Saturday, July 28, 2007

New Young Pony Club...giddy up a sing song

Just recently everytime I've heard a track that naggingly gets stuck in my brain it seems to have been by one group - New Young Pony Club. 'The Bomb', 'Ice Cream', 'Hiding On The Staircase', 'Get Dancey'...rather like the first Scissor Sisters album NYPC seem to have released a greatest hits collection rather than just a debut. I don't know a great deal about them, but I'm sure I read a few weeks ago that 'wonderful' radio one refused to play one of their tracks because they had filled their quota of female fronted brands. A year or so back I had the great fortune to meet Liz from Ladyfuzz (RIP...the band, not Liz) who told me a similar tale but swore me to secracy lest the people in power refuse to play any of their tracks ever (now they've split I guess she won't mind me sharing that nugget). It would be a crime if NYPC missed out on the success they deserve just 'cos the UK's biggest radio station is run by a bunch of quota munching payola whores (now that's a great name for a band..ladies and gentlemen...I give you The Quota Munching Payola Whores). Anyway, NYPC, great band and all wavey with all that 2007 retro 80's coolness that the kids have going on. As ever there are some videos to watch in full Hearing Aid vision to the left of this nonesense. Enjoy.

NB: Respect due to The Bobby Dazzler and Junior Dazzler for telling me about them about 80 years ago...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Shiny Toy Guns / Neon Plastix / Trailer / Sevenball - Barfly Birmingham Monday 23rd July 2007

Monday night gigs. Proper hardcore. In fact I reckon that Monday's are the new Friday...or is that Thursday? Anyway, onto the matter in hand. La musica. Das musique. Der tunes. And tonight had a fair old selection. Four quality bands kicking off with Sevenball, a really strong blues rock group that, vocally especially, reminded me of Pearl Jam in places. Musically they're mining a much deeper seam than that though, with some licks that the Zep would be proud of and a undercurrent of old school country with some nice slide guitar here and there. It's easy to do this style of music and make it sound a little tired, but Sevenball nailed it for me and would be worthy headliners on a more rock based bill than this one. They like John Martyn too...and John Martyn is godlike. The rest of the bands had more of a synthy vibe going on, starting with Trailer all the way from Coventry, which seems to be going through a bit of a purple (or should that be sky blue...that's the only thing I know about football by the way) patch now in terms of music. Blending the thumping beats of Underworld with the anthemic kind of tracks that Kasabian bang out together with a bit of Liam swagger, Trailer seem to have a whole album's worth of tracks that deserve your ears (ears meet Trailer, Trailer meet go get a room). 'Set the Country on Fire' in particular has the kind of energy and positivity that I've not really heard since the glory days of Asian Dub Foundation. Ace. They gave out free CD's at the end too...which always gets my vote. Hot on their heels came Doncaster disco house gods Neon Plastix. Chuff me I love this band. Pulp meets the Klaxons in a house party and get pissed up on cheap red wine. Gentlemans Gold has that brilliant synth guitar thing that Classix Nouveux had going on (ask your grandads). Singer Patrick performed this track in the audience, with a lucky few being allowed to press the buttons on his sampler, kicking off the vocal samples whilst the rest of the band played live on stage. My new favourite group? Could be.
That just left Shiny Toy Guns. Cue the dry ice...lot's of it (see the picture above). It's a measure of this band's ambitions I reckon...the more dry ice the bigger the band will be. Legend has it that they tour like motherfuckers and have built a loyal fanbase a la Arctic Monkeys (ie using My Space). Rock electronica with shades of MCR and even PSB (that's My Chemical Romance and Pet Shop Boys...or is that just me?) they're set for stadiums...and deservedly so. It's nice to have a band with strong female and male vocals, add strong dance beats, live drums (drummed by a very blokey sort of chap sporting a rather nice line in shocking pink eye shadow) and lyrics that should have emo kids snogging new ravers all over the shop and you've got a potent mix. Full marks for a sublime cover of Depeche Mode's 'Stripped' by the way. So there you go. Monday really is the new Friday. Work? Pah! What better way to start your week than a blues/rock/disco/emo/synth/Blackthorn fuelled party? (my thanks must go out to the lovely bar lady who served me throughout the night too...they really are a nice bunch at the Barfly).

