Monday, February 26, 2007

Tilly & The Wall / The Little Ones / The Displacements Birmingham Bar Academy 25th February 2007

Aaaah music, sweet music. Does it get much better than this? Probably not. The Displacements are a fine chirpy pop band from Leicester with a distinctly '60's vibe, not unlike scouse pop pirates Coral in some ways or the Arctic Monkeys in other ways. Anyways...they played a thumpin' set that points to a group with more talent than most 'first on the billers' that I've seen for a while. Not unique, but cracking fun.

The Little Ones were up next. I'd heard a couple of their tracks recently and they've got a fair bit of press from the En Em they deserve the hype? Oh yes. Oozing with California sunshine (but with a surprisingly harder live edge and slightly dark underbelly) they've got touches of Arcade Fire and the Beach Boys about them but with a style of of their own. Drummer Greg had just split up with his girlfriend so the rest of the band spent the entire set ripping the piss out of him...which was a lot funnier than it sounds (Heartless? Me? You betcha!). One of the musical highlights of the year so far...

They were closely followed by an even greater musical highlight of this or any year for that matter - the truly unique (yes UNIQUE) Tilly & the Wall. I'll be brief (that makes a change eh?) but basically they're a kind of tap (as in tap dance) punky, folky, country...indie...dancey...oh to hell with it just take a listen (and a look) and you might get some idea of what I blabbering on about. Reckless is one of my favourite tracks ever...that's ever...I don't know why it's so just sort of makes you feel oooohhh. With a dab of ahhhh and a touch of hmmmmm. I'm aware that this is digenerating in into the worst review of a fabulous gig ever so I'll just say this. Tilly & the Wall are one of the finest live bands in the world. Jamie W almost literally danced herself to death and the whole band kept a sold out audience baying for more like few other acts I've ever witnessed. If Tilly and the Wall were a religion I'd become a Tilly monk in a flash. A tap dancing monk with blonde hair and frilly skirts. So there.


PS: God they were great.

PPS: No, really...

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Forward Russia / Men Women & Children / and a band I missed 'cos Birmingham City Council are digging up roads... Birmingham Academy 2 Saturday 24th

As you can see from the above we missed practically all of the set from the first band on the bill. Despite leaving home a full hour before they were due on stage for some reason the good folk in charge of the roads decided to shut the main route into Birmingham to dig it up. Why? God knows. I walk past the bit of road in question every day and there was bugger all wrong with it. Judging by the six 'workmen' standing around watching one guy dig it up, they felt the same way. Still, it cuts down the unemployment figures I guess and gives me something to rant about. Whilst I'm on a roll can people stop trying to photograph/video every second of every show by shoving their 'phone/camera in front of my face? I'm aware of the old 'pot calling the kettle black' scenario here as I take some shots at gigs, but not 25,000 which, judging by the amount of raised hands in front of my face is the average number taken by some 'folk'. Aside from annoying the crap out of me and many others, they can't be seeing any of the freakin' show. Maybe they should be banned altogether (the cameras, not the people...then again...). Get a decent photographer in, let them take the shots, then offer them as downloads to the people who went to the gig.

Anyway, to business. Like one night stands (I've been married for some time, so this is metaphorical one night stand okay?) should you revisit a band that you really fell for the first time you saw them or just leave it as a beautiful memory? This was the dilemma that I was faced with when it came to this gig. I ummed and ahhed over getting tickets for weeks then took the plunge just before it sold out. Am I glad? Yes and no (my membership card for The International Fence Sitters Society should be through any day now). On the one hand the band would have found it impossible to blow me away to the extent that they did the first time round. A combination of a poorer venue (the Academy 2 is far less suited to the full on Men Women & Children experience than the more atmospheric Barfly), getting their too late to bag a decent spot and my general annoyance at the whole human race conspired to put me in a less than jovial mood. But, even given all this, they didn't fail to lift my flagging spirits. Singer TJ just won't let an audience get away with apathy and he is one of the few people who can actually get me to put my hands in the air (like I just don't care). Bouncing around like a mad thing didn't seem to be the order of the day with the rest of the crowd, so I did my patented left foot/right foot bounce kind of thing that passes for dancing in my eyes (Napoleon Dynamite I ain't). Too camp for a rock audience and too rock for the dance posse they do seem a little stuck in the middle but I love em (even if they didn't get back to me on the interview I wanted to do with them...I guess they read the site and, quite rightly, decided I was nuts...mwhahahahahahah!!!!).

