Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Stereolab ‘ Not Music’

Cool. You’ve either got it or you ain’t. Will Young? Not cool. Neil Young? Cool. Dizzee Rascal? Sorry, not cool. Dizzy Gillespie, ice cold. Stereophonics? Well, have a guess. Stereolab? Oh yes, they’re cool alright. From their sound (a mix of 60’s French pop, spy movie soundtracks, motorik beats and lounge music) to their song titles (‘Lo Boob Oscillator’ anyone?), hell, even their sleeve artwork gives you frostbite.

Following the tragic death of one of their number, Mary Hansen (killed by a truck whilst cycling through London in 2002...not cool) the band’s output has slowed a little and ominously the gap between releases has got a little longer. Their last album, ‘Chemical Chords’, came out in 2008 and the following year their manager pretty much signalled the end of the band with the news that they were taking an indefinite ‘hiatus’. So this new release (which appears to have been recorded at the same time as the last album) could well be their last will and testament. If that’s the case it would be a real shame as ‘Not Music’ generally sees the group on fine form. Opening with an archetypal ‘lab track ‘Everybody’s Weird Except Me’ (female harmonies, vintage keyboards, slightly spaced out percussion) it’s clearly business as unusual. Perhaps that’s the problem though? Maybe after 19 years of creating ultra cool soundtracks to films that don’t exist the band feels its work is done? Certainly there’s an incredibly distinctive Stereolab sound which, if you were feeling critical, you could point out was a little samey after a while. Laititia Sadier’s vocal too, with that sub zero French accent that could make The Birdy Song sound cool, is the very model of understatement. But there are still more than enough musical diversions on this album to keep you engaged. Supah Jaianto for example (see what I mean about those song titles?) features a funky mid song break with pounding drums and tight stabs of brass. Elsewhere the epic Silver Sounds (Emperor Machine Mix)...all 10 minutes 21 seconds of it...sets off on a Krautrock highway to heaven using what could well be synths won from the Human League in a late night game of canasta. Here too there are changes of pace/gear though, with little flourishes (it almost goes Latin at one point) that make you sit up and take notice. Retro yet futuristic it’s the sound of a band that still knows how to have fun, albeit with an arched eyebrow.

Fittingly the album ends with Neon Beanbag (Atlas Sound Mix) a driving dreamy drone featuring fractured female vocals punctuated with some wild oscillating background noise...wheeeohhhhahhhheeee. It’s wilfully obtuse. As leftfield as that field to the left of the field on the far left. And, if it really is the last thing that ever comes out of the ‘lab, I can think of no finer epitaph. Cool.

‘Not Music’ will be released into the ether by Drag City on 16th November 2010.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

My kind of folk...

Next weekend (that’ll be the 3rd, 4th and 5th September then) it’s the Moseley Folk Festival , a truly unique three day bash held in the lovely grounds of Moseley park. Over the years this has become a bit of a favourite of mine thanks to some inspired programming and the kind of feel good vibe that larger festivals have well and truly lost. Amongst the many highlights there’s The Divine Comedy (who’ll no doubt bring ‘Something For The Weekend’) on Friday evening, Goodnight Lenin, High Llamas (in an all too rare outing these days) and Donovan on Saturday and The Destroyers, Samuel Walter and The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (who are just as much fun as they sound...if you don't believe me take a look at the vid below).

At the time of writing I believe there are still a few tickets left but if you want to go I'd recommend getting yours now. I was in Swordfish yesterday and they were going like the proverbial hot cakes...

Peek A Boo-some good

There are many reasons to watch lovely ladies covort around in their underwear and I, for one, am all in favour of the rebirth of burlesque. This week the Hare and Hounds plays host to a new burlesque night that also aims to raise some much needed dosh for a very worthy cause - the new heart unit at Birmingham's Childrens Hospital. Having spent more than a night or two when I was a lad (mainly for head injuries...that explains a lot eh?) I can't praise 'em enough. I'll be Moseley Folk-ing in on the 3rd but if you're not get yourself along. Nipple tassles are a must. Especially if you're a bloke.

