Kelly's Heels - Neither Use Nor Ornament
Kelly's Heels - Three Chord Brag
Kelly's Heels - Blunt Cut
Bob Kelly formed his first band with classmates at Tolworth Juniors' School at the age of 9, playing imaginary instruments. During his teens, Bob experimented with various 'real' line ups and after many personnel changes and unfulfilling experiences of hopeless drummers with bad facial hair and poor personal hygiene, came to realise that fame was likely to elude him if he continued to follow this path.
Bob bought a drumkit. Enter Trevor Wingate, who was willing to have the rudiments of drumming beaten into him and The Ashes became a proper band. The band quickly built up a reputation for playing on the most shoddy equipment imaginable, Bob having amassed an impressive collection of untuneable guitars with which to administer deadly blows to an ailing AC30. The band gigged regularly around London playing post punk power pop, supporting acts like the Junior Manson Slags and The Lucy Show.
Trevor survived many line up changes and is present on the first 3 Ashes albums (somewhat unwillingly on albums 2 and 3, fame and fortune somehow having eluded the band after the 1st album!), before being forced to retire after the strain of constantly playing at 180 bpm finally took it's toll on his ankles, wrists and sanity. This left Bob with the more stable line up of Bob/Kelly and allowed him to quite reasonably change the band's name to Kelly's Heels. The first album Gone off Pop!?!, was released in 1997, followed by 1999's Blunt Cut (say this carefully!).
Kelly's Heels - Blunt Cut
Careful readers of this web page may remember I had some good things to say about Bob Kelly's performances at the New York International Pop Overthrow festival last fall. Bob is the leader of Kelly's Heels, and√ä I've recently had the opportunity to explore Bob's recordings, including this, his newest album. (Kelly's Heels should have a spanking new one out shortly).
The energy bottled up in this music is amazing. Rock music requires sweat to be effective and Kelly's Heels never rest a second. The vocals are delivered full throated, Bob has a pleasant catch in his voice - it can reach the high notes of the musical scale. The other main ingredient in an earnest rock album is the guitar, and 'Blunt Cut' features tuneful guitar backing and solos. Lots of handclaps, too.√ä In fact this album is dense with 'em - a suggestion for the listener to clap along.
This album sounds like a throwback to an earlier time. The ballad 'Surely' could have been written in 1950 just as easily as the late nineties. Has the same sultry feel as 'Blueberry Hill'. The rockers have a classic feel to them, as well. For example, the frantic 'Someone, Somewhere' could have fit in the seventies with it's chiming guitar solo.
In summary, Bob Kelly is very serious and deservedly proud about his musical output to date. His talents need even more encouragement - give this CD an interested listen.
by Sherman Boim Powerpop.net
I can never understand how people who have apparently happy marriages can write and perform power pop songs with cute lyrics about dating. Yet, many married popsters, from Mark Bacino to Toothpaste 2000 and the lesser-known New York bubblepunks Sugar Syndicate do just that. Granted, those artists have made some great records, and I guess it would be unfair--not to mention boring--to require them only perform tunes about wedded bliss. Still, it can be disconcerting to hear them sing about the kind of experiences that they haven't had since their swinging single days.
A few talents, like Bill Lloyd and Richard X. Heyman, can walk the tightrope, writing songs that are lyrically mature while retaining power pop's juvenile urgency, but they seem to be the exception to the rule. When it comes to pure, unadulterated power pop, there's no substitute for an artist with a painful breakup or three in his short-term memory. Bob Kelly, who records as Kelly's Heels, has a girlfriend, or so they tell me. Yet, you can tell from the songs on his fifth (!) CD, Blunt Cut (on the UK label Warmfuzz) that, at heart, he's single, gloriously single. Not in the swinging sense--far from it--but in the sense of being uncomfortably untied. Like Emitt Rhodes's self-titled debut, or Nilsson Schmilsson, what one senses here is an artist who is at once incurably romantic and incurably neurotic.
The narrator of Kelly's songs wants desperately to connect, and yet knows all too well what perils await him if he makes the first step. It's an intensely earnest feeling that's at the heart of many of the greatest power pop songs ever written--the Flamin' Groovies 'Shake Some Action', the Rooks 'Reasons', Todd Rundgren's 'Couldn't I Just Tell You' to name a few--and its glorious frustration pervades Blunt Cut like a crumpled draft of an unfinished love letter. Musically, Kelly strikes me in many ways as a British version of the Rooks Michael Mazzarella (he's even got an early-Mazz hairdo), but with a voice and songwriting sensibility more reminiscent of Glenn Tilbrook.
