Saturday, May 30, 2009

Dan Smith / LP45 / Get Frank @ The Rainbow, Friday 29th May 2009

The world just looks better in the summertime don’t it? Looking back at my calendar I was surprised to discover that I was made redundant 15 whole weeks ago. Tempus fugit. The first few weeks were a little odd, after that I picked up a nice freelance project that keeps me pretty busy and pays the bills. One of the great joys of working this way is that you can, within reason, just decide to pack it all in for an afternoon and sit in the garden…chillaxin as the young folk might put it. That’s just what I did before tonight’s gig. Me. A garden. A good book…and just the gentle parping of traffic horns as commuters make their sticky way home. Bliss.

Against this backdrop of inner city reverie up popped Get Frank. I’ve been wanting to see Frankie Ward (lead singer of Get Frank…seemingly more of a collective than a band…sometimes it’s just her, tonight it was half a dozen people) for a while now after dipping in and out of her blog (which features a shed load of musical works in progress). She’s a busy bee. On top of acting in zombie films, producing radio shows, reviewing bands, appearing onstage with the Mystery Jets and discovering a cure for the common cold Frankie also writes, sings and plays the Uke. When I was her age I could barely be arsed to breath…hmmm…I’ve not really progressed much…still, know thy place that’s what I say. Or, as Quentin Crisp once put it, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, failure may be your style’. Anyway, the music…there’s some of the wit and verve of Regina Spektor in there, perhaps even a touch of Sandy Denny (I’m going though another one of my folk phases) and shades of another local star, the lovely Gemma Quarterman’s lush tones. Lyrically she’s as raw and honest as they come, check out ‘It’s Not You’…where she rails against soppy men and yearns for a bit of rough (she should try Bearwood…the place is full of ‘em) or 'Cautionary Tale'…a world weary lament on failed relationships that, along with a rousing ‘Nature Boy’ was one of the standout numbers tonight. This was the first time that Get Frank had performed as a six piece and, naturally enough, it was a bit ramshackle in places but that was part of the charm of it all. Frankie’s got a cracking voice and a charming stage presence, there was a good blast of sax (I do love a good blast of sax) and, given a few more gigs under their belts, the new six piece Get Frank experience will iron out any little niggles. I get a strong feeling that our Frank has just the right mix of talent and chutzpah (yes, chutzpah…I’m going through a bit of a Yiddish phase too alright already) to really get somewhere…one to watch.

Next up…and another one to watch…in fact I’ve already watched them once before and loved ‘em…LP45. These boys are sharp. The ghost of St Jeff of Buckley may loom over many artists but LP45 breath new life into his, by now, iconic sound. Adding an upbeat jazzy feel to the music lifts it out of the bedsit and into the sunlight and it just sounds bloody great (I’m sorry…that’s as eloquent as I get sometimes…’bloody great’…is it any surprise Rolling Stone magazine hasn’t come calling?). Frontman Simon is as charming and loveable as a dozen puppy dogs and seems incredibly modest and self effacing. This is a great band. Just go and listen to them. I can personally recommend the instrumental mentalism of ‘Asian Persuasion’, the scat jazz-tastic ‘Next Door’ and their jewel in da crown ‘All We Know’…the first single off their debut album…just as soon as someone signs ‘em. Why the hell haven’t they been snapped up label? You’re all fools…fools I tells ya…

Finally, Dan Smith. His recorded output features lush orchestral arrangements but tonight was more of a sparse affair (just him, a drummer and a bass player). He’s got a neat line in clever lyrical twists and that thing that Regina Spektor does when she draaawaaawwwaaaaawwwwsss out words. There’s a bit of Queen pomp here and there and the sort of catchy piano bits that Dame Elton used to do so well. Highlight of the set, 'Alchemy', starts off as Dan’s Muse song before taking a detour into dubby territory. Hell, why not? I particularly liked the bit where he recorded all sorts of instruments live, then looped them back. It’s not a new trick but few artists have pulled it off so well. A fitting end to an evening of musical loveliness…

PS: Britain’s got talent (this is the topical bit…unless you’re reading this in 2026…in which case Britain will probably have been rebranded…maybe Avivaland or Santanderville or some such nonsense...sigh) but it ain’t on the telly. It’s in the backrooms of our pubs and clubs (oooh...this is getting a bit Churchillian), in those little venues where people perform for the love of it all. Birmingham’s got a pretty vibrant live music scene right now (despite the best efforts of Birmingham City ‘Council’ and those fools who move into city centre apartments then moan about a little noise)…get yourselves out there and let’s keep it that way.

Enjoy the sunshine y’all.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Like a Midi in a candy store...

