Monday, February 28, 2011

Gruff Rhys / Y Niwl @ The Glee Club, Sunday 27th February

Y Niwl - Undegpedwar from Ryan Owen on Vimeo.

By the time we got into the venue tonight it was packed as tight as a tin of agoraphobic sardines, which is pretty appropriate given the surf-tastic opening act Y Niwl. Yep. A Welsh surf band. Possibly the only Welsh surf band in the world too. That’ll make ‘em the best then. When I say surf band we’re not talking the Beach Boyos, Y Niwl’s brand of surf music is more Dick Dale and Link Wray, the kind of twangy instrumentals that Tarantino would slice his own ear off to have on one of his soundtracks on. What really makes it work (as opposed to being a little bit cheesy) is the band’s obvious love of the music coupled with some really top notch playing and plenty of twangy guitars. Given the distinctly drab weather outside it was a welcome blast of Summertime fun, fun, fun.

After a spirited set their work still wasn’t done though. Y Niwl were back to act as Gruff Rhys’s backing band too. Gruff is, I think it’s fair to say, something of a musical genius. Having delivered album after album of cracking twisted pop with Super Furry Animals he’s recently started doing more of his own thing. The results, including Candylion and Neon Neon, have been some of the best releases of the past decade or so. Now he’s back with Hotel Shampoo, seemingly inspired by his collection of hotel shampoo bottles (he’s kept one from every hotel he’s visited over the you do).

Gruff's as laid back as they come. Ambling onstage like he’s taken the wrong turning he wanders over to the mic “Hello...we’re going some songs...and then we’ll play some more...thank you”. The crowd (possibly some of them a little more ‘refreshed’ than usual after Birmingham City’s frankly sensation win over Arsenal) whooped and hollered at this intro before Gruff launched into the first of several Welsh language tracks ‘Gwn Mi Wn’ from his debut solo album ‘Yr Atal Genhedlaeth’. I don’t speak Welsh. I daresay few people in the crowd did, but it’s a beautiful language to listen to, especially when it’s being sung in the honeyed, tremulous tones of Gruff at his best. I love that voice. Retaining the laid back quality that he speaks with it’s the kind of vocal that could put out fires and stop rampaging rhino’s and much of Hotel Shampoo material, with its chilled out slightly loungecore feel, makes really good use of it. Before checking in tonight though Gruff gave us ‘Candylion’ and ‘The Court Of King Arthur’ together with ‘In a House With No Mirrors’ from Gruff’s underappreciated collaboration with Tony Da Gatorra, ‘The Terror Of Cosmic Loneliness’. Then there was just time for ‘Pwdin Wy 1 & 2’ which Gruff solemnly informed us was a two part love song about a girl called Egg Pudding who catches a sexually transmitted disease of a guy called Keith Edgar. This may or may not be true...we’ll all have to brush up on our Welsh to find out. Hotel Shampoo time and a half dozen tracks from the newbie “Half...a dozen...” intoned Gruff “’s egg box of songs...”. Hmmm maybe he’s got a thing for eggs? Pick of the selection were ‘Sophie Softly’ and ‘Honey All Over’ replete with 60’s pop style ba-ba-ba-backing vocals. Recent single ‘Sensations in the Dark’ was sadly bereft of its mariachi horns tonight, but still classic Gruff.

Back to the Welsh language tracks and the motorik Gyrru Gyruu got a welcome spin before Gruff led the (mainly) seated audience in a rather impressive Mexican wave as a precursor to Candylion’s ‘Cycle Of Violence’. “Break a glass” instructed Gruff “...just one mind”. Sadly they were all thick plastic so it would have taken a herculean effort to get so much as a crack out of one. With the promise of an encore one or two vociferous members of the audience started baying for Sklyon. Gruff was more than happy to oblige “Bowing to popular requests...I’m going to play...” “Skylonnnnn” screamed one particularly excited woman “....Rubble Rubble” responded Gruff. Ha! Brilliant. He gave in eventually though.

Skylon, an epic tale of a bomb disposal expert coming to the rescue of a plane full of passengers, lasts a good quarter of an hour or so (as you can see/hear for yourself) but I reckon I wasn’t the only one that didn’t want it to finish. A ‘nos da’ all round then...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gay For Johnny Depp / The Computers / For Eyes / DIAMONDS @ The Flapper, Wednesday 23rd February

“Cum on feel the noize”, so sang Slade’s Noddy Holder back in the day...quite what he’d make of tonight’s ‘noize’ I wouldn’t like to say...I imagine the words ‘what’, ‘the’, ‘fook’ , ‘was’ and ‘that?’ might be involved somewhere. Yes, tonight was the sonic equivalent of GBH, a glorious three hour assault on the senses that left all concerned just that little bit deafer...

First up ‘disco punk spazzcore’ from local escaped lunatics DIAMONDS. Fusing...well I say fusing...battering together is probably a better term for it...punk, post punk, metal and krautrock into something as hard as their name suggests it was an explosive set, with odd interludes of guitar noodling that only served to intensify the loud bits. “This is a song about Naomi Campbell’s trial at the Hague” explained the drummer before they launched into powerful kick in the guts that the aforementioned ‘model’ well and truly deserves. DIAMONDS ain’t this girls best friend. Kudos to the lead singer for continually ripping the piss out of his band mates too...some nice dissing there dude.

For Eyes were up next. Billed as ‘post hardcore’ (hey, if nothing else this review’s giving you some cool genres to name drop the next time someone asks you what kind of music you like) they’re surprisingly melodic in places. In fact you could almost sing along to a couple of tracks...oh alright then...scream along. As with all the bands tonight the lead singer spent most of his time in the crowd eyeballing us slightly menacingly whilst going seven shades of mental. I think one of the tracks had the word ‘ocular’ in the title (that would make sense I guess) but what do titles matter eh? What am I...a frickin’ train spotter? Al I know is it rocked...stuttering post hardcore rhythms soundtracking a primal scream therapy session. The set ended with the singer lying on the floor and a couple of the audience body slamming into him. WWF had nothing on this. Smackdown.

