Friday, October 29, 2010

Egyptian Hip Hop / Tantrums / Go The Length? @ The Flapper, Thursday 28th October 2010

Egyptian Hip Hop...slacker prog anyone?

Nearly Christmas...ho ho ho. What do you want from Santa? I’m after an antique silver pocket watch, a nice silk cravat and maybe a (highly illegal) sword stick since you’re asking. I’m going through a bit of a retro phase at the moment. Oh for the days of tea dances, gentlemen who doffed their caps and coal powered gramophones eh...

From the very old to the very new (oooh cheesy...I’m getting worse) with opening band Go The Length? who got together about 15 seconds before the gig started. Actually I’m being a little unfair there. They formed at college recently and, according to their blurb, within a week had recorded their first demo. Now that’s fast. No doubt as the world goes all high speed interwhatsit with 50squillion megascrotes of RIMRAMWHAMBAM bands will actually spilt up before they get together, and release their greatest hits album just before the lead singer’s born. Anyway, what do they sound like? Surprisingly good for a brand new band. They’ve got an indie rock vibe with some catchy choruses and riffs, the singer’s got a really strong vocal that coped well with (I’m guessing) one of their first ever live shows, there was plenty of energy and I particularly liked the piano style keyboards (could’ve done with being a little higher in the mix perhaps). Clearly they’ll benefit from playing a load more gigs and giving the audience a chance to get more familiar with their material, but it was an encouraging debut.

Next up TANTRUMS. I’m not sure what they’d sound like on a coal powered gramophone but I reckon they’d be pretty good. Spunk. That’s what they’ve got. Plenty of spunk. Actually maybe I should stop writing that word...might attract the ‘wrong’ kind of reader. Then again, a reader’s a reader eh? SPUNK! SPUNK! Anyway, putting jizz aside for one moment tonight TANTRUMS were, quite frankly, awesome. The (fairly recent) addition of Anna Palmer was an inspired move, turning them from a good band into a great band. She adds a touch of pouty glam to proceedings, not to mention a delightfully cute (but ever so slightly scary) vocal counterpoint to Simon. Guitarist Stu continued his one man mission to demolish the entire audience, regularly plunging into the crowd then crashing back on stage like a wrecking ball. Bassist Josh was as cool as ever and Carl continued to provide the meaty backbone of the band behind the drums. Mixing dubstep, rock, synth, pop and punk in a dizzying party cocktail they are...without of the most exciting bands in Britain right now. Fact. In the stuttering ‘If I Don’t Try’, the all out party tune ‘Mek Ya Feel Hype’ and the squelchy (relatively) slow burner of ‘A Little Guidance’ you’ve got a trio of hits in waiting that make you want to run up to complete strangers in the street and give ‘em a big slobbery kiss. If you...yes you...don’t make this band HUGE...I’ll have a tantrum myself.

PS: Message to the band...update the blogs on your website! I want to know if Stu's had any more mega hangovers recently...or what Anna's Freddo consumption is like these days.

Finally it's time for a little Egyptian Hip Hop. During my in depth research into this piece (hours this takes you know, hours...) I had a cheeky peak into the Hip Hop scene over in Egypt and there are actually a fair number of rappers doing their thang on the banks of the Nile. I wish there was someone called Diamond Giza, but the best I could come up with were Arabian Knightz (yep, seriously). Anyway, this lot aren’t Egyptian...and they have bugger all to do with hip hop. They’re actually from Manchester and on some of their most widely known tracks they’ve got a bit of a Late Of The Pier thing going on, in other words synthy pop with a bit of an old skool edge. But they’re not afraid to be a little out there at times, with their instrumental stuff in particular revealing a real willingness to experiment. Post Rock Slacker Prog anyone? If you can’t get your head around it tonight’s set might just have come off as a bit of a muddle. Kicking off with ‘Snakeboarding’, a slow noodling sleepwalk of a track, I could see one or two people looking a little puzzled. They were soon rewarded though, thanks to the heady pop thrills of ‘Moon Crooner’ and the instrumental (but still pretty upbeat) ‘Middle Name Period’. Next track ‘Heavenly’ was all dreamy atmospherics and slightly tripped out vocals before ‘Floppy Ghost’ fused complex post rock with a naggingly catchy guitar riff. Track of the night was ‘Wild Human Child’ though...a genius slice of funky electropop that sounds like Haircut 100 having a party with Vampire Weekend and Foals. I’m not sure what the encore was...the band aren’t much for talking...but it was another of their more prog type numbers that got better as it wore on, even if it did seem a bit awkward next to instant fix of ‘Wild Human Child’.

Right now Egyptian Hip Hop are getting shedloads of press and, to casual listeners who think they’ve got them pigeonholed as just another electro act, tonight’s set may have been a bit of a head scratcher in places. I overheard one guy say to the merch desk dude “Just tell them not to go any more post rock” which underlines perhaps the public’s expectation of the band and the reality. It’s their willingness to mix genres though that makes them a more exciting prospect. It might not always please the crowds but then again, if you can’t please yourself, you can’t please your soul. ‘Souk’ yourselves, that’s what I say.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

'Two' Good To Miss...Egyptian Hip Hop and Wilder

Egyptian Hip Hop - Moon Crooner from Egyptian Hip Hop on Vimeo.

Two must see gigs (in my humble opinion) this week, both at The Flapper in Brum. Thursday (that's the 28th) sees hotter than hell indie synthy funky Foals-y scallywags Egyptian Hip Hop and Saturday (that'll be the 30th) you’ve got vocoder lovin’ pop muffins Wilder. It’s the sound of 2011I tells ya and when have I ever been wrong eh? Hmmmm...good point.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Marina and the Diamonds / Cocknbullkid @ The Town Hall, Saturday 23rd October 2010

MARINA AND THE DIAMONDS - OH NO! from Canella Jolia on Vimeo.

