Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster / The High Society / The Indigos @ The Rainbow, Saturday 20th December 2008

Mr Rock meet Mr Roll. Mr Roll, this is Mr Rock. Way back in the glorious technicolour 1950's this is, quite possibly, how the future of music began. Anyone who was at last night's show would have plenty of reasons to celebrate the meeting of Mssrs Rock and Roll (no, I have no real idea of what I'm blathering on about either but it's more fun that starting a review with 'First up the Indigos' though isn't it?). Oh. Alright then. First up The Indigos! I'd seen them once before - a solid performance with hints of brilliance. Tonight though, they nailed it. Pure and simple. No question. 100% musical gold. Quite how bands change in a matter of months is a question that scientists are working on right that Hadron Collider thingy...but sometimes it just happens. Deep, Zeppy riffs, dark bass, booming drums and Ian's (pictured below) suddenly quite ominous vocals (has he been gargling Satan's jizz?) all came together in one big tight package of ROCK. I hope the live recording of last night's show does justice to it all (Teeth and Play in particular were awesome). It's destined to go down as something special. Last time I thought The Indigos would just go on to be another good local band. Now, I really think they could be contenders...

Next a band that, if the world were a fairer place, would be busily bedding super models, selling out stadiums and hoovering up huge bags of coke in their own private jet - The High Society (pictured below). As it is we are genuinely lucky to have them around. Watching them last night I imagine you'd have got the same sense of excitement from watching, say, the New York Dolls back in the early days...or Iggy and The Stooges. Yes, they are that good. It's strange that so many people only really get excited about bands when the media is salavating all over them. It's oh so safe to pitch up at the LG (Lord God help us all) Arena and watch some big overhyped tosh for £30 a ticket plus booking fee plus tosh tax plus delivery charge plus plus plus...blah blah blah...but so much of the best, most exciting music is being made in much smaller venues by bands like The High Society. If you wanted to create the perfect glam rock supergroup you'd struggle to beat The High Society. Maxi B is a rock superstar. Drummer Ash (who's also in the Black and Reds) is the best drummer I've seen in 20 years of gigging and Martyn, Topper and Glen look, sound and complete the dream line up. I'm in love. The set was fast and furious, like fucking up an alley...and every bit as satisfying. Revenge, The Stripper, Bettie is a Pin-up...bang, bang, bang. It feels good. Maxi ended by tossing his mic into the audience as if to say over to you...think you can do better? No one picked it up. No one could.

After all that the headliners had a tough job to do. But that's the thing about great gigs. Each band inspires the rest. The night just keeps building and The Eighties B-Line Matchbox Disaster finished the job off before (almost literally) destroying the place. I'd not seen them before. I'd only heard a few tracks...Mister Mental in particular stood out. Musically they're goth rock with added -abilly (that'll be gothrockabilly then). It's a curious mix in places but it just works brilliantly. Within the first few notes a good natured mosh pit had broken out and this continued through the entire set. Moshing (basically shoving each other around, bouncing about and trying not to break a limb) must look quite odd if you're not involved in it. I have to admit it is a little odd, but it actually enhances the music, adding the physical to the aural and visual experience. That's my justification for behaving like an overgrown teenager...and I'm sticking to it. A decent pit looks after each other (picking up the dead and dying from the floor) and not banging into anyone who doesn't want to get involved. That seemed to be the case last night. The band themselves were...and I hate to use that word again...awesome. Lead Box, Guy, regularly flung himself into the pit of bodies (singing all the way) only to emerge slightly more bedraggled each time back on stage, whipping the crowd up into even more of a frenzy. He's got a bit of a Pete Murphy (Bauhaus) touch to his vocals in places one minute, then a growling yelp the a possessed high priest of rock. The rest of the band meanwhile, grind out one punishing slab of noise after the next. Kaboom. Last night's set contained (amongst many other classics) In The Garden, Love Turns to Hate, Mission From God, A Man For All Seasons, Mister Mental...just perfect musical madness (you can check out most of these on their MySpace page). I'm bruised, one of my vertabrae is in a slightly different place and I can still taste the sweat, but then that's what Mr Rock and Mr Roll would've wanted eh?

Happy Christmas dear readers!


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Envy & Other Sins / The Heathers / Mr Bones and the Dreamers / Tom Peel @ The Rainbow, Digbeth Thursday 18th December 2008

My oh my....Christmas is taking it's time this year isn't it? Happily we have the annual Envy & Other Sins Christmas bash to keep us all going - a musical figgie pudding (whatever that is). First up Tom Peel. Last time I saw him I was very, very drunk. This time I was (sensible chap that I am) very, very sober. Would it take the edge off? Not a bit of it. Tom's a delight. Like a Lonnie Donnegan for the 21st Century (and boy does the 20th Century need a Lonnie Donnegan). Folk, bluesy tales of biblical bods and a ukelele...only Tom could make it work. But work it does.

Next up the 7 headed hydra that is Mr Bones & The Dreamers. There's a magic ingredient here. Like the sixpence in a Christmas pud (or should that be 0.2 wait...0.1 bugger) the hidden treat in Mr Bones is the violin! Oh yes. I do love a bit of fiddling and, whilst the rest of the band make a mighty fine noise, the violin is the fairy on the tree (feeling Christmassy enough yet?). Stylistically there's a bit of The Levellers, Waterboys and The Decemberists - anthemic stomp alongs with more thoughtful lyrics than your average bear. Lead Bone, Ryan, has a fine voice too, almost choral in places tonight and it all rocked along jolly well.

Third band of the night were the all new and improved Heathers (now with added Rachel!). Having split with Dave, their former lead singer, Rachel - regularly seen (wo)manning the doors at the weekly 444 Club stepped up to da mic. This was their first show together so you might expect it to be a bit shakey. But it weren't. Rachel has the voice, the moves and a rather sassy stage presence. Hell, this was their FIRST gig together! Colour me impressed. Shades of The Cardigans, Edie Brickell (according to Lady B) and (the late, great) Beautiful South in other words clever, catchy pop that many bands would give a kidney for. I'll be fascinated to see how they develop from here...

Finally, the main event, Envy & Other Sins. After winning C4's new band contest thingy and a £1m record deal the 'NME' turned against the group and went all sniffy. But then, the NME today is a sad shadow of it's former self - a tired comic that's full of posters, ads, letters about how one band is 'like well shite' and another is 'ohmigodsoamazin' and very little else. I stopped buying it (having been an avid reader for 20 years) after they tried to attack Morrissey again for no good reason (I believe he's in the process of suing them...good). Anyway, the point is that (there is a point here somewhere), Envy & Other Sins were a darn fine band before the contest (I ranted about them on this very site a couple of years back) and are every bit as good today. I'm not a fan of talent contests, but I recognise their appeal to viewers and participants. To diss anyone purely for winning one of these shows is a very, very bad thing. Envy deserved to win and they deserve to 'make it'...whatever that means these days. Highness is a cracking track. Genius indie pop. They have style, grace and flair (plus rather nice standard lamps and a stuffed pheasant). And they seem to be genuinely nice chaps. Whatever happens record label and press wise they must...stick two fingers up and do their thing. If the internet is doing one thing it's gradually rubbing out the mass media and putting some vague degree of power in the hands of the public. The mass media don't like this. It's a clear case of envy...and other sins. No Prodigal Son tonight, but a lovely cover of Jona Lewie's Stop The Cavalry more than made up for it. I can feel my bells start to jingle right now...

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Puppini Sisters (and a rant or two) @ The Town Hall, Birmingham, Wednesday 10th December 2008

I really, really want to like the Town Hall. Really I do. It's a magnificent building, one of the few remains of our once great city. But it just lacks something. Every gig I've been to there feels like a school assembly. I assume the seats come out and maybe they've done some standing gigs there already. Maybe that would help? Certainly tonight would've benefitted from being able to stand and jiggle around a little. I had audience issues ( it just me?) tonight too. Namely four women in front of us. Row D seats 2,3,4 and 5 if you're reading. Yes. You. No it is not alright to lean across your mates during the gig cackling and chatting. Nor is it okay to start texting people in the middle of a gig. Clearly you don't get out much. That's a shame but, given your selfish behaviour and clear disregard for anyone who had come to listen to the band - and not your shrieking - maybe that's a good thing n'est ce pas? Next time stay at home please and watch Little Dorrit, X Factor or whatever it is that people like you do when you're not irritating the fuck out of me.

