Friday, July 30, 2010

Goodnight Lenin - 'Crook In The Creek'

Goodnight Lenin - Crook In The Creek from Prime Objective on Vimeo.

I LOVE THIS! As a taster for their single launch next Friday (6th August) at the Hare and Hounds, Hearing Aid favourites Goodnight Lenin have released the accompanying video...and what a blast of summer fun it is. Featuring the band hamming it up in the woods it's the kind of video that makes you want to rip off your clothes and go skinny dipping in the local pond. As we don't have one round here I'll have to content myself with a bucket of water round the back of Neelam's Kebab House...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sing a long a Gong

Chances are that if you’re under 50 you might not have a clue who the hell Gong are. Actually if you’re over 50 you might not either, what with all the mind altering drugs you were no doubt scoffing down, snorting or inhaling whilst listening to their stuff. Yep, back in the 70’s Gong were clearly the go to guys if you wanted your doors of perception. Trance music (years before it became all trendy), psychedelic freak outs, people dressing up as spacemen and a strange obsession with tea were all part of the package. Fast forward the odd decade or three and the band (now justifiably elevated to legendary status) is still at it. Their HMV Institute gig (September 20th) reunites many of the members from the classic line up, including founding Gong head Daevid Allen and Steve Hillage (ex-System 7 dude) in what promises to be a mind melting evening of space rock madness (if you’re a fan of Zappa, Sun Ra or Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd you’ll love it). Turn on, tune in and drop by. Tickets are on sale now through Ticket Web.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Who's in da house?

Okay, here's something a little bit different for you but trust me on this one, it's going to be great. Regular readers will recall me bigging up Jodi Anne Bickley's spoken word performances at Mostly Jazz recently, well, this weekend you've got a chance to see her for yourself along with a good half dozen of our finest local poets, rappers, musicians and storytellers including Birmingham's very own wizard of words Polarbear.

It's all happening 'al fresco' at the all new Midlands Arts Centre (don't worry about the weather, I've sorted it) this Saturday (31st July). Be there or be a very square bear indeed.

Chapel Club / Dead Lights / Victories at Sea @ Off The Cuff Festival @ The Flapper, Friday 23rd July 2010

Considering the musical talent that exists here in Birmingham, not to mention the fact that we are, I believe (demographically speaking), Europe’s ‘youngest city’ it’s pretty piss poor that we don’t have music festivals coming out of our ears. There are some notable exceptions of course. Both Moseley Folk and now Mostly Jazz do a grand job at showcasing the best in their respective genres and Soweto Kinch’s Flyover Show is nothing short of a national treasure. To this list we can add ‘Off The Cuff’. For some reason I missed last year’s event altogether, but it’s clear that, out of the somewhat barren festival wasteland that is our fair city, something’s stirring. I’m sure reviews for days two and three will appear all over the shop, but day (or night) one produced a fine trio of performances, the undisputed highlight of which was Victories At Sea. Would someone please put me out of my misery and tell me what other bands their lead singer has been in? I’m sure I know his face but I’m damned if I can remember where from. Gah! Anyway, this was their first gig and I can confidently pronounce (you know me, I’m not given to hyperbole, not much, well... a bit...) that they could well become one of the best bands in Birmingham. Oh yes. Alternating between brooding intensity and break out thrashiness (I kept thinking of Joy Division slugging it out with The Twilight Sad at an Interpol gig) their lead singer (you know, the one who I can’t remember) actually seemed to be living the words as he sang them. There are plenty of great vocalists out there but he just seemed to have that edge somehow, one track in particular (it might have been called Ripples, but then again it might not) stood out as something special. His minor frustration at the odd technical hitches (I must say I didn’t really notice any) only went to reinforce the fact this gig really, and I mean REALLY, seemed to matter to them. There's no music on their MySpace page yet so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Tonight the victory was all theirs.

Next up Dead Lights. There’s a vaguely Kasabian-ish feel to some of their tracks that you could imagine going down well at a festival 1000 times bigger than Off The Cuff is right now. There was one track when two of the band sang an octave or two higher than the lead vocalist which was, quite literally, music to my ears. Pick of the set was ‘The Rise and Fall Of...’ with some fine dirty, scuzzy guitars acting as an unmade bed for some naggingly catchy sing song lyrics.