He plays all the instruments except drums, and his music boasts some first-rate influences--the Beatles, early Costello and Lowe, and the aforementioned Nilsson and Rhodes--but what is especially impressive is his attention to songcraft. Each song has what's known in classic pop music terms as a 'build'; it builds lyrically, musically (always coming in with a killer chord change before things can get predictable), and atmospherically. Not surprisingly, Bob Kelly is inordinately fond of ear candy, peppering his tunes with handclaps, cowbell, and the like, as well as layered, Townshendian guitars and overlapping, contrapuntal backing vocals.
In the hands of a lesser talent, such attention to detail could result a giant mess, but Kelly somehow, magically, makes it sound simple, much as the dB's did on their similarly-obsessive first two albums. It's unusual to hear a Brit doing this kind of DIY pop--England isn't exactly known for its Mazzarellas, Lloyds, or Bacinos--but he pulls it off. Whether he can maintain his lyrics' delicate balance of romance and neurosis is another question. If the little girls really do understand, I'm afraid my favorite Heel won't be single for long.
Out of the Ashes
Interview With Bob Kelly of Kelly's Heels
By Steve Thorn (Original Article)
Bob Kelly's self-penned liner notes on his own CDs are among the most amusing and informative in the power pop genre. It comes as no surprise that the London-based singer/songwriter/guitarist - who performs under the moniker of Kelly's Heels - can knock 'em out of the ballpark in an interview format. Kelly's Heels' latest CD, Three Chord Brag, which features drummer Jim Kimberley and guitarist Matt Backer, is a vigorous disc of re-recordings of Bob's catalog, including work from his salad days with the now-defunct Ashes.
Amplifier: Instead of remixing old material, you went back and re-recorded the whole lot. Why?
Bob Kelly: I found myself asking the same question when we were mixing the album. Actually, someone came up to me after we'd played a particularly wild gig and asked why we didn't make our records "like that." I wasn't entirely sure how to take that - I mean we play pretty hard on the records, too, so the way we played on stage shouldn't have been that much of a surprise, really.
I talked it over with Jim and we decided the only way to find out what we were missing would be to record it as live as much as possible. If that turned out to be better, then that would be the new approach to recording. I figured we should do a bunch of songs we knew because we could just go straight in and do them, and we'd have something to compare against with the previous versions. I knew that some of them had gotten more fiery simply from being played a lot, but it still didn't automatically follow that we'd be able to capture that back in the studio, with no audience present (You may have noticed in the sleeve note that halfway through the day we added beer to the mix for added gig verisimilitude?).
Because I wanted to know if we'd be able to use this as a future basis for recording, I then had to try and turn it back into a studio record without swamping the live feel in overdubs, so I was trying to kill a number of birds with one stone. I suppose the short answer to this question would be that we needed to find out if we could get a better result from recording as a band than by recording completely as overdubs, which I think we did. And I learned a lot about what I want to hear in a mix from this overriding thing of wanting the original performances to shine through all the time. With the five songs from old Ashes albums there was also the fact that the multi-tracks no longer exist, so I couldn't have remixed those if I'd wanted to. As I hinted at the beginning, though, the mixing sessions weren't the five-minute job I'd sort of expected them to be.
And if I correctly understood a recent Web site post, your next studio project
may be in the opposite direction - acoustic?
I think you may be thinking of an acoustic session I was going to be doing on [digital radio station] Cherry Bombs with Matt Backer. Unfortunately, some bright spark has made some kind of executive decision that all of the stations owned by the group can only broadcast the same kind of faceless swill as everyone else, so Cherry Bombs is currently looking for a new home. I've made rough demos of most of the songs for the next one now and it's not particularly going in an acoustic direction, but I do like that style of heavily hit acoustic guitar you hear on Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly records and you don't seem to hear it much these days. I could surprise myself yet.