Anyway. The music. The Puppini Sisters are a wonderfully entertaining trio of ladies who 'swing up' all manner of modern (and ancient) tracks. Last time I saw them at The Glee Club (a much better venue for them) they were able to connect with each other (and the audience) far more successfully. Tonight, spread out across the large stage area, it was a lot harder to get the closeness that brings the whole thing to life. Actually they are far more suited to some dark, velvet lined bar with an intimate layout, loads of candles and a nice bottle or two of claret. They'd have been perfect at Ronnie Scotts (RIP) on Broad Street for example. There's some Big City Plan going on in Birmingham at the moment. Much to my shame I haven't really bothered to find out about it all. I think it's something to do with making Birmingham the city it could (and should be). More 'interesting' venues is a must. Bollocks to noise pollution. The city needs more venues. Let's convert the old derelict buildings that lie all over the place. Spend some of the £65million wasted on the Public and give artists, performers and budding business folk subsidised space. Pedestrianise Digbeth High Street (from the Rainbow downwards) divert the traffic down the sidestreets and make Digbeth the artistic centre is deserves to be. Get the tram system going. It ain't difficult. It ain't complicated. It doesn't need a ten year debate. Just wake up and do it. Hmmmm...this is less of a review and more of a rant today isn't it? Oh well. After the break the four 'people' in front of us seemed to lose the will to live (maybe they realised they couldn't vote anyone off?) and gave up gabbling to each other. The sound quality seemed better too and the night redeemed itself - just. It wasn't the Sisters fault. They were, as ever, superb. It just didn't suit them. Maybe The Old Rep would make a better setting next time. Or how about The Electric Cinema? The Glee's fine too. As for The Town Hall...I want it to do well but I'm not sure what the answer is. Maybe its just not for me...

Monday, December 08, 2008

TV On The Radio / The Big Pink @ The Academy 2, Sunday 7th December 2008

Boo! Hiss! Damn Sunday gigs. In the middle of Winter too. The temptation to sit at home in the warm watching the Antiques Roadshow and supping a litre of Port is oh so strong. But - being pure rock n'roll - I squeezed myself into the old thermal cod piece and - stopping briefly for a rather fine hot apple and rum at the quieter bit of the German market (just in front of the library) - got to the venue a good hour or so before the start of the gig...plenty of time to soak in the atmosphere...and stick to the floor.

First up, The Big Pink. Blending the Jesus and Mary Chain - driving, fuzzy guitars ahoy - with a distinctly Glasvegas feel The Pink seemed a little subdued and miserable at first but soon hit their stride, peaking on their final track Dominoes...which I actually really liked. There's a nice contrast going on in there between the male and female vocalists and the addition of some dark electronica make them well worth a listen. Their MySpace page has to be seen to be believed...but it er...seems to feature young boys with hard ons (oh...that's why they're called The Big Pink...) and a - I can only presume - made up tale of abduction and murder. Not quite sure what's going on there but I'm sure it's all in the name of art young boys were harmed in the making of the site right?

Moving swiftly on, tonight was all about the men themselves TV On The Radio. They've been on and off my radar for a few years now but tracks from the current album, Dear Science (in particular Golden Age - like Prince with a hard on - and Dancing Choose) put them firmly in my sights (musically speaking...I'm not about to pop a cap in anyone's ass). I was ready for a good gig but hadn't realised just how darn funky they can get. Then again they can go a bit metal too. And soul. Rap too. Oh...shoegaze even. It's like a musical pick and mix. A living breathing record collection of someone with real taste. One of the lead vocalists,Tunde, has to be a strong competitor for the hardest working man in showbusiness. Twitching and grooving across the stage like a man possessed he was drenched in sweat after the first number and kept it up (oooer missus...) all the way through a glorious 90 minute set. The other main vocalist, Kyp, reaches the kind of high notes that the even Bee Gees would kill for. Together the harmonies can be simply awesome. Even the venue (the 'Academy' '2') and the bleeding cold couldn't stop it from being a great night. Influences? Hmmm, loads. But I was hearing Outcast and Living Colour in there with a dash of Yeasayer, a bit of Scissor Sisters...all kinds of great shit. They have to be strong competitors for one of the best live acts of the year and are not to be missed if you have a chance to catch 'em live. They're playing over in Australia in January - I might pop over. It would actually be worth the effort.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Release Roundup December

As Birmingham's number one music related site...uh...oh...alright then, Bearwood's number one music related site, I'm in the enviable position of being sent all manner of musical goodies from lovely record labels and their equally lovely PR type people. It's a music lovers (and cheapskates) dream I tell ye. There's been a veritable flurry of stuff recently, so here's my pick of the bunch.

First up - and a truly big deal for anyone with even a passing interest in late 70's / early 80's industrial electro - the return (after a decade away) of Sheffield's mighty wizards of sound, Cabaret Voltaire (pictured)! Oh yes. Well, not strictly a true return. The new release is a remix project, taking Maori dubsters Kora's latest album and cutting it up with a bucket load of old skool industrial tunage (yes, tunage). On the whole it's a pretty successful mix, still dub heavy but with now with a darker dance edge. Whoohahahahah. Top tracks Skankenstein and Burning work particularly well. Gutted I missed Kora when they played in Brum last month 'cos they sound awesome, but the press release promises a Cabaret Voltaire tour in the new year. Perhaps they can hook up as joint headliners? Just a thought. Anyways up, the album's out on the 15th December (the perfect pressie for your industrial dub lovin' Auntie know how she loves her dub...she's a bitch for that dub...remember her Lee Scratch Perry knickers?) on Shiva Records.

Next hotly tipped deck abusers Cassette Jam with no less than four mixes of their new track Don't Lose Control, a dirty electro banger that's destined to end up on more than one or two trendy dance comps next year. Fans of Erol Alkan and Kavinsky will love it. Get ahead of the Jones' and pick up the original - it's out now on Pieces Of Eight Records (for the record - pieces of eight or otherwise - my favourite mix is the Loose Cannon's one - sounds like Flat Eric on acid. Niiiiiiice).

Finally - for now - the return of Plump DJ's with the frankly vocodatastic Beat Myself Up. Featuring the catchy line 'I keep on fucking thiiiings up' (don't we all?) it too has a distinct Flat Eric vibe (that armpit squelchy bass bit), mixed up with naggingly catchy Jacques Le Cont style electro madness. It comes with an acapella version of the vocader bit which is strangely addictive...I think newsreaders should have to use a vocader to read the news. The world might be as depressing as a night out with Cheryl Cole / Tweedy / Cole (who curiously seems to be attaining the level of adoration normally reserved for people who discover a cure for cancer whilst rescuing an old lady and her cat from a burning tree) but it would sure sound as funky as hell. Beat Myself up is out on Finger Lickin' Records on 26th January 2009. That's nearly two months away...ha...munch on that scenesters!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Shit and Shine / The Courtesy Group / Mills & Boon @ The Rainbow, Monday 1st December 2008

Itttttt's Chrissssssstmas!!! Well, nearly. So what better way to celebrate than a bit of meat inspired madness courtesy of our old friends Mills & Boon. No masks this time round (maybe they were in awe of Shit and Shine's) but plenty of tunes to get Linda McCartney spinning in her grave. They kind of reminded me of a cross between System Of A Down and Jethro Tull tonight. Don't ask me why. I have no answers. That's Google you want there...or those annoying 18188811888 people.

Next up, and a band who no doubt have many answers, The Courtesy Group. Whether he's playing to a bloody great warehouse full of people or a more select gathering Mr Courtesy himself, Al, always gives it some welly. He wore a rather fetching nylon dressing gown tonight, the sort favoured by grannies, and did plenty of his trademark wandering around the room bellowing his cut up words of wisdom at folk. In a better world The Courtesy Group would be feted by the tastemakers. I only hope that their forthcoming album hits the spot and gives them the respect they're due. Despite hearing Brick House Blues a million times I still loves it, especially the way it goes all deedoodeedeedoodoodoo. That's a particularly good bit. They played a splendid version of The New Beef tonight too (imagine The Small Faces on crack)...possibly in honour of Mills & Boon (it's a whole meat thing you see). I believe Al lives in Bearwood too - God's own country - which makes The Courtesy Group my 'local' band. Hurrah!

