Review: “Burn The Beauty Queen” – Hands Off Gretel

‘Burn The Beauty Queen’ – Hands Off Gretel

Hands Off Gretel have just released their new album. Jason Soper reviews it and catches them live on their current tour. Here are his thoughts. 

​Hands Off Gretel have seemingly come out of nowhere in the last few months, to my ears at least. The release of a stunning debut album will surely put them everywhere in months to come though. Unashamedly wearing their Grunge/Riot Grrrl influences on their sleeves…..where there’s room among the felt-tipped pen slogans anyways!

Despite a couple of line-up changes, Sam, Joe, Sean and Lauren sound like they have played together since day one, opener Queen Universe is driven by Sam’s drums, for the first time but definitely not for the last time on this album, with Lauren’s vocals lulling us into a sense of security, which is blown away when she let’s loose and announces she is, in fact, The Queen Of The Universe. I aint arguing!

One-Eyed Girl was one of the first songs I heard, pre-album release, it’s Joe’s (bass) turn to get the show on the road this time and is probably one of HOG’s most accessible songs, at the same time, it will get the head banging with Lauren proving, once again, how easy she finds it to go from voice of an angel, to scream of a (she)devil!

Bad Egg is next up. This one never fails to remind me of L7, undoubtedly another influence on the band and is a more subdued, darker sound before a chorus that I can see/hear an audience bouncing and singing along to.

Teethin is a pretty straight-forward 3 minutes-plus which may bring to mind Nirvana to listeners. They were long gone by the time 199o Lauren was born but clearly left a lasting impression on her, as with a ton of others out there.

Little Man takes the pace down again, Joe’s bass is the underlying constant here, working well with a more restrained, but no less effective, Sam on drums and Sean’s subtle guitar, not so in your face.

Always Right picks the tempo right up again, punk-driven, Lauren’s vocals spitting vitriol, while don’t underestimate her rhythm guitar playing all through this album, allowing Sean to go mental when the need arises……and it seemingly arises a fair bit on this album!

World Against She is another song that brings to my mind L7, not a bad thing whatsoever. One of Lauren’s best vocal performances on this album, in my opinion and along with some more great rhythm guitar, and a rock solid rhythm section it really does give the song every chance to succeed.

Oh Shit is probably the second song I heard of HOG’s, again a chorus that will have the crowd happily eating out of Lauren’s hands! Undoubtedly a live favourite already. All you need to know is ‘OHHHHHHHHHH SHIT!’.

Under The Bed is my favourite song on the album and has been since I first heard the album. Nothing complicated about a song that rocks at apace with yet more punk attitude and was very glad to hear it live at the Southampton gig recently (more about that at the end though!).

Eating Simon appears to be about eating someone….probably called Simon! It is the longest song on the album and, again, is a slightly slower, darker vibe, as possible expected with such a title!

Plasters is probably the song that took the longest for me to ‘get’. Introducing piano on this song, it doesn’t lack in intensity in either the lyrics or music, Lauren’s voice, while not full-on in your face as per previous songs is still full of angry emotion.

Push The Girl is probably Lauren at her most restrained on this album and with Sean’s guitars distortion-free for the most part here it does offer up a different dynamic to the rest of the album, it still works a treat and is still as attitude-driven but is an interesting wind-down.

Awfully Miserable is the second longest song, of the 13, on the album to finish with. The first 2 minutes of this one is Sean playing clean with Lauren singing sweetly once again, before the tempo picks up with Lauren requesting some kind soul to ‘bash my brains out’! The song winds down again as it started with an unusually (for this album) subdued ending but strangely appropriate. I found myself finally exhaling after listening to the album again after being immersed in it.

Aaaaaaaaaaand finally:

As mentioned at the start HOG don’t try to hide their influences, they are there for all to see, but the difference between a blatant rip-off and this lot are several:

Songs – They have a load of ’em, good ones aswell, with Lauren, despite being only 19, having a ton of experience in the music biz, writing and performing her own stuff for several years, it’s all out there on YouTube for you to check out. She’s not a one-trick pony as this album clearly shows.

