Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Emiliana Torrini / Island Line @ The Glee Club, Birmingham, Tuesday 28th July 2009.

Haven’t been to The Glee for ages. Not a bad venue but a little 'school assembly' (lots of chairs packed closely together) and some odd people in the audience (this is, of course, nothing to do with the venue). No doubt many in the audience would think I was odd, so there you go. One chap near me sat with his hands clamped over his ears in between sets, rocking slightly, and the guy in front spent most of the gig staring at the floor. I’m not sure what was quite so interesting about the floor, perhaps I should’ve asked him, but then again I might’ve ended up in little pieces inside his freezer…next to his mum. Casting aside such unpleasant thoughts first up were Island Line. Their set kind of washed over me in a nice folky haze, like lying in a stream on a warm summer’s day or as Emiliana puts it ‘Island Line are beautiful like newly baked chocolate cake and a glass of cold milk’. Quite right. I can’t do any better than that. Emiliana is very fond of saying stuff like this. Her set was littered with little insights into Emiliana world, like how, when she came to England, she had a dream of living somewhere urban and grittily romantic…only to end up in St John’s Wood (a v. posh part of London). Or how about loving the Birmingham accent and being surprised that we’re not all rock stars? Awwww bless. She reminded me of a less scary Bjork and comes across as sweet as a pink box full of pink kittens, all tied up in pink ribbons. Musically she shares a little of Bjork’s breathy delivery and kookieness too, you can imagine Bjork singing the slightly bonkers Jungle Drum (see video above) for instance. But most of the set was more along the lines of Sunnyroad, a laid back tune all about, as Emiliana explained, coming back to an ex-lover after sowing her wild oats and realising that he was the real love of her life after all. Aided by half a bottle or so of the Glee’s house red it was a lovely evening and only the bum numbing nature of the seats kept me from drifting away into that blissful place that’s halfway between this world and the next (you know, the kind of feeling you get sitting in front of log fire after a huge roast dinner). So there you go then. Emiliana Torrini, ‘as beautiful as a log fire and a roast dinner’.

PS: None of my 'award winning' pictures this time, decided to go sans camera for a couple of gigs to remember what it was like when I wasn't obsessed with capturing that perfect shot...or, in my case, at least an image that looks like a person.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hjaltalin / Mr Bones & The Dreamers / 51 Breaks / This Beautiful Thief @ The Rainbow, Friday 24th July 2009

Swine flu. Rain. Unemployment. More rain. 2009’s shaping up to be a corker isn’t it? It strikes me that what we all need is a jolly good night of anthemic indie pop/rock (either that or a cut price Tamiflu cocktail served in a pair of wellies)…which is just as well as tonight The Rainbow hosted a 444 club extravaganza of musical delight. Nay, a cornucopia of orchestral majesty. Yes…a cornucopia. What? Too much? Oh alright then…

First up, This Beautiful Thief. Nope, not a tribute to Fred Goodwin (how is that man still alive?) but instead a highly accomplished band who I’ve enjoyed a couple of times before at The Rainbow. There’s much to like about the Thief. Anthemic (I’m going to be using that word a lot today), melodic indie rocksters with a Maximo Park-ish twang to the vocals (that’ll be the Geordie vocalist there) and a nice line in hook laden tunes. Opening track Falling Down (in my humble opinion their best number s far) in particular stood out, ‘I am faded, I am jaded with age’ rung a particular bell with me…but that’s probably because I’m 147.

Onwards to 51 Breaks, the only band that were ‘new’ to me tonight. A strong vocal performance from the lead Break and the drummer (yes…the drummer) combined with synth strings to make this an uplifting indie rock set with plenty of ooomph. Unusually for me (being a bit of a synth boy) I yearned for real strings in places, especially knowing that the next two bands featured them, but I guess it ain’t easy recruiting a violinist for a rock band. However I can just imagine this lot up on a big stage with a trio of fiddle playing lovelies…as I’m sure the band can too. Hopefully they’ll have the chance as they’re down to the last 6 bands (out of 4000!) on the Road to V thingy. Have a listen then hop over to the Road to V site and vote for ‘em.