Finally, and making their second Flapper appearance of the year, rising indie darlings Chapel Club. Perhaps unfairly compared to The Smiths when they first hit our earlobes they do, never the less, have that kind of melodramatic 80’s feel to a lot of their tracks, which, having been a melodramatic teen in the 80’s suits me just fine. Lead singer Lewis is blessed with a ‘come to bed’ voice which, combined with the woozy guitars on tracks like ‘Bodies’ could make a young man come over all peculiar (lucky old Peculiar eh?). Elsewhere, and often coming as a bit of a shock after the quieter moments, you’re slapped senseless by a wailing wall of guitars. It’s an intoxicating mix, much better appreciated live than on their recorded output to date. When they put their mind to it they’re capable of some killer choruses too. Both the opening track from tonight’s set, the Mama and Papa’s referencing ‘Surfacing’ and ‘Five Trees’ claw their way into your brain and refuse to leave. Elsewhere shoes were well and truly gazed at, especially in new song ‘The Shore’ which Lewis tipped as being more of an indication of what their debut album will sound like. For me though it was still their brooding breakthrough song, ‘O Maybe I’ that really quickened the pulse this evening, the spirit of Morrissey literally dripping from every word.

Of course it’s still early days (is this the second or third Off The Cuff?) but this is exactly the kind of new music festival that Birmingham’s been screaming out for. How about making it more than just an annual bash, with an Autumn/Winter version too perhaps? I’m hoping it might also inspire others to try something similar, I think the whole thing pretty much sold out so there’s clearly the demand out there. Who’s up for it eh?

Friday, July 23, 2010

William Control/Octane Ok/Elmo Sexwhistle/Obscure Pleasures @ The Flapper, Thursday 22nd July 2010

William Control "I'm Only Human Sometimes" Music Video
Uploaded by VictoryRecords. - Explore more music videos.

Sweat, love and rock n’roll. Tonight’s gig, headlined by a certain William Control(aka Wil from Seattle Alt Rock legends Aiden), had it all. First up though a trio of local support bands spearheaded by Obscure Pleasures who elected to do an acoustic set. Thanks to some minor mistiming on my part I arrived a little late, but managed to catch most of their splendid cover of Cash’s cover (that’s a cover of a cover then) of NIN’s ‘Hurt’. This, seemingly, was their first show and judging by the snippet of music on their MySpace page their ‘real’ sound is going to be a lot more synthy. Being a synthy kind of guy I’m intrigued to see how this develops.

Next up the delightfully named Elmo Sexwhistle (sounds like a character from some sort of fucked up Bugs Bunny cartoon...“shag the wabbit, shag the wabbit...”). Some of the girls at the front of the stage took a shine to the bass player’s hair (to be fair it was/is awesome) and he obligingly let them cop a feel. If this band thing doesn’t work out I reckon he could make a fortune with his own range of conditioner. Now there’s an idea, a range of Elmo Sexwhistle hair products “Sexwhistle...because you’re worth it”. Er...anyway...musically they’re a synth prog rock outfit with a fine line in bombastic tunes (think NIN meets Muse at a Duran Duran concert), the pick of which was ‘Genderfuck’ (cue several teenage girls in the front repeating the word over and over again in broad Brummie accents “Genderfooooook”). An anti homophobia anthem it was prefaced by lead singer Xander’s promotion of Love Music Hate Homophobia (a similar deal to the Love Music Hate Racism movement) something which I’m only too happy to promote here as well. This was the first time I’d seen the Sexwhistle and they really grew on me as the set went on. Well worth a listen.

The penultimate band of the night, Octane Ok, gave arguably the most enthusiastic and polished performance (you can just tell they’ve put in plenty of time gigging) with enough energy to power a small town and plenty of thrashing about. I do love a good thrashing. They’ve got an impressive set of self penned ‘hands in the air’ rock tracks too and, judging by the number of people singing along to every word, they’re clearly winning over their fair share of fans. Heavy enough to please the rock crowd but poppy enough to have more of a widespread appeal (just listen to new single 'Take Take' to see what I mean) they might just have what it takes to go places.