Band – A group of musicians who fit each other like a glove, all standing out above Lauren’s undoubted and obvious talent on this album at various times. This isn’t a Lauren Tate solo album with a backing band, this is a proper band to take notice of.

Lauren from Hands Off Gretel live in Southampton

Live – In my opinion, a great album is all well and good, but it’s live that matters most. I saw them at Talking Heads recently and they were stunning, despite a drummer playing with broken fingers and various members suffering from various cold-flu bugs. They were tight, sounded great yet raw, Sean is worth the ticket to see live by himself! Joe and Sam are a great rhythm section and, of course, Lauren is not exactly uneasy on the eye! THAT smile, the dress, the hair, she rocks the rhythm guitar……oh, and the voice, did i mention her voice?

And very cool people with time for their fans too. Definitely worth checking out live. Do it.

Burn The Beauty Queen is available from their website at and the band are currently on tour. 

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Interview With Hollis Mahady From Love Zombies

Me with Hollis Mahady from Love Zombies.

On Friday, I had the great pleasure of interviewing Hollis, front woman of Love Zombies, just before the Newcastle date of their co- headlining tour with Scottish three peice The Amorettes. We talked a bit about their history, the band’s philosophy as well as recording the album ‘Passionfruit’ with Queens Of The Stone Age member Alain Johannes recording and producing the album, and Joey Castillo, who also drummed with QOTSA. Hollis was easy to talk to and the band provided a great show that night (I’ll be reviewing the gig and the album soon). Catch them if you can, you won’t be disappointed. In the meantime, here’s a link to the interview on Soundcloud. 

Interview with Hollis from Love Zombies

Love Zombies at Cluny 2, Newcastle 23/9/16

For more from Love Zombies head to

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My Vitriol – How Not To Run A Pledge Campaign 

PledgeMusic is a great forum for artists and fans alike. It gives a two way form of communication between everyone that is unsurpassed. With a good campaign you feel involved with the whole process, with a great one you become personally invested in it. That moment when it tips into 100% of the target is amazing, you get a real sense of accomplishment, that you’ve helped an artist you like achieve their goal of making an album. 

With so many good projects it was kind of inevitable that there would be at least one that would leave a source taste in your mouth. 

I fell in love with My Vitriol back when they released their Finelines album album back in 2001. There was something about their wall of noise approach to guitars but a fine ear for melodies. Seeing them live supporting Feeder cemented my love for them. 

When I heard My Vitriol were doing a new album through PledgeMusic, well, me and a bunch of friends got quite excited. I’d missed the start of the pledge but noticed it was getting towards the end of it so I thought I best hand over my cash and order the cd. And I waited. 

Just to put things into perspective a little bit. The first update on the pledge that I can find goes back to 8th July 2013. They’ve put up 61 updates, none which have mentioned a concrete release date. The original fulfillment date was 30th April 2014 which was amended back a few weeks to 16th June 2014.

Things have moved on on the world since then. There have been odd stories sneaking out of the My Vitriol camp. The nature of the campaign they started has changed. What started out as their fans pledging for album #2 has changed. We’ll now get a ten track album called “The Secret Sessions” whilst the second album proper will be getting a record company release. There have been tales of illnesses, kids being born, real life getting in the way of things. Rough mixes have been put up to steam. Teasers have been put up but still the finishing line is not in sight.

The latest calamity to befall them is the fact they didn’t realise they had to form a company so they could get the cd printed up properly. This is after the fact that they had to wait for clearance for a cover song they wanted to put in the cd. 

The campaign had become incredibly frustrating for fans involved. There has been little communication from the band themselves. Updates have been vague and non committal. There has been nothing to really download. They’re even refusing to put up the album for download before the cd is ready to be released in case it’s leaked onto the Web. 