Finally, Shit and Shine. I've seen a lot of bands in my time. Oh so many bands. Yet only one band has ever done an entire set of just one track. That honour belongs to Shit and Shine. For the uninitiated the band consists of two guitarists who wear blue masks and bunny rabbit ears (think the Blue Man Group crossed with that strange creature from Donnie Darko). They have drummers too. Three tonight but I've heard tales of up to 20. Oh...there's a chappie with an oscillator (email me the correct spelling and I'll send you some fudge...not really...not unless you want some which case you can damn well buy it yourself) box too. But he seemed very very verrrrrrryyyyy drunk. The drummers all played the same drum beat over and over and over and over and over and over and over get the picture. The blue guitar bunnies tortured their instruments and Mr Drunk Oscillator man wibbled a lot. It was all rather strange but, after the first 15 minutes, quite hypnotic too. Like being in a womb...albeit a womb inhabited by terrifying blue bunnies, drummers and drunk blokes. You know, we need more groups like Shit and Shine. I'd like to see them on X Factor. It's the kind of music we need in 2008. Nightmareish but sort of reassuring at the same time. Everything's turning to shit, but shit can still shine. We are the world. We are the Children. We are the ones who make a brighter day so let's start singing...and shitting. I can't think of anyone that they sound like...but they've got a bit of a Krautrock feel. They also skin their fans and hang their hides on the wall. I'd like to think so anyway. Oh, I liked the bit when one of the blue bunny men seemed to stamp on the drunk dudes head then jam him down the gap between the stage and the wall too. Nice touch. Shit and Shine then. Loud. Repetitive. And blue.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Baby Dee / Paul Curreri / Black Carrot @ The Glee Club, Thursday 27th November 2008

Other worldly. That's the best way to describe tonight's gig. And, I have to say, it's a world I'd much rather live in. It might scare the bejesus out of me at times but it is, at its heart, really a much saner place than the one most of us inhabit right now n'est ce pas? Oh...R.I.P Woolies by the way. As the place that got me started on my musical journey some time back in 1977 (with a 99p Hot Hits tape featuring the tunes of the day covered by various session musicians...hey, give me a break...99p was a lot of money to a 7 year old) I shed, mentally at least, a tear when the death knell was finally tolled. Where this leaves Zavvi (who, I believe, get most of their stock through Woolies distribution arm) only remains to be seen. Anyway, back to the altogether nicer business of the music and, first up, Black Carrot. Tapping into influences as diverse (and downright brilliant) as Robert Wyatt, Captain Beefheart and (in my tattered head at least) X-ray Spex (the horns...listen to the horns) they are the very soundtrack to your nightmares. Lead Carrot, Stewart, in particular has the kind of vocal delivery that could terrify young children (and maybe a few grown ups too) into soiling themselves. This is a very good thing. As I often blab on about, the beauty of music, in all its crazy mixed up diversity, is that it can create such incredible emotions. It takes you places you didn't know existed and Black Carrot make excellent tour guides in a world filled with insane jazz bands, surreal landscapes and lashings of Pilsner Urquell. Go investigate and send me a postcard...carrot shaped naturally.

Next Paul Curreri, whose name I was familar with but, as with so many artists (so much good stuff, so little time...sigh...), I just hadn't got round to checking out. There's a hell of a lot of singer songwriters out there but, from the very first strum, Paul established that special link with the audience that marked him out as something different. It could be the beard (I'm a sucker for beards)but vocally tonight he reminded me a little of a younger (and less grizzled) Seasick Steve (just check out The Wasp...can't you just see Steve playing this?). Like SS he's got that sort of delivery that makes you think singing and playing music is as natural as breathing to him. Even if you only has a passing interest in the newly resurgent Americana or Folk scenes, Paul's an essential listen (I can heartily recommend the bluesy new album The Velvet Rut as an excellent starting point too).

Finally, the lady herself, Baby Dee. Readers of a certain age may well be expecting a quick burst of Let Me Be Your Fantasy here, but this is an altogether different kind of Baby Dee. There can't be too many transgender harp players out there. This alone makes Baby Dee unique. But her playing, vocal delivery, material and warm, self depreciating personality are every bit as special. Hailing from Ohio (hello out there the Bobby Dazzler) she has an operatic quality to her voice that wavers from frail old lady to feisty sea dog. If all this sounds a little extraordinary - it is. I'm in awe of anyone who can play the harp (the guitar looks tricky to me but the many strings has that thing got?), but Dee plucks, whacks and teases something quite magical from hers. Coming onstage in a pair of well worn DM's, quickly discarded to reveal black stockened feet, and with a shock of red hair piled on her head, Dee's an arresting and truly unique artist. Many of the songs concern change, lost (or unrequited love) Not quite sure where the third of these themes comes from but I'm not one for overanalysis. A lot of it is intense, heartbreaking stuff. As a fan of Anthony & The Johnsons and, of course, Marc Almond, I was quite at home with all this. Many people won't be. It's their loss. Tonight was a pure harp set but check out her Myspace page and you'll hear a lot more of the piano material - equally engaging but there's something about the purity of the harp that really suits Dee's style. All in all an extraordinary, and quite beautiful, evening.

Before I go a quick mention for Coventry's Tin Angel Records, to whom all three artists are 'signed'. Any label that releases such a range of unique material deserves investigation and - more importantly - support. Go give 'em some love.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A-Skillz...true happiness is just a beat away.

So...the government just needs to find the odd £100billion to dig us all out of the shit then eh? Maybe the banks could sort 'em out? Oh. Good point. Hmmmm...well, in the absence of any kinda future at least we still have our tunes and, like some kind of musical saviours, A-Skillz and Krafty Kuts are just about to release the perfect track for our deeply troubled times - Happiness. Kickin' off with a 1930's style jazz dude and some darn funky horns, before unleashing all manner of breakbeat madness, we're reminded that 'money won't bring happiness'. How true. It does, in the words of Quentin Crisp, buy a better class of misery, but we'll gloss over that. From start to finish the whole track's as catchy as man flu, but oh so much more fun. I'd just love to see ol' Gordon Brown step up to the mic next time he's going to do one of his fascinating speeches and, instead, just bring on a huge beatbox and play this track. It's 3minutes and 29seconds of pure meaty beaty medicine for a sick nation and I prescribe an extra large dose to all concerned...especially you...yes you...the one with the Primark jumper on. What were you thinking dear?

As an added bonus there's two other tracks, Got The Rhythm and the BeardyMan Bonus, both of which bring the sound of the Godfather of Soul himself, Mr James Brown, screaming into the 21st Century. For the uninitiated, Beardy Man is the beatboxers beatboxer. A true master of the mouth and, by all accounts, a lovely - if slighty eccentric - chap. Despite being in his hometown of Brighton for the last two Great Escapes I've missed his live show, so this will have to do until next year. Third time lucky perhaps? Of the two Beardy tracks, the BeardyMan Bonus (an improv based on Beardy Man conquering the universe through 'the power of stupid noises') is the best. Just check out the beatboxing section towards the end of the track. How the funk does so much come out of one little orifice?

Happiness is out on the 8th December on Finger Lickin Records, but you lucky peeps can check it out at A-Skillz' MySpace thingamajig right now. Happier now? Good.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Monotonix / Mirror! Mirror! / The Black & Reds @ The Rainbow, Wednesday 12th November 2008

This is what makes life worth living you know. Fuck the credit crunch, global warming, work, bills, the shitty weather, war, disaster...tearing a hole in your favourite pair of jeans...nah...fuck all that...for just a few short, beautiful hours gigs like this make you forget all the crap. It began with the Black & Reds. Featuring Ash 'Black' (drummer with the frankly awesome High Society) and Greg 'Red' (who I believe plays in a band called Dizzy Lizzy) they dished out a good half dozen of the dirtiest hot rock classics I've heard in ages. Ash is scrap that...he is the best drummer I have ever seen in 20 years of going to gigs (sorry Budgie). At one point he tucked one his drumsticks under his arm so he could smooth back his hair but still managed to make it sound like he was playing with two sticks. That's not possible. Has he sold his soul to the Devil? Is Ash the new Robert Johnson? And get this. He plays STANDING UP. Whilst singing. And still looking like the coolest fucker on the planet. Greg's the perfect partner too, teasing one perfect rock riff from his guitar after another. In fact I can't imagine a better partnership. AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Screaming Jay's all in there and it's...just...fucking...brilliant.

Next up, Mirror! Mirror! Obviously a totally different style, but still bringing that sense of energy that changes a humble gig into an event. Gang of Four meets The Foals (with a bit of PiL thrown in for good measure) they're an twitchy ball of musical magic. Dancey, funky...simply the sound of now. It seems like they're recording soon too. I'd put a fiver on them being all over what's left of the music press by this time next year.

Right. Now this is when things got a bit messy. It's not often that I 'lose' myself in the moment but, for the whole of Monotonix's 25 odd minute set I was somewhere else. Call it a higher plain. Off my face. High on life. Whatever. Not since seeing Selfish Cunt a few years back has a set been so full of 'what the fuck's going to happen next' moments. For the uninitiated amongst you, Monotonix is a garage rock band from Tel Aviv. That's Tel Aviv in Israel. I'm not too familiar with the Tel Aviv music scene but I'm guessing that Monotonix aren't your typical local band. I don't really want to describe the set. It's like describing sex. You're better off doing it, rather than reading about it. But, for the sake of getting something down for posterity, it featured beer, cider, water...whatever fluids were handy really...being sprayed all over the band...who set up in the middle of the floor...not the stage...the floor. The lead singer spent most of the set being carried around by some of the crowd (me included) whilst playing drums...which were also being carried around by other members of the crowd. I got a snog (well a kiss...or maybe he was just trying to headbutt me...not sure) off the lead singer. At one point the drummer was buried under a piece of red carpet, then brought back from the dead. And whilst all of this mayhem was going on they even managed to play music (think Gogol Bordello meets Fucked Up). Darn fine it was too. Like I say, you can't do it justice. Suffice to say it was simply one of the most spectacular gigs of all time. Anyone got any jobs going in Tel Aviv?