It’s heartening to see Birmingham’s Town Hall being used for poppier gigs and I’m guessing this is the poppiest to date. It’s a sell out too, with throngs of eager young diamonds (the ‘diamonds’ in the name of the band apparently refers to Marina’s bless) swarming into the venue.

First up though there’s just enough time to slip in a bit of cock...steady now...nbullkid. Known to her dear old mum and dad as Anita, Cocknbullkid’s been around for a few years, picking up plenty of praise from the press but failing to capitalise on it all with that difficult debut album. Happily she’s now signed to the uber cool Moshi Moshi label so the sweet pop soul that’s becoming her trademark sound might finally get more of an airing. Starting the gig offstage (maybe she was still getting dressed?) she kicked off with a soaring ‘Bellyache’ before moving on to current single ‘One Eye Closed’, its vaguely ‘Peter Gunn’ guitar licks adding a nice sense of menace to an otherwise full on pop assault (not unlike the sort of thing McAlmont and Butler were up to a few years back). She’s a fine live vocalist and plenty of the tracks hit the spot. ‘Hold On To Your Misery’ had a nice Philly soul feel, ‘Cocknbullkid’ employed some catchy ‘whoa whoas’ to sing along with and ‘Mexico’ broke rank with more of a staccato synth thing going on. The audience seemed to warm nicely to her as the set wore on and, after several years of missed opportunities, the kid might now finally get in the picture.

After a quick interlude the hall filled up again and a semi erotic James Bond / Tales of the Unexpected scene played out on the back screens before a surprisingly goth looking Marina (little black dress and black lipstick) arrived wearing what looked like a tribble round her neck. It’s pop Jim but not as we know it. I have to admit I knew very little of Marina’s stuff before tonight so I was expecting something fairly light and fluffy but, after a quick intro courtesy of ‘The Family Jewels’, opening number ‘The Outsider’, a decidedly dark tale of alienation, more than matched her look. The other striking thing was that voice, a lush hybrid fusion of Kate Bush, Regina Spector and Tori Amos. Classy. ‘Girls’ took things up a little, with Marina railing against the calorie obsessed before the pounding piano of ‘Seventeen’, with its intriguing lyrics (the subject of much debate on t’web), plunged us back into angst central. As an opening to the show it was a brave, emotionally raw introduction to planet Marina, clearly here’s a girl who ain’t afraid to get it all out in the open. The soul baring carried on with ‘Are You Satisfied?’, seemingly revealing that the record deal that she thought would change her life hasn’t actually made the difference she thought it would and putting forward the worrying idea that she’ll never be actually be satisfied with her lot (fame, fortune, adoring sure as hell beats working in McDonalds though eh?). ‘Rootless’, probably the weakest track of the set (“I’m a snail without a shell, a leper with a golden bell”) gave way to the frankly bonkers ‘Hermit The Frog’, which saw Marina’s arms controlled by two bunches of red (sadly not glass) balloons that she handed out to the fans towards the end of the number before popping off for a quick costume change, leaving us all watching a rather odd video of her prowling the streets somewhere in America , stroking strange men and licking her fingers. I prefer a nice bowl of hummus myself.

‘I Am Not A Robot’ saw more soul searching and, by this stage, I was starting to get it. As Marina herself went on to say later in the show “this ain’t an act or a marketing ploy”, it really does mean as much to her as it does to her ‘diamonds’ lot out front. It’s performance as therapy, which could be painful but happily she’s not forgotten the need for a decent tune and a bit of fun here and there. ‘Oh No’ for instance might be a savage critique on today celeb culture but it’s all bundled up in a deliciously bubbly pop jacket, as glossy as the pop art inspired video that played along behind the stage. Pow. That’s followed by the catchiest tune of the night ‘Shampain’. This is what all Eurovision songs should sound like, electropop heaven with just the right touch of camp and a chorus that Abba would murder Benny for. Angst one minute, pop heaven the next, shine on you crazy diamond. Just in case we were in any doubt as to Marina’s state of mind the next track, ‘Mowgli’s Road’ puts us straight with an opening barrage of cuckoo noises. Hmmmm...

After another deeply dark track, ‘Guilty’, Marina skips off to rousing applause before returning for a solo ‘Numb’ (just her and a piano), underlining her clear debt to Ms Amos and Dame Spector. Then, in best Hollywood tradition it was time for the big finish with a track called, suitably enough, ‘Hollywood’. After a quick costume change she’s reappears in stars and stripes pants (that’s trousers if you’re reading this in the UK), gold $ sunglasses and carrying a huge burger. Perhaps more than any other track tonight this summed up what Marina’s all about. Enthralled and appalled by the ‘American Dream’ in equal measure (I daresay she wouldn’t say no to a few number ones out there) it neatly reflects the duality of her personality that runs through many of her songs. She seems insecure and confident, flirty and reserved, sickened and yet seduced by fame. She’s far from the first performer to wrestle with these contradictions but there aren’t many artists around right now who make it sound so damn good. Judging by the well deserved devotion she’s breeding in her fans her particular brand of pop angst is striking a real chord right now too, which is good news...after all, diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

Set List
The Family Jewels (intro) / The Outsider / Girls / Seventeen / Are You Satisfied? / Rootless / Hermit The Frog / interlude (costume change) / I Am Not A Robot / Obsessions / Jealously / Oh No! / Shampain / Mowgli’s Road / Guilty

Numb / Hollywood

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ari Up 17th January 1962 – 20th October 2010

I was lucky enough to see the reformed Slits play a gig at The Rainbow just over a year ago. Their lead singer and driving force, the legendary Ari Up, was the most energetic person in the room, bouncing around and pouring bottles of water all over her...ahem...pum pum. Now, almost exactly 12 months to the day since that gig, she’s gone...taken by the big C.

Of course 48 is no age to shuffle of this mortal coil but I’m a big believer in the quality of life rather than the quantity and Ari seems to have packed in more than most. If there’s anything in the hereafter she’ll no doubt be sparking up a phat one right now.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Good The Bad...

