Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tom Peel “Triple Click It” EP

I love Tom Peel. On the few occasions I’ve seen him live he’s never failed to keep me entertained from start to finish. The last time I saw him he had a giant reel to reel tape recorder round his neck...not in an ironic Flavor Flav tribute (although how cool would that be?)...nope...he was using it to perform one of his tracks (‘When I Die’) during Speech Fewapy’s Record Day showcase at Swordfish. By a spooky coincidence it’s on his frankly essential new EP too. How’s it best described? Quirky, anti-folk for folk who know good shit. That’s you right? ‘When I die’ is a real stew of a track, cello, clarinet, old skool electro bleeps, bontempi organ noises, samples of middle eastern music and goodness knows what else. On top of all this Tom ponders the nature of ‘celebrity’ and, judging by the lyrics, it’s aimed squarely at the Jordan’s of this world. Genius.

Then there’s the suitably stripped back luddites anthem “My Computer’s Outdated”, a touchingly offbeat lovesong to his girlfriend ‘94 Percent’ (a much better choice for your wedding tune than Celine frickin Dion)and the ramshackle singalong of ‘Villa Street Soap Opera’. It’s worth a fiver of anyone’s money, but you know what? He – and the lovely folk at Speech Fewapy Records – are giving it away for free right here. FREE! Tom being Tom there’s a little game involved in order to get it, but if I can work it out then so can you.

Trust me, it’s worth it. It’ll make your day 94 percent the very least.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mark Ronson and Business International (with Duran Duran!) / Rose Elinor Dougall @ The HMV Institute, Tuesday 28th September 2010

Continuing his righteous plundering of the decades Mark Ronson (pictured behind Mr Nick Rhodes here) has decamped from the 60’s and landed flat bang (bang bang) in the early 80’s. A quick skim through some of the tracks from his new album reveals a bit of a thing for arcade games and synth pop, replacing his previous penchant for horns and stuff. Who knows, at this rate his next album’s liable to revisit the glory days of Brit Pop? Hmmm. There seems to be a fair few Ronson haters out there for some reason. I can’t quite figure it out. Both his debut album, the criminally underrated ‘Here Comes the Fuzz’ and it’s follow up ‘Version’, are classic pop. Now he’s pulled another one out the bag with ‘Record Collection’, his new one. Oh...and don’t forget that he produced Amy Winehouse’s career defining ‘Back To Black’ and Lily Allen’s ‘Alright, Still’ too. Add to that his production duties on the forthcoming Duran Duran album (heralded as a real return to form) and what’s not to like? Okay, so maybe there’s the slightly scary looking blonde hairdo but us trendsetters always have to push the boat out a little eh? I guess it’s easy to pick on his upbringing and lifestyle (glam, glam, glam) but having met the guy earlier in the day he seemed pretty friendly to me. A little shy perhaps, but far from the ego riddled musical rapist that some people have dismissed him as. Back off and pick on someone who deserves the abuse. Cheryl Cole will do.

First up though Rose Elinor Dougall. Once a Pipette, now part of Mark Ronson’s Business International, she’s also just released her first solo album and tonight gave (I’m guessing) most of the audience the first opportunity to hear the fruits of her labours. She’s an engaging performer with a classy pop voice, shades of Siouxsie Sioux, Sophie Ellis Bextor and Liz Fraser in there. Musically I was playing spot the influences and ticked off Stereolab, The Smiths and Cocteau Twins in the space of two or three songs...not a bad list eh? Whether she’ll forsake the solo career for a life with Mr Ronson and Co remains to be seen but the sophisticated indiepop of tracks like ‘Fallen Over’ (one of my picks of the set) makes me hope not.

Right, onto the main event and, with the entire stage covered in a red and white grid pattern (more than a nod to the early 80’s there) chrome plated synths and electronic drums, the band bravely kicked off with the instrumental computer game tribute ‘Circuit Breaker’. In amongst the simple synths there are some subtle but successful nods to Ronson’s earlier hip hop roots in the beats that lift the track well above the novelty factor. Then we were straight into ‘Just’, one of Ronson’s biggest hits sung (as on the Version album) by Phantom Planet’s Alex Greenwald. Obviously the horns were absent but the synths did a fine job of making the track seem familiar but fresh all at the same time. Lose It (In The End) saw Mark take on lead vocals for the first time. His voice suits the track well enough, and he can certainly carry a tune, but he’ll probably be the first to admit that singing probably ain’t his main talent.

Other highlights from the first part of the show included a lively ‘Ooo Wee’ (from Mark’s debut ‘Caught By The Fuzz), well and truly nailed by Spank Rock (good work there fella) and recent single, Bang Bang Bang featuring MNDR (in a ridiculous pair of fashionista white specs) and that man, Spank, again. Tune. The chorus sounds like the sort of thing sexy cheerleaders in 80’s leggings and green eye make up would go mental over. Hmmmmm...cheerleaders...

Okay, so there were one or two technical gremlins in the show (I think this was only the second date on the tour). Mark’s attempt at some solo live mixing fell at the first hurdle when the technology went on the blink (cue Mark’s plaintiff cry “Business International...where are you?”), and some of the synths were a little out of time with each other, but these are really minor grumbles. This was turning out to be a seriously fun show.

The fun got ramped up a couple of hundred notches when the not so secret ‘secret guests’ pitched up. Duran Duran. Oh yes.

If you’re under thirty this might not be a huge deal to you but Duran Duran were one of the biggest pop bands. Ever. In an era where pop music ruled the world, Duran Duran were at the top of the heap. As well as achieving 14 top ten singles and selling the odd 100million albums they produced some brilliantly flash and OTT videos that came to pretty much define the 80’s. And now, here they were. Thirty years on but still as cool (or not, depending on your view, maybe you’re more of a Spandau Ballet fan) as ever.

Their slot began with ‘Record Collection’, the track Simon sings on Mark’s new album, again neatly pulling of the trick of sounding retro (the simple stripped back early sounding synths) and modern (Spank’s raps) at the same time.

Then they played ‘Planet Earth’ (with a guest rap from can’t keep that man down) and...oh deep joy...’Girls On Film’. Nick Rhodes still looks like the most perfect human being imaginable, somewhere in a loft there’s a very ugly painting of that guy slowly decaying...and Le Bon was his usual pop god self. It was a stadium worthy performance in the relatively intimate setting of the lovely new/old Institute, neatly fusing the dads of synth pop with the next generation. I can die a happy man.

It still wasn’t over though. Business International still had some unfinished business of their own and came back for ‘Bike Song’ (not my favourite track but it seemed a lot better live) and ‘Valerie’, both of which were sung by dirty denim fetishist Kyle from The View.

If pop’s your bag, gigs just don’t get much better than this.