Finally – and if Marilyn Manson is the ‘God of Fuck’ then this dude deserves the moniker of God of What The Fuck – it’s William Control. I profess to having very little knowledge of Wil or Aiden (yes, I know, I’m ‘lame’) before tonight’s gig but, having watched a fair few William Control vids on You Tube recently I was sufficiently attracted by his nihilistic brand of synth goth to drag my similarly nihilistic self along for some mutual misery (it really does love company you know). In much the same way as Soft Cell and Depeche Mode (William Control’s spiritual granddads) were, our Wil is clearly obsessed with the sleazy side of life, the dangerous, erotic, messed up world that’s going on right under our noses. Take the uncut video for ‘I’m Only Human Sometimes’ for example, featuring the odd bit of bondage, group sex, drug taking and the removal of one of Wil’s vital organs. How does all this sleaze translate in a live environment, albeit the cellar of the Flapper (the perfect place for a bit of mild S&M)? Well, given Wil’s penchant for getting up close and personal with his fans, it rapidly became less of a gig and more of a musical orgy. In fact I’ve seldom seen someone spend less time on the stage and, for large portions of the set, he was buried amongst a sea of moist teenage flesh, pawing away at his equally moist (but slightly older) body. That was part of the charm of tonight’s gig though, singer and audience getting deep down and dirty together with none of the bullshit barriers (literal and metaphorical)that often stand in the way. ‘Beautiful Loser’ and ‘I’m Only Human Sometimes’, a pair of pounding synth driven self hate anthems stood out as particular highlights tonight, with Wil spitting out the bile flecked lyrics straight into the ears of the faithful. ‘Why Dance With The Devil When You Have Me’ (in which Wil names some of his favourite things...LSD, Cocaine, sodomy that sort of thing...I think Julie Andrews should cover it) also hit the spot. Coming off like a twisted disco number it gave Wil another chance to camp it up with the crowd. After the gig he happily mingled with anyone who hadn’t already got up close and personal with him. He liked my ‘tache (he’s sporting one himself now) and I sensed some chemistry between us but there was a queue behind me so, sadly, I didn’t get the chance to snort coke off a stripper's inner thigh with him. Oh well, maybe next time.

PS: I've uploaded the X rated version of the 'I'm Only Human Sometimes' video above this review for your delectation and delight. Enjoy.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Soil and Pimp Sessions @ The Hare & Hounds, Wednesday 21st July 2010

Wow. Now that’s how you put on a show. The hardest working man in show business (Mr James Brown esq) may be dead and buried but, ladies and gentleman, I think we have some contenders for the hardest working MEN in show business. Despite sounding like the sort of ‘services’ offered on those postcards you get on phone booths in London, Soil and Pimp Sessions are actually an ultra cool Japanese ‘Death Jazz’ outfit. Yep, ‘Death Jazz’. I know, a genre for every occasion these days right? Just as you’re scattering some dirt on your loved ones up pops this lot with a brain scrambling rendition of 'Papa's Got a Brand New Pigbag'...

There are six of them altogether, at the eye of storm is Shacho (the ‘agitator’) whose job it is to make sure that we whoop and holler, not that we needed much encouragement. This is jazz for speed freaks, ravers, fruitcakes and loons...and all the better for it. It’s jazz Jim but not as we know it. It’s Miles Davies on MDMA, loud, thrashy and...well...‘pimped up’ I guess. Within minutes of starting the set (relentlessly energetic despite the heat) band and audience were one big sweaty mess. “This is much humid” observed Shacho as the show progressed. Any encroaching moistness in the...ahem...nether regions was more than worth it though.

Each member of the band is clearly a star in their own right and happily they were all given the opportunity to do a cheeky little solo, just in case we still weren’t convinced of their collective talent. Tabu (trumpet) in particular spent most of the set leaning out over the audience coaxing a phenomenal sound from what looked like a fairly battered instrument. Midorin (drums) delivered the kind of solo you’d expect from a top flight rock drummer and his duel with Motoharu (sax) was inspired. Never seen a sax do battle with drums before, but it worked. Who haven’t I mentioned? Oh yeah, Josei (keyboards) was slightly out of my field of view (I was jammed up against a speaker) but he played like a man with more than his fair share of arms. Last but by no means least there’s Akita (double bass). It can’t be easy rocking out with an instrument that’s bigger than you but he well and truly bashed it into submission, at one point slapping the strings with such a fury that I feared he might lose a digit or two.

Throughout all this mayhem Shacho acted as ringmaster, whipping the audience into the sort of frenzy that’s normally reserved for lottery winners while the rest of the band exploded like space dust in our ears. After an hour and a half they left the stage to rapturous applause (I’ve seldom heard anything like it in 20 years of gig going) and the chants for an encore went on for a good 5 minutes or so. But they were done. When you’ve given 100% there can’t be anything left can there? Arigatou! Arigatou! Arigatou!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Amanda Palmer sings Radiohead

Yes, my favourite cabaret queen Amanda 'Fucking' Palmer has just released 7 ukelele covers of Radiohead's finest. Seriously. You couldn't make it up could you? Ukelele...Radiohead...why the hell not eh? As part of her ongoing mish to make money through music without the help of 'the man' she pressed 1000 copies of the record on vinyl, painted some ukes, made t-shirts etc etc etc. Predictably, given her dedicated fanbase, it all sold out in minutes. You can still download the tracks though for a mere 84 cents (that's how much Amanda has to pay the 'head for each download seemingly). Amazingly the tracks actually seem to work above and beyond the novelty value. Idioteque (accompanied by some sparse piano) in particular is a winner. Cop a listen and judge for yourself.