NB: Respect due to Wag from Beestung Lips for playing some cracking tunes in between sets and to Kamikaze's Carlo and George for having the balls to put this gig on (oh...and Greg too for the tip off).

Neon Neon / Yo Majesty @ The Glee Club, Monday 10th November 2008

Another gig at The Glee Club. And another cracker (well, it is nearly Christmas after all). First up a band I wrote about some time ago and have been aching to see (yes, aching) ever since...Yo Majesty! Fronted by Shunda K and Jwl. B and produced by Hardfeelings they're the freshest thing in female rap since Salt got her thang goin' on with Pepa. Openly lesbian, their lyrics are often (knuckle) deeply sexual. Kryptonite Pussy anyone? Oh go on then, I'll have a mouthful. It sure makes a refreshing change from much of the dull, dull, dull 'bitches and bling' male dominated rap scene so beloved of hoodies with those shitty mobile phones who sit on the top decks of buses all day long going round and round. Stuff Maths, French and about teaching frickin' musical appreciation in schools eh? Anyway, back to the good stuff. Yo Majesty are one of the most exciting live rap acts I've ever seen (and have probably ever existed). Anyone who can get me screaming 'Fuck That Shit' at the top of my voice in a packed Glee Club on a dank Monday night deserves my undying devotion. Crunk, electro, booty shaking bass and loads of effing and jeffing all delivered at the speed of light with a large slab of sass...hmmmm yes. In a word...majestic.

Next up, and rapidly becoming my favourite Welshman, Gruff Rhys' latest project, Neon Neon. Basing an entire album (loosely) on the life and times of disgraced motor manufacturer John De Lorean (you know, the man behind the iconic Back to The Future car) might not seem like the most obvious career move. But, remarkably, Gruff and partner Boom Bip, have turned in one of 2008's finest albums. It's 80's pop gold, delivered in Gruff's beautifully laid back vocal. There's more though. Cate Le Bon (nothing to do with Simon), Shunda K and...oh yes...HAR MAR SUPERSTAR are also in on the act. Oh sweet lord I have died and gone to heaven. Between them they delivered the entire album against a backdrop of Tron style 80's graphics. It made me feel 10 all over again. If you've not heard any Neon Neon cop a load of their MySpace tracks. Start with I Told Her On Alderaan and then try Raquel...the seemingly true story of De Lorean's fling with Miss Welch. Why this album lost out at The Mercury awards I'll never know. Still, just like Mr De Lorean's motor car, true genius often takes a few years to be fully appreciated eh?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Dr Dog / Wye Oak @ The Glee Club, Monday 3rd November 2008

Into 'The Studio' at The Glee Club for this one. It's an intimate little venue with no stage, just a patch of floor at the front of the room. I rather like it though. It's like being in the band without having to do all the singing/playing and living in motels stuff. Anyway...first up 'quiet/loud, then quite quiet then really loud and bangy again', merchants Wye Oak all the way from Maryland (where the cookies come from...possibly). They're a two piece with vocalist Jenn providing nicely floaty vocals and drummer Andy beating the bejesus out of his drum kit. I like the quiet/loud thing. They kinda reminded me a little of Two Gallants...drawing you along in a mind drift of contemplation then smashing you round the head with a blizzard of noise. Listen to their track Please Concrete and you'll hear what I mean.

Headliners, Dr Dog, are no strangers to the odd blizzard of noise themselves...albeit it a more psych/rock kind of noise. Like The Beatles, The Byrds or The Band (other bands beginning with B are available from all good retailers)? Well, hell, you'll love Dr Dog. Masters of the three part harmony they've been around for a few years now but really seem to be hitting their stride on new album 'Fate'. 'Hang On' in particular is just lovely. Dr John meets The Beach Boys - it's a bit boogie woogie, a bit slide guitar, a bit rock, a bit country, a bit gospel...and those harmonies. Oh yes. I'm getting moist. Live, they're a formidable prospect. One of the lead vocalists...Taxi he seems to be called...bopped around like a man possessed. But the whole band did the biz. Love the bearded bass player...they sound like he looks...and he looks like they sound. They only played two dates in the UK so we were lucky to get them here in Birmingham and, whilst the venue wasn't massive, I think they won over every single one of us. You should've heard the 'appaws' (applause...paws..appaws? oh please yerselves).

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Cats all folks.

Yes, you can forget the X Factor, US Election, Strictly Come Dancing other competition. The one that's got the whole world talking reached its dizzying climax just moments ago when Lady Baron folded up little bits of paper and shoved 'em down the side of the sofa (we couldn't find a hat). Yes, it's the Catskills double album and frisbee competition thingy results doo dah! The winners were, in no particular order...Holly, Irena and The Bobby Dazzler. Congratulations to all concerned and a big thank you to the 26,567 other people who entered. I was delighted to see that over 10% of my readership took the time to enter. It makes this blogging business worthwhile.

Coming soon...your chance to win an Aston Martin (hint hint to the good folk at Aston Martin) and bag yourself a date (and possibly a dose of the clap) with Russell Brand!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Allies / Mr Derry / The Jaayz @ The Rainbow, Friday 31st October 2008

Woooooh spooky. Yes, it's Halloween once more. A night when the undead rise up and walk the earth, dripping bodily fluids, a-wailing and a-screeching. But enough about Broad Street, we were once more at The Rainbow for Kamikaze's 444 Club Halloween Special. First up, and nothing like the undead, the lovely Jaayz, who had even gone to the trouble of carving their own pumpkin. The only band on the bill that I'd not seen before, they have a Killers-ish edge top some of their tracks (check out Rewind on their MySpace) and a nice indie pop feel - the sort of band that would've release hand decorated 7 inch singles back in the day. They must also be the only band in the world to have written a track inspired by Duncan Goodhew (who seemingly chastised the lead singer for splashing about in a pool). They succeeded in chilling me out and cheering me up after a truly hellish week (hmmm...hellish week...Halloween...maybe there's some truth in all this hobgoblin business), so full marks and a bucket of bat wings all round.

Next up and fist me sideways...actually don't do would sting...yes, it's Mr Derry! I love Mr Derry. Lead Derry, Joni, has a wicked (oh dear god...I've turned into Normski) blues voice and is capable of belting out tracks without losing any of the emotion or subtleness that marks out a truly great vocalist. They even succeeded in making that Kings of Leon track (the one about the Bucket) sound good (I'm not a big fan of the KoL...and they, I am sure, probably don't have pictures of me on the wall of their trailer either). Check out Mr Derry's debut single 'Goodnight' and you can see (well, hear) why they're attracting plenty of good press. It seems that they've just won the Jack Daniels Unsigned Award thingy too. Quite right. Tonight the blokes in the band even went to the trouble of dressing up in full Ghostbusters uniforms (complete with homemade ectoplasm collecting backpacks). It's indicative of the kind of effort they put into their performance and they genuinely seemed to be loving it up there. If there were any record labels left I'd urge them to sign Mr Derry right now. As there aren't, you'll just have to go and see 'em live instead. Or start one of your own...I'm sure the banks would love to lend you a couple of quid...after all they've got the odd trillion sloshing around now.

Last, but by no means least, a band who you can't see live ever again. Cos they've split up. Yes, boo hoo...The Allies are no more. This is a real shame. Yes, they've clearly been influenced by other bands (The Libertines and The Arctic Monkeys spring to mind), but they always put their own touch on stuff and played their hearts out. The Celtic twist on No Love Lost marked them out as something different too and I'd have loved to see a little more of their Irish roots (I'm assuming they have Irish roots) in their music. That's all history now, but last night was a triumph for them. The place was packed, it seemed like most of the audience knew every word and it felt like a show by a band with a dozen albums behind them. Why the split? Search me. I hope they regroup, maybe change direction a little, take some time out, rediscover what they clearly love about performing and come back. I don't know why, but I have the feeling that this isn't the last we'll see of The Allies (in one form or another). Whooohahahahahah(that's me doing a spooky Halloween laugh...yes, I do need to get out more).
PS: Yes, that is the worst photo to ever appear on this blog. I blame Satan and all his little devil friends.

Friday, October 24, 2008

It's competition time! Win Catskills 1st XI Goodies!!

