Signal to noise: A review of Transmissions From Oblivion by Last Great Dreamers

Transmissions From Oblivion by Last Great DreamersIt’s been a busy couple of years for Last Great Dreamers. From a nostalgic comeback in 2014 – a reunion after nearly two decades of retirement – they steadily rebuilt their empire with singles, videos, tours and festival appearances, before announcing that they were recording an album, to be funded via their fans through PledgeMusic: a confident move, which appears to have paid off.

The finished record is called Transmissions From Oblivion. It’s a title that put in an early bid and fought long and hard to win its crown. But listening to the album, I’m struck by a fitting alternative, and that’s simply Last Great Dreamers.

If any of the band’s three long-players deserve an eponymous billing, it’s this one. At times, I’ve wondered whether there’s a case to be made for it being a concept album of sorts – about growing up, music, the business and the connection between these things. Not all the tracks fit, but there’s a strong sense that this is quite a personal record for its songwriters – a cleansing, in some ways.

Expletive completed: Magnificent Bastard by Tommy Hale

Magnificent Bastard by Tommy HaleThere’s an unwritten rule in the music industry that goes something like this: whatever the date on which you’re planning to put out your new record, add at least three months – and then, when you’ve finally got that date, add an extra week. The wheels of design, manufacture and publicity can move slower than anticipated, and it’s impossible to cheat the system by anticipating delays from the outset – a problem I like to call the Release Date Paradox – so don’t try to be smart.

And so it is that 10 months after its final recording session, and two seasons after its planned spring release, Tommy Hale’s third solo album, Magnificent Bastard, has made parole. I first heard it in an unmastered, tentatively sequenced form last November, when I did an interview with Tommy in the Wiltshire studio where it was recorded. But the finished LP – the complete Bastard, you might say – is at last upon us, and listeners can finally get to decide whether it lives up to the claim of its title.

He scores! Meeting film composer John Scott

With John Scott at the Camden Film Fair, 3 September 2016“Rest the toe by not walking or standing for too long, and not putting weight on the toe. You can begin normal activity once the swelling has gone down.”

That was the advice I got from the NHS website after I whacked my little toe on the corner of my built-in wardrobe on Friday afternoon. Over the years, I’d stubbed the same toe many times before, often in the same manner, and I’d never suffered any ill effects beyond an initial yelp and a brief sick feeling. But this time was different. This time, the appendage still hurt to walk on hours later, and when I removed my sock I saw that the toe was badly bruised and had swelled up. Was it broken? Possibly, reckoned the NHS guide to toe injuries. Either way, it looked like it had been stamped on by a giant gorilla and I should definitely rest up, at least until the swelling went down.

Unfortunately, this was not an option, as the following morning I had somewhere I wanted – nay, needed – to be. John Scott, composer of film scores, was attending the Camden Film Fair, and I wasn’t about to let the occasion pass just because I’d been playing football with the wall. So I carefully donned a pair of green Converse and hobbled my way to NW1, clutching two copies of the King Kong Lives soundtrack: an original vinyl issue from 1987 and the CD reissue on the Intrada label from 2012. If John would sign these precious artefacts for me, well, it’d be worth crippling myself.

Transmission statement: In the recording studio with Last Great Dreamers, July 2016

Last Great Dreamers at Foel Studio, summer 2016They can be dangerous places, recording studios. Cables to trip over; microphones poised to knock your teeth out; a mountain of electrical equipment waiting to catch fire – some of it heavy too, so watch your back when lifting. If you have a wannabe Phil Spector producing, you might even find yourself dodging bullets as you reach for that high harmony.

Thankfully, today at Foel Studio, Tony Harris isn’t packing heat – it’s Sunday and he doesn’t carry at weekends – but that still leaves the possibility of injury by misadventure. When a crash is heard from somewhere in the building, Tony shouts: “Anybody hurt?”

Simple facts: Case Hardin live at C2C: Country to Country, the O2, London, March 2016

Jim Maving and Pete Gow of Case Hardin, live at the Brooklyn Bowl, Greenwich, 13 March 2016“This next song,” says Pete Gow, “is probably the only reason we were invited to play Country to Country.”

It’s 11.45am on Sunday 13 March, and I’m in Greenwich, at the O2 – or the Millennium Dome, as I hope history will remember it – for a brief look in on what’s being billed as ‘Europe’s largest country music festival’.

The three-day bash has gathered together some of the genre’s current big names – the headliners are Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood and Eric Church – but there’s far more to the event than just an arena show, as dotted around the O2’s concourse are numerous smaller stages. Some of these stages are out in the wild, just around the corner from pizza parlours, bars and coffee houses. Others are tucked up toastily inside the dome’s satellite venues such as the Brooklyn Bowl. And it’s here, in this beautifully lit bar-cum-bowling-alley that Pete Gow, Case Hardin’s frontman and founding member, is pondering his band’s country credentials.