hard to think of anything but the task at hand.

I met Barlow at the coach station and, after jumping the 30p turnstile so I could take a shit, we boarded to London. The ride down was fine. I napped pleasantly most of the way. Not exactly sleeping, more a closing of eyes paired with a rhythm of deep breaths, but peaceful enough to replenish some of the lost hours from the previous night and slight deplete the high levels of anxiety coursing through my nervous system.

We arrived in London and found the hotel quite easily – it was roughly five minutes from the coach station which was 5 minutes from the underground – which was a relief that travel would be a stone’s throw away. The hotel itself was very basic, but more than adequate for one night. The room was two floors down in the basement and the toilet was 5 floors higher than this on the top floor of the building. This seemed a long way just to take a piss so after making Barlow turn his back, I relieved myself in the small sink that was included in the room. It looked like a prison but it was well worth the £33 we’d paid between us.

Barlow had been texting Jim Lockey, trying to arrange a return gig for him in Manchester after the success of the last show of ours he’d played. After finding out Jim and the Solemn Sun were playing that night in Camdem, and that we had a good few hours to kill, we headed down to the venue and decided to talk business face to face. Even for a Thursday Camdem was packed to the teeth with the ignorant masses. I swear as soon as anyone enters London their personalities are drained and they become the walking dead. No manners, no emotion. Jim wasn’t at the venue yet so we took to a small coffee shop and I ordered a large mug of black coffee. I stirred it with the teaspoon and it looked like oil. It wasn’t the best thing to have when I felt so tense and anxious, but fatigue had settled in heavily so I balanced the pros and cons coming to the conclusion the caffeine kick would be better in the long run. After the coffee we headed back up to the venue and met Jim, sorted the details of the show with him and after a catch up, headed back to the hotel to drop our bags off before heading to the Windmill in Brixton for the Lucero show.

We got back to the hotel, stopping at Sainsbury’s for bread, humus and mushrooms, and got ready for the show. I made a sandwich, drank a glass of water and brushed my teeth before heading out. We boarded the underground to Brixton and on the way down bumped into an American girl who was also looking for the show so we decided to team up and after a few wrong turns eventually found the place just in time for Giles from Great Cynincs’ set.

Giles played a good set, and it was interesting to watch him solo again after seeing so many shows with a full band. The next act was a guy called Dexy who sounded (and quite looked like) Chris Carraba, so much I was waiting for him to start knocking out Dashboard Confessional covers like so many short lived wanks. Finally Lucero took the stage, and even though it was only Ben and Rick, they played a great set with the majority of the crowd drinking heavily, raising glasses and singing louder than Ben. They played for roughly an hour and a half until both the members seemed too drunk and burnt out to carry on. They promised they’d be back the next night, we had tickets for that too, and with the last underground in less than half an hour, we decided to head back to the hotel instead of hanging around for handshakes.

I tried to sleep back in the room, but the lack of alcohol, the strange bed I was in, and Barlow’s avalanche causing snores forced me into another hot sweat night with the minimal sleep. Waking the next day was a torture as all I wanted to do was stay in the bunker trying to rest until it was time for the show, unfortunately check out was at ten thirty am and it was roughly around ten by the time we finally got out of the beds and ready to go. We dropped off the key, heading towards Peckham to hang out at the house where Giles, James Hull and a few more of the best UK underground artists lived.

The View From Greenwich Park

The anxiety was rife by this point, hitting peaks that hadn’t been hit for many years. The sleep deprivation and the feeling of being completely removed from any comfort zone with no haven to return to sent my brain into a full fight or flight situation. We arrived at the house, Astbury Castle, and sat around for a few hours talking to Giles, whilst he slept wrapped in a sleeping bag on the couch, and to the abundance of people who seemed to walk in and out of the house keeping an open door policy. I decided was insane, I felt like I could never live in such a situation, I needed my privacy, my locked doors and my drawn curtains. it was great to hang out there but it wasn’t a situation I could stay in for too long.

Barlow wanted to head to Kingston to check out Banquet Records but I was in no state so we decided to split and he headed in that direction whilst I headed to Greenwich Park to clear my head and check out the surroundings. At the top of the hill at Greenwich, I turned around to see the entire of London centre – The millennium dome to the right and the rest of the shit to left, this was the perspective I needed and I instantly felt glad I was here. My mind was in the gutter, my stomach was spinning and I felt as if I would pass out in seconds, but I was here and having fought the battle and won was the greatest feeling I could have. No matter how much I felt like I was circling the drain, it was worth it.

I headed back to The Castle for a coffee and a final chat with its inhabitants, I was still in limbo but now it was easier to deal with because I knew I’d pulled through the hardest parts. I drank a coffee from a pot that had been brought from Amsterdam and wondered if those crazy fucks put weed in everything they made. I drank it, then headed to the train station to head back to Victoria to rendezvous with Barlow.