Pausing just to check whether I had any hearing left in my left ear (nope) The Computers gone done brung us some dirty, primal rock n’blues, the likes of which we’ve not heard since someone pulled a rocket from a crypt. They’re a classy act this lot. All dressed in white (that’s a brave choice on tour eh?) they kicked the set off with their signature tune ‘Teenage Tourettes Camp’, a heads down, 100mph rocker and the pace never slackened. Their blend of blues, rock and punk is as intoxicating as a bottle of Jack and just as likely to see you waking up with a big dumb grin on your face and your head pounding like a jackhammer. It came as no surprise to hear that they’ve just recorded their album with RFTC’s John ‘Speed’ Reis and, having seen the Crypt in their prime, The Computers are doing their spiritual godfathers proud. Screamin’ Al works the floor like a pro, even ending up playing BEHIND the bar for a while... two pints of lager and packet of riffs and Rickenbacker in perfect harmony whilst the rest of the band rock up a storm. Plug yourself in, download everything they’ve ever done and turn it up LOUD you muthas.

Finally...the band your parents warned you about, a group whose music has the power to turn milk sour and fertilise’s Gay For Johnny Depp. Imagine if you had a throat lined with sandpaper and shards of broken bottles. Now imagine that you’d just discovered your boyfriend/girlfriend in bed with the local netball/football team (delete as applicable...). Now imagine you’d just stubbed you toe on something hard. And then stepped on a piece of lego...and banged your head on a shelf. The kind of noise you’d probably make is pretty much what ‘Gay For Johnny Depp’ sound like. So this is screamcore you’ll think as bits of your frontal lobe ooze out of your ears. It’s a joyously HOMO-TT performance with lead singer Marty risking life and limb in the low ceilinged Flapper by getting us to carry him aloft as he does his best to bring up a lung or two. It’s not just a non-stop screamathon though. Oh no. There’s some serious debates too. Everything from how hot guitarist Sid’s mum is through to the pleasures and pains of getting a finger up the ass. Kudos to Sid for wearing an rather natty thrift store suit throughout the entire set by the way. He showed me a pair of ticket stubs from the opera dating from 1980 that he’d found in one of the pockets. Boy...has that suit lived eh? Unbelievably they managed to shoehorn in a brief cover of the Robbie Williams classic ‘Angels’ and an impromptu burst of Depeche Mode’s ‘People Are People’ before ending the carnage with...oh the serendipity...Slade’s ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’, retooled (so to speak) as ‘Cum On Feel The Boize’. Slade? We had been. I need a lie down...

The return of the Young Runaways

Picture courtesy of Shakeypix

Since making something of a comeback at the end of last year after a short hiatus Midlands based Young Runaways have their sights firmly set on the future. The band, made up of siblings and friends from Wolverhampton and Birmingham, had been building a reputation as something special and even labelled with the dreaded ‘ones to watch’ tag. However, for their own personal reasons they decided to leave it a while before coming back more focused and with a slightly more rock 'n' roll feel. That, and a few new faces.

Lead vocalist and guitarist Matt Pinfield gave us the lowdown,“We took the break because of a couple of departures from the old line up. Nothing serious happened, just people having different priorities commitment wise to the band. Now though we just want to get back out there and show everyone what we've been doing with our time off. We've written a load of new songs, recorded an EP which comes out on Commercially Inviable Records in April and the band is sounding better than ever."

As well as guitar, bass and drums, the six-piece play other instruments such as trumpet, trombone, violin, keyboard and melodica and specialise in choral harmonies, lending the band at times an orchestral feel.

Matt said: “We’re loving being back on the road and playing some really good shows. A recent one was an Oxfam Outreach presents show at the Rainbow in Digbeth which was brilliant fun and we're playing the upcoming Rites Of Spring festival in Birmingham with Modified Toy Orchestra and Fyfe Dangerfield. It’s just great being able to show off new songs, both from the EP as well as other songs we're currently working on. I think we may have enough material at the moment for almost two albums. The sound is sort of half rock 'n' roll band half orchestra if people can imagine it. For the EP I think the arrangements are a lot more focussed and we spent time getting the production just right. We even went as far as New York to have it mastered by a gentleman called Alan Douches who has worked with some incredible artists."

He added: "I think anyone who heard Young Runaways before won't be too shocked by the new tracks as there are still six of us, it's still big and still brave."

To hear tracks from the band's soon to be released EP, visit

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bearwood...and the curious case of the vanishing gig venues

Okay, this is a bit of a local one but I reckon it’s kind of applicable to most people reading this right now. First of all I live in Bearwood. If you’re not from round these ‘ere parts it’s a couple of miles outside Birmingham, a city that’s reasonably well served by gig venues these days. In its time Bearwood seemed to host loads of gigs too. Incredibly the Beatles and Stones played Bearwood’s Thimblemill Baths way back in the 60’s and at least two of our local pubs (The Bear and The Kings Head) were respected gig hotspots. Fast forward 40 years or so and there’s relatively little live music round here now or anywhere locally outside Birmingham for that matter. If you live in Kings Heath you’ve got the Hare and Hounds pub (similar in size to Bearwood’s The Bear) which puts on some cracking gigs most nights of the week. Nearby Moseley has one or two venues too. Other than that, if you want live music, you’ve generally got to head into the City. Why? Beats me. But I might be about to find out. Together with a number of other brave/mad souls we’re planning to put on some gigs in Bearwood. It’s early days yet. We still have to secure a venue, confirm dates, book know, all the basic but pretty essential stuff.

