Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Puppa Class - LDZ release new EP

Yeah, yeah, yeah…what’s up motherhumpers? MC Baron in da house, keeping it gangsta and…er...fly and probably dope too…oh alright then, I can’t do street speak but listening to this EP a few times I’m struck with a sudden yearning to start wearing my jeans round my knees and investing in a couple of tonnes of gold chains. Yes it’s LDZ (or London Zoo to their mates) with their latest release The Puppa Murc EP. Fusing grime, dubstep and hip hop over four tracks it’s a catchy, classy collection that neatly showcases the kind of music that you normally hear blasting out of mobiles on the top decks of inner city buses. There’s some clever rhymes across all the tracks (especially the closer ‘Go This Way’), but pick of the bunch for me is ‘Relevant’, a looped Spanish guitar giving way to a dirty dubstep beat that’s the perfect backing for MC Dabbla to deliver an angst ridden flow.

The Puppa Murc EP is out right now on Dented Records. Respec…

That iPod song…

Continuing their habit of picking annoyingly catchy tracks to flog their iPods, Apple have picked another belter. This time it’s Miss Li (hey, before discovering this fact the originator was a...wait for it...Mr Li...Mr Li? Mystery...get it? Oh my aching sides...) from Sweden and something called ‘Bourgeois Shangri-La’. Oh good grief it’s going round and round and round in my head now…

Warning: Play this track at your peril.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Top Tracks # 3 The Associates - Party Fears Two



Proof once again that I have my finger on the pulse of new music I proudly present the third in my random series of Top Tracks, The Associates and 'Party Fears Two' from...er...1982. I guess if you're over 30 you'll know it already, younger viewers may not be so familiar. For the uninitiated The Associates were one of those incredible '80's bands who managed to release some pretty strange stuff that, incredibly, got into the charts. Take this track for instance, almost operatic vocals, ghostly sounding keyboards and oddball lyrics...it's an intoxicating mix...Phil Spector meets Soft Cell. The band (more of a solo vehicle for Billy in the later years) went on to have a few more hits before drifting into cultish semi-obscurity. Just as he seemed to be making a comeback of sorts in the late 90's Billy committed suicide. He was just 39. I've probably listened to this track more than any other in my life and, unusually for me, I never get bored of it. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Goading the Lily...(or why file sharing’s here to stay)

I’ve ummmed and ahhhed about even writing anything on the issue of ‘file sharing’ (I’ve wittered on about it before) but what the hell, it’s a Wednesday, I’m at a loose end until Deal or No Deal starts and you’ve clearly got nothing better to do with your time either so pull up a chair and let’s chew the fat. There seems to be a bit of a dividing line being drawn up between the thrusting young bucks in the music biz (Lily Allen - self appointed web warrior, Tinchy Stryder and…er…James Blunt) and the old school (Radiohead, Billy Bragg and Pink Floyd). The young bucks are (quite understandably) a bit pissed that they’re getting to number 1 in the charts then getting a cheque for £15 from their record label. The old school take the view that, ‘hey man, file sharing ain’t so bad’, just as long as it leads to people going along to their gigs and spending £50 on a tour t-shirt.

Happily Muse’s Matt Bellamy has the solution (something which I favoured the last time I wrote about this), slap an extra few quid on everyone’s broadband bill and then divvy up the cash amongst all the artists (isn’t that how the PRS works?). I can sense that an awful lot of folk ain’t going to be too happy with this approach either though. If you’re just a casual music fan will there be an opt out clause? Will artists get a fair proportion of the dosh? Who the hell’s going to oversee all this? For the record (pardon the pun) I’ve pretty much given up buying or downloading music altogether. Over the years I must’ve spent thousands (literally) on records and CD’s, now I just pop on Spotify or Pig Radio and away we go. Free music. I’m drowning in the stuff. That, for me, is kind of the bigger issue, or the elephant in the i-pod as it were (hey, there’s an App for that!). Given the ease with which we can all access music that sense of loyalty that you got from parting with your cash to buy a new album is rapidly evaporating. There’s always something shiny and new to listen to. Shallow? Maybe. But if that’s how I feel (a 30 something) won’t younger generations follow suit? It’s still too early to tell whether Pixie Lott will make it to her tenth album, or if we’ll see that Tinchy Stryder 50th anniversary tour but I’m guessing that today’s music stars are not only going to get a much smaller wedge in future, they’ll also struggle to keep their fanbase for more than 30 seconds.