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Kid Sister...oh yes we keepin' it fresh

For those who like their rap this side of Missy E to the L to the...oh get the picture...I have great pleasure in introducing to the UK Chicago's own Kid Sister (actually I may not be introducing her...I have no idea...for all I know she could be number 1 in the only chart that counts...whatever the heck that is nowadays).

Anyway, I likes it, I likes it a lot, in particular 'Control' which is kind of all old skool electro, with smooth nuggets of male vocal and an infectiousness that would have a corpse up and poppin'.

And, on that note, I'm going for a lie down.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Golden Age of Dolby...Thomas that is...

There's a list of artists I'd like to see live (some are dead so I'll have to work on that one), others almost might as well be. Thomas Dolby falls slap bang into that category. Until now. Yes...he's back, back, back etc. For the uninitiated Dolby was a fairly big name back in the 1980's, particularly for a tune called 'She Blinded Me With Science' featuring 'mad' scientist Magnus Pyke. Originally pretty synthy on his two first albums 'The Golden Age Of Wireless' and 'This Flat Earth', he then went all kind of big band jazzy on the frankly bonkers 'Aliens Ate My Buick', before going a bit more mainstream singer/songwriter on his last 78...well it seems like a bloody long time ago to me...Astronauts and Heretics. Since then (aside from a very limited release EP and some computer game soundtrack) he's been as quiet as a deceased church mouse. He's played a few very low key dates in the US and one or two in the UK but now he's going on tour over here for the first time in centuries. So, what's the big deal? Well, aside from being a bit of a pioneer of all kinds of electronic instruments, Mr D had a way with lyrics too. Whilst the likes of Duran Duran were coming over all 'Rio' (dirty boys), Dolby was writing much darker stuff like 'Airwaves' and 'One of Our Submarines' as well as downright pop funk gold in the form of Hyperactive. After seemingly giving up on music back in the early 1990's when he formed a company that did all kinds of clever stuff to do with 'compressing files', the fact that he's now decided to dust off his synth collection (when he clearly doesn't need the dosh) is pretty darn amazing. He's playing Brum in October at the Academy 2 by the way, along with a few other select dates. If you fancy seeing him before 2082 (which is probably when he'll tour a grab yourself a ticket...and a pair of round spectacles (and no that isn't a reference to Harry fucking Potter).

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Prince or Pandora?

Just in case anyone reading this hasn’t already heard, here’s the deal. Prince – legendary musical genius and all round sexy motherfucker – has decided to take his ongoing fight with the record biz one step further and give away his new album…with The Mail on Sunday. WTF? I’m no expert on the demographics of The Mail on Sunday readers but, and here’s a wild stab in the dark, I’m reckoning that they’re not generally fans of the purple one…nor are they likely to be particularly liberally minded when it comes to ‘new music’. But that’s by the by (as opposed to buy the buy…’cos he’s giving it away…oh come on, this is gold dust). The point I’m struggling to make is that the music ‘business’ (in its traditional sense) has just taken one more step …okay it’s been frogmarched then… towards extinction. Earlier this year Music Zone, a cut price music and DVD retailer, went bust. Some of their stores were taken over by Fopp Records…another cut price music and DVD retailer. Guess what…they’ve just gone bust too. Sanctuary Music (the biggest independent label still around) is about to be sold for a fraction of its value, music industry execs are leaping form tall buildings (okay, not yet…but give it time) and even HMV is looking decidedly shaky.

Are they all about to permanently deleted? Well, if Alan McGee (Creation Records boss) has his way it’s a distinct possibility. He’s decided to start giving away the music of the bands that he manages and thinks that trying to sell it nowadays is simply a waste of time and money. Instead he predicts that bands will make their dosh through tours and merchandising. Hmmm…it’s a nice thought. So we don’t need record labels now do we? Do we? Certainly a lot of the stuff that the bigger labels churn out is a whole heap of shite. The growing number of smaller ‘indie’ labels on the other hand seem to be doing a pretty great job. But are they making any money? Are the bands making any money? Are we in danger of getting to a stage where most musicians have to get a ‘proper’ job? What happens when the live music scene goes cold again? We’re living in a pretty prosperous age at the moment but, and if there’s one thing I learnt from my Economics A level (I think there was just the one thing…) the economy is a cyclical old bugger and could well turn around and bite us all on the ass pretty soon. The thing that troubles me is that a growing number of people (me included if I’m really honest) see music like water. They turn on a tap and out it flows, a never ending supply of tunes. Like it or not, that (on some kind of level) devalues the music.