The beauty of so many releases these days, particularly those from the dancey side of the tracks, is that artists aren’t afraid to mix it up a bit. General Midi’s (a close relative of Corporal Dolby and Lieutenant 5.1 Surround Sound…possibly) Operation Overdrive’s a classic example, coming off more like a compilation than the production of just one man (albeit with a little help from his friends). Take the first couple of tracks for example. Opener, 4 Million Ways could get Dizzee Rascal’s head spinning, then you’ve got the poppier Absinth featuring some naggingly catchy old skool synth pop keyboards in the chorus. ‘I’m like a fat kid in a candy store’ sings Sean Gill on the latter track. You get the impression that Midi feels much the same way when it comes to gathering together the ingredients for his tunes.

What runs throughout the whole album though is the joyful spirit of the dancefloor…these are tracks just made for working up a bit of a sweat (or a lot of a sweat in my case…I’m not as fit as I was back in the day). Of course whilst the strength of an album like this lies in the many influences it takes from all over the shop there’s a flipside too. To my (admittedly music drenched brain) it’s not easy to distinguish one dance orientated artist from another (Milton nods towards Justice territory for instance). It’s not really an issue, this album’s as good as any in the genre (the Whale-like Hobo Humpin Slobo Babe guitar driven ‘Back For More’ is a particular favourite), but there’s room out there for someone to do something truly groundbreaking too and, judging by this release, I reckon Midi’s got the tools to make it happen…

All in all though, a mightily successful Operation.

General Midi’s Operation Overdrive is out on Distinctive on June 29th

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Mr Hudson / MPHO / Alan Pownall @ The Rainbow, Digbeth, Saturday 23rd May 2009

Yet another Rainbow gig to sell out and proof that this humble little Digbeth boozer continues to go from strength to strength. Tonight it revealed another of its nifty little tricks and took its top off (it has a ‘roll back’ roof…making it possibly the UK’s only convertible gig venue).

First up…and basking in the lovely late evening sunshine…Alan Pownall who’s got a nice laid back vocal delivery and a picnic basket full of perfect Summery ditties – kind of like Jack Johnson, but with a bit more oomph and a lot less surf.

Next up the electro-ragga-sampledelic MPHO (pronounced ‘Empo’…she was very keen to point that out, even getting us to repeat it back to her until we all got it right). As I’ve said many times before I’m loving these sassy 80’s tinged popsters…step forward GaGa, La Roux, Ladyhawke, Little Boots, Florance and the Machine, Bat For Lashes et al. I particularly enjoyed MPHO’s Martha and the Muffins (hmmm muffins) ‘Echo Beach’ inspired Box N Locks. In the days when such things mattered it would’ve been a ‘smash hit’...

Finally the man himself, local boy made good (oh so good), Mr Hudson…now without his library…but with the full backing of a certain Mr Kanye West. Not the most obvious of partnerships perhaps (although he has been remixed by Bizzle before now) but I’m all for mixing shit up a bit. Judging by his current MySpace tracks Mr H might be going a little bit more electro than in his previous incarnations (perhaps inspired by his new buddy’s last offering, 808 Heartbreak) but tonight’s gig was pretty much classic Hudson (it might even have been the same band that made up his ‘Library’). Watching him it’s not hard to see his appeal which (thanks partly to the Kanye endorsement) could see him go global. I was reminded in places of The Police (bear with me here), he’s got that kind of reggae lite feel that Sting made so much of…subtle, but there nonetheless. His songs have that same kind of instant appeal too. Cop a listen to ‘Too Late, Too Late’ or ‘One Specific Thing’ for instance. But (just like Sting) there’s something very English about him too…extending to calling one of his new songs ‘Stiff Upper Lip’. If none of this works out you can almost see him ending his days playing piano in up market hotel bars. Not much chance of that happening though, especially if the ecstatic sing along atmosphere of tonight’s jolly enjoyable gig (yes readers, I am Enid Blyton) was anything to go by – ‘Ask The DJ’ in particular was rapturously greeted by the crowd. I’m intrigued to see how the new album turns out. It’s been a while since Birmingham gave birth to a really big musical name and it would be nice to add a star to the Broad Street Walk of Fame for someone wasn’t in Sabbath…

PS: One thing that keeps bugging me every time I see Mr Hudson is whether he’s the same Hudson who had a band called The Hudson Sound. I can remember seeing them (and being impressed) at Ronnie Scott’s and The Flapper way back but I’m useless with faces. Is it the same guy?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Antony & The Johnsons @ The Symphony Hall, Birmingham, Friday 22nd May 2009

I’ve been in awe of Antony and his music pretty much from the moment I first became aware of him when he made the Mercury short list a few years back. ‘Hope There’s Someone’ is a simply stunning song delivered in that tremulous and unique voice of his – part Bessie Smith, part Yma Sumac. Musically, as in the rest of life I guess, I’m drawn to the outsider. They’re the people that make the world bearable…and they’re a dying breed. I blame the internets intermess. It’s turning us into a vacuous bunch of self obsessed morons who’ll end up posting images of our own faeces before too much longer and gibbering like gibbons on AudioBoo or whatever else some spotty 18 year old dreams up in Ohio. Still I suppose it keeps everyone occupied while the real world goes down the tubes. Truly the internet is the opium of the people (and yes, I’m aware of the ‘pot calling the kettle black-ness’ of putting all this down on a blog but, hell, I’m as vacuous as the next man).

