Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Heavy / At The Zoo / Smiley Mic @ The Rainbow, Friday 27th November 2009

After fighting off a dubious complaint about noise that threatened its future and fitting a new super roof that’s capable of muffling the sound of a nuclear explosion (probably) The Rainbow, Digbeth’s jewel in the crown, continues to put on some darn fine gigs. Tonight’s offering included hotly tipped funksters (or should that be funkateers…funk knows?) The Heavy, but first up was SmileyMic who, in his own words I hasten to add, proudly boasts of being ‘an expert in playing with himself’. Happily my fears of watching a grown man wank himself into a frenzy for 20 minutes (oh dear, there was no need for that was there…what would mother say?) proved to be unfounded, instead Mr Smiley uses all kinds of clever little bits of kit to record himself singing, beatboxing and playing various instruments, then plays back said recordings as an accompaniment. Live looping he calls it. This must be tricky. A little like patting your head and rubbing your tummy I expect. Go on try it. Not easy eh? Happily Mr Smiley is indeed ‘an expert in playing with himself’ and delivered an impressive set of organically self built tunes that was as enjoyable to watch (seeing how he bought in all of the various elements into one coherent whole track) as it was to listen to. An inspired rendition of Rappers Delight closed the set on a high but self penned tunes ‘Promises’ and ‘All Good Things’ (you can listen to both tracks on his MySpace thingy) both stood out too.

Next up, it’s At The Zoo. I rather like zoos, especially ones with meerkats in. Damn those are some cute motherfunkers. I think we should put meerkats in charge of the country. They might not make any great policy decisions…so no change there then...but imagine how much more fun Prime Minister’s question time would be eh? Anyway, we’re not here to discuss meerkats…or zoos…but At The Zoo (see how easily distracted I get…I blame global warming). Imagine a more ska tinged Libertines, with catchier tunes and less crack, and you’ll be on the right lines. Pick of the tracks tonight included ‘Non Conformist’ and ‘Love For Granted’ (which sounds like a cross between something from the Grease Soundtrack and the first Arctic Monkeys album…if that isn’t enough to get you dashing off to their MySpace page to listen then I don’t know what will).

Finally, with a combined weight of 16.5tonnes, The Heavy are officially the biggest band in the world. Oh, hang on. Not THAT kind of heavy…the “damn that’s some heavy shit you’re laying down brother” kind of heavy. Right. Take a pinch of Ska, a dash of soul, a large dose of classic rock and stir a generous spoonful of da funk and you’ve got The Heavy’s retro tinged sound, brought to life thanks to an energetic, sweat drenched performance. From the raw garage funk of ‘Oh no! Not you again’ through to the sweeter Curtis Mayfield style vocals employed on ‘That Kind of Man’ and on to the reggae skank of ‘Cause For Alarm’ lead Heavy, Swaby, proved to be one of the most versatile vocalists I’ve seen in ages. I often curse my misfortune that I wasn’t around for the classic rock and soul years of the late 50’s through to the early 70’s and, whilst there’s plenty of footage and recordings around from that era, you just can’t beat the live experience. The Heavy are one of only a handful of groups that I’ve seen over the years who can, for a few brief moments, take you there. When they’re not taking you to sweet soul land they’re rocking out like Led Zep on a mission, more than justifying their name with some furious riffs and raw, full throttle, heads down rawwwwk. To be honest there wasn’t a duff moment in the set but if I had to pick a few real highlights I’d plump for ‘Sixxxteen’ (the bastard half brother of Screaming Jay Hawkins’ classic ‘I Put A Spell On You’), ‘That Kind of Man’ (the kind of track Lenny Kravitz would gladly cut off his genitals for) and set closer (which saw some furious boogieing from the more energetic members of the crowd… and some deranged arm waving thing from yours truly) the James Brown-tastic ‘How You Like Me Now’. Sure, as one member of the audience observed it would’ve been nice to have a live horn section but that’s a minor quibble and, as Swaby responded, keeping a horn section on the road ain’t cheap. The Heavy? Worth their weight in gold.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Top Tracks # 8 The Fiery Furnaces - Tropical Iceland

Hmmm I guess this is a Top Band as well as a Top Track. The Fiery Furnaces are a frankly odd lot. Recent years have seen them record an album with their gran for example, whilst their next release is some sheet music so you the public can play their new album for yourself…’cos they’re not going to. Yep, in response to all this downloading business The Furnaces are getting ahead of the game by not recording the bloody thing in the first place. Ha! Take that, internerds. I love it. And I love this band. Some of their stuff you might find a little odd (okay then, bloody odd), but this early track is happy happy catchy catchy and a perfect (gentle) introduction.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

