The Old Pink House
Black Hole is available at:
3rd December, 2016
MANY may have noted how I have somewhat…
bemoaned a lack of credible and attractive bands emerging this year. That is not to say the band market is bereft of quality and potential – that would be a foolish suggestion. I am just saying, when compared with solo artists, there are fewer genuine groups and those that stand out. Maybe that will all change next year but I have therorised why this is. There is that focus on talent and artists that are more concerned addressing social issues and more urgent themes. Bands, by and large, are more focused on other themes (relationships and personal issues) but still hold the majority share of the festival circuit. That, the band dollar, is always the most bankable and long-lasting – I feel when the festivals crank back up there will be more focus on them and a push away from solo acts. Maybe not but who can ever predict what will happen in music? Before I come to my featured artists, I wanted to look at northern bands (The Old Pink House are from Newcastle) and the importance of local gigs; how hard it is for bands to get under the lens of a manger and get promoted; a bit about influences and how new bands can survive longer. It is nearly Christmas time which means a lot of people are overwhelmed by ‘classic’ Christmas songs and general mush. There is less time spent on new music: many are waiting to see what next year brings and have already had their fill of new music. Before we get there, it would be remiss not looking at artists who are still playing and campaigning around the nation. The last few months have seen my settled around London and not really straying too far beyond that. It is good to be back up in the north: once the ancestral home of the most influential and awesome bands.
I know Manchester and Liverpool get the most press – with regards northern exposure – but we should not overlook areas like Newcastle. Looking at the ‘historical’; or established artists from Newcastle; there is plenty of variation and quality. Maximo Park, The Animals and Dubstar are just a few acts that call Newcastle home – you could not put a line through these acts and have it make sense. Looking at nearby Sunderland – I will probably get stick for daring to name Newcastle’s local rivals – but The Futureheads, Kenickie and Field Music have put the city of the map. Newcastle’s well-heeled and celebrated acts are, in most cases, years down the line and not really as fresh as one would hope. This is all going to change. Over the last few months or so; a few new bands have shown their wares and are impressing critics around the nation. Street Party in Soho – I am reading from http://www.gigwise.com/photos/106343/best-new-newcastle-bands-and-artists-2016—punk-indie-garage – are impressing with their sunshine blends and ethereal promise. The guys turn everyday situations and concerns into anthems and beautiful things. There is not the tendency to go for morbid and depress with a lack of energy: everything the trio touches is instilled with some sense of uplift and energy. SoShe mix grooves and beats and have garnered comparisons with London Grammar. Mouses are a duo I am well aware of and have been linked with The White Stripes. To be fair, they are a bit more straight-forward and simplistic than the Detroit duo. The Newcastle twosome have that festival-ready sound and already being tipped as breakaway stars for 2017. Post-Punk magic from Kobadelta is also not surprising. I reviewed the guys way back and was hooked by their fantastic, rings-in-the-ears magic. There is plenty of anger and aggression but it never boils over – always imbued with control, nuance and intelligence. In terms of young bands: they do not come much tenderer than Far Pacific. All teenagers (most of the members are sixteen or seventeen) the boys know how to put on a show and already crafted a set of lovable and indelible tracks. Deep.Sleep are also young and new but have that charm and rebellious streak that is impossible to overlook. That is just a collection of Newcastle bands that are already making a mark. It is fair to say the city is not exactly dormant when it comes to music.
It is not worth mentioning how fervent and fertile London is when it comes to new bands. Although the capital is, like most of the country, putting its solo artists further forward, there are plenty of new groups unwilling to play second-fiddle. That is the same with Newcastle. There are some great solo artists around the city but there is, as we have seen, more than a few epic bands that have all the components needed for success. The Old Pink House – in addition to that fantastic name – are more than capable of rubbing shoulders with the Geordie best. They are getting under the radar and looking to become more exposed and known in 2017. The way they are doing this (and gathering momentum) is by pounding the local scene. Whether embracing the toilet circuit or supporting better-known artists: the hungry boys have supported Let’s Eat Grandma and are being noted for their tight sets and engaging personalities. Although Black Hole (whether it should be capitalised I am not sure) is their second effort: there is no reason the guys will not be making more music in the coming months. Many bands – and solo artists too – are looking ahead right away to the big festivals and gaining the ear of B.B.C. I have seen some great London bands rely on the local venues in order to gain a foothold. Artists should not be jumping right for the big leagues and understand the necessity of gaining a live reputation. Getting your local peeps on board not only ensures you have a solid core but means you will always have gigs and demand. There are so few towns/cities with a great music scene: if there is one, keep hold of that and do not underestimate that. Even if your town/city has only a few venues: it is important getting as many dates booked and pounding hard as possible. I understand the excitement of dreaming and thinking what can be – that should not come at the expense of local gigs. The Old Pink House are benefitting from the great spots around Newcastle and pulling the punters in. It may be their earliest days but they are already making strides and showing they have what it takes to cut their teeth further south. If they manage to secure some gigs in own locations (Manchester, Leeds and London for example) that will do them a lot of good. I am pleased The Old Pink House are hitting the local circuit and making sure Newcastle knows their name. The likes of Mouses have got into the minds of mainstream press by doing just that: starting local and watching their music spread; tongues wagging over social media and everything sort of happening after that.
