Sunday, April 27, 2008

Seth Lakeman / Tuung / Sharron Kraus @ Birmingham Town Hall Saturday 26th April 2008

Day two of the English Originals weekend and we spent a very lovely afternoon drinking cider in The Wellington pub and chatting to Morris Men (who clearly know how to drink). Anyway, first up Sharron Kraus who, despite having a voice as delicate as a spiders web in a really heavy draft, specialises in songs about murder and 'insect incest'. Shades of Vashti Bunyan in the vocals, with the rest of her band providing an equally gentle backdrop...for all the insect incest, murder, rape and general bad goings on. It's some serious shit this folk(e) business you know.

Next up Tuung. Why two 'u' idea...I'm sure it means something. Answers on a real tongue please. Additional vowels aside, I like Tuung. They're folk with attitude. The Beta Band for Nick Drake fans. Can't remember the name of the track that they played towards the end of the set, but the lead male Tunng proudly informed us that it was inspired by Megadeth and Slayer. You wouldn't get that from Steeleye Span. You wouldn't get something as gentle but hard hitting as glorious set closer Bullets from the Span either. What's so great about Tuung is the way they mix all that electronic weirdness into the folk pot without it jarring. Jenius (yes I know you spell genius with a 'g' but I'm experimenting with my own form of spelying. There. Did it again).

Last up, Lady Baron's poster boy, Sexy Seth Lakeman. There were a fair few ladies in the audience who started rubbing themselves in strange, most un-folk like places when he came on stage. Obviously trying to find their Kitty Jay (Humphrey Lyttleton RIP). You can't help but like our Seth. He is one of the most exciting folk artists for generations and he seems to be opening up more and more ears to the music. This gig was sold out. Not bad for a guy who still plays in his local. King and Country is genuinely moving, Kitty Jay remains as fresh sounding as a Spring morn and Lady of the Sea makes you want to get up and dance naked on a beach with a salty dog and the odd mermaid (yes, I know mermaids don't have legs...they could just lie there and flap about a bit...or do the 'worm'). The one great shame of the night was the lack of Moorish Delta 7. If you didn't see the Made In England programme last week it showed our Seth making a track with Birmingham hip hop crew MD7. It left you with oodles more respect for both parties...MD7 for risking cred and Seth for leaving for the safety of Dartmoor for the mean streets of Newtown. Unlike some attempts at mixing different styles this one really seemed to work and it's a real shame that this collaboration wasn't part of the night. However you can check out the track, Find Your Way, and other MD7 tunes (Confessions is well worth a spin) on their My Space jobbie.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Billy Bragg / Kitty, Daisy & Lewis / Chris Wood @ Birmingham Town Hall, Friday 25th April 2008

The start of the English Originals weekend saw, for the early arrivers at least, one of England's true gems, Billy Bragg, take to the stage for a one to one with The Stirrer's Adrian Goldberg to discuss English patriotism. It should've been videoed and shown to every single person in the country. If anyone can make sense of what it is to be English in 2008 it's Billy and I've never heard my country so beautifully and powerfully described. I'd never dream of trying to sum up Billy's point of view, it's too complex and personal, but one of the key things he said was 'it's space, not race' that unites us all. How true. It saddens him nearly as much as it saddens me that my flag, my country, my home has been hijacked by those who'd like to portray England as being an evil, Empire building monster that's pretty much responsible for every atrocity under the sun. Like all great nations we've done our fair share of bad stuff, but more than any other nation we've done incredible things too. It's about time every single English person, whatever their faith, colour or historical heritage, realised and celebrated this. If you're interested in this subject (and if you live in England you bloody well should be) read Billy's St George's Day article and, just as importantly, the many comments it provoked. Then make your own mind up.

Right, that was all very serious wasn't it? Good. On with the music and, first off, Chris Wood. Never heard of him before, but he's lept into my top 10 folk artists. Why? Well just listen to The Cottagers Reply, it's folk for the 21st Century without ignoring the last few (centuries that is). A protest song against the wholesale destruction of rural communities by 'holiday home' buyers. I don't live in the countryside, I keep in real in da 'wood, but if I did I'd be mighty pissed off with people coming in from that there London and buying up every little cottage just to use on the odd weekend while my kids were forced out. So there. Chris ain't too precious about it all though. He's a real geezer. When he fucked up One in a Million he dealt with it brilliantly and, when one 'heckler' (for heckler read 'twat' or whatever word you want to use to sum up someone who should be minced up and fed to cattle) called for 'something faster' he cut him down better than any Stand Up I've ever seen (memo to this person...if you can read...we're there to listen to the artist, it ain't can't vote for your favourite...stay at home and watch 'Britain's Got Talent' next time). Anyway, have a listen to Chris if you have even a passing interest in folk. It's beautiful, beautiful stuff.

