CARL BOOKSTEIN (Detroit)

There have been so many highlights, covering music from the Grateful Dead to the Lovetones. Pennyblackmusic took me by surprise from the very start. Here was a music writing gig whereby I could write about exactly the kind of music I most loved, from the famous to the unknown.

My first assignment was a Re: View of the Grateful Dead’s career apex moment, the 'American Beauty' album, one of my favorite recordings of all time. I was even given encouragement to speak to how the music hit me on a personal level. Later, with the 'Gig of a Lifetime' column, I was able to write about the Dead again and a live gig in Chicago in 1994 that changed my life - including the eye opening hippie gypsy parking lot market scene that could be found there.

Not only could I philosophize about my favorite artists, but I was introduced to fantastic new bands as well. On my very first promos list sign up, I reviewed Australia’s the Lovetones and their brilliant album 'Dimensions'. The track 'Journeyman' remains one of my favorite songs. Just this past issue, I was blessed to get to review Lovetones songwriter/ front man Matthew J. Tow’s debut solo album, and even interview him on the subject.

Thanks to Pennyblack, I am always discovering great new music with ongoing opportunities to cover the classics as well. Favorite new discoveries have included bands from Hush Arbors to Breathless.

Highlights writing about classic artists have included a poignant personal moment writing a Soundtrack of Our Lives column about the Band. Our editor John Clarkson has allowed me to write about the Band repeatedly, including an obituary upon the passing of legendary drummer and singer Levon Helm- fostering a feeling of connection to the music that means so much to me.


MALCOLM CARTER (Near Malmo, Sweden)

When I think back over the years that I have contributed to the Pennyblackmusic magazine the one thing that always comes to mind is all the good music that I’ve been introduced to via the site, which I probably would never have heard if I didn’t read the magazine or write the occasional review.

For the most part I have found the reviews in Pennyblack give a more honest picture of the artist and album in question than the big music monthlies do. Consequently, I’ve bought a number of excellent albums I would have missed out on because of informative reviews on the site.

Then there are the promos that have come my way for review. Although I’m aware of many of the artist and bands it’s always cool to discover a new artist this way. Some of the artists that were unknown to me before their CDs arrived in the post have become firm favourites. Through Pennyblackmusic I discovered Australian Perry Keyes who has yet to deliver an average song.His short stories set to some of the most beautiful music make for compelling listening. Then there is Steve Robinson and his Sunshine Drenchy label. Steve, originally from Scunthorpe but currently residing in Florida, produces a unique blend of folk and pop and every release on the Sunshine Drenchy label so far simply oozes class.

Chris Wade, with his Dodson & Fogg project, is another underrated musician I discovered through Pennyblackmusic. Three albums in under a year that while looking back at 60's and 70's prog and folk still managed to offer up something new. Chris, who is still in his twenties, is almost scarily talented and not just musically. It can only be a question of time before he gains the recognition he so richly deserves.

I’d already bought the debut album by Louise Aubrie on dreaded download, the only format available on release, and was totally knocked out by it, so when her latest album ‘Time Honoured Alibi’ arrived in the post and proved to be even better that Louise’s debut the smile on my face lasted a week. Gutsy, powerful pop/rock of the kind we hear all too little of these days sung by one of this generation’s best vocalists. Two short, sharp albums in, Louise is shaping up to be a major force.

While discovering all this new music through Pennyblack has been more than a little exciting (not to mention rewarding), it’s a band from the past that I had the privilege to interview twice that has been one of the most thrilling moments for me. The Distractions released just one album, ‘Nobody’s Perfect’, in 1980 and a clutch of absolutely stunning 45s. It was timeless pop music, and in ‘Looking for a Ghost’ the band produced one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful pieces of music ever made. Every teenager who ever suffered a broken heart, your story is in those songs. At the time I played the album to anyone who would listen (and a few who wouldn’t). They all loved it, and went off and bought the Undertones ‘Hypnotised’, ‘Argybargy’ by Squeeze or the Jam’s ‘Sound Affects’ instead. Elements, however small, of all those bands could be heard in ‘Nobody’s Perfect’. The album didn’t sell, The Distractions were dropped by their label and apart from a short-lived band or two from ex-members it seemed their story was over.