Before I come to the new single from The Old Pink House, I wanted to talk about the importance of management – how hard it can be securing a deal. This point was provoked by a recent conversation with Saints Patience guitarist, Spencer. Chatting with him, he explained that, although the band’s debut album was coming along nicely, getting gigs was proving challenging. Not because they lacked energy and the motivation: they had it in spades but were not getting any calls. In addition to dealing with all the recording/production side of things; the band are having to secure a lot of gigs themselves and becoming restless. It is a tragedy seeing a talented young band, full of vigour and potential, being denied opportunities to perform. Being based in London (or near enough), the guys are in the perfect spot to get those gigs – it is a lack of management that is causing such anxiety. Of course, it is great having P.R. bodies behind you getting those dates but it needs a one-man/woman army making calls and getting out there. The Old Pink House are doing well in Newcastle but will be looking at performing across the U.K. and Europe. If they had a manager calling venues and hooking the band up; it would not only provide The Old Pink House more gig experience but mean they were pulling in more money and spreading their music far and wide. I am not sure what is on the boys’ minds but I am sure they would love to perform across London and further south; get their music spun on ‘6 Music and get some notable support slots. That comes through hard work and great music but making sure the music is being pushed firmly. Of course, the band is promoting themselves but would benefit from a dedicated body campaigning and electioneering on their behalf. Their music, from one song alone, suggests there are fans waiting to find them. Maybe it is hard putting managers together with musicians. How many of them are out there and is it expensive/feasible having one? Maybe commissions – and giving a large slice to a manager – is putting people off or perhaps it assumed artists take care of all their own P.R. I would suggest the boys go hunting for a manager in the future: expand their arsenal and ensure their (terrific) music makes it far across the airwaves. That might be a future consideration but something to chew over. As I said, speaking with a musician looking for gigs and support: it can be frustrating not getting gigs and having to struggle for attention. I know Saints Patience will get those dates and acclaim – I shall ensure that – but they need those gigs now whilst they are hot and ambitious. The Old Pink House, even at this early stage, will be looking far ahead and wanting to see their music explode.
I was originally going to compare the band’s previous single, SO BAD (or ‘So Bad’). Given the work I have had to get through, it got to the stage where the guys had released Black Hole – so it makes more sense concentrating on that one. It is good as it gives me a chance to compare the two songs and detect similarities and patterns emerging. Max Middleton, Ollie Winn and Christopher Brown are the intrepid trio and create music that elevates mood and notably lifts the soul. This is ratified and codified within a few seconds of debut slice, SO BAD (I will capatilise it for now). The song opens with bright and cherry strings: bouncing, ripe and sunny. The optimistic and spirited compositions score lyrics that deal with anxiety and loss. Our hero is sleeping on the floor and facing a world without his girl. Maybe there has been a fight and the two have separated for a bit. That love was strong and definite: losing it has caused such a pain (in the heart) and sense of displacement. Our man is like a suburban nomad: squatting on sofas and hollow of energy; weighing up the past and present and speaking from the heart. Whoever the girl is, she has already made a huge impression and seduced the hero. The band keeps the background light without cheapening the mood. This is not their attempt at a Girlfriend in a Coma-esque juxtaposition: there is a sincere desire to project a serious-and-hopeful blend without making anything jokey or diluted. As the song plays out; there are more revelations and story. Things aren’t working out and the hero is creeping out the door. Maybe there have been one too many disagreements and the two are on different pages. Whatever the reasons, it is clear the bond is no more. It is a rather rare and honest approach to a love song – one where the hero, admittedly, is being a bit of a coward. That sneaking out and evasion might not be the bravest approach but seems logical given the turbulence between the two. SO BAD keeps bouncing around the brain long after it has played and wins you with its blend of layers and simplicity. SO BAD has those beats – that have Hip-Hop and Indie strides – but throws all manner of sounds into the boiling pot. What you get is a vivid and colourful landscape never overly-cluttered and under-resourced. The band has penned a song that is instant and radio-worthy and one that can still exude merit months down the line. Black Hole deals with similarly weighty issues but presents things in a more sedate and temporised setting. There is still enough energy and SO BAD-esque shades to follow on but Black Hole is a very different song. It has a lot of maturity and sadness – understandable given its title – but is perhaps more nuanced and slow-burning than its counterpart. The song registers intent and impact upon the first play but you need to get your head around it one or two more times for all the different sides to coalesce and resonate. That is a hard trick to pull off but one the band does well. They could have penned a very similar song to SO BAD but haven’t. Instead, they subvert expectations and deliver a song with more candidness and heart; perhaps it lacks the bounce and rouse of their debut but both songs deal with weighty and serious issues. This range and compositional contrast mean any future release will be hotly received. The Old Pink House have shown they can move in various directions whilst retaining their singularity.