Which leads us neatly onto Forward Russia!!?%*$ with their punctuation marks (and vocals) all over the shop. They're clearly building up a sizeable and loyal following and have a distinctive sound / style all of their own. Like the last time I saw them their lead singer, Tom, is still trying to throttle himself with his microphone lead (maybe he too spent 45 minutes on a bus trying to get to the frickin' venue?) but tonight we were also treated to a few new songs which, breaking with tradition, actually have titles rather than numbers (new single Don't be a Doctor starts off a bit Coldplay-ish before hitting more familiar territory). 12 is still a brilliant post punk classic and the whole set throbbed with the kind of manic schizoid energy that the band represents. As far as I could tell the audience were divided into a hardcore of real fans who bounced along at the front in a sweat and a bunch of more bemused onlookers who were a bit freaked by it all. A bit like life really...there you go, that's Foward Russia in a snappy soundbite. Did I like it? Yes, I have to say that I did. Their range of material isn't extensive but, for pure adrenaline driven entertainment Forward Russia are real Tsars (eh? eh? come on now...that's what keeps you coming back for more...who needs the NME?).

Tonight I am revisiting another past lover (again, metaphorically speaking) Tilly and the Wall together with Californian love bugs The Little Ones. This time I'm walking doubt Birmingham City Council have decided to shut every route into town by now and divert all buses via Gdansk while a dozen men in yellow day glo jackets stare at some bloke with a shovel...

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Mika / Leon Jean Marie Birmingham Barfly Friday 23rd February 2007

I've not been to a full on sold out gig for a while. This was. It was all a bit strange, in particular the audience, one of the oddest crowds I've ever seen at a gig. It's clear that Mika has done that rare thing and become a hit with everyone from grannies to gay young things - a bit like Scissor Sisters did. For once I actually felt quite young...anyway, enough of my musings on audiences, that's got me into trouble on more than one occasion.

Leon Jean-Marie was the support and delivered a slew of funky, Brit soul tracks with a healthy dose of Beck thrown in for good measure. Scratch (out on March 12th fact fans...I know 'cos I'm looking at a sticker thrust into my hands by an enthusiastic 'street team' type person) was probably the highlight, but the whole set went down well with the crowd. He's being pitched as a kind of Prince for the next generation (as opposed to the new power generation...that's a whole different raspberry beret) and I'd agree that he's a lighter version of his purpleness. I quite enjoyed it all, don't see as much 'urban' music as I should really, but then (to my knowledge)there's not a huge amount on locally.

Mika. Some love him, some hate him. Personally I see him as a bit of a guilty pleasure. Like rum truffles or Weston's Old Rosie. It was a slick old show for sure. Pretty much note perfect, bags of energy, a winning smile...audience clap alongs (even though a few of them needed oxygen and a quick rub down with sponge afterwards). The songs are all as instantly hummable as swarm of bees on the lash and, after five or six weeks at number one, he's set to be the most successful artist of 2007. By a mile. He played one slower number during the set which perhaps hints at more torch song sort of future but, for now, he is the new king of Disco Pop, Freddie Mika-ry if you will (now I thought that was quite clever...). He's down to play Glasto this year and I can think of few things quite as lovely as watching the sun set over the Pyramid Stage with a pint of red wine whilst listening to Love Today. Like I say...guilty pleasures...
P.S: Before anybody points it out the photo wasn't taken last night it was nicked from the mighty 3 megapixel camera just couldn't hack it...all I got were shots of some birds head.

Union of Knives / 35 Seconds / Grandscope / Selotape Birmingham Barfly 22nd February 2007

Union Of Knives...cutting it

The first of four gigs on the bounce. Going Deaf For Four Days anyone (apologies to Pete Ashton for trying to rehash his idea)? No? Just me then. Ok.

Openers Selotape are two bands for the price of one in some ways with their dual vocalists sharing duties, one taking the faster, more discordant guitar pieces and the other the slightly mellower stuff. It works well and enables the group to tackle a much wider range of songs. All in all a solid set that ended by one of the group taping down random keys on their keyboards before leaving the stage in a haze of noise. Other bands take note - it's not just how you start, it's how you finish.