Circuit Breaker / Just / Lose It (In The End) / Ooo Wee / Oh My God / California / The Night Last Night / Bang Bang Bang / Apply Some Pressure / Hey Boy / You Gave Me Nothing / Stop Me / Record Collection / Planet Earth / Girls On Film


Bike Song / Valerie

Mark Ronson and Duran Duran (instore at Swordfish Records, Birmingham), Tuesday 28th September 2010 to meet Duran Duran and Mark Ronson yesterday in Swordfish, my favourite record shop in the world. At the risk of sounding like I’m 8 years old or something it was genuinely exciting to have a natter with some of the people who pretty much soundtracked the decade I grew up in...and a dude that’s doing much the same thing in the decade that I’m rapidly decaying in. I took some photos but stopped myself from posing with the band. After having a natter with them it just seemed a bit weird and I'm supposed to be a grown man. Besides there was more to come in the evening...and I didn't want any restraining orders getting in the way.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

NME Tour featuring The Joy Formidable / Chapel Club / Flats @ The Academy, Monday 27th September 2010

I’m not a massive fan of NME. I used to be. I used to buy it religiously (on my hands and knees, with a cross around my neck...boom boom) every week. Then, during one of their endless revamps it became nothing more than a series of glossy posters, ads and articles slagging off Morrissey. So I stopped. I still read it though, normally standing in WH Smiths. It takes about 5 minutes and saves you a fortune. Anyway, I’m not sure what sway NME holds with people these days, but if it helps bring new bands up to the mythical ‘next level’ then whoop-di-doo.

Whether this tour will do much to help the first band on the bill, Flats, remains to be seen though. What kind of Flats? The sort that glue sniffers squat in. The sort that you find in dull, grey council estates where half the windows are boarded up. The sort that smell of wee. Yes, Flats are a punk band. Grrrrr. Fast. Loud. Ramshackle. Go back 30 years or so and the audience would’ve been gobbing huge balls of phlegm at the band whilst pogoing themselves into the ground. Tonight they just stood around texting their mates. Oh well. Maybe when the country’s reduced to pile of festering rubbish in a few months time people will rediscover the anger, passion and creativity that genuinely seemed to grip people in the late 70’s and early 80’s (the last time the country was reduced to a pile of festering rubbish in fact). Actually that’s unfair. I’ve been to some ‘punk’ gigs where people still go 15 flavours of crazy but tonight definitely wasn’t a ‘punk’ night. Take a look at the other two bands on the bill and you’ll see what I mean. In terms of Flats’ performance they had some of the energy that you’re looking for in a band whose shortest track seemed to last around 25 seconds, but I kept yearning for the lead singer to leap the barriers and start beating people to death with his mic stand. That’ll get ‘em going...try ‘tweeting’ with a six inch shard of metal sticking out of your frontal lobe. What I’m trying to get at (and forgive me, I’m no expert on the genre) is that a true punk performance seems to be as much about the physicality of the event as it is about the music. You want to get a bit sweaty. You want to wake up with an oddly shaped bruise on a delicate part of your anatomy. And you want to ‘interact’ with your fellow gig goers as well as the group. I guess Gallows ruined me for any other punk band. But who knows, given a smaller venue, rammed with an ‘up for it’ crowd, perhaps Flats could take things to another level.

My third visit to Chapel Club in the last 12 months (that probably makes me a VIP member) and once again their blend of squally, echo heavy guitars and singer Lewis’ dreamy, slightly distant vocals gently drew me in. The holy trinity of ‘O Maybe I’, ‘Five Trees’ (you’ve gotta love those discordant guitars) and the Mamas and Papas sampling ‘Surfacing’ remained the set highlights, but newer track (and a clearer indication of the debut album’s sound according to Lewis) The Shore (shoe gaze ahoy) hints at a less poppy and more cerebral kinda club altogether. Lewis is starting to relax into his performance a bit more now. In earlier shows I got the sense that he was still a little nervous and tonight he even allowed himself a little banter and the odd smile or two.

I had the great pleasure of interviewing (I use the term loosely) headliners The Joy Formidable earlier this year and a more genuine trio you couldn’t possibly hope to meet. They’ve certainly been putting in the work over the summer, touring all over the place and, judging by the enthusiastic gang of head nodders at the front, winning fans and influencing people. The stage, festooned with bird cages filled with glowing balls (nope, I’ve no idea what that was all about either...looked nice though), was arranged with all three of the band at the front. Nice touch. Too often the drummer (often visually one of the most exciting members of any band to watch) is stuck right at the back. I guess it’s a practical thing but tonight’s configuration (granted it was a decent sized stage) worked well. The band’s drummer, Matt, is certainly worth watching too. Like Animal from the muppets he plays loose limbed and furiously, working up an impressive sweat before the first number had come to an end. It’s difficult to take your eyes off Ritzy though. Thrashing all over the stage, arching her back (almost to the point where her head was touching the ground...she’ll be a chiropractor’s wet dream in20 years time) and wrestling with her screaming guitar like an anaconda with a meerkat she’s a twisty, turny noise machine, musically and vocally. In fact I reckon you could unplug her mic altogether and you’d still hear her. To her right stands the third piece of the puzzle, bass man Rhydian. I get the sense he might like to do more of the singing. He does provide vocals (a little low in the mix tonight) but even when he’s nowhere near the mic he’s singing along at full pelt. Hmmmm... I reckon the interplay between the two voices could well be worth exploring further.

In terms of the set it was a fan friendly mix of the old and the new with ‘Cradle’, ‘Austere’ and ‘Whirring’ getting particularly enthusiastic receptions. On the last of these three Ritzy did her trademark guitar bullying routine, grinding the poor thing against one of the monitors then fiddling with her effects pedals to amplify its tortured screams further. As if that wasn’t enough noise terrorism for you she turned to an air raid siren (as you do) at the back of the stage, cranking it up furiously and filling the air with its ominous drone.
It was the encore, a relatively new track called ‘The Ever Changing Spectrum Of A Lie’, that provided the biggest revelation of the night though. There’s still plenty of the gloriously noisy stuff going on but there more space for Ritzy’s vocals. At one point she almost seemed to be singing acappela (she wasn’t but after the sonic assault of the previous hour or so it seemed that way). And it was quite beautiful, showing a more vulnerable side that I’d not seen so much before. We’re promised a new album just after Christmas and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the star of the show...

