Sunday, August 30, 2009

Top Tracks # 1 - Camille - Gospel With No Lord

'What are your favourite tracks The Baron?' people never ask me. That's probably because I don't talk to many people, what with the multiple restraining orders and a tendency to start speaking in tongues. No matter. I've kind of fallen out of recommending tracks over the last year or so, mainly because my tastes change on an almost hourly basis...and also because I'm a lazy ass. However, fear not. I do hereby commit (I'm going to regret this aren't I?) to rectify this sorry state of affairs with a semi-regular feature cleverly entitled 'Top Tracks'. Yes...'Top Tracks'. Did you know I used to be a copywriter for a living? Hmmm...wonder why they made me redundant?

First up, and quelle honour, the lovely (and ever so slighty mad) Camille. She's French. She likes to get her ass out on public (or publique as she'd no doubt put it). And she makes some of the most original music...sorry...musique around. Her last album, 2008's Music Hole, was a largely acapella affair featuring my choice cut here 'Gospel With No Lord'. Being an atheist who's rather fond of gospel music (go figure) it's right up my rue. Her 2008 Big Chill performance still rates as one of the best gigs I've ever seen and the video that accompanies this track brings it all back. In fact it's simply tres, tres bonne. Right, that's my knowledge of the French language exhausted. Enjoy...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Miss Halliwell present Die Son! Die!

I’ve been meaning to write about this for ages but, you know, what with the washing up to do, the return of Deal or No Deal and other sundry distractions too mundane to mention (rocking backwards and forwards, looking for jobs that involve listening to music, eating chocolate and/or drinking Weston’s Old Rosie…surprisingly difficult to come by…and watching bees…damn they’re busy little bastards…that sort of thing) it kind of slipped by. No matter. Miss Halliwell, for the uninitiated, are (in my humble opinion) one of the more original Midlands bands of the moment. The Fall (whom they have already memorably supported) are an obvious touchstone but the band, still in it’s infancy really, are developing their own style of nutzoid indie. Originally a three piece there’s now five of ‘em. The undisputed star of the show is lead singer Miles whose stream of (un) consciousness lyrics (halfway between insanity and genius) are endlessly entertaining. In keeping with their original approach they bravely decided to record their debut album live alongside a DVD of the two performances in question. The result, ‘Die Son! Die!’, is out now in all good / remaining record stores (that’s Swordfish in Temple Street by the way) and the band’s got a couple of screenings coming up. The first is at The Old Wharf on 5th September, the second at The Public (Liability) in West Brom on the 10th. Both shows include some live stuff too and are well recommended. Oooh dammit…I should’ve said ‘Halli-well recommended’. Nuts.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pull Tiger Tail / The Vehicles / Black Market Empire @ The Flapper, Wednesday 19th August 2009

Many, many moons ago, March 2007 to be precise, I saw a cracking band called Pull Tiger Tail who’d produced a trio of equally top notch singles (Animator, Mr 100% and Let’s Lightning). I had high hopes for them (that’s normally the kiss of death for most bands I like) and then…nothing. It seems they ran into serious record company aggro and were stuck in some strange limbo land that prevented them from signing to anyone else or releasing their debut album. That was that as far as I was concerned until they suddenly announced a few gigs, including a date at The Flapper. It transpires that they’ve now wrestled their debut album from their ex-label’s (Boo! Hiss!) clutches and are self releasing it on t’interweb, with a short promotional tour to boot. Hurrah! Sadly it’s also their farewell tour. Boo! (jeez, is it pantomime season already?). Of course two and a half years in an eternity in music these days, hell, two and half days seems like along time now. That’s enough time to form a band, record and release your debut album, perform a live show online and then split up amidst a hail of abuse, recrimination and junkie crack whores. Would they still have that spark that I saw back then or, has the metaphorical and musical shit been kicked out of them by years of legal wrangling? In the best cliffhanger tradition (cue that drumming bit in EastEnders when Peggy actually reveals she’s a post op Frank Butcher) you’ll have to wait and see because first up were a brace of bands I’ve seen before fairly recently, Black Market Empire and The Vehicles.

