Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Carnival comes to town...

Don’t forget that this weekend sees the Electric Carnival take over Digbeth. It’s all happening on Saturday night (through to the wee small hours of Sunday morning) with headline acts from a whole bunch of DJ’s and live bands. Here’s my own personal three of the best:

Get your tickets here...and your glow sticks here.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Gil but not forgotten

Just like Poly Styrene and Ari Up before him the Godfather of Rap, Gil Scott Heron,passed away just as he seemed to be making a much overdue comeback. Whilst Poly and Ari's absence from the public eye was pretty much self imposed Gil had sadly been 'detained' for various reasons over the past decade or so and was known to be HIV positive - a fact that may or may not have caused his untimely passing. If you've never listened to anything he recorded you're in for a treat. At the height of his powers in the early 70's he was capable of producing the most devastating attacks on corruption, urban decay and inequality ever committed to vinyl. Here's three of his best, The Bottle and The Revolution Will Not Be Televised are pretty much essential listening, but the H20 Gate Blues is a lesser known gem. A stinging blast against the Nixon Watergate scandal it's recorded raw, live and unedited, warts and all...which appropriately enough is how Gil seemed to live his life. RIP.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Lana Del Rey... mad, bad and dangerous to know

The self titled “gangsta Nancy Sinatra”, Lana Del Rey's currently creating more of a buzz than a swarm of bees trapped in a megaphone. Mining the same sorta glamorous musical goldmine as Paloma Faith she’s part Hollywood Boulevard, part South Bronx and, in another era, she’d be the kinda gal they’d paint on the front of fighter planes to distract the enemy. Hubba hubba. Anyway, check out this cheeky pair of videos and see what you think...

Goodnight Lenin unveil Wenceslas Square EP

03 Wenceslas Square by Goodnightlenin
Hearing Aid favourites Goodnight Lenin have been busily beavering away in the studio for you (yes...you...) on their brand new EP, Wenceslas Square. GL fans will already be familiar with many of the tracks on offer here from the band’s live shows but this is the very first time you can sit at home in your pants and listen to ‘em. The physical EP’s out in July but, if you can’t wait, float over to SoundCloud right now (I've helpfully stuck the title track on this post for you) and fill yer boots. There’s a very special launch show at the MAC on the 23rd July (in the outdoor arena) too. Be there or be square...Wenceslas Square obviously. Tickets here.

Electric Carnival 2011

With more than 80 DJ’s and live acts spread out across nearly 20 different venues (conveniently all located in ├╝ber cool Digbeth) Birmingham’s Electric Carnival crams more music into a full on 10 hour session than you’d think was possible.

It’s not just all about the quantity though, hell no, it’s a quality line up too with headlining sets from Professor Green, Example, Martin Solveig and everyone's favourite DJ and knob twiddler Kissy Sell Out. Sweet. Nominated for Best Metropolitan Festival in the 2010 Festival Awards this year’s event kicks off at 8pm on Saturday 4th June and winds up at a distinctly messy 6am...just in time for church eh?

Tickets are a mere £39.50 - for the economically minded that’s less than 50p per act - and they’re available right here, right now.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Jon Allen - Sweet Defeat

Jon Allen Music by Jon Allen Music

Following on from his acclaimed debut album folk rocker Jon Allen’s new one has a more bluesy kind of feel that really suits the slight rasp to his voice (imagine a less grizzled Rod Stewart...although let’s face it, is anyone more grizzled than Rod Stewart?). It’s a classy collection of finely crafted songs and, with their roots firmly in classic ‘70’s singer songwriter territory, you can just imagine unearthing this album on scratchy old vinyl at the back of a cool record shop somewhere. But whilst it might be a little out of time, that’s also its strength. Clearly Jon and his band are just doing what they love and you can hear that in each and every word and note. Consequently it’s an incredibly easy album to fall in love with too. From the Stealer’s Wheel-ish Lucky I Guess to the soulful, Hammond tinted title track there’s a touch of the old friend about it from the very first play. Defeat never sounded so sweet.