PS: Cheers to Mr Andy Watson esq for the (Radio)heads up on this one.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mighty Mighty @ Warley Wood’s Picnic in the Park, Sunday 18th July 2010

Despite living in Bearwood for roughly 128 years this is only the second ‘Picnic in the Park’ I’ve been to. Predictably I had very little luck on the tombola (I just couldn’t win that ancient bottle of Lambrini...despite spending the equivalent of a month’s salary on tickets) but I did get to enjoy watching guest compĂ©re Stuart Maconie (I think he lives round these parts) wax lyrical about a missing black handbag and the obligatory dog show. Highlight of the afternoon though was a gig by cult C86 band ‘Mighty Mighty’.

Before last week I’d never heard of them but after a little digging around I discovered they’d featured on NME’s genre defining ‘C86’ album (alongside early offerings from Primal Scream, The Wedding Present, Half Man Half Biscuit, The Mighty Lemon Drops and Fuzzbox). It turns out that at least one of the band live in the ‘wood and, after coming out of retirement recently to perform at last year’s Indietracks Festival, they stepped up to headline this Picnic thingy. Musically there are touches of The Housemartins, CUD, The Smiths and The Inspiral Carpets, in other words top notch jingly jangly indie pop. The lead singer had a few vocal difficulties towards the end of the set but, considering they’ve barely played together for the odd quarter of a century or so, it was a darn fine performance. If you even have a passing interest in the birth of Indie music I can highly recommend their back catalogue, most of which you can hear on You Tube. Click on the video below for my personal favourite ‘Everybody Knows the Monkey’.

PS: Congratulations to Warley Woods Community Trust who put the whole thing on (and who do a frankly awesome job of looking after the woods) and a big thank you to all the other bands who played. In the space of four hours, in amongst their self penned stuff, I heard cover versions of REM, Bowie, Steve Harley, Martha and the Muffins, Pink Floyd's what Sunday's were invented for.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Gigs a go go

Boy oh boy there’s a whole heap of great gigs on next week here in officially ‘The Cosmos Of Culture’ (get behind it people). I’m just scratching the surface here but Wednesday night sees Earth, Wind and Fire at the NIA, clashing with Soil & Pimp Sessions at the Hare & Hounds. Disco Funk or Death Jazz? It’s a tough call. Maybe we could get them both together?

Thursday you’ve got William Control (Wil from Aiden’s side project...he seems like a nice young man) at The Flapper. Goth Synth insanity with a side helping of self loathing.

Then, on Friday , Saturday and Sunday you’ve got the inaugural ‘Off The Cuff Festival' (again at The Flapper) featuring such delights as Chapel Club, 35 Seconds (recently voted Birmingham’s band of the noughties), Pulled Apart By Horses (now that’s a nasty way to go, nearly as bad as being fisted by Meerkats) and Malpas.

First Aid Kit / Goodnight Lenin / Mr Bones and The Dreamers @ The Hare and Hounds, Thursday 15th July 2010

After predictably failing to win ‘City of Culture’ I begin this review with a plea to whoever’s in charge of such things in Birmingham (that Martin Mullarky bloke I think). Bollocks to it all. Let’s just announce that Birmingham is ‘The World Capital of Culture 2012’. No, scrap that, let’s make Birmingham ‘The Cosmos of Culture 2012’. It’s as meaningless as ‘City of Culture’ and no one can do a damn thing about it. Ain’t marketing easy eh?

I’ve caught Mr Bones and the Dreamers quite a few times over the past few years (oooh that makes them sound like a disease doesn’t it?) and, as someone who likes the dark side of life, I’m rather attracted to their somewhat death obsessed tracks. More death songs that’s what I say. The world’s far too cheerful these days. Come on Cheryl, let’s have an album of songs about your recent brush with the grim reaper (or Simon as he’s known to his friends). ‘Bite For This Love’ anyone? Anyway, back to Mr B and the D. Once again lead Dreamer Kieren was on fine form, his voice recalling a mix of Morrissey and Anthony (with or without the Johnsons). “We’re going to keep this set nice and light for a change” he announced, before doing precisely the opposite. In amongst the misery there are some fine Arcade Fire style anthemic bits, the pick of which was their rather ace final track (‘Shapes in the Snow’ I think it was called), which saw Kieren ending up singing unplugged (and rather movingly) at the front of the stage. A bona performance.