Next up Mr Bones and The Dreamers. With a quivery vocal (think a happier Roy Orbison), lead Bone Keiren sings like his very life depends upon delivering his songs to the masses. I’ve seen Mr B and the D a few times before and this was their best showing so far. The violin (not sure whether that’s always featured quite so much) just lifts the whole thing to a different level. Oh deep joy. There’s a whole world of instruments out there aside from keyboards, guitars and drums. Use ‘em people! This band are special and deserve oodles more attention than they seem to be receiving. As a fan of The Decemberists (who’s tracks were playing in between sets) I’d put Mr B and the D in the same league, a clever, deep musical world with plenty to explore and in the case of Mr B and the D a surprisingly toe tapping heart (even if some of the songs appear to be about graves, death, doomed love, more death and a little death).

Finally, orchestral Icelandic pop anyone? Have I got the band for you. Hjaltalin! Nope I’m afraid I have no idea how to pronounce it either. Yaltalin? Hughjallatin? Youtellin? Answers on a postcard please because I’d like to spread the word about this lot. I caught some of their set at The Great Escape in Brighton, it wasn’t the best of conditions for them (or me...I was a little moist as the venue…the upstairs of a pub…was rammed and it was a warm day too….urggh). Tonight though the more open environment of The Rainbow courtyard gave the music room to breathe. Great chunks of orchestral magic dusted with soulful vocals (the lead vocalist almost hit Curtis Mayfield territory in places) and a side order of Scandinavian cool. There’s a touch of Coco Rosie to the female vocals, and some Cardigans in there too. Traffic Music in particular reminds me a little of the Cardigans ace early single ‘Sick and Tired’. There aren’t many bands that feature a bassoonist and, as with Mr B and the D, having 7 people in the group creates a sort of musical richness that’s often sadly lacking. What better way to cast off the cares and woes of life after a hard week watching ‘Deal or No Deal’ eh? If I was cheesy I’d end this review…‘now that’s why mum really went to Iceland’…yes, you’re right, I am that predictable.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Kid British / The Anomalies / Tempting Rosie @ The Rainbow, Monday 20th July 2009

40 years ago today man first walked on the moon (or did he…). I achieved a similar feat by getting to the gig on time, which, after last week’s bus journey from hell, is every bit as miraculous. That’s one small step for me, one giant leap for West Midlands Travel (or whatever they’re called now).

First up the 7 headed ska machine, Tempting Rosie. With a strong brass section firmly in place this lot can’t go wrong as a live act and, like the last time I saw them back in May, they went down a storm with the audience. As with the headliners Kid British they unashamedly take their influences from previous ska classics, ‘Fear’ for example I’m pretty sure takes its lead from The Beat’s Mirror in the Bathroom, but it’s all done with so much energy and passion that they neatly avoid sounding anything but fresh. A stonking cover of ‘A Message to You Rudy’ really proved the point.

Next The Anomalies, a band I’ve been banging on about for some time now. There’s little I’ve not said about them before, once again tonight they fused rap, rock, humour and social commentary together with a bucketload of poptastic tunes. Another great set but I get the feeling that the audience wasn’t quite right for them tonight – they kind of stood out as being the only non ska band on the bill and, whilst the applause was there, the crowd didn’t go as mental as I’ve seen them go before. It was nice to hear the BBC using some of their stuff a while back (advertising some programme about breakdancing crabs or hip hop antelope…something like that) and, were Top Of The Pops still around they’d be regulars. Speaking of which there’s a growing call to bring back TOTP, with Auntie Neil from the Pet Shop Boys accusing the BBC of failing to have the balls to bring it back. Quite right too. It may have turned into a shadow of its former self, and sure, it was as naff as hell half the time, but that was part of the fun. You only have to see what happens to bands who appear on Later…to realise that, even in this Twitter infested world, the telly can still have a pretty big impact on sales and careers.