Sweet Defeat's out on Monologue Records on May 23rd and you can catch Jon on tour across the UK. (Click on the Soundcloud link above and you can hear a selection of tracks from this and his debut release 'Dead Man's Suit. Visit his Facebook page and you can stream 5 full tracks from the album and listen to an exclusive interview too...ain't technology wonderful eh?)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Warpaint / Connan Mockasin @ The HMV Institute, Wednesday 18th May 2011

Currently riding high on the icy crest of a particularly cool wave Warpaint are every indie loving boy and girl’s wet dream. Four LA-dies playing a mix of shoegaze and psych rock they’re undoubtedly one of the coolest bands on the planet right now, a fact underlined in big red pen by the cooler than usual crowd tonight (not everyone was cool...I was there for starters...but there were some pretty cool looking people there...cool).

First up though the decidedly uncool, but just so darn loveable, Connan Mockasin. “Er...we’re the support bind” announced lead singer Connan, sounding a little like Murray from Flight Of The Conchords “so you din’t hive to be pilite or applaud or inything”. Bless him. The crowd did applaud though and the applause grew as their set went on. He’s a funny one Connan. Not the best singer in the world his material and musical style (psych pop) is distinctly odd too, you could imagine meltdown era Syd Barrett coming up with this kind of stuff. Tonight he was joined by his dad, Joe, who seemed intent on avoiding as much of the limelight as possible. Connan had other ideas and physically spun him round and gripped him by the shoulder to force him to face the audience. What’s going on there eh? Then he was joined by a geisha who provided a little percussion and waved a fan in front of her whilst practising her best thousand yard stare. See? Odd. Despite...or maybe because of all this...it was an intensely enjoyable show, with some surprisingly funky moments in amongst the tripped out stuff. Connan might well be as nutty as a fruit cake but the world of music’s a much richer place for dudes like this. Check out the vid to Forever Dolphin Love (trust me...stick with it) and you’ll see what I mean.

In contrast to Connan’s opening words Warpaint were a little more confident. “Are you ready for a rock show?” enquired vocalist Emily Kokal. What she’d have done if we’d all shouted back “Nah, we fancy a little country tonight” will have to remain a mystery. What followed was something equally mysterious at times, a hypnotising, slow burning...sensual even... performance that reduced the normal audience jibber jabber to barely a whisper. That’s even more impressive when you consider that Warpaint tracks ain’t bitesize. With several songs clocking in at over 7 minutes there’s a huge risk of losing people during the more stripped back noodling guitar parts but cunningly they seem to know just when to move it up a gear again with a funky bass line, some kick ass drumming or those harmonised, slightly ethereal vocals. So, whilst the spirit of 80’s shoegaze, Curve, Slowdive, Ride (a bit of Throwing Muses too) et al lies at Warpaint’s heart, there’s a neat touch of Luscious Jackson and Chicks On Speed in there to lighten the mood too. The midset pairing of Undertow and Composure, arguably two of the band’s most accessible tracks, neatly packaged all of these elements together perfectly tonight with the former going down a storm. As the set wore on the band seemed to loosen up more and more with both Emily and bassist Jenny frequently losing themselves in some gloriously unselfconscious dancing...the kind of stuff you see teens do when they think no one’s looking. Cute. One of the highlights of the show, Billie Holliday (which sees the letters from Lady Day’s name transformed cleverly into a kind of sing song chorus), morphed dreamily into snatches of Mary Well’s My Guy prompting much slow head nodding along the front row...it’s music to dream by...and judging by the blissed out faces of the crowd that’s just what some of them were doing. Beetles ended the main set before some particularly enthusiastic hollering for an encore saw the band return for Elephants, a suitably hypnotic ending to an equally hypnotic evening.

Black Heart Generator – Beatnik Summer

"The Beatnik Summer EP" by Black Heart Generator by Speech Fewapy Records

Grunge punksters Black Heart Generator are back with a brand new EP on Birmingham’s very own Speech Fewapy Records. A collection of scuzzily twisted tales from the dark mind of lead Black Heart, Greg (also seen at various times as Theatre Of The Absurd), it’s a suitable soundtrack to what promises to be an interesting Summer...what with the bankruptcy of half the countries on the planet, rampant inflation and the screwing of an entire generation of young people. Oh well, we might as well all drink, dance and shag ourselves silly then eh? “Debauchery’s on the rise” wails Greg on the EP’s title track wisely acknowledging as much against a frantic post-Pixies workout. Wise words. The whole EP’s an angry, pissed off look at life, love and loss in the 21st century, seething with a combination of righteous indignation and self loathing. Play it loud. Play it often. Play it to your little baby sister and let her know what she’s in for...

