Friday, April 18, 2014

Goodnight Lenin / Dan Whitehouse @ Prince Of Wales, Thursday 17th April 2014

At last, after a gestation period that makes the average Elephant birth seem a tad premature (apparently it takes around 2 years between getting jiggy and wetting the baby’s trunk...who’d be a lady elephant eh?) this year will finally see the release of Goodnight Lenin’s debut album. Definitely. 100%. No question at all. Hurrah! To prove they can deliver the goods against the clock a few weeks back they set themselves the challenge of recording, mixing and mastering a single for Record Store Day in just one mammoth 24 hour session. The resulting recording, just 24 copies of which have been pressed, will be sold on Record Store day itself, this Saturday 19th April (hence the timing of this gig I guess).

Tonight’s all about the live stuff though and first up a firm favourite on the local scene Dan Whitehouse. I’ve been lucky enough to have seen singer/songwriter Dan oodles of times over the years in various different incarnations (from solo acoustic through to being backed by a full band) and his combination of heartfelt lyrics on love, loss and everything in between coupled with a gentle warming vocal delivery never fails to impress. This evening was no exception, in fact in footballing terms he played a blinder, much against the odds as well as the power cut out after just a number or two and, rather than stand there looking embarrassed, he just got on with it and strode to the front of the stage and played unplugged, leading the crowd in a “Oooooh Oooooh Oooooh” singalong. What a trooper. Playing tracks from his new album, Reaching For A State of Mind (pick of the bunch being the hauntingly beautiful waltz of regret that is Why Don’t We Dance?), plus some old favourites including a sublime Somebody Loves You (which once again moved at least one audience member to tears) the whole thing was a treat from start to finish. 

Critical acclaim hasn’t been in short supply over the years and he’s toured with some pretty impressive names (Willy Mason, Julian Cope, Peter Green and World Party to name just a few) but he’s yet to make that big break he deserves. In the meantime you’ve still got the chance to enjoy him up close and personal. Make the most of it.

The place was pretty rammed by the time Goodnight Lenin took to the stage kicking off with the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young classic anthem to freedom, being yourself and sticking it to da  man (hell yeah!), Almost Cut My Hair (one of the two tracks Goodnight Lenin recorded for their Record Store Day release). Wow. Covering a song’s always a bit of a gamble but, having listened to a fair few versions by the originators, Lenin’s interpretation is right up there with the best. There’s a richness and depth to it (kudos in particular to John Joe on keyboards and Sam on drums) that sets the lyrics up in a widescreen landscape whilst still capturing the, let’s face it, “Fuck you World” of the original version. In fact, in Fell’s delivery this evening there was perhaps a little more of that in there, an edge to the vocal that bordered on the slightly (only slightly mind you) menacing.  

Of course the danger of kicking off a set with a cover is the risk that the band’s own material won’t quite make the grade in comparison, but that simply isn’t the case. Take one of tonight’s standout tracks Heart Of Gold (the Goodnight Lenin one) for instance. Sure it shares the same title as one of Neil Young’s best loved songs but it’s also every bit as gentle, fragile and yearning as its namesake. High praise indeed but justified. In fact it’s particularly telling this evening just how many of Goodnight Lenin’s tracks already have that classic feel, being greeted like old friends by the crowd (those that were listening that is...on more than one occasion various members of the Lenin had to request a little hush...quite why you’d spunk £10 on a ticket to see a band and then stand chatting to your mates is beyond me but it’s a questions I’ve been wrestling with for nearly a quarter of a century now so I guess I’ll never know the answer).

On top of Heart Of Gold, the weary, resigned heartbreak of A Cautionary Tale and the fiddle powered folk rock of Ode To Rebellion (which got the biggest whoop of the night) already feel like part of our musical heritage. 

There were plenty of new tracks though, some as mellow as a Sunday morning (Break Into A Heart?) but one or two that revelled rather gloriously in the band’s rockier side, perhaps first truly unveiled during their gig at The Old Rep last June.  I have no idea what these songs were called (hell, maybe the band don’t know yet) but there’s more of a free flowing feel, experimental feel to them embracing groovy bass (from ace of bass Matt), organ sounds, bow melting fiddle (both courtesy of John Joe...the new hardest working man in show business?) and screaming guitars that seguewayed neatly into another Lenin classic, Old Cold Hands perhaps the best example of the band’s emotionally potent three part (Liam, John and John Joe) harmonies tonight. God this song gets me every time...”It’s hard to realise that there is relentlessly nothing...” intoned Fell as a cascade of sound collapsed around him. Amen to that.

