Monday, December 31, 2007

This year ain't big enough for the both of us...

Another year nearly over (you could never accuse me of being anything less than astute n'est ce pas?). Time for the traditional look ahead slot (I say traditional...I've only done it once, but in the fast moving cyber world that's traditional enough in my book). I have to say I'm a bit stumped though. Looking back at my predictions for 2007...well the obvious ones kind of made it (The Twang, The View, Mika). Blood Red Shoes are still in with a shout for 2008...the rest have gone to the great bargain bin in the sky. Wiser people than me seem a bit stumped too, what with the music 'biz' fragmenting into more genres and channels than any sane being could possibly cope with. But what the heck. Here's a few 'just for fun' predictions to cut out and keep...why not stick 'em to your fridge and share them with your friends and family (probably 'cos you've got lives right?).

Duffy and Adele (that's two people) both seem to be heading for Winehouse-dom...hopefully without the drink, drugs and breakdowns...get well soon you lovely tattooed beehive whackjob. Anyway, Duffy is a bit Dusty as people have pointed out...and Adele has more of a bluesy thang going on. Stardom for the pair seems a dead cert.

Elle s'appelle have been attracting a fair old buzz on the grapevine and some of the cooler publications recently. They sound like Mates of State...but as few people have heard of them, that don't really help (listen to their 'Fraud in the 80's' track though...v. good). Think spikey powerpop and you won't go far wrong.

Late of the Pier have been on the Hearing Aid video player for weeks 'cos I love them (and I'm a lazy bastard). For my money they're the best new ravey/dancey lot around.

Foals...yes I know I'm playing it safe but this one could go either way. Maths rock (hell I'm just making this shit up) legends in the making.

Sparks (pictured above...nice shot guys)...yep...the same Sparks who've been around for more than 30 years. They're overdue a serious revival and, with an audacious plan to play all 21 of their albums live over 21 dates in London, this is the year.

Loads of bands from the Midlands. Partisan? Moi? Whether the rest of the world takes any notice or not we have some class groups around at the moment. It's hard to pick just a few but step forward Prospect Lane, Beestung Lips, Velvet Texas Cannonball, Destroy Cowboy, And What Will Be Left of Them?, The High Society, Guile, Miss Halliwell, Johnny Foreigner, The Dirty Backbeats, the Bourgeois Four and, of course, Vix n'the Kix to name just twelve of 'em, Oh, and Kate Goes too. And Misty's Big Adventure. Shit...and Reverie could I forget Reverie Strings? Oh, hang it all. If you see a local gig advertised, just go along. The chances are that, in any given bill, they'll be something to like/love or lust over.

Finally a few more generic (but still music related predictions). Zavvi (the store that was Virgin but should've been renamed Fucked...'cos it is) will close, leaving just HMV to shut the doors as the old fashioned record biz finally leaves the High Street.

NME will hype its last scene and retreat to the web (Artrocker is a much better read and - at £3.25 a month plus a cracking free CD - it's a whole heap cheaper too). After NME's gutter press Morrissey article (I'm a fan, but not a fanatic) I've stopped buying it and, with a court case looming over said article they'd be wise to shut up shop right now before they accuse Cliff of fisting ponies or something.

More and more bands will give away their recorded music, but ticket prices and the cost of merchandise will go up. Expect to see bands putting in more gigs than ever before too. It's where the moolah is now.

There'll be a festival every single bloody weekend. Some (the smaller ones) could be great. Others...I'm sorry but I'm looking at you Glasto...will smell a little off...and it's nothing to do with the toilets this time.

Well, that's it. 2008 here we come. It's good to know that the impending global economic meltdown will at least have a decent soundtrack. Hurrah! Three day weeks anyone?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The High Society / Trust My Dishonour / The First Seven Rainbow, Digbeth Friday 21st December 2007

Iiiiiiiiiiiiiittttttttttttttt's Chriiiiiiiiiiiiiiistmas!!!!!! My thanks to Noddy Holder for introducing this weeks Kamikaze! review. It is indeed Christmas and how better to celebrate the birth of little baby J than some ROCK! Yes ROCK! With a capital RRRRRR! This was probably the rockiest Kamikaze! so far and The First Seven kicked it all off with some fine QOTSA tinged tracks, a respectable amount of fret wanking and some nice slow build solos. Although they're all established musicians (being ex members of Honeyman and Blackballoon) this was only their second gig together and an impressive start. These guys can play.

