Sunday, May 30, 2010
My second Flyover Show (and the third one they’ve done now...I think) and, as with last year’s event, Soweto Kinch (Mr Flyover - pictured above) pulled a blinder (we can let him off the drizzle...even Soweto can’t change the weather, although I wouldn’t be surprised if he was working on that too). For those not in the know The Flyover Show’s a free one day festival held under a flyover in Hockley, arguably one of most of the most deprived areas of Birmingham. Soweto’s vision is simply to showcase some of the best music around in these distinctly unusual surroundings. And it’s all free. Given that there were no less than two Mercury Music Award winners, a Roots legend and a flyover stuffed full of other great stuff that’s not bad eh? As with last year’s event the highlights came thick and fast (as did the Dragon Stout...mercy me). They included, in no particular order:
Dreemz – heart warmingly brilliant choir (they appeared on the BBC’s Last Choir Standing a couple of years back and have come on leaps and bounds since then) who sang their socks off, covering everything from Take That to Paloma Faith’s ‘New York’.
RPM – Impressive rap three piece (two ladeez, one dude) who seemingly all do their own thing too. Can’t find a MySpace page for them...or any You Tube vids. If, in the unlikely event, any of them read this send me links and I’ll put ‘em up...more people need to hear this stuff. Edit: Thanks to the lovely Russ L for tracking down the vid to their single 'Hit the Floor'.
Roxxxanne – Magical mistress of grime and dubstep (pictured above), super confident performance from someone who clearly walks the walk...”Fuck 21 seconds I’ll spit for an hour”. Niiiice.
Judy’s House – 7 piece jazz/soul fusion group with a sound that’s as warm as a hug on a Summer’s evening.
Janet Kay – what can you say eh? Roots legend (pictured above)here to educate the youth in the ways of lovers rock. Gave us a sublime version of her biggest hit ‘Silly Games'.
Eska Mtungwazi – highlight of the day for me, what a voice, what a woman. Gave us a memorably radical reworking of ‘Walking on the Moon’ and a tune involving an ‘ickle guitar. Can’t remember what it – or the tune – was called. Bugger.
Ms Dynamite (pictured above)– damn that’s a catchy track (that ‘Dy-Na-Mi-Tee one), wasn’t sure how good she’d be live...the answer’s very good...
Whether Birmingham wins that capital of culture thingy or not it’s events like this that we should be really proud of. How spending several hours under a flyover can make you feel good I’ll never know, but it really does. It’s also one of the few occasions I get to see homegrown rap/hip hop/grime/dubstep (I’m a bit blurry on where the distinctions lie sometimes) and, seemingly, Birmingham’s a hot bed of talent. Whilst there’s no way I’d claim to be anything like an expert on this stuff (and I’m not a huge fan of anything that bangs on about popping caps in people’s bums) the lyrical agility of some of the performers deserves a much bigger appreciation in our City. How about a stage devoted to it at this year’s ArtsFest eh? I’m sure Soweto would help...he seems to be bloody good at organising this stuff.
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Syndicate Club Night featuring Arcadian Kicks / Angry vs The Bear...no...Shackletons / I Thee Lothario / King Singh and Grease Boy, Friday 29th May
The last time I entered The Sound Bar I was met by a room full of friends and family all wearing stick on ‘taches and shouting “Surprise!”. It’s a memory that still haunts me in the wee small hours...
This evening I was able to slip in as inconspicuously as anyone with a silly moustache can (mine isn’t stick on), just in time to catch King Singh and Grease Boy (plus another dude who didn’t have an alter ego...I’ll call him Quiet Man...ooooh ooooh no...how about The Nameless One...that’s much cooler). There’s something that screams HUGE potential about this lot. Whilst tonight’s set was a bit rough around the edges (slightly squiffy vocals and keyboards in places) the overall sound was an intriguing mix of beats, Vampire Weekend-ish guitars and heartfelt vocals...a bit like an all male version of The xx meets Bon Iver meets Haircut 100 (one for the granddads out there). I’m guessing this set up is pretty new to them but my advice, for what it’s worth, is that it’s one that’s well worth pursuing. Ones to watch.
Next up – although they’ll always be headliners in my book – it’s the synth shagging superstars in waiting (actually I’m sure they don’t shag their synths...can’t be good for the circuitry can it?) I THEE LOTHARIO!!!!! (cue screaming girls, one of those big trumpet fanfares and a shit load of fireworks...and lasers...fickin' lasers).
Purveyors of some of the catchiest synth rock tunes ever heard by human ears they’re a delight to watch and listen to from start to finish and some of the loveliest people you can ever wish to meet. I’ve said before that the Lothario’s sets are now something of a greatest hits show to me...it’s just that the rest of the World has to catch up with me and the band (wake up World)...and tonight was no exception. Kicking off with the evangelical ‘Arise, Release, Repent’ and ending with (my personal favourite) ‘Soldier To Your Heart’ tonight’s set saw them debut a couple of new songs too ‘Sarah Wasn’t Sleeping’ and ‘Regrets’ both worthy additions to the Lothario arsenal of tunage (yes, arsenal of tunage). There’s talk of the band playing the main stage at Artsfest this year which could be one of the big breaks they so richly deserve – I’d also like to see ‘em supporting Heaven 17 at the HMV Institute. They’d go down a storm. I think I might write to Jimmy Saville (does he still fix stuff?). Jimmy? Jimmy?? You out there dude?