Whilst I don’t want to see big corporations get fatter, surely if it weren’t for record company advances in the past, passionate A &R men (I’m sure they’re not all weasels) and never say die pluggers many of the greatest albums ever made might not have made it to the ears of the masses. Look at most of the really big tours now too. Reunion shows and greatest hits. Sure you still get loads of bands doing their thing, making music in their bedrooms and touring in the back of a van - and long may that continue - but I’m talking here about the next Arcade Fire’s, Super Furry Animals', Bjork’s…Prince’s even…fairly cool artists who break through to more of a mass market thanks to a combination of good music but also the marketing and PR might of a big record label. Spend a day online and you’ll probably find 100 bands you love but who’ll never get anywhere…bands who deserve to ‘break’ so that they get something for their hard work and the wider public realises that there’s more to music than the 20 Best Shopping Songs or Nick Knowles Sings the Hits of REO Speedwagon (if that guy ever releases an album it’s a cert for number one…he’s on every freakin’ TV show the BBC seems to make these days).

Of course a growing number of bands are leaving (or being forced to leave) record labels altogether and set up on their own. Again a great idea in principle - cut out the middle man and go straight to Mr and Mrs (and Ms…and Miss) Punter. But surely to make this work you have to approach it all in a fairly businesslike way…and since when has the act of creating great music (as opposed to commercially successful music) been about business? Will you get more and more bands doing just what the big labels have done and modifying their sound to fit in with what’s big? “Of course none of this is new” I hear you cry “you’re being na├»ve, music has always been a business really”. Maybe. But in the past most of the business end was managed by fat old men smoking cigars or cocky 20 year olds with flashy haircuts and sharp suits. Now it looks as though the business bit might have to be managed by the lead singer and drummer of the Shag Donkey (not literally, but you get the idea).

For the web savvy music fan, things don’t look too bad. After all we can gain access to all kinds of stuff for nowt. But, for the general public…the 99% of people who don’t spend hours hunched over a PC downloading and listening to stuff, I’d say the future looks as bland as a bread sandwich (that’s bread with a slice of bread in the middle, topped off with a slice of bread). The big corporations (step forward Google, Clear Channel, News International, Apple etc) will control pretty much everything. Mavericks will be starved out of existence (‘cos being a bit weird and all that ain’t really profitable) and we’ll be left with a nice little underground scene attended by a few ‘cool’ people and loads of enormodomes hosting reunion shows. Oh…it’s already happened hasn’t it?

Right. So what have we learnt? Bugger all. Just a series of questions really. I’d be intrigued to hear what up and coming bands make of it all though. Is it getting tougher to ‘do’ music full time? Are small labels making any money? The only thing I do know is that you can’t just keep giving music away and not expect some form of fallout. McGee predicts years of ‘anarchy’ (quite what he means by that is anyone’s guess)…place your bets.

PS: By the way the Prince album isn’t bad. A bit Prince by numbers, but then after nearly 30 years that’s kind of what you’d expect. If you’re quick you can still probably get one for £1.40 with a free copy of The Mail on Sunday…bonus…er…well maybe not.

PPS: Enough with the rain…seriously…cut it out…it’s getting on my tits.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Goodtime George

With my finger on the pulse on new music I just can't let the passing of Mr George Melly go uncelebrated. I was lucky enough to see him once, back in the days of Ronnie Scotts on Broad Street (Birmingham) before it became a 'lap dancing' club. It was during his John Chilton's Feetwarmers era, and he was a giant bear of a man. I remember that he had the ability to make almost every word drip with innuendo (the secret of any truly great jazz / blues singer) and relished playing songs that gave him as many chances as possible to raise his eyebrows in mock shock at the sheer filth of it all.

Anyway, from what little I know of him he seems to have had one of the fullest lives you could ever hope to lead - oodles of sex, drugs and rock n'roll (did you know he once recorded with The Stranglers? No, neither did I).

RIP George.