Cradle / Magnifying Glass / The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade / Austere / Ostrich / Greyhounds In The Slips / My Beerdrunk Soul Is Sadder Than a Thousand Dead Christmas Trees / The Last Drop / Whirring

The Ever Changing Spectrum of a Lie

Monday, September 27, 2010

Paul Heaton / Liam Frost @ The Glee Club, Sunday 26th September 2010

From the Housemartins to The Beautiful South and now on to his own solo stuff Paul Heaton has quietly built up a formidable back catalogue of real lyrical gems. And, despite the passing of time, that voice of his, pure choirboy (okay, maybe a choirboy who’s had the odd cheeky ciggie and more than a pint or two of mild), is still well and truly intact. So it’s not surprising that the venue tonight (a trifle modest for someone who’s sold millions of records perhaps, but certainly a giant leap from the places he’s recently been playing on his ‘Pub Tour’) is pretty rammed in time for opener Liam Frost.

Liam’s a fine singer songwriter with that ‘legendary’ Manc wit providing a nice counter balance to the serious and introspective material with little comic asides about the problems of sweating onstage and Tesco’s Hoisin Duck wraps (best avoided it appears). Tonight he played solo but it seems he has a band too and, even more impressively, he’s recently done a duet with Martha Wainwright. Sadly she wasn’t here tonight though...maybe she’d eaten a Hoisin wrap?

On to the main event then, Mr Paul Heaton esq. and his band (The Sound of Paul Heaton I believe they’re called...see what he did there eh?). Coming onstage wearing one of those waterproof tops that he seems to love I couldn’t help noticing that the security tag (you know, those big white plastic things that leave a huge great hole in everything when the assistant tries in vain to remove it by whacking it against the counter) was still attached. Whether he’d done a cheeky spot of shoplifting earlier that day still remains a mystery, but he did disappear after a couple of tracks to get changed out of the offending item after “seeing a security guard that chased me through the Bull Ring”.

Aside from lifting sports casual clothing he seemed in fine form, vocally and personally. I think it’s fair to say that he’s had issues in the past (notably with the demon drink) but on more than one occasion he commented on being the happiest he’d ever been right now. He even revealed that he’d hooked up with Stan (ex-Housemartin) the night before and they’d been discussing those ongoing rumours about a Housemartins reunion...let’s put it this way, I wouldn’t hold your breath. Personally I don’t think it’s needed either. Tonight he performed a number of Housemartin’s tracks with his current band and they managed to nail those harmonies pretty well with both ‘Build’ and ‘Me and the Farmer’ neatly recapturing the spirit and feel of the 80’s originals. What was really striking tonight though was how well the material from Paul’s new album ‘Acid Country’ (which formed a good third of the setlist) came across and went down with the Heaton-ites. ‘Life of a Cat’ in particular featuring a frankly stunning vocal performance, hitting the high notes almost seemed as effortless as the life of the creature in question.

Chatty and relaxed throughout the set, a moronic heckler was swiftly and smoothly despatched. I don’t know what the guys problem was...aside from being an asshole (he was pushing and shoving people too...fine at a death metal gig but just not cricket on a Sunday evening at the Glee Club). I think he wanted Paul to play a particular track (Whaddya think this is fella? A karaoke night? Jeez...) but Paul, quite rightly, wasn’t having any of it and the hapless individual ambled off into the night. “I think I did us all a favour there” quipped Paul. Yep.

After an encore that included a spirited rendition of the Clash’s ‘White Man In Hammersmith Palais’ the set finally ended in fine style with ‘God Bless Texas’, a scathing attack on George W and his mates from Paul’s previous solo album ‘The Cross Eyed Rambler’. As the crowd enthusiastically sang, clapped and stomped along to the chorus the band, one by one, left the stage, leaving Paul sitting and thumping away at the drums looking like the kitten that’s got the cream. Hmmmm...maybe that ‘Life of a Cat’ ain’t so far away now eh?


Welcome to the South / Mermaids and Slaves / This House / The Old Radio / Build / We’re Not Deep / Life of a Cat / Place in the Sun / Little Red Rooster / Ladders Bottom Rung / Deckchair / Acid Country / Young man’s Game

Encore # 1

White Man in Hammersmith Palais / Me and the Farmer

Encore # 2

God Bless Texas

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Huey Lewis and the News – ‘Soulsville’

With the impending cinematic re-release of ‘Back to the Future’ (featuring the band’s huge hit single, ‘The Power of Love’) Huey Lewis and the News are well and truly going back to the past with their first album in nearly a decade. ‘Soulsville’, as the name implies, is a collection of 14 classic tracks from the Stax label, all given the instantly recognisable Huey Lewis and the News blue eyed soul polish. Purists may raise their hands in horror but there’s plenty to like about this easy on the ear collection, especially in some of Huey’s vocal performances. He’s particularly strong on the title track, an impassioned cover of Isaac Hayes’ ‘Soulsville’, the themes of which - poverty, debt and drugs - are sadly every bit as relevant today as they were 40 years ago. Add some authentic sounding Memphis horns and some oh sooooo soulful backing vocals and you’ve got a lovingly put together album that succeeds in capturing the classic Stax spirit.

‘Soulsville’ Tracklisting

Don’t Fight It / Got To Get You Off My Mind / Free / Respect Yourself / Cry To Me / Just One More Day / Never Found a Girl / Soulsville / Little Sally Walker / I Want To (Do Everything For You) / Just The One (I’ve Been Looking For) / Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You / Never Like This Before / Grab This Thing

Soulsville is out on Monday, October 18th on the Proper Records label. Remember’s 'Hip To Be Square’.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Gong / Nik Turner’s Space Ritual @ HMV Institute, Monday 20th September 2010

After a couple of years in the dark one of Birmingham’s better live music venues, The Institute,is back in action and the old girl’s looking mighty fine. It’s a lovely old building(dating back to the turn of the last century it's one of the few that Birmingham City Council hasn’t knocked down over the did they miss the opportunity to build another car park or empty office block eh?) and whoever’s been in charge of the renovations deserves a huge pat on the back. I’ve yet to see a gig in The Library or The Temple (last night we were in The Institute itself) which are also part of the venue, but if the sound, lighting and general ambiance is as good as The Institute we could well have a contender for the best venue in the Midlands.