'030' by The Good The Bad (UNCUT) from 030 on Vimeo.

...but definitely not the ugly if this video's anything to go by. Yep, after resisting the temptation I've finally posted the promo to this Danish surftastic trio's recent single 030. Forgive me. Actually screw that. It's a pretty girl shagging her guitar, I'm sure she had fun. I certainly did...and I was only watching. Maybe she'd had a bad experience with a two timing violin and fancied taking her revenge? I'm looking forward to seeing what she can do with a cello. What's that? Oh the band? The music? Good point. Well it's a potent mix of Link Wray meets the White Stripes...the perfect soundtrack to a Tarantino film featuring lesbian zombie strippers and a cameo from Mr T in fact. I piddy da fool who don watch this video...I piddy da fool...

PS: The Good The Bad seem to name all their tracks after numbers and they don't have a lead singer. They're also just about to release their debut album 'From 001 to 017' which pretty much guarantees anyone who buys a copy some instant street cred and...quite possibly...a night of passion with a musical instrument of their choice. Anyway just watch the video...not at work'll only get fired and you may as well keep your job for another week or two eh?

From 001 to 017 is out on 25th October on Stray Cat Records and you can catch the band live in London over the next three nights. Enjoy.

Blackpool 17th – 19th October 2010

Okay, so this wasn’t a gig, more a holiday thingy...and I didn’t even get to see any bands but what the hell, I did get to see ‘last of the variety kings’ Ken Dodd. Hell yeah...let’s rock. Holidays at Baron Towers ain’t been going too well this year what with Lady B nearly dying after getting back from Florida and our Glastonbury experience proving to be less than positive. Speaking of which the company that we worked for – Defensa Security Limited – didn’t pay anyone and now appears to have been wound up, owing a load of other people a hell of a lot of money. I can’t say I’m surprised having met the character in charge, Mike Quinton. I’m not overly fussed about my dosh, I’m old enough to know better than to work for a ‘company’ like this (the alrm bells started ringing long before I got on site) but it’s the other poor sods I feel sorry for. Most were students. As if it’s not bad enough facing a future of debt, unemployment and a pension age that’ll always remain tantalisingly out of reach (not that they’ll be any money left by then anyway) now they’ve been royally shafted by some dodgy geezer working (indirectly) for Glastonbury PLC too. I hearby call upon Mr Eavis to offer us all free tickets for next year to make up for it. Deal?

Anyway, back to Blackpool. I’ve not been for years but it seemed to be pretty much the same. Like most places it now has a shopping mall and they’re spending a few million on tarting up the promenade but there’s no disguising the fact that times are tough up there. Of course it’s out of season now (although the illuminations are still on) and maybe the place is still buzzing in the Summer but it’s a real shame that so many of us seem to have rejected the simple pleasures of a good old fashioned British seaside holiday for the sure fire sun and sexual diseases of the Med. Take the place in the right spirit and there’s plenty of fun to be had in Blackpool’s faded glamour. The Grand Theatre (scene of Ken Dodd’s bum numbing six hour show) is just beautiful and I hear that the new owners of the Tower Ballroom are spending a wedge on bringing that back up to its former glory too (we didn’t go this time because the tower itself was closed due to high winds...pah...where’s the bulldog sprit eh?). Dodd’s show itself was a laugh a minute...certainly for the first two or three hours. After that you start to feel a little like one of those Chilean miners. It’s proper old school humour too, full of puns and gentle quips about himself and members of the audience who were pretty much all, let’s say, ‘mature’. Dodd himself is just a few weeks short of his 83rd birthday. Incredible.

The other highlight of the trip was a visit to legendary drag queen show ’Funny Girls', now housed in a lush art deco cinema. Fortified by a couple of bottles of vin rouge I enjoyed every second of their surprisingly polished show, featuring an array of “cocks in frocks” all dancing and miming their way through a variety of show tunes and pop hits. A standing ticket cost a mere £3.95 and the whole show (the host, Zoe, played records in between the cabaret) lasted over 3 hours. Bargain. Some of those ‘girls’ looked mighty fine to me too...hmmm...maybe I’m on the turn?

A final mention must go to our B & B, The Kenley. Currently the number one B&B in Blackpool (according to Trip Advisor) it’s also been voted the second best in the UK and, incredibly, the 11th best in the world. I can see why. The owners, Mike and Tony, would put most posh hotels to shame and, whilst the place itself might not be as opulent as the Ritz the general standard of service and attention to detail is every bit as impressive. The food was frankly awesome too. A home cooked four course meal came in at recession busting £12. Again there’s nothing pretentious about it but the presentation and flavours were mouth watering. The Raspberry Pavlova and Boozy Bread and Butter Pudding were to die for and the melt in the mouth crackling that came as a side dish to the roast pork was the best I’ve ever tasted (cue Homer Simpson style dribbling). Rooms are just £55 per night (that includes a full cooked breakfast that’ll set you up for the day) and we arrived to a complimentary bottle of wine and box of Lindt chocolates as I’d mentioned to Tony that it was recently our wedding anniversary and Lady B’s birthday. You don’t get that at The Ritz Carlton...

So there we go. The next time you fancy a holiday (and, let’s face it, if you still have a job today there’s a fair chance you’ll have plenty of free time soon) grab your bucket and spade, tuck your todger between your legs (men only...unless you’re one of those lady boys) and get yourself to the ‘pool.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Arrested Development / sonnyjim / Kosyne / Redbeard / Kelakovski @ The HMV Institute, Thursday 14th October

Arrested Development’s heyday was way back in the early 90’s, courtesy of their laid back, feel great classic album ‘3 years, 5 months & 2 days in the life of...’ (the time period that, legend has it, it took the band to get signed). I loved it at the time but I lost track of the band not long afterwards (they split in ‘96) and, to be honest, I hadn’t even realised they’d reformed back in 2000. Judging by the relatively small venue they were playing tonight (The Temple at the HMV Institute) I wasn’t the only one...