It all seems suggest a band paranoid about themselves and what they’re about to release. If people ask for a concrete update they’re told to be patient or ask for a refund. My friend asked some questions a while ago and he was told he was an “entitled asshole” and was refunded. People’s comments and questions seem to mysteriously disappear without a trace with an update referencing how the band want to focus on “remaining positive” whilst slowly pissing off their fanbase 

I’m still in the pledge. I cancelled once but I came back. Sometimes I question why. I think it’s because I’m hoping for some excellent music. As days go by I worry. I’ve been part of some great pledge projects, projects with great interaction between artist and fan, something that the PledgeMusic format is perfect for. 

It’s not about the money I’ve put in, twelve quid is pretty much nothing. Now it’s more the fact that I kind of feel disrespected as a fan of the band by the band themselves. I understand they have things going on in their lives. They seem to have gone into this with a very naive attitude. Mistakes have been made but not addressed. It seems to be one thing after another with it. If they’d been open and honest I think people would have been more forgiving. I also think that three years to write and record a new album is a little wrong, especially after people have paid for it in advance. I wonder how many people have asked for the refund, that would be an interesting statistic to see. Eventually we might even see the album. I hope so, and I hope its a good one. I want them the reaffirm my faith in them. But they’re pretty damn close to losing me all together…….

But at least I’ll always have this.

Exploring The World Of Paul Miro’s Sinombré.

Photograph by Haluk Gurer

Paul Miro is better known as frontman of British rock band Apes, Pigs & Spacemen, but over the past few years he’s being carving a career out of making music for film and television as well as his own solo career. These have heavily influenced his latest album Sinombré Volume One All Hope Is Gone, possibly his most deep and complex work to date.As the title suggests the album is the first of a pair (part two Broken Angels is marked to follow next year) that are set in a dystopian future where the world as we know it has fallen apart. 

Musical themes and motifs run throughout the sixteen track album, and will probably continue through the next album too, as the tale of Sinombré is continued. Sixteen songs make it sound like it’ll be heavy going but it’s not (the lengthiest track topping just over the five minute mark). It’s also cool to see that in an age and market where music is expected to be consumed quickly due to our society’s disposable nature, Sinombré is a work of depth. The whole album can be viewed as a continuous musical journey. 

The more I listen to this album the more I get out of it. I’ve been listening to it pretty much daily since I got the download. It’s been one of those peices of work that rewards you the more you listen to it. The past week or so has seen a few things worm my way into my skull so much so that I messaged Paul about my feelings on it as I’ve explored the album deeper. I’ve also pulled together quotes from the Pledge campaign and some chats we’ve had online over the past couple of months. 

The Concept Behind Sinombré 

“It’s a two-album concept” says Paul. “The pledge campaign that’s currently running (note – this was when the campaign was running, it has now since closed) is for the first part. It’s a dark, dystopian journey into swamp Americana. It started when I was working on an album for a TV project, which was all about the kind of themes that a lot of big TV shows follow – Vampires. demons, ghosts and things that will come and get you while you sleep. I loved the soundscape that I was building for it, and it set me to thinking that, rather than write about mythical demons, it would be great to write an album about the thre real demons in our midst. There’s this dark Western/Americana musical soundscape throughout, but the lyrics are really political. Personally, I’m prouder of it than anything I’ve completed to date. The ‘overall’ two album vibe is a start-to-somewhere story cycle. The way I look at it is, if you are of the disposition to get into the whole journey, concept, then it’s a film in two parts, so it builds and shifts with a dramatic arc. There is a definite sonic vibe throughout, but album two is a little more intense in places. But, the main thing is, that the strength of the songs as stand-alones means you don’t have to get.”

Diving In

To me, the album has three distinct acts or song cycles. There’s The Beginning Of The End (which comprises Nothing Left Here (Part One) up to Travelogue), The Beast (Night Fall up to Fall From Grace) and finally there’s The Beast Triumphant (which runs from Swimming In The Dowling Pool to Nothing Left Here (Part Two). The Beast character runs through the entire narrative, being hinted at early on and becoming a fully fledged character later on in the album. 