Friday, August 27, 2010

I Blame Coco / The Traps @ The Hare & Hounds, Thursday 26th August 2010

Okay. So, there’s an elephant in the room here tonight. Not a real one obviously, how the hell would it get up the stairs eh? I’m going all metaphorical on you. It’s a huge great elephant with a patch of dyed blonde hair and a penchant for making lurve for several weeks at a time. More of that in a moment though. First up it’s The Traps. I like The Traps. Aside from the music, a jolly blend of new wave and rock, they’re one of those bands that have really got off their arses and done something. In their case they’ve set up a record label ‘Speech Fewapy’. Birmingham needs more of this. More labels, more bands, more bloggers...more of everything really...except 99p shops...got far too many of those (What? Are we made of money? 49p shops. Now that's what we need now) Tonight was a polished performance (as you’d expect from a bunch of dudes who run a record label) with plenty of head nodders (tracks that you just can’t resist nodding along to...in my case that makes me look like I’m having a mild stroke, but I’ve got one of those heads). Anyway I urge you to check them and their label out. Aside from releasing their own fine stuff (have a listen to Honey Drip) they’re also releasing tunes by Greg Bird and Flamingo Flame (80’s pop in a bit of a Scritti Politti style) and the deliciously nuts Tom Peel.

Right, on to tonight’s headliner and, first of all let’s send that elephant packing. It can’t be easy trying to make it in the same business that your old fella ruled for a while. Coco’s dad, or Mr Sting as the rest of the world know him, was / is part of one of the most successful bands of all time (their last tour in 2007 took a piggy bank busting $358 million, making it the third highest grossing in history...that’s a nerdy pub quiz fact). But, like many other siblings of HUGE stars (Presley, Lennon, Dylan...er...Stardust), Coco’s taken the plunge anyway. In my book that takes balls. Huge, spiky blonde haired tantric balls. She certainly seems to have put in the work. Her debut album ‘The Constant’ has been half a decade in the making (jeez...that’s a quarter of her life) and she’s been gigging like crazy in all sorts of low rent dives for the past few years to hone her performing chops so you can dismiss any of that cynical nepotism talk. Bye bye Mr Elephant.

Tonight, wearing a pair of shorts that seemed at least two sizes too big for her (and in danger of falling down at any moment) and eyeing the audience slightly apprehensively at first, she became a different animal when the music kicked off. Pacing the stage, leaning over her mic, pogoing around and getting up close and personal with the fans (well, as up close and personal as you’d want to get to them) she clearly loves performing. There is, inevitably, a distinctly Sting-ish quality to her vocal (she’s got her dad’s eyes too...no...no jokes about him wanting them back again). And, as you’d expect, with major label backing and high hopes for Coco to go massive, the sound tonight was polished perfection, which perfectly suits the material she’s playing right now. Glossy 80’s pop, dripping with synths, it’s got a lot in common with Swedish pop princess Robyn who duets with Coco on arguably the best track of the night, Caesar (sadly the lovely Robyn wasn’t here tonight...probably out cage fighting). Previous single Self Machine also stuck out as a highlight as did new release Quicker (complete with plinky plonky Euro piano) which saw Coco making the most of her distinctly smoky vocals. It was a shortish set, without an encore, and I’d have liked to have seen Coco do a few more acoustic numbers (looking at You Tube videos this really gives a chance for that voice to do its stuff), but I was impressed. It’s a pretty safe bet that she (and her debut album) will be massive but somehow, deep down, I don’t reckon it’s a true reflection of what she’s capable of...or what she wants to do as she really develops. And, ultimately, that’s the really exciting prospect. For now though this is one Coco that’s well and truly ready to pop.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ugly Duckling / Kinny / Sm:)eymic / DJ Mylz @ The Hare & Hounds, Wednesday 25th August 2010

First up tonight Sm:)eymic. Yes that’s a :) in his name. Maybe I should just do the review the same way eh? It would save me hours writing this nonsense if I could just stick up a :( or :)? But then you’d have nothing to read at work would you eh? Anyway, Mr Mic is a one man band for the 21st century, but instead of strapping a drum kit to his back and playing a triangle with his schlong he’s a master of that live looping business (you know, where they record themselves singing and playing instruments then loop it all together). It’s a neat trick to watch and listen to and somehow he manages to avoid it all sounding like a dog’s dinner. Impressive. He comes across as really nice guy too and his cover of Grandmaster Flash’s Rapper’s Delight at the end was inspired. So, :)’s all round then...