As a non musician I can happily sit here and say that it’s not all bad. It might help to keep things fresh and, with my idealist hat on, music shouldn’t really be a ‘career’ first and foremost anyway. You play because you love it, much the same as the billions of bloggers out there sit down and write for hours upon hours in the vain hope that someone out there reads and likes what they’ve written. Blogging’s very rarely a way to earn a decent living, nor, (let's be honest here) for most musicians is music. Of course, whilst money can’t buy you love a distinct lack of money ain’t much cop either and I appreciate the fact that it must be bloody hard to write, record and tour when you’re working in Sainsbury’s. So I’m tempted to say that, in addition to slapping a little onto the cost of your broadband, part of the solution lies in raising ticket prices. As the evil ebay touts constantly prove, people are willing to pay crazy money for some gigs. But then you’ll just end up with gigs full of rich middle aged people standing around drinking red wine and discussing pensions. Hmmm. Maybe Lily could write a song about that? The conclusion? You want a conclusion? Trying to stop file sharing seems to me to be a pretty futile thing to do. It's like asking people to stop using the tap to get water out. Anyway, some 14 year old kid will always find a workaround and if you start sticking your fans in prison (after all they're only downloading your music 'cos they like you) you probably won’t have much of a career. The genie’s well and truly out of the bottle and having one hell of a party. My idea, for what it’s worth, is an annual subscription kind of approach. As a band you sign fans up, they pay a few quid and, in return, on top of ‘exclusive tracks and videos’ (yes, I know that they’ll only remain ‘exclusive’ for 30 seconds but it’s the principle) they get first choice on tickets, backstage party entry, that kind of shit. Or, in other words, a modern take on the old ‘fan club’. On top of retaining the bond that used to come from buying an album couldn’t it also provide up and coming bands with some of the cash they need to survive?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Having a party this weekend…?

It’s a thorny problem. You’ve arranged a bit of a house party and want to appear super cool but the only CD you have came free with the Daily Mail in 2003 (Jive Bunny’s Anthrax Party Mix) and you dropped your i-pod down the loo (hell, it happens). Relax. I have the answer courtesy of the Hearing Aid’s American correspondent (didn’t you know this site was international?) the Bobby Dazzler (that’s his real name too…honest). It’s a three hour StickyPod Connection mix, so enough time for your guests to get legless and start groping each other, from this year's Shambhala and it features everything from J5 to The Beatles (as you’ve never heard them before). It’s a quite brilliant funk/breakbeat/ragga mashup and you can download the whole thing right here, free, gratis and for nothing. Shabba!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Alela Diane / Laura Gibson @ The Town Hall, Birmingham, Wednesday 16th September 2009

Continuing my love/hate relationship with the Town Hall (I just struggle to get on with it as a gig venue) tonight worked surprisingly well. It was, at a guess, less than 20% full, which is a real shame given the quality of the artists on offer, but there you go. First up a totally new name to me, Laura Gibson. Seemingly as frail as a gentle breeze her solo set kept the few of us that were there nicely entranced for a good half hour or so. She’s got one of those lullaby kind of voices that you can imagine rocking babies to sleep to. Not that I have…or ever wish to…have babies. Poor buggers. You’ve got to feel for them. What kind of a world will they grow up in eh? Shafted from birth. No wonder they’re screaming their heads off. Anyway, Laura Gibson’s soothing voice will certainly help them endure the slings and arrows of life and they could do worse than listen to her lyrics too. She sang something about how the lines on your face were the pattern left by time. That’s a good way of looking at it. Pick of the set a crackingly good piece of Americana entitled ‘Spirited’…which you lucky folk can check on her MySpace thingy.

On then to yet another discovery that I have Pig Radio to thank for (on top of Frida Hyvonen, Okkervil River, The Bird and The Bee, The Decemberists…oh the list is endless…gawd bless ‘em), Alela Diane’s ‘The Pirate’s Gospel’ (‘yo ho yo ho ho yo ho ho’ indeed) fixed itself firmly in my brain last year and refused to leave. It’s a sea shanty kind of track (as you might guess) and the perfect vehicle for her strong sea shanty kind of vocal. I’m not sure what the technical term is but her voice kind of rises and falls, often during an individual word (have a listen, you’ll hear what I mean…either that or you’ll have me sectioned for hearing things).

For some reason Alela didn’t do ‘The Pirate’s Gospel’ tonight. I didn’t see any pirates either…unless you count the bar staff who wanted to charge several pieces of gold for a small glass o’rum (well, red wine in any case…I’d hate to contemplate what they’d charge for a glass of rum). Ohhaaa me ’arties, shiver me timbers. Speaking of wine (yeah, I’m a ponce I know) what the hell are they serving at The Town Hall. The back of the small bottle I bought describes the flavour as having a touch of mint. It does. It tastes of mouthwash. Seriously. It’s probably the worst glass of wine I have EVER tasted (and, being a cheapskate, I’ve had some pretty rough wine over the years). Happily Alela, a justifiably rising star of the Folk Americana (music to sit on the porch of a log cabin by) scene, more than took my mind off the stuff. She did a few songs with Alina first (another female vocalist whose harmonies with Alela were just sublime) before being joined by her dad and a couple of beardy blokes who rocked things up a bit by adding mandolin, bass and drums respectively. Alela herself seemed genuinely knocked out by the beauty and history of the venue (prompting me to think, ‘yeah, it is pretty special’) and, even though it was obviously fairly empty she seemed to enjoy herself as much as my fellow listeners. Someone shouted out ‘next time it will be full’, judging by the lushness of tracks like White As Diamonds (‘Early One Morning’ crossed with that song that used to be on the Cadbury’s flake ads…you know the one…‘Only the crumbliest flakiest chocolate…’) it might well be. Special mention and respect due to the beardy bass player (Tom Bevitori) for his comedy turns, especially his ‘Birmingham? I thought we were playing Burning Man’ routine. Genius.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Lemonheads @ The Irish Centre, Digbeth, Tuesday 15th September 2009