By a strange quirk of fate the intermess prevented me from getting tickets for this show when they came on sale, then enabled me to get a pair just a day before the gig. I’m not a fan of buying stuff online, not too keen on my credit card being used by a bunch of crims in some far off land. So I did it the old skool way originally and went in to the Symph Hall box office on the day the tickets came on sale. There were tickets left…the seats were around 14,000ft from the stage, just outside Acocks Green I think. Naturally they were the same price as all the other seats. Bargain. So I left it…cursing the evil scum who had no doubt bought hundreds just to flog on ebay. Sure enough, when I checked, there they were. Dozens of ‘em. They ranged from the cheeky £40 per ticket (based on a face value of £25) to the downright sick £100 a ticket…EVIL SCUM. I had kind of resigned myself to missing the gig but thought I’d check back on ebay the day beforehand to see if any genuine sales had come up (people who really couldn’t go). Lo…a miracle! A pair of tickets…ROW C…for £40 quid…the pair. Met the seller in a pub car park the same afternoon (dodgy? moi?), paid in cash. Deal done.

Anyway, enough with the techno-ranting, we still have the music and, if it’s real emotion you’re after (not the e-variety) Antony is in a world of his own. Like Baby Dee he’s one of those artists that you either do or don’t ‘get’. For the believers he turned the Symph Hall into an alternative universe for the night…a place to just float in…enveloped by that voice, those twisted fairy tale style lyrics yearning for transformation, freedom, someone to love and be loved by. It’s strong stuff and, in the hands (and voice) of a lesser man, it could prove too cheesy, too weird or just too darn depressing. For me it’s the physicality of the man, balanced with his voice that makes it all work though. Like that episode of the Simpsons (when Michael Jackson is a big white guy) the two component parts don’t seem to go together - all too aware of this, much of Antony’s lyrics hint at wanting to be someone or something else. Just listen to ‘For Today I Am A Boy’ for example. Someone put that voice in that body for a reason and I’m damn glad they did. But, and this was kind of the big surprise of the evening, he’s a jolly funny chap too, a sort of cross between a dotty maiden aunt and Julian Clary. I got the sense he’d be quite happy just sitting there chatting with the audience, which is just what he did on more than one occasion prompting a couple of heckles to ‘just sing another song’. ‘Oh right’ he replied ‘yes some people do get a bit nervous during these bits’ hinting at the fact that people might like the voice but perhaps don’t want to be confronted by the man behind it? Could be. We got treated to a story of his dreams too, in which Jesus returns to the earth as an Afghan girl who lives in a cave (cos the rest of the earth is underwater)...then she walks on water to prove she's Jesus. At this stage in the development of the human race I wouldn't rule anything out. He's quite keen on the idea of a matriachal society too and reckons we'll all be better off if the world was ruled by women. It's an interesting idea but I get the feeling that ladies are just as capable of fucking up the planet as men other words it's the individual not the gender that makes all the difference. But that's a whole new can of worms. Song wise we were treated to all the hits together with a healthy dose of tracks from the new album. No Beyonce 'Crazy In Love' cover though (he was asked to do it but gently refused...although he was impressed when the audience told him Beyonce was in Brum on Saturday night...don't be surprised if you see him there on the front row). Anyway, he was charming, even if he did hold his nose to simulate diving into despair during the intro of ‘Hope There’s Someone’ and moan about how depressing it was (sacrilege!). Fast forward a few years and I half expect to see Antony fronting Scissor Sisters…it could just be me but I think she’s ready to party - maybe that’s the real transformation that Antony’s been seeking all these years.

