Thursday, 23 May 2019

Birdpen need your help!

Birdpen (consisting of Mike Bird and Smiley's Archive band mate Dave Pen) are one of many bands caught up in the collapse of crowd funding website Pledgemusic out of pocket to the tune of about £12,500.

Now we all know that is a very bitter pill for a small independent band to swallow so they've made the decision to appeal to their fans for any help that they can get....whether that's a blind donation or buying something from their store to help them in their hour of need every penny will make a difference!

As you'd expect Smiley has appeared on multiple releases and if you aren't familiar with them then you can listen via the bands Bandcamp page by clicking HERE! If you take in all your music through a streaming subscription service then why not tip a couple of quid into the hat as a thank you?

Now, we all have different financial circumstances so there is no pressure or guilt trips....many bands got burnt but Birdpen have a connection to The Alarm family so I've chosen to highlight there plight, I've also got 3 of their albums which are fantastic so yes I need to get up to date and follow my own advice too! 

Their statement reads.....

"It pains us to have a write a statement like this but we feel we have to so we can let you, our fans, know what has happened regarding our latest album There’s Something Wrong With Everything.
As you all know we crowd-funded this album through you, our amazing fans, and it was to date our most successful album. The response was fantastic and the tour, which even saw us go and play two shows in China, was quite mind blowing for us!
With the money we raised through Pledge Music we were able to manufacture the album ourselves. Luckily, you the fans managed to get the album, and thanks again for anyone that did so. This obviously cost money. Almost half of the money we raised went into the physical side of the album, and the other half was used for promotion, as it’s always been our goal to try and make BirdPen bigger and to reach as many people as possible. This only happens through promotion of some sort so we partnered up with various promotion companies to try and build the band. The promotion companies did a fantastic job for us and we are very thankful for everyone’s hard work promoting the album in France, Belgium, Germany and the UK & Ireland.
So this brings us to our situation with Pledge Music. To sum it up, somehow Pledge Music have gone bust! It’s made the international news, both financial and music related, and it’s left artist’s and fans unpaid and without products they have paid for. It’s a complete disaster.
At the beginning of our Pledge campaign we managed to get some of our funds from them so you, our fans, got the physical album, and we expected to receive all the remaining money once the campaign was finished.
Pledge had promised all of the rest of the money so many times we’ve lost count, and we desperately tried and tried to get what we were owed and what you pledged towards the campaign. We’ve had the Musician’s Union and their lawyers involved trying to get us our owed money, and even they’ve been fobbed off, avoided and plain lied to along with many other artists in the same situation as us. It’s criminal what has happened and we hope somebody or somebody’s are held accountable for this disastrous neglect to what should be a safe and great way to fund good music and musical artists.
Being a self-funded band, all our expenses were paid for on our personal credit cards, expecting that the funds would soon be coming in, and with all sales shipped, we simply have no comeback. Mike and Dave now both owe money to our PR companies, we have no publishers, no label and no management so we solely carry this financial burden. This situation has left us with no money to pay the PR debts and fund our next album, which was what the remaining owed funds would have done.
Non of the funds have gone to paying ourselves anything, we don’t make much money from music in this day and age and we live hand to mouth and have the same issues with money as most of us do, mortgages, bills to pay and mouths to feed.
Pledge currently owe us over £12,500. Your money, which you paid in good faith and trust, never reached us. It truly sucks for us to be in this position but we have to carry on so we’ve decided to set up a campaign to try and get some of the funds back.
If anyone is able to support us through this crisis then please do get in touch.
You can send us a donation via PayPal here www.paypal.me/birdpen
You can buy our records and merchandise from www.birdpen.com/shop and birdpen.bandcamp.com
Our album title is so fitting to what is really going on in today’s world.
Here is the latest news on the Pledge situation https://www.digitalmusicnews.com/…/03/pledgemusic-fire-sale/
We’ll keep the faith and continue to bring the noise.
Love and Fuzz.
Dave & Mike, aka BirdPen."

