Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Emily Smith - 'New Years Eve'

New Years Eve by EmilySmith

Overdone it on the turkey and vin rouge? Hmmmm...me too. If the thought of downing a litre of gin on New Years Eve and dancing naked in the streets has you coming out in a cold sweat cop a listen to this track from Scottish folk star Emily Smith. As delicate as a snowflake and as soothing as a pint of Alka Seltzer it's the perfect tune for a chill out. If it floats your boat Emily's got a new album out in January too, 'Traivellers Joy' (yes, I have got the spelling right).

That's it for me for 2010. I'm not going to do any musical predictions for 2011...apart from this one...the rebirth of the mighty Dexy's Midnight Runners. Oh yes. Don't ask me why. Just a feeling. We'll see eh?

Happy New Year and all that!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Jingle Bells y'all


You know what it's like. Someone's decided to stick some music on so, inevitably, Now That's What I Call Christmas (probably on tape) gets dusted off for another year. Cue all the old favourites...fine for the first 5 minutes but then...oh...my...god...TURN IT OFF! AGGGGGHHHHHHHH! Happily, thanks to the wonderful world of the Intermess, there are plenty of alternatives in the form of FREE (now that's my kinda comfort and joy) mixes. This year (as last year) Baron Towers will echo to the rightous beats of DJ's Chris Read and Marc Hype who serve up all manner of funk, soul, hip hop and reggae treats in a Christmas stylee. Click on the handy players above and below and let the gravy flow.


In the same vibe I can also heartily recommend the Mum's Old Vinyl Christmas Mix...
A Funky Christmas Present-Mums Old Vinyl Mix-2010 by mumsoldvinyl

A very Merry Chrismix to you all.
x

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Amanda Palmer's...ahem...'map of Tasmania'



My favourite one woman music industry Amanda Palmer's at it again with a track written and recorded in less time than most of us would take to write a Christmas card. Entitled 'Map of Tasmania' it's an ode to...lady bits...which, according to some folk, look a little like a map of Tasmania. It's a little different to most of her offerings (thanks to the remixedness) but it is, as ever, awesomeness.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Pogues / Sparrow and the Workshop @ The Academy, Saturday 18th December 2010



Well, it’s nearly Christmas. And that can only mean one thing. The Pogues are back on the road for one more ‘farewell’ tour. Whatever you may think of Shane MacGowen he is, let’s face it, a bit of a legend. Having drunk himself into the Albert Steptoe / Father Jack of Irish folk punk many years ago it’s nothing short of a miracle that he’s still here to entertain us but, judging by the boisterous sold out crowd tonight, all of whom battled arctic conditions to get here, the cult of MacGowen and co is in much better shape than the man himself.



First up though...and brave souls they are too (can you imagine opening for The Pogues?) Sparrow and the Workshop. Taking folk down some distinctly dark and dirty alleyways this hotly tipped trio (consisting of a Scotsman an Irish woman and a Welshman...I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere) delivered a set that oozed confidence and self assurance. Although born in Ireland lead singer Jill was raised in Chicago, no doubt shaping that voice of hers (shades of Cat Power and Siouxsie Sioux at times), a hauntingly beautiful folky, bluesy, country-ish mix that’s just perfect for delivering the noir folk tracks that have become their signature sound. Noir folk? Well, just check out the opening line from one on tonight’s standout tracks ‘The Gun’, ‘I’d like to be the ghost beneath the floor’ sings Jill, spookily giving it the old thousand yard stare across the crowd. It’s lines like these (and there are loads of ‘em), coupled with Jill’s voice that make this band stand out from the current...pardon the pun...flock of folk bands out there. It’s the shadow in the woods, the creak of a floorboard, an almost Nick Cave-ian obsession with the darker side of life that makes this particular Sparrow well worth listening to. Speaking of that man Cave, Drummer and co-vocalist Gregor (nice ‘tache there fella) provides a suitably deep vocal counterpoint to Jill’s more ethereal tones, adding to the haunting sense of menace that inhabits a lot of their material. Plenty of set highlights (culled from their impressive debut album, ‘Crystals Fall) ranging from a ball busting ‘I Will Break You’ (tonight dedicated by Jill to the Tory party...I’m with you on that one sister) to the slow burning intensity of ‘Last Chance’. It was the Rawhide-tastic retro sounds of ‘Devil Song’ that stole the show tonight though, a giddy up romp of a track that really showcased the Jill/Gregor vocal interplay before culminating in some particularly ferocious drumming.

Okay, so what can you say about The Pogues? They are THE festive party band. After Glitter got caught doing his bit for the kids of the world The Pogues Christmas tours have justifiably become the stuff of legend. There’s some debate over whether this is actually their farewell tour (as it’s been billed) but, if it is, tonight ain’t a bad way to bow out. Of course much of tonight’s music has got its origins in the pubs of Ireland, so I reckon it’s entirely appropriate that Shane should look and sound like he’s visited every single one of them. Frequently. That said he actually seemed pretty on the ball this evening (the rumour has it that, whilst he drinks more than most of us, he’s actually a fairly modest boozer these days...just three bottles of spirits a day now). With a series of fags on the go (I guess when you’ve got a liver the size of a water melon lung cancer ain’t much of a worry) he seemed to remember every single word, snag as tunefully as he ever has and remained pretty much upright for the whole show.

Preceded by The Clash’s ‘Straight To Hell’ played over the PA the set (and the whole place) erupted into ‘Streams of Whiskey’, with Shane ambling on to the kind of reception that Lady Gaga would give her merkin for. Pints flew, limbs were (quite possibly) torn off and the mass of human life at the heart of the venue quickly became one big joyful sweaty mess. What followed was The Pogues greatest hits, delivered with all the vim and vigour of a band on their first tour. Just cop a load of the tunes from the first half of the set...’If I Should Fall From Grace With God’, ‘A Pair Of Brown Eyes’, Thousands Are Sailing, ‘And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’...each and every one a true classic, greeted like some holy declaration by an adoring audience.

Amidst all of the party hearty celebrations there were a couple of touching moments too, with songs being dedicated to the recently deceased Captain Beefheart, and, ten years to the day since she was murdered (I call driving over someone swimming in an area clearly reserved for divers in a speedboat murder...wouldn’t you?), the late, great Kirsty MacColl, both of whom got an appreciative and well deserved round of applause. Kirsty’s dad’s tune ‘Dirty Old Town’ got one of the biggest singalongs of the night with Shane in particularly fine form, spitting out the lyrics in a haze of gin and despair. The encores (yes, there were several) had to include ‘Fairytale of New York’ (culminating in the traditional indoor snow storm) and a suitably rowdy version of ‘Irish Rover’. The whole thing climaxed with ‘Fiesta’ featuring Spider Stacey and Shane each trying to outdo one another by bashing themselves round the head with a tin tray. I think Spider pipped it this time...just to be on the safe side he then proceeded to trash his guitar too, smashing it to pieces by the side of the stage. That’ll take more than a bit of gaffer tape to fix up. Now that’s what I call a show. To paraphrase their biggest hit “Happy Christmas your arse, I pray God it ain’t their last”...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

RIP Captain Beefheart January 25th 1941 - December 17th 2010



Safe as milk but nutty as a fruitcake...and all the better for it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Jolly Boys @ The HMV Institute, Thursday 16th December 2010


There aren’t many bands around that can trace their history back to the 1940’s (nope, not even The Rolling Stones...although, to be fair, Richards looks like he was around in the 1840’s these days). But, more than 60 years since they first played together (they were Errol Flynn’s party band for a while), The Jolly Boys are, incredibly, still going strong. Okay, to be honest there have been one or two line up changes (blame the grim reaper rather than ‘musical differences’ for most of them) but a fair number of the people on stage tonight have been Jolly Boys for the odd half a century or so. Not bad going eh?

If you’re unfamiliar with the whole Jolly Boys vibe they’re basically a mento group, mento being a form of Jamaican folk music that heavily influenced the ska and reggae scenes back in the day. More recently the Boys have Jolly-ed up some modern classics from the world of pop and roll for their latest album ‘Great Expectation’...hence, no doubt, this short UK tour. As this appears to be only their seventh album in as many decades they’re clearly not a band that likes to hurry things too much...in fact at this rate their next album and tour might pop up sometime in the 22nd century but, given their sheer energy and obvious joy in performing this evening I wouldn’t bet against them doing just that.