After some big news about the album (it’s coming out in November...honestly...) appropriately enough the set ended with the other track recorded for Record Store Day, a fine cover of the Neil Young penned Helpless (which makes a pretty good companion piece for Old Cold Hands when you think about it).
As ever the gig itself was sprinkled with the odd bit of legendary Lenin banter and wit plus a revealing insight into John Fell’s toe fetish (we’ll save that for the band’s biography when they’re all rich and famous). Most of all though it underlined (as if we needed reminding) just what a great group we’ve got here, lyrically, musically and, perhaps just as importantly, a ruddy nice bunch too. Yet another great night Lenin.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Record Store Day's the 'vinyl' countdown...

I was going to post a preview of Record Store Day 2014 in Birmingham but the lovely David Malys has already done a much better job than I could manage over at Counteract Magazine (right here in fact). Amongst the highlights are collective Die Das Der's takeover of Kings Heath from 1pm onwards and the Brum Notes/Swordfish Records' in-store session at 5pm.

As part of Record Store Day someone's done one of those silly surveys that apparently reveals a growing trend for people to buy physical releases of music (even cassettes...yes..I know...) with absolutely no intention of playing them. The music fan in me finds all this a little odd but if it helps to keep the last few remaining record shops in business then c'est la vie. Here are a couple of the acts you can catch, first off Hoopla Blue who'll be playing in Kings Heath outside Polar Bear Records during the afternoon...

...and next Matthew Edwards, (ex The Music Lovers) who's recently returned to Brum after a decade or two in San Francisco and who'll be dropping by Swordfish Records to play a short set. Really like this track...suits my mood right now...

So pop along, buy something, maybe even play it if you're feeling wacky...

Monday, April 14, 2014

Moonshine on...

Still looking for something else to do this Easter apart from eating your own body weight in chocolate eggs and watching The Great Escape on repeat? Madame Moonshine's Speakeasy is back and, following on from the first event in February, there's another impeccably glamorous mix of music, food and fun for the more discerning punter. Here's a quick selection of the live acts on offer:

Tickets here!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Bluebeat Arkestra - The Chillr

Brum's own The Bluebeat Arkestra have just unveiled a new track and video from their forthcoming self-titled EP (due out in a couple of weeks) and it's a beaut. Blending groove driven bass with the kind of vocals that could soothe even the most troubled of souls it's a sophisticated mix expertly produced and buffed up by Sam Redmore (Birmingham's beardiest DJ). Seriously classy stuff. Head on over to the band's Facebook page to share the video and you'll be in with the chance of winning a bunch of Arkestra goodies as well!

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

George Barnett...3 Statues...the video

I'm frankly in awe of how much work this dude puts into writing, playing and producing his own music...let alone doing his own videos too. Hello world, wake up please...this is the kind of talent we should be supporting.

It’s nice to be a Lunar-tic...

Is there anything better than being outside in the sun, with a cider or two, watching live music? Well yes, there’s sex, but getting jiggy outside isn’t a good idea, especially in the middle of V Festival (far too much piddle flying about). Yes, the Great British festival can be a wonderful thing and the good people behind Moseley Folk and Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul are putting on a third event this year, The Lunar Festival, with an ear tingling line up. Unlike MoFolk and MoJaFuSo you can camp at The Lunar Festival, just to get that truly authentic festival vibe. And, if it’s just 10% as good as either of their other events, it promises to be something pretty jolly special. 

Capacity is relatively modest so you won’t have to spend 6 hours queuing for the loos/bar/ostrich burger but it also means you should probably snap up a ticket right now if you want to go. Here’s just a small sample of the delights on offer...

Plus there's loads of other stuff going on, pop up clubs, workshops, climbing (best not to try this after three pints of Vicar's Todger) and a simply beautiful idea that involves playing Nick Drake's (he was a local lad) albums in the woods on his actual record player! Vinyl, it's the future. 

Tickets - available here - are just £85 for the three days (which includes camping). Now that's a billy bargain. 

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Goodnight Lenin play The Prince of Wales!

Okay, just over a week to go until Goodnight Lenin play The Prince of Wales (the pub, not the bloke...although how cool would that be? I reckon you could get a half decent tune out of him). On top of celebrating the release of their super duper limited Record Store Day single (just 24 copies have been pressed!) there's a rumour that the long awaited debut album will finally be seeing the light of day very soon so who knows, this could be one of the last times you get up close and personal with 'em. And that's a very sexy thing let me tell you...ahem...anyway, Goodnight Lenin, next Thursday, Prince of Wales (support comes from the rather lovely Dan Whitehouse too).

Tickets right here, right now!