Friday, 10 May 2019

The Record Charity Book

Tim Darvell will be known to many UK Alarm fans (and many American ones after attending the Gathering there this year and last!) as well as being a fan himself he is also an author and fundraiser raising both money and awareness for the treatment of Bowel Cancer. His first book had heavy Alarm connections and now with the publication of his new volume "The Record Charity Book" that is something that continues! So here is what you need to know....over to Tim!


"I had been thinking about doing a follow up book to Lives & Times during the last couple of months of Mum’s life, and when she died my mind was made up, and I began approaching people to be in The Record in September 2016.

The Record has been done in memory of mum who died of bowel cancer on August 29th, 2016 one week after her 80th birthday. The cancer had spread to her brain, and she was moved into a nursing home for palliative end of life care once there were no ore treatment options available.

Lives & Times concentrated on Mike, Eddie, Dave & Twist, so for The Record I turned my attention to the current line up. 

I met Smiley at his studio in Fleet in spring 2016 just after his 4th album, Smiley’s Friends Eclectic, was released. I spent a fascinating hour talking to him about his career, and this was just before the launch of the Blood Red album. 

I met James in Oxford at the O2 Academy before the band’s gig there in October 2017, and he gave me a fascinating insight into his musical roots.

 Then just when I thought I wouldn’t get Jules we had a great chat a couple of months ago, and her chapter is the longest chapter in the book and covered just about everything in her life.

The connections in the book continue with Gaz Top who I met before the concert at The Forum in London last May. Welsh rugby legend Rupert Moon also came on board. He is a great friend of Mike & Jules, and he gave me an amazing tour of The Principality Stadium.

 Ryan Hamilton needed to store his stuff in my hotel room at the recent New York Gathering, so I grabbed the opportunity to get him in the book. Finally there is the wonderful and inspirational fan of The Alarm, Gillian Wood, who is a bowel cancer survivor.

The book has 65 chapters, and everyone taking part gave up their own time to do it.
Since I published Lives & Times in 2015 I have met and become great friends with so many fellow fans of The Alarm. The support for that book took me rather by surprise, and as someone who used to keep very much to myself at concerts it made me come out of my shell, and it has been one of the best and rewarding things that has ever happened to me. I remain truly grateful for the wonderful and generous support from the fans.

The Record is available to pre order now in paperback and hardback from my website rivers2cross.com, and it will also be available to buy from all the usual online outlets soon including a kindle edition. All proceeds raised from sales of the book will be donated to Bowel Cancer UK. Since mum was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2012, almost £10,000 has been raised.

Bowel cancer is the second highest cancer killer in the UK. 16,000 people die every year. 42,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year, which is one person every 15 minutes… Bowel cancer is one of the most treatable and if detected early at stage 1 over 90% of patients can be successfully treated. At the last stage 4 just 7% of patients live for 5 years or more. This makes raising awareness about the disease vital to help improve early diagnosis rates. This is the reason why I continue to do what I do, as it raises money for Bowel Cancer UK, but just as important it helps to raise awareness about this awful disease."



Sunday, 24 March 2019

James Stevenson Guests on Alvin Gibbs release.

James Stevenson guests on two tracks on "Your Disobedient Servant"  the recently released solo album by U.K. Subs bassist Alvin Gibbs.

Released under the name of Alvin Gibbs And The Disobedient Servants the album features a host of special guests including Brian James, Leigh Heggarty, Mick Rossi and Steve Grittall. James lends his talents to "Camden Town Gigolo" and "Dumb".

You can purchase the album either on CD or digitally via bandcamp which you will find HERE!

Thursday, 24 January 2019

"Smiley's Friends In The Sixth Dimension"

By now I'm guessing you all know the score but for those not familiar here's the set up..... Every year Smiley writes a load of top quality tunes, taps up his mates to play on the album and then releases it with very little fanfare! Oh, did I mention that they are usually blinding too?