Those lovely, lovely people at Catskills have kindly donated three copies of their frankly essential new album Catskills 1st XI together with...wait for it...a highly collectable and darn fun Catskills frisbee! That's Christmas sorted for me then. What? Oh...I'm supposed to give them away? Really? Can't I wrap them up and give them to various family members thus saving me some serious wedge? Oh...alright then. You lucky, lucky people have the chance to win the album that's been described as 'contender for compilation of the year' me...and I know what I'm talking about. Ahem. Anyway...I'm not just going to give this stuff away to the first people to email me...oh no...ya gotta work for it by answering a tricky question. Ready? Which soul legend sang on the Hardkandy track 'Advice'? Was it:

(a) Terry Christian

(b) Terry Callier


(c) Terry's Chocolate Orange

See, told you it was tricky. Email your answer to by Saturday 1st November together with your address. The first three names out of the hat win the goodies.

Glenn Tilbrook / Emily Maguire @ The Glee Club, Tuesday 21st October 2008

This was another one of a growing number of standing gigs at The Glee. My last one, Duffy, was less than impressive (no support act, too many people, poor view, no hope of getting served at the bar etc etc) but tonight was far more enjoyable. For starters it wasn't rammed and, despite a numpty who seemed to take offence at me going to the bar and then returning to Lady B, the crowd were pretty chilled too. But balls to all this. It's the music we're here for and first up was Emily Maguire. People like Emily fascinate me. During her set she revealed that one day she decided to flog her London flat and fuck off to the Australian outback to play music and make goats cheese. As a domesticated Taurean such folly fills me with dread. What, no Sunday Times, Muffins and Frasier on Paramount Comedy 1? No Neelams chicken kebab and Scrumpy Jack? No Wetherspoons, Rainbow, Kamaikaze!, Yardbird, Bar Academy...or Glee Club? Just sheep, goats, sand and endless sunny days to sit around and write wistful tunes? Yes, England may be a bit of a shit hole at the moment, but it's my shit hole though. Hmmmm...what to do eh? All of which brings me back to Emily. Listening to tracks like The Real World or Somebody (The The's 'Slow Train' anyone?) you do question your very being. Who's right? Us plodding backards and forwards to meaningless jobs as 'consultants', 'customer service advisers' or...god save us all...'creatives' or Emily over there in the sand yanking on a goat's nipples. I guess the point of music, aside from making you jump up and down a bit, is to make you think. Happy thoughts, unhappy thoughts...let's go out and gun down my classmate thoughts...and Emily certainly did that...made me think that is, not gun down her classmates. Vocally she reminded me a bit Joni Mitchell in places (have a listen to Keep Walking), but then, as you know by now, I have an odd ear. All in all though a lovely opening set from a strong singer songwriter who seems to have discovered the secret of a happy life. And you can't wish for more success than that eh?

Good grief. I've gone all fluffy on you. Oooooooh that sounds like a great link to the headline band...The Fluffers! I ummed and ahhed about going to this gig because the last time I saw Glenn and The Fluffers was (shameless place dropping ahoy) in The Abbey Pub in Chicago. It was an awesome night. The lead singer of Squeeze in a pub (albeit a bloody great big one) belting out all the hits with a briliant band. He was supported by a certain Jim Bianco too, who was equally spiffing. Tonight was a different kind of gig. Heavy on the solo stuff (by the sounds of it the forthcoming album's going to be a cracker) and with just a few Squeeze hits slotted in for good measure. It didn't matter one jot. Solo Glenn is as great as Squeeze Glenn. The new stuff is as great as the old stuff. Together with Chris Difford he really is, as many critics said back in the early 80's, as great Lennon /McCartney in their prime. Not as experimental, I'll grant you that, but great pop doesn't have to be all about eggmen and walruses (walrusi?). The Fluffers, his 'other' band are all accomplished musicians too. The keyboard dude, Stephen Large (stop sniggering at the back) was particularly good - loved the vocoder style stuff. Glenn just seems to be having so much fun at the moment...pottering around the world, playing music to often modest but appreciative crowds and doing his own thing. Maybe he should hook up with Emily Maguire...they'd make a lovely couple.

PS: Reading this back I just realised that anyone under the age of 30 might have no bloody idea who the hell Glenn Tilbrook or Squeeze (featuring Mr Jools Holland) are/were. I tested this theory out the other day with someone aged 28. They hadn't got a clue. So, for the non Squeeze people out there, I've put some videos up on the video thingy to the left of this rubbish. Suffice to say that they are/were one of the great British New Wave bands of the late 70's / early 80's and had hits like Cool For Cats, Up The Junction and Labelled With Love. Buy the Greatest Hits this weekend and you'll be thanking me until the end of time.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fort Knox Five...damn that's some funky shit.

For those of you who thought this was just some tin pot little music blog I have news for you. The Hearing Aid has spies across the globe...a shadowy force of tune ninjas, all dedicated to picking up on the latest musical treats for me to serve up to you, the lucky reader. Oh alright then...that's bollocks. I have one spy...deep in the heart of the US (is Ohio in the heart of the US?). A man who should remain nameless but who answers to the nom de plume 'Bobby Dazzler'. Knowing how much I love da funk (boy you gotta love dat funk) he's tipped me off in the direction of the Fort Knox Five. You've had Jurassic Five, Freeform Five bow down and shake your bad ass to FORT KNOX FIVE. As funky as a fat guy running a marathon in a nylon suit...on a particularly hot August day (now that's funky) FKF appear to be a four piece (maybe one of 'em left?) from good 'ol Washington DC. Plying a more modern, breakbeat heavy funk sound than Hearing Aid faves The Dap Kings and The Budos Band, they seem to use a range of different vocalists too, including a certain Mr Sleepy Zeebo. Anyways...take a listen to Papa Was Stoned on Their Space for a slice of pure 100% FKF magic. Awesome.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Now That's What I Call The Credit Crunch Vol 1

It's going to happen so I might as well predict the track listing now. I can just hear one of the big record labels mulling over how they can exploit their back catalogue just one more time. We've had a compilation for pretty much every other event so why should the current financial meltdown be any different? Naturally we'd have to have the BBC's Robert Peston on the front cover. Does that guy ever switch off? Or how about the dude above? goes. I reckon the whole thing should kick off with a longing look back at the days when the banks (remember them?) would lend to anyone with a pulse...and quite a few people without one. How about Mary Hopkins' seminal classic 'Those Were The Days' eh? We need something a little more jarring then. I reckon The Style Council's 'Walls Come Tumbling' down would be suitable. Next up The Clash with 'London's Burning' the way have you noticed how the wall of red on the share price thingy neatly matches the colour of the Brokers' faces? We'd better go into some more obvious 'money' related tracks now. You've got Pink Floyd's 'Money', Simply Red's 'Money's Too Tight To Mention', Money Makes The World Go Round (from the original Cabaret soundtrack of course) and a cheesy compilation wouldn't be complete without Abba's 'Money, Money, Money'. Oh, you'd better stick The Adventure's of Stevie V in there too with 'Dirty Cash' for all those generation X-ers feeling the pinch. Hmmm...what else. Of yes. For an ironic touch Eric B and Rakim with 'Paid in Full'...something that us poor suckers ain't gonna be. Right, going back a bit now, how about 'Brother, Can You Spare A Dime' or a few trillion dimes for that matter. There's a ton of versions out there. I'd plump for the Tom Waits one. There's a rather fine video montage of the last time we well and truly fucked up the economy here. We'd better lighten the mood at the end though eh? After all we gotta think of the Christmas market. At least we've got our health. So, let's be thankful and end up with a bit of Nina doing 'Ain't Got No...I Got Life'. Check out this darn fine live version.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Cat’s whiskers - Catskills turns 11 (and a half).

There are some record labels that pretty much guarantee quality...Catskills is one of ‘em. Home to the funky, spunky and punky they’re just about to release a double album culled from their first 11 and a half years. Yes…11 and a half years. Not for Catskills any of that boring old 10th anniversary business. Nah. For a label as wilfully eclectic (folktronica, soul, jazz, hip hop, reggae, punk…as they say, ‘It’s all about the head nod factor’) you’d expect nothing less eh?

Quite a few of the tracks here are real Catskills classics. There’s a bunch of Pepe Deluxe and Husky Rescue’s finest and two from the Midlands’ very own indie punksters (and Hearing Aid favourites) The Ripps, including the frankly awesome ‘Holiday’ (not since the heyday of the mighty Buzzcocks has punk pop been quite so glorious). But, like any good compilation, there’s a whole bunch of stuff you don’t know yet (either ‘cos you’ve missed it or it’s as fresh as a newly opened bag of kitty litter).