Grandscope were up next and, despite being around for 10 years, this was the first time I'd seen them. Birmingham has always had a solid fringe of more eclectic bands (Broadcast, Misty's Big Adventure and Kate Goes to name just seven...only joking...four) and Grandscope fall into this rather magical category. Grandscope cite bands like Tortoise and Boards of Canada as an influence and I'd agree that they orbit a similar universe. I'd add a touch of Zappa and some Animal Collective too - like I say, magical stuff. It's difficult to write about music like this without coming across as too muso but (here I go, about to go muso on you) Grandscope create often fairly complex musical soundscapes, with distinct layers, anyone of which could form an interesting path of it's own (what the fuck am I on today? Answers on a copy of Wire magazine please). It's a jazz kind of thing, musical abstract, stuff that you can escape into and proof (as if we true believers needed any) that Birmingham has as much to offer the musical world as any city, anywhere. Check out Sunshine if you want an instant hit or Des 'n' Mel if you don't believe me about the musical soundscape bit. Anyway, I'm waffling. To cut a long review short (please god I hear you cry) I loved Grandscope and certainly won't leave it another 10 years to see them again. I suggest you hunt them out and get a dose of the good stuff.

35 seconds are an equally compelling prospect, but an entirely different vibe altogether. Andrew Hickman's a particularly strong vocalist and the songs were every bit as memorable. Dinosaurs sounds like some great lost early 80's classic (the indie Postcard-y bit, not the New Romantic stuff), Grudge Match is like being beaten round the head with a brick, then a pillow (yes, I've been sniffing magic markers again) and then there's stuff like Youth Club (almost jazz funky in places). Class. Why the fuck aren't they famous yet? Where's their NME spread? Should I start a record label and sign them? Hmm, now there's a thought...anyone know anything about starting a record label?

Unlikely to sign to The Hearing Aid Gramophone Company are Union of Knives who are destined (and I'm fairly sure on this one) to become stadium bestriding behemoths. Yes behemoths. I'm not sure that their excellent debut album does them justice. Live they're a lot fuller and pull off that neat treat that Depeche Mode cracked of melding electro sounds with full on rock. One of them has shaved his head so I also couldn't help thinking of Classix Nouveaux at times (for the record one of the unsung bands of the 80's who featured a certain Sal Solo - bald as a baby's bottom), they did a similar thing. The vocals are quite light, not rocky at all, which makes a nice counterpoint. On tracks like Operated On they almost quite a little choral, before a sledgehammer of guitar and electro noise punches back in. Brilliant, quite brilliant live band that would really benefit from and feed off a massive crowd. I wouldn't be surprised if they soon got just that.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Crass Communication / The Hussy's / Adventure Club Birmingham Barfly Tuesday 13th February 2007

Greetings dear readers to the continuing musical adventures of The Baron. Another gig and another strong line up at The Barfly, kicked off in fine style by Adventure Club. Listening to their My Space page as I type this one finger at a time (yes, I can multi-task) they strike me as one of those bands who often sound better live than on record (or whatever magic puts music on t'web). They reminded me a lot of one of the great 'lost' British bands, XTC, together with a side order of Joe Jackson. As a lover of all things New Wave I was in hog heaven. Lead singer Oliver is an impressive frontman too, plenty of theatrical flourishes that make the difference between an appearance and a performance. I can heartily recommend 'Bored of the Things' as a strong taster of their oeuvre (I've always wanted to use the word 'oeuvre' on this site and now I have it looks a little silly...oeuvre...oeuvre...nope, still silly).

Anyhow, on to (for me) the highlight of the evening and The Hussy's (pictured above). My god they're a damn fine band. I don't think they realise how good they are. Every tune (most of which I'd not heard before) is as catchy as a giant spider's web of pop. You can hear the crowds singing along to tunes like Tiger on the main stage at Glasto. Yes, I do think they're that good. Lead singer Fili has the kind of voice and presence that reminded me a little of Cerys Matthews back in the day, musically they're in the great tradition of 70's and 80's pop...being a bit of a musical oddball I even detected a touch of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band (musical heroes of mine) in there somewhere. I'm not sure how long they've been going for but the whole band is as tight as Bernard Matthews at an Hungarian charity ball. Napoleon Dynamite is probably one of my favourite tracks of the last 12 months and has the kind of cool, cult appeal that has US hit written all over it. Bloody good with a capital B...and L...(and that's good). I'm not sure when an album's due but if you don't buy it I will personally visit you all and shout abuse through your letter box until you capitulate (hmmm...that's nearly as bad as ouevre isn't it?).

Right ho. Final band Crass Communication have set the controls straight for the heart of planet prog (via the stars of Muse Major...I'm sorry, I'll stop now). It's an incredibly ambitious sound to aim for and they pulled it off rather well. They've been playing together for just over a year and I'll be intrigued to see how they develop. Personally I really liked the extended instrumental breaks when the whole band gained more of a jammy (in the sense of the word a musical thing you understand...nothing to do with fruit and sugar based products) looseness. The end bit was pretty cool too when the whole band swapped instruments. Nice touch. I purchased a CD too - I know, throwing my cash around like there's no tomorrow...speaking of which...