Monday, April 07, 2014

Table Scraps / Adore / Female Smell / The Double Happy / IONS, @ Muthers Studio, Saturday 5th April 2014

A moshing butler, a raffle prize that included a Bubba Ho-Tep action figure, a Fray Bentos Pie, drumsticks’lube’ (answers on a postcard please...) and five bands for £5 with all proceeds go to kicking cancer’s butt (does cancer have a butt...I guess it does...), what’s not to love eh? First off high fives to Thomas Wagstaff (Female Smell) and Nat Jones for organising it all. Happily Wags beat the disease a few years ago and tonight was his way of paying back the Teenage Cancer Trust who clearly gave him oodles of support during his treatment and recovery.

If cancer had the nerve to wander into Muther’s studio this evening (cool venue by the way) it’s likely its ears (again, not sure if cancer has ears...I’m really over thinking this aren’t I?) would be torn clean off by pretty much every band on the bill. IONS kicked things off with some neat multilayered guitars and railing at the moon vocals (nope, even I’ve got no idea what I’m on about today) recalling At The Drive In having a jam with Foals. At their majestic best when they hit their riffy, proggy stride.

After a quick breather and bottle of Newkie Brown (keepin’ it old skool) The Double Happy laid done some mighty solid slabs of sound, surprisingly tight vocal harmonies and the odd primal scream to freak out anyone not paying attention.  Set highlight Taxidermy’s one hell of a tune, part Sabbath, part Jane’s Addiction its time changes and juddering stop start hip hop rock vocals make it the kind of song disenchanted black clad teens ( aged men) would (Double) happily go three shades of mental to.

Another quick break...and another bottle of Newkie Brown...then it’s time for the Smell. I’d not seen them live before but the rumours were true, they’re bloody good.  Tonight bare chested lead singer Garry Payne comes across like the bastard child of Lux Interior and Iggy Pop, inspiring the event’s elaborately moustachioed MC Rupert Bell (dressed in a full butler’s outfit...and I mean the proper shit...none of this fancy dress crap) to mosh himself into oblivion. As the band gloriously grind out the noise Payne chews up and spits out the lyrics like a terrier with tourettes (yep, I’ve lost it again), most effectively perhaps on recent single Normal Today, a brooding post punk meltdown that manages to be both maddeningly catchy and more than a little disturbing at the same time. I blame the video. 

As the all too brief set clatters to an end the remaining band members plunge off stage, passing their lead singer in the crowd to deservedly wild applause. A performance not to be sniffed at...   

They’d run out of Newkie Brown so I opted for a bottle that looked close to it which turned out to be Trooper, Iron Maiden’s brew. Not bad, if the band would like to send me a dozen cases I’d be more than happy to glug...sorry...plug it for ‘em.

Twenty years to the day that Kurt Cobain died (most people think it was April 5th although it’s impossible to be 100% sure as no one saw him from April 4th to the 8th when his body was discovered) and his legacy is clear to see in the grungetastic penultimate band, Adore. Freshening up the grunge goodness for another generation to enjoy...and by the looks of the pogoing ladies at the front they were...songs like Heaven Sent (I'm guessing at the's labelled as Demo 1 - see below - but I don't imagine that's what it's called...let's not get into that...ahem) add an extra complexity to the mix whilst retaining that existential angst and punk tinged attitude that originally made the whole scene so powerful. 

After Iron Maiden’s brew I opted for a bottle of 5,6,7,8...a cheeky Cabernet Sauvignon from the band Steps, followed by a drop of Mark Morrisons' brandy, Return of the Cognac. 

Suitably refreshed it was time for Table Scraps' boy/girl garage rock to bring things to a suitably epic conclusion. Fuzzed up guitar, drums beaten to within an inch of disintegration and vocals from the wrong side of the tracks (that’s a good thing by the way) combine to make the Scraps pretty much the perfect band to end the night...any night in fact. Each song’s a blistering assault, often clocking in at just two or three minutes of pure unadulterated raw power that’ll leave your ears bleeding and groin ever so slightly moist (too much information?). Single What You Don’t Allow sounds like the White Stripes wired up to the mains and force fed amphetamines. Glorious. 

Let’s end on where we came in though and the point of the whole night. Fittingly Wags took to the stage and, after drawing the raffle prizes (I won a Table Scraps t-shirt and Female Smell cassette...result!), thanked all the bands and punters and “the charity that helped me beyond words”, the Teenage Cancer Trust. The dosh was still being totted up but hundreds of quid will be winging its way to them as we speak, hopefully with a compilation of tonight’s bands too. In fact, you know what? Loud rock music might not be a medically approved therapy – although Wilko Johnson seems to be making a pretty strong case for it – but if just 1% of the energy, passion and sheer joy for life that fizzed through the entire evening could be bottled up and injected I reckon cancer wouldn't have a hope in hell.