New Page 1 New Page 1

You’re Welcome: (music for the feeling)

Sir John Peel and a similarly noble Chicago band have a lot in common.


John Peel died last month. God bless him.  This British deejay, superior music enthusiast, pure heart, soul and genius of promoting underground acts, devoted his life and famous Peel Sessions to advancing bands who would otherwise have fallen by the wayside. As a result, John Peel (nee Ravenscroft) essentially popularized punk, new wave, and later alternative over the BBC.


Flash back to 1979. The first time Peel heard “Teenage Kicks” by self-described aspirant Nuggets artists, The Undertones, he cried. Yes, wept. That this is one of the greatest singles of its (or any) era is only the tip of this iceberg. That Peel cried is beautiful. That he had to share this beautiful, brilliant, perfected slab of lust, rebellion, and their underlying pathos is breathtaking. A tastemaker who people could trust, Peel’s mighty mission was to popularize deserving bands—all stemming from a bottomless depth of knowledge and passion.


Now it’s time to do my little part. I see loads of concerts and intercept dozens of discs every month, but often the best surprises come from…well, surprising places.

Yes, it’s time to write what I know and as both music journalist and disc jockey, I have what should be plenty of rare opportunity to pull from my everyday something that is perhaps not akin to most folk’s daily experience. Yet amidst this effort at delivering something new, I also need to keep it universal, create in the story an appeal, something to tug at the cockles, invest the reader in the story.


Last month, I pieced together the struggle of a great little band called Peel trying to maintain their place in the Chicago scene while doing battle with the usual apathy and fallout, which that painful and alienating lack of attention can create within the local rock group, a heartfelt enterprise if ever there was one.  


Case in point. While spinning between-set tunes at a local bar, I chatted with one of the bands, Welcome to Ashley. I had never even heard of the band before I was booked to deejay between their and another band’s sets, so being a jaded and over-exposed media junkie just like you, I did not expect much. Also, being something of an inadvertent pop scholar, I also assumed they would be another group with eyes plainly on the future, ignoring all of pop’s potential lessons and zeitgeist in favor of that walked-into-a-wall feeling of a band unconsciously and unconscionably repackaging the past...all leaving the pop lover dazed, rooted to the ground, head a-shake in wonder: "Why try to reinvent a wheel that’s already been virtually perfected, but done so to parodic effect countless times? Why? Why?!"


Yes, the new so often hurts.  But not this time.


You see, a member of Welcome to Ashley requested The Undertones.

A pleasant surprise in a local band, these four sharp young performers, Coley Kennedy on vocals, Pete Javier on guitars, Jeremy Barnett on bass, and Sherrila Bailey on drums, collect and dispense the verve, energy, and drive that we have come to take for granted and demarked as a je-ne-sais-quoi particular to a city about 1500 miles Northeast.      


Yes, Welcome to Ashley knows music and knows it well. One has to wonder if Casablanca –n- co. would have been able to rap endlessly on all things Roxy Music. Well, not for long, because, unless they were spoon-fed it by that zany, old “Master Splinter” character—you know, the one who taught them how to hold their guitars--they most likely wouldn’t know it from regenerated pabulum.


Welcome to Ashley knows it. And they know Nick Lowe. And the Jam. No, they probably have few feelings for Nirvana, Oasis, or The Libertines. But they love the Damned, Buzzcocks, and the Real Kids. They know the source, not its recycled, watered-down imitation so many bands are stealing their riffs from nowadays.


One small EP has just been released as testament to the band’s chops. We Will Find the Sun kicks off with superb jagged guitar hooks that shift and squirm through Coley’s intriguing vocals. An Ian McCulloch presence distorts through a Jim Reid delivery, lending gravity to poignantly contrasting lines about sun, waves, summer, and rain. 


Cheap Champagne follows with not only a superb guitar lines, but an ultra-sensitive rhythm section solidly amplifies the whole affair. Barret’s bass is beyond punchy and Bailey’s drums keep time in a solid, confident manner that requires no flash to impress.


Adeline rounds out the EP with Coley’s best Richard Butler homage on vocals—Adeline is lies, but he loves loving her. What could make someone more cynical, more world-weary? What better way to express it than: “it’s gonna tear me apart!” and then cue economical half-chorus of expressive guitar solo. A few moments later, the EP ends, but this kind of thing, thank goodness, goes on and on.


You see, for all of us fans of pop, power, punk, and the punchy—that genuine expression amid an irresistible presentation we’ve come to expect from the best of rock ‘n’ roll…well, it’s all emotion. We feel certain things about it that will never truly die. Long live modern rock with verve and shattering emotion. Long live John Peel. Long live Welcome to Ashley.


We Will Find the Sun 7.1/10. Welcome to Ashley plays Double Door on Thursday, January 10th in support of Tommy Stinson; yeah. That Tommy Stinson.   This article also appears in the fine print publication, Chicago's Third Coast Press.

Kick Me Back to Kicks