Next it was supposed to be electro pop punk party poppy punky pop punksters Angry vs The Bear (who I was really looking forward to seeing). Imagine Lene Lovich and Lily Allen having a fisting party with Late of The Pier and that’s exactly what they sound like. Brilliant! However...they didn’t show up. Booo! Instead it was left to Coventry super subs Shackletons to plug the gap. Ploughing their own way through country rock (think The Band, Dylan and...if you must...Kings of Leon) they did a fine set, although (as the band themselves kind of acknowledged) it probably wasn’t the best bill for them. But then again they weren’t due to be on it were they Angry vs The Bear...eh...eh?! Anyway picks of the tracks included ‘World’s Biggest Waster’, the Neil Young tinged ‘We are the Dreamers’ and ‘Too Grown Up’ (which kinda reminded me of Tom Petty). Lovers of all the aforementioned artists will find a lot to like in Shackletons. “We’re from Coventry” announced one of the band towards the end of the set “Birmingham’s car park” he added “Wish it was” opined their lead singer (how many reviews do you read with the word opined in eh...no idea what it means, just looks good don’t it?) “...cost us £40 to park here tonight”.
PS: Bizarre fact – it seems they are managed by Ron Brand, father of potty mouthed sex machine and OAP baiting ‘comedian’ Russell Brand. Really? Wow.
Finally, it’s The Arcadian Kicks...I’m sure it does...that’s what you get for taking the piss out of it. Sparkly indie rock with an added shot of sax appeal (regular readers will know of my sax fetish), taking in influences from as far apart as The White Stripes, X-Ray Spex and Gossip. Scrummy. They played for a good hour or so tonight, working the crowd as hard as any band I’ve seen recently with lead vocalist Rebecca in particular giving it some real welly (that’s a great voice there). Being a sax addict any tracks that featured it stood out as highlights, so ‘Standing in the Road’, ‘White Noise’ and ‘Howl at the Sun’ (a lovely mash up of the Stripes and the Spex and, for my money, one of their best tracks) all hit the spot. It seems like they’ve got some powerful friend in high places too including their manager Jon Brookes – drummer with The Charlatans and Mike Chapman – producer of their debut album (and the man who was also responsible for producing some of Blondie’s best stuff). In fact in a recent interview Mr Chapman rated Arcadian Kicks as being the most exciting thing he’s heard since Debs and co. Cripes. The Chapman produced debut album’s out later this year, so watch this space (well, not this space obviously ...if you keep looking at this space all you’ll see is this and there’s far better things to look at on the internet than this...there's a beatboxing dog on You Tube for example. Hilarious. Who says the human race is doomed eh?).
Friday, May 28, 2010
Man, that’s some powerful voodoo going on there. How else could you explain the sudden transportation of the Hare & Hounds from humble ol’ Kings Heath to the darkest depths of the Mississippi delta eh? Yep, shut your eyes tonight and you can almost hear the ‘gators a snappin’ at yer heels (if they hadn’t all been poisoned by several trillions of gallons of oil that is). Yep, first up it’s the swampy blues gumbo of The Rivers Presley Set, with Rivers himself (face hidden behind a curtain of dirty blonde hair) delivering some 100% proof larynx rasping vocals (shades of Tom Waits in there...they even covered his ‘Heart Attack and Vine’ track at one point) against the backdrop of Thomas Henry’s pure and primal skin thumping. It’s as intoxicating as a swig of Jim Beam from a hobo’s boot (and that’s one hell of an intoxicating mixture I tells ya). ‘Folk Devil Blues’, (sounding a little like a pissed off version of Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus in places) and the slow burning ‘Louise McGhee’ were just a couple of the standout tracks from a headliner worthy set. I guess we have the Copter collective to thank for the quality of some of our freakier, bluesier, rock n’rollier (hell I’m struggling for genres to do it justice here) bands round these parts – including The Big Bang (RIP), Vinny and the Curse, Swampmeat and, of course, Copter themselves...all really, really, really great. Musical history will look back fondly on this lot, you mark my words – you lucky sons o’bitches still have the chance to witness it.
Next up, all the way from...er... Birmingham (Alabama that is), Dan Sartain. If Dan didn’t exist Quentin Tarantino would have to invent him. He’d be a character in some sick and twisted American road movie filmed in grainy black and white involving killer zombie grannies, lesbian schoolgirls and a talking coyote. Happily mother nature’s done all the hard work for us and here he is, thin as a pistol and every bit as deadly. Ready... ’Atheist Funeral’...take aim... ’Ruby Carol’...fire...’Walk Among the Cobras’...bang, bang, bang...killer tune after killer tune, each one delivered with an ultra cool swagger, Southern twang and just a hint of menace. Mr Dan’s a real character (I had the pleasure of a brief chat with him before the gig, culminating in several ‘moustache offs’ – his stick on, mine not) and tonight’s set was peppered with little riffs about Quarter Life Crisis Wolf (his look this evening was like a slightly older Teen Wolf...you know...that Michael J Fox film) and Rockabilly Cheese Fests...it was like tuning in to some weird US radio station...WBSLKCWX – the home of the hits where the tunes don’t stop and the awopbopaloobopawopbamboos.