It’s pant wettingly great to see that the Goodnight Lenin buzz is building nicely in advance of their debut single and forthcoming Bestival appearance. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen them this year (Maths was never my strong point) but every show’s still a treat. Tonight they mixed the set up a little more to keep things fresh (John added a headband for good measure too), as much for themselves as for the rest of us regulars I think, and I got the sense that now they’re really itching to get out there in the wider world to do their thang. I’d love to see them on that Later programme with Uncle Jools. They need (and deserve) that one big break and, more importantly, they’re ready for it. To back up this bold claim the holy trinity of Lenin tunes (‘WenceslasSquare’, ‘Ragged Schools’ and ‘Crook In The Creek’) were all given fine renditions this evening, Crook in particular (the debut single) got a huge roar of approval. The easy banter, such a key ingredient in their shows, flowed like Thunderbird wine and I could’ve watched and listened to them all night. The single launch is on August 6th at the Hare & Hounds and the record itself (7 inch vinyl...classy) is being released on legendary local label Static Caravan.

Finally, and after a memorable performance in the Rainbow earlier on this year I was looking forward to a second dose (that makes them sound like some kind of VD now...good grief...I'm getting worse at this), it’s Swedish country folk sisters First Aid Kit. Originally discovered (so the story goes) after posting a clip of themselves sitting in the forest singing a cover version of Fleet Foxes ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’ on You Tube, they were plucked from the log on which they perched and thrust into the big, bad music biz. You couldn’t make it up could you? Well you could, but I don’t think they have (here’s the original clip if you don’t believe me).

Taking a steer from the Lenin Lads, Klara and Johanna spent a fair part of the set chatting away to the audience, convincing us to engage in a little false laughter just to make them feel better if one of their improvised funny bits failed to raise a titter. They’ve got that kind of awkward confidence that a lot of teenage girls have and somehow it’s all sweet and adorable without being ‘punch you in the head’ annoying. Clearly in thrall to the American country folk scene they’re blessed with incredibly pure, powerful voices and a knack for penning the kind of tracks that show them off to their full potential (it can’t be easy incorporating some mild yodelling into songs these days without sounding like a loon but they manage it). Just like their last gig the highlight was their acoustic version of ‘Ghost Town’, no mics, no amps, no bullshit. As the girls themselves sang on another of the set’s standout tracks, ‘Hard Believer’ “it’s beaaaautifuuuuuul”. I couldn’t agree more.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Sisters are doing it...

Okay, so it's late notice but what else were you planning to do tonight eh? A nice jigsaw? Some satanic worship? A little light bestiality? Scrap all that (I always save my bestiality for a Friday). Tonight the Hare and Hounds plays host to hotly tipped Swedish folk sisters First Aid Kit (I loved their Rainbow gig earlier this year), supported by Goodnight Lenin and, as if that weren't enough to prise you away from fondling Tiddles, Mr Bones and the Dreamers! The fun starts at 8pm and ends when I say so (that'll be 9.15 then...I need my beauty sleep).

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Constellations - 'Felicia'

Not sure how new this track is but it's new to me and that's what counts around here. Oh yes. Hotly tipped by The Hearing Aid's Ohio correspondent (Mr Bobby Dazzler) it's a little bit Beck, a little bit Outcast and a little bit Kelis. If that sounds like a little bit of an odd mix, well, maybe it is but it works. Recently signed by Virgin they've got a new album out now (Southern Gothic) so if you like a bit of 'Felicia' (steady now...)hip hop on over to their MySpace page for a listen.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Top Tracks # 19 - Belle and Sebastian 'Seeing Other People

This song's been going round and round in my head for a week or so now. No idea why. From way back in 1996 it's from the second B&S album 'If You're Feeling Sinister' and it is, quite simply, one of the best examples of piano pop you're ever likely to hear. Lush.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Bill Kirchen ‘Word To The Wise’

Dieselbilly (a mix of country, blues, rockabilly and the odd truck driving song) legend Bill Kirchen follows up 2007's ‘Hammer of the Honky Tonk Gods’ with ‘Word to the Wise’. Kicking off with the twangtastic live life while you still can opener ‘Bump Wood’ Bill quickly reveals a dry sense of humour (the bumping wood bit refers to the noise your elbows would make when you’re lying in your wooden overcoat). It’s an opener that puts you straight at ease drawing you in the rest of the album like a moth to a flame. Bill’s called in a few friends along the way to help him out. ‘Man in the Bottom of the Well’ makes great use of Elvis Costello’s distinctive vocals whilst Merle Haggard’s ‘Shelley’s Winter Love’ unites Nick Lowe and Paul Carrack for a tear jerking duet in the finest country tradition. The slow burning, bluesy ‘Time Will Tell The Story’ is another instant highlight, employing a subtle gospel feel that neatly underpins its subject matter of industrial and economic decline that’s currently driving large sections of the western world to mutter the odd prayer or two. A smile’s never far away on this album though and ‘Word to the Wise’ (featuring some fine scatting from Dan Hicks) is a good vibes, if you can’t say nothin’ good, don’t say nothin’ at all track that rattles along nicely before ‘Ain’t Got Time for the Blues‘ (can there be anything more blues than not having time for the blues?) conjures up smoky late night bars and that feeling of one more for the road (echoes of ‘Georgia On My Mind’ there too if I’m not much mistaken). Word to the wise...if you like your honky tonk, country and blues this album’s well worth seeking out.

