Sunday, June 29, 2008

Glastonbury 2007 - the movie (well my version anyway)

Strange moment last night. Normally I'd be shivering in the pouring rain watching a giant TV screen somewhere on the far horizon, trying to stop the water dripping down my nose and into my cider (nice image eh?). But instead there I was sitting in the relative comfort of Baron Towers watching Amy Winehouse's extraordinary performance. Did anyone else see her lamp one of the crowd or was it just me? Mind you I've been tempted to lamp one or two of the Glastonbury crowd myself (what is it with those freakin flags...?) so I can't really blame her. The worst moments were when the cameras panned around and a caught a glimpse of the bright yellow 24 hour 'we sell everything from rizlas to embryos' stalls. It brought a lump to my throat (that could've been the remains of my hangover though...hmmm). Despite the fact that Glasto is just too bloody big, you can't see jack, it always rains and most people seem to spend all day charging their bloody's still Glasto. There's always at least one magic moment that makes the mud, mountains of faeces, aching limbs and the bloke in the tent next to you who plays 'From Despair to Where' over and over and over again all worth it. 2008 has been my fallow year. I can't help looking forward to June 2009. Damn you, you big smelly, overhyped, gloriously bloody awful...but quite lovely at the same time...festival. Oh, the video at the start of this nonesense shows our tent filmed by me on Saturday morning at Glasto 2007. By Sunday the stream had become a river and our tent had its very own water bed...

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Retro Spankees / Kate Goes / Anyone For Shark? / Finding Calcutta / Tom Peel @ The Rainbow, Digbeth Friday 27th June 2008

Urrrgggggghhhh...I have the mother, father, daughter and son of all hangovers. Here's a tip for you. Don't mix beer, red wine, cider, vodka and coke. Seriously. Not good. Happily I'm typing this with the soothing sounds of Tom Peel in me lugholes. It's actually making me feel better. Hmmm. Tom Peel cures hangovers. Remarkable. He is too. I sort of know Tom. Well, I've spoken to him a few times, shared the odd taxi...that sort of thing, but I'd never seen him perform until tonight. Folk blues for blue folks, witty ditties, ukes, drugs and rock n'roll...(well ukes anyway), he's one of those artists you just can't help falling for. Vocally he's got that angelic quality that you hear in Art Garfunkel's voice, delicate but strong at the same time. Some of the songs are fragile creatures too, drifting in and out like the gentle breeze on a Summer's day. Oh dear. I've gone all Mills and Boon on you. Next I'll be singing Danny Boy and calling you all 'my besht mate...'. Anyway, Tom Peel. Good chap. Dylan meets Adam Green and George Formby at a Nick Drake gig. With jam on top. Respect due to Bom (without his magic drumstick) too, who did a forward role mid set then 'played' the safety barriers with a beer bottle.

Next up...oh balls we've lost it. Oh. hang on. No. There it is. Yes, it's folk rocksters Finding Calcutta. I'm a bit of a old folkie (Steeleye Span anyone?) at heart so FC went down a storm with me. Nico and Sally's vocals work together brilliantly, there's some nice folky guitar breaks and uplifting choruses aplenty. There's a live recording of one of their best tracks Follow Me, from their last 444 Club show on that there myspace thingy.

Anyone For Shark? Oh yes. I'll have shark and chips please, with mushy peas and a pickled egg (pickled eggs...why? It's just so wrong...). The Shark are a real treat. Think a jazzier, funkier version of The Bees and you'll have a good idea of their sound. Some of the tracks bubble along nicely, lulling you gently into that kind of head nodding that people do when they're listening to jazz...then it all goes full on Bonzo Dog Doodah Band nuts. Try to nod along to that and you'd lose your frontal lobe. I can think of no better way to lose my facilities that nodding pieces of my brain away to Anyone For Shark? though, so it's all good. Why the hell aren't there more bands like Anyone For Shark? Feel the funk people...FEEEEEL THE FUNKKKKKKK!