It was freezing outside tonight (a fact ruefully acknowledged by dentally challenged lead Jolly Boy, Albert, at the start of the gig), so that might excuse the small but enthusiastic crowd. Nevertheless we gave the band the kind of reception they deserved and they, feeling the love, gave it back to us in bucketloads. To kick off we got a trio of mento masterpieces, ‘Dig Dig’, ‘Iron Bar’ and, my personal favourite, ‘Talking Parrott’. Albert explained that, when he was a young boy, he always wondered why everyone had a talking parrot in a cage outside their porch. They seem to have been employed as some form of ‘guardbird’ against all manner of goings on...possibly in the bedroom department. I wonder how many marriages were confined to the dumper thanks to some loose beaked gossip eh? From the outset the equally loose but rhythmic mento magic got hips swaying (even mine...and that ain’t a pretty sight), with Derrick Henry as the band’s heartbeat, plucking away at his rumba box (a kind of wooden suitcase with metal prongs) and the banjo/guitar player (Donald?) adding some delicate flourishes that really came into their own throughout the cover versions.

Speaking of which the rest of the set consisted of a run through of the band’s new album and, unlike the majority of covers, pretty much every track benefitted from its mento makeover. I guess it’s because the sound is so alien to the originals that old favourites like The Stranglers ‘Golden Brown’ suddenly seem both fresh and familiar at the same time. At times it was actually hard to believe that these tunes weren’t actually mento tracks to begin with, thanks to the ease at which the band played them and some subtle tweaks here and there, take ‘Perfect Day’ for example, where Albert substituted ‘sangria’ for ‘Baileys’ as his park based tipple of choice.

Throughout the set Albert’s vocals continued to impress. You just can’t fake that. All those years, those late night parties, generous tots of rum and (perhaps) just the odd ‘herbal’ cigarette have created something that’s as rich Christmas pudding and as warm as a Jamaican Summer’s day. There’s a term in antique furniture...pattination...where the beauty of something lies in its age and wear. Well, I reckon it’s just as true in voices and when he sings an old favourite like ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ that voice gives it a whole new meaning and emotional intensity that the original now seems to lack. Just beautiful.

As you’ll see from the set list below the Boys played an eclectic mix of tracks this evening (who’d imagine New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’ would work, as Albert put it ‘inna mento style’). Whilst it might’ve been nice to have some more ‘true’ mento tracks, that’s a minor quibble. The joy tonight was in hearing a new twist on classic tracks. Of all the covers perhaps the most surprising treat of all was Winehouse’s ‘Rehab’, with Albert gyrating in time to the music like a man half his...hell, scrap that...half my age. There’s something really pleasing about seeing a guy in his seventies singing “They tried to mek me go to rehab , I said no, no, no” with a real twinkle in his eye. After a good hour and a half they finished off with another unusual choice, Lou Reed’s ‘Passenger’, which rapidly developed into a mass la-la-la-along before Albert and Joseph (two of the longest serving members) did little solo jigs before dancing off into the night...anything but passengers. Prove that it really t’is the season to be Jolly.

Set List

Dig Dig / Iron Bar / Talking Parrot / Golden Brown / Perfect Day / Do It Again / Blue Monday / Hanging On the Telephone / Nightclubbing / You Can’t Always Get What You Want / Rehab / Riders On The Storm / Ring Of Fire / Passenger

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Jolly Good Show...



It's not often you get the chance to see Errol Flynn's in house party band (and, arguably, the spritual godfathers of Ska and Reggae), but The Jolly Boys (who can boast both those claims to fame) are touring the UK right now. I'm off to see 'em at the HMV Institute in Birmingham (Thursday 16th) and I heartily suggest you get your bottoms down there too. Here's a little taste from their spanking new album 'Great Expectation'...a delicious cover of Winehouse's 'Rehab'.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Next Factor


So...some bloke’s won X Factor. Apparently 20million people watched the final. Good grief. It seems like there’s an enormous appetite for new talent (if indeed the bloke in question has any...I haven’t seen him...hold on a mo...nope...not an ounce of it...wow). If only a small percentage of the audience would get off their sofas and pop down to their local gig venue / pub and see some of the real talent that’s out there then perhaps more bands would be able to make a proper go of things rather than being forced to do mind numbingly dull jobs just to make ends meet. Of course the X Factor has nothing to do with music really, it’s just a piece of fluffy escapism to distract us all from the impending economic Armageddon that’s heading our way. Needless to say I think it’s a soul sapping heap of cobblers that’s designed to make the most money for Cowell and co without giving a moment’s thought to anyone else...or, and here’s what really pees me off...contributing anything to our musical heritage.

Here’s a thought though. How about creating a show like X Factor (bear with me here) that features ‘real’ bands/singers, playing their own material week after week? Cover versions are all very well but if we just keep covering stuff we’ll all get very bored indeed. Of course there have been shows like this on Channel 4 (one of which was won by Birmingham’s very own Envy and Other Sins...although I think even that resorted to covers) but nothing (to my knowledge) on a prime time slot. Think of it as a cross between Top of the Pops, The Tube and the X Factor, with the main aim being to ‘break’ at least a dozen new bands each series. By ‘new’ I obviously mean a band that’s got at least an album’s worth of material ready to go but without a deal yet...and there are shed loads of ‘em out there. Unlike the X Factor the great unwashed would get to hear new and original tracks each week from equally new and original bands. Yes, it’s all very commercial and unhip but, given the dearth of opportunities for bands to get on TV these days (Jools Holland seems to be the only mainstream music show willing to take some kind of risk on new artists) I’d rather see this happen than lose generations of bands who just can’t catch a decent break. I guess you could make it a bit cooler if you had tolerable presenters and a policy that encouraged all sorts of different genres. Add a website with downloadable tracks each week and competitions for budding video makers and remixers to do their thang too and you might have something a little more creative than the current lame duck sausage factory pumping out singers who are, let’s face it, nothing more than puppets for Uncle Simon to play with. Of course the acid test would be whether the great unwashed would want to watch Lawnmower Death Factory playing ‘’I’m Going To Dump On Your Grave” but we might be pleasantly surprised...eh...eh?! God, I’m just so naive sometimes aren’t I?

Friday, December 10, 2010

This little Piggy...





The more observant readers out there might see the little button for Pig Radio on the left hand side of this nonesense (just above the Followers section...yes I have followers...just like Jesus...except without all the worshipping and nailing to bits of wood stuff). Anyway, Pig is a top notch internet radio station that I've been listening to pretty much non-stop for the past 4 or 5 years. No DJ's, no ads, no Coldplay, just one quality track after another. Bliss. They've been responsible for most of my musical discoveries recently and the videos above are just a couple of crackers (damn...should've saved that for a couple of weeks time). First up is a banging (can I say 'banging' without sounding like a twat? Nope? Okey dokey) party classic (there are oodles of cool remixes of this on You Tube too) from Australia's Bag Raiders. Next I've plucked a more low key track from one man lo-fi electro hobgoblin Adam Bainbridge AKA Kindness. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Go Team Go...