There is certainly a cinematic scope to the album. In fact, the album’s cover a silhouette of a figure beside a bare tree framed in earthy browns, burnt oranges and yellows hints at the work of film genius Sergio Leone‘s ‘Dollars‘ trilogy. It’s certainly an album with a broad musical palate, the musical equivalent of Technicolor. It’s a broad presentation with layered instrumentation that reveal hidden depths. I’ve been listening to it constantly since it’s digital release it and it really just keeps unfolding, revealing hidden musical passages and codas. Listening to the actual cd is a musical revelation. The songs increase in their depth. Sonically they take on a new life which I never thought possible. This is an album that just keeps on growing. 


Photograph by Haluk Gurer

As Paul has mentioned before, the album started it’s musical life being inspired from soundscapes he was creating for a television project. The album drips in Ry Cooder-esque twangy guitars, reverb and a denseness that that can only be created by understanding the importance of space.

This is where Paul’s recent work as a soundtrack composer comes to the fore. Ignoring what would be the standard approach to a rock based album, Paul has unleashed an arsenal of musical weaponry you wouldn’t quite expect. Guitars and drums sit alongside electronica and pianos. The music is infused with touches of Tom Waits bar room drawl as well as Ennio Morricone‘s widescreen soundtrack masterpieces. In fact, you half expect Clint Eastwood‘s Man With No Name to appear, his weather blasted face scowling from under his hat. 

Paul’s been quite a busy guy with the album. He’s done pretty much everything with it. Writing, performing, recording, engineering, mixing and producing the whole thing. He probably made his own cups of coffee too. There’s only a smattering of other names listed on the credits. Tony Wright appears as the narrator on End Of Days (recorded in a windy car park before he went onstage), backing vocals on Find The Beast are provided by Emily Ewing whilst Swimming In The Dowling Pool features the talents of Willie Dowling on harpsichord, organ, backing vocals and misanthropy.  

Art Direction

I don’t think I’ve ever seen artwork from an album reflect the contents so well in a long time. As I’ve previously mentioned the cover suggests bleakness and desolation with the bare tree and shadowy figure. Normally the colours used would suggest warmth but to me it’s the kind of warmth you only get by burning everything to the ground. 

The album artwork as well as photographs used in the PDF booklet and the campaign were provided by longtime collaborator Haluk Gurer. Dilapidated buildings, dark woods, walls with peeling paint and abandoned rooms suggest a world that has fallen a long way from what we know. It’s almost like the world of Sinombré has turned it’s back (by force?) on it’s past. Colours and textures are exaggerated to make what should be familiar that little bit unnatural. 

There’s also been a series of videos put together by Ian Husbands to help drum up interest in the project featuring Alan Doyle Booth as The Devil, telling people to buy the album and taking credit for the project. Ian is also behind the videos for The Only Devil and The Devil Made Me.

The World Of Sinombré 

Pledge exclusive track Atavista cover

Although it’s never really pinned down as such, Sinombré lives in a world where society has collapsed. In the PledgeMusic exclusive track Atavista (another video by Ian Husbands that can be found here), Paul narrates the story of mankind’s fall from grace through its own greed. Things seem to have fallen apart to a point where all of mankind’s hopes have gone (“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world” – ‘The Second Coming’ by W.B. Yates). There is nothing left to fight for, chaos and selfishness reign the land. 

Cues for this post apocalyptic environment are taken from our real world. It’s not hard to see that in the past few months since the Sinombré pledge campaign was launched in March this year the news reports have been filled with anger and hatred, violence and civil unrest. The world has become a hotbed of terrorism and distrust. It feels like we’re about to tip headlong into Sinombré at any moment.

The Beginning Of The End 

The first section of the album is comprised of eight songs, which make up the first half of the album. The opening pairing of Nothing Left Here Part 1 and the spoken word End Of Days (narrated by Tony Wright of Terrorvision fame) set the tone of the album by hinting at the past. What’s happened isn’t spelt out, it’s left to your imagination. This is perfect as it allows scope for you to draw your own conclusions which helps you make Sinombré more of a personal experience as you help create it’s past. Paul doesn’t spoon feed the story, it’s up you to draw things out of the album. 