It was unlikely Black Hole would look at something hopeful and positive. That is not what is on the boys’ minds and not where their music is coming from. Rather than pen something insincere and needlessly peppy, the guys have crafted a song born from a very real and relatable place. If they do bring out an E.P. one hopes there will be more hopefulness and redemptive spirit there. As it is, Black Hole looks at a torturous time where the lead has a black hole in his chest. Wanting to be dragged back to the shore and rescued: one feels a love breakdown but it is not too clear in the opening seconds. Whereas SO BAD/So Bad was a confession of mismatched love against sparkling and bright backdrop: here, we have a more introverted and personal song whose support is more twilight and contoured. The strings, light and nimble in the first phases, sparkle like stars but never expend too much light and energy – they twinkle and implode before coming back again. The vocals switch between processed and dark to a more levelled and organic presentation. It gives the song depth and fascination. You are never put off by the rather bleak mood. The band do not go in with a mopey and resigned attitude; each stage of the song has a lot of hope but the lyrics are tackling some rather thorny and fiery situations. There seems to be that need for love and salvation. Whereas SO BAD was more an admission of past glories and current realities: Black Hole is the embodiment of the vacuum one feels when denied love’s fulfilment. The hero wants the heroine to give him her life/love; save him from a rather wretched and destitute alternative that is causing quite a lot of pain and discomfort.
The guys do not merely present their lyrics with basic elements and predictable guitars. You get little flashes and gurgles; lovely little interludes and physicality that not only embody what is being sung but throw in nice little details for the listener. Aside from some of the vocals (in the chorus) being treated: there are compositional touches that seem to express emotion and story. It is hard to explain but the song goes in all sort of directions and has that elastic composition. The lyrics are single-minded in their focus and intentions: the boy wants to be lifted from his miasma and win the girl. I am not sure whether the song’s heroine is the same we saw in the band’s debut single – maybe a prelude to that song – but it is a grand contrast to what was being expressed there. No creeping out and evasiveness; there is none that of that surrender and need for space. If anything, Black Hole is the polar opposite. Maybe past heartache and stress have caused huge damage to our hero. He is in a dark place and wants to find that light. Rather than wallow in torment and what-ifs, he is laying his heart on the line and sending a message out across the sky. Whether the girl is attached and feels the same way is not explained. The chorus never really references the song’s title but is more a plea to the girl – wanting her to give herself to him and save our man from a life of emptiness. Of course, I may be stretching when it comes to interpretations of love – although it seems quite simple and clear in that sense.
The band gives a performance that shows they are properly tight and innovative. The bass is constantly driving and guiding: pushing the song forward but providing its own rhythm and power. There is a nice and solid percussion tied to some experimental and raw guitar notes. Put it all together and you get a score that balances burning, hard emotions with something more relief-laden and hopeful. I mentioned Black Hole is not as light and positive as SO BAD. That is true but Black Hole ensures it is not caught in a web of misery and dejection. It is a track that has so much detail and depth it is impossible to ignore it or have it in the background. It demands a certain level of concentration and one imagines it will prove very popular in the live setting. The band has reached their second single and providing fans a couple of glimpses into what they’re about and where they’re going. Black Hole is a song that could be played across the most credible stations in the U.K. but also score a tense relationship drama too – it has that mobility and appeal. I am not sure where the band is heading next in terms of sound and songs but Black Hole is a fascinating glimpse into where they are now. You need to hear the song a few times as it does keep producing new meaning and possibility each time. Bands such as Car Seat Headrest have impressed me this year with their broad sonic palette and memorable songs – they are one of those bands everyone is tipping for 2017. The U.S. band have crafted one of 2016’s best albums in Teens of Denial and one of the most prolific acts in the music world – they seem to stamp out an album every year! I see bits of them in Old Pink House, but more importantly, a band like Car Seat Headrest provides inspiration and guidance the new breed. Bringing it back to the Newcastle clan and I see a bright future ahead. Black Hole is a terrific song from the trio and one that shows they have plenty of inspiration and talent in their ranks. It will be fascinating seeing how the band grows over the next few months.