Tonight was all about equally historic treasures institutions. First up one of the founding fathers of Hawkwind, Nik Turner, with his ‘Space Ritual’ (named after Hawkwind’s 1973 live album I do believe...thank the lord for Wikipedia eh?). I can’t profess to knowing a huge amount about Hawkwind, other than the standard pub quiz stuff about Lemmy being in the band, having a hit with Silver Machine and the fact that a big breasted woman used to dance naked on stage with them (Stacia her name was...6ft 2 with a 52 inch bust...a 52 inch bust...excuse me for a moment...Google images...omg...). Mr Turner has now reached the grand old age of 70 and like fellow space cadet saxophonist Marshall Allan (of the Sun Ra Arkestra, who’s now in his 80’s) he shows absolutely no sign of leaving planet earth just yet. I can’t help feeling that free acid (or some quality weed at the very least) should be handed out to all the audience before the gig but even without mind altering drugs (unless you count a pint or two of Gaymers Cider) the band were soon whisking us away to the stars with a psychedelic cocktail of Hammond organ, soaring sax and whirling guitars. I’m guessing at some of the song titles but ‘The Real Stuff’ (their opening number), ‘Watching The Grass Grow’ (surprisingly punky in places), ‘The Ritual of the Ravaged Earth’ and ‘Sonic Savages’ all stood out as highlights. The biggest cheer of the night though was reserved for ‘Steppenwolf’ (written by Robert Calvert, ex lead singer of Hawkwind who wrote Silver Machine and passed away over 20 years ago following a heart attack), a sprawling epic full of tripped out ramblings about being a man wolf/ wolf man. There’s a lady dancer too (sadly not Stacia...or her frankly historic breasts), who did a fine job of interpreting each song whilst wearing a variety of costumes (everything from a glittery silver number to a full on Spanish Flamenco outfit). I don’t remember the 60’s (mainly ‘cos I wasn’t born then) but I imagine this is what ‘happenings’ were like. Far out. As the set finished Mr Turner wanted to do another track but he was (literally and metaphorically) out of time. As the rest of the band packed up round him he stood there a moment before picking up his sax again and giving us all an impromptu blast of Glenn Miller’s ‘In The Mood’. “I could carry on playing this stuff all night” he quipped. You know what? I reckon he could...

With minds suitably opened it was now the turn of Gong to take us all on a trip. Gong clearly live in their own distinctive universe...a place populated with flying teapots, pixies and a whole cast of weird and wonderful characters including Mista T Being, Fred the Fish and Zero the Hero. Okaaaaay. If you start looking into the whole mythology behind some of their stuff it all makes a little...just a little mind you...more sense. If you’ve not visited planet Gong before (I'm guessing most of tonight's audience had) there’s plenty to keep you entertained though. The music, a mix of jazz, rock, synth and the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop (in places recalling early Syd era Pink Floyd and what bits of Zappa that I’m familiar with) veers from the head nodding, toe tapping variety to the head scratching and toe curling. It’s rarely dull though, even in a set that stretched beyond two hours and featured enough mystical mumbo jumbo to keep a thousand hippies happy for a millennium or two. I hate to keep banging on about the age of the people in these bands but it’s enough to give us all hope. Daevid Allen (the lord of all things Gong) hopped around the place like a toddler on Sunny D, frequently changing costumes and donning a variety of ‘amusing’ t-shirts featuring such legends as ‘No, I’m not on fucking Facebook’ and ‘No one knows I’m a lesbian’. He’s 72. The band’s co-founder Gilli Smyth, the space whisperer (who provides all kinds of spooky vocals) is...wait for it...77. A little more digging reveals that Allen was mates with William Burroughs, he and Smyth were there in Paris during the student riots of the 60’s (Smyth slept under a bridge there with her young daughter for a while) and, lest we forget, Allen also formed legendary ‘60’s rock band Soft Machine. This is counter culture royalty here. Pure and simple...well okay...maybe not simple...nuts is probably a better term for it. The set featured (to the best of my knowledge...I was too busy trying not to lose grip of reality) such hits as ‘Radio Gnome’ (which sounded like the sort of thing David Bowie might have done after a particularly bad / good acid trip) and ‘Dynamite’ (which neatly blurred the lines between hippy, punk and free form beatnik jazz...a neat trick if you can do it). Much of the stuff seemed to come from the glory days of Gong but they’re still at it today. In fact some of the best tracks of the night were recent ones including ‘2032’, the year in which Mr Allen informed us all, we would all become both sexes, man and women, so we could literally “Go fuck yourselves”. Then there’s ‘Banker Wankers’ another in an increasingly long line of anti banker songs (there’s definitely an album in there somewhere “Now That’s What I Call A Complete Banker” anyone?) and ‘Dance With The Pixies’ (warbled by the lovely Gilli...just imagine your gran on acid).

This ain’t the place for two minute pop songs. In fact you could probably fly halfway to Saturn (or planet Gong for that matter) by the time some of these tracks had run their course but this is music that belongs to another, more chilled out time when there really wasn’t much else to do apart from sit around contemplating life, the universe and everything. Sounds quite inviting don’t it? After watching the whole gloriously surreal show for over two hours (complete with a suitably psychedelic backdrop projected on a giant screen at the back of the stage featuring pixies, swirling, trippy patterns and flying teapots, all mixed with live footage of Daevid doing his thang) it might not all be your...ahem... cup of tea, but there are few bands being this creative, entertaining and...okay let’s say it...nuts these days. And for that alone Gong well and truly deserve a medal.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Top Tracks # 21 The Joubert Singers – Stand On the Word (Larry Levan Mix)

So, the Pope’s here then. He will, it seems be driving past Baron Towers shortly. Bless ‘im. I’m not religious. I’m not even one of those ‘hedging my bets’ kind of people. I don’t buy into any of that heaven and hell, everlasting life, repent your sins business whatsoever. You’re born. You do some stuff. You stop doing some stuff. That’s yer lot I’m afraid. Good luck to anyone who does have a faith, if it makes you happy (and as long as you don’t use it as reason to go around murdering/haranguing people who don’t share your view of the world or as a cover for fisting kiddies) that’s fine by me. The one bit that does tickle my fancy from time to time however is gospel music (I recognise that the Pope has very little to do with gospel music and that this is all just a flimsy excuse for indulging in my penchant for gay disco music, but there we go). A really good gospel choir just gets the hairs on my devil’s horns going. Maybe it’s down to the fact that the people doing the singing believe what they’re saying 100% or perhaps they really are infused with some kind of holy spirit? Shit. Perhaps I’ve been wrong all these years? Perhaps I should jack in gigs and devote myself to spreading the word of the Lord instead? Nah. Cobblers. So (although I guess gospel purists would hold up their hands in horror) here’s a top gospel type track (albeit with a thumping great disco heart). The Lord works in funky ways...

PS: I particularly like this version with the radio ad at the beginning –“I’m ready to come into somebody and do a change in their situation”...I can think of a quite a few people that I’d like to come into and do a change in their situation...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Little Shop of Horrors @The Birmingham Rep, Monday 13th September 2010

After standing in a queue for 26 years, 13 days, 7 hours and 26 minutes I finally managed to ‘score’ some cut price theatre tickets from the Artsfest ticket booth. Oh deep joy. Happily one of the deals on offer was for this show, The Rep’s production of Little Shop of Horrors. If you’re unfamiliar with the story it’s yer basic ‘struggling florist’s assistant discovers alien plant, feeds it blood, then human bodies’ know the sort of thing. Like the Rocky Horror Picture Show it’s a little bit kitsch, a trifle OTT and stuffed full of, by now, iconic (to the show’s many fans in any case) tunes.