“Out on the bleak horizon there rages a storm with no reprieve” croons Paul in a deep, husky voice on the title track (and single) All Hope Is Gone, the song’s character sounding resigned to their bleak fate before the final chorus kicks it up several notches. His voice sounds the best it’s sounded in his twenty year or so career and considering some of his performances in the past that’s high praise indeed. Paul has spent time to craft a career best with this album. When he says it’s his best work yet you can’t and won’t disagree with the man. Suddenly Righteous lists past catastrophes and injustices with a upbeat manner that belies the subject matter. And let’s face it, any song that features the lyrics “tickety boo” is alright in my book. 

It’s around this point in the album where the themes and concepts start dropping into place. When I say concepts, to me the album draws parallels with albums like Pink Floyd‘s The WallQueensyche‘s Operation: Mindcrime and Green Day‘s American Idiot (incidently, aren’t concept albums the modern equivalent of classical opera?). Album’s where there’s more of a abstract concept and the listener fills in some of the spaces themselves. This is not a bad thing. To me it’s great that not everything is handed to you on a plate. You have to do some of the work yourself and part of the reward is peaking under another layer of the album. 

The short instrumental Wilderness sneaks up before the self-assured arrogance of Nest Of Vipers rears it’s head. There’s a Middle Eastern feel to this song, hints of Zeppelin‘s Kashmir helps give it a certain swagger. Again, another song with an epic feel without running too long. In fact, most of the songs on this album could be put out as singles and they would all sound great on the radio (possibly a pre-Sinombré time concept). The Party is the final full song of this section, it’s final lyric of “we’ll strike a light and watch it burn” brings the first act to it’s conclusion. The fire burns away the remnants of the old world away, leaving Travelogue, another brief instrumental piece, to bridge the gap between the first and second act of Sinombré.

The Beast

The middle part of the album is made up of four songs that focus on the character of the Beast, the album’s dark, shadowy manipulator. For me, the Beast is very reminiscent of Randall Flagg from Stephen King‘s The Stand and Dark Tower series. In these books, Flagg goes under several aliases such as the Walkin’ Dude, The Dark Man and The Man In Black (and, no, I don’t mean Johnny Cash) before revealing himself and his true nature: destruction, disorder and death. The Beast is similar to Flagg as he’s not so much a character but more of a concept of evil that flows like a river that flows throughout the album. Always in flux and adapting to the situation, but revelling in the chaos that follows in it’s wake.

It’s this section that feels the most cinematic of the three. The Beast weaves his/her/their way through the four songs, creating sonic tapestries that sit a little different to the other songs on the album but with similar themes that tie each other together. 

Night Fall is the first of the quartet. The song is quite feral, hinting that the Beast is part of us all, that dark shadowy nature that most of us keep in check. Nods to transforming from one state to another harken back to folk tales and lycanthropy but here it’s not a literal change in character that the song alludes to, more that the Beast is inside is all. The primal drive of the chorus gives way to a sweeping widescreen chorus, possibly the one that feels the biggest on the album. 

Find The Beast dances it’s way up next like Tom Waits fronting the Urban Voodoo Machine. Emily Ewing’s backing vocals help add a softness to Paul’s rasping character vocal. Here the Beast seems to meet his end after being eviciserated but as the lyrics point out “the beast’s in there” inside us all, once again reinforcing part of the album’s concept as being thematic, not narrative. Again, the rhythm of the song differs to others on the album, something that ties most of the songs together. This one swings to a Latino infused backbeat. Strictly Come Sinombré anyone? 

Devil Man Jump kicks in with it’s chorus and doesn’t let up it’s upbeat pace before dropping in a killer slide guitar solo. 

Act two bows out with Fall From Grace taking it’s musical cues from the previous Find The Beast. The song’s narrator croons of their own inevitable fall whilst allowing his Beast to take dominance. There is a lot of talk of duality in the album’s lyrics, of opposites. These really come to the fore in this song, acknowledging that it is man’s nature that had caused whatever calamity it is currently wallowing in. 