One of the more interesting acts to have emerged over the past decade or so, The Go Team, are poised to unleash their third album in January. Their first album, a glorious mash up of pop, funk, hip hop and dance, ‘Thunder, Lighting, Strike’ was pretty much superglued to my ears for a few months back in 2004 but, for some inexplicable reason, I seem to have missed the second one altogether. To make amends here’s one of the new album’s (Rolling Blackouts) ass shakingly great key tracks, the meaty, beaty, big and brassy ‘T.O.R.N.A.D.O’

PS: There is a proper video for this but it’s got an advert for a bank at the beginning of it...and I can’t condone advertising...unless someone’s paying me a shedload of money that is.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Top Tracks # 21 - Chungking - 'Making Music'



Time for another in the increasingly irregular series of Top Tracks...basically anything I like from the last 100 years or so. I'm in a snuggly mood today, mainly 'cos I'm trying to stave off hypothermia. So here’s the perfect song to snuggle up to (who or what you snuggle up to is your business...man, woman, dog, radiator, a hastily microwaved Ginsters Pasty...anything to stop yourself from freezing to death is fine by me), Chungking’s ‘Making Music’. The ‘king are another one of those bands that seem to have garnered loads of ‘critical success’ but relatively little of the commercial variety. Oh well, the public’s loss is our gain as we can snuggle up to our pasties safe in the knowledge that this track ain’t about to be used to advertise sanitary pads or covered by The Saturdays any day soon. That’s enough of a reason to give this tune a spin, but the fact that it’s a heartbreakingly beautiful comfort blanket of a song that’s pretty much guaranteed to warm even the nippiest extremities is a real bonus. Ahhhhhhhhhhh. Enjoy.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Nice and Sleazy – RIP Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson



Meant to post this last week when it happened but time ran away with me. Ah well. Sad news for all fans of industrial music / weird and crazy shit following the death of Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson. If you know who he is you’ll also know just how important he was to...let’s call it the more alternative side of music. For the uninitiated he was one of the founder members of industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle, a leading player in early Psychic TV, 50% of post industrialists Coil and one of the dudes behind Hipgnosis who designed some of the most iconic album covers of all time (including that Pink Floyd one of the bloke on fire). Oh...he directed videos too, including this one:



On top of all this he seemed to be a genuinely nice bloke too. Admittedly some of what he did would probably freak the bejesus out of most people but here’s another classic Sleazy infused cut.



PS: Have a read of fellow Throbbing member Genesis's tribute to Sleazy.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Heaven 17 @ The HMV Institute, Friday 26th November 2010



Almost every band under the sun is doing this ‘let’s play one of our best albums in one night’ things now, but Heaven 17 have more reason than most to revisit their crowning glory. Why? Well, back when they originally released it (1981) they didn’t play live...partly it seemed to have been down to a refusal to do what was expected and partly down to the fact that the cutting edge technology of the day was less reliable than a cheque from the Irish government. Now most mobile phones would be up to the job so, thirty years late, here’s Penthouse and Pavement in all its vintage synth funk glory. Of course 1981 was a completely different time to the world we’re all living in today. There was a recession on, loads of political unrest, a vicious Tory government, religious extremism, rising unemployment, deeply unpopular wars and all we had to look forward to was a royal wedding. How times change eh? Hmmmm.

I’ve been a fan of the band for years (30 to be precise) and I’ve seen ‘em a few times before but this is the first gig I’ve been too since they’ve gone and got all trendy again (courtesy of bands like La Roux citing them as a major influence). So, amongst the 40 somethings was a smattering of trendy young thangs here too, most of whom probably weren’t born when the band went on a lengthy hiatus back in 1988.

Before the gig proper got going we were treated to some trendy arty visuals (this multi-media element continued throughout Heaven 17's set, with different visuals for each track)and a bit of DJ’ing from Mark Jones who, bearing in mind the target demographic kept his selection firmly placed in the 80’s. Step forward a bit of Blancmange, some early Soft Cell and a slice of Human League. Ahhhh they don’t make ‘em like that anymore. Suitably warmed up and basking in a nostalgic glow Heaven 17 kicked off their set (as per the album’s running order) with the rallying cry of ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thing’. As fresh sounding today as it was back in 1981 the mix of funk and synth is still capable of getting more than a few asses moving...even if those asses are a pound or two heavier than they use to be. Having rejected fascism, groovy or otherwise, ‘Penthouse and Pavement’ took the funk up a notch and, once again, I was struck by just how fresh it all sounded. Bearing in mind I’ve been listening to this album, on and off for three decades, it’s as testament to just how ahead of their time they (and this album) were. Of course there’s another factor at play here as Glenn reminded us “We’ve waited 30 years to play this live”. “Sound’s like a new album to us” quipped Martyn. Yep, remarkably it does.

After running through Side One there was plenty of time for some bonus stuff (bear in mind the original album was an economical 38 minutes long), taking in ‘Ball Of Confusion’ (a BEF track originally sung by Tina Turner), Glenn’s take on the Campbell classic ‘Witchita Line Man’ and a cheeky acoustic version of the League’s ‘Don’t You Want Me’ ...“Don’t tell Phil” warned Glenn...oh, bugger, let’s hope he doesn’t read this then. Hell hath no fury like Oakey on the rampage...remember what he did to his hair?

The Moroder-tastic ‘Geisha Boys and Temple Girls’ synth kicked off Side Two, the influence on La Roux screamingly obvious here. The relatively slow ‘Let’s All Make A Bomb’ gave Glenn a moment to catch his breath before leading a mass He-La-Hu along to ‘At The Height of Fighting’. The last two tracks on the original album ‘Song With No Name’ and ‘We’re Going To Live For a Very Long Time’ (pure Human League) aren’t the strongest in my humble opinion but, of course, there was a lot more to come, including the Teutonic yuppie anthem ‘I’m Your Money, released at the same time but not included on the album for some reason.

“What shall we do now?” asked Glenn feigning confusion “We’ve run out of tracks”. There were one or two shout-outs for obscure H17/League numbers but they wheeled out one of the band’s best numbers (from ‘The Luxury Gap’, Penthouse’s follow up) ‘Crushed By The Wheels of Industry’, arguably as relevant today as it was back then. If ever a nation needed liberation then we’re living in it...whooo whooo! After the sophisticated sythnpop of ‘Let Me go’ I was flung back to the dim and distant past and memories of listening to the next track ‘Come Live With Me’ on 7 inch vinyl and marvelling at how BOTH the song’s characters (“I was 37, you were 17”) seemed reeeeeeeeeally old. Ha! The folly of youth. 37’s not old. Is it? Oh balls.

Entering the last segment of the show the band began safely enough with the big crowd pleaser, a slightly remixed ‘Temptation’ with Billie Godfrey doing a surprisingly good job of filling Carol Kenyon’s boots. Next up a relatively new song ‘I’m Gonna Make You Fall In Love With Me’ (from 2007’s album Before / After), a little more Europop than the Heaven 17 of old but still worthy of set inclusion, if only to show that this ain’t just a nostalgia fest. This was backed up by a moving rendition of The Associates’ classic (and I use that word wisely) ‘Party Fears Two’ that Glenn first performed at a tribute to the late, great Billy MacKenzie in 2007. Slowed down to a funereal pace it moved Glenn, and I daresay a fair few members of the audience, to tears. Powerful stuff. We still weren’t done though. There was just enough time for another cheeky League tribute, this time ‘Being Boiled’ was dusted off and, blow me, despite being the oldest number played tonight (ignoring the Line Man cover) it still sounded the most futuristic.

I was expecting tonight to be good, after all Penthouse and Pavement is widely acknowledged as a classic album, but what kept surprising me (as I’ve said at least a dozen times already...but us old folk do tend to repeat ourselves) is just how damn fresh it sounded. The joy that Glenn and Martyn got from playing these tracks – and they both looked like a dog with two dicks...so that’s two dogs with four dicks...that’s a lot of dicks...was more than matched by the reaction of the near capacity crowd. “We’ll see you all next year for ‘The Luxury Gap’” Martyn joked as they band left the stage. You know what, on the strength of this show I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that’s just what they did. You’d find me in the same place, front row, beaming my face off again. After all the memory of this gig’s going to live for a very long time, for a very long time, for a very long time, for a very long time, for a very long time, for a very long time, for a very long time, for a very long time, for a very long time, for a very long time...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Lube Tube



Been listening to a few tracks by The Vaselines recently, a band that relatively few people had heard of until Nirvana covered some of their stuff (including this one) back in the day. It seems they’ve reformed (The Vaselines that is...Nirvana face a challenge or two on that score) and released a new album, pretty much in line with the sound of their late eighties heyday. If you’re into your 'proper' indie stuff this track’s a beauty though. Stick the fire on, make yourself a cup of tea, crack open the Hob Nobs and enjoy...