I’ve read a lot over the years about the shrinking number of live music venues all over the UK. It seems that there used to be loads more than we have now (enough to support a huge number of bands...all of whom earned a decent enough living out of playing...happy days eh?), which is curious as we’re always being told that live music is more popular than ever. Certainly there seems to be no shortage of people willing to part with £20+ to see bands play some of the bigger venues in the City so, even in these cash strapped times, money can’t be an issue. What’s happened to the ‘neighbourhood’ (I can’t think of a better way to put it) music venues though? Like I said at the beginning I guess this applies to lots of pockets of the UK and, who knows, the rest of the world too. Have the big corporations and mega venues sucked the life out of everywhere else. Is the red tape (health and safety, insurance etc) too much of a ball ache these days? Are people unwilling to take a punt on bands they might not have heard of? Or are we all glued to ‘Big Fat Apprentice Gypsy Chef On Ice’ and online porn? I happen to be of the opinion that live music is pretty much the best way to spend an evening...okay, one of the best ways to spend an evening (next to watching ‘Big Fat Apprentice Gypsy Chef On Ice’ and online porn of course) and I’m curious as to find out for myself why a lot of the ‘neighbourhood’ venues seem to have pretty much died out (hand in hand with the death of the local boozer perhaps?). Time will tell...

PS: I’ll keep you updated on our progress here but check out the brand new We Love Bearwood blog too for all your Bearwood related news and gossip...

PPS: The random picture above shows Bearwood's legendary Little Nibble cafe, namechecked by Dexy's Midnight Runners. It's now yet another deep fried chicken place...oh the shame of it. Here's the awesome track in question...

PPPS: If Dexy's would like to play at our first night we'd be happy to have 'em...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Gruff Rhys...sensational in the dark...

Yep, everyone's favourite Welshman...well my favourite Welshman at least, Mr Gruff Rhys, is back with a brand new album (Hotel Shampoo) and single (the mariachi-tastic 'Sensations In The Dark'). Seemingly one of the most chilled out dudes in the universe he's been steadily producing some of the darn finest music around now for nearly twenty years, both as a Super Furry Animal and (my personal preference) solo artist. Previous solo efforts Candylion and Neon Neon remain firmly in my top albums of all time list and Hotel Shampoo looks set to join 'em. He's on tour right now but it looks like most dates have sold out. Bummer. If you've not got a reservation console yerself with the video instead or check in to Gruff's website for more Hotel Shampoo related merry making.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Fort Knox Five 4 FREE!

Triple J Radio presents "All Good Things Come in 5's VOL.2" by fortknoxfive

What is music Thursday...(see the post below for another freebie)? Yep. This time it's a hunky, funky shake yer trunky, hippity hoppity mix from Hearing Aid faves Fort Knox Five (respec' due to The Bobby Dazzler for the tip off). Play it loud...especially if you're at work...especially if you're a brain surgeon...that's it...shake your money maker...what's've just severed an internal carotid artery...oh...bugger.

Jim Kroft reveals his 'Memoirs From The Afterlife'

Jim Kroft - Memoirs from the Afterlife from Jim Kroft on Vimeo.

Imagine if Sparks and ELO decided to have kids together (hey, it could happen...they can do all sorts of crazy shit these days). The result might sound a little like Jim Kroft’s new single ‘Memoirs From The Afterlife’ a rather spiffing 60’s tinged, string flecked affair that ponders the possibility of life after death. I have enough trouble contemplating life after waking up, but there we go.

Want more? Okey dokey, here’s a free download of the B side, ‘Cracked Polaroids’ for you...yep, FREE, my favourite to classy me.

Memoirs From The Afterlife is out on Monday 21st February on Jackolope Recordings

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Exclusive interview with 'Screaming' Al from The Computers

On the eve of their UK tour I caught up with Screaming Al from Exeter based hardcore legends in the making The Computers to talk facial hair, the rising price of Quorn and how they got Rocket From The Crypt’s Speedo to record their debut album. Strap yourself in, it’s gonna get messy...

The Hearing Aid: To someone who hasn't heard you before how would you describe your sound?

Al: Take all the best styles of music from the last 60 years, mash it all up in your mum’s favourite bowl, add soya milk. And what have you got...GARAGESOULPUNKnROLL. That’s us. Dig in.

The Hearing Aid: that’s a tasty dish. I’d probably skip the soya milk and add a dash of bourbon though. Okay, what’s your definitive song so far then? What really captures what you’re all about?

Al: ''Teenage Tourettes Camp’’ rock n roll... DESTROY EVERYTHING!

The Hearing Aid: Everything? Even that puppet of Iggy Pop on those ads for car insurance? I reckon he’s indestructible. I wouldn’t mind having a bash mind you. How important is the image to the band?

Al: Very important! To play tight you must look tight. The all white outfits are a blank canvas. No one can work us out when we first walk on stage, and we like it that way. Good guys wear white!

The Hearing Aid: Except the pope perhaps. Although he did wave at me on his recent visit to Bearwood. Well, I say wave, it was more of a two fingered gesture. What were your musical inspirations growing up?

Al: Garage bands, soul singers, punk bands and rock n roll. to name a few... the Sonics, Ray Charles, The Clash, Chuck Berry, The Hives, Smokey Robinson, The Bronx, Little Richard, The Cramps, The Supremes, The Smiths, Nerve Agents, New York Dolls, Wipers, Aretha Franklin, Social Distortion...NEVER MOTLEY CRUE!

The Hearing Aid: Who do you rate today, who would you like to work with?

Al: There’s only one man worth working with, and we have done it.

The Hearing Aid: Speaking of which...what was it like recording with Speedo (John ‘Speedo’ Reis – former front dude of legendary rockers Rocket From The Crypt), how did it come about? I heard you nailed the whole thing in 4 days?

Al: We were lucky enough to play with John's new band 'The Nightmarchers' at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds (thanks Matt).

We had fantasised for years about how amazing it would be to record with him. We are all such massive fans of all his bands, Rocket From The Crypt, Hot Snakes, Sultans, Drive Like Jehu. I saw John packing up his gear at the end of the night, and after a few drinks, and a few more, I went up to him and just asked him if he was still recording bands. He replied '' Yeah man''. '' Would you be up for recording us?'' ‘‘Totally'' we exchanged numbers and a few months later we were at the city of refuge (his house in sunny San Diego) jamming with the Swami himself. It’s true we did record the whole album in four days, live, no over dubs. And yes we did nail it. It was an amazing experience.