CHEW LiPS / I Thee Lothario / 51 Breaks @ The Flapper, 24th November 2009

Remember remember the 24th November? Nope. The poor old 24th November isn’t normally a date for your diary. Too late for bonfires and fireworks and too early for ‘figgy’ pudding and brandy butter it’s stuck in a limbo land of dull dampness, crap telly and stressed out parents trying to hunt down the latest ‘must have’ toy for their demented offspring to smash into a million pieces on December the 25th. Happily in a basement far, far away (The Flapper actually) there’s something worth celebrating – le musique pop as my old French teacher used to call it. Getting the party started, it’s everyone’s favourite snooker themed indie band 51 Breaks. No, you’re right. They have nothing to do with snooker, although the lead singer is sporting a slightly John Virgo-ish beard now. My second viewing of the Breaks and, as before, they delivered an impressive set of anthemic indie, taken a step above the rest by some nice harmonies from the band. ‘Words Regarding’ and ‘Tunnels’ (replete with a Bono-ish whooohooo) were amongst the highlights, but I was most impressed by a storming new song of theirs (which really made the best use of those harmonies) that might have been called ‘Hoppo’s Razor’ (I heard the ‘Razor’ bit but I might have been dreaming the ‘Hoppo’s’ part…I do that sometimes…it’s my age). Get it up on MySpace smartish.

Next up ahhhh…I Thee Lothario…shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day? Nope, I shall compare thee to Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and Simple Minds. Yes, my favourite sons of ‘80’s pop have been something of a hit in Baron Towers this year. Tonight was the forth time I’ve seen them (I think…I can only count up to three with any degree of certainty) and, once again, they delivered a stadium-tastic performance in the relatively (oh alright then, delightfully poky) confines of the Flapper Basement. Just cop a listen to set opener ‘Arise, Release, Repent’…doesn’t that track just deserve to be sung along with by the odd 100,000 people? If John Hughes (RIP), maker of some of the best 80’s films of all time, were around he’d be straight on the blower to this lot for a soundtrack. The(e) icing on the cake is the lovely sax man Byron (you just gotta have some sax on music like this), who adds some soulful parping to tracks like ‘An English Sentence’ (which, together with ‘Soldier To Your Heart’) ended the set on yet another high note. The(e) whole band are a total delight though and seem to have a cracking time up there. I Thee Lothario, I thee salute you.

No pastel silk suits (despite my pleadings) but I’m happy to report that the keyboard player seems to be going for some kind of record on the biggest stack of keyboards ever played. It’s so tall that air traffic controllers are now alerting low flying aircraft of its whereabouts. Bigger, taller, more…that’s what I say. I won’t be happy until he needs oxygen and a whole team of Sherpas to reach that B flat on the very top keyboard. Oh…one last thing…I much prefer the lead singer’s haircut now too. Some nice sideburns there fella.

Finally, they’re the new La Roux don’t you know? Yep, before the old La Roux’s had the chance to appear on Strictly Come Dancing, miming to their new hit as a dozen sequinned floozies flash their sweaty gussets (hmmm…sweaty gussets) at the nation’s granddads, we’re on to the La New Roux…CHEW LiPS. Actually, whilst there’s kind of a similarity, which I’m guilty of picking up on way back at the start of the year, Chew Lips are a different can of hair spray altogether. For starters lead LiP Tigs has much stronger, more of a show tunes kind of voice which, if this pop star lark doesn’t take off, could well see her pursuing a career in musical theatre (let me see those jazz hands people). That would be a real shame though as Tigs n’Co have a real knack for perfect pop (albeit with a slightly dark edge). I’ve heard her describe their sound as 8-bit Casiotone disco (for those not in the know 8-bit tunes resemble the sort of soundtracks that ZX Spectrum games had way back in 1982…and cool 8-bit covers of all sorts of tracks are currently doing the round on t’web) and I’m buggered if I can do any better than that. So, right now, the LiPS couldn’t be any cooler if they tried. Apparently this gig was even one of Murray from Flight of the Concords’ (aka Zane Lowe) hottest tickets. Ignoring the hype though, CHEW LiPS are a darn fine addition to the electropop landscape. The 'over all too soon' (always a good sign when a gig flies by) eight track set included both Kitsuné singles (‘Salt Air’ and ‘Solo’) together with a half dozen others that were, amazingly, every (8-)bit as strong. In fact, barring any short circuits, I think we might already have a contender for one of 2010’s albums of the year. CHEW-riffic.

