Heaven up Here

Manchester, UK, thrashes the rest of the British Isles 27 ways from SXSW

Echo & the Bunnymen
Echo & the Bunnymen

Despite frequent appearances to the contrary, the United Kingdom remains a monarchy, and nowhere is this more apparent than in its musical output, an ongoing struggle between the established yet ever-changing rulers of everything and the pirate underground, dodgy warehouse parties and all.

2005 might as well have been christened the year of the Bloc Party; not only did the post-power-punk melodics rule Britannia, thanks to their smashing turn at both South by Southwest and the Austin City Limits Music Festival last year, they managed mammoth inroads into these selfsame colonies, more so than most Brit invaders since those Gallagher lads erected a wonderwall around a befuddled Casey Kasem back in 1995. With some 120 English, Scottish, and Irish bands slated to perform during SXSW 2006, this year's continental armada promises to be no less imperious in its storming of south by southwestern shores, even if perpetual court jester Pete Doherty, late of the Libertines, Kate Moss, and, more recently, Her Majesty's Clink, will sadly be unable to attend due his current state of shambles, baby. No matter. Anyone with an ear to Radios 1 through 6 of the BBC will recognize the sovereignty soon colonizing the United iPods of America and beyond.

Kings 'N' Queens

Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant formed Liverpool's legendary Echo & the Bunnymen all the way back in 1978, marrying ripe, shimmery melodies to Lennon & McCartney dramatics in a twilight ceremony whose lasting impact has only recently been fully appreciated thanks to cult film Donnie Darko and championing by the mouthpieces of both U2 and Coldplay. As for new CD Siberia, produced by Hugh "Heaven Up Here" Jones, it's their finest since 1984's Ocean Rain, all foggy squall and sun-swept loveliness.

Speaking of the Eighties, would you buy a used band from a man named Youth? Nor would we, but Jaz Coleman's seminal post-punk-industrial dirgers Killing Joke are the exception that proves the drool, having penned more maniacally memorable yet curiously danceable guitar-driven aural assaults than whatsisname from PIL ever dreamed of. Not content to rest on their spiky laurels, Coleman and co-conspirators Martin "Youth" Glover and (just) Geordie have just released the new Hosannas From the Basement of Hell, which, if all goes according to plan, will obliterate everything in its path.

And now for something completely different: Glaswegian septet Belle & Sebastian wrote the book on lazy summer Sunday pop tunes and then reinvented themselves, sort of, with 2003's deliciously rocking Dear Catastrophe Waitress. New Matador release The Life Pursuit remains giddy in all the right ways, even if you're feeling sinister.

Also Scottish and rather mad for sadness are the boys in Arab Strap, Falkirk duo Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton, whose searing new The Last Romance is anything but. Nevertheless, their achingly gritty songs of loss, love, and yet more loss (and still more love!) are as disturbingly real as it gets without involving actual sex and/or bloodshed.

London-based troubadour-cum-activist Billy Bragg is more romantic than you could ever hope to be. It's a wonder he hasn't stolen your girlfriend yet, frankly, but then maybe she's tiding herself over with Must I Paint You a Picture?, Rhino's triple-CD best-of compilation. Goodness knows we are.

Most of the time they're happy but, you know, they're weirdos: London's Charlatans have remained a cornerstone of Britpop long after the rest of the class of '94 faded into obscurity or Gorillaz-dom. Tim Burgess and crew routinely put on some of the most exhilarating live shows ever to come out of music-mad Manchester, and new disc Simpatico is hands down one of their finest ever.

Is that a Sex Pistol in your pocket or are you just happy to see Glen Matlock & the Philistines? Oh. Alright, then. But we swear to God we're totally skint, mate. Straight ahead punk rock & roll, the way your mama liked it.

Dukes and Duchesses of the Stratosphere

Keep your Eye to the Telescope and you're bound to spot the heavenly body (of work) that is London's KT Tunstall, who's first kidhood album was the soundtrack to The Neverending Story. Things have progressed apace since then, thank goodness, with her winning, breezy single "Suddenly I See" – meaty, beaty, big, and bouncy in all the right ways – tearing up Radio 1 and putting the lie to the idea that just because a female singer-songwriter lists Rickie Lee Jones among her influences doesn't make her predictable, although she has been nominated for "Best Breakthrough Act" in the 2006 Brit Awards.