Lordy…I’ve not been to a gig at The Irish Centre for ages. It seems that they (whoever they are) are doing the old place up and, although it’s still a work in progress, it reminded me of just what a cracking venue it can be – a decent sized stage, a good view from wherever you stand and a bar (and staff) that delivers a lush, creamy pint of Guinness in your sticky mits in double quick time. Thanks to yet more West Midlands Travel shenanigans (and a little piss poor planning on my part) we arrived as the first act was already on but both he (I didn’t catch his name) and the second support, Richard Burke seemed to have a decent clutch of folky self penned songs. Richard established a nice patter with the crowd too (Evan Dando take note…) and gave us a refreshingly different take on Yazoo’s ‘Only You’.

But tonight was all about The Lemonheads of course. For a while The Lemonheads’ star shone bright with a massive album (It’s a Shame About Ray) and a lead singer who made one of those ‘most beautiful people in the world’ lists (to be fair he was a bit of alright back then). However lead ‘head, Evan Dando, developed a nasty crack habit (in every sense of the word…I believe he once ‘had a go’ at Courtney Love), lost his voice for a time (Chris de Burgh won it in a game of ‘craps’ and refused to give it back) and drifted into semi obscurity. I guess many people would find it hard to name a Lemonheads song, but you’d know them when you heard them. ‘Into Your Arms’, ‘If I Could Talk I’d Tell You’ and their cover of ‘Mrs Robinson’ all received oodles of mainstream play back in the day. But now they’re (well Dando and some other bods at least) back, back, back with an all covers album (Varshons) featuring songs by the likes of GG Allin (notorious shock rocker who regularly beat up his audience and performed naked save for generous smears of his own pooh), Wire and…er…Christina Aguilara. Whether this signifies a drying up of Dando’s mojo or not remains to be seen (although an original album’s supposedly in the pipeline).

I’d read some mixed reviews the tour so far so my expectations for tonight’s show were set at a fairly low level. In particular some had commented on the workmanlike performance and how Evan has a tendency to just come on, crack through the songs at breakneck speed and then get the hell out of there. The speed issue was certainly true tonight. I lost count of just how many songs they did…20? 30? 40? Seriously, it could have been that many (the set list seemed to be 3 sheets of A4 paper taped together). Bang, bang, bang…crank ‘em out. Personally I’m not averse to a fast turnover set (if you don’t like a tune no worries, there’s another along in 45 seconds) but, at times, I got the sense that the tracks had barely got going before they were swept aside for a fresh one. Evan wasn’t in a chatty mood either (I’m not sure he ever is) and it was a good half an hour or so before he spoke to the audience. Again, that’s not the be all and end all of a performance but, you know, it’s kind of nice to be nice and all that jazz. The benefit of this no nonsense ‘do exactly what it says on the tin’ approach is that the assembled faithful (judging by the sing alongs and tour t-shirts from the early 90’s many were long standing fans) were treated to all the hits and key album tracks (with the obvious exception of 'Mrs Robinson' – the single that was released without the band’s blessing and which went on to become one of their biggest successes). However, Evan’s clearly got a bit of a temper on him, kicking out the footlights on the stage and laying down his guitar and stomping off stage when he felt the sound wasn’t right (it sounded fine to me) during the solo part of the show (he returned and played for another 40 minutes). You’d think from reading all this that the show was a bit of a disaster. Opinion was split from what I could gather but, personally, I left feeling more impressed than let down. It actually made a refreshing change to see someone who clearly isn’t there to win friends and influence people and who, in this world of polished stage managed celebrity, still retains something of that ‘fuck you’ rock n’roll attitude. To be fair to Evan he did mutter a few words along the lines of ‘Hope you’re having a good time’ and kind of waved at us (well, his hand moved up a little, but he may just have been swatting a fly or something) as he left the stage. The voice, whilst a little more battered than in the past, was far stronger than I’d been expecting too and really suited the world weary nature of many of the songs. Predictably there was no encore. Hurrah I say. I can’t stand that going off, coming on bullshit. Do the set. Take a bow. Leave on a high. Evan gets my vote on that one. What tonight did do was reveal just what a strong songbook Evan’s accumulated over the years. Check out ‘Rudderless’, ‘Alison’s Starting to Happen’, ‘Outdoor Type’, ‘Bit Part’, 'December'…the list goes on. These are great songs, perhaps somewhat unfairly confined to the 90’s (I guess it's still a little soon for that decade to be plundered and recycled). It’s unlikely that Evan’s ever going to suck corporate cock and play the PR game to get the accolades that he deserves but, if there’s any justice, flawed but strangely memorable gigs like this will continue to keep the flickering flame alive.