Next up was Kinny, a new name to me, all the way from Canada (now that’s one hell of a bus journey...wonder if the number 11 goes that far?). She’s worked with Quantic before now which should give you a fair indication of her general vibe. Slightly hampered by singing along to a backing track rather than a live band she nevertheless blew my socks off (holes and all) with her vocal. Damn she’s got soul. Reflecting her Jamaican roots there are some reggae beats in there too (‘Enough Said’ in particular manages to combine the jazz and reggae worlds really well). Track after track of 100% silky vocal lushness gradually attracted the attention of the chatterers in the audience and, by the end of it all she’d won over at least one new fan. Me. Add a real band to the mix and you’ve got a truly special gig.

Finally it’s time for Long Beach hip hop legends Ugly Duckling, now celebrating 17 (17!) years in the bizzle fo schnizzle. So named ‘cos they felt out of place in their local rap scene they still stand out as being different to your average ‘crew’. Joint MCs Andy (tall and skinny) and Dizzy (short and...er...not so skinny) come off like the Laurel and Hardy (ask your grandparents) of rap. That’s a huge part of their charm though, as is their nicely self deprecating performance which neatly busts apart all those tired old clich├ęs about hip hop’s obsession with the unholy trinity of birds, bling and bullets.

You can’t fault the beats...glorious snatches of lush soul and funk vinyl delivered by Young (or maybe that should be middle aged now) Einstein on the wheels of steel. Having seen them a while back tonight's show was pretty similar, but why mess with a winning formula eh? From the mic throwing (Andy and Dizzy literally chuck the mic from one to the other just in time to deliver their line) of ‘Pass It On’ to the lady lovin’ (one of the female audience members is invited onstage so that Dustin and Andy can try on their pick up lines on them) ‘Honey Was Offended By A Pick Up Line’ it was a masterclass in good time hip hop. It’s impossible to avoid getting swept along by it all and pretty soon the audience was bouncing along with their hands in the air. By the time ‘A Little Samba’ rolled around even the lamest fly boys and girls were getting in on the act. As the set drew to a close the defiant ‘I Won’t Let It Die’ whipped the faithful into a mass bounce along. It couldn't be more appropriate. 17 years on and this is far from a dead duck(ling).

Monday, August 23, 2010

Gigs of the week

Okay. It’s Monday. Mondays suck. It’s official...Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays usually ain’t too hot either. But cheer up. If you’re Birmingham based there are a couple of cracking gigs this week at the Hare and Hounds. Wednesday sees feel good Cali-rap legends Ugly Duckling throw down some good times and, quite possibly, get fresh with a young lady or two on stage. On Thursday you’ve got the electropoptastic ‘fruit of Sting’s loins’ fronted I Blame Coco. I’ve seen the ‘Duckling before and can pretty much guarantee that you’ll be a-waving your ‘hands in the air like you just don’t care’ within 60 seconds. As for Coco, if the vids I’ve seen are anything to go by we’re info for some sassy synth smashingness...try saying that after a pint or two of cider. Enjoy.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ou Est Le Point?

Just read the news that Charlie Haddon, lead singer with up and coming indie synth combo Ou Est La Swimming pool, committed suicide shortly after playing a set at a Belgian music festival. He was just 22. I was lucky enough to see the band play at The Great Escape in 2009 and was looking forward to seeing them again on their headlining tour this October. I wouldn't like to second guess at the mental anguish that drove someone to plunge to their death from the top of a telcommunications tower but this is the second time recently I've been shocked at the suicide of someone in a band who seemed to have so much going for them. Just a few months ago Sam Maritza from China Red (who I was looking forward to seeing but sadly never got the chance) took her own life at a similar age to Charlie. There is, of course, sadly nothing new about suicide and I'm not suggesting that we're on the verge of an epidemic but it seems to me that the pressure on young people in particular these days is pretty savage. Aside from the prospect of having to live with your mum and dad forever 'cos you can't afford to move out and working until you're 105 because the previous generation has well and truly fucked up the economy you're bombarded 24/7 with meaningless celebrity culture, soulless chart pap pumped out on a production line and a feeling (perpetuated by Twitter, Facebook et al) that everyone else is having a better time than you. Like I say, it's not my place to speculate on what drove Sam and Charlie to such sad endings when their lives had barely begun but my condolences go out to all those they've left behind. RIP.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Top Tracks # 20 - 'Tubular Bells' by The Champ's Boys Orchestra