So here we are at album number six hence the albums title and it's a monster! The energy jumps out from the get go and the quirky nature of Smiley's humour is immediately in evidence with the very first line of album opener "Be Careful What You Wish For" being "You got me walking in the wrong direction, you saw me shopping in the freezer section, I even voted in the wrong election now!" One thing that is apparent from the get go is the guitar is very much king on this album, amazing riffs and stunning solos permeate throughout the 12 tracks that make up "....Friends In The Sixth Sense".

As always different styles weave in and out or bounce along in the case of some of the more indie flavoured tracks. "Wheels" could even be a contender for a lost John Lennon song, and as for those sublime harmonies in "Lantern Light" what more needs to be said!

Whether this is the first Smiley album you've heard or the sixth you will not be disappointed, this is an album that deserves to be heard not to mention toured (we can but hope). With every release going from strength to strength this might just be the best "Friends" album to date!

Pick up your copy on CD or download direct from Smiley - just click HERE!

Friday, 27 April 2018

Beki Hemingway - "Whins and Weather" Review

Not all of you may be familiar with Beki Hemingway or her husband and musical cohort Randy Kerkman, some of you may even be questioning why I'm reviewing their new album "Whins and Weather" on what is essentially an Alarm fan page but I assure you this definitely belongs here! Firstly lets get the Alarm connection dealt with and out of the way....Steve "Smiley" Barnard plays drums on half of the albums ten tracks.....secondly Beki & Randy are both big Alarm fans and supporters and are known to many fellow fans and Gathering attendees through performing at various taverns in Llandudno during the Gathering Weekend.  Thirdly, for those that need more convincing, Beki & Randy are lovely people and if this review can help introduce their music to new people then why the devil not!


 Album opener "Two More Hills" is a wonderful alt-Country number dripping with a lovely pedal steel guitar , in fact there are hints of country, folk , rock and even gospel on the album. Some tracks would fit very well on an Aimee Mann album especially the upbeat "Thank You For The Rain" while "Anyone But You" could easily work as a Sheryl Crow track but Beki has her own style and identity which she proves on the ballads. "Not Excused" is a simple arrangement of voice. piano and dobro which lets you focus on Beki's voice as does "Because" which just features an acoustic guitar accompaniment. One major coup is the inclusion of Duke Special as a special guest lending his easily identifiable harmonies to You Sing This Song" as well as piano and harmonies to the album closer.  

I'd like to take some time to single out that track for special praise. I must admit when scanning the cover I was surprised and honestly very wary about a track called "Tourist"as it had the legend Auschwitz/Birkenau 2016 below the title. I was slightly shocked that anyone could write a song about the location where the worst crimes against humanity in history happened but as the track started it's emotion and feelings made sure that my fears of any disrespect were quickly dispelled. The song is simply beautiful, heartfelt, moving and needs to be heard. It literally moved me to tears and is an amazing piece of songwriting, closing the album in a mournful and haunting way with a subtle violin line weaving amongst the harmonies of Beki & Duke.

"Whins and Weather" can be found on both Amazon & iTunes for ease but if you want to support new music you'd do well by buying from CDBaby by clicking HERE!

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Steve Grantley Talks "FUNKPUNK" (Interview)

The RT-Zed duo of  Steves Grantley & Jonesy return with their new album the aptly named "FUNKPUNK"  I recently caught up with Mr. Grantley after his return from the SLF Australian tour to find out more



"Zed Hed" was a fantastic album, did its sales and reception meet your expectations?

The reviews were exceptional and the response from people was absolutely tremendous. The reviews were so good I thought my Mum had written them! (laughs) It's still selling now so I would say Zed Hed exceeded my personal ambition for the record. Although I would prefer world domination!!!!!!!!!!

Was there a temptation to produce a sequel that was in a similar vein or did you always know that you wanted to travel a different path with the new album?

Yes. I suppose there was an option to recreate Zed Hed but I went with my gut instinct, which is what I've done with all the records. I wrote a bunch of songs and FUNKPUNK is what came out. I just followed what felt good, I stayed out of my own way and let it flow.

How quickly did the sound take shape, was it a case of the song writing influencing the sound or the sound influencing the writing?

