There are live bands and there are studio bands. Then there are those like Alex Rex’s which perform both roles with equal aplomb.
They were in Manchester on the second night of a short tour (more dates will follow later in the year), mainly to promote his new album, Andromeda, which was released on the same day and which was recently reviewed in GIITTV.
Let me say straight off that if you have never seen Alex Rex (the ‘nom-de-guerre’ as he puts it of Alex Neilson) in his solo mode or in a band (he’s in, or has been in many, probably the best-known of which was the now-disbanded Trembling Bells) you are doing yourself a disservice.
Over the years he has assembled a collection of top-class musicians, mainly based in Glasgow and including Rory Haye, the Parisienne Audrey Bizouerne (Rev Magnetic) and Georgia Seddon (Mike Heron / The Incredible String Band).
Rory and Audrey swap lead and bass guitars throughout the set with complete mastery of their instruments while Georgia could be an offspring of Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman, her hands a blur as they whip across a Nord Electro and all three of them produce outstanding harmonies.
Alex Rex himself is a contradiction, being one of the most understated drummers and yet the most flamboyant when necessity calls. And while he might not be amongst the leading vocalists technically, he certainly is emotionally.
There has been a great deal of emotion on display in both of his last two albums, Andromeda and Otterburn, on account of a family tragedy; indeed it is a story which makes both the albums. But as when I last saw him in Continue reading →
One of the impressive things about truly original and important artists – Bob Dylan, say – is their ability to reinvent themselves continuously without ever losing track of the thread of their own unique sonic identity. Every second of every great Dylan album could only be Bob Dylan. The difference between Dylan songs in various periods is vast, yet the unifying themes, the lyrical and musical echoes, the sly references that link, for example, One Too Many Mornings to Tangled Up In Blue to Caribbean Wind and beyond combine to produce a body of work so self-sufficient, so pulsating with its own life, that it is practically an ecosystem.
When former Trembling Bells drummer and songwriter Alex Neilson released Vermillion, his first album under the Alex Rex nom de plume, more than one reviewer mentioned Dylan. At the time, the comparison might have appeared superficial: sure, songs like God Make Me Good (But Not Yet) and Postcards From A Dream nodded towards a vaguely Dylanesque sound, one in which Blonde On Blonde, Nashville Skyline and Desire existed simultaneously, but weren’t there fresher, more interesting things going on in Neilson’s songs? In hindsight, and with a full overview of his songwriting career at hand, it seems extremely perceptive
This becomes ever more apparent when listening to the latest Alex Rex album. Just as on Blonde On Blonde you might find a snappy and brutal takedown of the singer’s former lover next to a nostalgic love song to his future wife, on Otterburn you will experience demented guitar-driven odes to masochistic sex rubbing shoulders (and other body parts) with the saddest and sincerest of elegies. And Neilson is unafraid to delve into his own musical past to come up with those often uncanny musical echoes: Otterburn’s last track, Smoke And Memory (which I will talk about in more detail later) is almost a musical mirror image of Seven Years A Teardrop, the song that closed Carbeth, the first Trembling Bells album, almost exactly ten years ago. Continue reading →
Alex Rex is the moniker used by Alex Neilson of (now defunct) Trembling Bells. He has released one album under guise before, 2017’s Vermillion, but will be returning on March 29th with a follow up called Otterburn. It’s set to be a deep and heavy record, largely informed by the surprise and untimely passing of his brother in 2017.
Today we bring you the first single and video to be shared from Otterburn, the rainy-day contemplation of ‘Latest Regret’. It’s a song that finds Alex Rex weaving among dark thoughts, both comic and earnest, carried by loping and wistful rock. ‘Latest Regret’ finds Rex reunited with Trembling Bells members Lavinia Blackwall (who gives the song a soulful lift with divine backing vocals and crisp organ) and Mike Hastings (whose electric guitar shines like a silvery trail in the mist), and together they capture gently rousing a snapshot of repentance and forgiveness.
‘Latest Regret’ also comes with a video by Tom Chick, which Alex Rex introduces, saying: “”Latest Regret” was written in one sitting in Regents Park during an unhappy stay in London. It’s basically “La Bamba” reimagined by a deranged art squirrel. It was filmed by Tom Chick on the M8 motorway and in the Glad Café, Glasgow. It is our homage to the Cassavetes film “Killing Of A Chinese Bookie” It stars Becca Harrison, Sophie Sexon, Rory Haye, Mike Hastings & Lew Porteous.”
Alex Rex’s Otterburn comes out through Tin Angel on March 29th. He’s got these tour dates planned in April:
02/04- Glasgow- Blue Arrow
03/04- Edinburgh- Sneaky Pete’s
04/04- Bradford- Shipley Triangle
05/04- Leeds- The Abbey Pub
06/04- Bristol- The Cube
07/04- Bath- The Bell
08/04- Leicester- The Musician
09/04- Brighton- Rosie Hill
10/04- London- SET
11/04- Birmingham- Hare & Hounds
13/04- Todmorden- Golden Lion
14/04- Sheffield- Bishops House
Scottish underground folk artist Alex Neilson has confirmed plans for new solo album ‘Otterburn’
The Glasgow based songwriter is one of the driving forces behind Trembling Bells, but returns to his Alex Rex moniker for this second solo LP.