Then a couple of years back two EPs came our way. Steve Perrin and Mike Finney, the guitarist and vocalist in the band, had been in the studio recording new tracks that were released on the Occultation Recordings label. After reviewing the EPs, which were up to the standard of the bands previous recordings, I was offered an interview with Steve Perrin. It wasn’t the first interview I ever did and hopefully will be far from the last. It certainly wasn’t the best interview I’ve ever done, but the fact that not only had one of my favourite-ever bands recorded new material after apparently disappearing that easily matched their former glories (the band released a new album, ‘The End of the Pier’, in 2012) and that now I could put a few questions to their guitarist/songwriter meant the bloody world to a fan like me.

So, I’d have to say that despite discovering new music and interviewing some really warm and friendly artists, having the opportunity to interview Steve Perrin and seeing the Distractions finally receiving some of the acclaim they should have had back in 1980 was really rewarding.


ANDY CASSIDY (Renfrewshire)

Happy Birthday, Pennyblack!

I’m ashamed to say it, but it was only in the past three years or so that I became aware of the website that would come to take up so much of my spare time.

I was at a gig in Glasgow. Nelson Bragg and Duncan Maitland were playing in The Bay, and I was introduced, by a mutual friend, to our editor, John Clarkson. Full of rum and bravado, I somehow convinced him that it would be a good idea to have me write for the magazine: John, naïve fool that he was, agreed.

What was to follow quickly became one of the most rewarding and enjoyable experiences of my life to date. I’ve interviewed some of my musical heroes (Gary Numan, Nick Harper), I’ve heard and loved albums which I would never have discovered had I been left to my own devices, I’ve been to gigs ranging from the sublime to the dreadful, I’ve received hate mail, and I’ve even made at least one good friend along the way.

What can I say that hasn’t already been said? Very little, I should imagine. However, I would like to add this: to all the writers, thank-you for taking me on a myriad of fresh and exciting musical journeys on a monthly basis; and to John, my heartfelt thanks for allowing me to fulfil one of my boyhood dreams.

I’ll happily raise a glass to a further fifteen years of success.


JOHN CLARKSON (Edinburgh)

Our webmaster Richard Banks and I bonded over records. We didn’t know each other particularly well when Pennyblackmusic first started in 1998. In that first year or two after we first went online I remember spending a lot of time when I was in London, sitting in the scruffy Balham bedsit that he used to live in and listening to records, both from the mail order shop that we were running at the time and also from his own collection. Out of that a strong friendship was tentatively, gradually born.

One particular highlight for me, out of the many over the years, was interviewing Chris Glen and Ted McKenna, two of the surviving members of 70’s giants the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, in a Glasgow pub in 2004, and then a few days later their band mate and guitarist Zal Cleminson on the phone at his mother’s house. I had been a fan for many years, and that meant quite a lot.

I have enjoyed also all eight interviews that I have done now with Robert Fisher from the Willard Grant Conspiracy, and have got something different out of each one. The interview that I did earlier this year with all four members of the Godfathers – another of my favourite bands – was another great experience, and I feel out of all 250 or so interviews that I have undertaken for Pennyblack one of the best that I have ever done.

The Writers’ Nights we have sometimes when I am in London have always been good, and I also have enjoyed putting to the world to rights with my flatmate when he is Edinburgh Jon Rogers and going out in Glasgow for a drink (or six?) with Andy Cassidy in Glasgow.

It meant an enormous amount that Chris Jones came over from San Francisco and Lisa Torem from Chicago (three times now) for Bands Nights in London, and also to be taken out to lunch by Maarten Schiethart when my partner and I who were on holiday in Amsterdam took the train down to meet him in Arnhem. The Bands Nights themselves in London, Manchester and Glasgow - even the ones that didn’t quite go to plan – have always been memorable and usually fun.

Richard has moved both near and far in recent years, and now lives five hundred metres from his old place in a beautiful flat in a lovely 1930's Art Deco block just off Balham High Street. He has in particular a phenomenal vinyl collection, and we still all these years on spend a lot of time when I am in London working our way through it.