We understand you've been off on a mission to the farthest reaches of Santa's Village to check out this global-warming brouhaha, which explains why you've yet to hear the hullabaloo regarding Sheffield's mind-bogglingly popular quartet the Arctic Monkeys, who are also nominated for "Best Breakthrough Act" at this year's Brits. Single "I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor" looks and sounds like a big, sticky bit of all right from where we're sitting (in the middle of the dance floor, so watch it, you), while debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not is now officially the fastest-selling British opener in the history of the universe and wherever else Arsenal FC is underappreciated.

Fresh from the What Does Thom Yorke Have to Say About This? Department comes London crooner-cum-tweener-object-of-desire Jamie Cullum, whose spare, piano-driven cover of Radiohead's "High and Dry" is far less annoying than one might think and has the added bonus of getting your paramour in the mood as opposed to the original, which, as you'll recall, just made her sob inconsolably. Not so Cullum's cover of the Cure's "Lovecats," performed with Katie Meluaat the 2004 Brit Awards, which resulted in yet more smearing of Robert Smith's mascara and the House of Commons' draconian ban on effervescent Cure duets at British awards programs.

Inside every good music writer is a Kraftwerk-addled android just itching to get out and do the Robot. Thus we have the inimitable electronics of Liverpool's Ladytron, whose new Witching Hour takes a step back from the Gary Numan-izations of forerunner Light & Magic, adding some serious wall-of-skronk and perfecting the art of kiss-off singles with the vicious and delicious "Destroy Everything You Touch."

What we meant to say was "wall of sound" since Manchester trio the Longcut might as well be on a mission to bring back the thunderously epic shoegazing blast of Ride matched to the squealy vocal histrionics of no less than post-punk icons Joy Division. Single "A Quiet Life" is a ravenous, sinewy thing of beauty, all pounding low-ends and skyrocketing guitars. Genius.

What is it with Manchester, anyway? Must be something in the lager. Manc quartet Nine Black Alps, recently nominated for Spin magazine's prestigious Band of the Year prize, sound like their namesake imploding, but in a good way. "Cosmopolitan" is all rushing guitars and shouty vocals that'll have all but the recently deceased relearning how to pogo

More Manchester Madness, Mate: SXSW returners the Earlies' psychedelic bent are all over the place on their debut These Were the Earlies, from loping, keyboard-heavy oddities like the lovely "Bring It Back Again" to the odd birdsong and inscrutable little doodles that mark the entrance to their Web portal. Pass the, uh, waterpipe!

What's that you say little girl? You haven't heard of Manchester songsmith Stephen Fretwell? Just you wait; debut, Magpie is as close to beauty and loss as you can get without actually returning to your first, best love. (Yikes!) Single "Run" is a lamentation so gorgeous, swaddled as it is in cascading piano lines, that it deserves its own show on the WB.

LoneLady's eerie, catchy "Hi Ho Bastard" confirms what we've suspected all along: give a lone Manc lass a four-track and a whip-smart sense of foul play and you're going to end up with a lo-fi classic that'd give Scout Niblett (who also returns for her third SXSW showcase this year) pause. Oddly endearing, endearingly odd, and very likely the one your mother warned you about.

Peers of the Realm

"Two people, one sound, perfect pop music" is how Belfast, UK-based Oppenheimer describe themselves, but we like to think they owe a sonic debt to Stereolab, Eno, and any electronic keyboard capable of creating warm fuzzies out of pure electricity. Single "Saturday Looks Bad" sounds like the background heartbeat to a million springtime flings without the cloying aftereffects of the real deal.

And you thought Hey Negrita was just another Stones track. Foolish Yank. This London-based duo, the single-monikered Felix and Hugo "3 Horse" Hellman, was born of desperation, specifically the former's desperate bid to outlive heroin addiction, which resulted in a Floridian relocation and their immaculately filthy We Are Catfish, a grimy, bluesy, Keith Richards-ain't-got-nothin'-on-us slab of survivalism set to a dirty beat you can either dance or die to.