Beautiful, but in a different way...a way that probably encapsulates much of what Billy believes in...were Kitty, Daisy & Lewis. Three teenagers with a thing for 50's rockabilly...sounds brilliantly. The rather sombre setting of the Town Hall wasn't the best place to see them (the last time I saw the band was in some under the arches place...much more appropriate) but they put on a fine showing which seemed to win over the crowd. They've been doing this stuff since Kitty was 8, Lewis was 10 and Daisy was an ancient 12 years old. It's great to watch, especially as the three of them chop and change between each others instruments with every song. Have a listen to Son of a Gun and you'll be gelling your hair into a quiff before you can say awopbopaloolawapbambo...or something like that.

Finally, the man himself. Lord Billy of Barking. The voice is still as marmite as ever (you either love it or hate it), the guitar playing as raw as an eye full of onion and the between song banter almost as important as the songs...but I wouldn't change a thing. He played a lot of the classic stuff, including a beautiful version of Levi Subbs Tears, a singalong Sexuality and, one of my personal favourites, Greetings to the New Brunette. There was some new stuff too, including an emotional I Keep Faith (dedicated to his audience) from the recently released album Mr Love & Justice. Possibly the set highlight though, the one track that summed up what this whole weekend is about, was a reworked version of Hard Times Of Old England with Chris Wood. Proof, if it were needed, that folk isn't just about sticking your finger in your ear and singing about 'a nadgers tadwhistle', it can be as much about the world we live in today as any other form of music.

To sum up then...Billy is a national treasure. He is England. At his best his lyrics deserve to be studied alongside Shakespeare (no, I've not gone mad). English culture is alive and well and, in Billy, we have a spokesperson we can ALL be proud of.

By the way, I was listening to your new version of Waiting For The Great Leap Forward Billy, consider your website added...

PS: Memo to the Town Hall. £7 for two small glasses of wine? I heard one chap behind me refer to 'sub prime' beers and there were many similar mutterings. Please, please don't take the piss. Cut your prices or we'll all do what I did and jog up to Weatherspoons for a cheeky pint instead! Ha!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wonky Pop Tour - Alphabeat / Leon Jean Marie @ Bar Academy Birmingham Tuesday April 22nd 2008

Wonky Pop anyone? Well, why not. Despite missing one of the bill (Frankmusic...maybe he was the wonky one?) this was well worth £6.50 of anyone's hard earned dosh. First up Leon Jean-Marie, last seen by dear old me warming up for pop pipkin Mika. I get the feeling that our Leon's a bit like a kid in a musical sweet shop (bear with me here). He can turn his hand to pretty much anything, Prince-y stuff like Stay Right Here, Madness tinged English pop...witness Bed of Nails, dirtier jazzy stuff a la Trusted You. It's all very clever and well done and he's a cracking performer, I just get the sense that he's still finding his true voice. This is probably likely to confuse your marketing bods, play listers and record buying public...hence the 'wonky' pop tour I guess.

Next up Alphabeat. No confusion here. Pop thy name is Alphabeat. Mince Alphabeat up in a Kendwood blender and you'd get a big bottle of Fanta. They're as pop as a weasel in a microwave. Yes, that's well pop. Like a dream 80's movie soundtrack brought to life (just check out Fascination...can't you just see Chris Penn...RIP...cutting a rug to that one?), they're so infectiously catchy it's impossible to resist. Blending bits of the B52's with Abba, Ace of Bass, Daft Punk...all manner of pop'll either love it and be stricken with a sudden urge to wear leg warmers and make up your own dance routines or hate it so much you'll cut off your own ears and feed them to Jade Goody. Guess which camp I fall into. Yes, at this very moment I'm going all Flashdance. Top marks for the PiL track by the way and bonus pop points for a joyous Digital Love singalong with LJM.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Anomalies are coming back!

Great news. It's the second coming! Fresh from their BBC session The Anomalies (the freshest old skool hip hop this side of anywhere) are heading back to Brum for another cracking Platform Promotions night (check out their other dates...I can heartily recommed the Miss Halliwell gig). PP (that's Platform Promotions for short, 'cos I'm too lazy to write Platform Promotions...bugger...)have moved to The Cross in Moseley. That's a pub by the way. Not a gang of slightly angry people. How the hell could you put on a gig in a bunch of angry people?

