"Gimmie Some Space" by Shanghai Hostage
It is literally only a single month since I reviewed the most recent Shanghai Hostage single "Convent" for you, yet here today am I writing about its follow-up, "Gimmie Some Space" (sic). It remains a considerable if pleasant surprise how many new tracks are being created during this pandemic & if there were a prize for musical proliferation beyond the satisfaction of forging new cultural content, while several of the front runners are fairly obviously solo artists with the skills & equipment to home record, this band must be leaders in the category of ensembles. That is not to say however that this is a full Hostage experience: although their most recent releases, "Convent" and "Free Lovin' Woman" derive from full band sessions at the Tin with Ian Whitehead producing, this one dates from the earliest days of the lockdown & like "Mr Motivator" features (as did that track) Sophie & Ian, though this time with Beth too.
It's probably just as well in some ways as the past two have been very full on songs & performances which would have been difficult to follow along similar lines: "Convent" being easily the most extreme track by them I can think of. "Gimmie Some Space" reverts to more classic Shanghai Hostage territory sonically, starting at least with their trademark funky dance style (albeit pretty laid back in pace) & evolving into something a bit more psychedelic yet just as danceable.
Also very much present is the SH humour & wit: in fact you can picture the fun they presumably had putting it together. The overt starting point is in fact the dance floor they are conjuring up & the idea of needing greater space in order to practise responsible social distancing upon it (I guess that back last Spring none of us could quite picture the fact that there would be no dancing together whatsoever for the duration). From there, the tune heads off into outer space & gets progressively more woozy, morphing from somewhere in the region of Chic to more like the intergalactic territory inhabited by Sun Ra and his Arkestra (Beth's guitar plays a significant part in achieving the latter effect). If last time out Sophie was channelling her inner P J Harvey, then this time out it's closer to what a Donna Summer session might have sounded like had she been provided with increasing doses of the gases astronauts use.
All this and some excellent advice too: what's not to like?
"Convent" by Shanghai Hostage
Shanghai Hostage are continuing their long running excellent form & defying COVID with another prime release this morning namely their new single "Convent"
This absolutely quintessential track from one of our area's best loved bands has come about since they have managed (unlike with such tracks recorded at the height of the crisis with a reduced lineup, such as last May's "Mr Motivator") to reconvene at the Tin with Ian Whitehead producing and with Giles Braid guesting on drums again: as with their previous release "Free Lovin' Woman" which came out for Christmas. I think I'm right in saying that this breaks new ground for the group: two consecutive releases featuring the same combination of players?
At any rate, despite the constraints of separation & not being able to rehearse let alone gig, Shanghai Hostage are continuing to go from strength to strength. For those who feel deprived of not having seen them don habits for too long, "Convent" will be a tonic as they are back on sacred ground…
From the Bach referencing opening, they continue to bring a musical & lyrical wit and humour to subjects which are in fact pretty profound. That sort of balance takes skill & a fine judgement (you neither want to belittle your message nor seem to be patronising your audience) and that's yet another aspect of the band which I and many others appreciate: they are sure footed in what they do & present well wrought songs which ooze with self confidence & critically no obvious interest in fitting into anyone's pigeonhole nor accepting their labels.
Self identifying as a "funk rock" band, readers of my reviews of previous releases will see that while not untrue (both elements are hard to deny in their work), they are merely two of a wide range of styles they are happy to play & talented enough to play: usually in the course of a single song. On this occasion, from their classical intro the band then head for the rockier end of their spectrum with the band getting their heads down for some pretty grungey playing with Sophie yelping & howling à la P J Harvey or Siouxsie Sioux over the top: possibly her most powerful vocal on a Shanghai Hostage record to date. I loved it.
Thankfully the band have created a lyrics video to accompany "Convent" (check this out at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4kBT_s1H1ic) as they are worth taking note of: the general theme being around "..running away to a Convent to escape the patriarchy" and enabling some excellent associated wordplay such as "I'd rather pray all day than be preyed on all night" or "maybe I should kick the habit & wear one instead'.
As with all their songs, they mean what they are saying but clearly are enjoying playing & passing on their thoughts: and this is what endears them to live audiences: some of which hopefully they'll be entertaining & enlightening before too much longer. In the meantime raise your hats (or wimples) to them. This is fine fine music.