There's no better place to "Be Yourself" than at a mightily soulful blowout by Leeds funkateers the New Mastersounds, unless, of course, James Brown happens to be your roommate. Since that's almost certainly not the case, let the hot, molten licks of guitarist Eddie Roberts and Lord of the Hammond organ Bob Birch remind you that the word "funk" was first and foremost an acronym for "Free Up your Nalgas, Kiddo." Keb Darge Presents ... The New Mastersounds is as close to the mindset of the Godfather of Soul as you're likely to get without embarking on a PCP 'n' crack-fueled interstate pursuit with the Ohio Hi-Po, and even better, you don't have to worry about what your mom will say the next day.

"If You Talk Too Much My Head Will Explode" is simultaneously one of the best song titles ever and the new single from People in Planes. It's also a prime example of the Cardiff, Wales-based band's innate ability to come up with simple but never simplistic strains of good old fashioned rock and/or roll, backed by killer harmonies and enough six-string hookery to completely erase the memory of Donny Osmond, who, as many apparently misguided Welsh music fans are far too quick to point out, is of Welsh descent. Uffar gwirion!

Upstarts Most Likely to Stage a Palace Coup

Despite their name, Wendover's insanely sunny guitar-popsters the Boy Least Likely To are, in fact almost certain to. Likewise Glasgow's punchy, frenetic, and quite punk rock in the classic '77 sense Biffy Clyro, who aim to inflict "Glitter and Trauma" on anyone foolhardy enough to hit the loo during their showcase. Unless, of course, you cartwheel your way there and back.

"How Many Times" can you experience the sheer la-la-la bliss-out of Carina Round's aching, Birmingham-based laments before tossing out all of your old PJ Harvey LPs? Twice. We checked.

Don't call her a "chav" unless you want your collarbone refunkified, yobbo: Lady Sovereign is UK hip-hop's fastest rising "little midget" and a rhymer to reckon with. Single "A Little Bit of Shhh" has been remixed by no less than Beastie Boy Ad-Roc hisownself.

The first time we saw them we wanted more than just to hold them – we wanted to bend them and fold them. But hey, that's London's Art Brut for you, one of a host of new UK outfits who owe more than a little to the Fall's vox populoid Mark E. Smith, no matter how many times they reference Jarvis Cocker. Their Fierce Panda debut, Bang Bang Rock & Roll, plays, as Smith himself would doubtless toothily enthuse, "Fooking bootifuh, mahrn!"

Leeds' ¡Forward, Russia! are into numbers, as in the title of debut Twelve, a sonic fracas that wouldn't sound at all out of place on CBGB's stage circa 1979.

The Dirty Pretty Things have arisen from the ashes of the Libertines, or at least guitarist Carl Barat has, forming this gawky-smooth spit-in-the-eye of former bandmate and current Least Likely to Be at Least a Little Likeable posterboy Pete Doherty. The unvarnished truth? They fucking rock. Hard.

Q magazine called Corinne Bailey Rae "Norah Jones meets Led Zeppelin," but we believe that does a great disservice to the lovely Ms. Rae, whose opening salvo Like a Star overflows with the cigarettes 'n' gossamer pure pop panache of perfection in the making. Burt Bacharach loves her – need we say more? Prepare to weep in joy. end story

The Universe Through URLs

(all showcases subject to change)

Aberfeldy (Edinburgh) www.aberfeldys.com; Karma Lounge, Sat, 10pm

The Aeroplanes (Liverpool) www.theaeroplanes.co.uk; Spiro's, Fri, 1am

The Answer (Downpatrick) www.theanswer.com; Exodus, Thu, 10:45pm

Arctic Monkeys (Sheffield) www.arcticmonkeys.com; TBA, TBA

Art Brut (London) www.artbrut.org.uk; The Parish, Wed, 1am

Battle (London) www.thisisbattle.com; Fox and Hound, Sat, 10pm

Belle & Sebastian (Glasgow) www.belleandsebastian.co.uk; Stubb's, Wed, TBA

Blackbud (Bradford on Avon) www.blackbud.co.uk; Dirty Dog Bar, Sat, 11pm

Black Moses (London) www.blackmoses.co.uk; Blender Balcony at the Ritz, Sat, 1am

Blue Aeroplanes (Bristol) Karma Lounge, Sat, 11pm

Boy Kill Boy (London) www.boykillboy.com; Eternal, Thu, 10pm

The Boy Least Likely To (Wendover) www.theboyleastlikelyto.co.uk; Elysium, Fri, 12am