Ever wondered what Tubular Bells would sound like if you funked it up a bit and added some disco flourishes? Cool. Me too. Well, here you go. This little number came out in 1976 (yep, got my finger on the pulse again) and is pretty much guaranteed to get you doing that silly finger in the air thing that John Travolta did in Saturday Night Fever. Groovy.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


I have to admit (oh the shame) that I've still not been to The Public, West Brom's much publicised (but sadly not for all the right reasons) arts centre, but they do seem to be putting on some pretty good stuff. October's looking particularly attractive with Japanese post jazzers Mouse on the Keys (October 2nd), Canadian lap guitarist Erik Mongrain (19th October) and US blues guitarist Catfish Keith (23rd October). Not a bad line up eh? Perhaps it's time to lose my Public cherry and check it out...oh dear...that sounds like I'm going dogging or something. I'm not. Far too cold. Might put my back out too...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mirrors - 'Ways To An End'

As a new generation discovers the wonders of 80's music the stack of bands influenced by this much maligned decade (especially the classic early years 1980-1984) grows and grows. Here's another one for you, Mirrors. Shades of OMD, Kraftwerk, Thompson Twins and Human League blended together to create the perfect track to play on your vintage Sony Walkman. The band played Birmingham last week but I was away...did you miss me? Awww bless you, I missed you too. Anyway, hopefully they'll be back in this neck of the woods soon. In the meantime I can just watch this video over and over and pretend I'm 13 again...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Burns Unit - ‘Side Show’

Nope, not a charity project for victims of tanning booths or a fan club for that old dude from the Simpsons, this particular ‘Burns Unit’ refers (I’m guessing) to ‘Rabbie Burns’, the bard ‘imself. After all this is something of a Scottish (and Canadian) 'supergroup', uniting such luminaries as King Creosote, ex-Delgado Emma Pollock, Future Pilot A.K.A. and – undisputed star of the show – MC Soom T in one of those albums that pretty much defies categorisation. It all kicks off in a fairly low key way though, lulling you into a false sense of insecurity with ‘Since We've Fallen Out’ a forlorn end of a relationship tune that slowly builds then quickly falls away again...much like most relationships these days then eh?

Just when you think you can safely file this away in your indie folk pile though up pops ‘Trouble’. With a naggingly insistent cheap electric keyboard dragging you in and multi layered female vocals it’s the kind of upbeat track that The Bird and the Bee would happily put out. It’s a cracking tune but then along comes ‘Send Them Kids to War’. Whoa, where’d this come from? Shimmying its ass off like Shakira on a mission it’s actually Soom T (also known as MC Soom T) on vocal duties. Musically there are some Gyspy influences in there, some Latin American rhythms, some folk backing vocals...it’s an ear’s orgasm of a track.

That’s just the first three numbers ticked off. Elsewhere you’ll find shades of Regina Spektor and Tori Amos (on ‘Blood Ice and Ashes’), a Russian tinged sing along (on ‘You Need Me To Need This’), an Indian / Scottish folk mashup (‘Majesty of Decay’) and...why the hell not...a Latin Gypsy Ska skank (‘What is Life?’). This album brings it all together and, despite the face slappingly obvious differences in styles, it all somehow works really well. Less of a ‘Side Show’ then, more like a big deal.

Side Show is out now on Proper Records.

PS: You can listen to the album for free right here! Bargain!

Monday, August 09, 2010

Richard Thompson - Dream Attic

Now some 40+ years into his career Richard Thompson shows no sign of playing it safe. Far from it. In fact when it came to recording his latest album he rejected the cosy confines of the studio and decided to put it all out there in front of a live audience (at The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco). The resultant release, Dream Attic, is as vibrant a record as you’re likely to hear this year.