The Beast Triumphant 

The final act opens with what is musically the most different sounding song on the album. Swimming In The Dowling Pool is full of regal flourishes thanks the harpsichord of Willie Dowling (the song is a nod to his band The Dowling Pool who Miro occasionally opens for). Lyrically the song is a lot more gentle than others on the album, the lyrics more reflective (“so many questions without evidence”).

The Only Devil is swamp blues married to hip hop, it’s verse vocals more spat out over a beat and slide guitar whilst the chorus warns us that “the only devil is you.” A bar room piano and muted horn section leads the torch song Sun’s Gonna Shine, a song that wouldn’t sound out of place sung in some dive jazz bar late at night. Even though the song is quite restrained and downbeat it offers up hope by recognising that “a little rain is gonna fall before the sun is gonna shine on you.”

The album is rounded off with Nothing Left Here (Part II), a gentle reprise of the opening song with different lyrics. The words touch on the themes of the album whilst offering a ray of light in the darkness, similar in a way that The Empire Strikes Back offers that grain of hope to balance the pretty grim revelations. 

End scene from The Empire Strikes Back

Pledge Exclusive And Bonus Songs

All Hope Is Gone single cover

Paul included several extra songs within the campaign. Atavista (which I’ve previously covered) set the theme and tone of the coming album, whilst Nothing Left Here (Supplemental) draws a nice line under everything with tongue in cheek references to the campaign (“just a story or two, left the ending wide open”) and “all the angels are broken” reminding us that there’s a part two to come. There’s also The Devil Made Me, a b-side to the single version of All Hope Is Gone that you can download from iTunes and Amazon. Again, it’s another song that would have fit on the album and is worth the purchase. 

      Live Undangerous – free live album exclusive to pledgers

Also included in the pledge campaign was a live album (Live Undangerous – a pun based on the Thin Lizzy album perhaps?) by Paul, two new cover songs (Space Lord by Monster Magnet and the Fresh Prince Of Bel Air theme with Ryan Hamilton that had to be heard to be believed) and a song written for a pledger, the fantastic Dandelion (you can read more about this song in particular in a peice I wrote for my other blog at The Order Of The Dog).

The Devil’s Arithmetic 

Sinombré Part 1b The Devil’s Arithmetic cover

There’s more? Well, there was if you pledged.

    There was the option for Sinombré 1b The Devil’s Arithmetic, a companion album to the main event. The eleven track album comprised six new songs and five acoustic versions of songs that appeared on the main album (in order All Hope Is Gone, Swimming In The Dowling Pool, Find The Beast, The Only Devil and Sun’s Gonna Shine). But whereas most acoustic versions reek a bit of cash in, offering fairly simple readings of the original songs, Paul has spent time on reworking these versions to suit an acoustic approach. If they’d appeared on the album in this form people wouldn’t have felt short changed at all, but extras they offer a different musical view on some musically accomplished songs. 

    The new tracks comprise three instrumentals (Outlaw, Aces & Eights and the surftastic Dead Man’s Tale), two ‘full band’ songs (The Devil’s Ride and Evil Is Comin’) and an acoustic Ghostheart that’s worth the album asking price on its own. 

    Didn’t get around to pledging for it? Well, unfortunately you’re too late now but I’ve got several pairs of shoes you can loan to kick yourself with…..

    In Conclusion

    Paul has succeeded in creating and running a really successful pledge music campaign. On top of that he’s created what some of his audience are saying is his best work to date, and it’s hard to argue with that opinion. Sinombré has been my go to album to listen to in past month or so. If this isn’t my top album of the year then something simply PHENOMENAL has been released by someone. And, hand on heart, I can’t see that happening.

    I’d like to say a big thank you to Paul for doing this album as well as being so supportive with me writing this. Also, i would like to thanks Haluk Gurer for sending me the photos I’ve used in this feature. 

    Sinombré Volume One All Hope Is Gone will be on sale from his website shortly.