Billy Bragg (London) www.billybragg.co.uk; Cedar Street Courtyard, Fri, 9:30pm

Brakes (Brighton) www.brakesbrakesbrakes.com; Blender Bar at the Ritz, Fri, 8pm

Bromheads Jacket (Sheffield) www.bromheadsjacket.com; The Parish II, Wed, 12:30am

Archie Bronson Outfit (Putney) www.archiebronsonoutfit.co.uk; La Zona Rosa, Fri, 12am

Bullet for My Valentine (South Whales) www.bulletformyvalentine1.com; Blender Bar at the Ritz, Wed, TBA

Camera Obscura (Glasgow) www.camera-obscura.net/; Antone's, Sat, 12am

Isobel Campbell (Glasgow) www.isobelcampbell.com; Dirty Dog Bar, Fri, 9pm

The Capes (South London) www.thecapes.co.uk; Dirty Dog Bar, Thu, 1am

Captain (London) www.captaintheband.com; Opal Divine's Freehouse, Thu, 11:15pm

Cayto (Glasgow) www.cayto.com; Karma Lounge, Sat, 12am

The Charlatans (Manchester) www.thecharlatans.net; Exodus, Sat, 1am

Belle & Sebastian
Belle & Sebastian

The Cinematics (Glasgow) www.thecinematics.co.uk; Soho Lounge, Sat, 1am

Comanechi (London) www.comanechi.com; Molotov Lounge, Sat, 1am

The Contrast (Peterborough) www.thecontrast.net; Blender Bar at the Ritz, Sat, 9pm

The Cribs (Wakefield) www.thecribs.co.uk; Exodus, Fri, 12am

Jamie Cullum (London) www.jamiecullum.com; Eternal, Fri, TBA

Dirty Pretty Things (London) www.dirtyprettythingsband.com; Eternal, Thu, 12am

Duels (Leeds) www.duelsmusic.com; Exodus, Fri, 11pm

Duke Special (Belfast) www.dukespecial.com; Hilton 406, Thu, 11pm

The Duke Spirit (London) www.dukespirit.com; Red Eyed Fly, Sat, 11pm

Echo & the Bunnymen (Liverpool) www.bunnymen.com; Town Lake Stage, Thu, 8:30pm

Editors (Birmingham) www.editorsofficial.com; Blender Bar at the Ritz, Fri, 11pm

The Eighteenth Day of May (London) www.theeighteenthdayofmay.com; Emo's Jr., Fri, 7:30pm

The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster (Brighton) www.myspace.com/eightiesmatchboxblinedisaster; Flamingo Cantina, Wed, 12am

The Electric Soft Parade (Brighton) www.electricsoftparade.com ; Nuno's Upstairs, Fri, 1am

Th' Faith Healers (London) www.badabingrecords.com; Blender Balcony at the Ritz, Fri, 12:45am

Newton Faulkner (Crewe) www.n-b-f.com; Maggie Mae's, Wed, 9:45pm

The Feeling (London) www.thefeeling.co.uk; Blender Bar at the Ritz, Fri, 1am

Field Music (Sunderland) www.field-music.co.uk/; Emo's Main Room, Wed, 10pm

David Ford (Lewes) www.davidford.mu; Copa, Thu, 10:30pm

Forward Russia (Leeds) www.forwardrussia.com; Fox and Hound, Sat, 9pm

Stephen Fretwell (Manchester) www.stephenfretwell.com; Exodus, Sat, 10pm

Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly (Southend) www.getcapewearcapefly.co.uk; Buffalo Billiards, Wed, 10pm

