Spotlight on Deep City Diver: “We’re trying to be considered a Stoke band… can we have dual residency?”

The music scene which is rooted deep within the streets of the city of Stoke-on-Trent is a powerful one. With a rising wall of young hopefuls, a gradual blurring of the lines between what’s classed as “old” and “new” music, a bubbling concoction of blogs, festivals and new music platforms, as well as the potential crowning of City Of Culture now within smelling distance, Stoke is undoubtedly a very good place to be.

But much like anything, the music scene is flawed. Whilst local bands thrive at every venue in their path, backs are turned and doors are closed for anyone attempting to break through the barrier that divides “local” and “out-of-town”.

But what if you’re a band of two cities? What happens then? That’s something that Deep City Diver are trying to work out.

Local folk or out-of-town aliens?

With members from both Stoke and London, the three-piece, now based in East London, are looking to break into this scene and all of its sticky-floored, sweaty, live and local glory. Having already performed locally only once before, on a line up with China Tanks and acoustic soloist Chris Reale, the band are keen to be accepted as a “Stoke band”.

For Stoke-born bassist Joe Macmillan, returning to the scene he once performed so regularly in with previous band Aversion, has been wonderful and frustrating in equal amounts. “We went around to venues and asked who’d take us. I think we’d just released our first single and that’s all we had at that point” he tells me, as we stand in the electronics aisle of a well-known supermarket chain. “No one would have us because we were that “out of town band””.

With two Australians in the band and everyone living in London, the trio has struggled to break into the Stoke scene, even with Joe’s local musical past. “London is the adoptive city but I’ve kind of felt so incredibly drawn to Stoke”, vocalist and guitarist Ryan Nicolussi adds. “It has these really incredible parallels with Wollongong which is where my family are. It’s a steel city so it’s quite working class in many ways. I think Joe’s enthusiasm is infectious you know?”

I do know. After spending just half an hour with the pair I can’t help but feel proud of this city and the progress it’s making, especially with regards to the City Of Culture bid, something that Joe believes we’re more than ready for.

“From what I understand there’s a very rich industrial history which creates then a cultural history,” says Ryan. “It is a creative city, I think, throughout the years and historically. I think it makes a lot of sense to carry on that torch.”

Where it began

Deep City Diver began as a concept long before it became a physical entity, with Nicolussi writing many of the songs that appear on their self-titled debut album before he’d even entered the country. But a chance meeting through mutual friends in an East London pub, lead Ryan to Joe – “… you know: “How do you do? Lovely to meet you”. Twenty minutes later: “Do you want to be in a band?” – and Deep City Diver was born.

Drummer Ryan Kalkman joined shortly afterwards and the boys got to work developing Ryan’s songs. “I think the moment that we kind of knew that we could continue with this trio was when Joe heard the demo for ‘Another World’. He was really excited about it and Ryan was too. That was the key moment where I could see how it could work.”

Lines of connection

Before the album release in October this year, the band released two singles to grab the attention of indie pop fans everywhere. The plan was to draw in potential fans with something catchy and simple, before dropping their album later in the year – an album that goes far beyond the realms of “generic indie music”.

A nine-track mother of a record, the album takes you on an 80’s inspired journey filled with youth, energy and emotion. Tracks such as ‘Easy Prey’, ‘Everyone Is Alone’, ‘Another World’ and ‘Down On Wreckyn Street, I’m Ruined’ bounce off the album at full speed, whilst ‘As The Crow Flies’, ‘Honeyeater’ and ‘Living in the Hyphen’ ground you, Nicolussi’s vocals making you feel things deep within your heart.

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Deep City Diver’s self-titled debut album out now

It’s clear that Ryan too feels a deep attachment with the songs, as he explains his passion for ensuring that they all ended up on the same album together. “There are all of these lines of connection between the nine songs on that record… we’ve got other stuff in the works but there was a real line in the sand that I wanted to draw with this chapter.”