Opening track, Black Grass’ Hold Fire, is a funk classic, pure and simple. If you’re a fan of Quantic Soul Orchestra you need this in your life. Aldo Vanulli’s ‘I Am A King’ takes low rider hip hop (you know just want to be driving down the road in one of the funky ass cars that bounce up and down) to new heights. Then there’s a live version of Pepe Deluxe’s Pussy Cat Rock - Iggy and The Stooges meets The Cramps’ Surfin Bird…it's a garage / psych / disco / groovy beat happening. That’s just a snapshot of side one.

Slip in the second disc and you’re carried away on Sonorous Star’s Indian Motorcycle, as hypnotic as a four eyed snake charmer, swiftly followed by The Mexican with Spunky Love Fun - J5 meets Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames. Disc Two also includes what I’m guessing is the labels biggest hit so far, Pepe Deluxe’s classic, Levi twisted jeans endorsed ‘Before You Leave’…the big beat, sampledelic booty shaker that soundtracked one of the weirdest ads ever (you know, the one with the twisty people). Listening back to the track for the first time in a few years it still sounds surprisingly fresh. Other highlights include Hardkandy’s ‘Advice’, featuring a genuine music legend, Mr Terry Callier, on vocals. String tinged soul, it kinda reminds me of Anthony and the Johnsons meets Love. Absolutely lush and worth the price of the album on its own. I could go on but that would spoil the fun - and there’s a bucket load to be had here - this is an album you really need to discover for yourself. Contender for compilation of the year? No doubt. In a word…purrfect.

11 and a half out of 10
Catskills 1st XI is out on Monday 27th October 2008.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Ladyhawke / Deluka / Death Ohh Eff / Electrilickers @ The Rainbow, Digbeth Monday 6th October 2008

Tonight made me feel young and old in equal measure. Old 'cos, like many 14+ gigs, there are, as you'd expect, people who are 14+ (no shit Sherlock). The young bit...well...a lot of the music tonight took me right back to the days of my youth...the 80's! The greatest decade for music ever ever ever etc. First up...and with a distinctly 80's name...The Electrilickers. Musically...well just check out Nous Sommes Allees a la Discoteque. 80's gold! I like ladies who sing in French and Miss Electrilicker got the balance between funky and aloof just right on this track. Think of them as the electropop Blood Red Shoes (yes...I enjoyed them that much) and you won't be too far off. In fact 'Sh sh sh shake' has a distinctly BRS vibe to it. I like mucho.

Next up Death Ohh Eff. Some nice vocal interplay between two of the band (one chappie starting off the line, the other one finishing...not easy to do...) and loadsa thrashy electro action. They have a French song too, Le Sur Mer...its good to know our pop kids are embracing the European Union eh? I look forward to a few songs in Flemish any day now. Once more a strong 80's vibe, 'Something About a Foetus' kind of reminded me of a twisted version of First Picture of You by The Lotus Eaters. But then I'm a bit odd.

Third on the bill were New Wavers, Deluka. I've been lucky enough to see them a few times now and they never fail to put on a cracking show. Lead singer Ellie has real charisma and some nice stage moves (the raised hand and t-shirt grabbing seem to be a bit of a trade mark). Sleep Is Impossible (echoes of Duran Duran's Girls On Film) has the kind of naggingly infectious chorus that lodges in your brain and wakes you at 3am in a cold sweat. So, there you go, aptly titled then eh? They played my favourite track Ike and Tina too - a solid gold classic that made my left leg twitch in a really dodgy manner. The raptuous applause at the end of the set (I've rarely heard such whooping in The Rainbow) shows just how much of a buzz they're creating.

Finally, the lady herself, Ladyhawke...or Pip as she is to her friends. Back in 1981 I had a real thing for Kim Wilde. Fast forward a mere 27 years ( did that happen?) to 2008 and I have a real thing for Ladyhawke. With 'From Dusk to Dawn', 'Paris Is Burning' and 'My Delerium' she has three of the catchiest, coolest tracks of the year and, tonight Matthew, she played all of 'em. It looked like the crowd were a mix of hardcore Ladyhawke fans and the casual observers attracted by the cool press she's been getting recently. I've read a few reviews (NME specifically...don't worry, I didn't pay for it, I just read it in Tesco's now...takes about 3 minutes on a good week) saying that they didn't real 'feel' the live show. Cobblers. There's up beat stuff here, but some of the songs are more low key. I thought she was fab. Maybe there's a little nervousness there but, given the sudden press, the expectations must be huge. That's some pressure.

So there we have it. It's official. The '80's are back. Hurrah! Just don't make me retake my Physics O level...

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Bureau @ The Sound Bar, Birmingham, Friday 3rd October 2008

It's 'gig season'. There are loads of the buggers. Take tonight for example, on top of the weekly Kamikaze! night you had your pick of The Heritage Orchestra at The Town Hall, Bob Log III at the Kings Head and Amanda Palmer at Space 2. Oh...and this lot of course. To be honest it was a a close call. Amanda Palmer nearly had it, but by the time we'd dragged ourselves down to Space 2 (8 o'clock-ish), the first band were nearing the end of the set. I hate missing the first band. It's like missing the first half of a film. I always feel really sorry for the opening act too when loads of people come in just as they're finishing. Damn rude. So, off we went, back up to The Sound Bar for The Bureau. Who I hear you ask? Well, sit ye down and I'll tell ye. Many moons ago there was a damn fine band called Dexy's Midnight Runners. Before they 'came on Eileen' they produced one of THE greatest British albums of all time, Searching For The Young Soul Rebels. I think its fair to say that lead singer Kevin Rowland was/is what you'd call a single minded chap. It appears that this 'single mindedness' led to a bit of a barny. Bugger this for a game of soldiers said the rest of the band and they went off and formed The Bureau together with a certain Mick Talbot (later one half of The Style Council).

The Bureau had a number 6 smash Australia...the debut album was only released in a couple of countries (not the UK) and that was that. However, in 2004/5, some bright spark at WEA decided to release the debut album, most of the band reunited for a couple of smallish gigs and the seeds of a new album were sown. The result, wrily entitled "...and another thing" is out now, hence the three live dates that they're doing in support. This was the first one...and only the fourth time they'd played together since the early 1980's, making this a pretty rare sighting. The fact that one of them lives (I believe) in the good old US of A makes the prospect of more regular dates rather doubtful. So, enough of the potted history. In the absence of the much talked about new Dexy's album, this is as close as you're ever going to get to the band that recorded Searching For The Young Soul Rebels. Whoohoo! But here's the $700billion question (topical eh? oh, alright then please yourselves)...were they any good. Yes. There you go. Review over. Off you trot. There's nothing to see here. wanted a bit more than that did you? Balls.

Well, shut your eyes and, on some tracks, musically speaking you're right back in 1980 classic era Dexy's all over again. That brass sound is just so damn uniquely Dexy's. That's the strength and, to some degree, the flawed genius of The Bureau. You're just waiting for Mr Rowland's yelpy vocals to kick in. Of course, they don't. The Bureau's lead vocalist is a chappie called Archie Brown. There's nothing wrong with his voice. In fact, over the past 27 years or so, it's taken on a lovely rich quality that, truth be told, it kind of lacked back in 1981. As a passionate Dexy's fan it's just so hard to see The Bureau as a separate entity. My problem, not theirs, I guess. That being said, the gig was a triumph from start to finish. Blending old material with the new stuff they played for a good 90 minutes or so and delivered blistering versions of Sentimental Attachment, The First One and Sheep (from back in the day) as well as new album highlights including Run Rabbit Run and A Fine Mess Rag (think The Courtesy Group meets Dexy's...brilliant). The place wasn't packed but there was a pretty good turn out, the diehards loved it and the band seemed to be enjoying themselves. History's not been kind to The Bureau. They really do deserve more attention (so do Dexy's come to that). Of course it will take more than a few dates to get the message out there. Who knows if they're up for it, I hope they are. Older soul rebels they may be, but The Bureau kick ass.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Dizzolvers / The Fighting Cocks / Streetsoul Productions @ The Rainbow, Friday 26th September 2008

I've been away. On my holidays. To Kephalonia. Very nice it was too. They had litres of local wine for just a few Euros. Bargain...or it would be if the £ was worth anything these days. Happily our chums at Kamikaze! haven't gone bust, merged with a massive Japanese conglomerate or applied to good 'ol George W for a massive bailout yet, so I guess there's still hope for us all. Well, of course there isn't. We're all going to hell in a handcart for stuffing our fat faces with cheap and easy credit and filling our vacuous lives with polyester t-shirts, computer games and lard. But one thing's for certain, we're going to need a soundtrack for it all...just so future generations can be flogged albums (well they'll download them anyway) called Now That's What I Call The Credit Crunch Vol II. Perhaps Streetsoul Productions (emcees R.E.P and Vice) will be on it. The days of white hip hop artists being viewed with a certain disdain are happily fading into the distance. Like him or loathe him (for the record I like him) Mike Skinner has played a huge role in this and, naturally, there's a Streets-y element to some of Streetsoul's tracks. The addition of Rob Carvalho on backing vocals really lifted the live show to another level (with one track paying respect to emcee Vice's gran who is, according to the song, well into hip hop...respect due). On top of another Rob backed tune, Searching, I especially loved the feel of Relax, a worthy companion piece to J5's Concrete Schoolyard. As well as putting on impressive, feelgood shows, the Streetsoul Productions team seem to be something of a cottage industry at the moment too, with 4 albums due for release in the next few months and, I believe, a clothing range. P.Diddy, P.Schmiddy.

