Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Guess Scroo’s back?

Everyone’s favourite bearded rapper Scroobius Pip is back in full flow (who says I ain’t down with the kids eh?) with a couple of groin warmingly good tracks. First up is a collaboration with New Orleans jazz trumpeter Christian Scott, ‘Love (sic)’. Billed as jazz-hop it tells the tale of one man’s addiction to drugs (with the drug replacing the role of a woman in his love affair) and, as with most Pip-bits it’s packed full of delicious little lines. “She came out of the piss filled gutters like Moses”. Classic. Not sure when it’s out, but keep your ears peeled for it.

Pip is, for my money, one of the best things to happen to British Hip Hop…ever. Sure, there’s a comic element to some of his material but he’s far from a one hit pony and the sooner more people get into him the better we’ll all be. Why? Well, the man talks sense. Not in a preachy, politician kind of way, just honest, straightforward, 100%, no additives, preservatives or bullshit, good old fashioned common bloody sense. I’d vote for him…and there’s very few people I’d say that about. The second new Pip track is back with his regular sparring partner Dan le Sac and it illustrates perfectly what I’m banging on about. Entitled ‘Get Better’ it’s aimed at ‘da yoot’ and its simple message is…er..get better. Not for the grown ups, society or your teachers…just for yourself.

As an aside I’d hate to be young these days. It wasn’t a bed of roses back in the 1860’s when I was a lad but now? Jeez. You’re looking at a lifetime of living with your parents ‘cos you can’t afford to move out and a retirement age that’ll probably coincide with a telegram from good ol’ Queenie. So I can kind of see why more and more teens end up drinking super strength cider and impregnating each other in bus shelters. I can even see the appeal of gang culture, especially if your dad left home before you took your first steps and your mum’s too busy shooting up to know what year it is. But the bottom line is you came into this world on your own and you’re going out the same way, what you do with your brief time on planet earth is down to you. Thankfully we live in a country with free education and healthcare for all, everything else is a bonus. Getting back to the track, that’s kind of Pip’s point. If your life goes tits up you’ve only got yourself to blame. It ain’t a new message by any means but the way he packages it all up is nothing short of inspirational. “Imagine a song that really reached out and touched kids, and not in a Daily Mail way” raps Pip. Job done I’d say.

The single's out on March 1st with the new album 'The Logic of Chance' following on March 14th. They're out on tour in March and April too (with a gig at the Birmingham Academy on March 26th). Being the lovely chaps that le Sac and Pip are they've also put 'Get Better' online (together with a stack of mixes). Here ya go. Enjoy.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Imagined Village / Chris Wood @ The Town Hall, Thursday 21st January 2010

Crossing genres, cultures and generations The Imagined Village really shouldn’t work (the basic idea is to take a bunch of traditional folk tunes and reinterpret them for 21st century Britain). In fact it should come across as some awful mish mash of sounds, like two competing car radios (one playing Radio 4, the other 1 Extra) at a set of traffic lights. The fact that it does work says a great deal about the musical talents at the core of this project and the openness of everyone involved to really mess around with what ‘folk’ music means these days. In truth, although the first Imagined Village album (released in 2007) won ‘folk’ awards, this stuff is closer to ‘world’ music than anything else, given the strong Asian and Middle Eastern flavours running through some of the arrangements. Anyway, that’s the musical analysis over with (there’ll be questions at the end).

Before the main event one of the Village people…hmmm no…that’s a different kind of band altogether…Chris Wood warmed us all up with half a dozen songs mainly taken from his current album ‘Handmade Life’. Chris is an instantly loveable figure, interspersing his songs with little snapshots of his life (such as a desire to toot his car horn every time he sees the sign that says Welcome to Kent (his home county) like Mr Toad in Wind in the Willows. Bless him. He’s more than capable of unleashing a vitriolic side though on tracks like set highlight, ‘The Grand Correction’ – a scathing (and entirely justified attack) on the culture of greed that’s created the biggest financial mess in history and its principal architects.

Suitably warmed up the Imagined Village collective (all ten of ‘em) took to the stage, kicking off with ‘Sweet Jane’ from new album ‘Empire and Love’. Some hypnotic sitar playing together with Chris Wood’s mellow tones neatly summed up what the project set out to do, weaving traditional English folk with the sounds of other cultures. Next up Martin Carthy delivered a storming version of ‘John Barleycorn’ which almost wandered into dubby territory from time to time. Folk and dub…whatever next? How about a sultry Eliza Carthy singing an obscure Ewan MacColl track ‘Space Girl’, transformed into a weirdly catchy Asian/Gypsy/Egyptian/Exotica hybrid? Oh yes. Theramin, sitar, dhol drums, cellos, a kitchen sink (well, almost) they threw the whole lot in there tonight and…amazingly…it worked. Another set highlight was a subtle retelling of 'Scarborough Fair'. The ever chatty Chris Wood introduced it “Bob Dylan had a go at it. Not bad. Simon and Garfunkel had quite a lot of success with it. But they were all missing something. A Sitar!”. In truth, like Cornershop’s cover of Norwegian Wood, the sitar’s perfectly suited to the slightly dreamy nature of the arrangement and Chris struggled to contain his sheer joy at the success of, what on paper, looks like a pretty weird idea.