PS: A special mention for Tigs’ unique dance moves too…like a young foal learning to walk…awww bless. Bonus points for standing up for Birmingham too when one of the audience said it was ‘rubbish’…civic pride at its best once more (I’m assuming the offender was ‘local’).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Top Tracks # 7 Chris Wood – The Cottager’s Reply

Regular readers will know of my folk fetish, so this week’s top track pays homage to one of the best folk artists around, Chris Wood. Part of The Imagined Village collective (a truly unique multi-cultural folk supergroup that’s given the whole genre a nice kick up the arse) Chris is the reigning Folk Singer of the Year (he defeated Eliza Carthy in the third round after a cracking left hook) and recipient of Folk Album of the Year to boot.

Folk’s been (in my eyes and ears at least) enjoying a well deserved upturn in popularity over the last decade or so, helped no doubt by ‘sexy’ Seth Lakeman as well as groups like The Unthanks (hubba hubba…I’m sorry …I have a thing for clogs) and the aforementioned Imagined Village. Birmingham’s very own ‘Moseley Folk Festival’ has showcased some of the very best in ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ folk and their Lunar Society seem to be putting on some stonkingly good shows at the moment (I’ve added them to the Promoters list to the left). I missed the bonkers but quite brilliant Beth Jeans Houghton (she found my silly ‘tache most amusing at this years Folk Festival) the other week, but have firmly pencilled in the next big Moseley Folk presentation which is, by a happy co-incidence, none other than Chris Wood.

With a voice as warm as Christmas punch and a set of songs that respects folk’s past but still manages to keep one foot firmly in the present, if you’ve not seen him before you’re in for a treat. Actually make that a double treat as this is his very first tour with his own band (featuring several fellow Imagined Villagers). Of all his songs the track I’ve chosen here is the one that moves me the most. I won’t spoil it for you by wittering on about its subject matter (whether you’re a fan of folk or not, give it a listen) but it neatly sums up the very best and worst of contemporary Britain (it gets bonus points for featuring the best use of the letter ‘f’ since The Who’s 'My Generation' too). Enjoy.

Chris Wood’s Handmade Life plays Moseley All Services Club on Friday 4th December 2009. Tickets available (I’d be surprised if it didn’t sell out, so get in sharpish) from

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Sunshine Underground / Andre Aristotle @ The Hare & Hounds, Monday 16th November 2009

Tonight’s gig was free entry for all (well, all of us who could fit into the Hare & Hounds that is) courtesy of those lovely folk at Birmingham Promoters. Bless ‘em. You don't get much for free these days. Infectious diseases, ASBO’s…er…that’s about it. Happily this evening was far more pleasant than either option, kicking off with the wonderfully named Andre Aristotle (although I’ll bet that’s probably not the name on his passport). In fact I know it’s not. Andre is/was the lead singer of the rather splendid Bourgeois Four who played some clever, catchy indie rock. Ditching the indie rock bit Andre’s now playing some clever catchy electro pop instead. All on his lonesome. Having loved the B4 (and with a bit of a thing for electro pop in general) this was right up my street, shades of Giorgio Moroder, Kraftwerk, Soft Cell and The Human League melded with a more beat heavy vibe and a voice that’s capable of great things (as witnessed on a beautifully delivered ‘The Lights Change’ – a homage to getting off your box). Electro pop heaven...and a lovely bloke too.

The Sunshine Underground are one of a huge ever growing number of bands in my ‘must listen to one day’ file. You know the sort of thing. Someone says to you, “Hey daddio, have you heard such and such a band? They’re a big hit with all the cool cats” (forgive me, I’m in one of those moods). You smile, nod enthusiastically and make a mental note to check them out. Then, when you log on to have a listen, you get distracted by videos of Shakira. Just me? Oh. Okay. In the case of The Sunshine Underground someone mentioned them to me about 4 years ago and so, here I am, some 48 months later…right on the case, Mr Finger on the Pulse. Actually when I say I hadn’t heard anything by them I was soon proved wrong when they played several tracks which had obviously seeped into my brain by osmosis. I knew them but I’m buggered if I know where from. Maybe the tune fairy left them on my pillow one night?

For a band that’s released just one album so far (2006’s ‘Raise the Alarm’) they’ve managed to maintain a pretty loyal following, evidenced by the enthusiastic sing alongs throughout the evening (culminating in some frantic frugging at the front to their biggest song to date, the funk/rock/dance classic ‘Put You In Your Place’…damn that’s a great track). Before all that though we were treated to a pretty equal mix of the old and new stuff, including several standout numbers that might just explain what the band’s been doing for the last few years. Pick of the bunch for me was the Muse-tastic ‘Spell It Out’, complete with soaring falsetto vocals and anthemic, orchestral sounding guitars (how the chuff can a guitar be orchestral…good grief I get worse). There’s a distinct Killers-ish edge to the band too, a harder version certainly but that kind of ‘grand’ sound that you can imagine the odd 50,000 people singing along to. Take another newbie ‘In Your Arms’ (and another set of impressive vocals tonight) for instance. It’s the sort of music that’s destined to really unite a crowd and it (together with the rest of the set) was played with all of the joyful enthusiasm of a group that’s just starting out, rather than one that’s a good few years into its life. On the strength of tonight’s show, this particular ray of Sunshine could be on the verge of going Overground. Big time.