I rode the train and was awash with a sense of surrealism. It had been an incredible journey thus far, but I felt so physically and emotionally drained it was hard to even believe it was real, let alone appreciate it. I stared out the window at the estates and the unfamiliarity of them made me feel as if perhaps it wasn’t reality but a dream. I knew the anxiety made me feel like this but even that realisation didn’t remove this sense of fantasy.

The train pulled into the station and Barlow was waiting on a nearby bench. We head a few hours to kill before the show, and a friend of his wanted to meet with us so we went to the Wetherspoons and drank a warm, flat pint of Carling while waiting. We waited just over an hour and by the time the girl got there we had to leave, we headed into the underground to continue onto Brixton. Barlow’s friend didn’t have any credit on her Oyster card, so she left. We’d waited over an hour and she’d been with us for five minutes. We rode the underground then walked down to the venue, entered, ordered some drinks and sat drinking with Sam Russo until the show started and a small short haired girl took the stage. Her songs weren’t to my taste but she tried to get everyone involved, so I couldn’t fault her on effort. Russo took the stage next and having seen Lucero the previous night I was more eager for Russo than the headliners. Sam played superbly, and it seemed clear by the reception from the crowd that I wasn’t the only one excited to watch him play. After Russo, Lucero were back in their two man form and began ripping through songs from their back catalogue. Some were repeated from the previous night, but the crowd were mostly new faces so this was understandable. We continued drinking the pints and Barlow bought a large glass of Jameson for me and himself so we drank this down before leaving early to catch the coach home.

We eventually got to the coach station after buying a couple of cans for the ride back. Drinking them whilst talking loudly, we were asked to shut up by some German students and after we’d finished our drinks, slept until we arrived back in Manchester.

Album Of The Year 2011 :: Emma Hallows’ Top 5

The idea that there’s a one true ‘album of the year’ is a pretty misguided one. With that in mind, we’ve tried to offer up a series of recommendations from both the Moon & Back Music staff, and from a few notable names from the world of music.

Today it’s the turn of Emma Hallows: Friend of the site and singer/songwriter from Manchester (stranded in Huddersfield for the foreseeable future).

Barlow asked me to do my top 5 records of 2011, so here they are:

5. The Lonely Isand – Turtleneck And Chain
Throwing a spanner in the works. I laughed so hard.

4. Chuck Ragan – Covering Ground
I think my all time favourie Chuck song might be on this record.

3. Dave Hause – Resoloutions
Beacuse Dave is an all around top bloke.

2. The Horrible Crowes – Elsie
Me and my thoughts about Brian Fallon are like an aging marriage: He doesn’t half piss me off, but i don’t like the idea of dying alone.

1. Great Cynics – Don’t Need Much
I love Giles, Iona and Bob.

I would also like to give an honorable mention to Helen Chambers, Sam Russo, Jimmy Islip and Chuck Ragan, who did the best Split/EP of the year, it totally rocks.

Podcast :: Under The Bridge #30: Church Street In Ruins

“No Comment!” – Sam Russo

We decided to change the show up a little bit this time around. I know, I know, we do that a lot. We just like to keep things fresh, is all. Anyway, for the foreseeable future we’ll actually be playing full songs on the show. That means none of that ’30-ish second clip bullshit’ any more! We also recorded this one in the pub with a lot of guests. We’d like to do that again, but who knows if it’ll happen.

Anyway, the reason for the change in formatting is down to one thing. We have a theme tune! Ryan from Mixtapes – a wonderful band from Ohio – set up a ‘song shop’ service (I guess), so we took him up on this and he recorded us a theme tune. We think it’s pretty good and you’ll like it too. With that in mind we thought that one full song and then a bunch of clips was a bit rubbish, so we’ve consulted our ‘legal representative’ Matt Baldwin (of Matt & Mondo fame) and this episode features songs from Bangers, Emma Hallows, The Gaslight Anthem and Sam Russo.

This week we are joined by Emma Hallows, Kieran Kelly, Sam Russo and Matt Swaby to discuss what happens when you piss off a bunch of hardcore Gaslight Anthem fans, how Helen Chambers may or may not be a dolphin and how it’s probably good to shut up when you’re on the internet. We were also joined by a burlesque compere called Barry who’s absolutely hilarious. Shame we’ll never see him again.

Go on, have a listen:

Under The Bridge #30: Church Street In Ruins

Moon & Back Session :: Sam Russo

Ladies and gentlemen… Sam Russo!

I have it on good authority that Sam Russo is actually the fucking man! Not only is he a fantastic singer/songwriter, but he’s also one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. Sam was in town to play an impromptu show in Manchester, so we decided to get him in front of our cameras to play a few songs. Not only did we get, the excellent, ‘Tinned Peaches & Diamond Rings’ (taken from his split with Helen Chambers, Jimmy Islip and Chuck Ragan), but we were also treated to a bit of an exclusive – a brand new song by the name of ‘Black Coffee & Bingo’.

