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
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 Café, 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).