The EP’s being launched with a free webcast this Friday evening (8pm-ish). Check out the Speech Fewapy website for details, get a bottle of Jack in and let the good times roll.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Snoop Dogg / Maverick Sabre / Beardyman (?) @ The Institute, Monday 16th May 2011

Thanks to a ‘bit of a queue’ (it took nearly 50 minutes to get in tonight) we managed to miss Maverick Sabre (and presumably Beardyman?), both of whom had finished by 8.30. For some reason security was super tight this evening and everyone was patted down and checked for weapons. Weapons? Seriously? Is Snoop still the threat to civilisation that he was painted as being back in the day? Was there actually a threat of the East Coast / West Coast rivalry kicking off again in Digbeth? I think not. Anyway, having eventually got in and secured a prime balcony spot there was plenty of time to chill as Snoop remained in his kennel until just after 10pm. Why’s the balcony such a prime spot at a Snoop gig? Well, warm air rises right? And given the quantity of weed being consumed down below before lazily curling its way skywards it was a little like being in a giant bong up there. Sweet.

In terms of living hip hop stars Snoop’s pretty much royalty, a fact subtly acknowledged by the giant painted throne on the stage backdrop. So, when the great man finally graces us with his presence, the crowd predictably goes seven shades of mental. What follows was a blistering run through the hits with Snoop at various times being joined by his posse or a trio of writhing, thrusting, gyrating, gynaecological hip hop honeys. Nothin’ but a ‘G’ Thang, Next Episode and Gin n’ Juice were all despatched as rapidly as a Blood at a Crip’s birthday party, with Snoop constantly exalting the crowd to put their “motherfuckin’ hands in the air”. The motherfuckers generally obliged, a sea of hands bouncing up and down in unison like a pimped up ’62 Impala.

After warming up the crowd Snoop took things to the next level with a cover of the Noel Coward classic, ‘I Wanna Fuck You’. Ruminating on the power of the ‘erb “When I say icky, you say sticky” (although we might still have been on the whole ‘fuck business’) there was a quick blast of Smokin’, Smokin’ Weed (I think...I was off my face at this point) before moving on to a tribute to the fallen. Clearly Snoop’s mellowed over the years (must be all that weed), although he always seemed to be less inclined to create ‘beef’ than 2Pac and Biggie. In the spirit of forgiveness both of these bitter rivals were embraced in the show along with the more recently departed Nate Dogg, a victim of multiple strokes rather than gunshots in March of this year. Touchingly Warren G held a lighter aloft for this bit, his partnership with Nate on Regulate responsible for one of hip hop’s true crossover classics. It wasn’t all a history lesson though. A David Guetta remix of a track from the new album (Doggumentary), entitled Wet, was no doubt inspired by Snoop’s previous visits to the UK and his unfortunate habit of getting caught in the rain. Probably. A dedication to the beautiful ladies in tha house, saw Snoop unveil his Sensual Seduction, one of his better tracks from the last few years, before delivering a crowd pleasing snatch (hmmmm...unfortunate word perhaps) of House Of Pain’s Jump Around. This seemed to go down better than any other track of the night, with the dancefloor becoming one giant mass of bouncing humanity. The set finished with Drop It While It’s Hot and, what else eh, What’s My Name? After just an hour he removed his sunglasses and looked us all in the eyes, promising he’d be back one day and wishing us all “Peace, Love and Souuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuul”. And with that he was gone, just leaving one of his posse to invite young ladies backstage to 'meet' the Dogg himself. No doubt for a cream tea or sausage sandwich perhaps?

