An evening with Spy From Moscow

“So if that’s Ireland”, his fingers trace the shape of the glass, “and there’s Dublin, and there’s Belfast, then I’m from just here, in the North, but on the border.” Declan Feenan, better known as Spy From Moscow, leans across the table and gathers the half-full pint in his hand, his smile already on the edge of laughter.

Much of our conversation with Declan is like this. He’s enthusiastic, warm and completely lacking in any kind of pretention.

We meet downstairs at The Hope & Ruin – the lower part of one of Brighton’s famous music venues, with its broken-down, higgledy-piggledy furniture and band posters pegged to washing lines strung haphazardly across the windows – to discuss all things Spy From Moscow.

“I studied English, just a generic McDonald’s degree, and then I came to London to start a band and ended up writing plays.. and just personal circumstances, I ended up, one day, just deciding I’m gonna do music again… collaborating with other musicians has been more of a thing for me the last few years than sitting in a room with a blank page.. I will get back to it.”

You get the sense from Declan that, while working alone is something he enjoys, currently he finds greater satisfaction in the collaborative process. Either way, beneath the laid-back demeanour, is someone compelled to make art. Lately, he has been working hard on his new single and video, The Priests of London Fields, which is due out in the autumn, and the city clearly has a grip on his heart.

“I landed in London to stay for 6 months and then it was 12 years later. Fell in love with it, fell out of love. Fell in love.. so I’ve stayed ever since.. don’t know if you’ve ever been to London Fields in Hackney? You should go, on a Saturday it’s an interesting place.”

I wonder whether his writing background has an impact on how he approaches music.

“When I listen to music I don’t think about lyrics, I just think about the music.. I’m really keen on capturing atmosphere in a lyric rather than a message. So it’s not what does it means, it’s how does it feel.. I kinda write androgynous lyrics.”

Declan is just back from a European tour and I ask him whether he struggles to balance his music with his day job (working for a housing charity in London).  “It’s quite easy” he responds, shrugging his shoulders. “You’ve gotta have the skills to pay the bills.”

 

**********

 

Upstairs, The Hope & Ruin is a dark and dingy sweatbox, stripped of all excess and hungry for music. It has fantastic sound, and as Declan’s guitar roars into life, reverberating across the room, there is a rugged intimacy between artist and audience.

Tonight is a stripped back show for Spy from Moscow, so it’s just Declan with a guitar and a bunch of pedals cracking out some fucking songs – as he would put it. For 45 minutes, he is imperious, the fragile, raw beauty of his voice punctuated by surging, angry guitar noise. There is a necessary intensity to his music which is only accentuated by the location.

He’s a restless, mesmeric force, always trying to get closer to the sound he hears in his head. This isn’t about the size of the band – though he admits he’d like to have the resources to do something superbig”, but about how it feels.

 “I’m more about capturing atmosphere and a feeling than telling somebody how to vote. I think that’s a wasted journey as a musician.. There’s an emotional landscape that you can explore.”

You can buy the Little War EP by Spy From Moscow here.

And he’ll be in Brighton playing at The Gladstone on 6th July. 

 

 

Down The Rabbit Hole, Part 1

quiff2The weekend is a broken ornament, a beautiful twisted relic lying fractured on the floor, glistening in the early summer sun. I stagger as I lean down to pick through the myriad pieces – the rabbit hole; the headphone dancers; the Strang man; the sunken wreck; the land time forgot; the synthetic dream; the funfair; and the rolling stone – because I’m bewitched.

It’s early Friday evening when we stumble into the Alice in Wonderland bar, the rush of alcohol washing us down the rabbit hole and out onto the street with an awkward step. Our guides await us, a stylish mess standing in that graceful, honest way that only the young and reckless can manage, like rocks sliding down a deserted hillside.

It’s a warm evening, the air fragrant with the hypnotic scent of freshly bloomed flowers and freshly smoked marijuana. People throng around us, a clash of festivals – music and theatre – belching forth an eclectic brand of modern madness. A congregation mill around us, giant lanyards strung around their necks so that they resemble oversized children with a day pass to the theme park. A man on stilts tiptoes between them making regular, ovoid laps, his head bouncing back and forth like a jack in the box, his smile a sea of teeth. A band of brave dancers tear through the centre, headphones pinned to their ears as they swagger and sway to a song no one else can hear. Our senses buckle but hold and we are transported.