Opening track, Money Shuffle, is an open (and, let’s face it, entirely justified) attack on the greedy ‘bankers’ (cockney rhyming slang ahoy) who’ve arguably got us in the biggest financial pickle in history. It’s a rollicking way to start the album, you can almost hear the bile swelling up in Richard’s throat. Taking in jazz, gypsy and Middle Eastern influences the track storms along threatening to overshadow everything in its wake. Happily we’re in expert hands here though and there’s plenty to keep the casual music fan, as well as the more committed Thompson-ites, entertained throughout the album. For the purist folk folk ‘Among the Gorse, Among The Grey’ and ‘Burning Man’ sees Richard on more familiar territory, ‘Haul Me Up’ is a straightforward country classic hoe down, whilst the Celtic flavoured ‘Here Comes Geordie’ (am I right in thinking this is a thinly veiled attack on a certain Gordon Sumner?) raises more than a smile or two. Another highlight, ‘Sidney Wells’, is an everyday tale of a homicidal lorry driver and proof, if proof were needed, that folk can be every bit as relevant in 2010 as it was in 1810. Of course there are plenty of opportunities for Richard to show off his guitar skills (as well as winning an Ivor Novello award for his song writing he’s also the recipient of a Gibson award for being the best Acoustic Guitar player in the world...not too shabby eh?).‘If Love Whispers Your Name’ for example sees a furious guitar solo towards the end of the track, earning impromptu applause that reminds you once again that you’re actually listening to a LIVE recording here.

It’s got to take balls to record a brand new album of brand new songs in front of a live audience and, even bearing in mind Richard’s considerable experience and musical chops it can’t have been a stress free process. The mere fact that he’s still willing to take such risks is impressive. The fact that he’s still pulling great tunes out of the air is something really special. A dream of an album from a true national treasure.

PS: The acoustic version of the album (included in some limited edition copies of the release) strips the material back to its pure folk roots. Richard’s vocals and guitar playing are a joy and, although it’s a studio session, I’m guessing by the freshness of the performance that it was recorded live, in one take, too. ‘Sydney Wells’ and ‘Money Shuffle’ are particularly impressive. Oh to have been a fly on the wall that day.

Dream Attic is out on 30th August on Proper Records. A special limited edition two-disc set containing a second disc of all 13 demos and a double-vinyl edition will also be released.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Goodnight Lenin / Boat To Row / The Young Runaways / Jodi Anne Bickley @ The Hare and Hounds, Friday 6th August 2010

Oooooh a single launch. Double oooooh Goodnight Lenin’s single launch. Cue fireworks, dancing girls, a troupe of performing horses and that bloke off the telly who presents that programme that slams D-list celebrities through a wall. Anton du somebody or other. I can think of quite a few celebrities that I’d like to slam through a wall (real though, not polystyrene), but let’s save that for another day eh?

First up The Young Runaways, tonight reduced to a two piece (I think there’s normally a million of ‘em or something). It had taken them a bum numbing 2 hours and 10 minutes to travel the few miles from Wolverhampton (their hometown) to Birmingham, so I’m not surprised the rest of the band were absent...probably reduced to eating each other on the Wolverhampton Road just to survive. The two that made it though (a fiddle player and singer/guitarist) got the evening off to a fine start. Reminded me a bit of The Wonderstuff in places, a thought confirmed when they covered The Stuffies ‘Here Comes Everyone’. They’ve got some fine tracks of their own though, particularly the catchy fiddle driven indie folk of ‘The Boy and the Beartrap’, which you can happily jig around to on their MySpage page.

One thing which did annoy me tonight - and it never ceases to be a thorn on the side of any who gives a shit about music - was the inane chattering of some of the audience. If you are one of those people for the love of Lady Gaga please just shut up. Think about it. These performers have spent days, weeks, months writing and rehearsing their material...they’ve humped themselves and their equipment to the gig, they’ve eaten half their band on the Wolverhampton Road, they’ve nervously waited around backstage for their moment...and then you spend the entire set polluting the atmosphere with your inane drivel. It’s simple. If you want to talk, go outside or...and I realise this is quite a challenge for some people...just wait until the set has finished. I’m sure you can hold in whatever verbal gem is ready to spring forth for 20 minutes or so. Okay? Thanks.

Anyway, back to someone who thankfully has got something worthwhile to say, is our very own Jodi Anne Bickley. Continuing her quest to big up the burgeoning Birmingham spoken word scene (seriously you should check it out) tonight she gave us a trio of her best rhymes including ‘Hold Tight’ and ‘You Make Me Lose My Cool’. As I’ve said before there’s just something so refreshingly honest about Jodi and her material and, for the third time in as many weeks, I found myself hanging on her every word. A truly special talent and equally importantly in my book, a lovely, genuine person too.

Next up Boat To Row bobbed along with some rather nice lullaby-tastic tunes. There were some scrummily delicious boy/girl harmonies on offer here from Hannah and Michael but they can also kick up a bit of a storm when they want to. Well worth catching live if you get the chance.