Finally headliners Kid British, who, in a curious marketing tactic, released HALF their debut album today. I blame the credit crunch. Whatever next? Half a film? Half a Big Mac? Half a sixpence (one for the Tommy Steele fans out there…)? You could look at Kid British as a kind of 21st century Specials, in other words a socially aware, multi-cultural band that takes its musical influences from 60’s ska, although in the case of Kid British there’s much more of a highly polished pop sensibility going on. A kind of boy band Specials then. They’re currently making a pretty big dent on the minds and ears of the yoot thanks to their sampling of the Madness classic ‘Our House’, in their 21st century version ‘Our House is Dadless’, which predictably got the biggest cheer of the night. They’re far from one tune ponies though. The set was sprinkled with party ska a plenty leading to a mass skank and good natured stage invasion at the end that swamped the entire band, who, as far as I know could still be there beneath a sweaty pile of bodies…

Monday, July 20, 2009

Radio 4...Rainbow Nil

Not sure if you caught this (as it was on Friday, midday) when most folk were working (I remember that…), but the fight to save The Rainbow (the picture above currently adorns one of the courtyard walls) reached Radio 4's You and Yours. It’s a great little feature, again starring your friend and mine Martin Mullany, Birmingham’s Cabinet member for Leisure, Sport and Culture. That’s a joke right? Will he not rest until the place is another nice little apartment block? Clearly not. Anyway, have a listen, it’s about 15minutes in.

Friday, July 17, 2009

D’espairsRay / Heaven’s Basement @ The Rainbow, Thursday 16th July 2009

Well, no Rainbow gigs for weeks then I manage to make two in 72 hours. They’re like buses. Actually, scrap that. Thanks to buses…namely one bus (and a little mistiming on my part) we pretty much missed the entire set from the first band, Heaven’s Basement. Despite having 20 years gig going experience under my belt (I was only 2 when I started…honest) I sometimes cock it up. Tuesday night we arrived at 7.40 and the first band came on at 8.45. Three bands played that night. Last night we arrived at 8.20 and the first band had nearly finished but only two bands were playing that night. Pish. Had the bus driver not sat at a bus stop reading the paper for 15 minutes (it seems he was ‘early’…he could’ve mentioned this when we got on the bloody thing… “excuse me I hope you’re not in a hurry ‘cos I’m going to take 40minutes to drive into Birmingham. Okay?” That would’ve done the trick) we would only have missed the first couple of songs. Oh well. C’est la vie.

Anyway tonight saw a rare UK gig for J-Rock (as in Japanese…they’re Japanese you see) legends D’espairsRay. I knew little about them but I’m a bugger for Japanese music. Call it a fetish or J-Fet if you must. First up though, some Y-Rock (Yorkshire…see what I did there?) in the form of Heaven’s Basement. I’m guessing Heaven’s Basement would be hell right, which is dead rock n’roll isn’t it? Grrrrr. Actually The Basement seem to be making a bit of a rock n’roll name for themselves having landed a support slot with non other than Bon Giovanni…Jovinni…Jovi. Clearly they were ‘wanted dead or alive’ (oh my aching sides). Musically (from the one track that I heard) they’re classic rock in the vein of Guns n’Roses, Aerosmith…that kind of thang. They actually sounded quite good and had whipped the black clad audience into a sweaty mess.