Next up Trust My Dishonour, a harder, scuzzier breed of rock monster. Echoes of Skid Row perhaps (yes I am that old). Lead Dishonour Rob has the coolest mic in rock (a glorious 50's looking thing which takes a mighty verbal pounding), and makes a great frontman for the band's full on, bullshit free aural assault. Straight, no chaser.

Finally, The High Society (pictured)...featuring ex members of King Adora. I loved King Adora. I seem to remember that they had a link with a band called Twist (an all girl group who were seriously good back in the day...whatever happened to them?) and can vaguely recall some rather excellent sweaty gigs at The Flapper & Firkin. I even bought the CD. Anyway, that was then...what of now? Well dear readers I think we have an awesome one here. Vocalist Maxi Brown is becoming some kind of glorious glam Johnny Thunders kind of creature, they have a drummer who I could watch all night (put that guy at the front too!) and the rest of the band provide cock on, deep down n'dirty gutter rock (yes...that's 'cock on'). Imagine Marilyn Manson fucking the corpse of Marc Bolan...backed by a thousand sex dwarfs beating the hell out of sheet metal and guitars and you've got a vague idea of what it all sounds like. Of course it's easier to just listen to their My Space tracks but then I don't get to write the words 'sex' and' dwarves' or indeed imagine Marilyn Manson fucking the corpse of Marc Bolan. That's besides the point I guess. What matters is that you fall in love with The High Society today, get their name tattooed across your chest, drink a bottle of Jack and make mad passionate love to the first boy, girl or boy and girl you like the look of. Oh, and Happy Christmas by the way.

The Baron


Monday, December 17, 2007

Carina Round / Lupen Crook / Tom Bellamy Birmingham Bar Academy Monday 10th December 2007

She was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar...all will become clear later...which makes a change I guess. First up, local singer songwriter and his posse Tom Bellamy who has a clutch of rather top notch folk tinged tracks all rather well arranged and beautifully played. Astoria and The Striking both stood out for me in particular on the night and you can see what you missed by clicking on his name and checking out his My Space (see how good I am to you eh...all you have to do is click...think of all the effort I put in to this...I have to make at least three clicks).

Next up Lupen Crook and the Murderbirds (grrrrrr...imagine that eh...birds that murder people...I think pigeons would be up for that....they always look a bit they're packing heat under their dirty wings...crows are well scary too...the hit man of the bird world...robins would poison you I reckon...they'd lull you into a false sense of security with their pretty breasts then drizzle some polonium onto your cereal whilst you ain't looking...anyway...). A rare old mix of punk folk LC and the M are all sweet vocals one minute then all out shoutyness the next. They had a bloke who played a hub cap too. You don't see enough hub cap players these days. Bravo.

Right, I'll refer you back to the start of this review - which seems a lifetime ago to me, so god knows how you must feel. Yes, the first time I saw Carina Round she was literally working as a waitress in a cocktail bar...well, a Jazz Club (it was Ronnie Scott's on Broad Steeet, now the 'Rocket Club'...from jazz club to jizz club eh?) anyway, which is close enough. This was some time ago I'll grant you, but I can still recall being mightily impressed. The fact that she sang a cover version of The Associates track Party Fears Two (just go listen to and watch the's an awesome tune) cemented my affection. Then, after seeing her a couple of times, I somehow failed to follow her career as I should've done (that's me...a musical whore all over). I'm delighted to say that the Carina Round of 2007 is even better than the Carina Round of 1997. The same fire is still there but it's like a fine malt now...smoother, richer and altogether more satisfying. Unfairly, in my eyes at least, compared to PJ Harvey she's got more of a bluesy, almost gospel tinge to her voice, punctuated with primal screams of passion, rage and pain. Playing on her own (apart from a couple of tracks when she was joined by the lovely Chrissy Van Dyke) she kept the room enraptured for a good hour and a half (a real rarity these days).