Next week sees an orgy of gigs not seen since the great gig out of 2001. Four to be exact. In four days. Whoops. Expect a flurry of reviews next weekend...or news of my untimely demise.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Listen up...

Time once again dear reader for some random musical tip offs and we start with The Little Ones. If you liked The Spinto Band (Lovers Who Uncover makes me want to start singing Oh Mandy) you'll love The Little Ones. Both groups share that kind of wide eyed innocence and youthful lust for life that would even get Thom York breaking into a smirk.

Less smirksome, but no less exciting, I give you The Bird and the Bee. Anyone who names a track Fucking Boyfriend deserves to be heard but the rest of their material is just as good. Kind of '60's in places, Burt Bacherach meets the Carpenters even (I'm a Broken Heart is pure class), it's (un)easy listening for the 21st century.

Next up, Kate Nash. Currently the subject of a 'is she the new Lily Allen's only been here for five minutes...oh is moving faster than Jade Goody at a Mela' type debate, in truth Kate is painting from a far more diverse box of colours than the lovely Miss A. Caroline's a Victim (electrifying shouty stuff) is a complete contrast to the more Regina Spectorish moments like on Merry Happy for example. Ignore the hype and just enjoy.

Finally, Pull Tiger Tail. Vocally the result of a bizarre scientific cloning experiment between Elvis Costello and Julian Cope and musically a New Wave lovers dream I get the feeling that this is a band that more people have read about than heard...but no more! Mr 100% is like Supergrass' Mansize Rooster with a with a firework up it's arse...(NB: sticking explosives up your rectum -or any other orifice for that matter - is not to be recommended) and is a complete treat for the ears, feet and spleen (poor hardly ever gets much coverage...let's hear it for the spleen, come on let's give the spleen a hand...hmmm, there's a song in there somewhere).

All of the above are about to embark on tours of the UK (The Little Ones backing Tilly and the Wall at the Bar Academy, The Bird and the Bee and Kate Nash at Wolverhampton somewhere - bah humbug - and Pull Tiger Tail at the Barfly). Be there or be...oh fuck it...just be there.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Foals / The Ripps / Linear / Mary Luxembourg and the Black Bats Sunflower Lounge, Birmingham

£4, 4 bands. Sunflower Lounge (or whoever organised this…This is Tommorrow…right…maximum respect) you are indeed spoiling us in a manner not seen since Mr Ferrero got it on with Mr Rocher. Funny venue the Sunflower Lounge. Very lounge like…which makes negotiating your way to the bar/loo a matter of politely squishing past people in a way not normally experienced at your average gig…not unpleasant though. Anyway, I’m drifting again.
Bands with long names No1 – Mary Luxembourg and the Black Bats reminded me a little of Donna and the Kebabs aka Honey Bane (no, I’m not making this up…they were a real band…late 70’s). Anyhow they released a great track called You Can Be You in 1978, a meaty slab of raw girl punk that you hardly ever hear these days. ML and the BB have similar raw energy, very DIY (they were selling cassettes…oh yes) and what I would call proper punk…not posturing, not pretending, but R – E – A – L. Liked them a lot. As I did Linear. It strikes me that Coventry is producing some pretty great bands at the moment (see also The Ripps - coming soon!) and Linear is right up there. Elements of Joy Division, Gang of Four, early Orange Juice and hints of more recent exponents of angular post punk majesty like Editors and The Rapture (well I think so and I’ve got the conch so ya boo!). Despite some microphone issues (2 were knackered, only one worked) they were a major treat and heartily recommended.

I’d seen The Ripps a fair time back and I remember being well impressed back then. They’re even better now. Drummer Rachel Butt seems on the verge of spontaneous combustion throughout the show and adds some seriously impressive non amplified vocal shouts that sort of make the sound more 3D somehow…nope…even I don’t know what I’m on about now. Let’s all join hands and contact the living again shall we? Hallelujah! Feel the spirit of da lord…come on people…feel da spirit….