PS: In the interests of keeping all this schnizzle current he's The Vaselines lastest one too, not bad eh?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Venue and me



Came across this little doc the other day. It’s about legendary London venue the 100 club which, like most of the legendary venues in London, seems destined to be closed (actually most of ‘em have already been closed). Of course this kind of cultural destruction ain’t limited to the capital. Here in Birmingham many of us are probably still mourning the loss of the Jug Of Ale, Edwards and JB’s (I’m sure older readers could point out a dozen other venues that have played hosts to dozens of legendary gigs but gone on to be demolished to make way for something really pointless). I know there was a club over in Erdington called Mothers which played host to pretty much every important rock band of the 70’s including (deep breath) Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, The Who, T-Rex, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple...the list goes on and on. It shut in 1971 (although I think the building’s still there).

Arguably the biggest balls up in history was the demolition of the original Cavern club in Liverpool to make way for a car park...which wasn’t even built in the end. Genius. What developers and local authorities just don’t seem to get is that venues aren’t just buildings. Each gig (even the crap ones) adds another layer of magic which builds up year after year. Every stain on the wall, band sticker in the loo or footprint in an improbable place tells a story. I reckon venues should make more of this history...a wall of fame or something that records the names of all the bands who’ve played there...so these places become recognised as something worth preserving when the axe starts to fall.

Maybe it’s just me but I find all of this musical heritage stuff fascinating. I’m guessing that a lot of bands and a fair few punters would too. Whilst I’m on a nostalgia tip I seem to remember an idea a few years ago for a museum of Birmingham bands. I think they wanted to put it in the old Futurist cinema (instead it became a lap dancing club...just like Birmingham’s Ronnie Scott’s venue on Broad Street). What a great tourist attraction that could be eh? Extend it to Midlands bands and venues and you’ve got something of genuine cultural importance for the City. Oh I forgot. There’s a recession on isn’t there? Still at least we can pour millions into a new public library which no one will use and then waste millions knocking the old one down just as that building begins to attract some kind of grudging respect as an example of brutalist architecture. The sooner Carl Chinn’s made Mayor of Birmingham the better. I reckon he’d be up for a Museum of Midland Music. Anyway, the point of all this is to direct you to the campaign to save the 100 Club. I’ve never been there but I’d like to have the chance to. More to the point I’d like future generations to have the opportunity to visit and play a venue that’s shaped music history for more than 6 decades. Now that has to be more important than another office block doesn’t it?

PS: If you watch the doc you’ll hear that they need to raise £500,000 or so before Christmas to save the place. You’ll also hear Mick Jagger (one of thousands of people who’s played there) bang on about how important it is too. Hmmmm...a multi millionaire with more money than he knows what to do with and an ego the size of planet earth and a venue that needs a sugar daddy...

PPS: To the left of this nonsense you’ll see a list of venues in Birmingham. Go to them. We don’t need any more car parks.

PPPS: So, how’s about that museum of Midlands music then eh?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Trash Talk / Cerebral Ballzy / Turnball AC’s / Kafka @ The HMV Institute, Thursday 18th November 2010


I’m a firm believer in going to see stuff you wouldn’t normally go and see, just to fizz things up a bit you know. So, whilst I’d draw the line at Coldplay, JLS or any one of a million here today, gone tomorrow made for TV acts, I’m not averse to submitting myself to the darker, heavier stuff every once in a while. Hence tonight.

Disclaimer: whilst I’m an acknowledged expert on synth pop 1980 – 1983 and the work of Bernard Cribbins I know very little about ‘hardcore’, ‘sludgecore’, ‘mathcore’ or anything else with ‘core’ in the title, which pretty much excuses any of the random generalisations and ill informed comments that I may well make here. Ha!

First up Kafka, a gentle folk act with some lovely little songs about birds, bees and puppy dog’s knees...hang on...oh my Christ...what the fuck...aggggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhh. Kafka are one of those bands that sound like they’re fronted by Satan. Given that the set began with the stage being enveloped in thick smoke, illuminating by red lights, they may well be. I half expected to smell sulphur in the air and hear a few screaming souls and, to be fair, their lead did accurately convey what it must feel like to have a hot poker shoved up your bumbum for all eternity. How the hell these people make that noise for so long without ripping their throat to shreds and vomiting up a lung I’ll never know...but it’s impressive. Musically Kafka had it nailed too, especially one or two sections that sounded...in no particular order...like fireworks going off in a metal bin and anti tank missiles exploding against the Houses of Parliament, surprisingly melodic in a liquidising your brain kind of way. In their own words this band’s “Here to fuck you in every way, and bury your face in riffs and screaming”. Hmmm...mission accomplished there then.

Next up Turnball AC’s...a band SO loud and SO scary that they don’t even appear to have a website. In fact just listening to them for more than a few minutes can cause infertility, haemorrhaging and...eventually...death. I jest. Compared with Kafka they weren’t as bombastic and there was less of that throat raping going on but they still managed to make a gloriously destructive noise.

By comparison to Kafka Cerebral Ballzy were positively pop. Their lead screamer kicked off the set with the immortal words “This is a song about pizza”. It may well have been. It might equally have been a song about Wayne Rooney’s underpants, the state of the Irish economy or how to grow the perfect sprout. That’s not the point really is it? It’s all about the energy and the Ballzy were the first band tonight to try to get the party started, with Mr Screamer climbing the speaker stacks, getting his kit off (well, his shirt at least) and whacking his bollocks with his mic. That’s my idea of a party too.


Happily on top of a song about pizza they did one about drinking, one about drugs and one about not having enough bus fare to get home. I hear you on that one bro. £1.70 for a single? Rise up and revolt my fellow travellers. Free buses for all and an immediate ban on anyone with a pram that’s wider than the freakin’ bus. The set finished off with, again in Mr Screamer’s words “A song about pizza, drinking, drugs and all that stuff”. Huh, he didn’t mention the bus fares again though did he eh? Obviously a tool of the evil empire of Travel West Midlands.

Last up, Sacramento’s very own devil’s spawn, Trash Talk, and by now I was slightly unsure of which way was up, what my name was or if the outside world even existed (or had it all just been a dream?). After being pummelled by noise for an hour or two I was actually in the mood for a bit more physicality. The few ‘hardcore’ gigs I have been to were ‘made’ by the thrashing about in the audience, getting sweaty with your fellow man and being kicked in the head by a smelly pair of converse. Happily, whilst the first three bands had stayed stage side, Trash Talk are clearly made of sterner stuff and, encouraged by some particularly vigorous windmilling by one or two chaps their lead singer had soon joined us on the floor...literally at some points...rolling around in a sweaty mess surrounded by a dozen or so wide eyed hardcore pilgrims who seemed to know every word he was screaming. I stayed glued to the wall for a couple of songs but that’s a bit like watching someone eat a hamburger when you’re really hungry isn’t it? So I got stuck in as best I could at my age, leaping about, getting smacked in the head, arm, leg, chest, knee...hang on let me check the bruises...oh yes...ankle, ass and foot too. It’s all pretty good natured though.


No one got out of hand, there was a little mild stage diving and I did find an eyeball rolling around on the floor but you can’t make a hardcore cake without breaking a few eggs eh? The beauty of bands like Trash Talk is that there’s no bullshit, no long wanky solos or unnecessary froth. It’s hard, it’s heavy and it’s fast. I was too busy avoiding flying limbs to time some of the tracks but I reckon you could listen to an entire Trash Talk album whilst boiling an egg...twice in fact. In amongst the melee I did manage to decipher one or two numbers, the highlight of which was an incendiary version of ‘Explode’, which started off as heads down, 180mph bile splattered anthem then slowed menacingly before putting the foot firmly back on the gas (and, thanks to one of the stage divers, in my left ear too).

So what if most of the lyrics were unintelligible, the vocals came from the bowels of the earth and several people spontaneously imploded just in front of the stage? Gigs like this are all about the energy, the raw explosions of rage and power...and...er...an overwhelming desire to embrace sweaty men and get punched in the head...a lot. Fantrashtic.

Pictures courtesy of the lovely Andy Watson aka Drw Images ...who somehow managed to avoid getting his camera smashed.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

New music round up thingy



You heard it heard first. That’s what you’ll be saying in six months time when these acts are all over the front page of ‘Ferret Breeder’s Weekly’. Whether any of them actually breed ferrets is a moot point...there are far too few decent music magazines to go round these days so I reckon artists should try branching out a little if they want to land that all important front cover. I’m sure the publishers of ‘Broom Brush and Mop Magazine’ would be only too happy to feature any one of the following...