Monday, September 14, 2009

ArtsFest…and a rant about empty shops and the plans for a Birmingham Photo Gallery – Birmingham 11th-13th September 2009

Enjoyed a very pleasant weekend strolling around ArtsFest again and had the good fortune to be press ganged (in the very nicest way possible) by Pete Ashton into taking part in Birmingham’s People – a project that aims to capture for posterity the faces of some of those who live here. It’s part of a wider project to establish a photo gallery for the city, which seems to have a particularly active snapper scene but nowhere to show off its collective talent. How about the old library eh? Instead of knocking the whole thing down (granted, you might want to knock a few chunks off) why not turn that into the gallery? It’s close to the existing museum and art gallery and could, I’m sure, be knocked into a workable space. There. That’s decided then.

In the meantime might I suggest that some of the many empty shops in the city (I’m looking at the old Virgin Megastore for example...either of 'em) be used? This recession is going to drag on for a while and, even when we do emerge, I wouldn’t mind guessing that t’web will continue to erode the need for a ‘high street’. How much nicer it would be to have a whole bunch of semi permanent ‘pop up’ galleries across the city for artists to display and sell their works. The property owners get someone to look after their empty buildings and we get something interesting to look at. I believe that's a win/win to borrow management speak. At the very least why not just stick big boards up in the windows of all these empty shops and bung the pictures on there? Of course I’m oversimplifying things and no doubt people will shoot ruddy big holes in this plan (security, staffing, heating and lighting, health and safety...blah blah blah...couldn't this all be covered with some form of lottery grant or sponsorship from local firms?) but why the hell not eh? I’m sure I’ve seen other cities do (or at least propose) something similar and I can’t see any benefit whatsoever in having empty shop windows. You’d attract more visitors to the city, encourage the arts scene to develop and make the place look a whole lot better. You could even turn one of the shops into a more permanent base for the Birmingham’s People project…

I’m sure someone’s already thought of this. If not, why not? And if they have, why hasn’t it happened? Eh? Eh? Oh so many questions…I guess I’m in a questioning (and somewhat evangelical) mood today. I propose a motion that makes it ILLEGAL to have 'bare' windows in Birmingham City Centre. All those in favour? Motion carried (hey, this politics business is really simple). Over to you Birmingham City Council. Oh, by the way, I've got another bone to pick with you. When are you going to sort out Lightwoods Park in Bearwood eh? Why not just give it to the good folk who are already running Warley Woods? Or better still why not employ me to come up with a whole bunch of crackpot schemes? I'm full of silly ideas and very reasonable...

To make this post vaguely about music I’ve stuck up my shot of Anthony Joseph and the Spasm Band who played a short, but darn fine, set of funky soulfulness that recalled echoes of the late, great Isaac Hayes. Awesome.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Kylie Audlist / Cookin’ On 3 Burners @ The Yardbird, Friday 11th September 2009

The cost of this evening’s entertainment? Bugger all. It’s part of Birmingham’s annual ArtsFest thingy and proof that our fair city can organise a piss up in a brewery after all. Who’d have thought it eh? If we don’t get City of Culture 2013 I’m going to scweam and scweam until I’m sick. We can have Ozzy performing in Centenary Square. Jasper Carrot in the Town Hall. And how about Duran Duran returning to The Rum Runner Club? Obviously we’d have to rebuild the place first, but that’s a mere detail.

Anyways, tonight’s gig was a bit of a funk fest, kicking off with ‘All Funked Up’, some DJ types. I’m not normally much of a DJ person. However I do appreciate that there’s a certain degree of skill in mixing all of dat shit together, and ‘All Funked Up’ (on top of choosing a frankly unbeatable list of tracks) were funking great. They provided the soundtrack to what appeared at first to be an impromptu B-Boy face off, the likes of which I’ve not seen since watching a 25p charity shop copy (on VHS – old skool stylee naturally) of Breakdance The Movie a few months back. The assembled crew threw down (I believe that’s the right term) an eye watering range of moves from the classic head spin to jumping up in the air and landing with one foot on the stage, one foot on the dancefloor…legs akimbo. Ouch. That’s one way to split your differences. From what I can tell these happenings are a fairly regular occurrence and there’s some kind of competition going on next Friday at the Yardbird too – with a grand prize of £50! Hell yeah. All are invited to take part, but unless you’re bloody good I’d stick to watching it from a discrete distance.