Headliners D’espairsRay just look the part – cute but a little scary at the same time. Like a kitten with a flick knife. Japanese Goth Rock might not be big in the UK…and maybe I didn’t understand a single word they were singing…but since when has music been all about understanding stuff. It’s the feeling, right? From the off there were a hardcore band of headbangers who valiantly attempted to remove their noggins by furiously nodding away like that Churchill dog on speed. I, being an older gentlemen, nodded along in the manner of a kindly vicar at a tea party whilst supping a perfectly agreeable Cabernet Sauvignon (now that’s rock n’roll). Surprisingly (I’m guessing few of the audience actually spoke Japanese) a load of people seemed to know all the words and the atmosphere was one of fevered worship. D’espairsRay certainly put their heart of souls into it, pulling loads of rock god poses along the way and leaning out so that the adoring masses could have a stroke (of the band…not some kind of embolism…although I’m guessing that headbanging could do that to you). One thing that did stand out as being a little unusual was the band’s attitude towards their fans taking pictures of their idols. I understand how bloody annoying it must be having flashes going off in your eyes but clearly a few fans wanted a record of this gig (even without using a flash). The band’s security dudes made a beeline for every single one and made it quite clear that this wasn’t on (although, as you can see, I snuck a cheeky one in). Speaking of fan treatment, £30 for a CD? Really? Hmmmm. £25 for a t-shirt? I have no doubt that the band are megastars in their native country but over here (as the humble venue proved) they’re clearly just starting out. I also heard a couple of hardcore fans discussing the chance of meeting their heroes. Once again it seemed that the band were strictly off limits. Gig finished, their work was done. Like I say, it’s the real fans I felt a little sorry for. I was just there to enjoy the show. And I did. Cop a listen to Kamikaze (how appropriate given the promoters) and Redeemer and you’ll get a good sense of the energy that the band put into it all. The bass player did a neat thing at the end too. Taking a large glug of water he sprayed it over the crowd from his mouth. I copped a faceful myself. Maybe it’s a Japanese thing? Mata ne!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Temper Trap / I Thee Lothario / Black Market Empire @ The Rainbow, Tuesday 14th July 2009

Mon dieu, it’s been a while. Yep I’ve been AWOL from The Rainbow since May, missing (amongst other things) the great noise abatement gathering. But surely the old place would be the same right? After all The Rainbow’s like an old friend, reliable and solid, full of familiar faces and…hang on…this isn’t Oz Toto…what’s happened here…oh my lord…they’ve moved the stage. Agggghhhhhhhh! Okay, don’t panic now. Breathe deeply. Go to your happy place. Ohmmm. Yes, in typically undramatic fashion I can reveal that The Rainbow stage, for years located by the ‘back’ wall of the courtyard is now firmly plonked against the side wall. Why? Search me. Maybe it’s a noise thing. I’m not convinced it’s the right move but time will tell…that’s if the bloody place has any time left.

Casting aside any thoughts of a Rainbowless world (what would George, Bungle and Zippy do eh?) first up tonight were Black Market Empire who I’d last spied in April. More polished this time (showing the benefits of plenty of gigs no doubt) the echoes of Cast/La’s are still there but joined with a little more Ocean Colour Scene/Weller influence. I mentally greeted the jaunty ‘Get Up, Get Down’ like an old friend, which is always a good sign and the crowd, featuring a particularly enthusiastic dancer at the front (nice moves there my friend), seemed to enjoy the performance too. Fans of that classic ‘60’s tinged British Mod rock beloved by Mr Weller and OCS will love these guys.

Next up, I Thee Lothario. Oh yes. Third time I’ve seen this band and, whilst I’ve been impressed on both occasions, this time they blew me away. I have to admit to being a little prejudiced as I have a real thing for the ‘80’s. I think last time I made comparisons to Icicle Works, Simple Minds and Killing Joke. Those influences are still there but I was struck with a big wedge of early Spandeau Ballet tonight too especially when the band were joined by Sax god Byron. This is genius. Sax + keyboards + guitars = 80’s pop heaven. And, as we all know, 80’s pop heaven is pretty cool right now. The lead Lothario did loads of posing, arms outstretched (see picture above) as though summoning the gods of Top Of The Pops to come down from heaven (17) and pluck up the entire band for superstardom. There’s loads of pomp, deep and meaningful lyrics (and some pretty silly ones too…that’s the joy of it all) and a vocal that makes every word seem crucial. Next time I want to see the entire band in matching outfits, preferably white suits with the sleeves rolled up. Then my joy will be complete. Seriously though, this was a stadium worthy performance.