Next up the frankly bonkers, genre screwing The Fighting Cocks. Reggae, ska, gypsy, punk, drum n'bass, oi, pop, metal, electro...fuck it...let's just chuck everything into the pot, boil it up on a campfire and serve it in a bowl full of sexy, sassy mentalism (I'm not sure you can have such a bowl The Fighting Cocks...making sense of things just don't really matter). Imagine Shampoo, Daphne and Celeste (at last...I'm not the only person in the world to love Daphne and Celeste...and no, I'm not being ironic...they were pop genius)The Slits, Gogol Bordello, Ian Dury and Goldie having a good old cockney (sorry...Essex) knees Bollywood. There...that's what they sound like...kind of. If the UK was ever looking for a band to write a new National Anthem The Fighting Cocks would be the dream choice. Stand by the side of a busy road in any inner city area, record all of the different music blaring out of the cars that go past, mix it all up and, eventually, you'd have the perfect Fighting Cocks track. It's 2008 in musical form. It's the end of the world as we know it. It's nuttier than a squirral's bowel movement. No matter what kind of a day you're having I defy you to listen to any of their stuff and not feel a little better. They should be on the NHS. You get the picture...I really rather liked them.

Last up drum n'bass grimesters The Dizzolvers. Older readers may recall a glorious Birmingham drum n'bass band called Plutonik from back in the day. Like Plutonik The Dizzolvers do most of their shows 'live' using real instruments. It makes a big difference. I've been to hip hop shows that use backing tracks. They're all very good but live music should be (in my humble opinion) just that. Live. Whether you have a full band or just stand there banging a tamborine, it helps bring the whole thing to life a lot more. The Dizzolvers are full of life. Lead vocalist Lady Boogaloo has a soulful voice that's a smooth as silk, MC Jim Stryde spits the rhymes ten to the dozen and the rest of the band add that magic ingredient X that changes a mere performance into a show. They're less than a year old but already drumskin tight. Definately one of THE Birmingham bands to watch out for in 2009. Check out their track Keeping year has a theme tune already.

After the live bands the night carried on with the Urban Disturbance DJ's. For all I know they could still be there...the night certainly seemed in full flow when we left. Congrats to Carlo, George and the team for a darn fine show.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Rogue States / This Beautiful Thief / The Likely Lads @ The Rainbow, Monday 8th September 2008

There's something a little bit naughty about Monday night gigs. It's the start of another working week. You're supposed to be all sensible and tucked up in bed by 9pm with a mug of cocoa. But balls to all that. What better way to ease away those post weekend blues than indie-grungesters The Likely Lads. Vocally there's a bit of Kele Bloc Party in there, fused with some nagging post punk chord workouts. Their track 6.03 was the pick of the set and, happily enough, you can listen to a decent version of it on their MySpace jobbie. Full marks to the fans for the mental crowd action at the front by the way (especially the back flips...good work).

Next up This Beautiful Thief (pictured above). And they are too. Beautiful that is. Not thieves. We'll have none of that round here thank you very much. Lead Thief, Oliver, has a cracking voice and, being a Geordie, he's as loveable as a box full of puppies (why are Geordies so nice? Maybe I should move up there...). Anyway, enough regional stereotyping, TBT make finely crafted, grown up pop that's every bit as good as the mighty Maximo Park (just check out Falling Down and Deadhead). Memorable, pounding choruses and loadsa energy made it a great set too. They gave out free CD's as well...that always goes down well with me. You can catch 'em supporting The Levellers this weekend during Artsfest (Sunday...I think they're on around 1pm).

Finally, Rogue States (pictured at the top of this here review...well one of them is anyway). There's a touch of Rufus Wainwright about some of the tracks, strong emotive vocals, keyboards to the fore and melody driven (have a listen to Surrender). On other songs like Let It Out and Pushing The River Uphill they'd give U2 a run for their money, anthemic builds and choruses that are just screaming out to be...well...screamed out. Seems they're attracting label interest too so, who knows, they might get the stadium gigs they're made for.

And so to bed. Mondays...they're the new Fridays you know.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Moseley Folk Festival 2008 - A bit (more) of a review...

Better never than late, but I've never let that stop me. Yes, before leaving the good folk of Moseley Folk alone for another year I particularly wanted to pick out a few highlights that may have slipped under the radar. The Bohemian Jukebox tent was a goldmine. Friday night saw both Gemma Quarterman (see Sound Bar review below this one) and the delightful Lucy and the Caterpillar. I missed Lucy's set at The Great Escape in May (damn those tricky set clashes) but caught the full experience this time round. She reminds me a little of that woman from Ab Fab...Bubble I think it her name was (Jane of Little Voice)...crossed with Regina Spector. Cute as a button and sweet as a treacle pudding she sings songs about Baked Beans and Crisps and Red Wine. Sounds like my perfect meal. If you like your anti-folk quirky, perky and every so slightly murky (what else was I going to rhyme with quirky and perky eh?) you'll love Lucy and the Caterpillar (that's just Lucy btw...the caterpillar is the name of her guitar...obviously).

Saturday at the Boho Jukebox tent saw two festival highlights for me. First up Albino. I described them to Lady B as sounding a little bit like the classic soundtrack to Bugsy Malone. Lead Albino, Ben, has a wondefully rich vocal which seems to be mellowing nicely as he gets older. Musically there's some jazz, anti-folk, Bonzo Dog Doodah band nuttiness and lounge band sophistication in there. Their live take on Bon Viveur (you can hear a recorded version on their My Space page) was quite brilliant. You don't get the phrase 'bon viveur' used enough these days do you. I 'spose there ain't many of 'em left. The world seems quite happy with bright blue alcopops and frozen turkey gonads dipped in E numbers. Ahh well. Like a nice foie gras (the goose friendly version naturally), Albino are there to be enjoyed by those of us who appreciate the finer things in life. Full marks for including the lyric 'ectoplasmic slag' in a song by the way.

My next Boho treat were Kinkajou - gothic folk meets Jacques Brel...and every bit as good as that sounds. During more than one moment I found myself mouthing a silent 'wow' to Lady B. Lead Kinkajou Polly is a spine tingingly lush vocalist and the songs are populated with wrong 'un's, sex in graveyards and all kinds of other dark, delicious stuff. Just listen to Nocturne. As a huge fan of Marc Almond's masterpiece Mother Fist and Her Five Daughters (think about it...) this really hit the spot. I loved 'em so much I bought TWO CD's, both of which I can heartily recommend to anyone with ears. Can we get them back up to Birmingham again soon. Pretty please? Away from the Boho Jukebox tent the Main and Lunar Stages kept up a pretty high standard for the whole three days. Tuung tinged (and featuring their songwriter Sam) The Accidental were the pick of Friday night. Gentle without being too fey, it's the sound of an Autumn wood as the sun sets.

Saturday started off with the honey voiced king of Soul Folk (that's another of my new genres) Vijay Kishore (pictured). Why the hell Vijay ain't knocking the James Blunt's of this world into the bargain bin I'll never know, but he has a voice to die for. He was swiftly followed by Ben Calvert, who blends Nick Drake with Belle and Sebastian and adds a healthy dash of 21st century realism to boot. Just check out his new album The Broken Family's artists like Ben who'll keep folk alive and meaningful. Peter Moren (of Peter, Bjorn and John...Young Folks...the whistling song) fame played an all too short set, including a Elvis Costello flavoured take on A-ha's Take On Me. Brilliant. The Destroyers (pictured at the top of this review) blew the place apart (once again), with Paul Murphy adding his mad Uncle on acid magic and the day's closer Jose Gonzales divided the audience with an 'he's brilliant' / 'he's boring' set. You can't doubt his talent but, as a live performer, I'd say he's probably more suited to a smaller, intimate venue like The Glee.

