Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Dave Rotheray – The Life of Birds (and a bit about a book about Record Shops)

I’ve been getting all sorts of albums pinging into my inbox recently (a lot of companies seem to be scrapping the old promo discs what the hell am I going to give people for Christmas eh?). The latest – and one of the best – is from former Beautiful South lyricist and guitarist Dave Rotheray who, after releasing a couple of albums with Homespun (basically Dave and Sam Brown) is now doing his own thang. Actually although it’s a solo album in name it features ten different guest vocalists including Alasdair Roberts, Camille O’Sullivan and the truly awesome Eliza Carthy. The Beautiful South were responsible for some of the best ‘grown up’ pop songs of the last 30 years, so it’s no surprise that Dave’s debut has that familiar quality feel (plus a whole bunch of South-isms...that piano’s particularly reminiscent of prime South). Tackling such cheery subjects as puberty and Alzheimers (and everything in between) it features some really great tracks and performances including Jim Causley’s jaunty opening and closing numbers The Sparrow, The Thrush and the Nightingale (parts I and II), The Road to the South (one of Eliza’s most emotive vocal performances to date) and Flying Lessons (an instantly catchy country tinged track featuring the sultry vocals of ex-Monkey Swallows the Universe vocalist Nat Johnson).

If you want to hear the whole thing you’ll have to wait until August, but you can catch a track or two on Dave’s Facebook page right now. Good old Facebook eh, it’s not just there for stalking/bullying people and pretending how great your life is. Anyways, it’s well worth a listen. Even better why not buy the thing from your local record independent shop when it comes out (if you can find one). Funnily enough I’ve just read a cracking book called 'Last Shop Standing' which, by a strange quirk of fate is published by the same company that’s releasing this album (Proper Records). It tells the story of the decline and fall of the nation’s record shops, of which there are now (almost literally) just a handful left. I’ve banged on about the lost pleasures of the ‘physical’ musical product and the joys of rifling through acres of vinyl before, but if you’re under 20 you’ll probably thing I’m being a boring old I’ll shut up. Suffice to say that the book reveals some distinctly shady dealings by the big record labels and supermarkets. Boo! Hiss! Down with the ‘man’ etc.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Feeling horny?

Of course you are...that's why you're reading this and not playing five finger shuffle whilst perusing the dubious pleasures of eh? Anyway, if you're looking to get your musical kicks too I can heartily recommend hotly tipped electro dude Unicorn Kid who hits The Flapper this Wednesday (30th June EDIT: Just discovered this gig's been cancelled...oh well...check him out online anyway) playing tracks from his forthcoming debut album due out on Ministry of Sound anytime now (I'm saying nothing about Musically he’s got that Eurodance feel, high on bpm and good times yah? In fact he reminds me a lot of Swedish nut jobs and instant party starters SlagsmĂ„lsklubben. Having recently remixed Gorillaz and Pet Shop Boys and toured with Owl City in the US (not a bad start for a 17 year old eh?) he’s rapidly developing his own style and, whilst most of his stuff is instrumental at the moment, he apparently sings too. It all looks and sounds great fun (he wears a trademark lions head hat...which I imagine will be more than a little sweaty after a gig in The Flapper if the current heatwave continues) and it’s the perfect soundtrack for a midweek summertime pants in the air rave. Support comes from Birmingham’s very own Neon Asylum (Adam Ficek from Babyshambles apparently plays with ‘em sometimes), a Crystal Castles-ish proposition but without the screaming lady...

PS: I just love the Unicorn Kid video...wearing animal costumes should be compulsory in all offices.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Dead and Glastonburyed...

Well that didn’t quite work out as expected. In my last post I alluded to a little ‘adventure’ that I was going on. That 'adventure' was Glastonbury, a festival that I’ve had a bit of a love / hate relationship with over the years. Our last Glasto was 2007. Predictably it rained, the coach service to and from the site was, quite frankly, a disaster (it left Birmingham about 5 hours late, getting us onto site just after midnight...the perfect time to put up your tent eh?) and I was somewhat perturbed by the corporate gloss that seemed to be pervading the place. Consequently I gave Glasto 2008 and 2009 a miss and had done the same for 2010...or so I thought. Then the chance came to work at the festival in return for entry. I’d heard about these deals before. It seemed a pretty good opportunity to me. Get in to see the festival, get paid a few quid and camp in a cleaner, quieter part of the site with three square meals a day. So I signed up.