I’d not seen the show on stage before and only have a vague memory of watching the 80’s musical film (itself based on an earlier 60’s B-movie) so tonight was pretty much a new experience all round. A soundtrack stuffed full of doo wop, rock n’roll and soul and a talented, enthusiastic cast (many of whom also played in the band when they weren’t acting or singing...I think that’s a bit of a tradition with this show) guaranteed a good time from the opening number (Skid can see the original film version on the video above this review...ain't I good to you eh?). A clever set (something of a forte at the Rep) transported you to the musical’s skid row setting and an expressive series of Audrey II puppets made the idea of a giant man eating plant as realistic as it’s meant to be. Big luvvie hugs to all the cast, but James Haggie (who played the show’s protagonist Seymour) also deserves a special mention for capturing his character’s hapless inner nerd and delivering some great vocal performances. It’s the guy who ‘did’ the voice of the Audrey II, Cavin Cornwall, who wins best in show for me though. On top of nailing the voice (how the hell do you ‘voice’ a man eating plant...), a potent mix of soul singer, preacher and pimp, he came on at the end and delivered one of the sexiest rubber limbed ass shakings ever seen. The dude can sing. The dude can dance. The dude’s...ahem...plantastic.

PS: The ‘plantastic’ pun is courtesy of Lady B. You can blame her...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Artsfest @ all over the place in Birmingham, 10th – 12th September 2010

Billed as the UK’s biggest free arts festival (and who am I to argue) this year once again saw a frankly bonkers array of stuff on offer at venues across the City. As in 2009, 2008, 2007 (you get the idea) the programme only came out a few days before the event was due to start. This is, to be blunt, crap. If you want to attract visitors to the City surely people need more than 72 hours notice of what the hell’s going on? Shouldn’t a few printed programmes have been sent out to tourist centres in London, Manchester, Liverpool etc a month or two ago? Yes. They should. It really ain’t good enough.

Anyway, thanks to a variety of circumstances (including the piss poor timing of the programme’s publication), I only caught a handful of the attractions and, predictably, most of them were music.

On Friday evening Goodnight Lenin (pictured above in all their glory)continued their march to stardom with another fine set of folky, harmony rich tunes. I’ve written about them an embarrassing number of times now so if I’ve not yet inspired you to go and see them I’m either crap or you have no ears. Next up was the 7 headed ska machine Tempting Rosie. The Midlands is, of course, one of the spiritual homes of ska. Responsible for The Specials, The Beat, Bad Manners and The Selecter back in the 70’s we’re still producing some fine bands nowadays and Tempting Rosie are right up there. Still incredibly young they’ve got a superb brass section, a suitcase full of classic sounding ska tunes and enough energy to revive Lazarus (or at the very least a slightly damp Birmingham crowd).

The only thing of note that I really saw on Saturday was a snatch (stop it now) of Birmingham Royal Ballet. I have little or no real experience of ballet and with prices for some of the bigger performances regularly topping a wallet busting (for someone of a modest income at least) amount it’s likely that these free shows will remain all I get to see of it. I have to say though that, for one of the first times in my life, I actually ‘got’ the appeal of it all. It helped watching ‘Printer Jam’ - more of an experimental piece I guess using the sounds made by a jammed up printer to inform the movement of the dancers. It’s more accessible to a funky young thing like me (yep, laugh all you want, you’ll be 150 one day) than some of the traditional dances, but even these managed to communicate the grace, beauty and strength that ballet fanatics are constantly banging on about. A ballet good show all round.

Sunday was the most productive day in terms of my Artsfest experience this year, with fine sets from The Heels (ska meets latino jazz...niiice) and The Arcadian Kicks (classy new wave girl pop) but the undisputed highlight of the weekend was The Black and Reds. I’ve seen this pair before and remember being blown away by their primeval brand of classic rock n’roll. Tonight, in the sweaty bowels of The Flapper, was every bit as memorable. They’re basically a guy who plays drums (standing up mind you) and sings, together with a guy who plays guitar and provides backing vocals. That’s it. It’s simple, stripped back 100% pure rock n’roll. The good stuff. What lifts it into a different league is the quality of the playing. Both of them are masters of their respective instruments but the drummer is, to be frank, astonishing. There are only three drums in his kit, together with a couple of nibbled cymbals. But, like Sea Sick Steve’s legendary three string guitar, the sound he beats out of it defies belief (the live vid here from a previous show gives you some idea).

I’ve not seen a soundcheck receive applause before but this guy got it. I’ve seen some bands in my time but I reckon you’d be hard pressed to find a better rock n’roll two piece anywhere in the world right now. It may have only lasted half an hour or so but this is a strong contender for gig of the year. Sell your soul to see this band right now. The odd eternity in a fiery pit of hell will be more than worth it.

I ended the night with a first. Nope, I’ve not copped off with a Lady Boy or stuck my genitals in a food blender. Tonight was the first time I’d ever seen The Twang. Yes, I know. How can I live in Birmingham and not have seen The Twang eh? Anyway, they’re not at all bad. Better than I expected in fact, especially given some of the snide comments made about them by certain elements of the music press (yeah I’m looking at you NME). Ostensibly baggy revivalists they’d have gone down a storm in the early 90’s with the likes of The Happy Mondays and The Farm. Pick of the set was a slightly latino tinged track called Barney Rubble (off their second album Jewellery Quarter), and past singles Two Lovers and Either Way (shades of It’s On by Flowered Up in there methinks).

So, that was my somewhat limited experience of Artsfest 2010. Perhaps if the powers that be manage to get their programme out in time I’ll get my shit sorted out too. How about it eh?

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Destroyers - 'Where Has The Money Gone?'

It's a good question. Where did the money go eh? Still it's good to know that the complete bankers that got us all in this mess have been made to pay for being, at best,totally useless and (more likely) criminally corrupt. What's that? Oh. You're right. They haven't have they. Still at least we're all here to bail them out. Goodbye pension, so long healthcare, ta ra education, laters arts funding, adieu defence. Just as long as the pigs at the trough can carrying on stuffing themselves who cares right? It's against this frankly bizarre backdrop - huge corporations bankrupt the planet and the public pay the price - that The Destroyers release their latest video (cheers to Pete Ashton for the tip off). It actually captures the spirit of the band (which aint't easy)better than any of their previous efforts and sees their lead vocalist, Mr Paul Murphy, in fine venom spitting form. Enjoy.

Goodluck Jonathan – ‘This Is Our Way Out’

Goodluck Jonathan - Broken Heart from Cannonball PR on Vimeo.