After feeling the funk, let's all feel Kate Goes. Actually that sounds a bit iffy, but you know what I mean. Tonight Kate Goes...spotty. If you've not seen Kate Goes, shame on you. Unless you live somewhere far off and the trains are a bit shit. Or unless you're Robert Mugabe and you're a tool of the highest order. I'm always a bit stuck when it comes to describing the band. There really isn't anyone else like them. The closest I got last night was The Fiery Furnaces meets Sesame Street. They're the sweetest, nuttiest, cleverest, bestest, brightest, lightest, loveliest band in the whole wide world. Ever. Heartbeat is, as I've said a milion times before, a work of genuis. You're the mushy in my peas indeed. There aren't too many songs that I can listen to over and over again, but that's one of 'em.

Still with me? Good. Last up The Retro Spankees. I saw them years ago somewhere and I can't remember where...that's age for you...but I can remember loving 'em enough to buy a CD. Clever, angular indie pop of the kind that you normally have to go back 25 odd years to find. Check out Turf Not Tarmac. If choruses were people that one would be sectioned. Love it. Nice to see plenty of folk dancing away too (hard to resist when the Spankees are in full flow). In fact there were plenty of shapes being pulled all night. Those lovely Sugarstomp DJ's did a fine job of keeping the vibe going in between sets. Nice to catch up with Grandmaster Gareth (lead singer of possibly my favourite band ever Misty's Big Adventure) and fellow bloggers Pete Ashton and Frankie Ward as well (check out her I mean interview...with Kate Goes...damn this hangover). Another corker of a night. Good bands. Good people. Good times. (jeez I sound like an ad for a pizza chain...).

Before I go remember it's Modular electro superstars The Presets on Wednesday night. Glo sticks ahoy!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Old School Tie / The Hoi Polloi / Talk / Colonel Fabien @ The Rainbow, Digbeth Friday 20th June 2008

A kracking 444 klub from Kamikaze tonight, kicked off in seriously jazztastic style by the sweet 3 piece Colonel Fabien. Jazz. You either get it or you don't. I do. At least I think I do. It can be a subtle beast at times. Is that just noodling or is there something more complex going on? Then all of a sudden...ahhh yes...there you get it. It's a whole musical conversation...the natural word in sound...a million late, smokey nights in aural form. That's my jazz theory and I'm sticking with it. I'd actually be quite happy sticking with Colonel Fabien too. The live set was jazz gold, a good dash of the funky stuff, some snatches of gypsy here and there and plenty of moments where the instruments all seemed to talk to me. That could've been the vodka and coke, but I'd put it down to the sheer quality of the playing and material. If you like jazz, you'll love Colonel Fabien. If you don't like jazz, hell, give it a listen...start with The Feral Cats of Morrocco and see how you get on.

Given their critical and commercial success it kinda amazes me that there aren't fewer Radiohead influenced bands around. I guess it's easier to just plug in a guitar or two and do an Arctic Monkey's. Happily (for variety's sake if nothing else) there are some groups out there who prefer to stretch themselves. Talk is one of them. Blending gentle jazzy undercurrents with moments of full on electronica bollock busting insanity and post rock scuzziness the band are, for my money, actually a more interesting proposition than Thom and co. What?! I hear a million Radiohead fans cry...a fatwa upon you for taking the name of the 'head in vain. Calm down dears. I love the 'head as much as the next man, but Talk just seem fresher, hungrier...more willing to fiddle about and experiment with stuff. Lead singer, Andrew, has the kind of voice that could start a cult can just see thousands of black clad teens walking off cliffs to the strains of Tin. It could just be me, but I wouldn't be surprised to see some seriously freaky shit as these chaps develop. For now they've got a brooding, hypnotic beast of an album out, 'Reset, Start Again', that's making some serious waves amongst the taste makers. Get in there.

Next up, oi oi, it's The Hoi Polloi. I've seen the band quite a few times now and I'll admit that I've not always got them. Tonight was a different kettle of Polloi though. By far the strongest performance I've seen them put on, it all seemed to come together. The playing was as tight as my wallet (that's tight), James' vocals emotionally spot on and the sound (good work Mr Soundman) beautifully orchestral. Musically there's touches of The Verve, Joy Division (check out the drums on Invisible) and that 60's tinged sound of The Stone Roses in there somewhere. Vocally James' voice is mellowing nicely, gentle but with a simmering energy. Good stuff.