First up, and actually not a bad soundtrack to a spot of light broom work, it’s The Diamond Sea. Proudly indie pop (with a dash of shoegaze in the mix) they’re the kind of band you can imagine going down a storm with students in bedsits who read Albert Camus and smoke roll ups. Sounds a bit like me. Except I’m not a student, I don’t smoke and I have no idea who Albert Camus is. A low key, nicely chilled dreamy soundtrack to your day, their new album, Second Move, is out now.

Next, and in stark contrast, the vaguely terrifying The Horn The Hunt. Fans of The Knife and Fever Ray will find plenty to like here...in other words a scary lady singing about power stations, cling film, pension funds, toasting forks and stuff, all set against an exotic backdrop of synths, sounds and samples. I can heartily recommend the oriental tinged ‘Old Town Cow’ as a suitable introduction to the (cue Kenneth Williams style voice) world of the ‘orn.



How’s about a bit of Irish pop folk? Aaron Shanley’s got the looks, voice and lyrics to melt a million hearts. Reminding me of a younger Damien Rice he’s got a nice line in autumnal pop songs(you know...the kind of tracks that make you want to snuggle up with someone by a log fire). If you can (a) find someone to snuggle up with and (b) get hold of a log fire then you’ll need (c) a copy of Aaron’s new album ‘Let The Sun In’.

If you lack someone to snuggle up with and you’d rather stab someone in the neck with a King Size Twix (try it kids...it’s a lot safer than a knife and you’ve got something to munch on afterwards) I’ve got the perfect band for you. Recently described as Bad Brains on crystal meth Cerebral Ballzy play it hard n’fast. I have a bit of a weird thing for hardcore which is probably why you’ll find me at their Birmingham gig on Thursday evening...trying desperately to avoid being decapitated by flying teens. I do hope they play 'Insufficient Fare' (click on the video above all this nonesense for a quick blast)...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Heaven 17 Play To Win...



After a critically acclaimed 6 Music gig with super fans La Roux earlier this year Heaven 17 bring their classic album Penthouse and Pavement to Birmingham’s HMV Institute on Friday 26th November. Justifiably featured in the book ‘1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die’ it spawned a penthouse full of classic synth n’funk tracks including ‘(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang’, ‘The Height Of The Fighting’ and (still a dancefloor filler today by all accounts) ‘Play To Win’.

Simultaneously taking the piss out of the yuppies who shoved it in their Walkman’s and used it to soundtrack their vacuous lives as well as appealing to the cool kids AND making it into the charts, it’s a true classic in every sense of the word (and when you think what they did with what was still emerging technology in those days it’s nothing short of a musical miracle). Thirty years down the line the album’s been rediscovered by a whole new generation, many of whom, like Ellie and Ben from La Roux, are simply blown away by just how fresh it still sounds. I’ve actually been playing it myself for 30 years and I’ve yet to get bored of it. There aren’t many albums like that eh?


Notorious for not playing live when it was first released this gig will be one of the first times it’s ever been performed in its entirety. Not content with merely bringing it to life however the band has also prepared what’s being pitched as a live digital visual show in collaboration with a whole bunch of graphic designers and filmmakers too...intriguing. At the time of posting this tickets are still available right here. He-La-Hu!

Scott property...jazz star hits the Hare!



Grammy nominated trumpet god Christian Scott hits the Hare & Hounds this Saturday (20th November) for his first ever date in the West Midlands. At 27 he already has five albums under his belt (good grief...I only just owned a belt at 27) and those in the know are rating him right up there with Miles for his inventiveness and achingly cool live shows. Just cop a load of this clip. Niiiiiice. Be there or be very, very square indeed...daddio.

Tickets on sale now from The Ticket Sellers and Polar Bear Records, Birmingham.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Patrick Duff / Kieran Goddard / Dust Motes @ The Hare & Hounds, Thursday 11th November 2010


Patrick Duff gigs are like buses. No, seriously, bear with me here a second. You wait years for one then he comes along and does two in the space of 6 months or so. Happily, unlike buses, Patrick doesn’t smell of wee, turn up late and then proceed to slam you around like a piece of meat in the back of a cattle truck. Where do bus companies get some of their drivers from eh...stockcar tracks? Jeez. Anyway, after recovering from a particularly violent journey on the loathsome number 11 (which now also seems to double as some kind of mobile mental health ward) I settled down to the Dust Motes. What’s a ‘mote’ I hear you ask...it’s actually a tiny particle. So here’s a band named after tiny particles of dust just floating about in the atmosphere. It’s actually quite a suitable name, given the fragile quality of their music and Dave’s gently understated vocals. Remarkably for these times the band don’t seem to have a website, MySpace page, Twitter account or any of the other thousand and one online faces that everyone’s supposed to have these days. Good on ‘em I say. Their music, like their microscopic namesakes, exists in the air for a moment then floats away into the ether making this performance really rather beautiful.

Next up Kieran Goddard, lead singer of local miserablists (that’s a good thing by the way) Mr Bones and the Dreamers. I’ve been a fan of the band for a while but tonight was the first time to hear pure 100% Kieran, revealing for the first time the true strength of that voice of his. It’s a seriously impressive thing, occasionally tremulous but clear and a strong at the same time...there’s something of a world weary angel about it. Most of the songs tonight were unnamed and being played for pretty much the first time but he did do a stunningly beautiful version of Jackson C Frank’s ‘Blues Run The Game’ (check Jackson out by the way...a really underrated artist). I loved the surreal inter-song ramblings too...riffing about the rights or wrongs of stealing money from wishing wells then throwing it in the sea in order to make female fish grow a penis (no, I’ve not been drinking...no more than normal anyway). You had to be there...

Finally Patrick himself (a Syd Barrett for the 21st Century?) took to the stage. Now with a full beard, thinning hair and Oxfam suit he’s a million miles away from the pin up Strangelove singer that no doubt melted a few teenage hearts in the 90’s. By his own admission he’s been through (and continues to go through) something of an emotional journey and this gig (like the other two solo shows I’ve seen him do) was part performance, part therapy session. If all that sounds a little self indulgent, it wasn’t. Patrick’s shows are all about sharing, exploring what makes us who we are....and that’s relevant to each and every one of us in the audience.

As with his last show he began by striking a huge gong by the side of the stage, gently at first then pounding it harder and harder, almost in a rage, gripping the mallet with both hands and putting his entire weight behind each furious blow. As opening numbers go it’s one hell of a way to shut people up. Then he settled down to deliver over an hour’s worth of candid chat and hauntingly beautiful music that’s clearly now being more flavoured by his Irish roots. He spoke at length about his teenage years and discovering drink at an early age. By 17 he was hanging outside an Off Licence in the St Paul’s district of Bristol at 7am, waiting in the drizzle for it to open so he could buy some booze to “have a good time”. Whilst he was waiting he heard a group of “Irish tramps” busking for money. Dressed in charity shop suits and banging cardboard boxes for percussion he thought they were “the coolest people in the world”. That single moment seemingly turned his life around and got him interested in playing music. They took him under their wing and he went on to busk the streets of Bristol for a while (which is where the rest of his band, Strangelove, discovered him I believe).

He also talked movingly about his dad, an Irishman with a love for a good tune. It seems that father and son hadn’t exactly seen eye to eye for a while but, about a year or so ago, Patrick was back in the family home just strumming away when his dad came into the room and started to play along with him. It was, recalled Patrick, just like the old man was passing on the baton of his musical heritage, inspiring a number of new tunes (one or two , including ‘Maria’ and ‘Danny’, heard for the first time tonight) with a bit more of a Celtic flavour. True to past form on several occasions Patrick went unplugged, moving away from the mic and singing much as he no doubt did back in his busking days. He couldn’t resist taking the piss out his old rock star status though, placing one foot on the monitor then pointing out what he’d just done with an ironic sigh in his voice.