Details of the exact nature of the role were sketchy to say the least. I knew there could be long shifts but, perhaps foolishly, I assumed they would be on site so I could see and hear the odd bit of music. Oh how wrong can a poor boy be? The company we were working for (they subcontracted us out to another company) are based in Portsmouth so me and Lady B were picked up by minibus along with a mixture of ‘experienced’ security staff (tattoos, shaved heads, muscles), West Africans and students / recent graduates. After a couple of hours we arrived at Fortress Glastonbury for around 6pm and all dutifully stood in line to get a number for our tent, a number for ourselves and our kit (tabard, fleece, waterproof and baseball cap)along with the oh so precious wristband. It was, I imagine, not unlike your first day in prison. We had a briefing in at 11pm (a PowerPoint presentation that basically told us not to kill anyone or let anyone kill us) then retired to our tents for midnight with instructions to show up for duty at 7.30am. By this stage I was still unsure of what we’d be doing...and where. Awoke (I say awoke but I don’t really ever sleep well in a tent) at around 5am then tossed and turned for an hour before wriggling into my kit (once again we took a tent that’s far too small for a skinny midget contortionist never mind a pair of healthy adults with a penchant for kebabs and cider) and traipsing off to queue for breakfast (a typical greasy spoon full English...sort of...). More standing in line to sign on which involved being photographed wearing our tabard, invoking the sort of feeling that suspects no doubt feel when they have to pose with those numbers for their mug shots. Then back in another queue to be given our duties. Ahh. This is where things started to go wrong. It turned out that the company we were working for seemed to mainly cover the perimeter of the site. If you’ve ever been to Glastonbury you’ll know that this is a huge area, probably a good mile away from the action. Myself and Lady B were given radios then plonked on a minibus and driven out to our posts. Lady B had the Camper Van and Caravan gate and was given some vague instructions about checking vehicles had the right stickers on their windows. I was put on the Camp Kerala gate (this is where all the posh folk go to stay in their £7,500 yurts with hot and cold running butlers). It was 7.56 am. Our shift finished at 8pm. That’s 12 hours. For the first hour or so it was quiet. In fact my gate was dead as a doornail (which, given the fact that this was Wednesday and Camp Kerala didn’t open for business until Thursday, wasn’t really a huge surprise). Not wanting to stand around for 12 hours doing bugger all I approached one of the supervisors and asked if I could help out marshalling the huge volume of camper vans that were now flooding into the field and out into the road, stopping other traffic from moving through the site. He didn’t seem impressed with my suggestion and spoke to me like I was some sort of simpleton. Nice attitude there my friend. I went back to my post for a bit before taking an executive decision to help out Lady B who was by now being swamped by an endless stream of vans throwing up a choking cloud of dust and diesel that filled the air (and, no doubt, our lungs). It was now 9am, the sun was baking hot, there was no shade and the nearest standpipe for water was a good half a mile away. Nice. After passing through our gate the vans were being searched for illegal stuff, mainly people, glass bottles and drugs I imagine. This takes time so I wanted to get two of three lines going across the field so we could get people in off the road where they could then be checked out. Mr Supervisor didn’t seem to like my suggestion and stuck to his guns. As a result the road got blocked, tempers flared and, quelle surprise, he was forced to open a second lane. Then a third. Then a fourth. Over our first 12 hour shift we processed around 2,700 vehicles. To say we were knackered would be an understatement. When you’re not used to a physically demanding job (and if you don’t think running around in a field for 12 hours trying not to get flattened by an 80ft house on wheels in 80+ degrees is knackering you try it) pulling off a shift like that ain’t a walk in the park.

Back to our camp in the bus for tea, a quick autopsy on the day (some people seemed to have slightly better posts but it was all pretty grim) and a trudge (it took around 20 minutes I’d say) down to the site for a quick walk around and a restorative pint of cider. It had become blatantly clear to me that, even if we got picked up on time, rammed down out tea, threw off our kit and ran naked down to the site cackling like maniacs we’d still only see a couple of hours of music per day, at best. If you’ve ever been to Glasto you’ll know that you need to get a spot well before the main acts appear if you want a decent view too (or you could be a complete twat and push your way to the front swearing at people as you go, which appears to be the modus operandi for some folk). Add to this the fact that you’ve just done a 12 hour shift in the baking sun after not sleeping and I came to the conclusion that the pluses (being there) were far outweighed by the minuses (er...being there). However, I ain’t a quitter so I resolved to plug away and got stuck into day two. Much the same as day one only hotter and dustier. To relieve the boredom I listened to the radio messages being bandied around. On day one I’d heard a few calls from remote outposts of the site where staff had seemingly been forgotten about. One unfortunate soul had been there for 18 hours! His desperate calls for relief eventually stopped, so either he’d been picked up or died. I’m sure parts of Somerset are littered with the corpes of stewards from previous years, still clutching their radios and waiting for the bus that never comes...