The Hearing Aid: Wow...can't imagine many producers being quite so approachable. Does Aidan still have his tache, it rocks. What about the rest of the band, will they be adopting that bad boy?

Al: The tache comes and goes, that’s the beauty of facial hair. I don’t have one at the moment but Al's sported a few big ones in his time. Sonny The Saint can’t grow hair above his lip, just from his side burns around to his chin sometimes developing into 'savage nu metal beard' as we like to call it. He has to keep a close eye on that one. As for Good Vibes, he's currently sporting a bin man’s beard. It’s big and well kept. But still, it’s a beard. There is only one man I know of who can pull off a beard, and that man’s name is Mr Mark Pycraft (our manager).

The Hearing Aid: Cool. I’m looking forward to seeing that ‘bin man’s beard’. Remember though kids, a tache is for just for Christmas. Okay...vinyl, cds, tapes or mp3?

Al: I love vinyl, I have a big collection and love every single one of them. I also own a lot of cds and love most of them. One of the latest things I bought was a Smiths Best Of on tape. Joe strummer said is favourite type of audio consumption was tape, so if it’s good enough for him its good enough for me. I can honestly say I don’t know what an mp3 is. I don’t have an I pod, and don’t own a computer. I buy my music from shops or Amazon, it’s all I’ve ever known and probably ever will.

The Hearing Aid: Good man. Not sure I can agree on the tape thing though...Joe Strummer nearly ran into me at Glastonbury a few years back...I suspect he was probably listening to a Big Audio Dynamite tape on his Walkman at the time. Any groupies, male or female? Any tales?

Al: We are not that sort of band. We have many friends, male and female. And we share our tales with each other. That’s it.

The Hearing Aid: there are tales eh? I guess we’ll have to wait for the book. Hopes and fears for 2011?

Al: I hope that the price of fuel won’t keep going up, but I fear that it will. I hope good record shops won’t keep closing down, but I fear they will. I hope people like our album and that they try to remember what life was like before Facebook and Twitter and i phones and Blu Ray (whatever that is). But really I just hope Iceland keep their Quorn products cheap, but I know they won’t.

The Hearing Aid: That sounds a bit like a stock market tip. Buy Quorn now, stash it away and you’ll make a bundle in six months time. How long does Quorn keep for? I can’t believe I’m asking that questions. Ignore me. I’ll buy some and find out. The public needs to know this stuff. You wouldn’t get this kind of in depth meat substitute based analysis from Kerrang eh? Anyway, you’re about to tour with Gay For Johnny Depp, don’t they scare the bejesus out of you? The videos freak me out...

Al: The Computers are scared of no one. We have toured with the Gays before and it was great. The show itself is a bit scary, but it’s good to be a bit scared sometimes. To be content and peaceful is a very boring place to be. X

The Hearing Aid: Amen to that. You can catch The Computers on tour right now, if you're in the Midlands they're playing a date at The Flapper on Wednesday 23rd February. Tickets available here! Check their MySpace thingy for details of their other dates or just look out for gangs of people carrying huge sacks of Quorn...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Florrie / Vs / The Light Cascades / ZuZu @ The HMV Institute, Saturday 12th February 2011

Saturday night and it's off to the Institute Tower (aka the 'Temple')with me for a foursome...musically speaking obviously...kicking off with ZuZu, a feisty 16 year old from Liverpool with a penchant for the punkier side of rock and a surprisingly well developed sense of stage craft (cue plenty of foot stomping, hair flicking and guitar abuse). It was a short, sharp and suitably raucous set (one of the first outside her home turf I believe) with the standout number ‘ADD’ successfully fusing that punk attitude with a bit more of singalong pop sensibility. One to watch...

Next up some synthy treats in the form of local electro pop quartet The Light Cascades, replete with 80’s-tastic boy/girl vocals and old skool keyboards. After a slightly shaky start it all came together rather splendidly on tracks like ‘Smile’, as 80’s as the Rubiks Cube, ZX Spectrum and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. A bit Alphabeat in places the bloke sounds a little like a cross between the dude out of Psychedelic Furs and Robert Smith from The Cure...a similarity that was well and truly cemented with a winning cover of The Cure’s ‘Pictures Of You’.

Next, formed from the still smouldering ashes of Midland’s bands Augustine and 35 Seconds it’s in versus...not V’s. Got it? Good. That’s important ‘cos I reckon they could be on to something here. I can’t seem to find a website for them but trust me, their synths and samples sound is well worth hunting out, coming off like Thomas Dolby having a scrap with Infidels (the band) at an illegal rave sometime in 1989. Their grime-ish mash up of the Batman theme tune is really something...

Finally model/drummer/producer/singer/writer/brain surgeon (quite possibly) and all round good egg, Florrie. Currently being tipped for big things by those ‘in the know’, Florrie’s got the lot. Just 22 she’s already pounded the skins for Xenomania – the all conquering hit factory behind some of Kylie and Girls Aloud’s best stuff – and landed a deal as the face of Nina Ricci’s new scent, Drummer’s’s not right...L’Elixir. Anyway, as someone who’s unashamedly loved ‘pop music’ for...ahem...several years...oh alright then..decades...this is as good as it gets. It’s pure pop perfection. If you pumped in all of the ingredients for the perfect pop act in 2011 into a huge i-pop computer and gave it a few hours it would come up with Florrie. Why? Cracking tunes, a sweet voice (with just the hint of a darker edge), a great look and a something a little bit different in shape of her drumming abilities (and she really is an awesome drummer). It was one of those gigs where each tune lodged itself in your brain instantly and you found yourself humming it without meaning to...that’s always a great sign...or a sign of insanity...I’m never sure which. Kicking off with the future disco classic ‘Panic Attack’ Florrie, dressed in a rather fetching pair of leather shorts, looked every inch the pop star. Following up with the Girls Aloud-ish ‘Call of the Wild’ pretty much cemented the deal. I was hooked. She could’ve sung the fishing forecast and it would’ve sounded great. The fact that every song’s clearly been honed, sanded down, buffed up and polished to perfection is a bonus.