The album came into fruition after an online kickstarter campaign gave the band enough money to create physical copies, although not in the way you might expect. If you want to get your hands on a copy it’s vinyl only or an online digital download, making Deep City Diver just that more interesting. “Is the CD dead?” asks Joe. “Yes probably, because I don’t have a CD player in my bedroom let alone in my house.” It’s true that vinyl is making a comeback in a huge way and with it, the long-lost age of patience as you tentatively remove the album from its sleeve, place it on the turntable and drop the needle. There’s no fast forward or rewind, which makes it easier to appreciate the music in full.

Stoke and beyond

Tonight Deep City Diver will act as main support for Divenire at The Underground in Stoke, where they’ll perform one of the best sets the venue has ever witnessed. But the journey hasn’t been easy. “We struggled to get this gig and we’ve only got it because we’ve curated it and basically hired the venue,” says Joe. “Stoke’s great, but it’s got this lock down and we’re trying to be considered a Stoke band. Can we have dual residency?”.

“We’re more Stoke than we are London”, Ryan adds. “I mean there’s two Australians in the band and a guy from Stoke!”. It’s a frustrating situation for the trio, but one that I’ve heard time and time again. Despite having such a vibrant local scene, it appears that Stoke struggles to accept outsiders – even if they’re formerly of this parish.

But the band have high hopes, with plans to return to the city at least three times next year. Along with gigging and continuing to break down the dividing lines, 2018 should also see the release of new music. “The second album is written. We haven’t recorded it but it’s been written,” Ryan says, as I question him about the next step. ‘Dream Sequence’, a brand new track that they’ll later perform at The Underground, is set to be released in the new year and although the band are unsure of how they’ll present their new material, it’s safe to say that we’ve not heard the last of Deep City Diver.

They’re a rare breed of a band; one you only come across every once in a while and with a debut album that ranks highly within local releases of 2017, as well as the passion and drive to make quality music together, it should be us who’re asking for them to play our best venues.

Can they be considered a “Stoke band”? E Major says hell yes.

E.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thomas & The Empty Orchestra – ‘My Old Heart’ (Feat. Otis Mensah) Single Review

After a short musical silence Thomas & The Empty Orchestra is back with a brand new single and a fresh collaboration.

Thomas Bower has teamed up with alternative hip-hop and spoken word artist Otis Mensah to produce ‘My Old Heart’, a dark bluesy single fuelled by life-inspired themes such as duality and ego. It begins sparsely; a single dirty guitar part leading the way whilst Bower’s vocals etch themselves into the flaky painted structure. They’re rich and warm, weathered even, as though recorded late at night and in one take.

The track remains largely stripped back throughout. There’s no crashing drums, thumping bass lines or amplified guitar riffs. As with all of Thomas & The Empty Orchestra’s releases thus far, ‘My Old Heart’ is reserved and carefully considered, yet packs a punch that is far more staggering than ‘A More Equal Punishment‘ and ‘Patron Saint‘ combined.

Aside from a brief guitar solo that slithers in-between the layers, ‘My Old Heart’ comes into its own the moment Mensah opens his mouth. At first its an odd coming together of sounds and genres. Is it blues? Is it hip-hop? Is it even allowed?

The very fact that this style is fairly unheard of in popular music makes it all the more attractive. Mensah speaks with passion, his words cutting through the music like barbed wire, as he proves why he rightly deserved a slot on the BBC Introducing stage at this years Glastonbury Festival.

‘My Old Heart’ is the product of a musical experiment conducted by Bower and Mensah who, having met and performed together at various open mic nights, wanted to explore the combination of folk music and hip-hop/spoken word. The outcome is a beautiful poetic fusion of music and words, that goes way beyond the boundaries of what popular modern music embodies.

Allow ‘My Old Heart’ to blur the lines you draw to define your taste in music and start experiencing the next wave of cool.

E.

The Hubbards – ‘Body Confident’ Single Review

When The Hubbards released ‘Just Touch‘, we thought we’d found our favourite single of 2017 and we weren’t the only ones. At the point of writing this, ‘Just Touch’ has been streamed close to 40,000 times on Spotify with their equally as addictive video having just over 13,000 views on YouTube.