NB: Photo's were banned during the performance (but I snuck a cheeky one in right at the end...flashless) and the stage was a dark as a very dark place...hence the poorer than normal image. That's my excuse anyway.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Vivian Girls / Male Bonding / The Deadlights @ The Rainbow, Digbeth, Tuesday 19th May 2009

In the last six days I’ve seen 36 different bands. 36. I’m aware that’s this is probably nowhere near the world record (I wonder what is?), but it’s still an awful lot. The trouble with going to see so many bands (oh so many bands) is the same as if you do anything an awful lot (steady there…perverts). You get a little jaded. Great bands suddenly become good bands, good bands become average bands and average bands…well, let’s not go there. I only mention this because I’ve been thinking (oh dear…here he goes again) recently about just how many bands I’ve seen over the last (mumbles slightly) 20+ years or so. Surprisingly I had a few lean gig years at Uni, mainly because I was as poor as a church mouse who’d fallen on particularly hard times, but since graduating it’s been an non-stop orgy of bands, cider, sweat, the odd bruise or two and a growing ringing in my ears. The answer to my current gig overload is, of course, quite simple. Go on a diet. Cut it out pork boy. But then I just sit at home moping about and thinking that I’m missing some great gig…like THAT pistols show in Manchester when everyone who was there formed a band…or the time Jimi Hendrix first decided to set his geetar on fire or the Misty’s show when Erotic Volvo unveiled his new look (sighs wistfully). Ho hum. This isn’t going anywhere by the way (no change there then)…just thinking, that’s all. If only the human brain could be deleted and you could start all over again…as fresh as a daisy. Obviously you’d keep the boring files that enabled you to read, write and walk in a straight line. But you’d delete pretty much everything else, just for the pleasure of discovering stuff again for the very first time. Like a virgin, touched for the very first time. Eurgh. Write that line down and it looks really sick.

First up The Deadlights. Post punksters with a slight Fall edge in places and a nice line in dual male vocals which worked really well (creating a Spector-esque wall of sound…oh yes). They had a few slower numbers but it’s the faster, heavier stuff that did it for me ‘The Fire Burns For Blood’ and ‘In Your Room’ in particular – Orange Juice meets Eagles of Death Metal.

Next up Male Bonding, who did seem particularly close now I come to think of it...facing each other as they sang (awww how sweet), a fast, grungey bucketful of noise. Some of the guitar parts were more intricate, contrasting with the generally ramshackle performance, but that’s obviously the point of it all. I guess what it needed for me was members of the audience slamming into each other to bring the whole atmosphere alive, but as there didn’t seem to be much of that going on so I made do with banging my head against the speakers. It’s never done me any harm before. Probably.

Finally the main event - Vivian Girls - a band that seem to have the scenesters creaming their… whatever they’re wearing these days. Beats me. I lost track of it all when ‘baggy’ finished. Once again I’ve invented a new genre for this band (oh goody I hear you cry). Punkgaze. See what I did there? Yes, they blend some punk attitude with a movement that seems to be making a bit of a comeback – shoegaze (so named ‘cos bands just stared at their shoes whilst playing noisy guitar dominated soundscapes and singing in a slightly distant way, as though they were thinking of something better to do. But there’s more to them. At times, when the three female voices came together, you get echoes of those great 60’s girl bands like the Shangri-Las (one of their admitted influences) or early Go-Go’s, then there’s some twangy surf guitar in the mix’s like a bunch of outsider schoolgirls nicked their cool Uncle Tommy’s record collection and mashed it all up. At times it all gets a bit messy (must be all those scenesters creaming themselves) but they’re as sweet as apple pie…albeit an apple pie with razor blades in. Grrrr.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Great Escape 2009

(Turbowolf in full flow)

My third TGE in a row and as ever, it threw up (oooh don’t say throw up…I’m still feeling a little delicate) a fair few treats. In no particular order here are my top 5 bands…cue that music from Top Of The Pops that they used in the 80’s with that spinning yellow 7inch single):

(1) The Miserable Rich

Baroque and roll. I’d never heard of them before but they gave me that rare Devotchka type moment when mood, music and atmosphere all gel into one glorious whole. Listen to Pisshead and Boat Song. If you don’t feel tears welling up in your eyes then you have no soul. My new favourite band? Oh yes. Enjoy.

(2) Duchess Says

Mad as a banker’s bonus, the lead Duchess out CSS’s Lovefoxx. Synthpunktastic performance featuring mucho rolling around on the floor. She manages to be sexy and terrifying at the same time. A female fronted French Canadian Gallows for the new rave generation (check out CHoB).

(3) Apples

Vampire Weekend meets Haircut 100. 80’s pop heaven…oh how happy am I that the 80’s are so so trendy amongst up and coming bands like Apples. Just listen to Reason 45, slip on your Deely Boppers and dust off those leggings...tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1982.

(4) White Denim

Let’s rock! Live, these guys reminded me of those clips you see of Led Zep back in the day with John Bonham beating the shit out his drum kit. Classic rock that somehow feels fresh as a daisy. How they do dat? By fusing that funky Foals-ish feel to heads down 70’s rock…that’s how. I’m going to try to get them to come to Brum before they go all stadium (Austin’s not that far away is it?)…which they will. You mark my words.