On the plus side it was an upbeat, fun show, you got to see a true legend of hip hop in da flesh, doing his hits, and most of the crowd seemed to go home happy, but I couldn’t help feeling that Snoop was just through the motions. At times the backing tracks seemed to be doing a lot of the work (was he miming to Wet or was the vocoder effect being added to his live vocal? Hmmmm...not sure) and, once you strip away the hip hop honeys and shouting posse, it was actually all a bit insubstantial (especially given the £30+ ticket price). How about a live band to add a little more soul? How about some more freestyling? Why not get the support artist/s up for some collaborations? Perhaps when it comes to his live show it’s time for this particular Dogg to learn a few new tricks eh?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Florrie / The Light Cascades @ The Academy, Friday 13th May 2011

I was lucky enough to see Florrie’s first Birmingham show earlier this year and she blew me away. Hey, I’m an old pop tart, what can I say? So a return date so soon after her first was just too much of a temptation to miss. Tonight was one of those early doors gigs (there was a club night afterwards) so the first act was already finishing when we arrived. No idea what he was called but I enjoyed his acoustic, slowed down cover of Outkast's Hey Ya. Next up the instant 80’s movie soundtrack machine that is The Light Cascades. There’s a show on E4 at the moment called Glory Daze (very good it is too...a bit like a weekly mini John Hughes movie) and it’s all set in an American college in 1986...you can imagine a Light Cascades track fitting right in on it. They had a few Friday 13th wobbles (the odd bum note and missed cue) but, to be fair, the audience was, let’s say...still select (i.e. there was hardly anyone there) and it can’t be easy playing to a near empty room. As with the last gig I saw them play though they pulled it out the bag with the pairing of their two best tracks ‘Flights’ and ‘Smile’ which is chocked full of feel good 80’s keyboards, electronic drum beats and lyrics “Chase the night you never want to end...” – how 80’s is that? Very...that ‘s how 80’s that is. There’s even a bit of vocoder at the end for good measure. Now That What I Call Music.

Happily the room had filled out a bit more in time for Florrie and a particularly enthusiastic group of young gentlemen seemed especially keen to see her. I can’t blame them. For the uninitiated here’s the low down. She’s a 22 year old model, drummer, singer and songwriter with a knack for penning pop tracks as addictive as a sack of crack. And, as if that wasn’t enough, she's an all round nice person to boot. I’ve always been a sucker for classic pop. Whilst I’m quite happy listening to an album of Algerian funk, Lithuanian punk or Chinese krunk, few musical genres can really hit the spot like a great bit of pop. Having cut her musical chops as in-house drummer for the hitmaking Xenomania machine (working with Kylie, Pet Shop Boys and Girls Aloud amongst others)she’s steadily been self releasing tracks online for the past year or so and, as tonight’s show proved, they’re 24carat pop gold.

Dressed in a rather fetching black lace number and wearing the kind of heels that would cripple most people (how do you ladies wear those things?) she kicked off the night with Panic Attack. A throbbing bass line, some simple synths and a chorus that burrows its way right into your central lobe and refuses to leave, it deserves to be number one all over the world. It’s halfway through the song that you get to see Florrie’s real USP though. She drums like a demon, playing a standup kit without breaking a sweat. It’s a great moment, musically and visually, the cherry on a cake that’s already covered in ‘em. How do you follow that? How about the twangy guitar riffs of Call Of The Wild? Good call. Florrie does her best heartbreaker routine”I’m a woman, not a siren calling...”. Hmmm I wouldn’t be so sure about that...this stuff’s addictive. Florrie junkies will already be familiar with most of tonight’s set but there were a few newbies. The pick of these, ‘Begging Me’ is a glossy piece of sophisticated pop, once again demonstrating that knack for the hooky chorus with some neatly rhythmical wordplay. The set highlight had to be the pounding, almost tribal drumming of Give Me Your Love with its piano bedded breakdowns and slow burning build-ups – the definitive Florrie track to date. If there’s pop in heaven this’ll be on the playlist. If I had to make some constrictive criticism, Florrie’s a great drummer and that’s perhaps being lost a little right now. I’d like to see her take on a few more drum solos during these shows, or perhaps have a bit of a jam as an encore? It’s a minor quibble but it you’ve got it, flaunt it.