Wearing his Ray Bans (naturally) throughout the set and singing into a 50’s style mic that wasn’t much smaller than his entire head it was a lesson in cool from start to finish. ‘Walk Among The Cobras’ remains one of my favourite tracks of all time, but newbie ‘Atheist Funeral’ (a defiant rockabilly kick in god’s ‘nads) is right up there with Dan’s best. Hell, I wouldn’t mind that blasting out as I’m getting served up as a worm’s main course. As the set drew to a close he introduced his band, referring to the bassist as the ‘heart’ of the group and the drummer the ‘brain’. Which body part did he claim to be? He was, he said proudly, the ‘sphincter’. I reckon that’s just about right. Leaving the stage after a fast and furious show (none of this off and on again pantomime encore rubbish...no siree) here’s a guy who cuts the crap and gets the job done. Dan-tastic? Sartain-ly was.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Yes, it’s nearly time for this year’s Flyover Show...a free (FREE I tells ya!) one day gig held under the Hockley Flyover. Okay, I admit that don’t sound too appealing but last year’s event was great fun and the guy in charge of the whole shebang – Soweto Kinch – deserves a medal (or one of those dodgy metal stars on Birmingham’s Broad Street at the very least) for pulling it all off in fine style. The idea behind the whole thing is (as I understand it) to highlight the more positive face of Soweto’s neighbourhood, showcase great music and get people from inside and outside the community to mix it all up a bit more. What could be better (and more constructive) than that eh? From roots to rap and jazz to soul, this year Soweto’s gone with a female theme so you’ve got Ms Dynamite on the bill along with Janet Kay, Speech Debelle, Eska Mtungwazi (awesome) and oodles of other ladeez. It’s all FREE too. FREE! (did I mention it was FREE!).
Take a look at the video of last year’s show above this gibberish and get your bum down there, it’s all happening on Saturday 29th May 2010 (12.30pm to 11pm).
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
You know, there's really no excuse. There are some cracking gigs on in Birmingham over the next week or so(as there always seems to be these days) So, in the spirit of spreading da word, here are a few choice cuts:
Dan Sartain @ The Hare and Hounds, Kings Heath, Thursday 27th May...Casio Kids are playing in the other room at the same venue. Darn it all! Clash city. Anyways, Dan Sartain's as cool as cucumber in a deep freeze (even without his trademrk 'tache) and he plays the kind of twangtastic songs that makes you think of dusty American backwaters in the 50's, no good gals and long, hot nights drinking moonshine...but that might just be me...
Syndicate Club Night at The Sound Bar, Corporation Street, Friday 28th May. Any night with I Thee Lothario on the bill is a good night in my books, add Arcadian Kicks, Angry vs The Bear and King Singh and Grease Boy and a party in your pants is pretty much guaranteed (NB: relax, my pants will remain well covered up).
The Flyover Show, Saturday 29th May. A show! Under a flyover! In Hockley! With Miss TNT headlining! Whatever next eh? It's FREE too. Chuff me. I'll post more about this before the event.
80's Matchbox B-Line Disaster and Black Fangs, Hare & Hounds, Wednesday 2nd June...it's gonna get messy.
The Destroyers Summer Gypsy Ball, South Birmingham College, Friday 4th June...Birmingham's very own magical, musical, maniacal collective in their last homeground show until the Winter draws in...so that'll be July then.
Monday, May 24, 2010
Crime in Stereo...in stereo...at The Flapper...unless you’re deaf in one ear...in which case it’ll be Crime in Mono...
Into your hardcore? Music that is...pervs. News reaches me from my spies at The Flapper that Long Island hardcore experimentalists Crime in Stereo are playing there on 1st June supported by Sharks. Whether that will be ruddy great big fishy things with a nasty overbite or a band called Sharks I couldn’t possibly say (I guess they could swim up the canal to get there then leap into the venue and flap around a bit...hmmm). Ever since witnessing Gallows’ legendary gigs at the Bar Academy and Brighton’s Great Escape I’ve kind of got the whole hardcore thing a lot more. It sort of passed me by when I was a hip young thing, probably ‘cos I was too busy doing that silly Madchester monkey dance thing in dodgy Brighton dives or pretending to a sophisticated Acid Jazzer (ahhhh the folly of youth eh?). Anyways, from what I’ve heard of ‘em so far Crime in Stereo have that angry (grrrrrrrr) hardcore thang going on but with some deceptively catchy tunege in the background. Sharks (if it is the band called Sharks) sound like a Satan with a hangover. And that’s actually quite a good thing.