First up though there was a bit of a local showcase for Eat Good Records, featuring a trio of rappers and beat master Kelakovski. Not sure it showed off the best of their individual talents but they’re all well worth checking out. There’s some brilliant street battle footage (where two rappers go up against each other to diss their opponent into oblivion) of Kosyne on his myspace page to give you an idea of what they’re capable of.

With the room less than full and a cluster of people stood at the back near the bar I feared that this gig could turn into a bit of a letdown. Feel good bands like AD really need to feed off an audience and the pickings tonight looked a little slim. They’ve lost co-founder Headliner (he declined to rejoin the reunion) too...and I couldn’t see the old dude (Babe Oje – their ‘spiritual leader’) either. Any concerns about the line up, crowd or new material were swiftly squished though thanks to a grin inducing rock intro that morphed straight into ‘We Rad We Doin It’ from the band’s surprisingly fresh sounding new album ‘Strong’. Echoing The Jackson 5’s ‘Can You Feel It’ with Spearhead’s positivity and a canny slice of Black Eyed Peas pop nous the whole thing was animated by some furious dancing courtesy of Montsho Eshe. Damn that girl can dance! She’s a booty shaking, split making, high kicking bundle of fun and I bet she’d get Stephen Hawking up and dancing given half a chance. It was as infectious as hell and, as the people at the back shuffled forward, and hands were raised in the air the place came alive. It’s musical serotonin, physically impossible to resist and a huge great cloud of happy engulfed the room. All of the new tracks (and for most of the audience this formed 90% of the set) went down well, from the slightly hippy dippy light funk recession anthem (just listen to the lyrics) ‘The World Is Changing’ to the more African tribal sounds of ‘Bloody’ (a stinging attack on rap's obsession with bling and it's failure to tackle the issues that actually matter).

Predictably their three biggest hits, ‘Tennessee’, ‘Mr Wendal’ and the Sly sampling ‘People Everyday’ got a huge reception with the band making the most of the opportunities for audience participation...which normally really gets on my tits but tonight it just felt right. Tasha Larae’s vocals on Tennessee were pant wettingly awesome, just the right balance of gospel fervour and soulfulness, as hot and spicy as a bowl of gumbo on a hot summer’s night. Yum. Put me down for seconds.

At the heart of the show was the band’s co-founder Speech, looking distinctly bookish this evening in specs (not sure if there was any glass in them, but they suited him nevertheless)...a bit like a cool college lecturer, which I suppose is what he is. Given the mess we’ve made of the planet, economy and life in general a lesson in the good time vibes of an Arrested Development show is something we could all do with right now. Make that a double lesson in fact. With extra homework too. Clear, rhythmic and exuding boundless enthusiasm (even at the start of the show when he wasn’t getting much back) this is how good rap can be when it’s separated from the ‘my cock’s bigger than yours I’m gonna fuck your shit up’ crap that’s still, sadly, what most people mindlessly play on their shitty mobile phones on the back of the bus (yeah...dead gangsta that).

As the show ended the band came to the front and took time to shake hands, embrace the faithful and have a chat. It’s the kind of thing you expect from a new group but perhaps less so from a band that’s been around nearly 20 years...nice to see that the ‘we’re all one’ message they preach ain’t just an act.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bleu – ‘Four’

I get to listen to an insane amount of music these days and, being the musical whore that I am, plenty of it’s well worth a spin even if I don’t always get round to blogging about it (that bathroom won’t clean itself you know...and I ain’t gonna miss Deal Or No Deal). But, from time to time, something grabs me from the second I stick it on. This album – a magical mix of Springsteen, Lennon, ELO, Stax and all sorts of other musical loveliness – is one of those. I’d never heard of Bleu (aka William James McAuley III) before and I doubt whether you have, he doesn’t seem to have played over here in the UK much but a quick search on Wikipedia reveals that this is his fourth album...hence the title. Clever eh? Okay, maybe not. What is smart though is the way Will’s managed to put this album out. After 'differences' with his previous label left him in the lurch he used fundraising site Kickstarter to generate the £17,000 he needed to pay for the recording. As the big labels fold or withdraw from supporting new artists this fan funded model seems to be picking up the pieces. Thank god for that eh, otherwise all we’d be left with is compilation and greatest hits albums and the latest X Factor ‘product’. Anyway, enough of the back story, what about the album? Here’s a brief track by track breakdown, but trust me you need to hear this one for yourself:

Springsteening the album off in distinctly ‘Born To Run’ style opening number ‘Speakin’ In Tongues’ is an utterly irresistible slab of horn driven power pop with an instantly catchy chorus. Just glorious. Like the Boss’s seminal track it’s got that same sense of energy and ‘me against the world’ attitude too. Now that’s how you start an album. ‘B.O.S.T.O.N’ comes hot on its heels, one man’s love letter to his hometown with some rowdy shoutalongs recalling a particularly lively night in a Boston bar. Cheers. Then the whole pace shifts to the distinctly Lennon-ish How Blue, with Will doing his best tremulous vocal (a little Thom Yorke in places too actually) against a to die for lush orchestral arrangement.

After this interlude its back to pedal to the metal power pop with the Stax horned 'Dead In the Mornin’ which fades in at a fair old pace like a Chevvy coming over the horizon. It’s like opening the door to that Boston bar again and finding the band in full flow. Neat. Trust me, if they were ever going to remake The Blues Brothers this track would be a dead cert for the title tune.

‘In Love With My Lover’ has a country and western tinge to it, then ‘When The Shit Hits The Fan’ makes fine use of that orchestra again (he did all this for £17,000...seriously?), the perfect setting for some pretty dark lyrics about that time in life when everything goes down the shitter. Hell, we’ve all been there.