Most of the set was made up from tracks from his stunningly great latest album ‘The Mad Straight Road’ with the Tom Waits-ian ‘Dead Man Singing’, ‘Spider Woman’ (prefaced by an honest admittance that his relationships with women will probably put him in an early grave) and the bleak, loping ‘one man against the world’ ode of ‘Poor Old John’ standing out as highlights. In amongst the darker stuff there’s a playfulness too, notably on ‘Three Little Monkeys’...the sort of number you can imagine in an old school Disney animation, giving me hope that, despite all his troubles, Patrick has now found some of the peace and happiness that he’s been searching so long for. Gigs like this are special, the intimate setting and openness of a truly great performer coming together to create something that’s a privilege to be part of. Coming just a day after The Irrepressibles' stunning St Martin’s show didn’t diminish this fact one iota...which is nothing short of a miracle and goes to prove what a rare talent this dude really is. Duff by name, inspirational by nature.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Irrepressibles / Jo Hamilton / Thomas Truax @ St Martin’s Church, Wednesday 10th November 2010


There seems to be a bit of a vogue for gigs in Birmingham churches at the moment. St Paul’s has had a few this year and now St Martin’s is getting in on the act too. It’s a cracking idea. They’re generally gorgeous buildings, perhaps somewhat underused in these more secular times and the acoustics can be...er...heavenly. Tonight we’re here to worship at the altar of St Jamie McDermott, the frankly inspirational life force behind The Irrepressibles, a chamber pop band that’s currently wowing our European neighbours but still seem to be criminally underrated here in their homeland. C’est la vie. Given that this is their first UK tour though (and this is a band that you really need to see live) perhaps all that is about to change.


First up though a couple of worthy support artists, kicking off with the self styled “Heath Robinson of music” Mr Thomas Truax. Seemingly springing from the same post Millennial New York scene that gave us Jeffrey Lewis, Thomas’s USP are his range of bizzaro instruments that he fashions out of bits of other stuff. Tonight we were treated to the Hornicator (part of a tuba, with a mic and strings across the open end) and ‘Mother Superior’ (a self powered percussion unit made out of old bicycle wheels, a tambourine and a bit of trumpet). He wore something else on his back that looked a little like a UFO...goodness knows what the heck that was made out of...probably a real UFO given the unworldly noise it made. I particularly liked his approach to guitar playing too, using a handheld fan to do the plucking for him leaving his other hand free to glide up and down the neck. Genius. Against all this (surprisingly tuneful) cacophony Thomas spins Lynchian tales of giant talking butterflies and moonlit parties in his imaginary home of Wowtown. Kicking off with the voodoo blues of ‘Prove It To My Daughter’ he spent the next half hour or so delivering a set that fizzed with inventiveness, at one point leaving the stage to wander round the church itself, singing as he went. At the end of it all the lights dimmed and he donned a pair of glasses with lenses that lit up and span round to illustrate a charming ditty by the name of ‘Beehive Heart’, a Hornicator heavy slice of madness that sounded a little like Beck after an acid trip. A true-ax original.

It can’t be easy following that but Jo Hamilton’s voice (compared to the likes of KD Lang and Bjork) more than made up for the lack of mutant instruments from outer space. Having said that she did unveil the Airpiano, which is (in the words of the inventor) “a new musical interface which allows playing and controlling software instruments simply by moving hands in the air”.


Very impressive it looked too, imagine a cross between a theramin and an ironing board and you won’t be far off. Jo’s been a regular on the Birmingham scene for a number of years now and seems to be getting some rave reviews further afield too. Judging by the spine tingling ‘Alive, Alive’, with its sparse, fractured shards of electronic bleeps creating the perfect backdrop for Jo’s haunting vocals, they’re more than justified.

Last up, The Irrepressibles. It actually seems a little bit wrong to review this gig. It’s like reporting on a lover, the intimacy, feelings and atmosphere created tonight can’t be replicated in words alone. But, for the sake of having some writing to go with the pretty pictures, I’ll try. Berlin cabaret, burlesque and jazz clubs; discos, ‘Frisco and gilded ballrooms; comedy and tragedy, love, loss and longing all collide in an orchestral whirlwind that’s one of the most extraordinary shows I’ve seen in over 20 years of gig going. At the back of the stage is a wraparound 180 degree wall of mirrors, within which stands Jamie. Lit (for most of the set) with candles and subdued spotlights these enable you to see him from all angles...a neat (and highly appropriate) visual trick that reinforces the openness and honesty that’s at the heart of his lyrics. The album that the band’s currently touring, ‘Mirror, Mirror’ takes in all sorts of raw emotions, from unrequited love to suicide. What rescues it all from Morrissey bound misery are Jamie’s voice (a truly angelic concoction with shades of Anthony, Jeff Buckley, Baby Dee and Kate Bush), lush instrumentation and the simple (but devastatingly) effective choreography that saw the nine piece band rise, fall and sway in time with the music, perhaps reflecting the waves that Jamie so often stood and watched in his hometown of Scarborough.


From the moment the set began, with the lights dimming in time with Jamie’s breath, to the second the last note drifted off high into the heavens I was enraptured. It’s as simple as that. The whole show was a highlight but, for pure heart melting beauty, ‘Forget The Past’ will remain one of the greatest performances I have ever...and will ever...see. I could go through each track the band played, I could wax lyrical about the strings or ponder the tremble in Jamie’s voice that packs more emotion in a single word than most singers manage in a lifetime, but, like I said at the start of this piece, that just seems wrong. Just go see...and experience...it for yourself.

The Irrepressibles aren’t just a great band. This wasn’t just an amazing gig. Nights like this are what make life worth living. In a world of increasing ugliness The Irrepressibles are a spark of beauty, a reminder that there is something far more important than banks, governments, wars, money or any of the other bullshit we're all subjected to on a daily basis. Give them your heart and they won't let you down.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Holy Fuck’s Sunday sermon



Canadian electromentalists Holy Fuck deliver the gospel according to Brian (Borcherdt that is) at the Birmingham Academy 2 on Sunday 21st November. I had the great pleasure of experiencing da ‘Fuck back in 2007 and remember marvelling at the car boot sale collection of keyboards and other bits of random kit that they used to shape their progtastic vision of Krautrock tinged sonic insanity. Since then they’ve evolved their sound somewhat with recent album Latin delivering a cleaner, more polished Fuck than we’re used to (cop a load of the cat video to see what I mean). I’m guessing that the live show will be just as bonkers as ever though...if it makes a noise you can bet Holy Fuck will plug it in and beat the bejesus out of it. Brilliant.

Tickets available right now from our good friends at Birmingham Promoters.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Materioptikon by IO


The ‘Materioptikon’ is (unless I’m very much mistaken), a device which DC Comics villain Doctor Destiny to create reality from the fabric of dreams (thank the lord for wikipedia eh?). Whooohahahahh! So it’s an entirely suitable title for IO’s second album, a release that frequently lulls the listener into a dreamlike state before bludgeoning them awake with some impressively meaty walls of sound. ‘Breathe In The Sea’ manages this trick particularly well, the womblike heartbeat of the opening section of the track drawing you in to a nicely chilled 5 minutes or so of sparse guitars and fractured drum patterns before exploding into what sounds like Satan with a hangover.

Many of the tracks are mini symphonies in their own right (some clock in at nearly over 9 minutes...that’s longer than the average X Factor winner’s career), moving through complex time signatures without losing coherency. There are lots of neat little touches here and there too (like the vaguely Sakamato style synths on ‘Silent Hymns in the Dark’) which reward repeat listens and reveal a depth of sound that experimental rock can sometimes lack. Ambitious, loud (in parts) and epic, it’s still surprisingly accessible at the same time, not an easy trick to pull off but clearly a measure of the musical ability of the players involved. Dr Destiny will be impressed...

Materioptikon is out on Grammatical Records on November 15th and there’s an album launch at The rainbow in Birmingham on Friday 12th.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Dum de de dum dum der!!! It's the gigs of the week!

The Irrepressibles - In This Shirt (from the movie 'The Forgotten Circus' by Shelly Love) from Jerry88Jerry on Vimeo.

Okay, here are a few more tips for you if you’re in or around the Birmingham area (or willing to travel to the Birmingham area...who knows...maybe you have your own private jet or the ability to travel through time and space). First up there’s the frankly knee tremblingly awesome prospect of The Irrepressibles at St Martin’s Church in the Bull Ring on Wednesday evening. Part chamber pop, part performance art, this is one of their first ever UK gigs outside London. It’s going to be special. Trust moi.