Goldfrapp (London) www.goldfrapp.co.uk; Austin Music Hall, Thu, 12:45am

Goldrush (Oxford) www.myspace.com/goldrushMusic; Nuno's Upstairs, Fri, 9pm

Gomez (Southport) www.gomez.co.uk; Stubb's, Thu, 12am

The Go! Team (Brighton) www.thegoteam.co.uk; Exodus, Wed, 1am

Grand National (London) www.grand-national.net; Spiro's Patio, Thu, 10pm

Guillemots (London) www.guillemots.com; Eternal, Thu, 8pm

Hard-Fi (Staines) www.hard-fi.com; Exodus, Fri, 1am

Harrisons (Sheffield) www.harrisonroad.co.uk; Red 7, Sat, 12am

Richard Hawley (Sheffield) www.richardhawley.co.uk; Austin Music Hall, Thu, 11:30pm

The Hazey Janes (Dundee) www.thehazeyjanes.co.uk; The Drink, Sat, 8pm

The Heights (London) www.theheightsmusic.com; Exodus, Fri, 10pm

Hey Negrita (London) www.heynegrita.com; Buffalo Billiards, Wed, 1am

Hot Chip (London) www.hotchip.co.uk; The Parish, Sat, TBA

The Hours (London) www.thehoursmusic.com; Oslo, Thu, TBA

Hayley Hutchinson (York) www.hayleyhutchinson.net; Hilton 406, Fri, 12am

IV Thieves (Nic Armstrong) (London) www.nicarmstrongandthethieves.com; La Zona Rosa, Thu, 11pm

Jont (London) www.jontmusic.net; Dirty Dog Bar, Thu, 8pm

The Kooks (London) www.thekooks.co.uk; Blender Bar at the Ritz, Fri, 9pm

Sharron Kraus & Christian Kiefer (London) www.sharronkraus.com; The Hideout, Fri, 11pm

Ladyfuzz (London) www.ladyfuzz.com; The Parish II, Wed, 9:30pm

Lady Sovereign (London) www.ladysovereign.com; La Zona Rosa, Sat, 12am

Ladytron DJs (Liverpool) www.ladytron.com; Karma Lounge, Fri, 12am

The Len Price 3 (Chatham) www.thelenprice3.co.uk; The Drink, Sat, 12am

T.D. Lind (London) www.tdlind.com; Tambaleo, Wed, TBA

LoneLady (Manchester) www.lonelady.blogspot.com; Hilton 406, Sat, 12am

The Longcut (Manchester) www.thelongcut.com; Exodus, Sat, 11pm

Lucky Luke (Glasgow) www.luckyluke.co.uk; Pecan St. Ale House, Wed, TBA

Mad Staring Eyes (London) www.themadstaringeyes.com; Soho Lounge, Sat, 11pm

The Magic Numbers (London) www.themagicnumbers.net; Stubb's, Fri, 12am

Glen Matlock & the Philistines (London) www.glenmatlock.com; Friends, Thu, 10:30pm