On to the main event/s. All the way from Melbourne, AustraliaCookin’ On 3 Burners! So called because one of the burners on their cooker broke in their communal flat. No, it’s probably to do with the fact that there’s 3 of ‘em and they’re cookin’ (ie playing rather well in the vernacular). That’s cleared that up then, but do they deserve the name or should they perhaps be redubbed ‘Bubblin' On a Low Heat’? (I'm on fire today aren't I?). Well, I was lucky enough to see Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings (the undisputed Queen and Kings of the old skool soul revival) play this very venue last year and they come damn close to stealing their crown. Bass, drums and a Hammond organ. The holy trinity of funk. Whilst a kicking brass section would’ve been the cherry on top, for a three piece CO3B were as tight as me at the bar. And you don’t get much tighter than that. After playing an ass shaking set for around half an hour they were joined by Kylie! Kylie? At the Yardbird? In those hotpants? Hubba hubba. What’s that? Oh…a different Kylie is it. Righty ho. I’m guessing there are a fair few Kylie’s in the world other than Ms Minogue, but she’s one of those singers…like Madonna, Iggy or Englebert…who just kind of owns the name. Whereas THE Kylie is a bit of a pop legend, THIS Kylie (also from Oz) is more of a soul diva, along the lines of our very own Alice Russell (with shades of Macy Grey in some of the vocals too…a touch of gravel in the voice that’s just sooooo damn soulful it hurts). The club was packed out, sweaty (Kylie acknowledged that this was ‘The hottest I’ve ever been in England’) and a few brave B-Boys (and girls) were at the front all night dripping and flipping their way through the set. Like the last time I was at The Yardbird the place somehow recaptures some of the spirit that you’d imagine existed in the US in the glory days of soul and funk. Not a bad achievement for a bar in Birmingham. Kylie’s set was a triumph. ‘Push It Up’ and ‘This Girl’ in particular stood out. That’s one sweet, soulful lady and, if you’re a fan of Quantic, Alice Russell, soul, funk…hell, just music in general…she’s an essential listen. The set closed with an instrumental number. A cover version. Of Cars. By Gary Numan. Yes. I know. Inspired. You can (and MUST…I insist) listen to it on Their Space. What's that? You can't be arsed? Oh alright then I'll stick it up here (see below). Despite my somewhat impoverished circumstances (such is the life of a freelancer) I bought a couple of CD’s (does anyone else buy CD’s these days or is it just me? Thought so). Now, all I need to do is to spend the next 7 days listening to them and spinning on my head whilst doing the splits and throwing my limbs out of their sockets and that 50 quid is mine…

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Top Tracks # 2 - Sebastien Tellier 'La Ritournelle'



Okay, the second in my invaluable (oh alright then, mildly interesting) guide to the greatest tracks ever made (that you might not have heard of) is a few years old now but, despite listening to it time after time it's still just beautiful...from beginning to end. Sebastien Tellier himself seems like a bit of a character and isn't averse to taking the piss out of himself (witness his Eurovision performance) but this track (a love song...ahhh...bless) seems to play it pretty straight. It's a biggie too. 7 minutes and 31 seconds. You'll have to wait 3 minutes and 58 seconds for any vocals too, but they're worth it. Enjoy.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Moseley Folk Festival Day Three – Sunday 6th September 2009

Wizz Jones

Day Three and we arrived just in time to catch Wizz Jones. A new name to me I’m ashamed to admit but someone’s who’s been a bit of a legend amongst musicians for the odd 50 years or so. I was chatting to a nice chap from Acoustic Guitar magazine who was there to take some shots of Wizz and he put him right up there with the likes of Bert Jansch. I can see why. There are some guitar players who make it just look so natural and Wizz is one of them. Employing a bluesy picking style his fingers were as every bit as fast as Pritam’s on Day Two, although I’m guessing Wizz is just a year or two older. He did one track about a bloke who raced pigeons (basically all his mates said his pigeon would die ‘cos the race was from Italy and there was a big storm which killed most of the other birds, but his bird made it…kind of the pigeon version of Rocky) which I found strangely moving. It was nice to catch up with Jim Moray again after not seeing him live for a few years. He’s doing a lot to keep folk moving in the right direction, often using (close your eyes here trad folkies) computers and stuff to make his music. Today was a much more traditional set though, mainly Jim and his guitar…although he did manage to work in some nice feedback looping at the end of his set which woke up more than a few members of the audience who were enjoying that Sunday stupor.

Ade 'Bad Shepherd' Edmondson

If Jim woke them up, The Bad Shepherds got them dancing, or pogoing at least. The brainchild of Ade Edmondson (in his words ‘the twat off the telly’) they basically take such punk and new wave classics as 'London Calling' and 'Once In a Lifetime' and do them in a folky style. It sounds awful but it somehow works brilliantly. Ade keeps the level between comedy and respect for the music just right, neatly avoiding falling into a Barron Knights style of parody that would quickly become oh so tiresome. I thoroughly enjoyed trying to guess the intro’s even though I failed miserably on most counts and am now cursing myself for not getting a signed album after the show. The key moment of the set for me was their rendition of Steeleye Span’s ‘All Around My Hat’ in which they replaced the traditional lines with ‘And if anyone should ask me the reason why I’m wearing it, mind your fucking business, it’s my fucking hat!’. Genius.

The rest of the afternoon passed by far too quickly. Carthy and Swarbrick were as awesome as ever (folk gods amongst men) and I was astounded to read that Dave Swarbrick was pretty much dead and buried a decade or so ago after battling emphysema (it appears that The Telegraph even printed his obituary). After a double lung transplant, whilst he’s clearly not as fit as a fiddle, his fiddling’s certainly fit enough to accompany Martin Carthy in an hour long set of lush trad folk.