Band names. Tricky buggers. Get it right and it just seems to capture what you’re all about. Fame and fortune follows effortlessly (sometimes). Get it wrong and, well, it’s back to the call centre with you. Trading under the unlikely moniker of Goodluck Jonathan (that’s the name of the current Nigerian Prime Minister right? Whatever next, The David Cameron Experience?) this lot are the latest in a long line of twitchy indie bands with a bit of a crush on Foals, Editors and, more recently, These New Puritans (now that’s a suitably pretentious band name n’est ce pas?). If that sounds dismissive it’s not meant to be. As influences go I’d far rather hear this sort of stuff than lumpy lad rock, sappy pop rap or the latest evacuation from Cowell’s bowels any day.

‘This is Our Way Out’ appears to be the first in a series of three EP’s from the band and it opens encouragingly with ‘Bruises Disappear’ a broodingly intense slab of math rock that really bursts into life in the chorus, setting the template for much of what’s to come. ‘Stranded’ is, musically at least, the lightest track on offer here, with more of an Editors-ish feel to it. Next there’s the undisputed star of the show, ‘Broken Heart’ (you can watch the video above you lucky people). Again there’s plenty of that angsty stuff going on, but when it kicks off...well it really kicks off. I’ve not seen them live yet but I’m guessing this is one of their BIG numbers (you know, the one where all the kids stop just nodding their heads and start leaping about like loons). The pounding drums and quiet/loud/quiet song structure seems to capture Goodluck Jonathan’s strengths the best (NME has called them math rock n’roll...but then again NME is a steaming pile of horse turd these days), giving their singer the chance to well and truly let rip in the chorus. The EP finishes off with ‘Light Burn My Eyes’. By now you know what to expect and it doesn’t disappoint. After a good few listens the EP’s catchier moments have seeped into my brain and if they can sound this powerful in a live show they might not need too much luck after all...

Goodluck Jonathan’s ‘This Is Our Way Out’ EP is out on 13th September 2010 on Something / Nothing

Monday, September 06, 2010

Moseley Folk Festival – Day Three, Sunday 5th September 2010

Day the third. The scrumpy cider’s now burnt a small hole in my intestines but I’m still standing. We arrived at the unholy hour of 11am for one reason and one reason only. Sam Walter. I and others have been knocked sideways by this chap on his previous appearances. I saw him on the first day of the festival sitting in a bush singing to himself as the crowds wandered passed. I didn’t. I couldn’t. I was rooted to the spot. As a gig fanatic you’re always on the lookout for something different. This gets harder and harder the more bands or artists that you encounter. But Sam’s special. His basic USP is that he sings (mainly traditional) songs, unaccompanied. So what I hear you say, there are thousands of singers who do that. True. But Sam’s voice, the passion he injects into every single syllable and his choice of material is nothing short of spine tingling. Take ‘Brave Benbow’ for instance, a striking tale of a sailor who loses his legs. The thing is, it’s not like he’s singing about someone who’s been dead since 1789, it’s like the guy’s still with us...and Sam knows him personally. Shut your eyes and listen and you’re whisked back a couple of hundred years in an instant. I’ve seen thousands of singers over the past twenty years or so and Sam’s ability to take you somewhere else is truly exceptional. Within the same line he can sound like a virginal choirboy and an old sea salt (like a singing Brian Blessed Lady B called him). It was a simply stunning performance and, despite the rain trickling down my back (yep, it was piddling it down), arguably the highlight of the weekend. Intriguingly Sam’s now writing new material that he sings in the same style. Take a listen to ‘What An Age to Be a Young Man’ and you’ll hear what I mean. A true original. The fact that his was the only CD I bought all weekend (and you know how tight I am) speaks volumes.

Sheltering from the downpour for a while (unlike these brave/mad souls) the next few acts passed by pleasantly enough, but it took Martin Simpson to really pull me back in with a fine set of covers old and new, as well as some beautifully crafted self penned tunes. His tribute to his dad, ‘Never Any Good’ wins the award for song most likely to get me blubbing this weekend.

Next up I caught local ladies Little Sister who, in a set that embraced everything from bluegrass to Celtic folk, sang a delightful little ditty about Ashby De La Zouch which sounded like Stereolab go folk. It makes me want to move there just so I could have this track as my theme tune. Altogether now...”Ashby De la Zooooouch...Ashby De La Zooooouch”. Cool.

Barely pausing for breath it was over to the main stage again for yet another legendary performance (seriously, these shows are phenomenal) by The Destroyers. Trying to describe them is a pretty impossible task (‘Russian gypsy folk jazz theatre’ is the closest I ever get). So I’ll take the cowards option. Here’s a video:

Of course that doesn’t really come close to the excitement of one of their live shows. This is one band that MUST be experienced live. CD’s, videos, photos...they’re all just a pale reflection of the real thing. But that’s part of the magic. You can’t capture some things. Like Professor Zurinak (the subject of one of their best songs) this is a band that simply screams “I AM ALIVE!”.

John Renbourn provided the perfect Sunday afternoon soundtrack with some nicely understated finger picking. He’s one of those special folk dudes who just makes it all look soooo easy. Then things went all instrumental, kicking off with Urban Folk Quartet, a new name on me but a virtuoso fusion performance taking inspirations from Spain and the Middle East as well as UK folk traditions. An unexpectedly groovy treat culminating in the ceilidh rave ‘The Super Offbeat Return’. Yep, ceilidh heard it here first. Continuing the instrumental theme, albeit of the more traditional variety, were Lunasa, fine purveyors of all manner of lively jigs and reels. The band’s leader had that delightful Irish charm, wit and way with words that you just can’t beat, at one point describing a Frenchman who’d had a pint in practically every pub in Ireland in his quest to discover traditional tunes as being ‘as sick as a small hospital’. It tickled me, as did their set which got my right leg twitching like mad. Damn that Riverdance.

Still with me? Good. Up next Rainbow Chasers, fronted by none other than Ashley Hutchings who, amongst his other achievements helped to found Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and The Albion Band. Not bad eh? Now here he is at the grand young age of 65 with a band of up and coming musicians still driving forward the English folk scene. Pick of the set (and well worth digging out) was ‘Stanley’s Wake’, a simple but emotive tale of the sale of one man’s farm as cheap imports and supermarket cartels destroy what was one of this country’s greatest treasures. Oh...the acapella track they did, ‘The River’was pretty stunning too. Four voices in perfect harmony, Ashley’s rich time worn vocal acting as a moving counterpoint to the other band members’ fresher tones.

I’m sure the last time I saw The Unthanks they did a lot more clog dancing. That’s what I loved about them. You don’t often see much clog dancing these days. Tonight there was only a little bit. More clog dancing, that’s what I say. They did give us a few stompalong classics though, notably ‘When The Tide Comes In’, which gave me my clog fix for another year. Ahhhhh...that’s better.