(5) Panama Kings

Straightoutta Belfast, Panama Kings come off like a young, punky Thin Lizzy…which is a very, very good thing indeed. We got to see them twice in the same day, by which time a number of their tracks had lodged themselves firmly into what’s left of my brain…cop a listen to ‘Children’ at full blast.

Those were the highlights. For those who really want to be bored by my full itinerary here is a potted history of what went down:

The Great Escape Day One

Kicked the whole shebang off with Panama Kings on the seafront who delivered a blistering (and blustery) set that fizzed with punky rocky loveliness. As an added bonus we got to meet their manager, Matt Priest the drummer from Dodgy, who is the nicest man in music. Fact. Then we whizzed off to see Apples at Revenge. They were another festival highlight, Vampire Weekend-y with a bit more synth. Hjaltalin and The Invisible passed by a pleasant hour or two at Komedia, then it was off to Ocean Rooms for Panama Kings (second time in one day and even stronger than the earlier set) and Cocknbullkid before sloping off to Coalition for Killa Kella and finally Fandeath who Lady B thinks includes the girl who is/was Dandi Wind.

Bands seen…8.

The Great Escape Day Two

Day two and in a haze of red wine I stumbled off to see the glorious rock beast that is Turbowolf (on the seafront…bracing at 11.30am), then crawled to The Prince Albert pub for Tom Allalone & The 78’s and The Alexandria Quartet before hobbling along to Horatio’s on the pier for Advaita and Medusa. Still with me? Good. Then off to The Arc for Rainbow Arabia and all the way to over to Ocean Rooms for Duchess Says, before heading back to The Prince Albert for The John Steel Singers and Bang Bang Eche (who had a nightmare set…everything broke and the soundman couldn’t get any vocals…) and Miserable Rich (awesome…highlight of the festival). Finally we toddled off to Coalition for 80Kidz and Ou Est Le Swimming Pool.

Bands seen…god help me… 12.

The Great Escape Day Three

Things went a bit wrong here. The New Zealand showcase gig scheduled for 12.15pm actually started at 1.30pm, throwing our foolproof schedule into complete chaos. Cue much stomping around by me ranting at the world. Hey, it helps. Anyway, bandwise we saw Bang Bang Eche (who were bang bang on today…oh what a difference a decent soundman makes) and Conan Mockasin at Horatios’s, a bit of Babyshambles (playing an impromptu outdoor gig at Above Audio, a snatch of Ben Kweller in a tent, then Banjo or Freakout, Three Trapped Tigers, School of 7 Bells and…oh lord my aching bones…White Denim at the Pavilion Theatre. We then attempted a late night sesh at Komedia but it seemed to have been cancelled or some such nonsense. Probably for the best really…

Bands seen…8…sort of.

Making a grand total of 30 bands in three days. RIP The Baron.

Seth Lakeman / Megson / Nancy Elizabeth @ The Symphony Hall, Birmingham, Sunday 17th May 2009

After hotfooting it all the way from Brighton’s Great Escape Festival (three days of relentless gigs in sweaty dives…just the way I like it) it was nice to sit down in the sumptuous surroundings of The Symph Hall for part of the second annual English Originals season. Managed to catch the awesome voice of Vijay Kishore in the foyer beforehand but the gig proper kicked off with Nancy Elizabeth. The word ‘ethereal’ springs to mind here, gentle vocals washed over my fevered brow and she delivered a nicely chilled set that would probably have been better suited to a much smaller venue. She was a real charmer though and chatted between songs revealing that she hadn’t bothered with a set list because she wanted to see how things would go. That’s a brave move, but refreshing too. The traditional folk song that she sang (acapella) and seemingly just on a whim proved a particular highlight. Keep your eyes open for her debut album coming out in the summer.

Next up rising folk duo, Megson, who pretty much hit the perfect balance in terms of their set (some cracking upbeat jiggy numbers and a few more melancholy tracks – the ying and yang of folk) and their vocal interplay. Both Debbie and Stu have strong, clear voices, Debbie’s revealing more of her natural Teeside accent…what a lovely thing to hear…someone singing in their ‘real’ voice. One or two tracks had a touch of Deacon Blue about them (no bad thing), but there was also a distinct Seth tinge there too, setting us up nicely for the man himself. Highlights included a song called ‘4d a day’ all about the life of working youngsters back in ye olde days of pits and stuff. In this world of MP’s claiming for their moats and the old dodgy banker pocketing £20million for being completely and utterly inept it was all the more poignant. Megson seem to be playing almost everywhere over the next few months (although not at the Moseley Folk Festival which is a bit of a shame) so you’ve got plenty of chance to see ‘em (and I heartily recommend that you do).