'I’ll Know It When I See It’ is one of the few tracks in history to use that Rolf Harris breathy thing (you know that “Waahahahah” thing he does) and get away with it, given Will’s outbreak of the giggles at the end of the song maybe even he recognises it’s a close call. The brooding ‘Evil Twin’ looks at the darker side we all have (possibly after a night back in that Boston bar) then ‘Ya Catch More Flies With Honey Than Vinegar’ (wise words) and ‘Everything Is Fine’ end the album proper in a more reflective mood.

Listen long enough and you get to the hidden track ‘MY Own Personal Jesus’, not an out and out religious track (happily), more an expression of Will’s seemingly fruitless (so far) search for faith. I wouldn’t bother Will. Anyone who can come up with an album as joyful as this one is truly blessed. Hear...endeth the lesson. Amen.

'Four' is out 25th October on Lojinx Records

Bleu’s also playing the following live dates in the UK...starting tonight!
12 Oct 2010 - Farncombe Cavern, Farncombe
13 Oct 2010 - The Grapevine, Norwich
16 Oct 2010 - The Drawing Room, Chesham
17 Oct 2010 - The Living Room, Oxford
23 Oct 2010 - The Borderline, London
24 Oct 2010 - The Haymakers, Cambridge

No gig in Birmingham though! Shame! What's he doing on the 18th, 19th, 20th, 21st and 22nd October eh?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Doll & The Kicks / Little L @ The Flapper, 9th October 2010

Loving The Flapper right now. Great bands, nice people and competitively priced booze. What more do you want eh? I daresay Cammo and his mates will end up taxing it all into oblivion one day soon but in the meantime fuck it, let’s eat drink and make merry eh? That’s a whole lot easier thanks to opening act Little L, a one woman oh...and a bloke called Jos too) happy pill with some real feel good tunes, cop a listen to one of the set highlights'Hasty Hasty’ for instance. I particularly enjoyed the Victoria Wood meets Divine Comedy of ‘Norman Brown’ too, a tale of a cross dressing city wanker whose wife leaves him for another woman. There are a couple of darker numbers too though...not that having your wife leave you for another woman ain’t some pretty dark shit. ‘Noisy Neighbours’ sees our L hoping that the individual in question will keep her awake so she won’t be wracked with bitterness about the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Awww bless. I prefer a bottle of red, a Sex and the City DVD and a family size bar of Galaxy myself. Metrosexual? Moi? Hell yeah. On top of her self-penned stuff Little L has a really cute habit of slotting snippets of other songs into her own material too. Tonight we got a bit of Limahl’s opus, ‘Neverending Story’ and George Michael’s ‘Faith’. It’s oodles of fun and, with a full blown cover of Gaga’s 'Poker Face', the whole set left me with a real smile on mine.

After a little of Little L it’s time for a whole lotta Doll and the Kicks. I’ve been banging on about this band for a couple of years now (to anyone who’ll dear readers, my postman, people at bus stops...) and they always put on a cracking live show, but tonight was, hand on heart, their best yet. Bearing in mind that DATK have played for tens of thousands as the support band for quiff lovin’ indie Godfather Morrissey (I believe he personally picked ‘em too) you might expect the relatively modest surroundings of The Flapper to, let’s say, slightly dampen the band’s enthusiasm a little. Not a bit of it. In fact what happened was quite the opposite. From opening number, the rocky ‘Fire’, Doll (aka Hannah), peeping out from beneath a rather fetching grey hoodie, and co threw themselves into the set vocally, physically and emotionally (more of that later) with more oomph than ever before. On top of that incredibly powerful, but still well controlled, voice of hers (I’ve always described it as part Gwen Stefani, part Lene Lovich and part ingredient X) she’s pop star gold, with just the right balance of feisty and quirky. It’s a difficult trick to pull off without making it all come across as too forced (Lady Gaga please take note) but Doll/Hannah's a natural. Take ‘What Goes Around’ for instance. It’s a simmering and – from a musical perspective – relatively sparse track, which tonight gave her free reign to perfectly act out the slightly deranged character in the song (prowling the stage rather menacingly) whilst belting out a vocal that got the hairs on the back of your neck sticking up. It's Fatal Attraction...the single. Hell hath no fury eh?

Whilst the band’s forte to date has been the more bouncing up and down stuff like ‘Roll out The Red Carpet’, ‘He Was a Dancer’ and ‘You Turn Up’ (all performed here with an extra sizzle) tonight’s set seemed to give a little more space to their slower numbers. The mid set pairing of ‘First Time’ and ‘If You Care’ gave us a chance to hear more of Doll’s extensive vocal range back to back, showing up the X Factor (holy crap, is that programme still on...wake up Britain, you’re being lobotomised) favoured style of conveying emotion (wailing a lot whilst looking like you’re trying to go to the loo) as a pale imitation of the real thing. Emotion’s something you feel, not something you do. There’s a HUGE difference.

A rocking version of ‘You Turn Up’ saw Doll bouncing around the stage like Tigger on speed before another change of pace revealed relatively new track ‘Skeletons’ to be one of the band’s best to date. I wasn’t convinced by this one after the first couple of listens online but having seen it live it’s now (another) one of my favourites, a breakneck chorus giving way to Doll’s soaring vocals. A lively ‘He Was a Dancer’ inspired the biggest jig of the night from the crowd before, all too soon, the set climaxed with the funk driven ‘He’s A Believer’. After a set like that I sure am. Doll and the Kicks may just be one of the most underrated indie bands on the planet today. Let’s not keep it that way eh?

PS: Music’s definitely in a funny place right now. The old order of record labels, major radio stations and prime time pop music TV shows have all but gone. Whilst that system was undoubtedly flawed at least it gave more of a chance for genuinely great bands – and DATK are a genuinely great band – to get through to a mass audience. Go back to the glory days of Top of the Pops and The Tube(why the hell was that show cancelled eh?) and it was perfectly possible for a young band with their first single to get an audience of millions. Unless you’re willing to whore yourself out to Cowell where else can you get anywhere near that sort of coverage today? I know the Internet has seventy squillion users but there are 50 squillion bands on it too, so that don’t help. It’s a question I’ve posed here dozens of times and I’m still no closer to an answer. What I do know is that there seems to be a growing number of great bands out there who, in another era, would’ve been huge who just aren’t getting the audiences they deserve (and plenty of music fans who aren’t getting to hear them either).