Black Hole (sometimes in BOLD capitals) is the sophomore song from the Newcastle band. Although it is their second cut, there is plenty to suggest more music will come sooner rather than later. In previous reviews, I have stated how vital the first songs are with regards standing out. If you do not go in strong and hard you risk losing market share and being overlooked. Such is the fickleness and competitiveness of modern music: if you are not prepared and organised right from the off it can be hard coming back from that. I would expect the guys to produce an E.P. next year; a four or five-track collection that has Black Hole in its mix. I am not sure how much more material they have left but will surely vibe from the respect and appreciation they have gained live. Supporting Let’s Eat Grandma is no minor feat and something that makes their C.V. stand out. I opened by looking at local gigs and their importance; how Newcastle is often overlooked in favour of other cities. The local media are doing best to promote their artists but need the backing of mainstream and nationwide sources. I am sure The Old Pink House will gain that but are entering the market at a very busy and changeable time. As I stated, there are a lot of solo acts being proffered and tipped for 2017 success. Whether this sea change is as a result of thematic and lyrical tones – something more relevant and original – I am not sure. Too many bands have played it safe for too long. Concentrating on love and modern life without adding anything new to the recipe: artists like The Old Pink House are doing their best to provide fresh and engaging music. Black Hole, if it is the sound of where they are heading, is much-needed right now. I expect them to tour a lot after Christmas and promote their new single.
After that, things can get exciting – if a little tough and stressful. They have created a wonderful song but have to decide whether to keep on touring, and get a reputation around the U.K., or get back into the studio. Time recording can mean other bands get gig spots and focus heads their way. In the same vein, too much touring means the band can tire and start to show strain. It seems best, therefore, a fine balance is creating: one where there are enough solid tour dates but concrete plans to get some more music laid down. Next year will be an exciting one for music and one where bands will be making a lot of noise. If this year has been defined by some wonderful solo-made music – and many tipsters are featuring them heavily for next year – then bands have a chance to prove they are worthy of attention. I feel the reason solo artists are getting more love is because of the variety and nimbleness they bring to music. They are not hampered by festival demands and fitting into moulds. They have the potential to do whatever they want and the final vote is theirs – not having to debate with other members as to direction and schedules. When the dust of Christmas settles, I know The Old Pink House will be putting new stuff together and trying to get it under the noses of influential D.J.s and big stations. I have no reason to believe they will not achieve that: their latest single shows plenty of promise and sticks in the mind for a long while. Few bands have the savviness to embrace the local scene and keep busy touring. Too many are preoccupied with running before they can walk and being a bit impatient. That is understandable (considering how many other groups are out there) but you need the backing of your home crowds before you win the heart of the majority.
PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Stark
I have talked about management and getting someone to get the music to the venue bosses; how important touring is and how Newcastle will come more into focus in the coming months. I alluded to influences – forgot to mention it at the top – but something that excites me about The Old Pink House. It is hard to label the band and fit them into traditional genres. Black Hole has psyched-out sounds and Hip-Hop-inspired rhythms. You get huge Pop hooks and plenty of sparks. In the live setting, the guys have already been compared to the likes of Foals and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Those are two acts I do not hear come up too much. Foals, especially, are a band that have crafted some superb music but do not get the acclaim they deserve. Unknown Mortal Orchestra is another wonderful act that is more influential than you would think. Being linked to these artists, at such an early stage, is quite an accomplishment and not to be taken lightly. If you consider all the threads, sounds and genres the band splice; the acts they are being compared with – it all sounds very exciting and the recipe for success. I am not sure just what the boys want to achieve next year but they seem like the type of band who dream of big festival sets. When the weather improves, many established acts will be loading their vans with gear and travelling all over the place. The lure and romance of the road are attracting a lot of musicians and ensuring music is not short of passion and potential. I have not seen many ‘Ones to Watch’ lists that include bands. When we see these band-heavy lists that will give us an insight as to who the taste-makers are backing for success. It is not just local sources that will be supporting The Old Pink House and ranking them as a force to keep an eye out. The Newcastle lads have a fascinating and exciting sound that, one imagines, will be championed by stations like ‘6 Music and see a lot of London venues take notice. Black Hole is a song that does strike instantly but reveals more when you play it again. I keep mentioning the importance of nuance – rather ironically – because it is a word/subject that is being ignored by a lot of musicians. That is the one ‘asset’ that is common among the most-celebrated mainstream albums/acts this year. I know the trio of The Old Pink House will keep building and delivering quality songs into 2017. How they take flight will be exciting to see. However they choose to do it; the possibility of a debut E.P…
WILL delight many.
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