Tickets are available from my chums at Birmingham Promoters...or Satan...he’s got a few I believe...he don’t accept PayPal though and he’s a moody git at the best of times...it’s all “souls this”, “fire and brimstone that” and “burning hot pokers up the bum bum” the other ...so I’d get ‘em from Birmingham Promoters if I were you.
Sunday, May 23, 2010
From scuzzy punk schoolgirls to glossy pop vixens, Fuzzbox crammed a fair amount in to their brief career (just three years from first album ‘Bostin Steve Austin’ to their demise not long after scoring a string of top 30 hits with follow up ‘Big Bang’). In fact I’m struggling to think of many other bands who went through such a rapid change of sound and vision – which might partially explain their disintegration at the height of their powers. I’ve no doubt that, had they carried on, they’d have settled into their own distinctive style and it’s one of pop’s great tragedies (if you can have such a thing) that they didn’t. But dry your tears pop kids. Put down that tatty copy of Smash Hits and bin that scratched to buggery Big Bang CD ‘cos they’re back, back, BACK!
First up though, all the way from Coventry (so an early night for them, as their lead singer pointed out) [dweeb]. I’m sure the ’s are important. There aren’t enough bands using symbols in their names. There’s that there Sunn O))) and ...er...well there we go. Point proven. Anyway, [dweeb] are a darn enthusiastic bunch, starting their set off with much banging of drums before delivering a set of indie rock anthems (imagine a ballsier Kooks with a bit of synth thrown in for good measure). Vocalist Tim has a fine set of pipes on him and pulled out some impressive moves including a good six foot leap from the barrier back onto the stage (that could’ve gone horribly wrong). It was only as he gave us an intro to one of their songs that I recognised that they’re a Christian rock band (and, to be fair, he didn’t even mention the ‘G’ word... just made a comment about something that “changed all our lives”). Further investigation revealed that they were on a BBC TV programme a few years back (Singing With The Enemy) that teamed them up with an X-rated punk band called Papparazzi Whore. As I remember they came off as a likeable bunch. Tonight’s gig left me with exactly the same feeling.
Right...Fuzzbox...or to give them their proper name (deep breath) We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It. Actually that name tells you all you really need to know about the band. They’re fun, they don’t take themselves too seriously and (despite their glossier incarnation) they were/are, at heart, a DIY, get up and play yer three chords, good time pop punk band that deserve (in my humble opinion) to be up there with the Go Go’s, Voodoo Queens and Vivian Girls of this world.
I never saw the band back in the day but I’ve seen clips of the original line-up during their punk phase (hubba hubba) and it’s gloriously ramshackle. Given the fact that only Vix has kept performing through the years I was half expecting the other two – Maggie and Jo – (Tina...the fourth Fuzzy one declined to take part in the reunion) to be, well, let’s just say a little awkward. Clearly they’ve been rehearsing like mad though and all three original members looked pretty comfortable up there (Maggie in particular seemed to be having a whale of a time...you go girlfriend). True to their word the set covered all bases, kicking off with ‘International Rescue’ (glossy Fuzzbox) and ‘Rules and Regulations’ (punky Fuzzbox). Given that the ‘Big Bang’ era tunes (‘International Rescue’, ‘Self’ and ‘Pink Sunshine’) were, back in the day, produced to within an inch of their glossy pop lives they were harder to do justice to, although both ‘Pink Sunshine’ and a grungier reworking of ‘Self’ somehow remained irresistible tonight. Of all the Fuzzbox MkII tracks it was their last single, which Vix introduced as “the death of us”, ‘Your Loss, My Gain’ that probably worked best, fusing, as it did some of the pop gloss with shades of their rawer punk rock roots...a sure sign of their direction had they carried on. The gig highlight for me had to be ‘Love is the Slug’ though, which saw Vix and Maggie recreating a dance that they last did (gulp) almost a quarter of a century or so ago. What next? I’ve heard talk of festival dates and a new album. I really hope it happens. I’ve always thought that the Fuzzbox story ended with a whimper, they just sort of fizzled (or fuzzled) out. Now, at last, they’ve got the chance to do it properly, to give themselves the ‘big bang’ the band really deserves. It’s enough to make you warm and fuzzy all over...
Friday, May 21, 2010
Yippee. It's the weekend! The sun's shining (hello sun, hello sky, hello bucket of cider). Yep, this weekend IS Summer...the whole darn thing. After that we'll go back to drizzle, frost and a light dusting of volcanic ash no doubt. But even better than the return of Mr Sunshine is the comeback of the mighty Fuzzbox. Hell yeah. Not seen in this form for a good 20 years or so the lesser spotted Fuzzsters play the Birmingham Academy on Saturday night. If you can't make that (shame on you) head over to The Square (that bit behind the old Birmingham Academy that used to have a market on it) for a guest appearance by the Fuzzy ones (I think they're on at 2.30pm -it's part of an afternoon freebie gig thingy). The last time I spoke to lead Box Vix she promised that the reunion shows would cover all bases, including the band's earlier punky stuff. Just check out the video above for a quick blast of what I mean...