The sound took shape quickly, the dub bass, the solid beats, less straight-ahead hackneyed musical tricks, the aggressive attitude all came naturally. The songs were written before I went in to record but once I was in the studio the sound influenced the writing and I started creating new tracks on the spot. So it was a bit of both; the songs influenced the sound and then that blueprint influenced some new songs.

What artists were you listening to while writing "FUNKPUNK", did you look for inspiration?

Like all of us I have eclectic tastes, so down through the years I've always liked Parliament and Funkadelic, James Brown, Prince, Rick James as well as rock music like The Who, Led Zep and punk; Pistols and The Ruts plus reggae - Sly and Robbie, Marley, Steel Pulse and FUNKPUNK just grew out of those influences. It's subliminal not deliberate and definitely not what someone would expect from a punk rock tub thumper. The legendary session drummer Jeff Porcaro was a mentor, he gave me a lot of great advice and he was all about "the groove" so there's grooves on the album. My publisher is a punk rocker and he said he didn't own any records that sounded like FUNKPUNK and I said "yes you do", The Clash's "Magnificent 7", "This Is Radio Clash" maybe even "Rock The Casbah" plus Talking Heads, Ian Dury and the Blockheads. He felt it was a very odd combination of styles; funk music and punk rock but to me it was perfectly normal. Trouble Funk used to have punk rock bands support them all the time. Also why would I want to try and recreate 1977 or something RT-Zed had already done? What's the fucking point of that? I just went my own way and thought fuck it; I have to do what I feel comfortable with.

You got Jon Astley to master the album, he has one hell of a CV so that must have been a massive coup for you. How did he get to be involved?

Yes, he's a legend among legends. I didn't know him at all; he heard the music through the engineer on the album Jamie Masters. Jon costs a fortune and I could never have afforded his usual fee but he loved the album and offered his services because he was a fan. I was highly honoured and very encouraged by the fact that he agreed to master the record. He's mastered The Who, Zeppelin, Townshend solo stuff, Bad Company, ABBA - all sorts of artists but all of them million sellers so for him to master FUNKPUNK was fucking brilliant.



You and Jonesy handle all the instrumentation on the album, did you consider inviting guests?

No - I was tired of explaining to bass players to "keep it simple" and leave room for the grooves to breathe. In the end I played the bass on the whole record, largely due to necessity. I used all the reggae dub tricks; flat-wound strings, foam dampening at the bridge, to wound off, bottom wound up, play with your thumb and keep it groovy with the drummer - like a proper rhythm section. Jonesy played some great lead stuff and bought some real flair to the whole proceedings. His sd is muscular and aggressive without being cliched "Rock geetar"! He wasn't always around so I covered all the funk guitar parts and synths - I just got on with it. We may use guests next time - we know enough fucking people; we'll see. I like doing everything ourselves as it means we don't have to explain and waste valuable time negotiating with people.

How easy was it to fit in writing, recording, mixing and generally everything that made the album happen in a time of increased activity and a resurgence in popularity in Stiff Little Fingers?

It was easy really. Even though Stiff Little Fingers have been incredibly busy I was still able to use time off to work on FUNKPUNK - I play all the time, I don't see it as work - It's pleasure so when I had some SLF downtime, I was in the studio.

"No Conspiracy" featured on the live album "Crunch" albeit in a more raw form and devoid of the wonderful funk guitar of the new version, was this the only song to be reworked for the "FUNKPUNK"sessions?

Yes, it's the only song that was reworked because it was never really finalised. We recorded it on the live album Crunch because we were a song short and the rest of the band said lets do "No Conspiracy". I was never that pleased with it so this was the perfect opportunity to record No Con the way I heard it.

When did you decide to make the release a Pledge campaign?

Siren who manage SLF suggested it and it was good advice. It's going extremely well.

Have you been surprised at how quickly you achieved your Pledge target?

Yes, my fear was we wouldn't reach 100% and look like fucking idiots but we got there in 9 days. It was a relief and very exciting!

Have you got "stretch" goals in mind now you are fully funded?

We aren't fully funded - we just chose an amount that we felt we could reach.