Anyway, if you missed The Anomalies last time (they were truly awesome, like a party in your pants...or my, lets not go there), and you've got ears, get down to The Cross on May 9th. Actually, no, scrap that, get tickets beforehand 'cos it sold out last time...head over to the PP MySpace thingy and buy 'em online, all modern like.
PS: Apologies for the shocking picture quality...I was all old skool myself that night...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings @ The Yardbird, Sunday April 13th 2008

Soul. You either got it or you don't. Ms Sharon Jones...all 4ft 11 inches of her...has it by the bucket load. There's a wonderful old school soul and funk revival going on over in Brooklyn at the moment and Daptone Records (home to Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings as well as The Budos Band, Sugarman Three and a whole host of other great artists) are right at the heart of it all. Tonight's gig was an all too rare chance to see the undeniable stars of the label in full force and it was every damn bit as good as I'd hoped it would be. Although I saw James Brown live a few years ago he was, quite understandably, a little less energetic than in his prime (if I can still breath unaided at 70, let alone do the splits, I'll be a lucky man). Whilst you can't turn back the clock and go whizzing off to Harlem c.1968 we have, in Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, a band and lead vocalist with every bit as much talent, potency and ball busting funkiness as the Godfather at his best.

The voice dripped soul. The band were as tight as dozen cats in a jam jar (Binky Griptite is one cool dude). And the booty shaking, well, the girl can move. Nothing felt forced. It didn't feel like a pastiche or revival. Shut your eyes and you could've been in The Apollo Theater. The Godfather (RIP) may be dead but long live the Godmother, the hardest working woman in showbusiness...ladies and gentlemen...Ms Sharon Jones.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The High Society / The Dirty Riffs / AFD Shift / DRAG / Trust My Dishonour (RIP) @ The Rainbow Friday 11th April 2008

Welcome once more to Club scrap that...544...for tonight (as last week in fact) we were treated to not 4, but 5 bands. That's 20% extra. That's why Mums go to Iceland...probably. Anyway, first up, and about to take their own walk into the frozen wilderness, Trust My Dishonour. Yes, this was their last ever gig, which is a shame as lead singer Rob has a particularly strong voice (think a rawer, less battered Rod the Mod) and the band can certainly cut it live. Fear not though, it seems they will rise again like zombies of rock (who knows, that could even be their new name). Watch their My Space thingy for news.

Next up, DRAG. Good to see a female rock group (regular readers will know how often I bemoan the lack of lady fronted bands...did your Riot Grrrrrl sisters die in vain...hands up who remembers the Voodoo Queens? Oh, just me then). Anyway, blending punk rock, grunge and a bit of Riot Grrrrrl (how many r's in Grrrrrl? Is it up to you? Ok, Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrl) DRAG put on a sassy, energy packed performance with plenty of attitude from lead singer Heather and a nicely aloof showing from guitarist Velma (who kind of reminded me of a female Sid Vicious). Full marks for the Dresden Dolls cover of Miss Me too.

With barely a moment to refuel on cut price vodka and coke (I know, how rock n'roll am I...oh alright then) AFD Shift stormed the stage with their Rage Against The Machine meets System Of A Down-ish rock/rap hybrid. It took me a moment to get this lot but when they fall into the 'groove' it all works really well, with Clayton's raw rap flanked by the almost angelic voices of their guitarist and keyboard player. They have a single coming out in April too, Listen Then Leave, produced by Gavin Monaghan, who seems to be producing 24/7 at the mo.

Still with me? Good. Penultimate band of the night, The Dirty Riffs, are as good an exponent of their brand of AC/DC / Slade / Who blues rock as you're ever likely to see. Vocal Riff, Richard, has a belter of a voice and lead guitarist Dan is several frets (and a plectrum) above your average player. Yes it's old school rock, but there ain't nuffink wrong wif that. They seemed to be having a blast up there too, which is half the battle when you're trying to connect with a tired and emotional Friday night audience. They finished with possibly the longest track ever played at Club 444, Money Ain't My God, which jetted off to planet riff and is probably still there. Clapton would be proud.