No doubt drawing from some of the acts that she’s worked with there are echoes of some of the greats of pop running through all of the tracks. Some Pet Shop Boys keyboards in ‘Left Too Late’ for example along with liberal scatterings of Girls Aloud and Kylie here, there and everywhere, plus that magical ingredient X that marks her out as something special. Sure, as I’ve already said everything’s been carefully crafted and no doubt worked on for months, if not years, but that’s what great pop’s all about. Something that, for 3 minutes and 26 seconds, can make you forget all about yourself and dance like a loon. ‘Give me Your Love’ is just such a tune. Featuring ‘Florrie’ pounding away at some drums placed at the front of the stage, whilst imploring some boy to ‘give me your love’, it clearly set the pulses racing for more than one or two in the audience judging by the impromptu chanting of her name that followed the song. Without pausing for breath Florrie and band (featuring some fellow Xenomania alumni I believe) gave us ‘Summer Nights’, the Chic-ish guitars adding a little welcome funk to proceedings before the set closed all too soon with ‘Call 911’, which saw Florrie do a bit of a rap thing, always a brave thing to attempt but, true to form, it actually worked.

Post gig I had the pleasure of chatting to her for a minute or two as she patiently posed for photos with fans and signed anything put in front of her. Bless her...she really is as nice as she seems. Pop stardom seems assured...resistance is futile...go on...give her your love.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Go Team / The Soundcarriers @ The HMV Institute, Thursday 10th February 2011

Psych-folk, krautrock, it what you will...Nottingham’s The Soundcarriers are one of those bands that make the sort of achingly cool music that you probably pretended to like when you were at school (whilst secretly listening to the latest boy/girl band du jour). Obvious recent influences (to my ears at least)include Stereolab and Broadcast (RIP Trish) but there’s also a bit more wigging out in places that hints at some of Brian Auger’s stuff or even the soundtrack to Hair. The male/female harmonies created that woozy, tripped out frame of mind that everybody seemed to have at music festivals in the 60’s (well, they do on the clips I’ve seen...I wasn’t old do you think I am eh?) and the only criticism I can throw at them is that I’d have liked some of the tracks to go on for an hour or two longer. Yep, there’s something about the motorik groove in ‘Morning Haze’ for example that’s really addictive and the whole set left me wanting more.

By rights The Go Team shouldn’t really exist as a live act. Originally a studio project from producer Ian Parton they apparently only came to life when someone asked him and his ‘band’ to play live and he had to hastily assemble a group to perform with. The debut album that Ian created (more or less on his own I believe) ‘Thunder, Lightning, Strike’ was a classic. A glorious sampledelic masterpiece it stuck out as something special back on its release in 2004 and it still sounds great today. The challenge that the band’s always faced is how to bring all this to life. Given the range of samples used on some of their stuff it simply ain’t possible. So, wisely, they don’t try to replicate the precise sound of the recorded tracks, opting instead to use them more as a framework for a different, rawer kind of interpretation. If that sounds like a recipe for a bit of a dog’s dinner, relax, happily they have a secret weapon in frontwoman Ninja. Part rapper, part super cool Red Coat, part one woman exercise video she burst onto the stage during opening number T.O.R.N.A.D.O and well and truly got the party started from the get go. Boy has she got some energy. Scrap wind farms, just wire her up to the national grid and voila...problem solved.

Ninja aside, the band’s other live strength lies in their versatility as musicians. Whilst some bands may swap instruments with each other from time to time The Go Team constantly mixed it up tonight, so the drummer becomes the singer, the guitarist plays the keyboards, the bassist plays the harmonica, the drummer plays the on...the guitar...and so it goes...a merry go round of thrashy musical mayhem that somehow, incredibly, works. Synchronised drumming throughout most of the set added a real big beat phatness to the’s a joy to actually watch two drummers in perfect harmony too. Clever stuff. Content wise the set drew from all three albums, with the hits (‘Bottle Rocket’, ‘Ladyflash’ and ‘Grip Like A Vice’) and other tracks from their debut predictably going down a storm. If anything the new material on their latest album ‘Rolling Blackouts’ is even stronger though. I’ve already mentioned the audio hurricane that is T.O.R.N.A.D.O, to that you can add a couple of mellower tracks, the sublime ‘Buy Nothing Day’ (sung tonight by Kaori) and the perfect slice of 60’s pop ‘Ready To Go Steady’, sung by the adorable Chi. I’ve wittered on enough (no change there then) but you can actually sum this whole gig up in just one word. FUN. I defy anyone to come out of a Go Team gig not feeling better than when they went in and that’s not a bad recommendation eh?

Having Ninja dedicate a song to me (“This is for the guy with the circus moustache”) made the night even more special ...although to be fair she did go on to dedicate it to anyone with glasses, hair or no hair...which I guess covers the rest of the human race..but still...I was touched and all that. The night climaxed with a mass pogo that left more than one or two of us a sweaty, but happy, mess. Ahhhh...good times.

I’ve read rumours that this tour and current album might signal the beginning of the end of The Go Team, which would be a crying shame. But best to be on the safe side either way. Go see ‘em whilst you’ve still got the chance. Satisfaction guaranteed. Tell them the guy with the circus moustache sent you...

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Imelda May / The Toy Hearts @ The HMV Institute, Tuesday 8th February 2011

Imelda May - Mayhem Promo Video from Decca Records UK on Vimeo.

It’s turning into a bit of a retro week, what with Brownbird Rudy Relic and CW Stoneking covering off the 1920’s and 30’s just a couple of nights ago and Imelda dragging us forward to the 50’s tonight. I guess that’s the benefit of living in a time which has such a rich musical legacy to look back on although, perhaps for many of the people here tonight, the spirited rockabilly style that Imelda’s making her own is probably something new (check out Wanda Jackson to see Imelda’s spiritual grandma though).