To be fair our bus was always on time and the guy who drove it was a lovely bloke. A lot of people that we met were lovely too. Just ordinary folk working bloody hard to make a living. There were one or two who thought a cheap uniform made them GOD but you get people like that wherever you go. On the evening of day two we wandered down to the site again, by now the crowds had well and truly arrived and you were forced to do the Glasto Shuffle (walk forward an inch, walk to the left an inch, walk to the right an inch repeat until you get to your destination). Tired, jaded and (thanks in my case to poor sunscreen application) burnt, we were curled up in our tent by midnight. Day three came and this is where things reached the limit. With less to do (by now our field was much quieter as most of the vans were already in) apart from stand and frazzle the minutes crawled by. The nadir was reached when we heard, far, far away the sounds of the first bands playing. For a music fan this was torture. AGONY. Even worse than the burning, thirst, dust, blisters, insect bites and aching limbs. Lady B was feeling the heat and roasting alive so I instructed her to go and find some shade whilst I covered both gates. She returned after 20 minutes or so and made it quite clear that she’d had enough. Can’t say I blame her one little bit. By good fortune the supervisor who drove our bus came round in a 4x4 and she had a word with him. He whisked her away to the medical tent for a check up (as she’d had her embolism in January this was a pretty thorough affair too). Happily she was fine, far fitter than most people seemingly, just tired and fed up. There was no way we were going to do another 3 12 hour shifts though and we requested 8 hour slots instead. There were plenty of people doing these so I didn’t see a huge problem. Mindful of the fact that they might think we were trying to pull a fast one and had only agreed to work to get in to the Festival I even offered to work for free if we could just cut our shifts by a few hours. The guy we were working for made it quite clear that this wasn’t an option “If I do it for one person they might all want to do it”, that’s true but I can’t imagine anyone (other than us) willing to work for free for FIVE days so I couldn’t really see his point. His option was for us to have the rest of the day off then come back and work all through the night from 8pm to 8am. Given that we were both knackered and given that this would mean that we’d probably not see or hear a single note we declined. “Alright then, get your stuff and I’ll take you offsite”. That was it. Glastonbury 2010 over and out. Roger that. Roger us more like, Roughly from behind. To be fair to the guy he did drive us to Castle Carey train station and I can appreciate that he must get all kinds of people trying to scam him, but we weren’t two of ‘em. The almost ceremonial snipping off of our wristband (for a music fan that's like having your bollocks chopped off) was a particularly sad and shoddy end to what could have been a great experience.

What has this taught me? Well, I’m sure that many people work the festival for a few hours a day and have a whale of a time. If you can get one of those jobs (I think Oxfam are pretty good) you’ll probably enjoy it more (and you may actually get to see some music). The biggest eye opener of all though is just how many people work behind the scenes for minimum wage in pretty shitty conditions to help keep Glasonbury going. There were hundreds of us and, as I was ushering in the guests to Camp Kerala in their flash cars and designer sunglasses off to sip a glass or two of bubbly whilst they got down to the hip sounds of ‘Snoopy’ Dogg the great divide between the haves and the have nots had never seemed greater. As the event celebrates its 40th birthday I can’t help feeling that the original spirit that made the festival so special is now well and truly Glastonburyed.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Top Tracks # 18 - Harvey Danger 'Flagpole Sitta'

Not done a 'Top Track' for ages so here's a classic from the archives, Harvey Danger's 'Flagpole Sitta'. It's been used on loads of things in the past and featured on the original American Pie movie soundtrack (I've not eaten apple pie since). Despite its familiarity it still raises a smile whenever hear the lyric "Been around the world and found that only stupid people are breeding, the cretins cloning and feeding".

The Hearing Aid will be a little quiet over the next week or so as I embark on something of an 'adventure'. If I survive I'll report back on it when I return, if I don't, well, it's been fun...