Finally, sleaze rock legends in the making, The High Society. I've seen the band here once before and their performance tonight was every bit as twisted, demented and spunk fuelled (can you be spunk fuelled? I hear it's very high in protein...). Of all the bands I've seen recently you get the feeling that most of The High Society live the life off stage as well as on it and that's bound to ooze through the music, without having to carve 4 real on their arms (although you get the feeling that Maxie Browne might just do that for the hell of it anyway). They have a classic album's worth of tracks that just screams to be played on vinyl, a little scratched and with a nice Jack D stain on the label naturally. How these lot aren't signed, and why they're not playing bigger venues is a mystery...but then looking at the piss poor state of the bloated corpse of the music biz perhaps it ain't surprising. To the non believers, and to quote the band, 'Revenge will get you in the end'.

PS: Thanks as ever to the Plastic Noise DJ's, Killing In The Name Of...good call...I nearly broke my ankle jumping up and down, but good call...

PPS: I keep forgetting to mention this, but if you're a band that plays Club 444 check out dBr Live...they can record and mix your gig...all professional like...for a very modest fee.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sheelanagig @ The Yardbird, Tuesday 8th April 2008

Two gigs in one night? Oh the stamina of the man. After the heart melting beauty of DeVotchKa (see below dear reader), which finished early ( support band) there I was stumbling back to get the bus when I saw a band setting up on stage through the windows of The Yardbird. A quick read of the calendar on the windows revealed that tonight's gig was 'free'. That's my favourite word. I'll say it again. F-R-E-E. Oh what a word. Anyway, in I went, got a table right at the front and settled back with a cheeky vodka...sorry...wodka...and coke.

The band were Sheelanagig. The name rang a bell from Glastonbury's past, but I'd never seen them before. They are, in a word (a word I use all too lightly sometimes...but not in this case), awesome. Especially if you love The Destroyers and their ilk. In fact they were a perfect follow up to DeVotchKa. Blending jazz, folk, Arabic music, celtic stuff, ska...a mind numbing range of influences in fact, they are a seriously talented bunch of musicians (many of whom seem to play in about 1000 other bands) who kept me pretty much spellbound and grinning like a loon for an hour and a half. I ended up spending a huge sum of money on everything they'd ever recorded (well, £25 anyway) and it was worth every penny. If only life were like Sheelanagig we'd all be a lot happier (drunk maybe, and a bit sweaty, but happier).

DeVotchKa Academy 2 Tuesday 8th April 2008

Touring new album, A Mad and Faithful Telling, DeVotchKa made a much welcomed but curiously under attended return to Birmingham (after their Bar Academy gig last November...ahhh it seems like only yesterday). Like a more serious Gogol Bordello, DeVotchKa mix all sorts of influences (Russian folk, clasical music, gypsy jazz, a bit of flamenco, opera...basically anything goes) into an often heartbreaking, but always life enhancing, swirl of loveliness. And you can't beat a swirl of loveliness on a cold Tuesday evening in Birmingham.
The new album builds on their previous releases, a little fuller perhaps, but still retaining that magical 'out of timeness' (it's my review...I'll write gibberish if I want) that perhaps puts them at odds with a lot of listeners, certainly the 'chatterers' who stuck to the bar cackling over their half pints of 'Carling'...I despair...really I do. They should be detongued. At the very least. Anyway, if your love has left you, if you don't have a love, if you wish you didn't have a love (new single Transliterator seems to cover most of those bases)...or you just fancy drinking a bottle of wodka and dancing around like a nutjob (cop your ears around Comrade Z), DeVotchKa provide the perfect soundtrack.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Die Die Die / Wander Phantom / Cromwell's League / Theatre of the Absurd vs She's A Kamikaze Machine @ The Rainbow Friday 4th April 2008

Yeah! It's the weekend! Let's party!! First up Theatre Of The Absurd with a tune about...cancer. Yes, the weekend has landed. Actually I can think of no better way of ending the working week than watching Greg's (who is the Theatre) take on how shite the world is. He comes across a bit Morrissey in places, albeit a Morrissey who's had the shit kicked out of him by life. Listen to Winter of My Discontent...that's some dark shit. I loved the audience baiting too. There's too much apathy in a lot of crowds these days. Music ain't a fucking backing track, it's the fucking focal point. Got it? Good.

Right. After the acoustic set, Greg returned in another guise as lead mentalist with She's a Kamikaze Machine. Swapping the introspection for some serious screaming and thrashing, about SAKM were gloriously scrappy tonight. You get the feeling there's some tension in the band, which is kind of what you need. Things went wrong, leads came out...but you know what? It don't matter. A live performance is just that. If you want perfection you listen to a CD. It's how a band handles adversity that really counts. Do you stand there and act all awkward or put even more energy into it all and just fucking go for it? Thankfully SAKM did the latter and I love 'em for it. Greg's in yer face audience moshing, Carlo's meaty drumming and Malc's grim determination...the band name says it all...death or glory.