The best track of the night for me however was 'My Son John'. Folk, believe it or not, is the original four letter word. If John Lydon had been around in 1779 he’d have been a folk singer…in the fex pistolf no doubt. It’s music of protest and passion, music by the people, for the people. Although there’s a fair bit of ‘diddle diddle dee’ stuff and songs about wooing a nadger’s daughter, there’s far more to it than that. ‘My Son John’ is the perfect example, a bitter anti war song about a young man who has his legs blown off in the war…the Napoleonic war that is. Although tonight’s version added new lines about the current conflicts, at its heart there’s a lyric that goes back well over a century or so. Sadly it’s as relevant today as it was back then, all you have to do is to replace the bits about cannonballs blowing off a young man’s legs with the words ‘landmine’ or ‘IUD’. Tonight the song (delivered once more by Martin Carthy) ended up in a kind of mass jam featuring sitar, dhol drumming, cello, synths, guitars and fiddles. If only the human race could make the same kind of gloriously harmonious noise off stage eh?

After a standing ovation (yes, it was a sit down gig) from the near capacity crowd the encore included the Village’s by now well known retelling of ‘Hard Times of Old England’ and then…believe it or not…a version of what Martin Carthy called “Wolverhampton folk”, Slade’s ‘Cum on Feel The Noize’. Yes…really. This time it’s played as a slowed down lament, almost wistful, like an old man looking back on his life. Perhaps that’s why Martin, at 68 and about to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the start of his career, chose it? However, given tonight’s performance I’m sure there’ll be plenty of opportunities for him to get “wild, wild, wild” still. The ovation that followed, the sold out merchandise table (how often does that happen these days?) and the long queue to meet the group afterwards just go to prove that not all English villages are sleepy little places.

Head over to Gig Junkies in the next few days and you can read all of this again...this time with pretty pictures from the gig courtesy of Mr Wayne Fox Esq!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Jazz hands…

Festival season might seem a long way off but it’ll be here before you can say “barbecue summer”. Mostly Jazz (from the lovely people who bring you the Moseley Folk Festival) is a new, but very welcome addition to the calendar. Can there be anything finer than sitting out in the sun, listening to some jazz with a litre or two of cider inside you? Probably not. The line up’s looking pretty ace too with the Sun Ra Arkestra (minus Sun Ra…cos he’s a bit dead…although by a strange quirk of fate he was actually born in Birmingham…Alabama that is), Courtney Pine, JTQ and Quantic & His Combo Barbaro…plus the Cymande All Stars…if they’re anything to do with legendary soul funksters Cymande (as sampled by Grandmaster Flash amongst many others) they’ll be splendid (hold on a mo…oooooh it looks like they are!). Niiiiice. It’s all going down (in a jazz, soul, funk stylee) on the 3rd and 4th July 2010 at Moseley park. Tickets available from February 1st here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Top Track # 14 - Hurts - 'Wonderful Life'

Many moons ago in the '80's a band/chap called Black released a rather ace tune called 'Wonderful Life'. This isn't it. It is, however, even more '80's than it's namesake . The band in question, Hurts, are a mix of Depeche Mode and the Pet Shop Boys, with a bit of Hue and Cry thrown in for good measure (top marks for the '80's style moody black and white video featuring a random dancing girl too). If that doesn't send you screaming out your front door in horror you'll love this track as much as I do. A Birmingham gig ASAP pretty please.

Hello...is it me you're looking for...

I’m back…perhaps you didn’t notice I was gone…but I was. Orlando as it happens for my bro’s wedding. Despite coinciding with the coldest weather ever experienced in Florida (what are the chances eh?) a good time was had by all. If you’re ever in Orlando I can thoroughly recommend the Duelling Dragons rollercoaster (see the 'amusing' video above culled from You Tube) at the Universal theme park, especially if you want to lose your lunch, dignity and use of your limbs. I’m still having flashbacks a week later…oh the horror…the horror.

RIP Cadbury 1824 -2010…I know this has nothing to do with music but the sale of one of the last remaining British businesses is scandalous. Nearly two hundred years of tradition flogged off for far less than it’s worth, no doubt thanks to some backhanders to the board eh?