Before we get to Ms May there’s just time for local Bluegrass heroes/heroines The Toy Hearts (all the way from the United States of Kings Heath) to win over a few more fans with their reliably top notch set of covers and original material. Formed around two sisters and their dear old dad they’ve managed to successfully take their act back over the US in ‘a coals to Newcastle’ stylee which tells you something about how good they are. On top of a whistle stop tour through their previous albums we got to hear something from the new one ‘Femme Fatale’, which they were keen to point out was their title before Britney decided to nab it too, and a spirited cover of the Elvis Sun period classic ‘When It Rains It Really Pours’.

On to the main event then, the irrepressible force of nature that is Imelda Mary better known of course as Imelda May to her adoring public. An overnight success, after performing for 20 odd years in bars and clubs that is, May’s clearly loving the much deserved attention. There’s a raw, bullshit free honesty to the performer and, seemingly, the person. You get the real sense that she’d be just as happy playing down her local as she would in front of 20,000 people and it’s a performance that’s clearly been shaped in childhood front rooms and family parties...where it’s done for the sheer joy of it all...not as part of any act. That's what really gives her the edge.

Without giving a blow by blow account of the set (do you know how hard it is to write a setlist in the dark with a pint of cider in one hand...I nearly ruined my brothel creepers) several highlights really stood out, summing up the essential May. During ‘Proud and Humble’, written “when I was doing da hoovering” Imelda informed us in that lush accent of hers, she let the mic drop down away from her mouth and carried on singing, seemingly as loud and clear as before. That’s a neat trick to pull off in a small venue but it’s a brave soul that tries in a big old hall. It worked though. Powerful thing that voice of hers. In the same song, she led the crowd in a call and response section. Again some performers fall on their face with this stuff but it’s testament to the love that she inspires in her fans that big hairy blokes were happy sing along. Then, during ‘Mayhem’ I think it was, she ditched the mic altogether and went off to dance next to her husband (also her guitarist, Darrel Higham). Jigging away up there it seemed like she hadn’t a care in the world, doing that dance that they did in the 50’s where they wave their arms around and hold their nose like they’re about to dive underwater...I want to say the ‘Mashed Potato’ but I could just be making shit up now. It was a gloriously unselfconscious moment and the look on her face said it all. She’s having a ball. So were we.

There was a cover or two, including Howling Wolf’s ‘Poor Boy’, acknowledged tonight as one of her inspirations and some rousing renditions of her biggest numbers to date, ‘Inside Out’, ‘Big Bad Handsome Man’ and ‘Johnny Got a Boom Boom’. Respect due to Al, the double bass player, on the last of these tracks. I’ve been watching this guy since he played in King Pleasure and the Biscuit Boys and he’s turned into one of the greatest double bass players ever. Standing on the edge of the stage, plucking away like billy-o, he made it seem like the coolest instrument in the world.

It wasn’t all rock n’ holler though. Imelda’s softer side came through on ‘Kentish Town’, dedicated to a couple who’d got engaged to the song, proving that she can do the sweeter, more understated stuff as well as belting it out. A crowd pleasing encore included a remix of ‘Inside Out’ and a throat ripping rendition of 'Tainted Love' before she left us with a bit of Elvis’s ‘That’s Alright Mama’. Alright? That’s an understatement. Imelda-mazing.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Drum-thing special...Florrie hits the HMV Institute this Saturday night!

Florrie - Give Me Your Love from Ksx Weneedelectro on Vimeo.

How many model/drummer/singer/producer’s can you name? Yep, I’m struggling here too. Well next time this question comes up in your local pop quiz here’s one name you can drop...Florrie. On top of being Xenomania’s in house drummer (the people behind some of the best British pop of the last 10 years) she’s also the face of Nina Ricci’s new perfume. Hmmmmm...smelly good. She’s been drumming for 15 years which, given the fact that she’s only 22, is pretty impressive. Just recently she’s starting doing her own thing. Unsurprisingly it’s pretty poppy (with a little electro edge) but cool enough to attract those hip cats at Kitsuné...bonjour...comment allez vous? suis un pomme de terre etc etc. She will, you mark my words, be MASSIVE.

Florrie - Call 911 - Fred Falke Remix from Paul Eades on Vimeo.

Get up close and personal while you still can at Birmingham's HMV Institute. Tickets available from our chums at Birmingham Promoters.

Monday, February 07, 2011

CW Stoneking / Brownbird Rudy Relic @ The Academy, Saturday 5th February 2011

Brownbird Rudy Relic from Ricky Day on Vimeo.

It’s 1938. I’m in a bar in Memphis and this young guy’s hollering up a storm, slicked back hair flopping over his eyes and his mouth as wide as the Mississippi he’s singing the blues like a preacher on a mission to convert all the sinners of the world.’s not 1938...and sadly I’m not in a bar in Memphis but, shut your eyes and, not for the first time this evening it’s all too easy to find yourself swept away to another time and place. The culprit? Brownbird Rudy Relic, not a ‘half Japanese half American guy’ as one misinformed reviewer recently labelled him (much to Rudy’s bemusement) but a Mexican American with a real case of the blues. After so many great singers and songs it isn’t easy to make the blues sound fresh and exciting but Brownbird does a pretty great job, mainly thanks to the sheer exuberance of his performance. I’ve never seen a guy sitting down (which he did for the entire set) put quite so much effort in to a show. I’ve never seen a kazoo used in a blues performance either, but somehow he managed to rescue it from the Benny Hill of instruments and make it work. An awesome voice, rich and velvety - think shades of Otis Redding singing ‘Try A Little Tenderness’(particular on tonight’s set highlight ‘Your Tricks Ain’t Workin’) - coupled with a self penned songbook of authentic but fresh sounding blues numbers makes this particular Brownbird anything but a relic.