Anyway (coughs nervously…no one noticed that did they. No? Good.) new single Loco is such a glorious pop punk tune that it will make Simon Cowell implode and become a black hole through which all shite music will be sucked through and banished forever leaving The Ripps to rule the earth. If it can happen, it will happen.
Foals. Foals. Foals. I’m repeating the name because you need to remember it. This is class stuff. Class as in your grandchildren will be listening to it whilst you reminisce about the days when you actually bought music on little silver discs from places called record shops. It’s dance. It’s post punk (I know I keep calling everything that, but that’s what it is…)…heck it’s a little bit disco in places. One of the standout tracks of an outstanding set, Hummer, is a bit like being hit over the head with a toffee hammer whilst playing an early 80’s arcade game. I don’t know about you but that sounds like my idea of a good night out. There’s a whole melting pot of good shit going on here, funkier than a mosquitoes tweeter and just as deadly. Foals. Foals. Foals (repeat after me ad infinitum….).

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Web 3.0?

Okay, I’m going to stray off message again with one of my random, ill informed articles on something I know jack all about…that narrows down the field a bit eh?

Over the Christmas sojourn I blathered on about the number of people doing great creative stuff on the web for the love of doing it. “Where does that leave the creative industry?” asked little old me. If you can buy decent photos for use in ads for as little as $1, download pretty much everything (music, film and TV) for diddley squat and read some of the best writing around for absolutely zip are we in danger of making the creative arts an even harder way of making a living? By a bizarre coincidence (unless he’s reading this site…in which case hello Jezza!) Mr Jeremy Clarkson wrote a very similar piece in the Sunday Times last week.

Well, I have the answer, we can all relax…the answer is Web 3.0. I am so massively over my head here I can’t believe I’m writing this…but here we go. Web 2.0 is, as I understand it, where we are now. It’s about the net as a platform for user generated content (all the stuff that many of us are getting for nought). There’s a more thorough definition of it here (in Wikipedia…another free resource that’s probably not done a great deal for Encyclopaedia sellers). As a fairly recent user of the net (the last 3 years or so) I’d liken the current set up to a library run (or not as the case may be) by a bunch of anarchists. Anyone and everyone is free to put whatever they want into it and take whatever they want out of it…without anyone stopping them. The result? Absolute chaos. There’s some brilliant stuff on the web…10% probably. The rest is arse…utter arse. How do we find the good stuff? Recommendations from sources we trust or sheer luck. Do the people who produce the good stuff get anything out of it (other than a sense of entertaining others, a warm glow and an occasional pat on the back)? No. they don’t. So I’m recommending a radical approach which, in many ways, goes against everything the net stands for and puts it back in the hands of ‘business’. But bear with me for a mo. The idea is to start again. Back to my library analogy, we’d find a new room that the anarchists hadn’t messed up and put a big lock on the door. Then we’d go into the old library and, bit by bit, take the good stuff into our brand new library. The anarchists won’t care, just as long as they can still look at porn, gamble on poker sites and watch videos of American teenagers drinking horse urine…

Then, as we start to build up a library of good stuff (in the world of the net that’s the good sites with decent, regularly updated content and downloadable music and stuff…you got that bit of the analogy didn’t you…right, I’ll shut up again) we’d open our doors to the paying public. Ahh yes, I did say PAYING, that’s the bit people probably won’t like, but stick with me. We’d need a bit of help with the maths here, never my strong point, but, plucking a random figure from fresh air here, I’d say a fiver a month. Then, with a bit of clever programming (over to a 17 year old from LA), we’d spread this money amongst the people who put blood, sweat and tears into generating all the good stuff. The more people that visit your site, the more money you get. At the start it might be mere pennies but…well you get the picture. First of all I’d like the big record companies to buy into this and allow people to download whatever they want…legally. As our membership grows this should turn into a nice little earner for them and ensure that musicians get some money, as opposed to jack all, which is what lies around the corner. For everyone who pays a fiver a month we’d get the very best of the web, well organised and managed, virus free and reliable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating a bland Daily Mail kind of world. Far from it. The inclusion of sites would be down to a wide range of contributors from across the globe (probably the people currently generating what we all read or use). They would suggest a site, existing members view it and vote. If it gets, say, over 75% it gets in.

Of course this is just pie in the sky (or web) at the moment. It’s a fairly radical idea that makes me a little uncomfortable in some ways, but then so does a world in which people who should be getting some financial reward for entertaining us all get bugger all.

In the spirit of giving, this article can be freely copied or quoted as long as its source is recognised. In the event that someone takes it forward of course, I’d like my cut…after all, it’s only fair. Which is where we came in…

NB: If this idea has been suggested by a million other people, I’m sorry for wasting your time…but, in that case, why hasn’t anyone done anything about it?