Tokyo Police Club / Destroy Cowboy / The Indigos Barfly Birmingham Wednesday 4th July 2007

A decent crowd for a slightly soggy Wednesday evening saw openers The Indigos put on a solid performance of post punkish (I bet you were wondering when I was going to slip in the old post punk reference into another review eh?) indie rock. They've got some decent tracks, engaging lyrics and frontman Jimmy has the kind of voice that really suits this kind of music (ie slightly narked at the state of the world...a feeling that I can totally relate to). Whilst I'd have liked a little more vocal interplay with Dan (backing vocals and lead guitar), they impressed me enough to want to catch them again when I get the chance.

Destroy Cowboy put on a similarly strong show. I've seen their name around quite a bit (there's a sticker of theirs just above the urinals in the Bar Academy...just above head height in you're interested...why would you be...unless there's some bizarre urinal sticker spotting club out there...maybe there is...sort of like the Panini of the urinal world...) but I'd never seen them until now. Another slight vocal quibble...I'd have liked the lead vocals a tad louder as sometimes the music overwhelmed the words a little. When they really found their 'groove' (on tracks like the The Prize) they've got the kind of anthemic power that could well see them fitting into bigger venues.

Headliners Tokyo Police Club have been generating a fair degree of press lately and, judging by the enthusiastic reception of a hard core legion of fans, it's starting to translate into a bit of a following. You can't help but notice a similarity with The Strokes, but they've got more more 'artrocker' vibe going on than Julian Copacobanacasablancooompalomablanca and co. I particularly liked the bit when various members of the band starting banging 7 flavours of shite out of the drums. I'm a big fan of the old instrument swapping/ritual abuse malarky. There was a lot of that playing your guitar down the neck so it sounds really high stuff going on too (I'm sure these notes have names but I have no idea what they are...I'll plump for C sharp 'cos it sounds convincing) and the kind of energetic performance that makes you wish you were 16 again (there was even a mini stage invasion by two brave souls who risked incurring the wrath of a security chappie who looked a little like Phil from Eastenders). Your English Is Good is a cracking track (it's on their My Space page) and, in its live incarnation, you can imagine it becoming a real 'sing along' set highlight. It even got me moving which, at my age, is some feat...

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Rootsville Digbeth Saturday 30th June / Sunday 1st July 2007

Congratulations all round to the good folk behind Rootsville, who managed to put on a brilliantly ‘eclectic’ bill. Barring a few minor grumbles (the two hour ‘drift’ in set times being the most significant…I’m sure the weather didn’t help) it was pretty much as good as I’d hoped it could be. Arriving at midday and staying until just before 4…am…we packed in a fair number of bands/artists, so I won’t bore you all to death with a blow by blow account. First up though, and well worthy of a mention, were the Birmingham Community Gospel Choir (can't find a link...must be one somewhere...). Personally, religion is something I just don’t get. My bad I guess…especially when the big Grim R comes a knocking and tells me I’ve got a one way ticket to Brimstone Towers, but hey, at least I’m being honest. If there is someone up there he’s gotta respect honesty right? Having covered all bases, back to the music. Whilst I don’t get religion, I do get Gospel. Perhaps it’s the purest music there is? These people believe every word 100%. And it shows. The Birmingham Choir is blessed with some powerful, but well controlled voices, brilliantly arranged and backed with simple instrumentation. Beautiful, inspirational, powerful stuff. Even with my cold, hard agnostic heart, I just loved it.

Despite being beset by the technical hitches that became a bit of a feature throughout the day (like I say it was slashing it down, and the stage lay under a beautiful, but slightly leaky railway arch) Chrissy Van Dyke’s voice was as powerful as it was back in the days of Plutonik. Walking a more jazzy path these days she’s a local treasure and deserves muchos respect. The last track of her set, which got a bit funky on our ass, really showcased her at her very best. Ace. Catch her at the Hare and Hounds this Thursday to see what all the fuss is about.

Soweto Kinch was the next artist to grab me by the musical genitalia (ouch…but in a nice way…good grief, can you tell I haven’t had much sleep?). Jazz hop (although he’d probably hate that description…so if he ever reads this I’m sorry) behemoth, rising from the streets of B19, I’d seen his name but never heard his music. Lazy people might draw a link with Gil Scott Heron. So I will. Soweto links jazz with hip hop quite brilliantly though and, although I’m only starting to really grasp the subtleness of the language of jazz (hey, get me, next I’ll be wearing a beret and saying ‘niiiice’ like one of those annoying Fast Show Pub Bores – yes, you know who you are) you get a real feel for the streets though the music. The freestyle rap bit of the show (using words from the audience that included ‘octopus’, ‘octave’ and ‘ricochet’) was one of those, ‘how the hell does he think so quickly’ moments.