It’s 1928. I’m in New Orleans and it’s as hot as a cat on a hot tin roof. Some grizzled old Southern dude’s sitting in the corner of bar nursing a ‘medicinal’ glass of Jack and singing his soul out. know the routine by now...sadly it’s 2011 and I’m still in the ‘O2’ Academy 3...but this gig really did have a curious way of making the real world crumble away. Like Brownbird, CW Stoneking’s well and truly from another time and place...possibly from a different world too. His accent and vocal style is difficult to pin down at first, but after discovering that he was raised by American parents in an Aboriginal community it all makes a lot more sense. He doesn't sound like a 'white' dude, but more importantly than that he doesn't sound like he belongs in the 21st century either. Time and time again I found myself thinking “that sound ain’t coming outta there is it? It’s a trick. He’s miming to old blues 78s...surely...what the...nope...that’s him singing...extraordinary”. On top of the vocals there’s the look, striped blazer, white trousers and shoes and hair gelled back so severely it looked like it was painted on. He is, in short, that rare thing amongst performers these days...the full package.

CW Stoneking - Jungle Blues from Burak Oguz Saguner on Vimeo.

The set itself was an extensive trawl through his back catalogue with plenty of numbers from his big breakthrough album ‘Jungle Blues'. Fusing Calypso, Jazz and Hokum (a form of American Blues that often used humour to disguise risqué material or to attract audiences to stick around for the musical element of a show), it’s an intoxicating mix which reached its pinnacle tonight with the ode to General MacArthur ‘Brave Son of America’...then of course there was the only yodelling jungle song ever written ‘Talkin’ Lion Blues’. Yes, it was that kind of night.

Giving a well deserved nod to The Mills Brothers (the Africa American foursome who produced some extraordinary musical instrument sounds using just their voices) and one or two other artists who’ve obviously influenced his style Stoneking’s clearly keen to pay his dues. I’d add CW’s spiritual granddaddy Leon Redbone to that list. I mention CW’s hat tipping here because there have been a few snide comments about CW’s act being racist...seemingly because he happens to sound like a black dude singing. Bollocks. It’s like criticizing Trevor MacDonald for sounding like he grew up the home counties. If anything it’s a homage to the music and its originators...and an affectionate one at that. Speaking of which kudos to the Primitive Horn Orchestra tonight too, deliciously understated and seemingly effortless playing that provided the perfect bed for those laid back vocals.

In between songs, and an integral part of the whole Stoneking experience were a series of increasingly rambling and farfetched tales including his account of being shipwrecked off the African coast, squatters on his mum’s dildo farm, life as a Hoodoo doctor’s assistant and his career as a ventriloquist. “After being forced to do 12 shows a day” he drawled “I still find it hard to open my mouth”, perhaps accounting for his somewhat tight lipped style of vocal delivery. Of course that could all be almost certainly is...but what the hell does it matter, it’s entertaining cobblers and a rare example of an artist who know that a performance doesn’t...shouldn’t...ever have to end. But sadly the night had to. After leading the crowd in a rousing sing along cover of Washboard Sam’s ‘Good Old Cabbage Greens’ CW had one more story to tell us...“I’ve got to go now...and sell some pay for my momma’s operation”. Genius. Pure hokum to the end.

PS: Here's a bonus treat for you...The Mills Brothers performing instruments, just their own voices. Awesome. They sold over 50 million records during their career and I'm guesssing this clip comes from the 1930's. For anyone who thinks that breakdancing only dates back to the 1980's check out the guy at 1minute 44 seconds...

Friday, February 04, 2011

Wild Palms Interview with Lou Hill!

Interview time again. This week it’s Lou Hills, lead singer of the rather fine and dandy five piece Wild Palms. The band’s just off on tour across the UK in support of Cold War Kids then back out on the road again in March on their own (if you’re in the Midlands go see ‘em play the Hare and Hounds on 9th March).

Hearing Aid: Hello Wild Palms, how you doin’?

Lou: Busy, busy.

Hearing Aid: Obligatory opening question time, how would you describe the band’s sound to anyone who’s new to you?

Lou: That's always a hard question to answer and one that we all struggle with. A lot of people hear a lot of different stuff in our music so we get quite varied comparisons. I think we all really like to leave it up to the listener really, it’s interesting to hear what people get from it objectively without you inferring you think your music's about or where it’s coming from. But we're all fans of Sonic Youth, Radiohead, Burial, TV on the Radio etc etc if that's anything to go by.

Hearing Aid: Not Leona Lewis? You do surprise me. Really liked your cover of Bjork’s Human Behaviour you did a while back, any plans for any more covers and if so what do you fancy tackling next?

Lou: No, no plans to do another one anytime soon, that idea just came out of nowhere really. It seems an age ago since we recorded that, I've just literally listened to it because you reminded me of it: it is good isn't it? We had fun doing it I seem to remember. There's a lot to be learnt from doing covers, it gets you thinking in a different way; or doing alternative versions or remixes of your own songs it really opens your eyes (ears, whatever) to other options and possibilities within your own music.

Hearing Aid: If you could play any venue or festival in the world which one would you choose...and why?

Lou: I think Glastonbury is pretty high on everyone's list isn't it? That would be a nice date to have in your diary. I went to Bestival about 4 years ago and had an amazing time, so I'd like to play there, I like the vibe. I think we'd all like to play somewhere like the Barbican as well, somewhere with amazing acoustics and real character.

Hearing Aid: Which other bands do you really rate at the moment (why does no one ever answer N-Dubz...oh...that’s why) and is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with?

Lou: I'm not really sure about any emerging bands, I don't really pay too much attention but I've always been a big admirer of Electricity in our Homes, and seeing Factory Floor is something else. I really got into Caribou's latest album and The National's 'High Violet' (both been around for yonks but...). Obviously wouldn't mind collaborating with Bjork...

Hearing Aid: I’ll put in a good word for you. I normally see her down the local kebab shop...she’s addicted to Chicken Tikka on Naan. Anyway, as a relatively new band how have you found the business side of what you do, getting gigs, landing a deal, building a fan base etc?