Friday, June 18, 2010

'Last Sleep In Albion' EP by Adelaide’s Cape

After seeing him support the Miserable Rich in fine style I’ve just got my sticky mitts on the debut EP from Adelaide’s Cape. Whereas the live show was a solo performance the EP features the whole band (on a few of the tracks at least), adding an extra layer of richness for Sam’s emotive vocals and lyrics to bed down in. There are five tracks in total kicking off with ‘This Fiction’ which comes off like a glorious cross between Arab Strap and Seth Lakeman. Anchored Down really shows off Sam’s intricate guitar work, shades of Davy Graham in there and if you know your folk guitarists it doesn’t get much better than that. It’s the fourth track on the EP, ‘Stay’, that’s the highlight for me though. With something of a sea shanty feel it features some delightful lines “Stay. Don’t leave. Come back. Oh my heart is breaking. Cold lips soft Kiss. I need medication. Red wine. Beadstead. Ripped sheets and pillow cases. Lost dogs odd sods and pure, dark inebriation.” That’s dead poetic that...“pure, dark inebriation”. Highly recommended for lovers of Nu Folk (is that a genre yet or am I just making stuff up again?). Trek over to their MySpace for a listen or, even better, buy a copy of the EP from Dustbowl Records.

PS: Adelaide’s Cape are also appearing at the Hare & Hounds, Kings Heath with Polly and the Billets Doux on 5th July. Whoop!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Summer time and the living is easy...

Yep, it's officially Summer time and that can only mean one thing. It's festival season. As usual there are a million and one festivals up and down the country but Birmingham's home to a couple of really tasty ones, Mostly Jazz (2010 is its first year) and Moseley Folk (in it's fifth year). They pretty much bookend the season with Jazz at the start of July and Folk at the start of September and both are set in the oasis of calm that is Moseley Park. The line-ups are cracking and I can heartily recommend 'em (I've done three of the folk ones and the jazz one's being organised by the same people so I'd expect a similarly smoooooth operation). Jazz tickets here and folk tickets here. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Band of Horses / Darker My Love @ Wolverhampton Wulfrun Hall, Monday 14th June 2010

Right, mustn’t mention the World Cup...bollocks...okay that’s the last mention of it. Promise. Especially as the English team’s probably been knocked out/injured/ defected to a team with at least some frickin’ hope of winning by now. Gah! Did you see the game against the USA? Good grief. I only watched up to the point where our goalie decided to roll the ball into his own net. Genius. Speaking of (cheesy link ahoy) the USA (see, told you) tonight’s gig saw a brace of bands from way over United Stateside, kicking off (damn...bloody football) with Darker My Love.

Echoes of The Doors, The Byrds and The Band (from way back when), Oasis (from a while back) and White Rabbit (from right now) they’re a psych rock 5 piece from LA featuring former members of The Fall (come on now, who hasn’t been in The Fall gran played bass with them just after the war you know) and The Distillers. When they get into their groove on tracks like ‘Dear Author’ (the pick of tonight’s set for me) you could almost be transported back to the heady days of the 60’s (1966 hopefully then we might have some chuffing chance of winning the...oh balls...). Blessed with two vocalists (one hairy, one not so hairy) they’ve got the vocal weaponry to manage the blissed out psychedelic tunes as well as the ballsy stuff and judging by the quality of tonight’s set their forthcoming album ‘Alive As You Are’ should be right up your passage if you’re in to your classic late 60’s early 70’s rock.

On then to the headliners, country rockers Band of Horses. Let’s hear it for beards. Yay! Their lead singer’s got a fine one. You could probably smuggle a (very)small horse across the border in there and no one would notice (maybe that’s how they got their name?). Imagine The Flaming Lips getting it on with Kings of Leon and you’ve got a (very rough) idea of the sound. They first came to my attention a while back with (arguably the pick of tonight’s set) ‘Is There a Ghost’ and it’s a song that, for me, defines what they do best, that whole quiet intro and slow build to a rocking climax. They’ve clearly got a thang for the great outdoors, with the whole show being played against a backdrop of photos of deer, pine forests and er...festivals...well you can’t get much more rugged and wild than that eh? Have you ever seen a festival toilet? Something else they’ve clearly got a passion for is guitars. For much of the show there were four of ‘em up there cranking away while a couple of guitar techs beavered away at the back keeping another half a dozen or so in good working order. Designed to add texture to the music (rather than blow your ears off) it created a warm, rich palette of sound (palette of sound...what the fuck am I on?) against which lead horse Ben Bridewell was able to deliver his gentle songs of love, loss and salt lakes. The set passed pleasantly enough with plenty of memorable performances including an emotional retelling of their biggest hit ‘The Funeral’, and a couple of songs from the new album (Infinite Arms) ‘Older’ beautifully sung by keyboardist Ryan Monroe and the waltzing ‘Factory’. They must’ve got through a good 25 tracks or so in an hour and a half and, to be honest, one or two numbers washed over me a little but that’s a minor gripe. The encore (which lasted longer than some band’s main sets) included a couple of neat cover versions including JJ Cale’s ‘13 days’, prefaced by Ben telling us all that this was day 70(!) of their current tour (although seemingly he told people in London last week it was day 77 so maybe they’re a band of time travellers as well as horses). The show ended with an old soul number, an organ driven cover of Them Two’s ‘Am I A Good Man’ which showed plenty of the passion and fire that perhaps a couple of the self penned tracks lacked. Overall though, a pretty thoroughbred performance all round.