'Tull' rocking after all these years...

Before we knew it the Tull were on stage. I’m not as familiar with their stuff as I should be really. I sense a good session on Spotify looming. 'Heavy Horses' and 'Aqualung' I knew though and they were given rousing renditions by the band, some of whom are now well into their 60’s. Ian Anderson still does a little bit of that one legged business and plenty of Pete Townsend style windmilling using his flute as a substitute guitar. I’m not sure that the voice is as strong as it once was but the playing was spot on. I’d have liked to have heard ‘Living In The Past’ (NB: due to bus related issues we left after the first encore, so if they did play it I curse West Midlands Transport and their rubbishy service), but I guess true Tull fans were happy enough for it to be left out of a rollicking set of folk rock gold.

To keep my inner train spotter happy I also saw, Mary Hampton, The Pastels and Tenniscoats, Jackie Oates, Vetiver, Wolf People, Kelli Ali, Hunter Robinson (an awesome American dude with a banjo and voice like thick dark chocolate...make of that what you will... who did covers of old blues numbers from the 20's), Cara Dillon, Ella Edmondson and Mama Matrix…all good but if I carry on writing I’ll never stop.

Congratulations to all concerned for another cracking Moseley Folk Festival.

Moseley Folk Festival Day Two – Saturday 5th September 2009

Beth Orton

Day Two and an early-ish start (11.50) to catch tabla legend Pritam Singh. Glad we made the effort. In the right hands the tabla’s a remarkable instrument and today we were treated to a wide range of ‘conversations’ (the songs played on them) from around India. Watching Pritam’s fingers flash by in a frenzied blur you began to get a sense of the complexities of the music, every bit as impressive as, say, a guitarist at the top of their game. Full marks to the organisers for, once again, embracing a more global take on folk music.

A morris man gets high...

The Demon Barber Roadshow were the next act to really grab my attention, ska, morris and clog dancers and sword wielding rappers…no, not that sort of rapper…apparently it’s a form of traditional dance from Northumbria using swordy looking things (with a handle at both end though…as the rappers spent most of the time gripping both ends I guess having a sharp pointy end would quickly curtail the career of your average rapper faster than an AK47). It was a visual as much as a musical thing, although the wonderful traditional unaccompanied folk tracks sung by Bryony were as stirring as folk gets.

Wearing what looked a little like the more eccentric items from Alison Goldfrapp’s dressing up box Beth Jeans Houghton is one of folk’s hot young things. As well as being adorably eccentric she’s got a real knack for a catchy tune and a vocal that reminds me of a slightly drunk Karen Carpenter (once again, I’m sure that’s just me). Next up Drever, McCusker and Woomble are one of those groups that I’ve kept meaning to listen to. Idlewild, Woomble’s other band, were a particularly bright light in the mid to late 90’s and I recall a great gig at The Flapper (the first date of their first national tour I believe). On the way there we were listening to Steve Lamacq on the radio, he’d just signed the band to his label and they’d called in to his show for a chat…from a payphone near the venue. I had this great vision of several people crammed into a phonebox all furiously going through their pockets for 10p’s to keep the conversation going. Roddy ended up curled in a ball on the stage chewing his shoe…happy days. There’s far too little shoe chewing from our current pop stars. Anyway back to the present day. Roddy’s a lot more chilled now, but he still manages to instill that same sense of breast beating passion that made a lot of Idlewild’s early tracks so strong and, backed by Drever and McCusker, it was one of the discoveries of the weekend for me.

Be afraid...very afraid...Comus is coming...

From the sublime to the downright terrifying. Comus are one of those cult bands who made a fairly obscure record some 30 odd years ago then split up only to be rediscovered and resurrected for a second coming. I say terrifying because their first album, First Utterance (which formed much of the set), is full of doom laden psych tracks about shagging dead bodies, rape and losing the plot. Their lead singer (Rodger I think his name is), looked particularly demonic at times, as though he were channelling Beelzebub himself. Impressively demented. File under uneasy listening. Beth Orton ended the day nicely, but to be honest I was kind of expecting Comus to come onto the stage at any moment to start sacrificing virgins and the like. Time for bed…

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Moseley Folk Festival – Day One, Frida (no, that’s not a mistake…read on) 4th September 2009

St Etienne's Sarah Cracknell

Whilst this is a certainly a ‘festival’ (full marks there chaps), and it’s in ‘Moseley’ (again, can’t fault you on that one), the ‘folk’ element is a little vaguer. Maybe they means that it’s a festival for people (or ‘folk’ as you could call them) who live in Moseley? It’s a minor point of course. I guess you could call any sort of music that observes life and society in some form as ‘folk’ music, which neatly embraces everything from Public Enemy to Tinariwen. Neither act was on today’s bill but we did get a positive cornucopia of musical delights. Once again Ben Calvert, the driving force behind Bohemian Jukebox (a mainly Moseley based night featuring all sorts of musical loveliness), was in attendance, kicking off the festival to a growing crowd of early comers (apparently, according to my growing email spam box, you can get some cream for that). He played ‘Flee’, which I love. I had a heavenly pint of cider. And the sun shone…kind of...although the wind made it feel a little arctic at times.