Once again an impressive showing from both groups. Black Market Empire continue to hone their live set which seemed to work particularly well in the vault like atmosphere of The Flapper’s basement. If you’ve not been there it’s a little like The Cavern in Liverpool (the new one that is…the old one was knocked down and replaced with a car park…genius) and Black Market Empire’s music has, to me at least, got that classic Mersey beat kind of feel that bands like the La’s and Cast updated more recently. The bouncy Get Up, Get Down (complete with the dancing bloke again…get that man up there on the stage!) remains a set highlight. You can catch the band doing an acoustic set with Chris Helme (ex Seahorses) at The Hairy Hounds…no that’s not right…oh…The Hare and Hounds on 3rd December.

Next up The Vehicles doing their spikey new wavey indie thang, the best example of which is Bright Young Things (which, nice folk that they no doubt are, you can hear on their MySpace page…go and listen…it’s very good). I was a bright young thing once. Well, I was young…and a thing. Bright? That’s pushing it a bit. Anyways, I’ve always enjoyed The Vehicles’ sets and tonight was no exception…even if they didn’t play one of their best songs The Best Things Come to Those Who Wait…there I was waiting for it and it didn’t come. Oh the irony.

Finally…and given the fact that they are days away from playing their last ever gig it really is pretty final...Pull Tiger Tail! The Tail of 2009 look pretty much the same as the Tail of 2007 but, if anything they’ve got even more tiger in their tank. I guess the pent up energy of their enforced hiatus coupled with the fact that they’re doing this mini farewell tour on their terms, free of any baggage or pressure helped to make this one of the sweatiest, most enjoyable gigs I’ve seen for a while. From handing out biscuits to the crowd (I didn’t get one…maybe they spotted the fact that I’ve eaten quite enough biscuits in my lifetime) to playing tracks requested by the faithful this was a joyous celebration of a great band who really deserved far more success. But then again making me bounce up and down (what…with my dodgy back?!) like a teenager has to represent some form of success. People traveled from far and wide to be here tonight too, everywhere from Manchester to Chelmsley Wood and the room quickly became a bit of a sweat pit…requiring some strategically placed towels on the stage to prevent any nasty slippages…urghhh. Animator, Let’s Lighting and Mr 100% (Supergrass’ Mansize Rooster on speed) were awesome, Hurricane also struck me (ho ho…very droll) and…oh hell…the whole set was great. I had the pleasure of talking to the lead Tail at the end and, whilst the band in its current form might be over, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw (and heard) some more from the three of them at some point in the future. This tail might be at an end but who knows, another one could be about to begin...

Saturday, August 15, 2009

‘Phonat’s the way to do it...

At 7ft tall (now that’s tall…) Italian producer Michele Balduzzi aka ‘Phonat’ clearly ain’t the kind of guy who does things by halves and his debut album’s every bit a towering as its originator. Like Coldcut back in the day and, more recently perhaps DJ Yoda, he’s a big fan of cutting and pasting all kinds of crazy shit together. On top of this try everything attitude he clearly has a real passion for ROCK too. Old school, head down, long hair RAWKKKKK. Take ‘Set Me Free’ for example, musically it’s got an Ibiza kind of vibe coupled with a power rock ballad kinda vocal. Then there’s ‘Learn to Recycle’, less a single track more an audio manifesto of Phonat’s approach. Squelchy synths, some ‘80’s style rock vocals, a bit of garage and enough artificial drum sounds to raise Keith Moon from the dead…it’s the kind of track the late, great John Hughes would be using in one of his films. Then you’ve got ‘London’, huge great slabs of rock guitar and fret wanking broken up by random bleeps and vocal samples of people ranting about ‘pointy shoes’.