Friday, October 08, 2010

Hurts / Performance @ The HMV Institute, Thursday 7th September 2010

Hurts 'Better Than Love' from Trim Editing on Vimeo.

Somewhere deep in the heart of Manchester a team of scientists have been busily working on a top secret project. Not for them a cure for cancer or the recipe for a new biofuel ...hell no...their mission was a darn sight more important than that. The rebirth of classy 80’s pop. After pumping in all of the relevant technical data to ZX Spectrum (48k naturally) they came up with Hurts.

Before we see the results for ourselves however there’s just time for Performance...the band that is. Fronted by rising literary star Joe Stretch they’ve been around a few years now and have seemingly been through several line up changes, splits, record labels, pairs of get the picture. On paper everything looks good. A decent lyricist, a dark synthy heart and an axe wielding blonde. As a live performance it was a little more hit and miss, with the odd bum note and some slightly awkward stage moves. Perhaps the various breaks over the years and extracurricular activities have left the band a little rusty in places? It seemed to work best when Joe and Laura sang together though and, as the set went on, things settled down a bit more reaching a respectable climax with a track called ‘The Living’, replete with a decent rallying shout along ‘Hey! Hey!’ bit.

In stark contrast to Performance’s slightly ragged show Hurts were, from start to finished, as polished and perfect as their records and videos suggested they’d be. Heralded by a nice snatch of violins and cellos Theo and Adam, dressed impeccably in suits (although Adams’s trousers were about 6 inches too short...maybe that’s the fashion in Manchester these days?) were joined by a drummer, keyboard player and backing vocalist (more on him later) and flanked by what looked like shower cubicles at the back of the stage. Dead artistic that. Bathed in blue light the set kicked off with ‘Unspoken’, strings and sparse piano giving way to pounding drums that in turn rose to a crescendo before dropping away, leaving Theo’s soaring vocals and the odd plink plonk of Adam’s keyboard. The song built again, the impact of the reintroduction of the strings recalling David Arnold’s ‘Play Dead’. Wow. If you’re going to do sophisti-pop then you’ve got to go all out and embrace the sheer theatricality of it all. And from the opening number it was clear that’s just what they were going to do. The evening’s equally epic second track, ‘Silver Lining’ gave Mr Backing Vocalist something to do. Who is that fella? Cracking voice. In this song he gave us some nice deep booming Russian Army style choruses (think Pet Shop Boys’ ‘Go West’), but at various times through the evening he hit some pretty high notes too, as well as delivering a little opera. What a range. Maybe those scientists in Manchester built him too?

For 80’s pop anoraks the entire set was a dream. Ooohhh there’s a bit of The Human League, that’s a little Depeche Mode...there’s some Black...and some ABC...Pet Shop Boys...hmmm... a little Johnny Hates Jazz too. ‘Wonderful Life’ lived up to its title (although I did miss the dancing girl in the video), ‘Blood, Tears and Gold’ got me reaching for my imaginary lighter (it’s just designed for one of those lighters in the air moments) and a Kylie Minogue-less ‘Devotion’ inspired the band to cover ‘Confide In Me’ (giving Theo the chance to let his own inner opera singer out during the choruses). Stylish to the last Theo’s suit remained on throughout the show, buttoned up even, despite the heat up there. “Big mistake wearing this” he declared half way through. Yeah, but can you imagine seeing them any other away? It just wouldn’t work. Respect due for the little theatrical flourishes he put in too. Plenty of ‘hands to heaven’ moments and some nice little flicks of the microphone lead. Tony Bennett would be proud of you son.

It was the last track of the night, ‘Better Than Love’ that really got the juices flowing though. Inspiring a mass clap along this is Hurts on speed. It’s everything that’s great about this band in 3 minutes. Classy pop you can drink, dance and...ahem...make lurve to. Proof that you should always save the best to last. No encore. How could you top that? I’m so glad they didn’t try.

At times this evening you really got the sense that Theo can’t believe how well things are going. In just over a year he’s gone from signing on to signing autographs. Noting that there were “quite a few ladies around tonight” I’m guessing he’s becoming a bit of a pop pin up too (if only Smash Hits was still going). What’s not to love eh girls? He dresses like a million dollars, he writes love songs and he’s immaculately well groomed (he even threw a comb out to the audience towards the end of the set...I guess he thought a few of us could do with a wash and brush up).

The 80’s were awash with sophisticated, glamorous, grown up pop bands, but they’re a rarity these days. That’s why, although Hurts might not be true originals, in today’s frequently insipid, throwaway, ringtone driven mainstream music scene they’re still a real breath of fresh air.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Website Of The Week...and the story so far.

Honoured to have been named as Amazing Radio’s Website Of The Week this week. They did a little interview with me that went out on Monday. Did you hear it? Yep, I really do sound like that. I’ve also just completed the frankly pointless task of listing all the gigs I’ve ever been to. I’ve been meaning to do this for about 20 years, but kept putting it off figuring it would get easier of I left it a decade or two. Genius. Anyway, I’ve forgotten a whole bunch of stuff, especially in the early years (which look particularly sparse). There’s also a hell of a gap during my Uni years. Whilst most students spend three years dancing/shagging the night away I spent most of my time working endless shifts in 7Eleven and serving hookers with endless boxes of condoms. Hey, it’s a living. Anyway, if you’re really bored at work this list (it’s a biggie) is to the left of this gibberish under Da Pages. Enjoy.

PS: If you can tell me any gigs that I was at but haven’t listed then please do so. I‘m not sure how the hell you’d know this...maybe you’re my stalker...or some kind of freakin’ psychic...