Other picks of the day included Fancy Toys (a kind of Anglo/French jazz pop collective who, at times, play each other…), a truncated Circulus (some of them were stuck on the M6…you wouldn’t get that nonsense in the middle ages) and Rose Ellinor Dougal (ex Pipette now doing her own thing…a mix of the melancholia of Morrissey and the space pop of bands like Broadcast or Stereolab).

Frida on Friday...

The big name for me though was Frida Hyvonen (or Friday Hyvonen as they listed her in the programme). I’ve had a bit of a Frida fetish for a year or so now after hearing her track ‘Birds’ on Pig Radio. Imagine a little Kate Bush, a dash of Tori Amos, some Regina Spector and healthy dose of Scandanavian cool and you’ll get some idea of the sound. The pounding piano version of 'Birds' which opened her set (I think the recorded track uses a harpsichord) worked really well and she went on to (it seemed to me at least) wow the crowd more than most of the first dayers. Her drummer did a little bit of tap percussion (Tilly and the Wall style), she took the piss out of a drunken bloke in the crowd who thought she was from Finland and then sang a cheerful little ditty about abortions before ending up with a storming version of ‘Scandavian Blonde’. She said she’d be in the crowd after the gig but I couldn’t find her. Probably for the best really…I’m sure I’d go into a bit of a Vic Reeves style leg rubbing.

The final act of the day also deserves a mention. I’d seen St Etienne back in 1864 at Glastonbury and they were alright. Sarah’s voice was a little weak as I recall. Tonight, reliving the whole of Foxbase Alpha, she was on fine form, kicking off with ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ (which she didn’t sing originally, but we’ll let that pass). It all took me back to those distant days of the early 90’s (cue sepia footage featuring The Happy Mondays, World Of Twist and The Farm...remember them?) which, scarily, are coming up to 20 years ago. At times it felt old too, and I had a strange yearning to grab some glow sticks and a whistle, but it was all done with such a knowing sense of fun and the occasional more modern twist, that it ended up being one of the better Moseley headliners I’ve seen.

(Pete Ashton's review of Day One can be found right here)

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Cabaret @ The Birmingham Rep, Wednesday 2nd September 2009


‘Wilkommen’ read the huge piece of set at the front of the stage in lightbulbs. ‘Is that the name of the person who wrote it…Will Kommen?’ I overheard someone say. To be fair the way it was laid out, with the ‘Wil’ bit first, then the ‘kom’ in the middle and the ‘men’ bit at the bottom might confuse you…but even so…

Anyway, tonight was a bargain. Sniffing around the tourist bit of Birmingham Library (the old one…which is perfectly acceptable in my book…why spend millions of pounds on a new one…oh…backhanders from developers you say…oh right…now I get it) I came across a small business card sized flyer offering 2 for 1 tickets for cabaret on the first two nights of the show. The seats were surprisingly decent too. Row J, at the side. £8.75 a pop. Like I say, a real bargain for a cracking night of Nazi themed musical sauce. I’m a bit of a fan of musicals these days. Blame my camp ‘tache if you will but when it’s done right it’s a glorious night out and tonight was done very well indeed. The set was simple but effective. The nudity was tasteful (shame…I do love a bit of nudity) and the orchestra (you sometimes forget that there are real life people down there in t’pit) and cast achieved the perfect blend of sleaze, decadence and menace that’s at this musical’s heart. Given that this was the eve of the 70th anniversary of the declaration of World War II tonight’s performance had an added poignancy. The sudden sight of a young man dressed in a Nazi uniform (replete with swastika) singing ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me’ was as repellent as it was obviously meant to be. The stars of the show, a gloriously camp emcee in the shape of Wayne Sleep and runner up Maria (from that ‘How Do You Make Another Million for Lloyd Webber’ programme) Siobhan Dillon were spot on. Siobhan’s voice and acting in particular were first rate, neatly avoiding the musical clich├ęs that so many actors and actresses fall into (over emphasising words, giving it jazz hands all the bloody time, acting rather than living the part…). Can’t believe Wayne Sleep’s 61. He did a nice bit where they (in an obvious way) replaced him with a younger dancer wearing a pig head, making you think that he was too old to jig about. Camping it up like mad he quipped ‘Bet you think I’m too old to do that now dahhhlinks’ before executing a rather fine bit of furious tap. Bless ‘im.Unsurprisingly this production (well, last year’s version of it…which I imagine was pretty much the same) has won rave reviews and, even if you end up paying full price for the tickets, it’s money, money, money, money, money well spent.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Dirty Rapture / Dale Tomkins / The Dirty Knecks / All The More @ The Actress & Bishop, Friday 28th August 2009

By a strange quirk of fate tonight’s gig coincided with the 3rd anniversary of The Hearing Aid. Yes, Bearwood’s number one music related website is 3 years old. Whooop! Yeah! Party time…oh, alright then, suit yourselves.