Right. After securing one of the festival’s legendary £1 pints (they sell off any remaining real ale just before the end for a mere £1 a pint...dangerous) and squeezing near the front it was time for headliners The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. In a ‘doing exactly what it says on the tin’ fashion they’re a band of Uke players who cover all manner of classic pop tracks...tongues firmly in cheeks. Like Ade Edmondson’s Bad Shepherds last year it sounds like a dreadful idea that would get on your tits after a couple of numbers but, and maybe the cider / real ale helped, it was just bloody great fun. Take a look at some of the covers they Uked up, ‘Psycho Killer’, ‘Life On Mars’, ‘Pinball Wizard’, ‘The Theme from Shaft’, ‘Anarchy in the UK’...Teenage Dirtbag (which enjoyed the biggest singalong of the festival for some reason), all delivered with a kind of deadpan reverence. Amazingly they’re celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. Fittingly, on a day that started off with a real original, it ended with a group that’s equally Uke-nique. Oh come on... I had to get a Uke pun in there somewhere.

So there we go. That’s Mo Fo (as a lot of people insist on calling it these days) done for another year and it remains as much as much fun as you can have in park with your clothes on. A hearty pat on the back and well deserved pint of real ale for all concerned.

Moseley Folk Festival – Day Two, Saturday 4th September 2010

Day two and...bugger moi...the sun’s still shining. Genius. Arrived just in time to catch Lisa Knapp’s hauntingly beautiful rendition of Polly On The Shore, delivered acapella. It was one of many anti war songs delivered over the weekend, the majority of which were written hundreds of years ago but which, sadly, are every bit as relevant today (ignoring the stuff about galleons and cannonballs that is). A quick shuffle over to the other stage saw Arborea’s David Lynchian tinged folk (all sparse guitars and floaty vocals) which, at one point, cleverly incorporated a cheeky snatch of Midnight Oil’s Beds Are Burning unless I’m very much mistaken (on ‘Dance, Sing, Fight’ I think it was).

Next up the compere for the day (the lovely Paul Murphy) made a minor gaff, when he introduced Alasdair Roberts as Alastair Campbell...prompting a moment of panic when I imagined Labour’s spin doctor spouting bull crap at us for half an hour. Thankfully it was a different kind of storyteller altogether. Mr Roberts is something of a keeper of traditional folk ballads and I spent a happy half hour or so immersed in a different time. There’s plenty of misery in these tracks but I guess people had a lot more to be miserable about a few hundred years ago when life was more of a case of survival rather than which handbag goes with which outfit. If there’s one thing trad folk does really well it’s make you glad (in some ways at least) that you live in a time and a country where the basics of life are pretty much a given. Even if you do have to put up with spin doctors.

As the sun blazed down on us...yes, I was shocked too...Johnny Flynn, poster boy of the new folk scene (I can see why...he’s chap) stepped up to the main stage. Like Mumford and Sons he’s got a fine line in jaunty folk numbers and a voice that, in places recalls some of the greats like Martin Carthy and Phil Ochs. If there’s one thing about folk as a genre it tends to embrace the aging process, with artists often going on to produce some of their best work way beyond pension age. It’s too early to tell if Johnny will go on to do likewise but, judging by his passionate performance of ‘Fighter’s Refrain’ I wouldn’t bet against it.

Thanks to a ‘bit of a queue’ (ahem) in the bar I missed part of Malpas’ set but caught enough to be spellbound by their dreamy folk. The fact that their lead singer Ali’s previous band (Envy & Other of my favourite Birmingham bands ever) failed to get the success they deserved still gets on my man boobs and if you let it happen again I’ll be very, very cross with you all. So there. Bonus points for the lovely Miss Danielle Perry’s vocals, the perfect accompaniment to Ali’s, on a number of the tracks.

Right, next up a true legend...or leg end as he called himself. Spider John Koerner (not a real spider, but possessing the kind of limbs that would make a daddy long legs feel more than a little stumpy) first toured the UK way back in 1964 and was, by all accounts, a bit of an inspiration for old Bobby Dylan. He’s a regular visitor to these shores, having last toured here in...oh...bugger...1981? At this rate he’ll be back in 2039. But I’d book a ticket if I were you. He’s the real deal. A 100% proof American folk hero. That stuff I was talking about earlier (how some folkies do their best work when they get a little older), well, here’s the proof. ‘Days of ‘49’, which Spider performed just accompanied by a dude on bones and by stomping his foot was as close to American folk gold dust as you’re likely to hear.

We got jokes too! It went something like this. A man visits God and says “God, is it true that a million years to us feels just like a second to you”

“That’s true” replied God.

“And is it true that a $million to us is just like a penny to you?”

“Yes” replied God

“Well then Lord” said the man “could I just have one of those pennies?”

“Sure” replied God “Just give me a second...”

Catch the Spider if you can...or else check him out...on the web...naturally.

Next up The High Llamas. I like the High Llamas. I really do. I went to see them about 400 years ago and their lead singer Sean spent most of the set fussing about the sound. Fast forward to today and, well, he spent most of the set fussing about the sound. Does he always do this? The sound sounded fine to me. Both times. Maybe, like Brian Wilson, he can hear perfection in his head but can’t find it in real life. Shame. Still ‘Nomads’ and set closer ‘Checking In, Checking Out’ still retained that woozy Summer time feeling that makes the world feel a better place.

After a quick nibble it was time for The Low Anthem who started off a little bit slow for my liking (it may have been the time of day...I was ready for a bit of ooomph) but found form on some of their later numbers. They’re one of those bands that all swap instruments, which makes me feel really inferior. I can’t even play the recorder and here are a bunch of people who can play the organ, drums, violin, guitar...hell, the lead singer even played a saw. Take the piss why don’t you. I bet he could probably play a artichoke if you asked him (ignore me, I’m only jealous). Pick of the set included ‘Whiskey, Cigarettes and Wild, Wild Women’ a yeehaw bar room lament that amusingly coincided with a member of the audience (who had clearly had his fair share of the first of these three) attempting to stand up. He failed. Miserably. Perhaps he’s still there?

Right, on to Goodnight Lenin. If you don’t know how highly I rate this band then shame on you. Where’ve you been eh? They’re simply one of the best young bands around for me with an album’s worth of material that should, if there’s any justice in the world, see ‘em headlining festivals like this. It was a relatively short set but they still managed to cram enough fine tunes to make this one of the best performances of the weekend. I was particularly impressed by a new-ish song of theirs that I keep wanting to call Overcoat...but it might not be called that at all. Anyway it’s the one where Liam goes a bit nuts with his guitar half way through. Love it. Part of the appeal of the band for me taps in to the Irish heritage of some of the band members and it’s this fusion together with a new twist on the American folk of Dylan and CSN & Y that really excites in terms of their future development. Anyway, just go and see them. Trust me.