500 not out...

Well, this is it. The five hundredth post on The Hearing Aid since I started doing this nonesense way back in August 2006 with reviews of CUD, Jeffrey Lewis and The Grates. Ahhh...happy days. Lord knows how many bands I've seen since then, how many overpriced pints of cider I've downed...and how many years I've knocked off my life expectancy as a result...but bollocks to all that right?

A big thank you to anyone who's ever posted anything on here, anyone who reads any of this stuff, the promoters who've shown their support and last, but by no means least, the bands/artists themselves. To celebrate the big 5 - 0 -0 here's an appropriate enough track from the first person I ever saw in a proper gig, Marc Almond, way back in...good grief...1988. Enjoy.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Miserable Rich / Dan Whitehouse / Adelaide’s Cape @ The Glee Club, Birmingham, Thursday 10th June 2010

As the country (well some of it at least) goes Big Brother nuts one last time I prefer to lock myself away with a trio of darn fine musical lovelies...none of whom appear to be suffering from the kind of frankly terrifying personality defects that afflicts most of this year’s ‘housemates’. Maybe they should just seal the place up, switch off the cameras and leave ‘em all in there. Forever. Whoohahahahaha!

Anyways, first up Adelaide’s Cape (there is, it seems, no story behind the name) aka Sam Taylor. Sometimes he plays with a band but tonight he was all on his lonesome wearing some flip flops that he’d optimistically decided to wear for the whole tour. Given that it’s done nothing but piss it down for the last 7 days that probably wasn’t the smartest move, as he ruefully acknowledged. Playing a steel (bits of it were steel anyway) guitar there’s a touch of Arab Strap miserabilsm to AC/ST, which appeals to me no end. This, fused with a Nick Drake kind of wistfulness, lulled me nicely into a woozy early evening reverie. On top of his self penned stuff he gave a powerful rendition of Mr Drake’s ‘Black Eyed Dog’ along with a jaunty Richard Thompson number about a bike, ‘Vincent Black Lighting’.

Next up Dan Whitehouse, someone it’s always a pleasure to see live. Another self assured performance and chatty banter in between songs that, once again, won over the audience. Pick of the set was a new song written for a forthcoming gig in a shed...yes...a shed. Given that there are 5 people in the band this might be a bit of a squeeze. Still, the track in question, ‘Landscape’ is, I can confidently announce the best thing Dan has ever done and, if there was a music industry left, it would undoubtedly have the majors a knockin’ at his door (shed or otherwise). Melodic but a little but edgy in places with some off kilter talky bits it’s a cracking number and I urge him to get it stuck up on MySpace, You Tube, Facebook, Twitter, Reader’s Wives etc etc.

Finally, and for the third time in 12 months (that’s something of a record for me I think) The Miserable Rich! If you’ve not already fallen head over heels smoochy smoochy kiss kiss in love with them by now then there’s no hope for the world. Just in case anyone who reads this hasn’t yet given ‘em a spin they play a sort of lush chamber pop that’s a little bit classical, a little bit pop and whole lot of loveliness. Their lead singer James’ vocals have the kind of purity that make fresh mountain spring water seem a little grubby and he sings songs that simply make the world a better place to be. I don’t know how or why their music makes me feel like this, hell it ain’t worth analysing, it just does. So there.

This tour’s in support of their dead good (yep, I’m in a 90’s mood today) new album (their second) called ‘Of Flight and Fury’ , so naturally most of the set featured these tracks kicking off with ‘Pegasus’, a song about the unquenchable nature of desire (cider and chicken kebabs in my case) which showcased James’ soaring vocals better than anything the band’s ever done. Next up Somerhill, a jaunty little tale about..ahem...’carrying on’ with yummy mummies. Whether this is autobiographical or not, I didn’t get the chance to ask. Er, anyway, it all sound like going for a bike ride on a glorious spring morning (and on a yummy mummy too possibly), with lots of little tinkly bits and lively strings. Delicious.

‘Let Me Fade’ (inspired by James’ break ups) was a new one to me, but not even this subject matter could dull the life affirming nature of the Rich. It was prefaced by an announcement that all the tracks from the new album are going to have videos at some point. The one for this track features squirrels. Ahhh, bless ‘em. Seemingly the lady making the video had just spilt up with her partner however so it is, in James’ words, a little ‘psychotic’. Psychotic squirrels eh? Can’t wait to see it now...