Add to that their recent support slots for pop-giants The 1975 and Foals as well as a slot at Radio 1’s Big Weekend and suddenly The Hubbards are a band you wish you’d heard of sooner.

So when word spread that a new single was on the horizon, we knew that we’d be in for a very exciting ride.

‘Body Confident’ is The Hubbards on top of their game. A swirly misty curtain of guitars and bass forms the backdrop of the single, whilst vocalist Reuben Driver instantly welcomes you in with a simple “hey, how’ve you been?”. The song remains like a conversation between Driver and the listener, giving ‘Body Confident’ a casual overall feel that is just as moreish as the song itself.

At the chorus the guitars jump up a notch to lift the song even further, offering the signature Hubbards sound only with the slightest of twists. Driver’s vocals, now harmonised, pulse with the guitar melody they’re perched on, before dropping back down into the second verse and bubbling over into the following chorus.

The Hubbards have a knack for producing catchy earworm-type singles and ‘Body Confident’ is one of them. It oozes modern indie finesse with a confident attitude to go with it and their track history proves that this isn’t a fluke. The four-piece have grown with every release; from ‘Is It Me?’ to ‘Cold Cut’, ‘Born To Fly’ to ‘Just Touch’, their music has developed but the quintessential Hubbards sound has always (sort of) stayed the same.

How far will this band go? You’ll find the answer to that in their music.

E.

Fears Chella – ‘Lush’ Single Review

Although Fears Chella have only released two singles since the formation of the band over 12 months ago, they’ve somehow managed to create a whirling frenzy of excitement and anticipation, that can only be produced by a band who are destined for good things. This self-produced buzz can be felt like static, whether you’re watching them live on stage or listening to their brand new single ‘Lush’.

‘Lush’ is a sexy, sweaty, hazy, dream-like song, sticky with a thick coating of 100% free range Chella. It’s another step away from their debut hit ‘Cool’, a sideways lunge from previous release ‘Girlfriend’ and an altogether fresher version of the band, who’ve spent much of 2017 refining and defining their own branded sound.

Beginning much like ‘Girlfriend’, ‘Lush’ opens with a distant synthy hum, before diving straight into a gooey guitar riff that dances through the intro like waves on a shore. Before long you’re hit with the familiar sound of Andy Gannon’s vocals, that have become as much a part of the band as the members themselves. Gannon gives the band that extra edge within the emerging music scene; he sings with ease, effortlessly painting pictures of love and the fall that comes before it, like no other.

‘Lush’ continues to make you swoon. Even the chorus is perfect pop goodness, short and simple, with just enough words to have you singing along by the next time it comes around. And then there’s the interlocking guitar parts, the undercurrent bass that moves with the flow and the drums that carve out the winding path of the single. There are moments where I’m convinced I can hear The Cure in their ‘Disintegration’ days, although only for the briefest of seconds before I’m back in the ‘Lush’ bubble.

If there’s one thing that Fears Chella are good at, it’s creating some of the finest singles around. And although it may be true that the band could (and definitely should) release more music more frequently, there’s something about their drawn-out releases that have you climbing the walls for more, meaning that when they do finally give you those three minutes of aural bliss, you’re more than ready to accept them.

E.

We’re No Heroes – ‘Youth’ Single Review

Do you ever get that urge to stick on a funky record, turn up the volume enough to feel the bass line thumping through the floor boards and dance like no one is watching? If the answer to that question isn’t yes, you’re definitely lying. Whether it be a once in a lifetime thing or a weekly occurrence, we’ve all got a secret record stash of whatever it is that gets us groovin’ to help us dance our troubles away (even if we look more like drunk dads at a wedding than extras from Fame).

Luckily for us, Cardiff based trio We’re No Heroes know just what we need to do exactly that and their brand new single is ready and waiting to knock you sideways.