As if that wasn’t enough the following night sees Patrick Duff make a return visit to The Hare & Hounds following his life affirming set from April this year. Patrick’s a rare talent who plays live less often than Jacko these days. Perhaps best known as the lead singer of 90’s pop goths Strangelove he’s spent the last decade or so exploring the meaning of life, the universe and everything. I’m not sure whether he’s cracked it all yet but the music that’s come out of all his soul searching and his live performance itself are as true and heartfelt as anything you’re ever likely to hear...in this world or the next.



Finally, and one that I can’t make sadly but which looks well worth checking out, is IO, Einstellung and Conquistadors at The Rainbow on Friday. Progressive, heavy on the instrumentals and very, very LOUD it’s the kind of gig that promises to be worthy of the epithet ‘epic’.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Foxy Shazam / Eureka Machines / The Mannequin Republic / Wiseacre @ The HMV Institute, Thursday 4th November 2010

Foxy Shazam - Oh Lord! from Jeremy E. Jackson on Vimeo.

Wow. What the hell was that? That, my friends, was Foxy Shazam. The most fun you can have at a gig without sneaking backstage and pressing fast forward on Cheryl Cole’s ‘backing’ tape.

First up though an honourable mention for the first three bands who kept the small but perfectly formed crowd entertained. Wiseacre gave us a masterclass in slacker grunge, The Mannequin Republic fused some QOTSA riffage with a bit of Chili Peppers / Manics on the side and tour support Eureka Machines borrowed The Hives stage gear for a hugely enjoyable powerpop punk superbrew. Bowling For Stew anyone?

On to the main event and some gigs are just bloody great fun from start to finish...and when Foxy frontman, Eric Nally, came on and delivered a moving mock eulogy to his dead step sister (you had to be there...it was funny...in a sick way) I knew all would be well with the world (For the next 45 minutes at least). Our Eric’s clearly the product of a bizarre experiment to cross breed Freddie Mercury with Russel Mael (Sparks). I reckon he’s spent his entire adolescence practising his stage moves in his bedroom too. The guy rocks. I was particularly impressed with his mic move...letting the mic drop to the floor then hooking it with his ankle and kicking it back up again. That could go sooooo wrong...but it didn’t...much. When he wasn’t playing hacky sack with stage gear he was (literally) chucking himself all over the place like a man possessed, using every inch of the stage, then clambering over his band mates when he ran out of flat surfaces and leaping over the barrier to gambol across the dancefloor. No wonder he nearly poked his eye out recently (an injury that’s put the mockers on the band’s US tour). It’s not a just a one man band though. The rest of them are nuts too. Special mention must go to piano player, Sky White (who has one of the coolest beards on earth). He seemed determined to play his keyboard with every part of his anatomy (well...not that one...but I sure he would if he could), upside down too...with his legs spread in a most eye watering way.Ouch.

Hell, I’ve not mentioned the music yet have I? Well, it’s surprisingly good. I say surprisingly because I can’t imagine how they manage to sound so darn fine with all if that mayhem going on. There are strong hints of Queen and Sparks in there (plenty of catchy pop rock and falsetto voices), along with (for all you obscurists out there) a dash of Pop Levi and a smattering of Bobby Conn. Add a bit of trumpet and there’s a whole lot of rock n’ soul going on. Muso’s may scoff and critics might sniff that it’s all a bit tongue in cheek but bollocks to em'. For sheer entertainment value I defy anyone to top this lot. Cool as Foxy.

Setlist
Axe / Dog & Kitten / Count Me Out / Oh Lord / Rocketeer / Bombs Away / Hybrid Moments / Unstoppable / Bye Bye / Killing It

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Interview with Jamie McDermott of The Irrepressibles


After attracting rave reviews across Europe The Irrespressibles are finally bringing their lush orchestration and heartmeltingly beautiful chamber pop to few select venues in the UK. On the eve of this, their very first UK tour, I caught up with the group’s founder and driving force Jamie McDermott (simply one of the loveliest people in the world) to trace their evolution and find out what’s coming next from what The Independent called “one of Britain’s best kept secrets”.

Me: Hello Jamie, for people who are new to The Irrepressibles how would you describe the group?

Jamie: Gosh (nervous laughter). It’s about exploring new ways of doing things in pop.

Me: What do you mean by that?

Jamie: It’s about being emotionally and creatively free. I write automatically and very emotionally about how I feel about things. I express my emotions and feelings very honestly as a gay man as well. I make music stood in the room with the orchestra, singing parts to the orchestra rather than scoring them. And in terms of the visuals as well I have visions of what I see, then I choreograph them, build sets and design the lighting that reflects that vision and fantasy.

There’s a European tradition, a connection with Europe that we’ve forgotten, something that we kind of see as elitist in this country. The idea of classical instruments as being an elitist thing...and by and large it is, believe me (cue an infectious outbreak of laughter) as a working class kid from North Yorkshire I’ve had my fair share of snobbery from some of these sort of people!

Me: You’re from sunny Scarborough aren’t you? And you’re playing there on this tour too.

Jamie: Yes, it’s a homecoming!

Me: How’s it going to be for you, going back?

Jamie: My music, I would say, is the epitome of Scarborough in that it’s so influenced by it. The old Victoriana of the fairground organs and the merry go rounds is a huge influence on the way that the music is structured and written. In fact some of the music could be played by a fairground organ. So in a way it’s the most passionate expression of Scarborough. Then there’s the lights and the mirrors...it’s very Scarborough. It’s my home town too and it’s where most of the songs are based.

After posing the question about whether forming the group was a bit of a ‘fuck you’ to the people that had bullied him at school Jamie went on to discuss his musical evolution, from getting a keyboard from his gran through to paying for his piano lessons with money from his paper round. These came to an abrupt end when young Jamie started playing Nirvana on the piano (shock! horror!) before going on to perform his own material for his teacher who rapidly came to the conclusion that the rigid structures of a lesson weren’t suited to such a free spirit. At this time music clearly gave him an alternative world, a metaphorical and literal shelter.

Jamie: “I used to go to the music room and the lovely music teacher used to give me the keys, so I could go in there and get away from the bullying. I’d go in and sit and play the piano. That’s where the association of creating that alternative world or universe really came from. I was obsessed with Mike Oldfield and Tubular Bells so I decided to create a piece with the school orchestra, Mike Oldfield stylee. I did this big piece of music called ‘How’ which is about 20 minutes long. I went to a very strict Catholic school and the Headmaster walked out (cue more raucous laughter) during the performance! I guess that was really the beginning of The Irrepressibles...when I was 16. Then I went on to study singing and wanted to be a rock singer, so I played and sang in rock bands and then started to write more of my own material, and that was very emotional. There was a lot I needed to express and deal with, cathartically I think. It’s been such an amazing therapy in my life and that’s where The Irrepressibles name comes from, transforming your emotions through music into something beautiful.

In Scarborough there wasn’t much music in the shops, there used to be Woolworths and another small record shop, so when I moved to London I discovered this little music shop across the road and I’d buy CDs on the basis of what they looked like...

Me: Ahhhh...I used to do that!

Jamie: Did you? Yes, it’s a good idea. There was a man with tits and it was Aphex Twin, I didn’t realise what it was until I took it home and listened to it and it was ‘Window Licker’, then there was a Beck album and David Bowie, Lou Reed...it introduced me to a new world and started to influence me. Also I just started to move away from rock and began writing with acoustic guitar and spent the next three years playing on the London acoustic scene, singing and getting more and more intense. But it needed something else to hold the emotion, so then I formed The Irrepressibles.

Me: Growing up who were your musical heroes?

Jamie: The big influences were my mum, dad and step dad’s records. My big influences will be no surprise during those formative years, I was listening to Queen ‘A Night At The Opera’, I was massively into Mike Oldfield and Tangerine Dream, the big one from even younger, which is a big influence that you can see is, Jean Michelle Jarre. I was into Kate Bush too...

Me: Yes, I can see that, looking at footage of some of your live performances you seem to put in the same degree of thought to your ‘total performance’ that she did when she played live.