Thursday, May 20, 2010
I can't believe this...but there's a rumour that Dexy's Midnight Runners are going to be playing The Flapper on Saturday 17th July. Given that Kevin Rowland has only played live on a handful of occasions over the last...ooooh 20 years or so...this is a very, very big deal indeed if it's true. I'm on the case and I'll confirm or deny either way ASAP.
EDIT: It's not true...pooh...it seems that it's a 'Celebration'of Dexy's instead...but there will be 'members' of the band there...although I doubt whether our Kev will show up...
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Old Albarn may be the most famous Blur-ite but GC’s been putting out all kinds of good shit over the last decade or so, culminating in 2009’s The Spinning Top – an ambitious concept album that tells one man’s story from birth to death (actually, as Graham pointed out tonight it doesn’t...not really...he just said that in an interview and now it’s all people talk about...and I’ve just gone and compounded this misconception...balls). Tonight he bought the whole thing to life – literally as he played every track from the album – with a little help from his friends...including the very lovely Mr Robyn Hitchcock and the equally delightful Mr Living Legend of Folk himself, Martin Carthy. Each track had an accompanying film too, projected onto a screen at the back of the stage (you can see the frankly gruesome ‘Dead Bees’ vid above this review). I’d not actually listened to the album much before tonight’s gig, but the material’s a lot richer sounding than anything I’ve heard (solo) Graham do before. Veering from the Nick Drake-ish ‘Look Into The Light’ to, appropriately enough, the Robyn Hitchcock-esque glam stomp of ‘Dead Bees’ it’s a hugely impressive body of work by anyone’s standards. Overcoming what seemed like blind terror at the beginning of the gig “I’m a bit stressed” Graham muttered, hunched over his microphone (“You’re amongst friends” shouted someone encouragingly) he, and the other 10 musicians settled down to play one of the most intriguing sets I’ve seen in ages. I’ve mentioned Nick Drake already and the gentleness of Graham’s voice couldn’t help but remind you of one of folk’s lost legends. At other times there were shades of Syd Barrett’s slightly (oh alright then...massively) tripped out delivery too. Barrett + Drake = uber cool.
Despite the size of the venue it all felt really intimate and the acoustics managed to cope well with Graham’s occasionally hushed vocals. Sitting there you actually felt like you were witnessing the birth of someone who’s doing his best work right now...which ain’t bad for a 40 year old bloke (there’s hope for me after all...maybe I should get stuck into writing that 1500 page novel about the human condition...then again I’d miss the EastEnders omnibus and that says far more about the human condition than I ever could). On top of the aforementioned ‘Look Into The Light’ and ‘Dead Bees’, ‘Perfect Love’ (a jaunty little number stuffed..ahem..with euphemisms “out of the tree and into the sea swam my perfect love for thee” indeed) and the lullaby-tastic ‘Caspian Sea’ (which suddenly exploded into a furious psych Floyd meltdown) impressed me no end. Although he relaxed a little as the evening wore on our Graham’s clearly a nervous soul, revealing that he writes songs because otherwise he’d just “be talking to myself”. Glancing at both Martin and Robyn (whose reverence of the Coxmeister almost seemed like they were passing on their collective musical crowns to him) he asked them pointedly “Isn’t that why we all do it?”, they both looked at their shoes a little uncomfortably and then kinda nodded. In a world where most major artists keep their true self well under wraps Coxon’s out there as naked and vulnerable as the day he was born. And that takes balls my friends. A peerless performance from one of our new national musical treasures.
Familiarity, so they say, breeds contempt. Bollocks. I’ve seen Goodnight Lenin loads of times this year and, if anything, each time the experience gets better. This afternoon (they were playing a freebie gig as part of the English Originals Weekend) showcased a slightly more stripped back Lenin (no keyboards or drums) which put the vocals more to the fore, suiting the rarefied atmosphere of the Symph Hall and chilled out late afternoon slot. As ever the set included the classics (having heard them loads of time I can call them that) ‘Crook In The Creek’ and ‘Wenceslas (I’m still struggling with the spelling of that word...can’t they change it to ‘Victoria Square’...I can cope with that) Square’ but we also got some new songs, including one so oven fresh it doesn’t even have a name yet (I’d plump for ‘Sober Eyes’ myself). There was a pleasing cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘I am a Rock’ too. What was interesting was that this track didn’t stand out from the rest of the material. Sometimes you watch a band do a cover and the rest of the set seems a little weak by comparison. Not so here which, for me, really highlights the strength of their self penned material.
The crowd (arranged over two levels around the bar area) lapped it all up and the in-between song banter showed just how refreshingly at ease the band are, with each other and the business of performing (all of which bodes really well for their future development). There’s a debut single out later in the year and a nice buzz is building about the “best thing to come out of Northfield”. Call me optimistic if you will (and you probably will...) but I’d not mind placing a bet that Goodnight Lenin might find themselves playing the Symphony Hall again in the future...only one day it’ll be the whole bloody place.