Lou: We've tried to keep the business side completely separate from the creative side but its nigh on impossible, you have to try though, you have to try and keep the studio and creating music sacred and unaffected by external pressures or motivation. The hardest thing about being in a band is not creating music, that's the passion, what you do it for, but the rest of it: saying that we are in a very privileged position: to be able to make a record and release it something that we are very grateful of, as well as the people who enjoy our music and support it.

Hearing Aid: Your album’s out in a few weeks time. What’s your favourite track and what makes it stand out for you?

Lou: LHC stands out for me because of how it grew. It started in my sister's bedroom playing around on her keyboard, that's where the piano part came from, and then I brought it into the studio and it just took on its own life: sometimes songs have a mind of their own and can kind of dictate what they want and need. When we speak about LHC I think we all feel it was something that we didn't expect to come from us...even though we wrote and played all the parts (apart from strings) it seems blurry, which is nice.

Hearing Aid: Blurry is good. I find a nice bottle of Chateau Neuf Du Pape does the trick. Touring or recording...what do you prefer? Any sick and sordid stories from ‘the road’ that you’d like to share with us...we won’t tell anyone...promise.

Lou: They've both got their pros and cons but we are definitely a recording band. We all love being in the studio creating music and recording it, the whole process is a real life-injecting, getting your creativity firing over a long-period of time is essential; the intensity of making a record can be at times negative as well as positive but regardless, nothing beats it I don't think. Some gigs are incredible and you feed off them in a much more intense way and are exhilarating but short-lived.

Hearing Aid: No sick or sordid stories then eh? I’ll have to make do with this week’s Heat Magazine...premier league footballer caught in bed with local WI group. Oh Wayne, will you never learn. Finally, what are you most looking forward to this year and where would you like the band to be in 12months time...up to your knees in bling and hip hop honey’s or playing a cool house party somewhere in Amsterdam?

Lou: At a cool party in Amsterdam up to my knees in Hip Hop bling...

Hearing Aid: Oh now that’s just having your space cake and eating it a place for me...

CW’s a calypso, jazz, blues, voodoo thing...

CW Stoneking - Jungle Blues from Burak Oguz Saguner on Vimeo.

If you’re in Birmingham tomorrow night head over to the Academy for a night of...well...lord knows what...jazz, blues, calypso and all manner of musical insanity. You may have seen CW on Later with Jools Holand last year, but if you ain’t cop a load of the video above to give you some idea. Extraordinary stuff...

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Blancmange ‘Blanc Burn’ - exclusive review!

As gaps between albums go a quarter of a century is pretty impressive. I don’t think it’s the biggest gap (where’s Norris McWhirter when you need him eh?) but, hell’s teeth, 25 years! To be fair to Neil and Stephen (the main ingredients in this particular Blancmange) the band split up in 1987 and they’ve obviously been doing their own thing over the years but now, seemingly out of the blue, they’re back with Blanc Burn (a pun on Neil's hometown, Blackburn).

The first thing you notice about the album is the cover art. Reminiscent of their earlier records (in particular the Happy Families album and Blind Vision single) it looks a little like one of those ads from the 1930’s...apart from the fly sat on one of the oranges that is. Listening to the album a few times you get the distinct impression that Neil's happiest being a glass half empty kind of guy and the fly's a neat little visual reference to this...a blot on an otherwise perfect world.

Wisely resisting the temptation to go all dubstep on us, the sound of the album’s as familiar as the cover. There’s old school synths, a welcome dash or two of Asian spice and the kind of blunt, down to earth lyricism that made the band such a breath of fresh air back in the 80’s. Take opener ‘By the Bus Stop @ Woolies’ for instance, with Neil Arthur singing down the line about ‘t’kiosks’, ‘t’bandstand’ and ‘some o ‘ lads’ against a laidback groove and the occasional sound of a beeping payphone...telling the story of those dim and distant days when arranging to meet up with a lass took the kind of planning now reserved for space missions. It’s a low key way to kick things off but it’s also a nice nod to their past – lest we forget this was the band that sang “I’m up the bloody tree” in a broad Lancastrian accent. You wouldn’t get that from Jessie J.

If you’re looking for a classic like ‘Living On The Ceiling’ make a beeline for ‘The Western’. Bringing the band’s trademark fusion of synth pop and Asian percussion well and truly out of retirement (courtesy of their original spice boy Pandit Dinesh) it’s a surefire single and the album’s undisputed highlight. Expect to hear it on a Berocca ad sometime around 2032.

Elsewhere you can almost imagine Neil pottering around the house singing some of these tracks, with Stephen sitting in the kitchen surrounded by vintage synths held together with sticky tape. It’s got a delightfully homespun feel to it in places. “I’m not really one for doing the dusting, and all the curtains can stay drawn” sings Neil dolefully on ‘I’m Having A Coffee’ “The fuse has bust on the plug on the telly, there’s something strange at the bottom of the fridge”. Truly the ‘maiden aunts of electronic music’ (as Daniel Miller, Mute supremo, dubbed them) are back...and there’s no time for housework. Similarly ‘Don’t Forget Your Teeth’ has a bedroom recording vibe, matching the minimalistic lyrics...sample “You take the goldfish, I’ll take the piss”. Perhaps on this track they are, but that’s part of the joy of it all, a joy that harks back to the glory days of Top Of The Pops, Smash Hits and Woolies...a less conscious time when pop was fun...pure and simple. The sound of a band that’s remarkably still in the pink after all these years.

Blanc Burn is out on Proper Records on March 7th and the band’s on tour from Sunday 6th March. Get yer tickets 'ere!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Blancmange return for a second helping...

Not sure if I’ve mentioned this before but one of my fave 80’s bands of all time, Blancmange, are back, back, BACK with a new album and tour this year. Hurrah! Ginger beer and sticky toffee pudding all round. Perhaps best known for soundtracking that Beroca advert these days (with 'Living On The Ceiling’) they were always a little different from the pack, often adding an Asian flava to their synth pop sound. Cop a listen to the little beauty above for instance. A copy of the new album’s on its way to me right this space for the verdict...but it’s got to be bloody ace though hasn’t it eh?