Finally, it’s Goodnight Lenin. Liam, Sam, Matt, John and John Joe. It’s their party and they’re clearly here to have a good time tonight. And why the hell not eh? They’ve come a long way in a relatively short time (they formed in late 2009) and tonight’s bar raising set saw them take another step forward with some new tunes, a surprise guest appearance from someone called April (who played flute and added vocals to one of the tracks) and a slightly more serious approach to their performance. There was still plenty of banter though, mainly aimed at people who were clapping out of time (one of the culprits was later identified as John’s sister...oh the shame). For the hardcore fans all the classic Lenin tracks were in place (‘Ragged Schools’, ‘Wenceslas Square’ and, of course, the new single ‘Crook in the Creek’), but newer tracks have started to sound stronger too. ‘Mannequins’, ‘After All’ and ‘Old Cold Hands’ were noticeably more polished than before. I’ll need to hear the even newer stuff a few more times (I think at least one song was still being worked on just before tonight’s show...a measure of the creativity spurting out of them right now), but I’m happy to report that all of the elements that made them so good so fast (the Dylan, Young and Simon influences and those three part harmonies) are still well and truly in place.

If I was being hyper critical (and at this stage in their development I guess that’s increasingly important now) I’d make the harmonies a little tighter in places and perhaps give Matt a few more vocal opportunities (he adds a rich, deep voice to the end of Crook in the Creek). I’d quite like to hear John Joe lead a track too. Musically I loved the introduction of the flute and I’m wondering if the band plays any other instruments that could perhaps add to the richness of the songs (a bit of brass here and there maybe). These though are minor points. What came across again tonight, as the sweat dripped from the walls and the claps (out of time or not) built and built, is that this band’s on fire right now. Once again Goodnight Lenin score top Marx.

PS: The single is out now on Static Caravan records...it's limited to 500 copies so if you want one I reckon you have about half an hour left to grab a copy...starting...now...well...what are you waiting for?

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

Friday, August 06, 2010

Paul Heaton 'Acid Country'

Following hot on the heels of his old mucker Dave Rotheray’s rather fine new album (The Life of Birds), ex Beautiful South-erner Paul Heaton returns with his latest offering ‘Acid Country’. As well as being blessed with the voice of a slightly world weary angel Paul is, of course, arguably one of the best lyricists this country’s ever produced. From his days as a Housemartin through to the chart eating Beautiful South he’s written some true classics (the Housemartin’s ‘Happy Hour’ and ‘Build’ and The South’s ‘Song for Whoever’, ‘You Keep It All In’ and ‘A Little Time’ all leap to mind...not a bad line up eh?). Acid Country sees him revisit some of his favourite subjects (booze, birds and Britain – the ‘acid country’ of the title I’m guessing) and, it has to be said, hit the kind of lyrical highs that saw him carry on up the charts on more than one occasion.

Take the album’s second track ‘Even a Palm Tree’, a savagely bitter (and pretty darn funny) song about the eternal battle of the sexes. Opening with the line “I can’t find you attractive unless I’ve had drugs” his female co-vocalist then responds with an equally barbed response. Men are from Hull, women are from London eh? Like some of his best stuff the bitterness is all wrapped up in a pretty jaunty tune, with swirly organs lending it a slightly psychedelic feel in places. In strong contrast Paul follows this up with a melancholy rumination on the loneliness of old age on ‘Young Man’s Game’, which probably won’t mean much to anyone under 30 but might well bring older listeners out in a cold sweat. It’s one of the album’s standout tracks and one of the most affecting songs of its kind since Sinatra’s ‘It Was a Very Good Year’. Elsewhere ‘Life of a Cat’ finds Paul wishing for a simpler life for all of us and, judging by his recent decision to cycle round pubs playing to audiences just a fraction of the size that he’s used to, it’s clearly a desire that he takes seriously.