Fittingly, given the fact that one of the ‘aims’ (no, I know there’s no real point to this but I can pretend can’t I?) of the site is to ‘big up’ local bands, the Aid’s birthday coincides with one of the many local band showcases that go on in our fair city every week. Up and down the country there are loads of gigs like this. On the one hand they’re the breeding ground for a handful of our future stars and, on the other, they’re a chance for people who just love playing music to get up and do their thang. I’ve long since given up trying to predict the bands that will make it, the odds are so small and the influencing factors so random these days that it’s impossible to tell, but that’s not really the point is it? There are few things better than live music and I can guarantee that, unless you’re not really out to enjoy yourself, you’ll always find something worthwhile. Tonight’s voyage into the unknown (unusually for me I’d not seen any of the bands of the bill) kicked off in fine style with All The More. Cleverly fusing some classic rock sounds and vocals with a nu metal feel The More were also blessed with a bass player that fizzed (literally…I’m sure I saw him foaming at the mouth at one point) with energy. Bare footed and sporting a mess of blond hair flecked with bluey green he leapt around the stage, off the stage, up the walls, on the ceiling…I’m knackered just thinking about it. Bass players aside the band had some really good numbers including ‘Lullaby’ and ‘Remembering Jane’ plus a solid cover of the Foo Fighters classic ‘Everlong’. NB: For some reason I can’t find a MySpace page for them. Is there one? Answers on a postcard…

Next up The Dirty Knecks. Yes I know that’s knot how you spell ‘knecks’ but since when has rock n’roll been about spelling eh? Just cast your minds back to the golden days of Slade. Couldn’t spell a thing that lot and look where that got ‘em. Exactly. They too had a particularly impressive guitarist, this time it was the lead, who showed some Hendrix-esque flashes of brilliance…and you really can’t get better than that. The lead vocalist was hugely entertaining too. Imagine a cross between Jim Morrison and Keith Moon and you’ll get the picture. There was muchos rock posing and a strange kind of limbo dance sort of thing where he went back on his heels until his head was almost touching the floor. A couple of covers in the set, The Clash classic ‘London’s Calling’ and AC/DC’s ‘Riff Raff’ will give you some idea of their sound. “I hope we entertained you” enquired Mr Morrison / Moon as he left the stage. Yes. Yes, you did. Job done. NB: Can’t find a MySpace page for them either but there is one for their previous incarnation as The Wild Ones featuring one of the picks of their set ‘Grind Stone Oppression’.

Penultimate act Dale Tomkins was up next. One man (joined a couple of times by another man) and his guitar. Strange billing for Dale amongst the rock bands and, putting him on after 10pm when the club downstairs was just getting into full swing, probably wasn’t the best setting for him. Nevertheless he put on an impressive showing, teasing a surprisingly powerful sound out of his guitar. Something in my head prompted me to tag Dale ‘Acoustic Emo’, which is a fair description as his voice and lyrics have that kind of feel. It neatly sets him apart from a lot of singer songwriters out there. The addition of another (unnamed) vocalist for a couple of tracks worked really well, his slightly softer voice acting as a nice counterpoint to Dale’s more powerful vocal dynamics. I particularly liked ‘New York’ and the NME baiting track featuring the chorus ‘Fuck you and your shitty magazine’ sung over and over again with increasing bile. Quite right. NME, once a glorious piece of music journalism, is now a tired comic obsessed with hyping anything and everything in a desperate attempt to create a new movement to sustain it for another year. Whilst it has no future I’m pretty sure Dale does.

Finally, headliners Dirty Rapture. Formed from the smouldering ashes of another band, Riot Night, this was Dirty Rapture’s maiden gig and it showcased a fine album’s worth of self penned songs. Following 12 months or so of rehearsals the set was as tight a band with loads of gigs under their belt and, if there were any nerves, they didn’t show. Whereas Riot Night took their starting point from the sound and style of Oasis, Dirty Rapture has a heavier rock edge taking in everything from The Rolling Stones to The Sex Pistols. The set was book-ended with two of their best tracks ‘The Last of The English Roses’ and ‘Shot In The Arm’ but in between were numerous highlights showing that they can do melody and emotion every bit as well as full on rock n’roll. ‘Sunrise’ (sung by Chris, one of the guitarists in the band) and ‘Don’t Let The World Get You Down’ in particular provided refreshing interludes. Whilst lead singer Will still embraces his inner Gallagher (ironically Oasis were just in the middle of splitting up during Dirty Rapture’s set) there’s a touch of Johnny Rotten in there too, hanging off the microphone and studying the crowd with a nonchalant glare. His voice is far stronger than in his Riot Night days too, evidence no doubt that both he and the rest of the band have really put the effort in behind the scenes. An impressive debut performance all round and, as the last track of their set put it, a real ‘Shot In The Arm’ for lovers of raw rock n’roll.