Happily the band haven’t said adieu to their back catalogue though, so ‘Pisshead’ and ‘Monkey’ both got airings tonight along with a loving cover of Iggy Pop’s ‘Shades’. Then it was back to the new stuff with ‘Chestnut Sunday’ and really new stuff (as it’s not even on the new album) with a track called (I think) ‘Good Girl’’.

The set closed with ‘Oliver’ an everyday tale of...well... I’ll let James explain this one:

'Oliver, the humanzee, is a chimpanzee born around 1958. Captured in what was then Zaire, he was mistakenly believed to be the missing link: he had a flatter face than most chimps, walked on his back legs and was even thought to have a chromosome count closer to humans than chimps.'Exploited as a curio on world tours, he was later relieved from this strange life after it was believed he had fallen for his keeper.'Ostracised from his own species when very young, he had few chimp social skills, and was abandoned to a small cage in California, hastening muscle atrophy and old age. Older, blind and arthritic, Oliver ended up at a spacious, open-air cage – where his taxonomy was finally resolved. It turns out he is just a normal chimpanzee, no closer in genetics to humans than any other chimpanzee.'Still, that’s pretty close.'The satirical Church of the SubGenius, well known as ‘Bob Dobbs’ in Brighton for its parties, in a bizarre coincidence proclaims October 20th as The Feast of Saint Oliver the humanzee. 'Meanwhile, Oliver is no longer living alone: according to Wikipedia, a gentle female called Raisin now shares her cage with him, while Oliver attempts to impress her with his vocalisations and displays. We wish him the best of luck.'

Now you don’t get that with Coldplay do you eh?

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Nils Bech – Look Back

Been meaning to post this for aaaaaaages (that’s a long can tell ‘cos I’ve used lots of a’s). Nils Bech is one of those artists I stumbled on completely by accident at a festival a few years back and I’ve been waiting for him to release his debut album ever since. It seems like it’s now out (in his native Norway at least) so here you go! Blending performance art with the kind of lush synthy sounds that would get Arthur Russell (RIP) up and dancin’ he’s the best thing to come out of Norway since...well...ever.

Friday, June 04, 2010

The Miserable tour! Now!!

Yes, one of my favourite bands of all time The Miserable Rich hit the road again next week in support of their gorgeous new album ‘Of Flight and Fury’ (click on the video above for a sample). They are simply heart meltingly great live (I’ve had the privilege - and it really is a privilege - of seeing them three times so far) and if you’re anywhere near any of the venues that they’re playing I seriously suggest that you go see ‘’ll thank me...promise...cross my heart...

6 Jun 2010 The Haymakers, Chesterton, Cambridge
7 Jun 2010 Puppet Theatre, Norwich, Norfolk
8 Jun 2010 Band on the Wall, Manchester
9 Jun 2010 The Library, Leeds
10 Jun 2010 Glee Club, Birmingham
11 Jun 2010 Buffalo Bar, Cardiff
19 Jun 2010 West Hill Hall, Brighton
16 Jul 2010 Positivus Festival, Riga, LATVIA
31 Jul 2010 Sommerfesten, Giske, NORWAY

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster/ Bad For Lazurus / Black Fangs @ The Hare and Hounds, Wednesday 2nd June 2010

Imagine having the top of your head lopped off, your brains scooped out with one of those ice cream scoops, placed carefully on the floor, battered with a series of blunt objects, then carefully put back in your skull again...that’s pretty much what tonight’s gig was like.

I’ve been meaning to catch Black Fangs for ages. Rising from the ashes of The Indigos (who I really rated) the band once again features lead vocalist Ian’s (or Baron Von Fang as he now prefers to be known) throaty roar set against pounding, sometimes tribalistic, drums to create classic, high octane rock n’roll with enough raw energy to power a hot rod. Sabbath-y riffs clash angrily with a garage rock feel (Black Garage perhaps?) to produce the sort of sound that makes good girls turn bad and bad might be reading this. From ‘I’m a Crow’s’ menacing swagger through to the heads down 100mph danceathon groove of ‘Vampire Boogie’ Black Fangs delivered. The wait was worth it.