‘Youth’ is a funky feel-good single that not only perfectly introduces you to the band (if, like us, this is your first meeting), but it slots in amongst their previous releases with ease. Quite noticeably the band’s biggest influence is disco pioneer and music legend Nile Rodgers, although ‘Youth’ is slightly less Saturday Night Fever and a little more indie groove.

The general feel of the track is derived from a straight drum beat coupled with a bubbling bass and clean guitar riff, that run over each other like mercury. All of this leads into the chorus, which you discover like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Complete with heavenly harmonies and hand claps (hand claps!), the chorus, made up of one line repeated twice, shimmies its way so far into your mind that you have no choice but to let it do its thing.

We’re No Heroes know exactly what to do and when to do it in order to create irresistible music. Previous releases ‘Voodoo’ and ‘Stay Weird’, which wouldn’t be out of place on a Duran Duran album, not only give proof of this, but they capture what it means to be in this band and the passion that pumps through their veins.

Listening to ‘Youth’ makes you want to get up and dance, no matter where you are and what you’re doing. It makes you want to do something spontaneous, like go for a long drive with no destination in mind, or tell someone you love them. ‘Youth’ should come with a label: 100% satisfaction guaranteed.

E.

Psyence – ‘Black Hole’ Single Review

When Psyence released their EP, the band appeared to be kings of the world. After a build up like no other, a teaser track that didn’t even feature on the finished record and shows across the country, ‘A New Dawn’ was a truly astonishing coming together of tracks. It was trippy, psychedelic rock, with a modern and sometimes slightly indie twist to it. The riffs were immense, the bass lines and chocolatey synth accompaniments seemed to last forever and the drums smashed holes through your speakers. Whatever followed ‘A New Dawn’ had a lot to live up to.

So when Psyence contacted me with a preview of their brand new single, I stopped what I was doing and pressed play almost immediately.

‘Black Hole’ is beastly. It floods my headphones with every kind of sound and almost immediately I’m sky-high, floating in the abyss. There’s a million and one levels to it and they’re hard to truly appreciate with just one listen, but I’ll attempt to describe a handful of them here.

The first is a synth soaked fast paced opener, with Stephen Pye’s drawn out vocals cushioned by the reverberating guitars that rev hastily in the background. As you enter the second level the whole track picks up pace, like a Ford Mustang on an open road. A silky smooth guitar riff weaves its way through the middle of the mush, occasionally overlapping with Pye’s vocals and often dampening their velocity. As you begin to run out of road the song veers right, causing you to free fall for the briefest of moments, before crashing into the chorus at full speed and continuing on.

The whole thing is filthy; the guitars, the synth solo, Pye’s vocals that seem to go on and on, the abrupt and unexpected ending and the way that Psyence can release so much heart-racing hair-raising music in the space of 12 months.

If you want to escape your world for a short while (and let’s face it, who doesn’t sometimes?), ‘Black Hole’ is your key to the door.

E.

 

 

Merrym’n – ‘Life, on VHS’ Album Review

It’s been two years since Merrym’n last released an album and although he’s produced a number of singles and EP’s in the meantime, the full length record is the thing we’ve all been secretly craving. Well, I know I have.

So it’s lucky then that after home recording, layering, editing, mixing and mastering and then painfully redoing each track, as you tend to do when you’re a do-it-yourself-sort-of-musician, that Merrym’n has finally delivered unto us an eleven track album of musical greatness – and that’s not even an exaggeration.

‘Life, on VHS’ is a local masterpiece, penned by Stoke-on-Trent based musician and life observer Bob Moston. Opening with ‘Ay Up, Ow At, Orate?’, the lead single from the album, ‘Life, on VHS’ starts as it means to go on. ‘Ay Up, Ow At, Orate?’ is a local anthem, full of local dialect, local places and accompanied by a video jam-packed with local people. It’s a song that speaks for a city that has long been the butt of many jokes, a city that is defined not by its past, but by the people, places and opportunities that are alive and well within it.