Will there be any possibility of live dates and if so is this likely to be another one off or might we see a short tour?

Yes, we'd like to do gigs but there will be no tour unless we can get a good support slot.

Have you considered whether the songs from "Zed Hed" would be played "straight" or would you be tempted to give them a funk vibe live?

No, the songs are the songs - we'll play them the way they are.

We spoke before about the possibility of a dub version of "FUNKPUNK" or maybe a couple of dub mixes, is this something you've given any more thought to?

I'd love to but I'm not sure there's enough of a market to make it worthwhile.

For those that follow you on social media some of the lyrical themes won't be that much of a surprise (conspiracies,Police brutality/misuse of power, religion, animal rights/veganism) is this a case of writing about what interests you or do you hope that listeners will question the status quo in true punk fashion?

Well, firstly it's about self expression. I can't see the point in writing about anything else. I abhor animal cruelty of any kind, I'm anti-religion, I feel our governments regularly lie to us, so I distrust them enormously. I think the Police are often out of control and corruption and racism is rife; look at the Stephen Lawrence case plus all the shit that's going on in the U.S. Police look like Militia under the pretence of protection when it feels like mass control. I'm anti-Royal and the Civil List that accompanies them; I'm pro free speech! I'm not trying to teach or preach but if the songs touch people in some way then great but the lyrics are my opinions - make of them what you will.

One of the highest tier Pledge rewards is a snare drum that you used in both The Alarm & SLF....what can you tell us about its history?

It's a rare Dennis Chambers (Parliament/Funkadelic) signature snare that I've used on Alarm records and shows plus SLF records and a track on the new RT-Zed album. I don't use it anymore and thought it would be something someone would like to own.

This is a great opportunity for a fan to own such a unique item, was it a hard decision to let it go?

Yeah it was a hard decision but if it finds a new home, that'll be fantastic.

How do you ensure "FUNKPUNK" reaches as wide an audience as possible?

No idea! The music industry is fucked so I'm as lost and confused as everyone else.

What are your expectations for the album?

I have no expectations - I just want people to use the music. Enjoy it and have fun with it - that's my desire. I stopped having expectations years ago.

Steve Grantley, thank you very much! 



"FUNKPUNK" is available exclusively through Pledgemusic which you can find by clicking HERE!



Wednesday, 25 April 2018

RT-Zed "FUNKPUNK" Reviewed

Steve Grantley returns with a new RT-Zed studio album but this is probably not the album most were expecting! "FUNKPUNK" does exactly what the name suggests, Steve's snarling vocals, fat bass lines and punky tunes all dripping with jangly funk guitar that wouldn't be out of place on a Prince album! Imagine if The Ruts had been influenced by funk instead of reggae and you'll be on the right track!


So what about the album itself? Well if you are a keen RT-Zed fan you'll recognise "No Conspiracy" from the live "Crunch" album but here it seems to have found it's true calling, it's more effortless and now has a different groove that is more fitting to this release. Clocking in at just under 37 minutes, in true punk fashion, this isn't a long album by any stretch but not a minute is wasted. After the first few plays I hit the repeat button every time and each time I found more reasons to love "FUNKPUNK" and every time it still sounded fresh.

Lyrically there are the no holds barred topics that you'd expect from Mr. Grantley, the misuse of power, the challenges of organised religion, the treatment of animals, consumerism etc....with a massive bass line throughout  Guilty" tackles the brutality of some members of various law enforcement agencies while "Got No Style" even manages to squeeze in a nod to the legendary Funkadelic! Album closer "Clone" wouldn't sound out of place in an episode of Black Mirror especially with it's spoken coda of "the lifestyle you have ordered is currently unavailable, goodbye" and it would be fantastic to see it get that sort of exposure!

With the weather beginning to get warmer things are about to get a whole lot hotter and this will be the soundtrack to your summer!

"FUNKPUNK" took the Pledge route so you won't find it in the shops or the usual download sites but don't worry you can get your hands on it in just a few clicks by visiting the Pledge store HERE!