Combining rockabilly, R&B Bad For Lazarus sound an odd proposition on paper. Funnily enough they’re a pretty odd proposition in reality too. Introduced by a dude who got our attention by bashing the side of his head in with the mic Bad for Lazarus didn’t so much hit the stage as destroy it. It’s difficult to judge how many people are in the band, given the flailing limbs and all the thrashing about...I’d guess anything between 5 and 68. My sight was partially obscured by an eyeful of warm lager too, kindly gobbed out into the crowd by one of their guitarists...hell, I’m sure it’s good for the skin. Pick of the set, and current release (or should that be escape?) ‘Old Rats On A New Ship’s’ bar room boogie rattled along at decent pace, other tracks (you want names, god, wrong gig for that) were blasted out like sonic 12 bore. After the lead singer flung himself (literally) into the crowd the lager gobbing guitarist climbed the speaker stack and cracked off a few cheeky riffs before descending, striding to the front of the stage, then swinging his guitar over his head like a lasso, coming within two or three nanometres of the audiences craniums. Eventually he either released it or something gave way and it crashed to the floor emitting painful yelps of feedback. Bad For Lazarus...good for music.

Finally Buddhist garage gothabilly nut jobs (and I mean that in the nicest possible way) The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster. The last time I saw this lot I unwisely took part in some fairly (for me anyway) energetic moshing that resulted in a bruise the size of small town on my leg. It’s hard to resist getting stuck in though, especially when their Shaun of the Dead featured track ‘Mister Mental’ gets going. Whilst they’ve lost one of their number to Nine Inch Nails (the band that is, he’s not had a nasty accident at B&Q) they’ve not lost their frenetic energy and, once more, a small but dedicated part of the crowd swiftly became a mass of sweaty bodies all intent on mashing seven flavours of shit out of each other. Guy began the set by kicking a small collection of drinks that a few people had unwisely rested on the front of the stage “They shouldn’t be on there” he muttered as shards of glass hit the deck. That was pretty much the only thing he said all night, content instead to yell his way through the set like a demented preacher. That, by the way, is a very good thing kids. ‘Mister Mental’, ‘In the Garden’, ‘Psychosis Safari’ kept coming with a Cramp-tastic fury, Guy launching himself into and through the crowd like an explorer hacking his way through the jungle. At other times he did that ‘thousand yard stare’ of his, looking for all the world like someone who’s waiting for a bus, which makes the sudden vocal explosions all the more effective. At one point one of the moshers limped off out of the room. I saw him as I left, a broken man. The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster can do that to you, I have the scars to prove it. They may not have got the fame and fortune that some had predicted or, arguably that they deserve, but the story ain’t over yet. With a new album ready to (rock and) roll, and a grim determination to keep spreading the word you’d be...ahem...Mister Mental to write them off.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Back to the eighties...

Tonight. The Hare & Hounds. The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster...Bad For Lazarus...Black's gonna get messy.

Villagers / John Fell @ The Glee Club, Birmingham, Tuesday 1st June 2010

Whilst the name may conjure up an image of a huge band of angry country folk waving pitchforks and burning huge phallic symbols made of straw Villagers is, essentially, just one bloke, Conor J. O’Brien. Attracting gushing reviews for his/their debut album, earning comparisons with such greats as Laughing Lenny Cohen, Elliot Smith and king of the cabin blues Bon Iver, he’s got himself well and truly stuck on the tastemakers ‘ones to watch’ lists. First up tonight though someone who’s in a band that’s well and truly on my own personal ‘ones to watch’ list (smooth link eh...I should be on local news), it’s John Fell from Goodnight Lenin. For those of you not in the know the Lenin follow in the grand tradition of bands like Simon & Garfunkel or CSN&Y and their three part harmonies are just a joy to listen to. As a solo artist John’s got plenty to offer though, with a clear, confident vocal and a warm, natural style of performing that puts audiences at ease from the very first note (and that’s an all too rare skill). Tonight he played one or two Lenin tracks plus a few solo numbers including ‘Blame Me Accordingly’ and ‘Into The Storm’ which combine a Dylan-esque way with words with a fine ear for a melody. One of the highlights of the set was an unfinished number, a real work in progress. John gave us all fair warning that it was unfinished and urged us just to clap when the words ran out (which we did). It’s not often that you get artists with the cojones to just get up there and give us a sneaky peak into their lyrical sketchpads, it’s this confidence and unquenchable creative spark that makes Goodnight Lenin such an exciting prospect...