On to the man widely credited with making folk appeal to a much wider audience…Seth (or Sexy Seth as my other half insists on calling him). As I’ve come to expect he gave 100% from start to finish (playing for a good 90 minutes) and delivered all of the biggies including Poor Man’s Heaven, The Lady Of The Sea and that Mercury nominated title track Kitty Jay, which pretty much kicked off the whole Seth-mania thing. He also unveiled a couple of new tracks, ‘The Circle Grows’ and ‘Hearts and Minds’, the latter being the stronger of the two and seeming (at first listen) to be something of a protest song against corruption, the financial system and the general sorry state of the world today. If it is then Seth’s putting folk right back where it belongs, after all wasn’t it the original protest music? There’s plenty to protest about these days too and who better than Seth’s to deliver an album that does just that? Whether he’ll want to get all political is another debate altogether, I’m not sure all of the audience at tonight’s gig would approve but since when has great music been about pleasing a demographic eh? It was a good gig all round but, being constructive, I would’ve liked a bit more of the originality hinted at in the name of the season. Seth for example did a wonderful collaboration with local hip hop group Moorish Delta 7 a few months ago which would have added a really fresh twist to the evening if he'd recreated it. Again I’m not sure all of the audience would approve but folk needs to stay fresh if it’s going to continue winning over new converts and a few surprising collaborations during evenings like this would make all the difference. If you want to know what I mean check out the whole Imagined Village project

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Voodoo we have here...

Come again? The Voodoo Trombone Quartet? Righty ho. I’m not averse to a bit of voodoo…let’s stick their new album (the winningly titled ‘The Voodoo Trombone Quartet…again’ into the old CD player, jab a few pins in my arm and see what the spirits say…whoooo…spooky. I have to say it’s a curious mix, like putting the head of a chicken on the body of a goat. On the one hand you’ve got parping ska driven horns, on the other there’s a distinctly dancey vibe, kind of DJ Shadow meets Reel Big Fish. There are Asian influences (witness the sitar on Double Bluff), early hippity hop (exhibit A…a cover of (Hey You) The Rocksteady Crew…I’m not making this up) and some cool salsa-tastic Latin Americana too (on My Name In Food). In fact it’s a right old gumbo, but, like a right old gumbo, put it all together and it’s a pretty tasty dish. They’re a band that just scream to be heard live and I’m guessing that the album will really gel in my head when (and if) I get the chance to see them in the flesh as it were (hopefully the flesh will still be in good nick, not falling off their bones in a voodoo undead stylee). ‘Voodoo’ give it a listen, ho ho ho…(oh dear…sometimes I surprise even myself).

‘The Voodoo Trombone Quartet…Again’ is out on Freshley Squeezed Music on the 8th June 2009

Saturday, May 09, 2009

The Heathers / Hitchcock / 10 Guitars @ The Rainbow, Friday 8th May 2009

Imagine, if you will, what would have happened if diminutive pervy purple pop legend Prince hadn’t been born in the good old US of A, but instead right here in Brum…in the 80’s. Happily you don’t have to because we have 10 Guitars right here in our midst. Pretty fly for a white guy, Mr 10 Guitars delivers a unique blend of the funk with a hardcore rave heart (now that’s a movie I’d love to see Mel Gibson make…Raveheart…the story of a Glaswegian raver in the 1980’s…). As bouncy as Tigger on E he was backed by the lovely Carlo on skins, adding an extra layer of sound to the live performance that was missing last time I saw him. I loved it so much I bought the CD for a whole 2 quid – credit crunch? What credit crunch? 11 out of 10 (guitars)…the bonus point is for that 1999 cover version (which you can check out on the 10 Guitars MySpace thingy).

Next up the quite frankly terrifying but really rather excellent Hitchcock. Continuing the rave flava, the lead Hitch is an Iggy Pop-esque figure for the Prodigy generation. You know how much I like inventing genres so I'll settle for Goth Disco here. Wearing a mac, white shoes, white gloves and eyes blackened into his skull he’s one of the most engaging performers you’re ever likely to see, with a stage show that screams to be seen in a massive venue. Actually you can see him opening for the Prodigy in one of their stadium tours and going down a storm…how about it chaps? Isn’t that how the music biz works nowadays? I write something in a blog and it all just happens? What’s that? Oh? It’s all still controlled by a couple of blokes in tight trousers with a nasty coke habit? Oh pooh. Anyway, Hitchcock are murderously good and I half expected their namesake (young Alfred) to wander on to the stage mid set and do a spot of break dancing. Yes, I truly believe that Hitchcock have the power to raise the dead. Amen.