‘Otterburn’ will be released on March 29th (pre-order LINK), with Alex set to embark on a solo tour this Spring.
New song ‘Master’ is online, with Alex Neilson describing it as “a letter from an exiled submissive to his darling dom. The language is that of cruelty, emotional sleight-of-hand, fetishized regret and haunted accusation. I wanted it to sound like the aural equivalent of a Victorian medical device.”
The full video is online now, and it’s full of intrigue and mystery. He continues:
“The video is presented as a series of postcards from an unspecified love triangle. The relationships unknown and melancholy. It is set in the past and future simultaneously – a future that is already ruined. It was photographed by Tom Chick in Kirkstall Abbey, The Abbey pub, Leeds & Liverpool canal, Harrogate Valley Gardens and my grandad’s house.”
Catch Alex Rex at the following shows:
2 Glasgow Blue Arrow
3 Edinburgh Sneaky Pete’s
6 Bristol The Cube
7 Bath The Bell
8 Leicester The Musician
9 Brighton The Rose Hill
10 London SET
11 Birmingham Hare & Hounds
13 Todmorden Golden Lion
14 Sheffield Bishop’s House
With a dark new alter ego, Trembling Bells’ Alex Neilson pushes himself into uncomfortable places for his bold and brilliant debut as a solo artist
Opposite Rimbaud and Verlaine’s Victorian love-nest in London’s King’s Cross, in a bedsit up four flights of stairs, sits a folk music veteran wearing aran and corduroy. Pictures of Norma Waterson and Shirley Collins beam from the walls. On the bedside table are the two magazines: Viz and experimental music monthly Wire. “I’ve got a mind like an open sewer,” says Alex Neilson, half-embarrassed, half-proud.
With his riot of red hair, and a talent that hops genres and drops jaws, Neilson has long been folk and psychedelic music’s go-to drummer, a modern Ginger Baker, yelping and skittering on stage. He’s toured the world with Will Oldham, collaborated with avant-garde artists Jandek and Baby Dee, and now drums for folk stalwarts Shirley Collins and Alasdair Roberts, while also being chief songwriter and vocalist for critically acclaimed folk-rock revivalists Trembling Bells.
His debut solo album Vermilion presents him as a provocative, poetic lothario with the alter ego Alex Rex. On record, rose thorns grow in Rex’s throat and he sleeps with girls for their minds as well as their bodies. In person, Neilsen is gentler, and funny, and a considerate shaper of sentences. “It felt too hubristic to release something under my own name,” he says of his recording alter ego. “And in some ways I never liked the name Alex Neilson, but don’t tell my dad.”
Born in Leeds in 1982, Neilson grew up in a council house with his dad, a builder, and his mum, a nursery nurse. “If I have any heroes, it’s them. They were unbendingly tolerant and supportive, buying me a drum kit, piling everything in the back of the car to take me to rehearsals.” He originally only took drum lessons because it meant he could skip physics class. “I’d take 15 minutes walking there, and 15 minutes back to make sure,” he says.
He “discovered pot” in his early teens and the weird records his older brother would play while burning incense in the bath. “Captain Beefheart and the Velvet Underground ruined normal music for me. At 14, I was straight into the darker end of psych, while my friends were into paler stuff like Grandaddy, which I just didn’t get.”
He then got into jazz and early music, and went to study English literature at Glasgow University chiefly for its music scene, before dropping out, not once but twice. There he formed experimental bands Scatter and Directing Hand after getting into folk, particularly the work of English folk singer Shirley Collins, much to the annoyance of his housemates. “I was living inside her records for months at a time, having this slow love affair … they would be banging the door, begging me to turn her off, then for me to move out.” Collins’s stark, uncompromising approach to music captivated Neilson, something he has always kept with him.
His obsession culminated in a 450-mile trip from Glasgow to Lewes to see the singer giving a talk in a pub. He’s still thrilled they’re now friends, let alone that he drummed on her comeback album, Lodestar. “She has an openness and steely determination that is a constant inspiration. And she always had a pot of soup on when we were recording.”
He’s a well-known name on today’s modern folk circuit, but Neilson has never felt he fitted in with the Radio 2 Folk awards crowd. “I’m not interested in the orthodoxy of an institution … but that world does need a clean broom. It’s very conservative, which is strange when the idea of folk goes against the very nature of conservatism. [Folk] passes through people, doesn’t it? It morphs and mutates.” He shrugs. “The concept of authenticity is a red herring, anyway. It’s better to try something new.”
Neilson’s solo project was driven by this desire for new challenges, he promises, rather than ego. “This was about pushing myself into uncomfortable places.” As well he did. Written during a “particularly self-destructive” period in his life in late 2015, Vermilion begins with the Gregorian chant-inspired blues of The Screaming Cathedral, with a chorus telling of “horror heaped on horror”. Please God Make Me Good (But Not Yet) features a girl sticking pins into a voodoo sex doll of him, before he has a “hit on myself”. Getting the worst bits of himself out there was therapeutic and necessary for Neilson. “I wanted songs that spilt out of themselves. The records I cherish most are asymmetrical things, full of blemishes,” he says. Continue reading →