Remember, we’ll be back next Friday with another Moon & Back Session. Who do we have in store? We’ll be announcing that in the coming days over on our Facebook and Twitter pages, and if there’s anyone you’d like to see in session leave us a comment below. Enjoy!

‘Black Coffee & Bingo’

‘Tinned Peaches & Diamond Rings’

EP Review :: Emma Hallows – Anchors Up!

“…there’s a distinct Gaslight Anthem influence here. That’s certainly not a bad thing.”

It almost feels like a cliche at this point, but Emma Hallows is yet another migrant to the ever popular acoustic music scene. Having spent years playing in different bands, she opted to go solo and it seems like it’s worked out for the best. This latest career diversion has seen her playing shows with, UK favourites, Great Cynics and Sam Russo. She even managed to catch the attention of, Loved Ones frontman, Dave Hause, playing a show with him just a few months ago. Not bad going if you ask me.

How Emma managed to record an EP amongst all of that is beyond me. What’s more is that it’s really good. This is far from a “quick, chuck a few tracks together and get it out there” kind of thing. There’s actually been a lot of care and attention put into the production of this record, and whilst it didn’t always work out (see: the electric guitar in ‘Brian and Jane) the addition of a few subtle handclaps or the rattling of a tambourine, in collaboration with Emma’s voice and the sound of her acoustic, make all the difference.

Emma is fantastic and is one of the most unique voices I’ve heard of late, and it helps her stand out from her peers. It’s quite low, but that really works in her favour: I doubt that a lot of the sentiment carried in her, at times, dark lyrics would come across as well if it wasn’t for the way she sings them. Songs based on life’s hardships rarely work if the person singing them is really upbeat. Speaking of her lyrics, for me, they might be the best part of the Anchors Up! package. They’re so easy to relate to, and some of the wordplay is brilliant. Each song is like a little story, and there’s a distinct Gaslight Anthem influence here. That’s certainly not a bad thing.

Anchors Up! is a collection of four brilliant songs that you’ll find it hard not to love. They’re simple songs that are incredibly true to life, each one revealing a little about the person behind them. It might not hit the mark every time, but it’s pretty close.

Moon & Back Session :: Helen Chambers

Ladies and gentlemen…Helen Chambers!

If you’ve ever listened to Under The Bridge, you’ll know that we love Helen Chambers. The singer/songwriter from York recently released a split 12″ with Sam Russo, Jimmy Islip and, the one and only, Chuck Ragan. Not only that, but she became a surprise inclusion on more than one Revival Tour date this summer – singing alongside Chuck and, Alkaline Trio singer/bassist, Dan Andriano.

We’ve been trying to get this session done for a while now with little success, but we’re glad to finally have it up on the site for your listening/viewing pleasure. Helen performs ‘Little Demons’ a track from her debut EP and, brand new song, ‘Not Breaking Down’. We hope you enjoy them. We’ll be back next week with another Moon & Back Session!

‘Not Breaking Down’

‘Little Demons’

Podcast :: Under The Bridge #26: “What The Fuck Is A Drinky-Poo?”

“Life begins at 7” – Ian Critchley

After a slight leave of absence due to Barlow being in Germany and our inability to record a podcast whilst Crazy Arm do a soundcheck, the Under The Bridge podcast is back. This week we’re joined by Lewis Bolland – someone you may remember from such episodes as: Episode #24 – and we’ve decided to change up the format a bit. After realising that doing a ‘news’ segment can really get boring, and that the show goes off the rails anyway, we’ve cut it in favor of one ‘main topic’ which, again, goes off the rails. Either way, it’s still your bi-weekly dose of obscenity and hilarity.

This week we’re talking about Leeds Festival…for about five minutes, until the topics of transexuals, Lewis’ listening habits and Barlow’s constant namedropping take over the entire podcast. The music this week comes from the, newly available, Chuck Ragan/Sam Russo/Jimmy Islip/Helen Chambers Split LP. You should totally head over to Specialist Subject Records and get one of those. In fact, buy two. That way you’ve got both variants. Also: Lewis and Ian perform a song at the end of the show, as is the case when Lewis is about. Enjoy!

Go on, have a listen: Under The Bridge #26: “What The Fuck Is A Drinky-Poo?” (stream/download or subscribe on iTunes)

Interview :: Darren Johns (Crazy Arm)

© 2011 Neil Oliver

“…I eat chips, I’m half way there” – Darren Johns (Crazy Arm)

Crazy Arm embarked on their first acoustic tour last week, and seemed pretty nervous about it. Manchester would be the first time the band had played like this outside of Plymouth, but we had faith they could pull it off (they totally did, by the way!). We managed to catch up with Darren to talk about, Union City Breath, the recent UK riots, and we also show you that you should really think about your target demographic when asking questions.