‘Word To The Wise’ is out 19th July 2010 on Proper Records

Polly and the Billets Doux / Adelaide’s Cape / Dan Whitehouse @ The Hare and Hounds, Monday 5th July 2010

There’s something about intimate gigs that really appeals to me. Whilst some people love being part of a crowd of 20,000 in a stadium I can think of nothing worse. So tonight’s show, in the cosy setting of the Hare and Hounds smaller upstairs venue (for the uninitiated the Hare and Hounds is a cool boozer in the Birmingham suburb of Kings Heath), was right up my street. Thanks to the wonders of West Midlands Travel (and an early kick off) we arrived as opener Dan Whitehouse was in full flow. A fine singer / songwriter with a refreshingly modest air and some really strong songs I’ve seen Dan several times recently and he never puts in less than 100%. Despite a ‘select’ crowd tonight was no different and the emotional intensity that’s a key part of his performance was as much in evidence as ever. ‘Somewhere I Don’t Want To Go’ (one of his best songs to date) was particularly striking this evening. Total belief in your lyrics...every single what it’s all about when it comes to a convincing performance and that’s just what you get with Dan. I had the pleasure of a brief chat with him afterwards (we’d met before but several years ago) and a nicer, more genuine bloke you couldn’t wish to meet. Trust me, whenever you see his name on a bill you’ll know you won’t be disappointed.

Next up Adelaide’s Cape who’s ‘Last Sleep in Albion’ EP I recently gave the big thumbs up to. Although just 20 years old Sam Taylor (the dude behind the Cape) is blessed with one of those voices that sounds like it belongs to someone who has really lived. In fact I’m pretty sure he could sing the ‘phone book and make it mean something. Almost uncomfortably emotional at times he recalls the vocal fragility of Nick Drake (a slight cracking at the end of some of the words) and the intricate guitar playing of Davy Graham which ain’t a bad package eh? Tonight’s seven song set included a couple of top notch covers of Richard Thompson’s ‘Vincent Black Lightening and Nick Drake’s ‘Black Eyed Dog’, the latter being a particularly brave choice as it’s such an iconic song. Sam embellishes the song beautifully with his dobro (that’s a guitar with a steel resonator...see educational as well as entertaining....I should get a lottery grant or something) whilst still retaining the intensity of the original. Next to such esteemed lyricists Sam’s self penned material stands up really well, notably tonight ‘With This Regret’ and ‘Anchored Down’ were particular highlights.

Last up Polly and the Billets Doux. That’s French for love letter isn’t it? Dead cultured me. Whipping up an instantly infectious mix of jazz, rockabilly, rock n’roll and blues Polly and co are as much fun as you can have on Monday night with your clothes on (and I’ve had some pretty funky Monday nights let me tell you). From the deep south Bayoux shuffler of 'Head of Steam' through to the rockabilly call and response of ‘Follow My Feet’ the whole set oozed retro cool. Polly's blessed with a beautiful, adaptable vocal, capable of belting it out when she needs to or keeping it sultry and smoky on some of the slower numbers. Taking a delightfully informal approach to the whole show thing (tonight this included making up the set list as they went along and chatting to the audience) it felt more like sitting round with your mates than a formal gig. And that, for me, is a very special thing. Equally delightfully, just when you think you’ve got the band pigeonholed as one thing, they go and do something different. Witness Polly’s impromptu cover of Pump Up The Jam (she also does Mr Boombastic and House Of Pain apparently) and Dan and Steeny’s cover of a track called ‘Silver and Gold’. Tonight's gig was simply a joy to watch, listen to and be part of. ‘Doux’ go and see them if you get the chance.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Mostly Jazz @ Moseley Park, Saturday 3rd July and Sunday 4th July 2010