"Free Lovin' Woman" by Shanghai Hostage
I'll hold my hands up & admit that back in March my expectations for having much to write about in this magazine were low and so they have been vastly exceeded by the determination & ingenuity of so many people in the local music scene, confronting & surmounting the difficulties. The result has been so many great releases, many directly or obliquely addressing the pandemic and its implications, culminating this month in so many Christmas gifts for us.
Prominent among the "keep calm & carry on" contingent have been local favourites Shanghai Hostage whose Christmas single "Free Lovin' Woman" was released a few minutes ago.
One aspect of their flexibility has been that this year no two consecutive Shanghai Hostage releases have involved precisely the same lineup (though that might be said of the whole career). This year's "The King" which came out in February was followed by May's COVID19 themed "Mr Motivator" featuring a pared back Hostage team, while now I'm pleased to say that they managed (pre-Lockdown 2) to assemble five musicians at the Tin to record (appropriately distant from each other) with producer Ian Whitehead: Sophie Hadlum (vocals, keyboards & theremin), Richard Brown (bass), Beth Black (guitar left channel) Ian Todd (guitar right channel) and Giles Braid who is drummer for this particular recording only.
The band are a subtle creative collective & while their forte is good humoured danceable music, as you'll have seen from previous reviews, they excel at multi-layered songs with satire & deeper perspectives being available to listeners who like their music to have depths. "Free Lovin' Woman" naturally offers such profundities in terms of engaging with debates around gender stereotyping & consequent societal expectations & prejudices, sexuality & empowerment. Hypocrisy is identified & taken head on. (It is possible that the song is a feminist riposte to the Johnny Moped punk classic "Hard Lovin' Man", but even if not intended as such, it does the job).
Musically, the sound is a brittle & flinty version of the funk approach which the band regularly use: possibly expressing their attitude to the issues they are discussing, equally possibly an emotional response to the times we are living through: whichever it might be, this is Shanghai Hostage with a harder edge (Sophie minces her words less & less as the track progresses): though of course still eminently danceable. The groove reigns supreme throughout & I like the many little variations & musical surprises they throw in to keep us on our toes.
Check out the (groovy) video for "Free Lovin' Woman" (created by Sophie & Ian) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYYDm5pgKqc You'll be pleased to hear that although the actors involved seem to not obey social distancing rules, there does appear ample justification.
We need a lot of things at present: good cheer, a chance to dance & an opportunity to be made to think. Shanghai Hostage as always managed to provide all of these in one well wrapped package.
"Mr Motivator" by Shanghai Hostage
Just as the initial curtailment of live gig opportunities saw many of the artists we report on in "Hot Music Live" upskill themselves to be able to live stream performances (using whatever means available to them), we are starting now to see how they are investigating how they can create new material & share it with us in more ways resembling formal record releases.
Again circumstances dictate the possibilities: what equipment is to hand? How can we bring the skills of band members separately confined together? Clearly solo artists with suitable recording machinery & the experience to use it are favoured, as are bands with members holed up together: for example the track "Disrespect" on the ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume Three' album by Brass Hip Flask.
However it probably is no surprise to learn that artists capable of making the original & imaginative music we know they do, can adapt & come up with equally smart solutions for situations involving multi-member groups. I reported the other day how Satsangi had created a much more acoustic styled album (‘Shivoham-Lockdown Lullabies') with a pared down lineup reflecting lockdown realities, yet also responding to the circumstances in an artistically valid way.
Similarly, Shanghai Hostage have made a new single in much the same way: not every member could participate in recording (though thankfully all feature in the characteristically amusing video which you can see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBzI0cMRpos&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR25PySxb95bRMnG-sPwunTg2EPbf13a7Ejden-u9WK5gA9aLOlU8MqLhKI )
and it is a tonic for our mental well being much as Satsangi provided spiritual balm.
As I have often said, Shanghai Hostage don't seem interested in playing by other people's rules nor within their genres. Obviously somewhere in their approach lie self questions like "why not" and philosophies on the lines of "can do".