Not a fan of rock? Don’t despair. There’s the electro meets ragga floor filler ‘Ghetto Burnin’’ (one of the album’s standout tracks) , ‘Bad Boy, which is a little like being locked in the boot of a max powered Sierra Cosworth and driven round Hackney (not that I’ve ever experienced that. It was a Seat of some sort…) and the Daft Punk tinged ‘It’s For You’. Sounds eclectic? That just about sums it up, but it’s an album that you’ll never get tired of dipping into either. Rated by respected tastemaker Rob da Bank and name checked by the big beat behemoth himself Mr Norman Cook it’s an ambitious debut with some moments of pure genius and a real classic rock spirit. In fact, if Led Zepplin were making dance music in 2009 this is probably what it would sound like…and that’s not a bad recommendation.

‘Phonat’ by Phonat is out on 21st September on MofoHifi Records

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Big Chill, Herefordshire Friday 7th August – Sunday 9th August 2009

And lo, the lord sayeth it shall shine on The Big Chill, and it dideth. Yeth…against all the oddth the sun shone for pretty much the whole three days, just as it did in 2008. I have a feeling that The Big Chill organisers have some kind of pact with the weather gods. Whatever the reason, it makes camping in a field, paying £5 for a sausage and then pooing said sausage into a receptacle where 267 people have already pooed a whole lot more enjoyable.

This year’s medical disaster (as regular readers may recall I was stung by a wasp in 2008) was a bad back. When I say bad back I mean ‘OH MY GOD WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED THERE I CAN’T WALK, BREATHE OR THINK WITHOUT THE MOST UNBELIEVABLE AGONY KNOWN TO MAN’. There I was, lying on the ground on my side watching The Leisure Society when I decided to turn onto my other side. Not a difficult move to pull off normally, even for someone with my limited gymnastic abilities. Something ruptured, broke, seized up, popped out…I’m no doctor…but when I jumped to my feet in agony I discovered I could no longer walk. This was pretty freaky. My right leg wouldn’t take any weight and my left leg refused to move. Thankfully, after a good ten minutes or so, the pain subsided enough for me to hobble, slowly, to the medical tent with the help of Lady B and I was dosed up with enough pain killers to floor an elephant and some (I’m assuming) anti-inflammatory drugs. The good doctor advised plenty of rest and ‘plenty of cider’. Hmmm, maybe he wasn’t a real doctor. Anyway I took him up of his second piece of advice but the first was a little impractical seeing as I was on day one of a music festival. Being a tight arse I decided to stick with it and gritted my teeth through the pain…how very rock n’roll…no, you’re right, it’s just ‘cos I’m a tight arse and the thought of spunking £360 + taxi and train fares to get me home caused me even more pain than the buggered spinal column. Anyway, enough of my failing body, on with the music and here, in no particular order were my picks of the weekend:

United Vibrations – I happened to catch these guys just busking by the side of the lake (see the pretty picture at the top of this gibberish) and was mightily impressed with their positive attitude and fresh take on jazz, funk, ska, rap…or, what they’re calling 12-Tone, a 21st Century cousin of the late 70’s 2-Tone movement that did so much to break down the racial divide in music…which seems to have crept back somewhat. The idea is simple. 2-Tone was a reflection of the influences of ‘black’ and white music – ska and punk/rock. 12-Tone aims to take in a much wider spectrum of influences. They’re a seriously talented and formidable live unit with just so much potential it warms the cockles of my heart. They seem to be part of some kind of scene going down at The Roundhouse in Camden too, well worth checking out if you’re in that neck of the woods.

John Cooper Clarke – punk poet and all round legend JCC is as thin as a stick and sharp as a knife…and a lot friendlier and funnier than I’d imagined. His family friendly Chicken Town was a real crowd pleaser (if you don’t know it, it’s got the word ‘fuck’ in it about 15,000 times...seriously).