Last, and this is becoming a bit of a habit for me now, Old School Tie. If you've not seen them live cut off your ears and post them to the band at once. They'll fill them with all sorts of dubby, funky shit and post them back to you (actually, don't do that...I have horrible visions of sacks of bloodied envelopes being delivered by terrified postmen). No, on second thoughts just get yourself down to one of their gigs. They're a gigging machine, which is probably why they're so fricking awesome. I'm not (quite) old enough to remember those all night late 60's jams that you see on the telly sometimes (you know, the one's with naked people raising their hands to the sky), but I imagine the euphoria they generated is pretty close to OST in full flow. God's Electric Super Scene remains one of my tracks of the year (not sure if it came out this year but 2008 is the first time I'd heard it) and, live, OST are pretty hard to beat. Towards the end of the set I thought the bass player was going to take off and fly through the roof into outer space...stunning.

Before I go a few top tips. Next week's 444 club is unmissable (Kate Goes, The Retro Spankees, Tom Peel...the list goes on), then, the folllowing week (on Wednesday 2nd July), you've got Modular synth superstars The Presets. Oh yes. See you there.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Surface Unsigned - Round 2 @ The Custard Factory, Tuesday 10th June 2008

Readers of numerous other Birmingham blogs will be aware of Surface Unsigned who, rather unwisely, threatened all manner of legal rubbish on Created In Birmingham just 'cos they printed some terms and conditions. Bad move. We'll gloss over that little incident though. Whether a 'battle of the bands' style contest like this is a good thing or not is up for debate. It seems to me that the good folk of Surface Unsigned are making a buck or two out of the venture though (tickets at £7 a pop, text vote revenue etc). Of course I'm sure they'd argue that they're putting a lot into it too. It all seemed smoothly run and, if nothing else, it gives local bands extra exposure to an audience beyond their core fanbase.

I'd come along to see rising local indie rockstars RiotNight, who kicked everything off in fine style with a set of britpop (old and new) tinged tracks that reminded me of everything from Oasis to The Stones. Lead singer Will's perfecting that rock god swagger (think Liam G meets Tom M), flanked by the formidable pairing of lead guitarist Ishaq and bassist Josh, with Jon providing the kind of powerhorse drumming that drives the whole thing along like a Harley on heat. They've got some impressive tracks too. This Is England in particular is a stompalong classic. A storming wake up call to a sleeping nation. They played a slower track too (didn't catch the name), showing off a different side to the band and a willingness to experiment that few of their competitors attempted. Impressive stuff that saw them deservedly fly through to the next round.

I was impressed by the standard of all the bands in fact. Honourable mentions for the night must also go out to Purple and Sabbeth's funkier brothers, Mutablis, who seem to have brought an army of fans along with them (and an entire merch stand too) along with post rockers In The Back Of The Real (you can't beat a bit of post rock on a Tuesday evening).

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Robyn / Sam Sparro @ Birmingham Academy, Saturday 7th June 2008

After some good natured bantering with a smoker in the queue (which seemed to stretch halfway to the back of beyond...and back again) we got into the Academy and, for once, were served at the bar without a four hour wait. This could've been down to the fact that some of the audience seemed to be out for a bad time rather than the more conventional reasons for going to a gig (more of which later) but nonetheless it was appreciated. Oh, before I forget, big thanks to the Scottish bloke who serves behind the bar in the Square Peg (as if he'd ever read this, but hey, it's the thought that counts). As the big bag of Westons Scrumpy was coming to the end (it comes in a giant bag in a box...scrumptastic) he poured me a good pint and almost a half but only charged me for a pint. That's the third time in a month that I've got exceptional service from a Weatherspoons pub. Good on 'em.

Right. The music. Sam Sparro first. Half man, half bird and with a beak for a mouth he flew back and forth across the stage before laying an egg on a bald man's head. No. That's not right is it? Hmmmm. Blame the Westons. Ahhhh that's it. It's all coming back. He's an electro disco queen with a strangely soulful voice for a white dude, who makes the kind of tunes that would've been loved by drivers of Sierra Cosworths back in the 80's. So I was in hog heaven obviously. Shades of Prince in his most accessible purple patch, with a clutch bag full of hits including 'Black & Gold' (which apparently got to number 2 in 'the charts' recently), 'Pocket' and '21st Century Life', Sam was a camp disco treat. The audience seemed a little less enthusiastic, but I've kind of come to expect that from the Academy crowd. At points the volume of talking threatened to drown out the massive PA...short of some kind of mass slaughter there's not a great deal you can do about these kind of people though is there?