Next up Cromwell's League, shades of The Futureheads and Bloc Party melded with older new wave influences, they've clearly paid their gigging dues with a polished and impressive set of strong tunes (Sunday Dress was a highlight). Both vocalists have really good voices too that work together particularly well. Full marks for writing a track about Sylvia Plath too, the slowest number of the set but played with real passion.

Right, time to feel the noize. It's Wander Phantom. Lead Phantom, Callum, has an almost operatic voice, kind of Ozzy meets Axl (with a dose of Mr Rotton for good measure) that could easily scare the bejesus out of young children. That's all a good thing by the way. Musically they lurch brilliantly from Krautrock-esque noodling to all out sonic assaults that rip out your heart, push it through a mincer then feed it back to you through your ears. Listen to their My Space tracks and you'll see what I mean...either that or you'll have me sectioned.

Finally, the hotly anticipated Die! Die! Die! set. All the way from New Zealand (who seem to be producing more than their fair share of great bands at the moment) they're that glorious beast - a punk band with real tunes. Sure, Sideways Here We Come has a punk heart, but there's a (dare I say it) pop soul in there too (The Buzzcocks side of pop obviously). Performance wise, it's the real deal with the lead singer diving into...and through...the audience, writhing around the floor and thrashing about like someone wired to the mains. Their guitarist spent the entire set pacing back and forth across the stage like a caged beast and the drummer kicked ass to such an extent that Greg was forced to make his third appearance of the night to hold the kit in place. The whole set was a highlight, but 155 in particular, dedicated to The Scare, was awesome. Fast, messy, it what you will...but with a performance as spleen rupturing as this one, Die! Die! Die! are (cheesetastic but heartfelt link ahoy!) here to Stay! Stay! Stay!

So there we go. Ears bleeding but soul enriched it was yet another great night. As ever respect to the Plasic Noise DJ's for the between set tunes...Oh Bondage Up Yours!...good choice. Spex, drugs and rock n'roll.

Holy Fuck / Free Blood @ Barfly Birmingham Thursday 3rd April 2008

Gig or Batman loving vampire convention? You decide. Oh, right, that's my job isn't it? Okay, let's examine the facts. First up Brooklyn's male/female duo Free Blood. Although featuring a guitar for the first few tracks, the 'Blood primarily perform to a backing track, and darned funky it was too. Citing such diverse influences as Anita Baker, African Head Charge and Squeeze they're a kind of two headed blues / funk karaoke disco party in your pocket, twisting and contorting across the stage like things possessed. The male half of the duo, John, was the first performer I've seen who physically lept from the stage and dragged the audience to the front. It was a measure of just how damn infectious they are that everyone else followed. There was no blood, but plenty of sweat, especially during that awesome Hot Chip cover. In a word (or two)... Ohhh Positive.

Next up Holy Fuck. Try explaining that to your Ma and Pa. 'Who are you going to see tonight?' 'Holy Fuck!' 'Get to your room boy'. Anyway, the 'Fuck, for the uneducated, are causing a bit of a storm at the mo with their improvised electronic jiggery pokery. Imagine Jean Michelle Jarre having a house party with Justice and the Orb and you won't be too far from the mark. Prog dance if you will (head over to My Space and check out The Pulse for a taste of classic Fuck), with lots of noise noodling featuring a dazzling array of keyboards and bits of old skool tech (including what looked like an old cine film editing block?!). The whole thing's given extra heart and soul thanks to the addition of drums and guitar and, when it all comes together in one glorious noise it does indeed make you say exactly what it says on the tin...Holy Fuck.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Fancy a date on Friday night...?

It struck me as rather odd the other day that I merrily pop along to the Rainbow most Fridays and review the gigs without tipping you off on the good stuff beforehand. Well, this week see New Zealand blues punksters Die! Die! Die! (who we enjoyed no end at last years Great Escape Fest) play along with a whole shebang (yes, a shebang...Ricky Martin would be proud) of local talent including Wander Phantom, Cromwell's League and She's a Kamikaze Machine vs Theatre of the Absurd. I love things that are vs something else. Maybe there'll be blood and stuff! Anyway, it all kicks off at 8.00pm-ish (blood or no blood) for the bargain price of £4 and carries on until the unholy hour of 4am. Now that's value...