Finally, casting aside all talk of dead film directors, it’s The Heathers. Another endearing performance from Rachel and the boys replete with all the best tracks – Copper Bottomed Heart, The Other Women’s Club and a newish one that might be called Hold On. Listening last night I came to the conclusion that Rachel’s got a kind of country twinge to her vocal (as in country and western…she doesn’t sound like Belgium or anything) and I’d like to see her do an acoustic number with the band one day – a slower track maybe about how her man done her wrong, or the death of a puppy…that sort of thing (that’s pretty much what all country and western songs are about isn’t it?). Plenty of classic Rachel moments again tonight…I do hope the sticky stuff that she trod in (barefoot I hasten to add) wasn’t that half eaten remains of some poor unfortunate consumed by the lead singer of Hitchcock, although that might explain why he kept eyeing me up. Actually I think I’d make a rather tasty midnight snack, there’s certainly enough of me to go round…you could have me cold the next day on a sandwich…am I actually still writing this…?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Navvy / Poppy and the Jezebels / Tempting Rosie / Panda Pop Culture @ The Rainbow, Monday 4th May 2009

I’ve been thinking recently. Dangerous, I know, but it happens. I’ve been thinking about music, specifically the fetishisation (if there is such a word) of, for want of a better term, ‘old’ music by ‘old’ people (yes, I suppose I fall into that category). I read Mojo magazine for example, mainly because it’s pretty well written and covers a fairly wide range of stuff (plus you get a free CD – remember them – stuck onto the front cover with jizz). Reading most of the articles however you get the distinct sense that most writers cling to the belief that music was somehow better in the ‘good’ old days. There’s a sniffiness there that, coupled with the alarmingly rapid churn of bands nowadays (accelerated by the elimination of the need for physical product and the existence of…er…blogs…like this…) makes me fear for the future of music as a culturally powerful force. Maybe someone will be writing about the wonders of some of tonight’s bands in 20 years time, reminding folk of how great music was back in 2009. However, I fear that in 2029 we’ll still be churning out books about Bob bloody Dylan and the Beatles (neither of whom I’ve got anything against by the way). I guess what I’m saying is that it would be a shame if today’s music became as disposable as everything else in society (carrier bags, jobs, people, sane news coverage…). Each generation deserves to leave it’s mark on our collective culture and, one of the many joys of music for me, is delving back into the dim and distant past to discover the good stuff that’s already been done. If people don’t have any faith in the stuff that’s coming out now how will future generations? Here endeth the lesson, on with the review.

First up, Panda Pop Culture. Panda Pop (the drink that is) is brightly coloured, fizzy and rather sweet, so it’s an apt name for a band that combines the bouncy Afro tinged beats of Vampire Weekend with the pop punk of Buzzcocks. I particularly liked Peter Pan, a track about growing old (or not wanting to grow old in this case). There was something strangely moving about watching teenagers fretting about not wanting their ‘skin to fold’ and how people look ‘so lonely when they’re old’. Last night I felt a little like one of those old people, being a good 600 years or so older than most of the bands or audience members. It’s not something that bothers me one jot though. There’s an energy you get from new bands like Panda Pop Culture that you just can’t beat, a kind of musical botox…

Next up Tempting Rosie…a 7 piece ska band that almost literally blew the place apart. With the revival of The Specials, ska’s enjoying a bit of a second (oh alright then third or forth) coming. Thank the Lord for that. It’s pure party music and, played well, like it was tonight, it’s pretty hard to resist. The three piece brass section would give Dexy’s a run for their money (at midnight or any other time), the lead guitarist had some particularly nifty musical moves, vocals were delivered with plenty of oomph (I do like some oomph) and I found myself involuntarily skanking away (not a pretty sight). If anything the appearance of rapper/MC Tijhs took things up a notch higher, adding a fresh twist to the band’s sound. Discovering that this was the first time Tijhs had ever performed live (not only with the band…but ever) was simply astonishing. The guy has a real talent. All in all if they keep this up the future of the band looks very rosie indeed…

Pausing for a glug or two of vin rouge (hangover…what hangover…oh that hangover…ouch) next up were the cooler than cool Poppy and the Jezebels. I’ve seen P and the J’s several times before and I’m glad to report that they look like they’re enjoying the performance side of things a lot more now (before they always looked a little nervous and / or disinterested at times…but maybe that’s just a teenage thing…it was a hell of a long time ago for me). Richly deserving the press attention that they’ve received they’re steadily developing a clutch bag (60’s naturally) full of catchy pop songs that Phil Spector would kill for…that is if he hadn’t already blown the head off some poor unfortunate. The X-ray Spex meets Stereolab of ‘UFO’ and the bouncy sugar sweet catchiness of ‘Rhubarb and Custard’ made this the best set I’ve seen them play. The latter track’s just been released on trendy label Mute Irregulars, securing The Guardian’s Pick Of The Week slot and the band’s playing the Isle of Wight festival in June. If only we still had a Top of the Pops…they’re made for it.