GaBle – mad ass French hip hop, folk, electronica trio featuring two blokes with beards and a lady without one. What Spike Milligan would sound like if he was French, a hip hop artist…and still alive, obviously. Check out ‘Puree Hip Hop’ (there’s no sampling of the vocals there…that’s what it sounds like live) and ‘Walking’ for contrasting ends of their material. C’est tres, tres bonne.

Alice Russell – Former Quantic Soul Orchestra songstress, now heading up her own band (featuring a cast of thousands…well, nine at least) she’s the real soul deal and so much more deserving of the attentions of the masses than Amy Winehouse. She was on sparkling form at the Big Chill and delivered a brilliantly fresh take on the (already) classic Gnarls Berkley track ‘Crazy’.

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble – Mo’ brass. Just realised that half of my picks (UV, Alice Russell and this one) have a strong brass feel. Hmmm, clearly I’m going through a bit of a brass fetish and, with these guys, you get a whole load of it. Like The Hot 8 Brass Band (who played the Chill in 2008), they use brass instruments (trumpets, tuba, sax) to deliver some devastating jazz, hip hop and Latin infused tracks. It sounds a bit naff on paper but live it’s a curiously powerful thing, makes you feel a little of the spirit of New Orleans and Yorkshire brass bands, stirring stuff.

David Byrne – filling the ‘living legend topping up their pension’ slot this year saw Mr Psycho Killer himself David Byrne take to the stage surrounded be a trio of dancers (filling in for the mad dancing about that he used to do in the distant past…maybe his back’s buggered too?) and musicians all wearing white, top to toe. Talking Heads are/were one of the greatest bands of all time and our Dave’s got a bag full of classic tracks (including ‘Once In A Lifetime’, ‘Road to Nowhere’, ‘Psycho Killer’ and ‘Burning Down the House’) that pretty much guarantees a great show. He kicked off with one of his latest though, ‘Strange Overtones’, the result of another of his collaborations with Brian Eno. It’s actually a pretty catchy after a few listens, certainly not out of place in the rest of the set and proof that he’s still coming up with the musical goods over 35 years into his career. But then, over the next hour and a half or so, we were treated to a generous and immaculately presented trawl through his back catalogue including three of the biggies already mentioned. No ‘Psycho Killer’ though. Boo! Hiss! I’ll forgive him, maybe now that the world’s full of ‘em he doesn’t feel quite so comfortable singing it. As anyone who’s seen any of the Talking Head videos or the seminal film ‘Stop Making Sense’ will realise, choreography is pretty important part of Dave’s performance and tonight’s gig featured lots of carefully staged set pieces that gave many of the songs a fresh feel. I loved the video clip of Dave, grinning like a nutjob and waving a cowboy hat, riding a fairground horse shown during ‘Road to Nowhere’ too. The whole show achieved that balance of being a little bit arty without vanishing up its own arse, which pretty much sums up Talking Heads for me. There’s a deeper meaning if you want to look for it, but there are great pop songs to dance to if you’re just up for a bit of a jig. Tonight’s gig was the culmination of a tour that’s taken the troupe around the world over the past year. There was a real sense that it was the end of something special for them all and I doubt if we’ll ever get to see such a comprehensive show from Mr B again. I’m not suggesting he’s retiring by the way, but, as I say, this was a pretty big production from an artist who seems as happy operating in his own sweet world as he is in the ‘mainstream’. Whether that’s the case or not, this was an…altogether now ‘once in a lifetime’ experience. See, now that wasn’t at all cheesy was it? Ouch.