Okay, so the crowd wasn’t huge tonight but Florrie’s doing this stuff on her own at the moment. She’s still not signed - her choice seemingly as she doesn’t want to get eaten up and spat out by one of the big labels - but when the rest of the world catches up (and if there’s any justice in the world they soon will) she’s going to be HUGE. Maybe a tour on the gay circuit would help? I know it’s a sweeping generalisation (but there are worse things to be stereotyped for than having great taste in music eh?) but a really up for it crowd would lap this stuff up...I saw Pixie Lott play at Gay Pride on the back of a truck in Birmingham a few years ago and six months later she was number one. And, trust me, Pixie Lott’s no Florrie.

Safari Funk Party ft Real Fur and The Castillians @ Selly Soak Launderette, Thursday 12th May 2011

There are lots of things you might expect to find in a launderette...odd socks, used panty fetishists, old men drinking White Lightening cider, students making their once a term visit (which is pretty much how often I bothered washing stuff)...but a gig, well, that’s a little more unusual. However, crammed in amongst the washing machines and tumble dryers London’s cult Safari Funk party came to town for the very first time. There’s something great about watching a gig in somewhere other than a dedicated ‘gig venue’...it feels a bit illicit (it wasn’t, Rudy the owner – lurking near the doorway – got one or two shout outs throughout the night...nice one Rudy). And, despite my reservations about how it would all work, it’s a funking great idea (the tops of washing machines particularly seemed to come in handy as viewing platforms).

After some laptop DJ’ing - inspired by two young ladies with a bit of an obsession with Taylor Dayne’s seminal classic ‘Tell It To My Heart’- The Castillians (drafted in at the last minute as a replacement for MC Sarpanch) put us all through the spin cycle with their fuzzed up fast and furious brand of surf/garage (oh alright then, surf/launderette) rock. Part of the legendary Coldrice collective this is music in the raw...dirty, sweaty and ever so slightly dangerous. I’ve said it once, and I’ll probably say it again, but Birmingham’s spawned some incredible ‘garage’* sounding bands over recent years, most of which have something to do with local promoters / record label Coldrice. Coptor, The Big Bang, Swampmeat, The Rivers Presley Set, The Black & Reds (not Coldrice affiliated as far as I know, but awesome none the less)...and that’s just scratching the surface. The Castillians are right up there with the best of ‘em, a tequila soaked slap round the chops that’s guaranteed to leave you begging for more.

Although London based now, headliners Real Fur have a link with the Midlands thanks to lead singer Leo’s Walsall roots so there was a lot of love in the room to kick off with. It’s hard to imagine this lot failing to win hearts (and feet) though thanks to their instantly addictive tropical / afrobeat sound (think Vampire Weekend on a Caribbean holiday).

Pretty much every track was new to me (there’s not a lot online yet either...this stuff’s as fresh as a box of Persil) but (apologies if the titles are wrong here, I was guessing a few) ‘She’s Late’, ‘The Money I Spend’ and ‘Pride’ all pushed the button. New single ‘Animal’, currently being promoted on this tour...yep, all their dates are being played in laundry’s...closed the set in appropriately funky style prompting some particularly energetic dancing from the Taylor Dayne posse. It’s the perfect introduction to the Real Fur sound, tribal drum beats, phat Fela Kuti rhythms and a throbbing bass bed. Add a nice bit comedy gold when it came to promoting their t-shirts “the only ethical way to wear Real Fur” and it was a pretty perfur-ect night all round. I haven’t had this much fun in a launderette since a mate of mine decided to pop a discarded pair of ladies pants on his head at the precise moment their owner returned to collect ‘em...and believe me, that was fun.

Check out the Safari Funk website for details of future dates across the UK and keep your eyes and ears open for Real Fur.

*I use this term loosely to describe a raw, rock sound within which there are obviously a multitude of sub genres and styles...but basically it all rocks.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Anna Calvi / Grouplove / Big Deal @ The Academy, Wednesday 11th May 2011

Bundled together under the banner of the NME Emerge Kwik Fit Birds Eye Fox’s Biscwits Go Campare Moonpig Radar Tour tonight’s bill sees a veritable pick n' mix bag of musical genres kicking off with the fragile, emotionally intense Big Deal, a boy girl duo with a penchant for fuzzed up guitars and (judging by the lyrics) fucked up relationships. Thanks to the subdued lighting they both appear as shadowy figures, perfectly suiting the sparse guitars and frequently, almost whispered words. A post rock slacker Sonny and Cher for the You Tube generation.