How does a power pop artist sell CDs in 2004? I guess by asking this question,
I'm really trying to find out your distribution and touring strategies with Three
It sometimes feels like every single copy sold requires a separate sales pitch - it can be incredibly difficult. Obviously you send out copies to every magazine and radio station you think might be interested, because if they decide to feature it, they can immediately reach a lot further than you ever could on your own. There are a number of great record sites - Not Lame, Kool Kat, CD Baby - who not only sell independent artist's records, but actively promote them as well. And the Internet is the great lifeline, which lets you set out your stall globally, so to speak, with links to other like-minded sites that can really allow something to snowball; Warmfuzz is an Internet label, of course. Playing to promote is another matter - in London, anyway. If you play a club over here, you generally have to bring your own audience. If you don't, the clubs don't put you on again; if you do, you're playing to people who already know you, so it's a bit of a Catch 22. On multi-band line-ups there ought to be a good number of new faces each time, but the number of gigs I've watched three other bands playing to the people I've brought along is a bit disheartening. I don't know why Londoners have lost the habit of going to see bands they haven't just read about in the NME, or why they'd rather pay ¬£50 to go and stand at the back of an aircraft hanger and strain to see a few distant specks who may or may not be a band that had a hit in the nineteen-whatever. Ultimately, I think the way to get to more people is to try and wrangle some good support slots, or try and generate some interest in the gigs via the records - a kind of through-the-looking-glass version of how you think it would work. I should also mention David Bash and IPO. We've played to wildly varying sizes of audience at the IPO gigs, but you get to meet a lot of other musicians and pop fans at them and the most unexpected things can happen - I've got a record coming out later this year on Pop Boomerang, in Australia. I was put in touch with Pop Boomerang by Goran Obradovich, who hosts the Popisms radio show in Serbia, and he heard of us through IPO. That's not exactly an outcome anyone could predict, is it? Fantastic stuff!
Your lyrics seem to focus on the complexities of relationships. What is
it about the battle of the sexes that intrigues you?
Well, it's the big subject, isn't it? I mean, everything that we think matters tends to matter in terms of how it affects people; I've got my share of cat and dog songs as well, so I'm not oblivious to the other inhabitants of this planet but, broadly speaking, we react to things in terms of how they affect us or other people. No one writes a protest song because a point of law strikes them as amusingly illogical, do they? They write it because they see that someone somewhere is on the receiving end of something wrong, so even there, the best songs are basically about people. I see the battle of the sexes as one of the sharp ends of life, though I tend to see it less as a battle, more a negotiated surrender! Otherwise there wouldn't be much difference between those songs and the ones where I just want to be left alone, which is another of my bugbears. A song like "Everybody Knows What's Best for Me" [from Smashed] isn't about agreeing that I should just calm down and settle for what my old friends have, obviously! In fact maybe that's what my main thing is - the battle between the individual and the group, rather than the battle of the sexes. (In which case it's certainly not a negotiated surrender - I haven't even begun to fight yet!) Does that make me the Frank Capra of pop? Or the Alfred Hitchcock? Either way, the whole area of human interchange is an almost limitless subject and everyone's got their own opinions and experiences with it. It's finding a way to say something new or different that's the hard part, or finding some relevance beyond your own single experience that might mean anything to anyone else. I could write endless songs about the drudgery of having to work for a living, or I could write a song about the endless drudgery of having to work for a living, so my choice is between keeping a diary of whining discontent or hopefully encompassing a broader view. Of course, the latter could just be me whining for everyone else! I wouldn't want to overanalyze this - that may be just the way to un-learn how to do it.
What satisfaction do you achieve from all the hard work in getting your
Well, precisely that, really. Getting a recording to sound just the way you want it is an end in itself, but the closer you get to that, the less inclined you are to bury it in the garden so no one will ever know what you've done - and, I suppose, the more frustrating it can be that you can't get it heard everywhere. When I was recording with the Ashes it often felt like we couldn't get anyone to listen and, to paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, "If you can play guitar music while all about you people are losing their heads to synths and dance, then you are unstoppable, my son." Having been at the absolute bottom of the pile, unable to even get bad reviews because we were supposedly so out of step with everything else, but still keeping it going, you develop a little inner voice that keeps reminding you that every good thing that eventually happens may well be the last, or the peak. But I think you're far more appreciative of the good things when you've got more than a passing familiarity with the alternative. And on the other shoulder, there's the voice that keeps telling you to hope it keeps getting better, so at least there's a balance. What's that old adage - hope for the best, prepare for the worst? It's a pretty smart attitude when you're dealing with something as unpredictable as this.