This is simply one of those albums that begs to be listened to over and over again. I’ve given it a good half dozen spins so far and each time I’ve unearthed another lyrical gem. For example, the album ends with ‘Cold One In The Fridge’ (a dead cert for Alcoholics Anonymous’ anthem...should they ever feel the need to have one), with Heaton (who’s battles with the demon drink have been well documented) noting (lamenting?) the various tipples he’ll never again enjoy. “I shall never drink a beer in St Albans" he begins. Ain't that a great opening line? He then goes on to list pretty much every drink (and drinking venue) you can think of...all of which are now similarly out of bounds. Given his history it’s a brave song to write and sing and, I’m guessing, it’s a mark of a man who, whether this album sells a 100 or 100,000 copies, has the fortitude to 'carry on regardless'. If there’s any justice in the world it’ll sell by the shed load though...perhaps he’ll have to put that cat’s life on hold for a while longer eh?

Acid Country is out on 13th September on Proper Records and Mr Heaton hits the road throughout September on his own headlining tour before supporting Madness on their traditional end of the year pension top up in November and December.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Fix it...for Fix Monday

Fix Monday, a local (that's local to me here in Birmingham, if you're reading this in Kuala Lumper you're unlikely to bump into them in the shops) band that's cheered me up no end on more than one occasion with their positive and upbeat live shows are splitting up. Boo! But before they pack it all in they've entered a competition to win a recording session at Abbey Road, fulfilling their lifetime ambition to record an album. And who am I to piss on their chips eh? It's one of those vote for your favorite video jobbies run by a fizzy drinks company that I won't advertise here (unless they send me a lifetime's supply...in which case I'm happy to whore myself to oblivion). Click here and...wait for it...'fix' it for them. Ho ho ho. I think I could get a job on the local news...

The Phenomenal Handclap Band @ The Hare and Hounds, Wednesday 4th August 2010

It was a close call between this gig and the Raghu Dixit Project (happening in the room next door) but TPHB just edged it. I still think my idea for the Phenomenal Raghu Handclap Project had potential though (I was trying to get the promoters to put both bands on together at one point). Maybe next time. It could’ve worked you know, especially as the TPHB have what you might call ‘esoteric’ musical tastes.

No warm up acts tonight but some good tunes on the ‘wheels of steel’ to get us in the mood. Standing right next to the speakers I could feel my tea (fresh pasta and a healthy chunk of ciabatta if you’re interested) gently vibrating in my stomach, always a good sign. Tonight six of the band mounted the stage (I think there’s sometimes eight of ‘em) and before you could say Santana their ‘look’ gave you a fair idea of what you were in for. In fact for large chunks of the set you could’ve been in late 60’s San Francisco watching some great psych rock band, tripping your head off. All we needed were a few topless ladies doing that swirly hand dance and a couple of lava lamps and we’d have been sorted. Actually I’d have been happy with only the topless ladies.

But then, just when you think you’ve got them nailed as one thing they go and perform the deeply soulful ‘Baby’, a track that wouldn’t be too out of place on Marvin Gaye’s seminal ‘What’s Going On’. Then they fast forward to the proto rap stylings of Blondie’s ‘Rapture’ or Tom Tom Club’s ‘Wordy Rappinghood’ with their own funk infused take on the genre(and set highlight) ’15 to 20’. It’s like being in a musical time machine...I was half expecting a little glam rock next. But, whilst TPHB clearly wear their influences on their sleeves, when you’re influenced by the good shit that’s no bad thing right? In fact this is one dose of the ‘Clap’ that’s well worth catching (wow, getting a punning reference about sexual diseases in there...that’s a new low for me).

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Wednesday dilemma...

Don't you just hate it when there are two gigs that you really want to go to on the same night? This Wednesday is even worse, there are two gigs in the same venue (the Hare and Hounds)that I want to go to. Balls. On the one hand there's the Raghu Dixit Project...

on the other the Phenomenal Handclap Band...

The Phenomenal Handclap Band - Baby from Leroy Hanghofer on Vimeo.

I'm torn. Feel free to express your opinion...otherwise I'll probably end up ripping myself in two.

PS: And before anyone suggests trying to go to both I just can't do that...I'll just end up loving the first band I'm watching and won't be able to tear myself away.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Bear's House @ The Mac, Saturday 31st July 2010

Spent Saturday night at a friend’s house. Okay, so it wasn’t strictly a house...more of a concrete basin in Cannon Hill Park...and I guess, as we’ve never even spoken to each other before, calling local poet made good Polar Bear a friend might be stretching the truth a little, but damn me after 60 seconds in his company he sure as hell felt like a mate.