Sunday (unlike the other two days) was a lot more 'pure folk'. I've mentioned the magical last ever show by Ian Campbell - a true folk legend, long due some serious reappraisal. I can't find a MySpace page for him. Over to the fans to set one up? Waterson: Carthy (pictured) - the closest you'll ever get to folk royalty - briefly stopped time. Standing there in the park listening to Norma Waterson you got that spooky feeling of connection with generations past. The whole thing was wrapped up by our Seth. You can't knock the guy. He plays fiddle like Hendrix played the axe, it's almost part of him. Whilst he respects the history and culture of 'folk' he's doing plenty to bring it into the modern world and in front of a new audience. And, most important of all, despite the fame and fortune, he seems like a bloody nice bloke who's as at home playing in his local pub as he is in front of thousands of people at Glasto.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Rose McDowall / Gemma Quarterman @ The Sound Bar, Wednesday 3rd September 2008

It's another dull, damp evening. I'm sitting in Wetherspoon's finishing off a rather delightful pint of Old Rosie (surely trampdom beckons?). It's halfway through the working week. It's officially 'autumn'. I'm 38. I mention all this purely to give you a vague idea of my mood this evening. Not depressed. That never gets you anywhere. Just a little reflective. The kind of 'staring through the window looking at all the people scurrying past trying to get somewhere...anywhere...other than where they are now and wondering what their lives are all about' kind of reflective. It's a perfect Gemma Quarterman mood. I've been watching her now, on and off, for a year or so. She's always had a great voice. At first, some months back, a little nervous perhaps. Not wanting to fully let go. But now...anyone who saw her perform Hush at The Moseley Folk Festival must surely have gone away thinking they'd seen something special. Tonight, despite a few minor sound problems, she did it again. It's that voice, the emotion, the songs (all self penned and three of which you can hear on her My Space - Crosses, Tangerine Sun and Hush)...she's one of the few artists around right now who I could watch over and over and over again. Stuff The Sound Bar (in the very nicest way of course), get Gemma in The Glee Club...the Town Hall...fuck it...The Symphony Hall. She's ready.

Next up Rose McDowall. Being a very old man I remember Rose McDowall in her previous life as 50% of synth pop girl band Strawberry Switchblade. They had a rather fine hit in 1984 entitled Since Yesterday (you can see it here). That, as far as I knew, was that. However it transpires that Rose has been guesting with all manner of folk including Coil, Curent 93, Psychic TV, Nurse With a Wound...that ain't a bad CV. Granted, it's a slightly scary, out there kinda CV...but it ain't bad at all. Aside from Psychic TV I have only a passing knowledge of the other bands but I think it's fair to call them 'experimental'. This is a good thing. Given Rose's origins (pure pop) it's also a little surprising. So, with a limited knowledge of the last quarter century of Rose's life and works I had no real idea of what to expect. The first surprise was the size of her band. I'd kind of expected just Rose and a guitar but there was a violin, one of those skeletol cello thingies, two backing guitarists and a drummer. Musically it's a kind of goth folk, which ticks both boxes for me. Again the sound was a little off in places (I thinks there was a dodgy lead somewhere), which was a tad distracting. Rose has a quite a gentle, faraway voice too that took me a couple of tracks to get into but it gradually crept into my brain and, with the strings doing the biz too, I found myself drifting into a sort of reverie. A sublime take on the Velvet Underground track 'Sunday Morning' and a song with Ice in the title (damn my feeble memory) were particular highlights. Ending the show with a heartbreaking version of Since Yesterday (transformed from its poppy younger self into a more funereal lament) I wished that it could have started all over again. Suffice to say that I'll be investigating that back catalogue now...which, given the her collaborations, could be a long job. Any tips would be welcomed.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Moseley Folk Festival 2008 - Friday 29th August - Sunday 31st August

Well, that was fun. Three days of folk, anti-folk, funny-folk, legendary-folk, old-folk, young-folk, get the picture. I have to say that, having attended the very first MFF in 2006, this one (barring one or two minor grumbles) seemed even better. A more thorough dissection of the bands that 'rocked the show' will follow, but a few spring to mind straightaway...Gemma Quarterman (stunning version of Hush - you can catch her at The Sound Bar this Wednesday night), Ben Calvert (check out his new track Broken Family Daysaver), Chris Wood, Albino, Kinkajou, The Destroyers (of course), Chris T-T, Waterson: Carthy (we are not worthy), Ian Campbell (for a memorable song about someone in an old folks home retelling his life to a young Ian in the 1960's - if you know the name of the track please let me know) and Sexy Seth (pictured)...that's just for starters. It's pretty unusual to go to a festival and like everything you see, but I can't think of anything I disliked. The crowd were pretty chilled, the oik element was low and after the Friday night 45 minute queue for the bar (not quite sure what happened there - but lessons seem to have been learnt pretty swiftly)...getting a drink on Saturday and Sunday was a breeze (bigge up the Tardebigge Cider). It's weekends like this that make me glad to live in Birmingham...and live in general. The organisers should be rubbed up and down in a slightly sexy manner. I loved the Bohemian Jukebox tent. A nice mix of workshops and bands. Anyone who can get me up and folk dancing deserves a medal (not sure who the lady was but she was very kind...I'd have had me shot for bringing the name of dancing into disrepute).
Like I say I'll be reviewing my picks shortly in greater depth...probably when I've had time to listen to the mountain of CD's I bought...but for now...that's all folk(s)...I just had to go be silly again didn't I?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Platform Promotions All Dayer @ The Sound Bar, Saturday 23rd August 2008

Putting on several bands in one night must be a bit of a logistical ‘mare. Putting on 10 in a day…two days in a row…well that’s just nuts. But that’s what the lovely Becs from Platform Promotions has done and, whilst we had a few ‘no shows’, there was plenty in the first day’s line up to keep me happy. First up were Emily and brother Ben. I did catch their surnames…but I’ve forgotten it…’cos I’m old and a bit dim. Emily has a beautifully clean, clear voice together with a strong batch of self penned songs. She bravely tackled Winehouse’s Back To Black as well (not an esay song to sing) and did it oh so much better than our Amy does these days. She remembered the words for starters…always the mark of a professional. Seriously though, she added her own touch to the track, which ain't easy when you're doing such a well known piece.

Next up (and bringing an enthusiastic crowd of fans), street poet and all round local legend Barnesy. He’s got a nice knack of combining a sort of high speed, rap tinged vocal delivery with a surprisingly soulful voice on tracks like Estates Are In A State (his best song so far in my humble opinion and well worth a listen), a Gil Scott Heron of the Midlands if you like. And I do. (NB: the more I listen to this track the more I love it...this is seriously good stuff...)

Long Road Ghosts were up next. LET’S ROCK! Set the amps to 11. Oh yes. I have to say that, thanks to a brilliant performance, they really grew on me during the set. As with one or two of the bands today there’s a hint of Oasis to the music, but I got a real Led Zepplin edge at time too. Influences aside, it was a fine showing with plenty of pounding riffs and oodles of energy.

After popping out for a restorative Wetherspoon’s gourmet burger (don’t tell me I don’t know how to live eh?) and a pint of Old Rosie (hangover ahoy), we got back in time for Dastards. There’s a distinct ‘80’s new wave vibe about the band that (being a child...oh alright then...teenager of the 80’s) I really liked. It’s tricky to get this sound just right ‘live’ and, listening back to their My Space tracks, the full Dastards experience didn’t totally come through. I reckon they could do with a massive PA and a fookin' massive stage with lots of dry ice and three female backing singers in PVC. In other words I think the live sound needs to be beefier…not sure how you do that…maybe use more beef (I never said I was technical). Check out ‘Take A left’ from their My Space page and you might get an idea of what I'm wittering on about, well worth a spin.

The Red Caps were next. If you’re a fan of the Verve, Kings of Leon or Oasis you’ll be in heaven here (it seems that they’re even doing a gig with Bonehead soon). Blending 70’s stoner rock with classic Manc attitude, one of their guitarists even had the balls to play one of those double necked jobbies…he did it jolly well too. I can’t even play the triangle…

What can I say about Old School Tie that I haven’t said before? They invented the Oreo biscuit and all live in a giant toadstool just outside Rubery…I haven’t said that about them before…that’s probably because it isn’t true. What is true is that they have a brilliant way of making every track sound like it’s a jam, employing an organic way of playing that few bands could, would or should attempt. That OST pull it off every time says just how accomplished they are. And they played a storming version of God’s Electric Super Scene with the dude from 360 on bongos (pictured below)…YAY!

The night ended with yet another spirited performance from Birmingham’s very own good time skankfathers, 360. It’s impossible to keep still whilst watching them and I ended up doing some kind of strange hand dance with Lady B (to one of their standout tracks ‘Crazy Lady’ as it happens…how darn appropriate). It's a shame there aren’t more bands like 360 about these days. Thanks to multi-racial, genre blending groups like The Specials and The Beat, the Midlands was the birthplace of a unique form of UK ska way back in the dim and distant 70's. Fast forward 30 years and it's strange that, given the diversity of cultures in our fair city, how little diversity there is in our bands (and our audiences for that matter). I can’t help feeling that our future, musically and socially, should lie in the same direction. After all, the city that plays together, stays together...just a thought.