The shop, built to hold 15, already holds 50 and as the band gather behind a hastily assembled stack of speakers, more push through until we are a mass of heat and sweat and spilt lager barely a hand’s width away from the men from Madrid. The drummer, yellow cape cascading down his back, counts a beat, the guitar roars into life and we explode, a spiralling corkscrew of expectant energy. At the heart of it, one of our guides conducts the chaos, bouncing and buffeting but immovable, the room pivoting around him. The Parrots adore us as much as we adore them, their crazed brand of 60’s punk-pop psychedelia is a deafening roar overwhelming and empowering us all.

20 minutes pass as if time were racing against itself and, suddenly, we stand briefly alone and forlorn until a DJ presses the needle to a 7 inch. Beguiled, we consider asking him for the name of the song, instead reaching for our phones and then, Shazam! We are away again.

We drop anchor at a crowded bar, a swell of distracted chatter obstructing any path to the bar. In the far corner a fairly decent band are broadly ignored. Someone needs to take charge of this menagerie before momentum is lost. We need a Strang man. He emerges from the side, skinny and wilful, powering his way to the front, and we follow in his wake. There is a restless buzz to Kane Strang’s music, his artful 90’s DIY pop a mask worn to obscure the doubts and fears that are strewn within his lyrics.

Outside, we cast the stragglers onto a passing truck as it pauses to recruit. In the gathering night, glowsticks twist leaving an echo of colour in the air, bass thumps through our bodies and many are drawn away to a brighter, noisier future.

We stagger and smoke, somnambulant as we await the call. Sound reverberates from the depths, a forgotten wind whispering and whistling in the distance, the press of a single ivory rising above the quiet cacophony as if from a long forgotten piano in the bar of some sunken wreck. Our guides return to lead us by the hand, plunging downward towards the seductive melancholy until we are submerged, happy to never to return.

Matt Maltese’s vocals are dark and heady. His lyrics, visceral and harsh. His music, warm like the barrel of a fired gun. He is where we end part one.

Cobbled Together

 

There is a great line in Julian Barne’s The Sense of An Ending, “History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.” In life we narrate our personal history to new friends and share it with old friends.

I tell you this because two days ago I was explaining someone about the first time that I saw Pavement, at V Festival some 22 years ago. At the time, I was young and uneducated in the ways of music and I only went to the festival to see Blur headline. I have particularly strong memories of this day as I went to the festival by myself taking a coach and spending the day wandering around with 50,000 strangers, alone but happy. It was my first, real musical odyssey.

I’d heard one Pavement song (the sly, cutting ramble of Shady Lane which I had picked up on promo from a record fare) beforehand and was aware that Graham Coxon liked them so went to see what it was all about. They played in the summer sun and, unsurprisingly in hindsight, were considerably better than Space who came on afterwards.

Except that, that verifiable sources tell me this is not true. The V festival that I went to was actually two years later, which means I wasn’t young and uneducated in the ways of music. In fact, I’d already spent a year haunting the DJ booths at university,  chasing new music and wanting to know everything about everything played in a now all-too familiar way.

Pavement wouldn’t have been a mystery to me. By this point Brighten The Corners adorned my CD collection like a badge of alternative slacker honour. It also means that there’s absolutely no way Space were at that music festival (thankfully) and it’s unlikely that it was my first musical odyssey, it’s just the one that I unclearly remember.

Still, it’s important to me because I fell in love with Pavement that day. Their loose idle, waywardness hiding a subtle brilliance in both song structure and lyrical wit. They lolled around the stage being magnificent and became the first band that I truly wanted to be in. I’d see them twice again after that but this was the moment.

So I’m blessed that tonight a number of excellent bands are gathering in Brighton to  pay homage to Pavement. If you’re  in the vicinity you should come down and check out Can Shaker Pi, Fur and The Geisha Girls. This is bound to be an evening of thrills, spills and serious musical joy.

In the meantime, join the discussion on the Skewed Quiff Facebook page where we’ll be sharing our top 3 Pavement tracks and talking to some of the bands about their favourite tracks.

 

 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