Finally, NME tipped (don’t worry, I’m not buying it, merely reading it in WH Smiths…helping to bring about the downfall of yet another business…god help us all) post punk popsters Navvy. Imagine The Fall doing a duet with the late, great Bis and you’ve got a fair idea of the sound, jerky angular tunes (and words) punctuated with screamy, shouty bits. What’s not to like? Yet another great ‘artrock’ band to tickle your earlobes and proof that there’s a whole bunch of fab stuff being made out there (often under the radar). Returning to the theme of my opening address (must we I hear a nation cry), music today’s as rich, vibrant and creative as it’s always been. It wasn’t any better or worse in 59, 69, 79, 89 or 99. Granted it’s a hell of a lot harder to stand out these days given the incredible number of bands and channels out there but if only 10% of the 30 or 40-somethings who happily paid £30 to see The Specials got off their arses to see what today’s teenagers were up to I’ve got a feeling that they’d be pleasantly surprised…

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Die!Die!Die! / Sabotage Left / Vinny and the Curse / Black Heart Generator @ The Rainbow, Friday 1st May

It’s an historic moment. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the 300th Hearing Aid posting. Whoohoo! Cue the party poppers, dancing girls (and boys…but boys aren’t very good at that sort of thing…unless you count Har Mar Superstar…and John Sargent) and telegramme from the Queen (gawd bless you m’am). Bring on the 4 page feature in NME and an interview with that really annoying woman from The One Show. How about an OBE for services to the music industry too? What’s that? You want me to shut the fuck up and get on with it ‘cos you’ve got better things to do? Oh. Okay.

First up Black Heart Generator. I missed the opening part of their set because the dog ate my homework. Actually I don’t have a dog and I haven’t done homework for a good twenty years or so (oh alright then...ever), but what the hell. On closer inspection I recognised the lead singer of BHG…it’s none other than that Greg chappie out of She’s a Kamikaze Machine…and Theatre of The Absurd (and Die. Die. Die by the end of the night...). I’m half expecting him to join Poppy and the Jezebels any day now. Whilst you can’t guarantee that, you can be sure that (whatever his current nom de plume…yes I’m quite aware that this isn’t the right context for this phrase) he’ll deliver an impassioned, vitriolic and rather pissed off performance that warms the cockles of my very own bitter, blackened heart. Musically it’s loud and punky…like a loud punk who's had too much to drink (can you ever have too much to drink?). I’m so good at this n’est ce pas?

Next up, Vinny and the Curse. I’m not sure what kind of curse. Only time will tell. Maybe I’ll grow giant man boobs and start speaking in tongues…whoops too late, nature's already got there Vinny (actually I have a chest of steel, this is all for comedic purposes). I rather liked their take on 60's garage with a shaving of rockabilly. One guy on geetar and a microphone made from an old telephone, another on a bloody big drum and cymbal type set up, they played a Coldrice-tastic show (Frankenstein in particular hit the spot) that set what’s left of my loins on fire. I’ve not been to a Coldrice do for ages, but was a sort of regular at their legendary Bar Academy nights back in the day. Lady B informed me that one of the blokes from V and the C was / is in one of the Coldrice house bands The Big Bang. That’s a Coldrice fact. Tell your friends and they’ll think you’re dead cool. Full marks to the band for playing one of the most obscure cover versions ever (by a band who ‘only ever released one single in 1968’)…it might not be the kind of crowd pleaser that you’d get if you played Robbie’s Angels, but that’s probably a very, very good thing.
Third on the bill, Sabotage Left. Another polished performance from the Sabs, who used tonight’s gig to unveil a clutch of new songs. Rocky but with winningly catchy tunes, they've got a touch of At The Drive-in (RIP) and would slay a crowd at a big arena show. They certainly slayed my ears, but that's what you get for standing right next to the speakers. Foolish Baron. Sleeping Nicotene was the pick of their tracks tonight...cop a listen to it on their MySpace pagey.

Finally, Die. Die. Die. Not as loud and thrashy as some of their gigs (the last time I saw them the lead singer hit me in the face…accidentally I hasten to add…at least I think so….), but still a powerful whirlwind of anger, pain and SCREAMING! Agggggghhhhh!!! The Die’s have been putting on shows like this for a fair few years…I saw them at The Great Escape in a pub in 2007…and here they are in a pub in 2009. Like many bands they deserve better but you’re never going to convince the masses to subject themselves to their particular brand of melodic quiet loud...bloody loud...quiet...agggggh shouty drummy punk. I kind of get the feeling that the band don’t really care. ‘Are we boring the fuck out of you yet?’ enquired the lead Die during the gig. Nope. Not me.