Wednesday, 7 February 2018

"A Divide Of Two Halves - Racing the Tour Divide for Love Hope Strength Foundation" by Lydia Franklin

Lydia Franklin releases her third fundraising book for LHS this week full of nods to Mike Peters, The Alarm and LHS as well as having a foreword from a certain Mr. James Stevenson, as someone who had read her previous books covering her cycling ventures I was eager to read the third.....I wasn't disappointed!



“If it all went to plan it wouldn’t be an adventure. If it was easy it wouldn’t be an adventure. Woo hoo, this is an adventure!”

For those of you that don’t know Lydia there’s probably a couple of things you should know. She’s  very driven and regularly undertakes challenges that most would consider insane while all the time fundraising and promoting the music centric cancer charity Love Hope Strength Foundation. The other thing you need to know is that she doesn’t do failure! So having previously cycled the fabled Route 66 & the length of New Zealand (both trips documented in the books “Putting the metal to the pedal” & “Racing the Phoenix” respectively) her latest adventure was to take on the Tour Divide, a solo time challenge, starting in Canada then crossing the border into America.

Now I won’t get into the whole route and mechanics of the tour divide as to be honest it confused me a bit but essentially, big climbs, very hard roads and you’d need to be insane to really contemplate doing it in normal situations let alone on a pretty tight schedule as you have limited time booked as holiday before you have to return to the UK back to the day job! It would have been a massive feat even if everything had gone to plan and needless to say it didn’t! So *spoiler alert* Lydia is forced to abandon the challenge as she would run out of time …. This to me is a more interesting premise as it allowed some freedom to explore places she wouldn’t have been able to see whilst also rationalising the decision to end her race early. As someone once sung “Failure isn’t about falling down, failure is staying down” and that’s something that Lydia was most definitely not going to do!

Throughout her whole trip Lydia wrote blogs each day in order for those at home to be able to follow her progress, make sure she hadn’t been eaten by bears (they feature in the story and provide many a moment that made me smile!) and also to help promote her fundraising goal. These blogs for a large part of the book, are very easy to read and because they were written in the moment you really do feel what she was going through on any given day, her state of mind, levels of exhaustion and any mechanical challenges from the bike. Nothing has been clouded by memory or blurred in any way so it is the closest chance of being in the moment you will get. Each chapter has an update at the end where Lydia reviews that day and her memories of it, sometimes expanding of something or just reflecting on the trials she faced.

One thing that struck me was the random kindness of strangers that litter the book, from those that give help, advice, mental support, encouragement, water, even a place to stay without wanting anything in return. It’s all too easy to be cynical in this day and age and we forget there are many people out there willing to help a total stranger.

As the trip concludes you really empathise with Lydia as she battles getting back to the routine of everyday life far from the adventure, rattlesnakes and bears! No doubt her next adventure is already being planned…..go with the Crazy & good luck Lydia!

As a kind of footnote at the end of the book there’s 26 pages from a Facebook Q & A session that answer many questions that you may well find yourself pondering while reading “A Divide Of Two Halves”. This made for interesting reading as well as giving you something extra after the book had concluded. For the avid cyclist there is also a full breakdown of the bike Lydia used, what equipment, kit and yes even clothing….or lack of!


Monday, 5 February 2018

Become a Pledge....Punk!

Just got back from the Gathering or maybe you didn't go....either way it seems the perfect time to think about getting your Pledge in to support Steve Grantley in releasing the new RT-Zed album "FUNKPUNK".


Pledges start at just £6.99 which will get you the download but there are also CD's, Vinyl, T-Shirts, Drum sticks, signed Drum heads, exclusive listening party and one lucky person will get a signed snare drum that was played on both SLF & The Alarm shows!

Head over to the Pledge page before you forget, it takes 2 seconds!

Sunday, 28 January 2018

RT-Zed album news....


Keep an eye out on Wednesday as Steve Grantley will be making an announcement regarding the new RT-Zed album.... for those of you on Facebook make sure you have liked the RT-Zed page which for your convenience you can find by clicking HERE!