With Ashes rivalry gripping the nation (well, 5 old men and an ailing parrot called Colin) could the Aussies, in the form of headline act The Temper Trap, bowl a ‘googly’ and see off the mighty Lothario? It was a close run thing with plenty of fours, a couple of sixes and very few ducks. Okay, I’ll ditch the cricket bollocks now and report that The Temper Trap are worth all the hype that they’re currently attracting from tastemakers across the world. Mining a similar musical seam to TV On The Radio (drummy, disco, soul, funkiness…er…that kind of stuff) they’re blessed with the fine vocal talents of Doughy who reaches for the kind of high notes that few men with tackle would dare tackle. Add in some of those Afrobeat guitar stylings that Foals and Vampire Weekend have made achingly cool, oodles of sweaty energy and some moments of pure musical sunshine and you’ve got something pretty magical. In fact, you could say that they’re the…oh dear…dare I…oh yes…why not…no one reads this anyway…THE WIZARDS OF OZ.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Cornbury Festival, Charlbury, Oxfordshire Saturday July10th – Sunday July 12th 2009 (the music bit)

Being a relatively new festival there aren’t dozens of stages vying for your attention at Cornbury. In fact there’s just three – The Main Stage (good name there fellas), The Word Stage (sponsored by the magazine…although I saw no presence from them whatsoever) and The Riverside Stage. This makes planning your viewing pretty easy, in turn making the festival a lot more chilled out. The line up was suited to the target audience too, featuring a good wedge of well known, well established artists together with some up and coming talent on the smaller Riverside Stage. The weekend had more than enough musical highlights for me though – some from unexpected quarters. I’d kind of heard The Boy Least Likely To before (their ‘Be Gentle With Me’ track’s used on a TV ad of some sort…can’t remember what…that’s the power of advertising for you eh?), I might even have an album somewhere in my leaning towers of CD’s but they were a real treat. I guess you’d call them tweecore, musically there’s a touch of Too Rye Aye era Dexy’s to their sound these days plus the inevitable nod to the gods of twee, Belle and Sebastian. The banjo-tastic Saddle Up and When Life Gives Me Lemons I Make Lemonades were particular highlights. Perfect music for the English summer…which takes me nicely on to Dodgy…writers of arguably one of the greatest summer songs of all time, ‘Staying Out For The Summer’. I’ve been a fan of Dodgy since the early days and was chuffed when they made it big. I don’t hold with this current sniffiness about ‘Brit Pop’. Like all eras there were some great groups around then and some cracking tunes released. Dodgy were responsible for more than their fair share of them so it’s great to see the band back in their natural environment – on stage at a festival. They delivered a perfect greatest hits set together with a couple of lesser known tracks including ‘UK RIP’ and a new song, ‘New Deal’ about unemployment – both pretty timely these days. Lead singer Nigel also made a plea for people to remember our troops even if we don’t agree with the current war. It was pretty much the only political statement made during the entire festival but it underpins the fact that Dodgy always have made a stand for things that they believe in – from being arrested years ago for playing an Anti-Poll Tax show through to playing a shed load of benefit gigs over the years (including one for Crisis just a few weeks ago). Perhaps if more artists had as much integrity we wouldn’t be in the mess we are now eh? Perhaps the next generation would have more interest in engaging with the political system? Oh good grief I’m turning into Question Time…but you get the point. Anyway, a great set as ever. In fact I’d go as far to say that it was bostin.

Next up we enjoyed another summery set from The Magic Numbers featuring those blissful 60’s tinged harmonies that made the band’s name. Enjoyed a rare backstage view of the whole show courtesy of our Artists passes too (see the non-music bit for details).

Sharleen Spiteri anyone? I must admit I wasn’t really sure myself, Texas did some good tracks but I couldn’t remember that many of them after the first hit ‘I Don’t Want A Lover’ (which I actually bought back in…good lord…1989). She won me over pretty quickly though thanks to a cracking vocal. Great lords a mercy the girl can sing, she’s got a belting voice but with a real soulfulness. One by one I began to remember the hits too, her current band seemed to do them better. Plenty of brass and oomph. I could kind of see her doing a Dusty and releasing something classic pretty soon. Colour me surprised.