PS: The video you can watch above this nonsense shows the band on their Kitchen Tour 2010...which saw them play kitchens. Must be a kettle drum I can hear in the background then...ho ho ho...yes you're right that isn't very funny is it? Just pretend I didn't say it.
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Part of the English Originals Weekend tonight saw a veritable cornucopia (yep, I’ve been reading the dictionary again) of artists pay their own tribute to a man who, in my humble opinion, is hugely underappreciated. Of course John did himself no real favours during his 40 odd year career...what with all the drink and drugs...and more drink...and...oh go on...just a few more drugs. Having his leg lopped off in 2006 probably didn’t help matters either, but the overwhelming feeling that you got after he passed away last year was that John well and truly lived life to the full. Inevitably if you’re going to do that you can expect massive highs and crashing lows and listening to John’s songs it’s clear that’s just what he got. Anger, love, hate, bitterness, regret, joy...he covered pretty much every emotion under the sun and tonight’s gig gave us a chance to see how others manage to interpret what are, often, intensely personal songs.
The evening started with John’s long term musical foil (and ‘curator’ for the evening) Danny Thompson setting the scene, explaining that the band here tonight had played with John for a good 20 years or so. We were getting the real deal and that’s the only reason he’d agreed to do it. Touching without being schmaltzy he spoke fondly of his ‘curly haired mate’ and asked us all to forget about the rumours and legends (and there are oodles of ‘em...) and to focus on what really matters. The songs. Amen to that. Eddi Reader was up first, singing a song that John wrote when he was just 16 years old – ‘Fairy Tale Lullaby’. 16 years old! Good grief. It’s a bit of a dippy hippy number (lots of lyrics about elves and pixies) but it’s proof that old Johnny boy had a way with a lyric and melody at an age when most of us are still struggling out of short pants. Setting the pattern for the rest of the evening Eddi sang another track ‘Couldn’t Love You More’ before handing over to local bloke made good Scott Matthews (all of the artists playing tonight were sat on a sofa on the left hand side of the stage...a sort of musical subs bench). I won’t bore you with a blow by blow account of every track (we got through over 20 of ‘em). I’m pretty sure John would hate all that analytical bullshit anyway, but there were plenty of highlights worthy of a mention. In the first half ‘Small Hours’ from 1977’s ‘One World’ album was hauntingly brilliant, Beth Orton’s take on ‘Go Down Easy’ (with just her and Danny Thompson on bass) was sublime and a new name to me Krystle Warren, gave us a deep, throaty version of Solid Air that made the hairs on my ‘tache stand on end.
In the second half (arguably stronger than the first) Scott Matthews impressed with a bright and breezy ‘Over The Hill’ and Ian McNabb (drafted in at the 11th hour to replace Badly Drawn Boy) injected a little Scouse mischief into proceedings by changing one of the tracks he was going to play from ‘Bless the Weather’ into a rocking rendition of ‘Big Muff’. Beverley Martyn sang a touching version of ‘Our Love’ (a song she’d written with John for his Grace and Danger album), prefacing it with the hope that she’d “do it justice” – no worries there Bev.
Throughout the evening Danny scattered the set with a few recollections of his time with John too, often imitating his voice (imaging a pissed Glaswegian Tommy Cooper). Once, to wind up a journalist, John just spoke in a series of slurs and guttural noises. After finishing the interview the confused scribbler thanked his host and left, scratching his head. John turned to Danny and, clear as a bell, said “I fooled him didn’t I?”
The evening finished with a mass sing along of John’s crowning glory, ‘May You Never’. Personally I’d have liked a little more reverence for this song (my favourite of all his tracks)...I’m not sure about the karaoke element that crept in here and there (they even handed out lyric sheets)...but I can see what they were trying to do with it, turning it into a mass celebration rather than a funereal lament (which, as the last track of the night, it might have easily become). Danny explained that there wouldn’t be an encore. Good! I hate all that fake going off and coming back on crap...what are we...10 years old or summat? Instead they wisely chose to leave the last word with John. After a standing ovation and as his version of ‘Over The Rainbow’ drifted over the speakers, the crowd shuffled out and I fancied that, somewhere, over the Town Hall, John was looking down on us all, approvingly, drink in hand, laughing his head off.
PS: Tonight's English Originals gig features Graham Coxon and Robyn Hitchcock! Tickets still available!!
Friday, May 14, 2010
Boarded up since 2008, Digbeth’s Barfly has been a sorry sight/site for far too long. But recently there have been a few signs of life and I’ve just found out that it’s finally reopening as the HMV Institute in September. Whoopeedoodaah! That’s the good news...the great news is that the mighty Heaven 17 are playing there on 26th November as part of their 30th Anniversary Penthouse and Pavement tour. Ain’t life grand eh? I always liked the old Barfly, it was a bit like going down into the hull of a ship (okay, I'd normally had a few). I'm not sure how they've arranged the insides now, hell, who cares, I'd go and see Heaven 17 play inside a urinal. Not sure where Martyn would put his synth though...maybe he'd have to sit on one of the loos...even so those synths are big buggers...he'd probably have to knock through to a second cubicle...anyway...Heaven 17...Digbeth...AWESOME!