‘The Rag n’ Bone Man’ would have been well placed on Merrym’n’s previous album ‘Black Over Bill’s Mother’s’, through the return of Moston’s trusty harmonica and signature emotive lyrics. Moston adds a romantic storytelling twist to a character who is viewed by many to be just a scrap collector, ensuring that you never look at your local rag and bone man in the same way ever again.

If ever there was a musician who’d write a song about the A500, a topic of many heated conversations, it would have to be Merrym’n. ‘A500 Everyday’ is that very song, breaking up the album after the upbeat introduction, with a sombre moving piece about one of the busiest roads in Staffordshire. It’s the sort of song you’ve come to expect from Bob Moston, as is ‘North Wales Expressway’, although only in the lyrical sense. ‘North Wales Expressway’ is the sort of song you’d find in an indie film, with a football stadium filling finale complete with brass accompaniment, giving the song a rather grand fade out.

‘The Old Vic’ is a fine slice of nostalgia, taking football fans everywhere back to the days of the previous home of Stoke City football club, The Victoria Ground. Although demolished in the late 90’s, Moston manages to take you back through the power of his lyrics and the genius inclusion of vintage football commentary sampling. The melodic plodding of this track makes it hard not to feel emotional, as it seems that ‘The Old Vic’ is more about the disappearance of the things we once loved so much, rather than just a reflection on a demolished football ground.

At halfway through the album you’re struck by ’14 Thatcham Green’, a jazzy swinging number that could easily be mistaken for an unused Bugsy Malone track, thanks to the twanging piano and plodding bass line. Moston paints a picture of simpler times gone by, turning the relatively normal estate into something of a dream world. As does ‘Cable Cars In Festival Park’, a song that does exactly what it says on the tin. As you look back through rose-tinted glasses, soundtracked by the beautiful simplicity of the track, you see all of the things that have long since been forgotten. The combination of the locally renowned Trent Vale Poet, a collaboration that has been patiently waiting to happen for some time, as well as Moston’s stripped back accompaniment, makes for a rather fitting piece of musical excellence and poetic genius and is one of my favourite tracks of the album.

 

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‘Life, on VHS’ album launch gig

 

‘Onwards and Upwards’ is the only track that is sung from Moston’s point of view, rather than a narration of someone else’s life. Whether it’s a personal track or not is up for debate, but one thing that is sure is that ‘Onwards and Upwards’ is one of the finest examples of the detailed lyrical brilliance that Merrym’n has become so well-known for.

Both humoring and heartbreaking, ‘He Built A Cinema’ is yet another of my favourite pieces of Merrym’n’s work. Based on a true story of a man who fulfilled his life long ambition, of building a replica ABC cinema (in his back garden), ‘He Built A Cinema’ demonstrates the love and determination of the people, as they desperately cling on to the things they love, refusing to accept their demise. ‘My Kingdom For A Horse’ is a further example of Merrym’n’s adventurous side. Breaking away from the musical themes that encompass his music, Moston has produced a song that would be perfect for a long drive in the country. It’s a track that will have you foot-stomping and hand-clapping the moment the beat kicks in and maybe even air guitaring too – something you’d never expect to be doing on a Merrym’n song.

Bringing the album to a close is ‘2021’, a track that is guaranteed to pull on the heartstrings of anyone who listens to it. Moston questions the future of towns and cities such as Stoke-on-Trent, as he notes the closing of shops, demolishing of towns and the sad end of British pubs. He makes a bold statement as he paints a very grey image of what’s to come, adding to the running album theme of nostalgia coupled with a slither of sadness in the things we no longer have. Ending his album in this way could be seen as bleak, but it’s a wake up call and it ensures that you go away thinking long and hard about your life.

‘Life, on VHS’ is, as every Merrym’n record always has been, a trip down memory lane. It’ll have you laughing and crying in equal amounts, tapping your foot, nodding your head and bringing out the photo albums of times gone by. Merrym’n is to the local music scene, what oatcakes are to Stoke – traditional, iconic and treasured by the local folk.

E.