She seemed genuinely moved that we were all there to see her in her home town (yes I know she's from Wolverhampton but we're all one big happy family in the Midlands eh?). A real contender for gig of the year, which, as it was my 98th (yikes!), is some accolade.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Scarlet Harlots / The Allies / Prospect Lane / The Bourgeois Four at The Rainbow Friday 14th December 2007

Despite suffering the mother (or father...hell...the mother, father, grandparents and kids...) of all man flus I made it down to The Rainbow just in time to catch The Bourgeois Four for my second viewing in as many months. Good enough to headline in my humble opinion, the B4 are serious contenders for one of my hottest bands in the Midlands slots. As I've said before they've got a wit and sparkle about them that gets me right between the eyes (and no, that's nothing to do with the man flu...did I mention I had man flu?). I had a moment to catch up with the lead singer after the gig and am pleased to report that they're busily writing new stuff for 2008 which I'm a gagging to hear. Check out their My Space page for three tracks of classic B4 and make it your New Year's Resolution to go and see them. I'm adding them to my list of bands to sign to my imaginary record label too...

Talking of my imaginary label, another band that features heavily on the roster is Prospect Lane. Able to do 'singalongs' like 'Fickle' just as well as the more reflective 'Ghosts' they're a class act that are just screaming out for a really fat stadium gig. Sure they can play the smaller venues but you just wrap your ears around a track like Isolation and imagine that bad boy thumping out of a million watt amp (I think that's a lot of watts...I was crap at Physics...). I'm listening to it now...seriously impressive stuff. Big, phat, meaty riffs then a slab of vocoder. You gotta love the vocoder. I'm a child of the 80's...despite what a lot of people say it was a bloody brilliant decade for music...and Prospect Lane bring a lot of what was and is great about it all right up to date. I'm afraid I know jack shit about promotions but what the hell is going on when a band plainly this good and with a wide appeal aren't blasting out of the nation's i-pods (other MP3 devices are available...but they ain't as good...cos i-pods are all shiny and stuff)? On an unrelated note I guess this is what Gigbeth should be for. A fucking great showcase for some fucking great bands. With a fucking huge stage right in the middle of town. And a massive fucking PA. Broadcast on TV. Not local TV but national TV. Live. In the summer. Not in November. Aaaaaaaaaagggghhhhhhhhhh! Anyway. Prospect Lane. I love 'em. I even warmed slightly to the 'contraversial' Alice Deejay cover of Better Off Alone. At the risk of sounding like some naff gossip correspondent I also had the chance to have a chat with lead singer Michael after the gig. Bloody nice bloke, genuine as hell and, as with the B4, busy writing new stuff for the New Year as well as recording with Gavin Monaghan (who's worked his magic with Editors).

Next up were The Allies. Another band that I've seen a few times this year and yet another band with real potential. Deservedly gathering a loyal following they share an energy and vibe with a certain group of cold loving simians (think about it...) on some tracks but add their own style on others which is where they really stand out. I'm not encouraging them to turn into The Pogues or anything, but the fiddle and accordian really suit the feel of the band (just listen to Ain't No Love Lost) and I'd love to see more of them. It shows off just what good musicians they are too. Back in the day the mighty Wonderstuff blended Celtic influences with sneering vignettes on modern life and I can really see The Allies taking a similar path. Now that would be something...

With the man flu rapidly draining what little life I had left in me The Scarlet Harlots (pictured)took to the stage. As the only band of the night that I'd not seen before they had the hardest job of all so I'm listening more to their My Space tracks to give me a better reflection of what they're like (cos I was drowning in mucus on the night...nice thought eh? Did I mention I had man flu?). It's a fascinating mix of influences, echoes of Tricky, Massive Attack, Asian Dub Foundation, The Libertines, Drum n' Bass, Ska, I say, one heck of a mix. It all seems to work really well through. I had trouble hearing the vocals on the night...but that may have been down to my man flu...hmmmmmm....yes...I'm getting it does work. Not straight away I'll grant need to get into the flow...but's there. Love that slightly dubby woohwoohwooh keyboard. The syncopation is all over the shop too, on a jazzy kind of tip, there's a post punk edge as well. It's sort of like the sound you'd get in a student house occupied by a rasta, an indie boy, a punk and jazz funkster. Rastindunazz then. Now that's a new genre for you. Did I mention I had man flu?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Destroy Cowboy / Grandscope / This Machine is Off / The Dogfight Revolution Rainbow Digbeth Friday 7th December 2007