After bidding goodnight to one of Goodnight Lenin it was time to say hello to the one and only Villagers. Like I say ‘they’ (as I understand it) are really a ‘he’ (in the studio at least) but tonight he was backed by four other dudes (none of whom had pitchforks or huge straw phalluses thankfully). From opening track ‘The Meaning of the Ritual’ though to the closing encore of ‘Sunlit Stage’ it’s fair to say that Villagers pretty much blew the socks off most of the audience (I’ve rarely seen a standing ovation in The Glee Club like we had tonight). Why? It’s the whole package. Vocally Conor puts his heart and soul into every last syllable. Musically you’ve got the sort of slow burning intensity that Radiohead made their own (there are echoes of Fleet Foxes and Eels in the mix too) and lyrically there’s enough to keep Sigmund Freud awake for a month. Set highlight (and recent single) ‘Becoming a Jackel’ seems to be a brutally honest expression of Conor’s relationship with his audience (“Before you take this song as truth, you should wonder what I’m taking from you, how I benefit from you being here, lending me your ears, while I’m selling you my fears”). Hmmm. The audience as unwitting therapists? The stage as couch? Maybe I’ve got the wrong end of the stick but that seems to be the message. Of course there’s nothing new in artists packaging up human misery and flogging it back to us but not many have the balls to be so upfront about it. Speaking of being upfront, hot on the heels of ‘Jackel’ came arguably the most arresting track of the night, ‘Pieces’, which began as a half whispered lament before Conor started howling (literally, full on ‘American Werewolf in London’ style howling) like a wounded animal...which was, albeit it metaphorically, the whole point of the song I guess. It’s a little like watching someone have a nervous breakdown in front of you and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one shuffling slightly nervously in my seat (not least because I feared Conor might try cocking his leg up me). These moments of emotional intensity continued, unabated, throughout the set (with Conor frequently pulling back from the mic, possibly out of a fear that his vocals might blow something expensive in the mixing desk). After helpfully introducing one track ‘Pact’ (a jaunty number featuring the refrain “You be the master, I’ll be your fever”) with the words “This is Pact...I...have nothing to say about it” (after reading interviews with Conor it’s clear he’s happier just letting the songs do the talking), another high point, ‘I Saw The Dead’, gave us the kind of rich wordplay that could rival, say, the works of Jacques Brel in terms of its grimly imaginative view of the world. Powerful stuff. As the converted crowded round the merch desk at the end of the night it's clear that, for once, the tastemakers seem to have got it right...‘ones to watch’.

Head over to my other home at Gig Junkies in a day or two for pictures from Mr Wayne Fox Esq too...

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

‘Welder’ - Elizabeth Cook

Rising country star Elizabeth Cook’s father actually was a welder, a trade he picked up whilst doing time in a penitentiary for selling moonshine. Jeez, how much more country can you get? Well she’s got 11 half brothers and sisters too and she cut her teeth on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry...hell that’s about as country as anyone on the planet. Of course that could be a problem for a lot of potential listeners. Country music is something you either love or hate right? It’s like folk, most people refuse to see past the word, neatly shutting themselves off from a rich vein of material that’s got as much to offer as any other genre. If you’re a lover of country the chances are that you’ll fall for 'Welder'(Elizabeth’s fifth album) on the first listen. Vocally there’s more than a touch of the undisputed queen of country herself, Miss Dolly Parton, whilst lyrically and thematically (like most of the best country albums) it’s anything but easy listening in places. Just take a look at some of the song titles...‘Heroin Addict Sister’ and ‘Mama’s Funeral’ for instance...that’s just pure country gold. And, more than anything else, that’s why non country lovers should give this album a spin too. Cook doesn’t just wear her heart on her sleeve, she wears her soul, libido (just cop a listen to ‘Yes to Booty’), hopes and fears on there as well, making this as honest and emotional an album as you’re likely to hear this year.

Producer Don Was has wisely embraced his inner country and lets the pureness of the music shine through, ably played by a crack team of musicians who got the material down in a week keeping everything sounding as fresh as a daisy (duke). If you fancy dipping your toe in have a listen to my picks from the album first ‘All the Time’ (a rollicking hoedown of a track that’s as good as country gets), the rockier (with shades of Shania Twain’s 'That Don’t Impress Me Much') ‘El Camino’ and the aforementioned ‘Heroin Addict Sister’ (a heartbreaking but honest account of one of Cook’s sister’s battles with the ‘devil’s DNA’). The stripped back ‘Follow You Like Smoke’ is an intriguing proposition too, coming off like the kind of track (lyrically at least) that you could imagine Depeche Mode covering. Now there’s a thought. We’ve had Johnny Cash doing country tinged version of rock tracks, how about turning the tables eh? Whether Gahan and co ever get to grips with Cook’s new one or not, you should. At a time when many musicians are all too keen to shy away from anything that might endanger that all important Pepsi deal it’s good to hear someone who’s still willing to put it all out there.

‘Welder’ is out 14th June 2010 on Proper Records and Elizabeth herself is on tour in the UK throughout July.