The final highlight of the day for me was seeing The Damned. From punk originals through to goth tinged covers they’ve always been an entertaining band and their set covered all bases, Captain Sensible even managed to slip a cheeky ‘Happy Talk’ into the set. Lead singer Dave Vanian still looks cool, now featuring a rather dapper ‘tache he could pass for a gothic Errol Flynn, and the crowd loved every minute of it. One or two even made a desperate attempt to get on to the stage at the end only to be taken down by the security guards. Who say punk’s dead eh? After catching some of Scouting For Girls we ended up dancing outside the Disco Shed having consumed our own weight in Pimms. Game over.

Day Two couldn’t quite compete with Day One but Cornwall’s 3 Daft Monkeys got things off to a fine start with a frantic set that would put The Levellers in a spin. Imelda May proved to be a real treat too, a jazzy, swingy 50’s style sexbomb featuring one of the dudes from Birmingham’s own King Pleasure and the Biscuit Boy (latterly of the awesome Palookaville) in her band. The strangest moment of the entire festival was seeing The New Forbidden (pictured) featuring vowel stretching pasta sauce king Loyd Grossman. Yes…I know. Incredibly he plays a pretty mean guitar and the band played a pop punk set that kept me interested enough to stick around for the whole show. Pretty catchy actually. Looking into this strange event it seems that our Loyd has some previous form here. In the last 70’s he was the lead singer of a punk band called Jet Bronx And The Forbidden who had a number 49 ‘hit’ single with a song called ‘Ain’t Doin’ Nothing’. Loyd no longer sings and the band now has a vocalist called Valentine. I have no idea what his background is...maybe he makes pasta? Ohhh hang on…the surname gives the game away…Guinness…yes that Guinness. The black stuff. Lawks a mercy. Maybe they should do a cover version of ‘Money, Money, Money’? Next up another blast from the past with The Lightning Seeds. Ian Broudie’s got a real knack for catchy pop songs like The Life of Riley, Pure and Sense but, predictably, the crowd wouldn’t let him escape without playing THAT tune. Let’s keep Three Lions under wraps until the England squad bloody win something now. Please.

Irish jazz folk legend Mary Couglan delivered an eclectic, rabble rousing set, liberally scattered (Father Ted style) with lot’s of ‘feck it’s’. She did a pretty haunting version of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ that only someone who’s lived a bit could really pull off. I don’t know a great deal about her back catalogue but I’ve marked her down for investigation. Continuing the Celtic flava Peatbog Faeries (pictured) combined electronica, bagpipes, fiddles, whistles and (probably) a kitchen sink too. On paper it sound like a bit of a hippy dippy mess but live it’s immensely enjoyable and I could swear I could feel the stirrings of my Scottish ancestry deep within. Finally, The Sugababes, although only one of the original band now remains – it probably doesn’t matter as you could replace any of them without doing much damage to ‘the brand’. I’m not being sniffy here but polished pop like this leaves little to chance. You can’t knock planet Sugababe, it’s clever stuff, accessible enough to appeal to a pretty wide demographic. Some of the tunes aren’t bad either – Overload, the Gary Numan sampling Freak Like Me, Round Round and Hole In The Head – all perfect pop. With Suga (and more than a little vodka) coursing through our veins we were on our way back to our tent when we got talking to a couple of mental health nurses just next to us. After talking bollocks in that festival way and polishing off a box of red followed by some hot chocolate and whiskey we finally made our damp £7.50 Tesco tent for 3am. Ouch. I have to say that I enjoyed Cornbury far more than I expected to. Whilst you don’t get the kind of diversity of Glasto or the cool of The Big Chill what you do get in spades is a really well organised event, a beautiful location and plenty of safe hands, musically speaking. It’s the perfect family fest, replete with tea and cake tents, a fun fair and a delicious hog roast in aid of the local school. What’s not to love about that eh? Now, I'm off to bed...oh I'm not I'm off to see The Temper Trap at The Rainbow instead. Ah well, who needs sleep...or a liver.

PS: My thanks go to Math and Dodgy for putting us on their guestlist and the lovely folk at The Cornbury Festival for having us.

