It used to be the place where musical tastes clashed, where two tribes went to war. In 1964 The Mods (into bands like The Who and Small Faces whose music was rooted in blues) and The Rockers (into artists like Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent who played 1950s rock and roll) clashed infamously on the seafront. Musically different but also sartorially different, The Mods adopted clean-cut styles with Italian and French influences whereas The Rockers were leather clad with pompadoured hair. It was a time for ‘moral panic’ - according to the press - and the young people who were involved were labelled as ‘folk devils’.
Only ten years later, in 1974, the town hosted the 19th Eurovision Song Contest - but only because Luxembourg, who had won it for the previous two years, did not want to host it again because of the expense involved. Brighton stepped up and the contest was responsible for launching one of the biggest and well known bands in the world - ABBA.
Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end….....….but these days Brighton couldn’t be more different. Then, it was a seaside town looking after its own business before the ‘folk devils’ descended but now it is a diverse melting pot of musical tastes and talent; its relaxed perspective and liberal approach to almost everything has attracted countless cultural creatives backed up with a can-do, must-do DIY attitude.
Brighton isn't one of those towns that is responsible for the birth of a particular sound or genre of music, like Sheffield is for early electronic music or Manchester is for Britpop or the ‘Madchester’ sound. Instead, all and everyone is welcome. Except maybe The Tories. They held their party conferences in the town in the 1980s and this spawned a series of Beat The Blues marches. Out of the protests, one Brighton band came to the fore; The Levellers. Named after a political movement in the English Civil War, their fusion of folk and punk coupled with politically motivated lyrics captivated the disenfranchised. They exploded onto the music scene and before long were playing in front of thousands of fans. One song stood out, ‘Battle Of The Beanfield,’ which recalled the authorities blocking a travellers’ Peace Convoy heading for Stonehenge to put on a free festival. From this, they ended up as headliners at Glastonbury in 1994 playing in front of over 300000 people.
It’s never really occurred to me to check where bands I like originate from but running through my music collection for this article, I was surprised at how many of the bands I do like hail from Brighton or are based there. It remains a place where you're free to express ideas and make music that no-one would laugh at or turn their nose up to. So here a just a few;
The Go! Team are one of my go-to bands if I want an injection of upbeat, feel-good music. Their 2004 album ‘Thunder, Lightning, Strike’ is superb and was nominated for a Mercury Prize in 2005. Their music, a blend of styles including hip-hop, Bollywood and 70s funk with a dash of brass, is miles away from the folk/punk of The Levellers but, lo and behold, they also hail from Brighton. Check out ‘Junior Kickstart’ - you won’t regret it.
Towards the heavier end of the music spectrum, Royal Blood is another Brighton band featuring in my music collection. They produce a sound greater than the sum of their parts (2), rocking heavy with just a bass guitar and drums. ‘Little Monster’ is up there as one of the great rock songs.
I can’t write about Brighton without mentioning Black Honey, a guitar band that features heavily on my playlists. I first saw them at ThinkTank? in Newcastle a couple of years ago. I knew before I’d heard a note that they were going to be good. How? By the plastic pink flamingo prop adorning the stage that has followed them everywhere since. One of the best live shows I’ve seen. They’re much more accomplished now of course but still as hardworking and creative.
Sometimes a band’s name catches my eye before it catches my ear. ‘Prinzhorn Dance School’ is one of them. I first came across them about 10 years ago and just reading that name warranted a listen. The two piece band, named after a German psychiatrist, Hans Prinzhorn, who collected art made by his patients, produce a minimalist sound of one note bass lines and simple beats which are captivating, mesmerising and oddly foot tappingly good. If you don’t believe me check out their track ‘Eat, Sleep’ from their first album.
A shout out must go to Jack Medley’s Secure Men who I have only recently discovered through another favourite band of mine, Meatraffle. Jack Medley recently passed away but was a big personality on the antifolk scene in Brighton. He couldn’t really play or sing but by all accounts his personality, chaotic stage presence and songwriting skills more than made up for it. The album ‘Secure As Fuck’ is testament to this, entertaining us with its simple techno beats and bass lines whilst Jack tells us his stories about keeping it real.
Two other Brighton bands currently receiving lots of my attention are electronic duo AK/DK and indie pop band Porridge Radio. The former made me sit up and listen when I heard their track ‘Morphology’ - a driving, electronic smasher of a track, that made me think of Kraftwerk on acid. ‘Give/Take’ by Porridge Radio had a similar effect but the two tracks could not be more different. ‘Give/Take’ gets straight to business with a catchy minimalist bassline and nonchalant vocals, not unlike Elastica.
I’m sure there’s more bands in my music collection who originate from the south coast town or if not, has some intimate connection with it. The Brighton music machine remains well oiled and I can see no sign of it slowing down. One band who have based themselves there and have been featuring on my music radar is Penelope Isles, originally from the Isle of Man. They have been around for some time but are now signed to Bella Union, a music label with a strong stable and DIY ethic. They’re a 4 piece with a touch of The Magic Numbers about them, mixed with a bit of Beck and The Beach Boys. They are; Jack (guitar and vocals), Lily (bass, keys and vocals), Becky (bass, guitar and vocals) and Jack S (drums and vocals).
Jack and Lily are siblings and the band came about when older brother Jack moved to Brighton where his sister was a student at the university. Lily was already in a band with the other two members but when Jack arrived in town the 4 of them embarked on a new project culminating in the forthcoming release of their album ‘Until The Tide Creeps In.’ It’s an album full of gently fuzzing guitars and shimmering melodies undercut by Brian Wilson-esque vocals and is perfect listening for the festival season.
The opening track, ‘Chlorine,’ starts with a summery burst of guitar serving as an introduction to those lazy, hazy days but the lyrics have an underlying discomfort about them, which is a theme throughout (but not in a bad way). It’s as if they’re saying, yes, life can be idyllic but not all the time or forever so don’t get too excited. My memories of going swimming as a kid are nice ones but when I think about it a bit more it wasn’t always a nice experience.
Jump in with all your clothes
And break your nose
The depth, who knows?
Chlorine you itch my feet
You make me clean or so it seems
You make me smell a certain way
The next track, ‘Round,’ showcases Jack’s vocals, with those Brian Wilson notes - the high pitched tone perfectly complements the fuzz guitar and bouncing bass line. He’s not the only vocalist though; they all pitch in throughout the album and it makes lovely listening.
‘Leipzig’ is destined to be a firm favourite with fans with its Weezer- like chorus. It’s only 2 and half minutes long but it’s long enough to get a crowd jumping up and singing along without a care in the world.
‘Cut Your Hair’ is an altogether slower and funkier song, with a great reverb guitar sound, but with the same easy-on-the-ear and tuneful thoughtfulness of all the others. The same hard-hitting lyrics are still there too;
You gave it up and sold your strings
And started talking kids and things
There's so much more to see just yet
You haven't left the country yet
People are already beginning to take notice of Penelope Isles; ‘Chlorine’ has already appeared on Skysports’ Soccer AM as part of a goals montage but I can well imagine a number of the tunes on this album becoming part of the soundtrack of a cool road movie. It’s an eminently listenable album and amid the melodic melancholy is that thread of realism and resolution to their music. It’s as though at any time the band will burst into a fit of fury but just manage to keep a lid on it.
Perhaps the front cover and the title of the album sums up the music and sentiments best; it shows a happy man on the beach admiring his magnificent sandcastle, proud of his achievement. Everything is fine, of course, until the tide creeps in and washes it away. A brilliant metaphor for making the most of everything while you can.