Got a taxi down to the Rainbow tonight. Most unlike me, but we had guests (which is also most unlike me). The driver seemed to go via Gdansk to get there...which ain't the quickest way from Bearwood but there we go. He enjoyed himself. No matter, we still arrived in time for openers The Dogfight Revolution. Strangely they have no tracks on their My Space page which forces me to use what little memory I have left at my age to recall the details of the set. I can certainly see where they're going, tapping into earlier psych influences and 60's mysticism. They're a relatively young band and it's a tricky blend to get right. For me it worked best on Talk to Lucifer (see I can remember stuff so yah boo and sucks to you), which had some thermin...yes theramin! We like theramin. In fact I was referred to as a theramaniac. Which has quite a nice ring to it...well not so much a ring more a weeewoooooowooheeeeooo. If I had to offer some constructive advice I'd say 'wig out a bit more'. They've certainly got the talent for it. It would be bloody brilliant to get a real sitar in on the action too.

Next up This Machine is Off. Turns out it was some way off. Stuck on the motorway about 25 miles off in fact. Yes, our old friend Mr Friday Night Traffic decided to stick his oar in. Shame. TMIO sound pretty good, particularly the remixed shit. Check out the pkd breaks session on Their Space. Still the good folk of Kamikaze! have promised to try to get them back. Perhaps they should just stay in Birmingham now to be on the safe side?

Grandscope must hold the record for the most stuff ever on the Rainbow stage. I counted at least three keyboards, four guitars and a drum kit plus sundry electronic wizzardry. I like Grandscope. Birmingham needs a Grandscope. And we have one. Grandscope. That's not a review is it? Right. Well they've got a bit of Kraftwerk, a bit of At The Drive In, some Jazz Funk, a hint of A Certain Ratio (ask your Grandad), a dash of prog (ask your Great Grandad)...hell it's a melting pot of the good stuff (with a drizzle of the weird stuff for good measure). So, Grandscope then. Difficult to review. Bloody enjoyable to watch.

Last up headliners, and deservedly so, Destroy Cowboy. Just as good as the last time I saw them in the Barfly a few weeks ago, they've got some cracking tracks (christ I sound like an old Radio One DJ) that are just screaming out for a wider audience. Hey and 1000 Candles have hit written all over them. Andy actually sings like he talks too, I don't mean he goes around la la la-ing all day, he sings in his real voice, none of this mid Atlantic tosh. Which makes a huge difference. This band sound so right I can't believe they've not been snapped up yet. Still that's the music biz for you. Balls to it. I'll finance the fucking debut album and make millions whooohahahahah. How much do debut albums cost? Oh bugger...

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Marc Almond / Lee Griffith Birmingham Academy 2 Saturday 1st December 2007

As the time comes to start opening up the advent calendar once more (Mars celebrations this year since you ask) Santa Claus brings me an early present in the form of a rare gig by a longstanding musical hero - Marc Almond. First up though I got stuck into opener Lee Griffith. A self confessed 'gobshite' from Liverpool who was, two years ago living the straight life and is now 'out and proud', Lee's one of the most infectiously endering performers I've seen for years. Given his 'gobshiteness' I wasn't expecting much of a voice or lyrical content but he came across as a younger, Scousier John Martyn. There's a bunch of tracks on his My Space page but I'd say he's at his best live.