PS: For the sake of completing the list of bands wot I have seen, I managed to catch some or all of: Erik Truffaz, The Leisure Society, Sweet Billy Pilgrim, James Yuill, Wildbirds and Peacedrums, Basement Jaxx, Sons of Arqa, Pharoah Sanders, Max Romeo, Music from the Penguin CafĂ©, Bonobo, Chrome Hoof, Tom Brosseau, Oren Marshall, Edward II, Sneaky, Andrew Bird, Rodriguez, Amadou & Mariam, Broken Records, Aruba Red and Telepathe…plus a talk with Michael Lang (the dude who put on the original Woodstock festival) and Simon Gandolfi (a remarkable character who decided that, at the age of 75, riding across South America on a motorbike after two heart attacks was a sensible idea…I loved the fact that he packed about three pairs of pants and a second hand pair of boots then just fucked off after about 5 minutes preparation…bonkers but inspirational).

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Cornershop @ The O2 Academy, Friday 31st July 2009

Many people will know Cornershop for just one thing. That song. The Norm Cook remix of their ‘Brimful of Asha’ track was a ‘smash hit’ when such things still (just about) mattered…ahhh 1997…those far away days. This is a real shame. The ‘shop’s been producing original material for getting on for 20 years now and are proud holders of The Baron’s great lost album award for their last long player, Handcream For a Generation – a glorious mash up of funk, soul, 70’s rock, disco, reggae, indie and Indian influences (it even featured a certain Noel Gallagher on sitar…but we can forgive them that). If you’ve not heard it (and I’m guessing most people won’t have) make it your mission in life to check it out. Like I say it is, in my humble opinion, a classic. That was some 7 years ago though. Since then the ‘shop’s been boarded up, save for a couple of low key single releases. But now they’re back, back, BACK and touring (albeit a very low key kinda tour) to support their new album ‘Judy Sucks a Lemon for Breakfast’ (which seems to follow on from their lost classic, being heavy on samples and mixing up all kinds of good stuff).

Shop keeper Tjinder’s probably my kind of age, a child of the 70’s, that age of beige, flares, strikes, 3 TV channels (yes, really kids), Morecombe & Wise…sepia tinged happy days. He’s constantly referencing the 70’s too, Ford Cortina’s, Rocky, beat up Datsun’s, disco, Marc Bolan, Solid State Radios, cassette tapes (one of the few things I’m really glad to see the back of) and tonight’s set had the warm glow of that decade running through it. Tjinder looked pretty 70’s, sporting a fine pair of sideburns and a 70’s style brown cowboy style shirt and the band played their part by featuring a Hammond organ (or what sounded like one), some bongos and THE instrument of the early 70’s…the sitar! Someone even sparked up a phat one towards the end of the gig. Far out man. Anyway, I’m waffling again. The one concern I had before tonight was how the band would manage to translate the sampledelic sounds of ‘Handcream’ and ‘Judy’ to the live arena. Any concerns were rapidly dismissed with opener Heavy Soup. Using only a little pre-recorded stuff the band bought the track to life brilliantly before moving on to the 70’s glam stomp of ‘Lessons Learned From Rocky I to III’. ‘Sleep On The Left Side’ followed before a brace of their new tracks ‘The Roll Off Characteristics Of History In The Making’ and the Rolling Stones-ish ‘Who Fingered Rock n’Roll’ (see the video wot I has gone and kindly pasted up for you) which prove the ‘shop’s well and truly open for business. We had a couple of covers too. The first, a straight-ish run through of ‘The Mighty Quinn’, the second a sitar infused Indian version of ‘Norwegian Wood’. Bliss. Pure bliss. Of course they played ‘Brimful of Asha’ in its original (pre Norman Cook) version. Everyone really does need a bosom for a pillow you know. Wise words. People have formed whole religions on less than that. I can see it now - The Bosomists. People who pay homage to the mighty breast, seeking salvation at the nipple of enlightenment. Ahem…anyway…they finished off (in fine 70’s style) with a 20 odd minute version of Jullander Shere as the air filled with the delicious aroma of the ‘erb (much to the sitar player’s delight). The whole gig was a treat from start to finish. Cornershop are nothing short of a national musical treasure and the sooner they become your musical bosom (I just can’t leave breasts alone today can I? No change there then…) your life will be a whole lot better.