Jamie: Yes, certainly in the early years there seemed to be this total art that she wanted to create.

Me: Is there anyone out there that you particularly admire and would like to collaborate with?

Jamie: God, there’s loads. The next album’s very different to the first and it’s finished now, I’ve written it and I’d love to work with David McAlmont...actually I’ve already asked him!

Me: Is that on the cards?

Jamie: Yep, hopefully. Holly Johnson’s a fan from Frankie Goes To Hollywood and I’d love to work with him, I haven’t met him yet. And Boy George is a fan and I’d love to work with him too.

Me: Holly’s more of an artist now, I don’t think he’s recorded much recently has he?

Jamie: No, maybe we could work together on some visuals. I’d really, really, really love to work with John Paul Gaultier too. I think he’s a genius.

Me: He is. He did some records didn’t he, back in the 80’s?

Jamie: Did he?

Me: Yes, only a few. Not quite a rap but that sort of thing. I think it was called ‘How You Do That’ or something. Great sleeve covers too, obviously. I read somewhere that you’re a fan of Simon Bookish as well.

Jamie: Yes a big fan of Simon Bookish, he’s a friend of mine is Leo.

Me: Is he? I’m a big fan of too, it would be great to see the two of you collaborate on something perhaps...

Jamie: Absolutely, I’d love to work with him at some point. The next year is so crazy, we do the album then I’ve been asked to write some music for a new opera with Hotel Pro Forma who did the last one with The Knife. So I’m writing music for the next opera with them. That involves me writing choral music for the choir but also Electronica music, so you’re going to hear electronic music from me next year as well! Then I’m also working with another member of The Irrepressibles – William Turner-Duffin – who’s a sound designer and instrument maker and he’s building an instrument for the opera.

Me: Actually building a new sort of instrument?

Jamie: Yes, it’s based on a concept that I came up with as a composer which is to do with is to do with creating a real time relationship between the voice and percussion. The instrument itself will react to the voices of the singers, the computer understands pitch and it plays a correlating pitch across huge percussive instruments.

Me: Wow, sounds impressive.

Jamie: Yes, it’s quite wonderful. We’re having a model of it built right now, then we build the real thing and take it to Riga in February...on the plane! I also built a pilot commission for the V & A Museum, The Human Music box, that’s being rebuilt at the moment to realise my full concept and that will be presented at The Holland Festival next year on the 16th and 17th June and then we’ll tour it across the world.

Me: The Independent’s described The Irrepressibles as “one of Britain’s best kept secrets”. Would you prefer to remain adored by a few or worshipped by many?

Jamie: Well, I don’t think everyone will love The Irrepressibles (more infectious laughter)...

Jamie then went on to discuss one fan’s less than favourable reaction to a homoerotic video made for the band to accompany a song about him and an ex-boyfriend. In Russia and Poland the band’s music is used on an ad for Peugeot meaning that they’re “mainstream fodder” in those countries. People have been using their songs for wedding videos and stuff and have found the band without realising the depth of the work. Sadly one female fan found this particular video to be “disgusting”. Of course it isn’t, but there we go. Cue a bit of a war of the words between the rest of the band’s fans and this woman.

Jamie: She said she thought I was the greatest composer of this time but that my sexuality was my own business! The Irrespressibles for me is about wanting to explain to everybody – not just a certain proportion of the population – what it was like to be in love with another man. Obviously I want to reach as big an audience as possible but I’m not going to attempt to be mainstream. Some parts of the media rip the piss out of us really, saying it’s “over the top” or they use this word, “camp” as well, putting being gay into one area where it can be neatly packed away and laughed at.

Me: Yes, sometimes that word is used as a bit of a weapon isn’t it, to dismiss things. What song or piece of music that you’ve written so far are you most proud of...and why?

Jamie: It’s difficult...there’s a piece like ‘I’ll Maybe Let You’ or ‘Splish! Splash! Sploo!’ that is written really quickly, with the band in the room, whereas a piece like ‘In This Shirt’ took a long time to shape. ‘In This Shirt’ is the one so far that has communicated with people the most and emotionally it’s probably the most raw. When I write lyrics I don’t actually sit down to write, I just sing and then I write down what I’ve sung. I think it was a very raw point when I wrote ‘In This Shirt’ and it has that intensity there.

Me: What’s your opinion of the X Factor? Harmless fun or soul sucking evil?

Jamie: I always pretend to be intelligent at this point and quote Hanss Eisler (laughs). He believed in music being a political force and he said that “If you give people the same they will accept the same”. If you look at what (Theodor) Adorno said about pop music too, it’s a way of giving light relief to the masses and preparing them and relaxing them before they then go back into the machine of work, day in, day out, day in, day out. It’s a way of sedating the masses. When music and culture fits into that structure, easy and digestible like a microwave meal then it’s fine but it doesn’t jolt anybody out of their normal lives. You know, you could kind of get really dark about it! It’s a sedation...I find X Factor like a sedation. Sometimes you need that but as the ‘mainstream food’ that everybody eats it’s a bit distressing!

Me: It is! I’m totally on your side.

Jamie: It’s like processed food...but challenge yourself to something more interesting.

Me: You’ve been playing live in London for a few years now but this is your first national tour. Why’s it taken so long to get out there?

Jamie: I could get myself into so much trouble here! On the record...(pauses for a moment)...it’s taken a while to get a deal in the UK. It’s taken artists like Anthony and Owen Pallett perhaps. The music industry is at a strange point where they’re very, very, very insecure about what they do, so it takes a while for them to become convinced of something a bit more radical. In Europe it’s crazy, they’re more interested in things that challenge, they’ve kept hold of that thing we used to have in the 70’s and 80’s, that interest in things that are unusual and pioneering. We did three sell out shows in the centre of Paris, there were queues of hundreds of people and we were on the TV and the radio. It’s a different kettle of fish out there and in Germany too, we’re about to do two shows in Italy...

When we did Latitude (UK music festival) in 2007 though we presented the orchestra in different parts of the forest and it was so moving for people that they just stood and cried...listening to one oboe! It was really insane. The piece was called ‘Gathering Songs’ and on the final day we gathered on the lake and all the individual bits of music that the musicians had been playing culminated into one piece and we ended up with 1,000 people on the bank...this was before we were known. At the end of the set we played ‘Forget the Past’ and people were just crying, there was this one woman in her 40’s and I just had to cuddle her...she was just crying. People said “we’ve never seen anything like this before or heard anything like this before”.

Me: What can the people of Birmingham expect from your live show at St Martin’s church?

Jamie: Well, we’re creating a unique performance for St Martin’s in Birmingham that’s about the space. We’re actually having some costumes designed now that will be presented in Birmingham too.

Me: And what’s next for the band over the next 12 months or so?

Jamie: We’re about to do the next album, which is very different, then we tour ‘MirrorMirror’ (the current album) again. The single ‘In This Shirt’ will be released in January in the UK, Europe and America, then we go to Riga for the opera. We should present the new album hopefully in the spring, then we present the new human music box at The Holland Festival in June and began to tour with that as well as the new album. So it’s single in January, new album in April. It’s going to create a very different visual aesthetic...I can’t tell you any more about that...

Me: Oh no, you’re tempting me now Jamie. Oh come on, just a little clue.

Jamie: No! I can’t tell you anything. Lady GaGa would probably nick it! Ha ha!

Monday, November 01, 2010

The Irrepressibles...irresistible

The Irrepressibles - The Mirror Mirror Spectacle at the Queen Elizabeth Hall from Super Mega Action Plus on Vimeo.

Okay, expect me to bang on about this gig (and band) for a while now but they're special. If you're a fan of Anthony and the Johnsons, Marc Almond, Baby Dee, Marc and the Mambas, Dresden Dolls, The Miserable Rich...I could on (oh please I hear you cry) you will LOVE The Irrepressibles. Rich, heartbreakingly beautiful chamber pop combined with a live show that oozes theatricality and drama. They play St Martin's church in Birmingham on Wednesday 10th November on a rare excursion from London where they've been earning the kind of rave reviews that most bands would sell their grannies for. Sell yours (only if you have to...) and get a ticket now before it sells out.