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Top Track # 13 - Vampire Weekend - 'Cousins'

To celebrate the release of Vampire Weekend's second album, 'Contra' on Monday 11th January here's a top track from it, 'Cousins'. Lordy, lordy I love this band and this tune's another instant favourite, blending South African rhythms with a bit of Elvis Costello, a dash of Joe Jackson and some twitchy Foals-ishness. An ace video too, simple but effective. The Weekend are playing Birmingham soon, but it's sold out so tough cookies. Once again you could pay through the nose from some asshole tout on ebay but PLEASE don't give 'em the satisfaction of fleecing you. Buy the album instead, invite your mates round and dance naked in the snow whilst drinking gallons of cheap red wine instead...what? Just me? Oh.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Top Ten Birmingham Bands of the Decade

The High Society...glam punk gutterstars

Inspired by Russ L (who was, in turn, inspired by this over at the Blue Whale Blog…which I missed ‘cos I’m a bit crap) I’ve compiled a list of my 10 favourite Birmingham bands of the decade. Quite a few are fairly recent discoveries but several (notably Misty’s Big Adventure and King Adora) date back to the dim and distant past when I had my own teeth and the Bull Ring was just a field. I’ve ummed and ahhed over the final list and plumped for the bands who’ve given me the most bang for my buck. There were many, many more in the longlist who I’ve enjoyed over the years (and probably a whole heap more I've forgotten about):

(1) Misty’s Big Adventure

They have to be there and they have to be at the top. This is the band (not just 'local' but from anywhere) that I’ve seen most in my life, stretching back to something like 2002 (I think). Combining the wit and wonder of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band with a little ska, jazz, lounge, exotica, classic pop and a healthy dose of cynicism about the modern world we all find ourselves stuck in they are, quite simply, a national treasure.

(2) Kate Goes

The yang to Misty’s ying, Kate Goes is fronted by…er Kate…and each gig follows a different theme with the band dressing up accordingly. Twee pop at it’s very finest, just check out their track Heartbeat and prepare to fall in love forever.

(3) Reverie Strings (aka Reverie)

Singer Ian Darby plus a moveable feast of other musicians play lush orchestral pop. Seemingly on a bit of a live hiatus at the moment.

(4) Gemma Quarterman

One of the brightest stars in the singer/songwriter scene and one of the sweetest people you’re ever likely to meet...capable of conjuring up the sort of raw emotional intensity that Mr Jeff Buckley had perfected before going for that ill advised dip in the river.

(5) King Adora / The High Society

Glam, bam, thank you mam…King Adora were genuine gutter glam punk superstars for a while (making it onto the front cover of Melody Maker - RIP - I believe) before morphing into the equally compelling High Society. A reunion of the former band is a-happening this April...eye liner optional.

(6) The Destroyers

Balkan gypsy madness with a cast of thousands buzzing around the truly inspirational figure of Mr Paul Murphy.

(7) I Thee Lothario

Power pomp pop a doodle dandy the likes of which you’ve not seen or heard since the glory days of the 80’s.

(8) Envy and Other Sins

Think The Feeling with more bite and wit (and much better outfits). Despite (or perhaps because of) winning some Channel 4 talent contest thingy the Sins never got the support they deserved and are seemingly no more. Shame.

(9) The Black & Reds

The guy who drums in this band is AWESOME (nice tats too). Raw high octane rock n’roll of the highest order…which leads us neatly on to the next couple of bands…

(10) Coptor / The Big Bang

I couldn’t leave either band out so I’ve cheated and lumped ‘em together (they often played on the same bill, so that’s allowed right?). The Coptor line up includes robot (as you do) and a bloke who sounds like a mad preacher. The Big Bang (who I fear have split up) are/were a three piece who wouldn’t have sounded out of place at some really cool 60’s garage party. Hell yeah!

Just bubbling outside the top 10…or inside the top 10 depending on my mood…Beestung Lips, Velvet Texas Cannonball, Destroy Cowboy, Tom Peel, 10 Guitars, Anyone For Shark?, The Courtesy Group, Old School Tie, Miss Halliwell, Sunset Cinema Club, LP45, Twist, Goodnight Lenin (featuring members of another great band…now deceased…The Allies), Soweto Kinch, The Toy Hearts, Modified Toy Orchestra, Broadcast, Johnny Foreigner, The Scarlet Harlots, Vix n'the Kix, Pram, The Indigos (now trading as Black Fang…but I’ve not seen ‘em live yet) and oh so many more. In fact compiling this list reminds me of just how many great bands we have in and around the City...whoops...better keep quiet about that, don't want a repeat of the NME's Best Midlands fiasco now do we?

EDIT: And how could I forget Black Market Empire, Einstellung, Prospect Lane, Theatre of the Absurd, Andre Aristotle and Das Bastard? The list grows...

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Top Tracks # 12 - Stephen ‘Tin Tin’ Duffy

Happy New Year and all that jazz. Proof, once more, that I have my finger on the pulse of the latest sounds lets kick off 2010 with a track that dates all the way back to 1983 (I think…), although this version, the US Remix is from 1985 (right up to date there grandpa). There’s some kind of method to my madness. I spent New Year’s Eve at a house party and bumped into a lovely chap who seemingly programmed the drums on the original release. For some reason I can’t find the original track (the 1983 version…not the original 1985 version…confused yet…yes me too) on You Tube, so I’ve plumped for the US Remix…all 7 minutes and 25 seconds of it. Oh… in case you’re under 30 and have no idea who the chuff Stephen Duffy is/was, he was one of the original vocalists with Duran Duran before forming the Lilac Time then hitting paydirt by writing some tracks for Robbie Williams. Informative eh? Who the hell needs Wikipedia…