Thursday, May 13, 2010
I'd normally be at The Great Escape at this time of year but, what with my trip to Florida in January and plans to buy my own private jet (yeah, right), I'm sitting in my loft instead. If you are at/going to The Great Escape make sure you check out Still Flyin'. They're ace. This particular track reminds me of Tilly & The Wall making love to Madness at a Flaming Lips gig...obviously. Enjoy.
PS: They're playing a few other UK shows (see their MySpace page for details) before heading back to their native San Francisco...unless we're all hit by another volcano/BA strike/alien invasion...
As cults go FOTC are clearly a much bigger deal than I thought. This NIA show sold out in about 15 minutes and I was amazed by how many of tonight’s audience seemed to know all of the words. Essentially they’re a comedy musical act (the TV show that spawned tonight’s ‘spectacular’ follows Brett and Jermaine - a struggling New Zealand band - trying to make it big in the US), who parody all sorts of genres (dance, rap, glam, folk, rock...you name it...we even got some medieval track tonight). If you’ve ever seen the TV show the live version won’t come as much of a surprise, B and J mainly sit on stools and play some of their...er...greatest hits...then chat (in character) in between. As with the TV show I sort of preferred the chatty bits in between the songs (I know, that’s not really the point is it?) especially the ad libbed responses to the various sheep noises that some of the audience kept making (unless some sheep had actually managed to get hold of some get tickets...probably from E-Baaaaaaaay). Without an interval (and being half a mile from the stage in what is, essentially, a large aircraft hanger) I found my mind wandering a little as we reached the 1 hour 45 minute mark, still I guess if you’re going to charge nearly £40 a ticket you’ve got to put on a decent set. It was all entertaining enough though. Highlights included ‘Too Many Dicks on the Dancefloor’, ‘Sugar Lumps’ and...as an encore...’Business Time’...basically all of the sex stuff...which probably says a lot about how my mind works.
As a surprise birthday pressie from my bro in law and family (bless ‘em) I got a couple of ‘best seats in the house’ tickets to see the Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons musical, Jersey Boys. “Frankie who?” asked some people I’ve spoken to over the last few days. Well, for the uninitiated, Frankie was (and still is...at 76 he’s still going strong) one of the biggest selling singers in the US with a bucket load of classic singles under his belt. ‘Oh What a Night’, ‘Working My Way Back to You’, ‘Beggin’, ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’, ‘Walk Like a Man’, ‘Grease’...the list goes on and on. The show itself includes all of these (okay, not ‘Grease’ but that’s bugger all to do with the Four Seasons) and a whole bunch more, in fact it’s a non-stop hit fest with an incredible cast (the guy who plays Frankie has really nailed his falsetto voice). Highly recommended.
Monday, May 10, 2010
Yep, as well as making a comeback in the new A Team film the ‘Faceman’ aka Templeton Peck...oh hang on...it’s Templeton Pek...ahh that makes a lot more sense...are playing a show at the Flapper to promote their new single which will be available as a FREE (yes, my favourite word again) download. Seeing as the Pek can rock the nuts off a nun it’s guaranteed to be killer gig (given the Flapper’s low ceilings and the danger of the odd stage diver that could literally be true too...result!). I’ve not seen the band live before but the stuff I’ve been hearing’s all good...a mix of skate punk and British rawk...hell yeah! I suspect that tickets will sell out faster than David Cameron (ooooh little bit of politics there for anyone who ain’t BORED to death about the whole sorry mess) so I’d get stuck in right now if I were you.
The number of glowing comments that I got about both gigs just goes to show that Birmingham's home to some truly great bands and, who knows, perhaps one or two more people might just make it out now to see that for themselves. Perhaps that would be the best birthday present of all.
Thursday, May 06, 2010
Badly Drawn Boy, Scott Matthews, Robyn Hitchcock, Martin Carthy, Graham Coxon, Eddi Reader, Beverly Martyn, Beth Orton, Bellowhead, Jackie Oates, Birmingham's very own rising stars Goodnight Lenin (plus the chance of one or two other HUGE names showing up...don't say I didn't warn you), yep, this year's English Originals 'mini fest' looks set to be the best ever. Held over May14th - May 16th in the Town and Symphony Halls the highlight, for me, is Friday night's tribute to the truly great John Martyn who passed away just over a year ago. John's perhaps not as well known as he deserves to be these days (he's right up there with the musical greats as far as I'm concerned) but once you get into his music I guarantee you'll be hooked. Just have a listen to his tribute to Nick Drake, 'Solid Air', recorded with Danny Thompson on double bass (who's also curating this tribute show)...awesome.
I think there are still a few tickets left for the show on the Friday 14th...and if you're lucky you might just scrape a seat for Blur's Graham Coxon on Saturday...but I'd get in sharpish if I were you.