Marc Almond is probably the only artist I've followed pretty much for their entire career (which, being a musical whore like I am, is a miracle). Although very, very young when Soft Cell first hit the charts way back in '81 (1981, not old do you think I am?) I can remember loving Tainted Love from the very first listen. Since then of course he's done all kinds of weird and wonderful stuff that most people probably aren't aware of. Check out the album Mother Fist and Her Five Daughters (named after a Truman Capote short story) for some of his best work. Back in 2004 he fell off a motorbike and was critically injured. Few expected him to survive, but here he is, apart from a large dent in his head, seemingly as good as new and back to his bitchy best. He wasn't impressed with the Academy 2 (who is?) but put on exceptional performance (especially allowing for the cold that he was suffering from, poor dear) that took in most of his 27 year career. Inevitably one woman starting calling for Tainted Love after just one or two tracks. She was swiftly put in her place. The rest of the crowd lapped up everything he played though, including Lilac (awesome), Your Aura, The River, Mr Sad, Tears Run Rings, What and The Idol. Like I say, a pretty neat package of the hits and classics. It's the sixth time I've seen him as a solo artist and one of the best. The only minor quibble was the band. They played fine but some of his key material was recorded with classically trained musicians, real strings and brass. I missed that. A minor quibble however, especially considering that it's a miracle he can still breath unaided let alone tour. The star remains undimmed.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Chris Tye / Leitmotif / Jodi Lawrence / Vix n'the Kix The Rainbow Digbeth Friday 30th November 2007

Vix n'the Kix (pictured) could've been headliners this week (after all in terms of sheer superstardom Vix - with a clutch of top 10 indie and mainstream hits from her Fuzzbox days) is a bit of a legend. But they were on first. Not a problem as such, but they deserved a much bigger audience...people of Birmingham...this is a fine band. Wake up. Turn off 'I'm a Celebrity Pig Milker' and get your ass down to the next Vix n'the Kix gig.

The last (and only time) I'd seen them was at their second ever gig. They were good then, but after a year or so of gigging, writing and getting into the swing of things they've grown into a much more impressive and confident group. I bet the recent tour to the Middle East helped. Yes. The Middle East. Playing with Fun Lovin' Criminals no less. Impressive huh? Well, I think so. I also think the Vix n' the Kix album (due out in the Spring sometime) deserves some serious attention. I've no idea what tracks are going to be on it but If and Bye Bye have to feature. If kind of reminded me of Fleetwood Mac in places. The Stevie Nicks era obviously. Whilst Bye Bye is classix Fuzzbox for the 21st Century. What I like also like about the Vix n'the Kix is that they look good. I don't just mean sexy, sexy hubba hubba...but they look like a band. They have a clear, cool style. They make the effort, which, let's face it, few bands do these days...blokes in particular (looking like a builder in a shell suit ain't making an effort). Anyway, this is turning into a dissertation on pop fashions. Suffice to say, I love Vix n'the Kix and, if there is any justice in this mad, bad old world they will bestride the pop landscape like great big things that bestride stuff. So there.

Next up was Jodi Lawrence and her boys playing an acoustic set that really gave her fine voice the chance to do the talking...well, singing...oh you know what I mean. As a group they play together really well, pulling off some complex melodies. It's always tricky watching a set like this though, the venue and audience plays a huge role in helping (without wishing to sound wanky) you get 'into' the music (I sound wanky don't I?). Whilst most of the audience were attentive, it only takes a few chatterers to distract you. When there's a great big wall of rock coming from the stage this ain't a problem. But acoustic music demands a similarly gentle output from those endeth the lesson. Jodi and band are playing the BAFTA awards shortly which should give them some excellent, well deserved exposure.

Leitmotif followed. Listing Coldplay as an influence (not my favourite band but and let live eh?) made me a little nervy, but Leitmitif are a lot more whooooh and far less bombombombom. Which is a very good thing. Lead 'motif Chris' voice is perfectly suited to the material and with rockier tracks like High On Life and Don't Believe the Voices (which uses that signature Coldplay guitar sound pretty well) you can see them building a strong following.

Last up, Chris Tye. As with Jodi, Chris played a stripped back set which was always going to have to compete with the inevitable Friday night good time vibe. Chris has a sublime voice...gentle, slightly bluesy in places, and a fine set of songs. For me though the highlight of the set was an excellent cover of Robyn's 'With Every Heartbeat', one of those rare covers that's probably better than the original. Hat's off once more to Kamikaze! for putting on a good mix of styles in one night. The next few weeks sees the volume cranked up to 11 with Destroy Cowboy and This Machine Is Off (who sound dead ravey!) amongst a strong bill on the 7th. Mine's a vodka and coke...