Their next long player (good grief, how old am I?), ‘Nobody’s Coming To Save You’ is due out in February 2010, just in time for Valentines day…probably. You could give a copy to the one you love, especially if they’re fond of funky indie rock. Who knows, you might even…ahem…get lucky? Awwww…I feel just like Cilla Black, either that or some kind of aging pimp. Hmm…yes, I prefer that, Pimp Daddy.


Coming To Save You

Commercial Breakdown

Your Friends

In Your Arms


Change Your Mind

Any Minute Now

Spell It Out

Way It Is

The Messiah

Standby For Nothing

Put You In Your Place

PS: For proper photos of the gig check out Wayne Fox's link to the left of this mumbo jumbo.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The 12 gigs of Christmas…

I’ve had a couple of weeks off the gigging now (just enough time to recover some hearing and basic liver function) but the next few weeks are shaping up to include quite a few tempting offerings. In the spirit of Christmas (you and sharing and all that humbug) here’s my pick of the bunch:

The Sunshine Underground do their indie rock thang @ The Hare & Hounds Monday 16th November in a FREE (yep, there’s my favourite word) gig. Entry by free e-tickets available here…if there are any left that is (see, I builds your hopes up then dashes ‘em down again…naughty Baron).

ChewLips ("they’re the new La Roux you know") and Hearing Aid favourites I Thee Lothario play The Flapper on Tuesday 24th November.

Soweto Kinch plays something called The Hockley Bar and Kitchen on 26th November and…bless my cotton stockings…that’s a freebie too. Tidings of comfort and joy eh?

The Heavy lay down some funky ass shit at The Rainbow on Friday 27th November.

Them Is Me (some blokes out of Reef) and Black Fang rock The Flapper to its very core on 28th November.

Pom Pom wearing fruitcake Paloma Faith freaks out the Academy (in a rescheduled gig) on Thursday 3rd December. It’s sold out so if you want to go tough bananas (either that or you can buy a ticket for £80 off some Scouser on ebay).

The cool as folk Chris Wood brings it on at The All Services Club, Church Road in Moseley on Friday 4th December.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart make some noise at The Academy on Saturday 5th December.

The harmony-tastic Goodnight Lenin come together at The Hare & Hounds on Monday 7th December.

Self appointed ‘God of Fuck’, Mr Marilyn Manson brings his laminated crotch to the Academy on Sunday 13th December.

The Raveonettes rave on at The Hare & Hounds on Thursday 17th December.

And…finally…Santa makes a special guest appearance down your chimney on Thursday 24th December, performing tracks from his latest album ‘Why Don’t You Fuckers Ever Buy Me a Present eh?’.

Ho ho ho.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Misty’s new adventure

Just came across a couple of new-ish tracks from one of my favourite bands of all time, Misty’s Big Adventure and (as ever) they’re well worth a listen. There’s the self penned parping ska of ‘Someone at the Window’ and a Pipettes-ish cover of ‘Dumb Head’ by a ‘60’s singer called Ginny Arnell. ‘Dumb Head’s’ the first non Gareth lead vocal (to my knowledge) that the band’s ever done and, far from being a curiosity, it’s a belter. Now, how about a 7inch single release for that authentic girl group experience?

PS: For the uninitiated amongst you Misty’s Big Adventure are a Birmingham band who combine the wit and wonder of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band with a little ska, some classic pop, a healthy dose of cynicism about the modern world we all find ourselves stuck in and…oh hell, just watch the video (from 2006...old skool stylee) and you'll see what I mean.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Top Tracks # 6 - Findo Gask - One Eight Zero

Top track you say? Oh alright then, here you go. A band I only discovered last week but am rapidly falling in lurve with…it’s Findo Gask! I don’t think they’ve released much yet but I came across this dinky little video to one of their tunes and it is, like much of their stuff, darn fine quirky electro pop heaven. Imagine Kraftwerk fronted by a disco dancing angel and…well…you’d probably be sectioned but that’s another matter. You need this band in your life. Trust me on this one. For more Gask loveliness head over to their MySpace page. It’s like Christmas come early.