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
Sixteen years is a long time in popular music (it’s even longer in the life of a Mayfly which is ‘born’, mates and dies all in the space of 24 hours...you don’t get this kind of education in NME do you eh?). Flash back to the start of 1994 and the Spice Girls were yet to ‘zig a zig ahhhh’, Kurt Cobain was still alive (just), Lady GaGa was more of a Baby Gaga (well she was 8...but that’s still pretty darn young...she’d only just played her first gig) and the World Wide Web was something that only freaks and oddballs were into (no change there then eh?). It was against this backdrop that I went to see a promising popular beat combo called Supergrass at Edwards. The support band for the evening were a little known, but instantly likeable, act called The Bluetones.
Fast forward to 2010 and The Spice Girls have zigged a zigged and ahhhhed, Kurt’s a t-shirt, the whole world’s gone Gaga and the World Wide Web’s eaten the music industry for breakfast. Supergrass have split up and Edwards has been incinerated...but, coming out of the dust...still doing their thang...is The Bluetones. Top marks for persistence eh but would they be any good or would this just be a...wait for it...’slight return’? In best Eastenders cliffhanger tradition I’ll leave that question dangling to the end (cue a shot of Dot Cotton being discovered in bed with Ian Beale and a selection of seasonal veg...duf duf duf dufdufdudfduf).
First up, blow me down, it’s Black Market Empire making their Academy debut. The Empire (for the uninitiated) are a Birmingham band with a rather fine line in 60’s Mersey beat tinged tunes (just check out their demo of ‘Get Up, Get Down’ on their MySpace page). Tonight’s set showcased their full on beat majesty with a good half a dozen or so of their best tracks including...now I must get this right...’The Andy Lewis Dance’. It was the perfect start to the evening and great to see Black Market Empire in a well deserved bigger venue. Next stop the O2 Arena! Oh, alright then, The Flapper first (they’re playing with Dogs on June 19th...that’s Dogs the band, I don’t mean that they’re whacking off Doberman’s...that’s just wrong).
Next up, Apples, from Hereford (well they would be wouldn’t they?). I like apples. Especially when they’re pressed and fermented and served in a pint glass (unless you have to pay £3.95 for it...thanks very much Mr Academy). Clearly pressing this particular variety of Apples into a pint glass wouldn’t be quite so pleasant, but watching them is a pretty enjoyable experience. There’s a touch of XTC in there, some Haircut 100 and, for anyone under the age of 40, some Pull Tiger Tail too. In other words catchy bounce up and down pop with the added bonus of some Sax. I do love a bit of Sax, although it was only used on one track tonight. Naughty Apples. The Sax man will come and get you with his big Sax of doom. More Sax. I’m sure we’ll get a lot more Sax soon. The man on the news keeps saying that Sax will rise dramatically when the Tories get in this week. What’s that? Oh. Tax you say. Balls. Anyway, we’ll gloss over the economic annihilation of anyone with less than a million quid and listen to the Apples fine rendition (and one of the set’s highlights) of the Housemartin’s ‘Caravan of Love’ instead. Ahhh that’s better.
Right. Give me a B. Give me an L. Give me an E...oh hang on. That’s not right is it? That’s The Bletones I’m thinking of, Macclesfield’s number one Kosher Bluetones covers band (available for weddings, funerals and circumcisions). Nope, tonight’s all about The Bluetones, a band that’s stubbornly refused to quit in the face of commercial indifference and who are now edging close to their (gasp) 20th anniversary. As you’d expect the set was liberally scattered with ‘the hits’ including ‘Solomon Bites The Worm’ and ‘Bluetonic’. Equally enjoyable though was Mark Morris’ in between song banter. All too aware of The Bluetones status in the music biz he made plenty of jokey references about their fans lack of commitment when it came to actually buying their records and pondered their second coming with their new album (A New Athens) which he’s hoping will get them on some Channel 5 chat show. It’s refreshing to see someone who doesn’t take all the bullshit too seriously. This was proved by the band’s frankly hilarious reggae version (yes, really, you had to be there) of ‘Slight Return’, inspired by Chaka Demus and Pliers apparently (with a vocal that’s straight out of Sting’s Police days). The crowd (who had given polite applause throughout the evening) went mad for it. Mark turned and made a remark along the lines of “We’ve played some great songs tonight and you lot go mad for a joke version of our first single. Typical!” I daresay it does irk him a little bit, deep down, in the wee small hours, but c’est la vie, I guess that’s the fickle finger of fame.
As I said at the beginning of all this whiffle I liked The Bluetones from the moment I clapped eyes and ears on them all those years ago. They might not be experimental thrash jazz or crunk screamcore (and some of their tunes might be pleasant rather than kick you in the crotch awesome) but tonight’s gig reminded me of just how many great tunes they’d written over the years. What’s most surprising is that their best stuff still seems to be coming. One in particular, a ‘love song’ but a ‘love song’ with a surprisingly rocky bit and more than a touch of classic era Squeeze about it called ‘Half the Size Of Nothing At All’ is, I would say, the BEST thing they’ve ever done. Tracking back a little to their last album (I think) there’s a song called ‘Head On a Spike’ that’s right up there with their best stuff too. In fact, far from being a band that’s just playing on past glories, tonight’s gig left me feeling just the same as I did way back in 1994...this lot could really get somewhere.