Cornbury Festival, Charlbury, Oxfordshire Saturday July10th – Sunday July 12th 2009 (the non-music bit)

Way back in May (well it seems way back to me) we met up with Math (the drummer from Dodgy) at The Great Escape Festival in Brighton. As long time fans of the band (ahhhh who can forget The Hibernian in 1993?) we got chatting and – being officially the nicest bloke in music – he offered to put us on the guestlist for one of Dodgy’s festival dates this year. As good as his word we found ourselves in possession of a pair of weekend camping wristbands for Cornbury plus the Willy Wonka golden ticket of festivals – a backstage ‘Artists’ pass for the first day. I’ve never been backstage at a Festival before. The beauty of VIP tickets and backstage passes for fests is that you get a rare chance to sit down on something other than mud and cigarette butts, which, when you’re getting on a bit, is a hell of a bonus. You also get a chance to mix with the bands. I’m always a little wary of this one. I’m sure most artists don’t really want all kinds of random souls coming up to them when they’re trying to chillax with their crew or caning their rider. I generally limit myself to a ‘hi’, ‘nice to meet you’, ‘great gig’…that sort of thing…enough to show your appreciation without being a pain in the ass. Having an ‘Artists’ pass gives you an even rarer privilege though. You actually get to go on the stage whilst a band’s performing. Obviously you have to be sensible and stand in the wings out of sight but it does give you a pretty unique view on the whole thing. We only did it once (see below) but I can now report that, from an ‘enjoying the show perspective’ it’s actually better out front with the masses. For a start you’re not looking at the arses of the band, the sound’s being projected out to the audience too and there’s something a little bit Wizard of Oz about being backstage – some of the mystery goes when you can see how it’s all done. But, that being said, it was a real treat to experience it all and – on top of mingling with the ever lovely Dodgy we got to natter with punk legends The Damned after their set too.

Anyway, enough of my showbiz life, what was Cornbury actually like? Well it’s in a beautiful spot just outside a little village called Charlbury. Getting there – even by train – was a bit of a doddle and the facilities were head and shoulders above any other festival I’ve been to. The loos were clean, they had a fair supply of showers and plenty of food on offer (including an organic, locally sourced food market thingy). Nicknamed ‘Poshfest’ by some the crowd were a pretty well to do bunch. Some of their tents were bigger than our house and I’m sure I saw one or two butlers preparing tiffin but the friendly festival spirit remained firmly in place. My only gripe – and it’s a pretty major one – is to do with Magners. I’m not a fan of Magners. Ice? In cider? Are you nuts? A few years ago you’d be sectioned for lobbing a chunk of frozen water in your pint but now – no matter what brand of cider you ask for – the bar staff look at you like some kind of freak if you refuse their request to ram your glass with half an iceberg. The iceification of cider is not all I dislike about Magners though. It’s just a pretty sickly artificial imitation of cider sold at a huge premium to people who aren’t given much choice. This market intimidation reached a pretty vile conclusion this weekend. I’d noticed a small stand (Benson’s) selling local apple juice and ‘proper’ cider on the first day of the festival. Very nice it was too. £3.00 a pint and clearly made just from apples. Yum. I had a couple of pints during the Saturday then returned later in the day for another to be told that the Magners people had forced the festival organisers to shut them down. It appears that Magners had signed some kind of exclusivity deal on cider and saw a tiny fraction of their potential profit going to someone else. Now, I’m not a hippy. I (sadly) know all about the commercial realities of the world. But this was a real case of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Whilst Bensons were selling cider to a few of us, many people preferred the alchopop taste of Magners. That’s their choice. Good luck to them. At £3.70 for a very small bottle (I’m guessing less than half a pint) they need all the luck in the world. I happen to prefer a more natural taste. Clearly the folk at Magners would like to eliminate personal choice and force their sugary muck down our throats, wiping out independent producers and putting local people out of work in the process. This stinks. I’m sure the festival organisers had their hands tied (I’m guessing the money from the exclusivity deal paid for some of those loos) but I’d rather put up with a bit of other people’s shit than a whole load of the corporate variety. I’m sure it won’t make a jot of difference but I've set up a blog to rid the world of this evil.