Where next? Ahhh yes. The Young Zulu Warriors. What the chuff? Seeing a stage under the railway arches of Digbeth invaded by a throng of Zulu warriors is a pretty surreal moment. Microphone free, they made an impressive sound, but it’s the visual side of things that makes such an impression. All the leaping around and high kicking made me feel quite exhausted and, when they left the stage, I wandered off in search of liquid refreshment. Returning a few minutes later I discovered they’d merely left the stage for a costume change and they came back on for another 45 minutes or so. Now that’s rock n’roll. Like I say, it was a head spinningly eclectic bill, so before you could recover your breath (over on the Medicine Bar stage) we caught The Dholblasters. Dhol drumming originated in the Punjab (there, who says Web 2.0 is just full of self obsessed nerds spouting shite that no one's interested is...but, hey, it's informative too!), but seems to have a pretty strong following here in Birmingham (I think the Dhol Foundation has its roots here too). If you’ve not heard it in action, it’s a little like being caught under a tin roof during a particularly heavy hail storm…only a lot more musical of course. Awesome drumming, strong vocals, clean, crisp dancing and a treat for the eyes, ears and feet from start to finish.

Good grief. I’m getting knackered again just writing this. Bear in mind this all took place in one day, and it’s just the highlights…and you get some idea of what you missed if you weren’t there…anyway, onwards and upwards…or backwards. The Inspiral Carpets. Gawd love ‘em. Looking even more like a bunch of builders than they did back in the day, you forget just how many great tracks they wrote back. Watching This is How It Feels - and a number of other tracks for that matter - sung by a guy in his 40’s gives them a whole different meaning. Purists may sneer (go on, sneer, there, that made you feel better didn’t it?), but you can’t knock the tunes (click on the video thingy to the left of this review for some vids), the reaction of the crowd and the sheer pleasure that comes from trying to sing the bits that Mark E Smith sang in I Want You (I know there was something about the Dutch East India Company in there somewhere, but the rest…answers on a postcard please).

I love The Ripps. Nuff said. Spikey, punky, shouty, powerpop loveliness…in a treat sized package. Most of the audience invaded the stage during the first number (I stayed behind, reliving flashbacks of my Gallows incident), before being ‘invited’ off by security. Leave our pop kids alone ‘The Man’! By this time quite a few people were a little drunk. Time was dribbling its way towards 3am (when we had intended to depart), and there were still two bands that I wanted to see – Dandi Wind and The Presets. The ‘technical’ difficulties delayed Dandi Wind by a good 20 minutes or so…but I'm glad we hung around. Like the deranged lovechild of Lene Lovich and Martin from Selfish Cunt, Ms Wind careered all over the stage shrieking into her mic like that little girl from The Exorcist, baiting the audience, crowd surfing (dangerous given the state of the crowd and the fact that she just wore a pair of black panties, the remains of some tights and a top held together with pins). There are tunes in there somewhere though too. Jolly good they are too. There’s one that goes a bit like ‘bom bom a bom a dingle ram a dam a ding dong’ which I really liked. But then I’m a little odd.

The Wind finished (with Ms Wind climbing a good 15ft up the stage rigging and leaving the mic wrapped up in its steely fingers) and the clock struck 3.50am. The Presets kit was still being loaded onto the stage and we faced the choice of catching the last of the taxis (they always seem to melt away at around 4am) or the first of the buses. I was up for the former but Lady Baron (who needs a good 15 hours sleep a night) had lost the will to live. So, it was a case of gone with The Wind (I didn't just write that did I?). Given the fact that I have to work for a living and really shouldn’t fall asleep at my desk too often, it was probably a wise move. If anyone was there for The Presets, let me know what they were like.

NB: Misty’s were as great as ever, but you know that already don’t you? Oneyesblue, Voodoo Jones and Osibisa all deserve honourable mentions too, but I didn’t see all of their respective sets…