From the good people who bring you the annual ‘Moseley Folk’ shindig here’s a brand new festival, ‘Mostly Jazz’ (see what they did there?). Dedicated to ‘contemporary jazz, funk and soul’ and compared on its first day by Red Dwarf’s Dave Lister, aka 6 Music’s Craig Charles, the bill featured some pretty impressive names from ‘free jazz’ legends The Sun Ra Arkestra through to Courtney Pine, Cymande and Birmingham’s very own Andy Hamilton (now a mere 92 years old). Much like folk and country jazz is one of those ‘marmite’ genres. Without wishing to disappear up my own arse it actually does have its own language, with the instruments replacing the vocals as a mmfmfmm... (sound gets muffled as I vanish up my own sphincter). Okay, you’re right, enough muso bullshit. Day one had a funky vibe kicking off perfectly with Groove Cartel’s summer time sounds (shades of Curtis Mayfield in the mix) and The Getup’s Hammond heavy set, which featured the funkiest version of the Rainbow TV theme of all time. Rumours that Rod, Jane and Freddy were backstage lighting up a phat one couldn’t be confirmed, although I did see Bungle and Zippy downing pints of Hogan’s cider like there was no tomorrow.

Taking a wee break from the funk I tootled over to the spoken word tent and heard some cracking poem’s/raps from Jodi Anne Bickley and Matt Windle. With Gil Scott Heron’s proto-raps of the 70’s clearing hooking up the worlds of jazz and hip hop the addition of a spoken word tent was an inspired idea and it’s a pity more people didn’t get up off their arses to see it. I’m a big admirer of anyone who can put words together well and all of the spoken word artists I saw over the two days had a real talent. If I was in the suggestion making mood, which I am, I’d have liked perhaps some subtle musical accompaniment...a little sax perhaps, but that’s a minor quibble. Birmingham is clearly home to some pretty remarkable street poets and it’s a scene we’re not proud enough of.

Returning to the main stage I caught most of Led Bib’s free jazz/Krautrock crossover (they’d make a great Supersonic band), which well and truly woke up the masses chilling out in the summer sun (good work on the weather there chaps). Led Bib straddle that divide between the all out mentalism of free jazz (which can sound like a bunch of maniacs randomly playing their instruments with no thought to the resulting cacophony) and the more beat reliant rock world. Surprisingly it all works rather well.

Back to the funk with Nick Pride and the Pimptones who cheekily mashed up ODB and Aretha Franklin (not literally, that’s illegal) in the funkiest workout of the weekend. A true match for the Dap Kings. And that’s high praise indeed.

The award for strangest instrument of the weekend goes to one of the guys from Polar Bear who ‘played’ a balloon. It was that kind of set. Formed around the frankly planet sized afro of drummer Seb Roachford (seriously, it looks like an enormous ball of hair is eating his head...brilliant) Polar Bear are billed as ‘post jazz’, which inevitably means an experimental approach to the genre that veers from the distressing to the quite marvellous. Highlight of the set was Drunken Pharoah, which, to be fair sounded exactly like a drunken pharoah.

Back on planet earth James Taylor Quartet are pure Hammond heaven. JT is one of the best Hammond players in the world and he delivered the goods with sizzling versions of Green Onions, Love TKO and the theme from Starsky and Hutch. Being a miserable git I did find the “put your hands in the air”, playing off one side of the crowd against the other routine a little bit wearing and getting the good people of Moseley to sing “Living in the ghetto” convincingly was a little odd, but that’s probably just me.

Having nailed the whole soul thing Quantic (aka Will Holland) upped sticks and relocated to Columbia to try his hand at Latin music. Unsurprisingly he’s mastered that too. As Ian Dury put it, “there ain’t ‘alf been some clever bastards”. With Quantic and his Combo Barbaro, Will Holland’s assembled what amount to a Latin supergroup with legendary keyboard player Alfredo Linares adding that real touch of authenticity. When vocalist Nidia Gongora came on the joy was complete. I defy anyone to stand still when this band gets going. Over a one and a half hour set many of the crowd attempted the salsa (with varying degrees of success) as the sun continued to blaze well into the evening and, for just a brief moment, Mosley Park seemed like some kind of tropical paradise.

Last up, and despite Sun Ra himself retiring to Saturn in 1993 (as you do) his Arkestra’s still going strong. Now under the leadership of Marshall Allen (who’s been with the group since 1958) they play a head spinning form of free jazz. As I’ve already postulated free jazz can sound like nutter strangling a bag full of cats but somehow the Arkestra avoids all out chaos whilst still allowing the individual musicians the chance to...ahem...blow their own trumpets. Dressed in a variety of space age sparkly outfits the band continue to boldly go where no band has gone before (or since) offering up a brain melting mix of cosmic jazz, funk, rap and pure theatre (the break dancing bit at the end was magic). Out front is Marshall himself, now 86 but still able to blow up a storm. Space clearly is THE place.