If you drink Magners I urge you to try something else…anything else…preferably proper cider from a local producer. On the more mass market front Westons do some really good stuff (Old Rosie is awesome), Scrumpy Jack ain’t bad, I’ll drink Strongbow and Blackthorn in an emergency too...

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Missill-ing in Action

Cramming a frankly mind melting 40 tracks (mash ups, remixes and rarities from some of the cream of the dancefloor crop) into 50 minutes can’t be an easy trick. Stopping it all from sounding like a dog’s dinner must be even harder but Missill (from la belle Francais) has pulled it off with her latest release MixShake. As the title suggests it’s a booty shakin’ dancefloor filler featuring (amongst many others) the queen of dirty dancing herself, Kelis, Mr Oizo and Sinden and Count (the dudes behind the frankly classic 'Beeper'). Take a look at the track listing and she’s not the only one getting her freak on…'Android Porn’ and ‘Hardcore Girls’ anyone? Sounds like a perfect night in to me. In fact the whole album’s pure dancefloor filth, with as Old MacDonald might put it ‘a muthafucker here, a muthafucker there everywhere a muthafucker’. It’s mixed to perfection though. Like Jordon’s cleavage there’s not a millimetre of dead air between any of the tracks and, just like Jordon’s cleavage, it’s pretty much guaranteed to…ahem…get you up. Full marks for the Zombie Disco Squad track, ‘Eurovision’, featuring back to the old skool foghorns and DJ Funk’s insanely catchy ‘Bang Da Floor’. ‘Shake that ass round and round’ indeed...

Missill’s ‘Mix Shake’ is out on Discograph on 27th July. Remember kids…always practice safe decks.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Coin operated girl...or how Amanda Palmer's reinventing the music biz and sticking it to ‘the man’.

I love Amanda Palmer. On top of writing some awesome tunes, beating seven flavours of holy crap out of her piano and getting naked on a fairly regular basis (see her recent ‘write your question to me on part of your body and I’ll write the reply on mine’ act), she’s busy reinventing the music business (or, to be more accurate, how you actually make a living out of it) on her own terms. Every so often I’ll drop into her lengthy, day enhancing blog and lately it seems that she’s been taking more of a homespun approach to the whole career thang, playing impromptu all ages gigs for people on beaches (the video above is from a recent beach gig) and in parks and collecting donations (totally at the discretion of the audience) in return. Of course busking’s nothing new but you don’t generally get well known artists doing it. A few weeks back she hit on another idea. Sitting at home on a Friday night she sent out a Twitter message to her 30,000 or so followers and started a virtual online party. This in turn generated a t-shirt featuring the legend ‘Don’t stand up for what’s right, stay in for what’s wrong’. A few hours and many orders for said shirt later she’d grossed $11,000. Then she held an online auction, selling all sorts of random shit that was just laying around her apartment. Raised another $6,000. A few days after that she held an online gig and asked for donations from her viewers…raising a neat $2,000 in the process. I’m no Carol Vorderman but I make that a rather tasty $19,000 in just a few nights. Amanda noted that the sales of her last album (currently standing at 30,000 copies), funded by a major label who need to shift a hell of a lot of units just to recoup their investment, had netted her exactly $0. Zip. Zero. Bugger all.

Individually none of her actions are revolutionary but Amanda’s seemingly putting this quirky approach to financing her lifestyle right at the heart of her career and having a hell of a lot of fun with it too. Along the way she’s directly (and that’s an important point – Amanda to fan without the middle man is a lot more powerful than being marketed to by a faceless corporation) building herself a loyal fanbase of folk who are happy to fork out whatever they can afford, whenever they can afford it, in order to spend some quality online time with their heroin(e). And she’s doing it all without...’the man’. Of course she is Amanda fucking Palmer. She already had a decent fanbase, developed through the more traditional music biz model…album…tour…album…repeat to fade. I accept that it’s not going to be as easy for new groups to suddenly start selling the contents of their knicker drawer for cash. But, if you’re in a band and you’re struggling to make a buck, maybe her ‘what the hell, let’s just try it’ (or, as the corporate clones would put it ‘hey, let’s think outside the box’) approach might help…