And that above all is what Pennyblackmusic for the last fifteen years has been about really – listening to records and then doing something with it.


NICK DENT-ROBINSON (Oxfordshire)

Fifteen years is a significant milestone - and a good opportunity to reflect.

As Pennyblackmusic has been developing into the very readable, comprehensive and attractive on-line publication it now is, there have been all kinds of developments in the world of music.

Some I regret...like the reduced sales of CDs, the loss of attractive album cover artwork, the disappearance of so many good record stores and the fact musicians and writers have lost so much revenue as their copyright dues are eroded. Plus there's been the seemingly unstoppable rise of TV “talent” shows making quick and often short-lived celebrities of talentless people committed only to fame rather than quality music.

Yet alongside all this there has also been growing recognition – not least amongst some very young audiences - of the sheer joy to be had from virtuoso performances by brilliant musicians. It has been so good to see teenagers enthusing over concerts by the likes of Fairport Convention or Joe Brown or Deborah Bonham or the Hollies...performers for whom every note matters and who would never, ever succumb to any kind of electronic fakery to support their act. The sheer fun and jollity generated by Sam Brown's 50-strong band of amateur uke players just has to be experienced to be believed - and her old friends in Pink Floyd and Jools Holland's band are the first to enthuse about this phenomenon. And then there are other younger performers like the folk-styled artist Megan Henwood or the glamorous jazz singer Rebecca Poole who are working hard to do everything the traditional way without cutting corners...and who are soaking up all they can learn from the older generation of musicians who in their young wisdom they truly admire.

So, I am optimistic that the coming years of Pennyblackmusic will see a return to the real values of quality music...music that takes years to learn to perform well and that can transport most of us to far higher emotional places than any TV talent-show wonder is likely to reach!


ANTHONY DHANENDRAN (London)

It’s slightly unsettling to think that it’s been eleven years since I met John Clarkson and started writing for Pennyblackmusic , and in that time it’s been a haven, a place to think about, and read about great music, all written by enthusiastic people, edited by someone who bothknows and cares about music.

For the 10th anniversary of the site I wrote about interviewing disasters, so this time I thought some of the more pleasant gig memories would make an appropriate counterpoint. Writing for Pennyblack has afforded me the opportunity to review some huge names (Willie Nelson, Billy Bragg, Nick Cave) and some who should have, in a fairer world, been much bigger than they became (Ella Guru, Vetiver, Darren Hayman).

The most memorable of all the acts I’ve covered for the site is probably Yat-Kha, the nomadic Mongolian blues act led by the world’s first throat-singing rock star (honestly, you should listen to their music) who played a blinding set in the incongruous surroundings of Ronnie Scott’s.

I must admit that it was quite a thrill to wander around the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival with a Pennyblack-furnished press pass, and even more so to watch the Black Keys from the Scala’s middle bar accompanied, unexpectedly, by a rock god in the form of Robert Plant (he seemed to be enjoying the music, for the record).

And that’s not even to mention the good times at Pennyblack Bands'Nights down the years. I won’t forget the sheer joy of watching the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Jim Reid, the Sex Pistols’ Glen Matlock and the Subway Sect’s Vic Godard (sadly not all on the same bill) all crammed into the sweaty rafters of the sadly shuttered Spitz in east London.

It’s been quite a ride so far: here’s to another 15 years of gigging memories.


DIXIE ERNILL (Manchester)

Saturday 4th October 2008, having just watched an amazing show by one of my favourite bands, Tindersticks, at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, I am at the official after show party with the band, their friends and family. Even with my partner by my side, I feel somewhat out of place and don't stay long, but it was an incredible experience to see another side to the band. The reason I was there? Pennyblackmusic.

Fast forward to Saturday 19th November 2011 and I'm with John Clarkson in Manchester enjoying my favourite band, the Experimental Pop Band, headlining Pennyblack's first Manchester Bands' Night. It was simply unthinkable that I was involved in something so magical...Happy Birthday, Pennyblack.







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