Thursday, April 21, 2011
Steve Cradock / Black Market Empire / The Mystery Lads...aka Little Liam @ HMV Institute, Wednesday 20th April 2011
Combining his own headlining tour (promoting his new album), along with a support slot on Beady Eye’s attempt to win fans and influence people, Steve Cradock’s currently as busy as a bee on speed. If you don’t know the name you’ll know the tunes and riffs - Steve’s one of the driving forces behind Ocean Colour Scene as well as a regular member of Mr Paul Weller’s backing band. So the packed room was no surprise really. Before Steve’s set though a couple of support acts warmed (as if we needed any warming...it was pretty moist in there) up the crowd. The first of these (a male duo) made the cardinal error of not giving their names...or the titles of any of the songs in fact. Whoever they were it was a solid showing with some catchy tunes and decent streetwise lyrics (EDIT: They're called Little Liam...turns out Steve Cradock taught one half of the band - Liam Garland - to play guitar...cool!).
Next up though a band I know all about, Black Market Empire, with yet another fine meaty, beaty musical treaty set. Kicking off with a frankly storming ‘Begging You’ (Joy Division meets The La’s...yep, that good) they whipped through 7 further tracks of quality beat infused tunes, firmly cementing their place as one of the best live bands in the Midlands right now. There’s an easy charm to their performances which, coupled with some truly classic sounding tunes, makes every gig a real pleasure. On top of the opening number newish track Hannah was also particularly strong this evening...the sound of a band that’s really going somewhere. I suggest you hook up with them for the ride...
Being his home town (well, near enough...he was born in nearby Solihull) the crowd gave Steve a particularly warm reception on his entrance (oooer missus...titter ye not etc etc). There’s a lot of love for this dude here in the Midlands and, at times tonight, he seemed a little overwhelmed by it all. It’s gotta take balls to step and become the frontman after so many years in more of a supporting role so he got my vote before he’d opened his mouth. The set started strongly with Last Days of the Old World, one of the standout numbers from the new solo album, Peace City West. I think it’s probably fair to say that Steve's strengths lie more in songwriting and guitar playing than singing, but given this his vocal performance was pretty good. I’m guessing more live shows will polish off any rough edges (the odd moment when lines were lost by singing too far from the mic for instance). Like the man himself said tonight though “As you can probably tell I‘m not used to this shit!”
Unashamedly retro the tunes draw influences from such musical luminaries as The Small Faces and The Beatles as well as capturing the spirit of Cradock’s ‘other band’ OCS. Of the more reflective stuff The Clothes They Stood Up In came off particularly well tonight with Steve really capturing the emotion of the song. It was the set closer, ‘I Man’, that hit the spot though. The pick of the album, tonight Steve and co span the track into a glorious jam that perfectly showcased his legendary guitar playing. Minutes later he returned with Dion Dublin. Yes, that Dion Dublin. It turns out that the former England footballer and current pundit has invented an instrument called the Dube. I’m not making this up. Seriously. Whatever next...Rooney's Roonmonica? (no matter how hard you try it won't play anything..instead it just shags your gran and tells you to fuck off). Even more surprising it’s quite an impressive thing...a kind of cubist percussion box he played standing up with his hands and fingers. The track he backed, Steppin’ Aside, was fabulously funky too, arguably a close contender for the highlight of the night. Anyway, after Dion had cleared away his Dube the encore concluded with Beware of Falling Rocks, the song fading away with the ‘It’s all too beautiful’ refrain from The Small Faces’ Itchycoo Park, a gently understated tribute from one fine musician to another.