After a night filled with dreams of aliens wearing tin foil y-fronts (that’s what listening to Sun Ra does for you) day two was a much more chilled out affair. The legend that is Andy Hamilton (92 years young!) eased us all into another remarkably clement afternoon (what no rain...what’s going on?). His performance still retains that sense of playfulness and joy in the music that should give us all hope and the addition of some lovely rich, warm vocals from one of his band, The Blue Notes, made it another memorable set. Then the afternoon went all gypsy jazz for a while, the highlight being The Bright Size Gypsy’s fronted by Simon Harris. In a joyous performance the band invoked the spirit of the great Django Reinhardt , displaying some truly jaw dropping guitar playing. Vocalists Bev Lee and Esther added instant sassiness (think a sexier Puppini Sisters).

Still with me? Good, because next up was the highlight of the weekend , the return of Cymande! Arguably the only truly great British funk band Cymande formed way back in 1971 and disbanded in 1974 after releasing a trio of albums and hitting the charts both here and (in a coals to Newcastle scenario) the US. I picked up a compilation album of theirs on the basis of one track ‘Brothers on the Slide’ (which I’d always assumed was by an American band) and was blown sideways by the quality of the rest of the stuff. Much sampled in the 80’s and 90’s by the likes of De La Soul and The Fugees a new version of the band has now come together (Cymande II), featuring two original members (Sam and Jimmy). They were simply breathtakingly good. As funky as Sly Stone and as tight and driven as James Brown they tore the sky off Moseley raising the slumbering crowd from their Sunday afternoon nap and uniting one and all in a grand funkathon. ‘Bra’ and ‘Brothers on the Slide’ (a menacingly deep funk classic) were worth the ticket price for the entire festival on their own. Both Sam and Jimmy seemed genuinely touched by the reception and noted ruefully that they’d never played Birmingham back in the day, a situation that they were more than happy to rectify today. As Jimmy urged us at the end of the set, “Spread the word”. I’m more than happy to.

Next up Portico Quartet’s chilled out (if sometimes slightly psychotic according to Lady B)grooves took the crowd nicely into the evening as the sun slowly set. Then Sara Colman sang her heart out in a gutsy set featuring a niiiice jazzy version of ‘Stuck In The Middle’ and some of her own self penned songs, pick of the bunch being a cracking track called ‘Get You Gone’.

Finally it’s the Sax Machine himself, Mr Courtney Pine. He’s a legend in the jazz world and you can hear and see why. Peppering the set with positive good vibes chat he performed an astounding continuous three or four minute solo (he seemed to be using that technique that didgeridoo players use where you breath in and out at the same time...yes, I know, a neat trick if you can do it). Piano player Zoe Rahman’s solo during a drum n’bass infused ‘Au Revoir’ was also stunningly good. Putting aside his sax Courtney then picked up a flute and covered Jacko’s ‘Feed the World’ as one or two members of the audience attempted to release those fire balloon thingies. The balloons were obviously enjoying the music too much as most of them stubbornly refused to take flight, preferring instead to nest in people’s hair or a nearby tree. Can’t blame them really. I didn’t want to leave either. Hearty congratulations to Carl, Gerv and the rest of the team for a memorable first, of hopefully many, Mostly Jazz's. Now how about Carmel, Robert Wyatt, Soweto Kinch and Gil Scott Heron for 2011 eh?

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Mostly Jazz...aye carumba!

Day one of year one of the Mostly Jazz Festival was a beautiful thing with more highlights than I could possbly do justice to (in the few minutes I have before I pop off and do it all again for day two). A more thorough review will appear in due course (that's once the Sun Ra Arkestra return my brain that is...boy did I have some strange dreams last night).In the meantime here's a pretty picture of one of the stars of the show from day one, Nidia Gongora, who provided the vocal cherry on top of Will Holland's frankly awesome Combo Barbaro cake.

(PS: Today's bill sees sets from the Portico Quartet, Cymande and Courtney Pine!)

Thursday, July 01, 2010

This is awesome...Visti & Meyland - 'Stars'

It's not often that a track really gets under my skin these days, but this one has. Actually it's less of a single track, more like 3 or 4 all rolled into one. It starts off as a slow and laid back instrumental with vagely Middle Eastern touches, then it speeds up and goes all disco funk with Eurodance plinky plonky Italian House piano and then after nearly 5 and half minutes you get God (well it's either God or Orson Welles) doing some talky bits before it goes as camp as tits...and I do love a bit of camp. My track of the year so far. By a mile. Enjoy.