Onto the main event. Robyn. The single most important female artist of the last 20 years. Seriously. After leaving a big label a few years back she set up on her own and went on to release an album that's a true pop classic. With 'You Can't Handle Me', 'Be Mine' and, in a nod to the Godmother of Pop (Queen Madge), 'Who's That Girl', you've got three of the best pop tracks ever recorded. Of course we got them all tonight. Why this gig wasn't sold out I'll never know. Why the audience didn't seem more excited is even more of a mystery. I hate to harp on about the audience but the pair of wankers behind me came seriously close to a clout. I quote them pretty much word for word, "Sam Sparro's shit and Robyn's a spaz", "Yeah, she's a right spaz", "I dare you to shout 'Robyn's shite". At this I casually mentioned that I might break one of their noses and that seemed to do the trick. I don't advocate violence but unless those of us who are able to walk and talk at the same time take a stand the world is going to be taken over by dribbling fools who seem to be superglued to their mobile 'phones (what the hell are they texting to each other? has anyone not realised that the mindless drivel these people text to each other probably generates more carbon emissions than a whole fleet of 4 x 4's?). Anyway, I digress. Robyn was superb. The 'band' seemed a little pointless at times (I'm sure that a backing track did a lot of the work), but the lady herself was pure pop royalty. The inevitable highlight - and the reason Robyn deserves to be seen in a different league - was 'With Every Heartbeat', a beautiful song that I've seen quite a few people cover already (a sure sign of impending classic status). I've listened to it a hundred of times or so and still love it every bit as much as the first time and to see her Robyness do it's worth putting up with the mud dwellers.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

This Love Affair / All Your Peers / Rase / Laredo @ The Rainbow, Friday 6th June 2008

June. It's bloody June already. Glastonbury month (not that I'm going this year). Speaking of which, did you know that you could go to almost every 444 club gig for a whole year for the price of getting pissed on in a field? No? Well you do now. Banishing any more talk of being pissed on in fields (or anywhere for that matter) let's get on with the show. First up Laredo. It's always tricky coming on first and, being a semi-outdoors kinda venue, it was still 'daylight' when they started playing. But they put their heart and soul into it, spinning out a fine Pearl Jam/Foo Fighters tinged set of rock gritty rock. Lead Laredo, Rush, has an earthy voice perfectly suited to the material and the whole band seemed to gel really well on stage. Take a listen to Hexen on their My Space thingy for a good idea of their sound.

Next up Rase. At first I was a little confused by them. They play a lighter form of rock with more introspective, socially aware lyrics than perhaps you'd expect from a band of this type (just listen to Fingers Burnt for example). Actually it made quite a refreshing change. Lead Rase, Dan, has strong, emotive voice and sitting there nursing my vodka and coke I thought I could see him doing the whole singer/songwriter thing. Lo and behold I've just discovered (who says I don't do my reaserch) that he's a solo artist in his own right too. Check him out here. The meeting of the two - singer/songwriter and rock band - works well, with Dan capable of adding a touch of menace to his voice on some of the harder tracks. Some rather impressive guitar solos in there too.

Band number three, All Your Peers. I've seen this lot before. They've got one of the catchiest riffs in rock (the slighty Arabian bit in their standout track All Fours...I can see John Lydon covering this track for some reason). There's a strong new wavey element to All Your Peers (evident on tracks like Don't Look Down), shades of Joe Jackson in places perhaps? Good stuff. They seemed to pull the biggest crowd of the night too so they're clearly winning a strong, loyal fanbase.

Last, but by no means...oh you get it...This Love Affair. Their influences are clear (U2 and The Police just leap out at you), but, and this is a big but, they actually pull it off really well. In fact, shut your eyes and you can imagine 30,000 people in ruddy great arena bouncing up and down and singing every word. Just listen to Brothers and Sisters. It's a pure U2 anthemic rock classic. This ain't a criticism by the way. All bands have influences. It's how well you use them that counts and This Love Affair use them quite brilliantly. I'd seen them before a while back and a number of tracks had lodged firmly in the nether regions of my brain. She's My Enemy in particular stood out (a fine use of the words 'effigy', 'key' and 'geography'), but pretty much every track has that certain something. It seems that they have a couple of gigs in the 'smoke' coming up, let's hope the A&R bods are listening...