Last set of the day and it’s time for Jamaica’s very own Donovan. He is Jamaican isn’t he? That would explain all the ‘Yeah mons’ that peppered the show. Either that or he smoked way too much weed back in the 60’s. You’ve got to love him though and you can’t argue with the songs. ‘Catch The Wind’, ‘Jennifer Juniper’, ‘There is a Mountain’ (more cod Jamaican accents), ‘Sunshine Superman’, ‘Season of the Witch’, ‘Mellow Yellow’ and, of course, his signature tune ’The Hurdy Gurdy Man’...all of whom were cheerfully delivered to an eager crowd. It was all great fun and it reminded me of just how many great songs this crazy cat wrote.

Far out mon.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Moseley Folk Festival – Day One, Friday 3rd September 2010

Sun + cider + fresh air + good music = festival heaven. Basking in unexpected late summer sunshine this year’s Moseley Folk Festival once again promised a suitably eclectic line up with day one seeing sets from 90’s literary pop gem The Divine Comedy, local boy made good Fyfe Dangerfield and some rising stars of the indie-folk scene. Friday’s my favourite day of the festival in many ways. Kicking off at 2pm it’s a bit quieter at first with most people still finishing off their week’s work (someone has to I guess) so us early birds got to enjoy some nicely chilled sounds in a relatively (cue Barry White style voice) intimate fashion. This afternoon saw a variety of different takes on the folk genre and we arrived just in time to catch most of Ben Calvert’s set, a languid master class in 21st century folk (tales of the modern world given a folk twist)and, given the hazy heat of the afternoon, all the better for it. Dreamy stuff. The Festival’s got two stages right next to each other, so as soon as one act finishes all you need to do is shuffle yer bum a little to one side and – voila – the next one’s there, ready and waiting. If only all festivals were so accommodating eh? Matthew P (all the way from Suffolk he was keen to point out) was up next, to his left a rather ingenious (and slightly Heath Robinson) moving sign with his name on (again all the way from Suffolk...).

The letters of his name rose and fell as he sang. It’s hardly up there with Iron Maiden’s ‘Eddie’, but I liked it. Musically I can see by my notes (yes, I make notes these that I have trouble forgetting my name it’s pretty essential) that I had him pinned down as ‘what The Strokes would sound like if they went a little bit folky’.

Sparrow and the Workshop brought a country edge to their take on folk, with their lead singer (Sparrow I’m guessing) noting she could tell it wasn’t a camping festival “cos everyone looks happy”. Pick of their set was a rollicking giddy up track called ‘Devil’s Song’, punctuated by the drummer beating seven flavours of crap out of a thin strip of sheet metal screwed to the front of his drum kit. It’s folk Jim, but not as we know it. Cider. Oh so much cider. I should know better but Hogan’s fine Scrumpy is dangerously addictive in the Summer sun.

Okay, we’ve had 21st century folk, Strokes folk and Country folk, how about some tropical folk eh? You’re in luck. Vadoinmessico (the name means ‘I am in Mexico’ apparently) kick some Med sand in the face of folk conventions with a sunny soundtrack that could come from some 60’s buddy movie. ‘In Spain’ in particular made me want to steal a camper van and set off on a roadtrip across Europe on the run from ‘the man’. But the Hogan’s cider kept me firmly glued to the floor. Oh well, next time time.

Still with me? Good, ‘cos up popped Erland and the Canival and they’re well worth catching. Erland, wearing his Pete Docherty fancy dress costume, has nailed that melodramatic 60’s pop sound quite brilliantly. Shades of The Doors in places, especially on stuff like their (I presume) theme tune ‘My Name is Carnival’.

A quick shuffle to the left and we caught Hannah Peel with Table...not a table...just Table. Possessing a voice as pure as natural spring water she’s got a slightly ethereal quality about her, like she’s not of this world (Kate Bush has a similar feel about her...maybe that’s just me though). Talking of ethereal she covered the Cocteau Twins ‘Sugar Hiccup’ using a musicbox and a long (reeaaaaaaaallllly long) strip of paper upon which she had – BY HAND – hole punched all of the notes. Wow. That’s more than a day’s working I’m guessing. Music box covers aside she had some fine self penned stuff including Almond Tree (out soon on uber cool label Static Caravan) which, in its live guise had a Love Cat’s (The Cure) sort of groove to it. Most a-peel-ing.

Local boy (he grew up in Moseley) Fyfe Dangerfield was arguably the biggest hit of the day. In between songs he chatted cheerfully to the audience, as comfortable as he’d be if he was in his own back garden...which I guess he was. Covering everything from the birdlife in the pool behind the stage (revealing an impressive knowledge of UK birds) to the correct way to say Bowie (Bowie or Bowee – you decide) he delivered most of the Guillemots hits, some of his solo stuff and – of course – “that song off the telly”, Billy Joel’s ‘She’s Always a Woman to Me’. I’ve seen Fyfe a few times before and this was, without doubt, the best I’ve seen him. With a new album due out soon I’m pretty sure he’s yet to hit the heights he’s capable of. Which, given the strength of some of the stuff he’s already put out, is pretty bloody impressive. Moseley’s Billy Joel? Hmmmm...could be.

Turin Brakes were next. I’d kind of stashed this lot in my 'good but slightly dull pile' but as a live act they really worked, kicking out a kind of classic 70’s west coast feel that seemed to have a lot more meat on it than their records. ‘Underdog (Save Me)’ – which is a good enough track in its recorded form – had an urgency that bought the song to life a lot more, for me at least. One enthusiastic – or maybe that should be Pimmed out of her box–fan loved every second of the set and danced around at the front even when they weren’t playing anything, but that's the joy of festivals innit?

The next couple of hours passed in a haze of chats with old friends and catching the odd snatches of sets but the last act I saw in full was the small but perfectly formed Neil Hannon and his Divine Comedy (actually just Neil Hannon...but as he is The Divine Comedy...sort of...his solo status didn’t really matter).

Oh how I grooved along to ‘Something for the Weekend’ back in 1996. The perfect tune for a Friday night. That’s probably why he didn’t play it. Oh well. What he did play, perched on his piano stool sipping from a glass of red, was a fine selection from his 20 year back catalogue, kicking off with an apt track for a festival crowd ‘Horizontal Life’. After a few years of relative obscurity Neil seems to be hitting his stride again so the new songs like ‘The Complete Banker’ (genius) stood up really well to old favourites like ‘National Express’ (which got the biggest sing along of the day). Not even a tickly cough could throw him tonight (poor fellow sounded like he was about to pass away at one point) and, thanks to an emergency throat sweet he was able to finish the set in fine style. All in all a divine ending to a pretty divine day.