Delays / 51 Breaks / Jamie Clayton @ The Glee Club, Tuesday 5th October 2010

How’s this for a delay? I’ve waited nearly 6 years to see this band play live. Like ships in the night we’ve missed each other over the years (sold out gigs, clashing dates, me being a lazy ass) but tonight, with Jupiter in Uranus, Mercury rising and all sorts of other shit aligned I finally got to witness their peerless pop majesty for myself.

First up though, to ease us gently into the evening, local singer songwriter Jamie Clayton. Echoes of the ghost of Jeff Buckley flavoured a deeply personal and raw set stuffed to the brim with a clutch of well written, emotionally honest songs. Look out for his debut album in the near future.

In stark contrast to the pared down sound of JC, next up it’s the flamboyant tunage of 51 Breaks. Opening with some kind of orchestral theme tune (played on an i-Pod...somehow I don’t think the Glee Club stage would cope with the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra) 51 Breaks are masters of anthemic synth tinged pop. I’ve seen ‘em a few times before and they never cease to entertain. Kicking off with the pleading ‘Words Regarding’ pretty much every track that followed was instantly hummable, with picks of the pops being Tunnels and, in my humble opinion their strongest number, Occams Razor (which still ain’t up on their MySpace page...doh!).

Time for Southhampton’s finest, Delays. Coming on stage with a cheery “Hello Birmingham” some bright spark in the audience responded “But this is Manchester”. Cue a moment of slight panic as lead singer Greg mentally checked that he was in the right place. Well, this venue is also a comedy club after all. Witty banter aside, at the heart of the band’s sound is Greg’s ball bursting falsetto vocals which were in fine form tonight as the opening number ‘Girl’s On Fire’ proved. Combined with brother Aaron’s voice they instantly brought to mind the vocal alchemy of Fleetwood Mac’s Buckingham / Nicks partnership, a comparison that’s strengthened by the material, soaring pop rock with a slightly dreamy quality. It’s intoxicating stuff and, judging by the people that surrounded me (who seemed to know every single word –and I mean EVERY single word – of every single track...that’s rare at any gig) Delays fans are a devoted bunch. Tonight’s set, which dipped into their critically acclaimed back catalogue of four albums (from 2004’s ‘Faded Seaside Glamour’ through to this year intriguingly named ‘Star Tiger, Star Ariel’) gave them plenty to appreciate.

Of course one of the strengths of the band’s music (the whole dreaminess thing) can sometimes be a weakness if you’re not familiar with all of the tracks and, once or twice, I found the pace (and my attention) drift slightly. But then they pull it back with some of the best pop tracks of the last 20 years and all is forgiven. In fact when they get it right Delays nail it better than most. The pairing of ‘Nearer Than Heaven’ and ‘Valentine’ towards the end of the set was instant pop fix as powerful as a shot of adrenaline to the left ventricle. Nearer Than Heaven’s a shimmering jewel of a track, the simple musical arrangement acting as the perfect backdrop for Greg’s angelic vocals. No less effective, but a different beast altogether, Valentine’s driving synth beats and choppy guitars inspired some frantic leaping up and down from the super fans. Nursing a torn stomach muscle (yeah...bench pressing 1500lbs again) I was restricted to some vigorous head nodding. Elsewhere in the set current single ‘Unsung’ neatly blended the dream pop vibe with a rockier element, ‘Wanderlust’ added a slightly Caribbean feel courtesy of that steel drum sample (at least it sounds like steel drum to me) and ‘Friends Are False’ gave the band a chance to reveal their more vitriolic side.

Chatty and at ease with the whole performance the band even found time to pay homage to one man and his moustache. Serves me right for standing at the front. They were very complimentary though. Aaron revealed that he’d tried to grow one but it just ended up as bum fluff. I encouraged him to stick with if everyone in the band ends up with handlebar ‘taches I’m the one to blame.

Doubtless if Delays had packed it all in after their first album I reckon they’d now be held in far greater esteem (a la The La’s and The Stone Roses...yes I know they made a second album but let’s not go there eh?). As it is we lucky people still have a chance to enjoy some of the most sublime pop hits of the last 20 years for ourselves. Was it worth the six year wait? Hell yeah. Now that's what I call Delays-ed gratification.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Islet / Ace Bushy Striptease / This Is Sinister @ The Flapper, Saturday 2nd October

After last night’s goth fest with O. Children this was another much anticipated gig thanks to the presence of the frankly genre defying Islet (pictured above...three of 'em anyway).

Kicking off proceedings though it’s This Is Sinister. It took me a couple of tracks to get into them. There’s a kind of a psych math rock alt country thing going on. Hmmmm... maybe they should be called ‘This Is Puzzling’. I’m not sure how long they’ve been going but I got the sense that perhaps they’re still developing the sound of the band too. That’s not to say that they weren’t accomplished. In fact listening to each one of them in isolation (I can do that you know...I’m, like a bat) they’re clearly all pretty good musicians. And when it all gelled it came together well too, like on one of the standout tracks of the set, Caliba (a rocking number with shades off At The Drive In). I’ve seen bands at this sort of stage before, with plenty of ambition and a real willingness to experiment, and they can go on to do great things. One’s to watch.

Next up Ace Bushy Striptease. I want to cuddle up under a duvet with this lot. On a wet Saturday afternoon. Listening to Winnie the Pooh stories and eating choccie fudge cake. Sure they’re a little twee in places but godammit they’re sweet as hell and make the kind of pure unadulterated indiepop that warms the cockles of yer heart. Great band name too. It sounds like a kind of squirrel lap dancing club. Do squirrels have laps? I suppose they do. Not sure if the whole stripping things means much to them though, seeing as how they’re all in the buff anyway. They’d be dead good at pole dancing though. It’s the tails you know. Come to think of it those tails would make pretty good boas too for that authentic burlesque feel. Er...anyway...back to the band, bits go wrong, bits go right, some bits are in tune, some aren’t, but you know what, it don’t matter. Some bands are just a joy to watch and ABS have that easy going charm nailed. Musically there’s plenty of the twee stuff, but from time to time they go proper shouty. It’s a little like a teddy bear with a flick knife. Cute and cuddly one second, then scaring the bejesus out of you the next. Full marks for calling one of their tunes ‘Enter Soundman’ (think about it) and kudos for the 60’s garage meets 80’s indie-ness of Pain In The Aga...all in 1 minute and 2 seconds (approximately).