"Mr Motivator" (to finally name the song in question) is an explicit comment on lockdown and though as witty as its iconoclastic predecessor "The King", in this case the subject is addressed in a much more approving & indeed sympathetic manner. The tension between those responding to the confinement as one of opportunities to do things, to grow & acquire new skills and those who set their aspirations more at a survival level, is explored in a great hearted & humoured way & ultimately I guess suggests that we all have bits of each in us & we oscillate between the two approaches daily.
The music certainly is up to their normal really high standards (they aren't letting the situation impact on that): an interesting alternation between funk/soul & jazzier sections with confident, biting playing & possibly Sophie's most commanding vocal on any track they have so far released...
Well done to Shanghai Hostage & the other acts creating new music in these troubling times: I know many are writing about them but constraints will mean that the results may not get recorded currently: it must be rewarding to feel that you are still doing what you so desperately want to be doing. On behalf of music lovers I say "thank you" as it's great that not only are we getting fresh music to enjoy but it's dealing with the precise situation we are sharing with the artists. It's empathetic & it's therapeutic.
"The King" by Shanghai Hostage
Today I'm really pleased to be reviewing the new, the brand new, single by Shanghai Hostage within minutes of its video being publicly released (it's also coming to Spotify etc soon): I can't always promise this speed of response but you may safely on this occasion link it to my level of enthusiasm for this band: one of the most popular on the Coventry & Warwickshire scene. Hopefully you are already in possession of their very fine song "Nomad" on "Hot Music Live Presents Volume 2" and also their eponymous 2019 debut EP on which it first appeared.
"The King" (for that's its name) also marks the video debut with Shanghai Hostage of drummer Anna Harris. (Though previous drummer Dom McAvera plays on the recording)
Anna joins Shanghai Hostage stalwarts Sophie Hadlum (vocals, clarinet and keyboards), Beth Black (guitar), Ian Todd (guitar) & Richard Brown (bass) and the band have not only recorded this song but a whole new EP's worth of material for release on March 22nd. Their producer (who has done an excellent job) is Ian Whitehead. Look out for my review of that as I'm certainly hotly anticipating it.
Where to start? The music or the video? Both are really great & deserve equal billing, but I think the music perhaps should start.
The band, if pressed, self describe as "multi genre" but musing on their work, I wonder when "multi genre" becomes "no single genre"? Like all the artists I love, Shanghai Hostage just go with their hearts & where their muse leads them: they don't seem interested in emulating anyone else & wherever & to whatever they may be hostages, it certainly isn't to the straitjacket of genre labelling.
This is just pure, truthful music & as funky as another word beginning with the same letter and containing another one later too. No wonder they are so popular: the music is as infectious as you like and will clearly fill the floor when played live. All the band give it some (and more), none more so than Sophie's passionate vocals which go the very hi-energy end of the group's spectrum. The playing provides a platform for this & while just as energetic yet simultaneously offer a sense of cool: which adds to the lyrical effect which concerns observation of some alpha male type: the band are dissecting him & laughing at him as much as describing him. It's hard not to share their joy at what they are doing with their words & their playing. These musicians possess all the right chops, have the taste to deploy them well & form such a tight unit.
A fair bit of the impression the song leaves comes from the hilarious & spirited video which, for the moment, is how you are all going to engage with "The King". There have been several superb videos of songs I've reviewed recently: beautifully shot, evocative & lyrical (not least for Sophie's recent solo single "Winter Came Around Too Fast"), but this takes us back to the glory days of the music video as story. Couched as multiple metaphors, we see the title figure as disco poser (we don't often get urinal use shots in music videos) & literal medieval king. Which is he? Both possibly & certainly both aspects illustrate what they are trying to tell us about him. You'll keep on wanting to play this one. The details are so many & so compelling that I think the only thing for you to do is watch it here:
I can't possibly do justice to it in words & any attempt would probably spoil it for you anyway.
What more can I add about this wonderful band? To me they have it all going for them. Everyone I know loves them & they convert people who hear them for the first time. They play with great skill but also wit, humour & humanity. They have the courage to be themselves & defy categorisation, yet their work is truly accessible & frankly "The King' sounds extremely radio friendly: may they have the great success they deserve with it. Shanghai Hostage say things no one else has thought to say in the way they say them: lots of people have elements of talent but it's how you use it & the ability to use it with wit & discernment which really appeals to me & I suspect those reading this.