Merz (Huddersfield) www.merz.co.uk; Pecan St. Ale House, Thu, 8pm

Lady Sovereign
Lady Sovereign

The Mighty Wah! (Liverpool) www.petewylie.com; Red 7, Sat, 11pm

Mogwai (Glasgow) www.mogwai.co.uk; Stubb's, Wed, TBA

Mohair (London) www.mohairmusic.com; Emo's Jr., Fri, 1:15am

Morrissey (Manchester) www.morrisseymusic.com; Austin Music Hall, Thu, 9:45pm

The Mutts (Brighton) www.themutts.com; Fox and Hound, Fri, 11pm

Mystery Jets (London) www.mysteryjets.com; Red Eyed Fly, Sat, 12am

Neck (London) www.neck.ie; Pecan St. Ale House, Fri, 1am

New Mastersounds (Leeds) www.newmastersounds.com; Caribbean Lights, Wed, TBA

Scout Niblett (Birmingham) www.scoutniblett.com; Club de Ville, Thu, TBA

Nine Black Alps (Manchester) www.nineblackalps.net; Exodus, Sat, 12am

Jim Noir (London) www.jimnoir.com; Blender Bar at the Ritz, Fri, 10pm

Noisettes (London) www.thenoisettes.com; Stubb's, Thu, 9pm

Paolo Nutini (Paisley) www.paolo.uk.com; Whisky Bar, Sat, 12:45am

Oppenheimer (Belfast) www.myspace.com/oppenheimer; Friends, Fri, 9pm

Beth Orton (London) bethorton.astralwerks.com; Antone's, Wed, TBA

The Others (London) www.letskilltheothers.org; Flamingo Cantina, Wed, 10pm

Our Small Capital (Stornoway) www.williamcampbell.co.uk; The Drink, Wed, TBA

Paris Motel (London) www.parismotel.co.uk; Pecan St. Ale House, Wed, TBA

Part Chimp (London) www.partchimp.com; Soho Lounge, Thu, 12am

People in Planes (Cardiff) www.peopleinplanes.com; Dirty Dog Bar, Thu, 12am

Piney Gir (London) www.pineygir.com; Nuno's Upstairs, Fri, 8pm

Plan B (London) www.time4planb.co.uk; Red Eyed Fly, Sat, 9pm

Polytechnic (Manchester) www.wearepolytechnic.com; Exodus, Sat, 8pm

The Pretenders (London) Stubb's, Sat, 12:30am

P.u.M.a.J.a.W. (Perth) www.pinkiemaclure.co.uk; Molotov Lounge, Fri, TBA

Corinne Bailey Rae (Leeds) www.corinnebaileyrae.net; 18th Floor at Capitol Place, Thu, 1am

The Rakes (London) www.therakes.co.uk; Flamingo Cantina, Wed, 1am

Ralfe Band (London) www.ralfeband.com; Creekside at Capitol Place, Wed, 10pm

The Rebel (London) www.therebel.co.uk; The Jackalope, Wed, TBA

The Research (Wakefield) www.theresearchgopop.com; The Parish II, Wed, 10:30pm

The Rifles (London) www.therifles.co.uk; Soho Lounge, Sat, 12am

Carina Round (Birmingham) www.carinaround.com; Dirty Dog Bar, Thu, 10pm

Rumble Strips (London) www.rumblestrips.co.uk; TBA

747s (Liverpool) www.747s.co.uk; Exodus, Fri, 8pm

Snow Patrol (London) www.snowpatrol.net; Stubb's, Fri, 1am

Striplight (London) www.striplight.net; Pecan St. Ale House, Fri, TBA

The Subways (Welwyn Garden City) www.thesubways.net; Stubb's, Fri, 10pm

Sway (London) www.swaydasafo.com; Caribbean Lights, Sat, 1:15am

Switches (London) www.myspace.com/weareswitches; Flamingo Cantina, Wed, 8pm

Tenebrous (London) www.tenebrous.tv; The Hideout, Wed, TBA

Test Icicles (London) www.testicicles.com; La Zona Rosa, Fri, 11pm

TODD (London) www.southern.com/todd; The Velvet Spade, Fri, TBA

Towers of London (London) www.towersoflondon.co.uk; La Zona Rosa, Sat, 11pm

Tunng (London) www.tunng.co.uk; The Velvet Spade, Thu, 10pm

KT Tunstall (London) www.kttunstall.com; Blender Bar at the Ritz, Fri, 12am

Vega 4 (London) www.vega-4.com; Stubb's, Fri, 8pm

John Watts (Brighton) www.johnwatts.co.uk; Hilton 406, Sat, 10pm

Whitehouse (Edinburgh) www.susanlawly.com; Room 710, Thu, 1:15am

White Rose Movement (London) www.whiterosemovement.co.uk; Stubb's, Fri, 9pm

Working for a Nuclear Free City (Manchester) www.myspace.com/wfanfc; Exodus, Sat, 9pm

World Party (London) Exodus, Wed, 11pm

The Young Knives (Oxford) www.theyoungknives.com; The Parish, Wed, 9pm

The Zico Chain (Brighton) www.thezicochain.com; Flamingo Cantina, Wed, 9pm

the Zutons (Liverpool) www.thezutons.co.uk; Austin Music Hall, Thu, 8pm

The Alarm (Rhyl WALES) www.thealarm.com; Elysium, Thu, 1am

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