Bear's House is the brainchild of Polar Bear (aka Steve Camden), a thirty something Brummie who’s become one of the shining stars of what I, for want of a better name, keep referring to as ‘street poetry’ (in my head it’s poetry inspired by everyday urban life and flavoured with a hip hop sensibility). His aim is simple, to give other rising street poets and musicians a much needed (and deserved) platform. As one of the performers I was talking to acknowledged, poetry seems to have a bit of an image problem in the minds of a lot of people. I guess it’s all tied up with the idea that poets lived centuries ago and lay around penning endless verses about daffodils and stuff using the kind of words that’ll score 129 points in Scrabble. What the hell has ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ (beautiful a line as it may be) got to do with most people’s lives’ today eh? Wander around looking up at clouds and you’re more likely to get ‘happy slapped’ these days. Anyway, sadly the very same people who’ll queue up to see Dizzy, Tinie and Lily for example perhaps aren’t aware that they’re actually already listening to and loving (I’ll use that word again) ‘street poetry’. In fact take out the musical element (putting all of the focus on the lyrical content) and any one of those performers could’ve fitted right in this evening. Hopefully (and judging by the sheer talent and passion on show tonight) it’s only a matter of time before gigs like this start to attract the kind of audiences they deserve.

The night kicked off with my new mate Polar Bear issuing a few rules of the house (don’t nick anything, turn off your mobiles, feel free to take off your shoes if you want, don’t get taking a leak in the geraniums...that sort of thing) before giving us a little insight into the journey that’s led him to where he is now (basically it involved a lot of performances for his cat...not a bad tip for aspiring performers actually...cats are critical buggers). Then he announced that he’d be giving away prizes throughout the evening from ‘his house’. To win you’d have to answer one of his random questions (example, Q: “Who’s the best superhero” A: “The Hulk”). Sadly I didn’t win anything (the Hulk? Seriously?) but a whole bunch of people won DVD’s, posters and books. It was a lovely idea and, for me at least, all future gigs will be a little emptier without the chance to scream out the name of my favourite biscuit in return for a signed N-Dubz poster...

Anyway, you get the idea of the kind of night it was now. The artists were every bit as refreshing. I honestly can’t pick favourites - each and every performer more than delivered the goods. Barnsey and Eliza Little (can't find a webpage for her...) both added a musical twist to the evening. Barnsey I’ve seen and enjoyed before (some classic era Weller swagger and Ray Davies quality writing), Eliza was a new one to me. As someone who thinks that we’re all in danger of disappearing up our own online sphincters (yes, I’m aware of the irony of writing this online) I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Her Ode To Facebook’ tune.

On to the spoken word performers then and Jodi Anne Bickley, who’s responsible for turning me on to this whole nascent local scene, almost got me shedding a tear or two (and I’m a hard bastard...oh alright then I’m as soft as a toasted marsh mellow) with some heartbreaking rhymes about love, life and lager n’ lime. Every once in a while I see someone perform with the kind of honesty that’s not really supposed to exist in today’s image obsessed times but Jodi does just that, making the most of her rare ability to convey vulnerability and strength in the same breath. Beautiful stuff.

LCB(or Leon Burke as he now prefers to be known) bounded onto the stage like Tigger on speed, an instantly likeable performer with some hilarious tales (and takeoffs) of his Jamaican granddad he was the evening’s most confident artist and soon had the audience in the palm of his hand.

Speaking of hands...or maybe that should be fists...Matt Windle, who’s as handy with his (he’s an impressive amateur boxer too) as he is with his words, gave us ‘Birth Certificate’. It’s a strikingly bleak poem about the consequences of getting ‘jiggy with it’ and should be read out at every school assembly up and down the land.

The final act of the night, Kim Trusty (you can catch up with her via the Apples and Snakes website which is devoted to performance poetry), read us a short (bedtime) story that summed up her significant relationships with men who...ahem...hadn’t exactly covered themselves in glory. Using the changing size of her heart as a metaphorical love life barometer it was an emotive end to what had been, at various points, a funny, sad, poignant, witty, though provoking and, most importantly of all, ruddy enjoyable evening all round. That’s my kind of House party. Spread the word(s).

PS: A special mention for AfroSaxon who span some wicked tunes before the set began and during the interval...proper old skool vinyl too.

PPS: Jodi hosts her own spoken word showcases at the Hare and Hounds. I think the next one’s in October...