Finally it’s musical savants Islet (pronounced eyelet...just so you know) , a four piece Cardiff combo who haven’t just ripped up the rule book but soaked it in glue, mashed it to a pulp and made a rather fetching hat out of it. They yell, they bash, they wail. They frequently break into a tune but then they’re soon back like cracked up toddlers beating the merry hell out of their instruments and plunging into the audience on occasional forays. It’s great. Pre punk, post punk, punk, art rock, tribal, electro, can try to pin any of these labels on them but they’d probably just get ripped off in the melee. Take set highlight ‘We Shall Visit’ for example. Moving wildly through different time structures and embracing everything from Kraftwerk to Burundi drumming it somehow manages to avoid sounding like Jive Bunny on acid. Sweet. If the musical arrangements are mind boggling then the visual show’s just as mixed up. Rejecting the conventional arrangement of one band member per instrument (how boring eh?) they all seem to rotate and play everything, so the line up and dynamic changes with each number. It’s a neat trick if you can pull it off. The drummer play keyboards, the guitarist drums, the singer bangs one point he even started ‘playing’ the venue itself...hitting bits of it with some drumsticks to create his own sound. It’s the future I tells ya. Off stage the band’s doing its own thing too with the random publication of the Isness...a lo fi art flyer billed rather grandly as their “visual display / communication device”. Naturally their physical releases so far seem to be on vinyl too (hurrah!) and you can get your paws on all this stuff at their appropriately minimalist website. If music be the food of love Islet’s an all you can eat buffet. Get stuck in.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

O. Children / At The Zoo @ The Flapper, Friday October 1st

I was particularly looking forward to tonight’s gig. And not just because I was intrigued to see how Tobi, O.Children’s vertically unchallenged lead singer, would get on with the low ceilinged Flapper basement. Nope. I was looking forward to a bit of misery (I do love a bit of misery) courtesy of the band’s particularly fine brand of doomy indie goth.

First up though (and distinctly un-goth) it’s local crew, At The Zoo. Indie rockers, at different times in the set they reminded me of The Libertines, The Futureheads, The Kooks and The Jam. Kicking off with Turn Your TV Off (Put Your Records On) they inspired some lively bouncing up and down from a handful of the crowd and a number of the tunes were catchy enough to stick in my head from the last time I saw them. Pick of the set tonight was the bopsheboptastic ‘Love For Granted’. Which reminded me even more of a ‘Libertines meets the Grease soundtrack’ than the last time I heard it. Go and listen and you’ll see what I mean.

As the clock struck midnight...actually it was more like 10pm but that don’t sound as good...and a thick mist enveloped the stage O.Children appeared out of the dark. Young ladies fainted. Kids screamed. Blood dripped from eyeballs and bats flapped lazily over the bar (I’m just making shit up now). Okay. I think you get the message. O.Children have well and truly raised goth from the dead and I, for one, couldn’t be more chuffed. Goth’s the perfect soundtrack for our times right now. Miserable. Introspective. Dank. It’s not dull though. Think Joy Division holding a wrist slitting party with Depeche Mode and Bauhaus and you’ll have some idea of the sound. At the heart of the whole thing is the towering form of Tobi O’Kandi. Just before the set began the soundguy was setting up the mics and, to get the right height, he cranked them up to their limit so that the mic itself was touching the top of his scalp. And he was no midget. Yep, Tobi is what you’d call a big fella. Coming onstage wearing a sort of shroud over his head and stooping to avoid slicing the top of his scalp off on the Flapper’s ceiling, one word from him quickly revealed that the voice is more than a match for the height. It’s a deep, booming, ominous thing (not unlike Lurch from the Addams Family), capable (I imagine) of making ‘The Sun Has Got His Hat On’ sound like a funereal lament.

The gig kicked off with new single Ruins, all chainsaw guitars, crashing drums and Tobi booming on about “Killing time” and “Cutting and screaming”. It’s a truly classic goth anthem, right up there with the very best of Bauhaus, The Bad Seeds and (WARNING! Obscure goth band reference coming up) Rosetta Stone (see, told ya). The tone being set Tobi and his band of not so merry men played track after track of gloriously bleak music, dragging us all deeper and deeper into our own personal pits of despair. ‘Dead Disco Dancer’, with its slightly chirpy New Order chords is as close as we get to relief, but it only lasted as long as the intro, before Tobi staring booming at us again about death and graves. It’s this all enveloping atmosphere that the band manages to create that’s at the heart of their live appeal though. Visually and musically you’re trapped in a world of their making and they ain’t letting you out until sunrise. Trust me. O.Children should be seen...and heard.

PS: Spotted lurking at the back of the room was Gavin & Stacey’s very own Mat Horne. He even bought an O.Children CD. See...who needs Heat Magazine eh? Coming soon...I talk to Nikki from Big Brother about the songs of Neil Young 1968-1972.

Friday, October 01, 2010

O. Children. Live and undead...tonight @ The Flapper

O Children - Dead Disco Dancer from Stage of the Art .net on Vimeo.

Okay. So it’s Friday. You’ve had a sucky week. It’s raining. The heel on your favourite pair of stilettos has just snapped off (What? Men wear stilettos too don’t they? Oh. Just me then...). The whole world’s going bust and Tony Curtis has popped his clogs. What you need is some quality, full on GOTH. Tonight. O.Children. The Flapper. It's indie goth goldust. Trust me, you’ll be telling your grandkids about this one...that’ll give the little buggers nightmares.

Tickets from the sexy folk at Birmingham Promoters.