After the twisted pre and post coital sounds of Big Deal, Grouplove hit you round the chops like a sock full of custard (which is more pleasant than it sounds). Like Fleetwood Mac jamming with The Pixies they’ve got a thrashy West Coast rock thang going on and an album’s worth of classic sounding tracks that’ll go down a storm on the festival circuit. It’s music for driving down the highway, partying on the beach, chillin’ out next to the embers of a campfire and the crowd seemed to ‘group love’ it as much as the band seemed to enjoy playing. Co lead vocalists Hannah and Christian in particular risked life and limb by thrashing around on the stage, frequently missing Justin Lee Collins lookalike bassist Sean by millimetres. Incredibly tonight was the first anniversary of the debut gig, a fact touchingly celebrated by Christian in the intro to ‘Don’t Say Oh Well’, a rousingly ramshackle tale of the band’s early days.

I tired of writing down the best tracks ‘cos that was pretty much all of ‘em but particular mention must got to ‘Naked Kids’ (be careful for how you search that one online people) and 2010 single ‘Colours’...as great as anything Black Francis and co ever came up with.

Anna Calvi’s soaring, gothic flecked vocals have rapidly become lodged in the hearts and minds of many a discerning listener in the last few months, cemented by an appearance on Sir Jools Holland's career making Later show. Described by Eno as “the best thing since Patti Smith” she comes across as some kind of towering dominatrix of sound on the clips I’d seen...so it came as something of a surprise when a Kylie Minogue-ish figure wandered onto the stage and took up position by the mic. She just seemed so tiny...delicate even. Comparisons with the sparrow like Piaf are perhaps going a little far but, once she begins to sing, you undoubtedly get that same sense of wonder that Parisians experienced back in the 1930’s..."Oh mon dieu, sacre bleu...avez vous un baguette s'il vous plait", which, roughly translated means "how the hell does a voice that HUGE come out of someone so small?"...probably. From the second she opened her mouth on opening number ‘Suzanne and I’ that same thought keeps spinning in your head. That track’s a ready made Bond theme by the way, almost out Bassey-ing anything Shirley ever did. It sets the tone for a set that dripped emotion and, somehow, the fact that she’s currently unable to play guitar due to damaging her wing...sorry...hand...I got the feeling she was able to inject a lot more feeling into her vocals than when she’s trying to combine the two roles. She’s not just a vocal belter though. She’s more than capable of reigning in the horsepower and singing in a voice that’s as light as a Summer’s breeze like on the seductive ‘Love Won’t Be Leaving’ for instance. Blending 50’s rock n’roll with her cover of the Elvis classic Surrender, torch songs in the vein of Marc Almond at his best and a little pop sensibility to make it all a bit more accessible it was a dazzling performance. Appropriately enough the encore was Jezebel, one of Piaf’s greatest songs. It’s unfair to compare the two directly, Piaf’s life story adds a certain je ne sais quoi to her version that’s hard to top...unless Anna plans on a few affairs, three near fatal car crashes, a battle with drugs and booze and popping her clogs at 47 that is...which I wouldn’t recommend. But I just can’t imagine another singer in the world right, apart from Anna, now capable of doing that song justice. Can you? Tres formidable.

PS: If Anna ever reads this how about a Jacques Brel cover? I reckon you’d own If You Go Away...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Frankie & The Heartstrings / Let’s Buy Happiness @ The Hare and Hounds, Tuesday 10th May

Without wishing to put unpleasant images into your head (as if that’s ever stopped me) I’ve been suffering from a nasty case of the old norovirus this week....projectile ‘emissions’ ahoy. How can one tiny little virus cause such mayhem eh? Mindful of the fact that music heals all however I dragged what’s left of my severely desiccated frame off to the Hare and Hounds in the hope of making a Lazurus like recovery.

First up Let’s Buy Happiness. Great name. Happiness eh? What is it? How much is it? And where the hell do you buy it from? I’d normally plump for a pint of Old Rosie from Wetherspoon’s...but in my fragile state maybe a large bottle of Pepto-Bismol’s a better idea. Anyway, imagine the love child of Siouxsie Sioux and Liz Fraser (Cocteau Twins) fronting first album era Foals and you’ve got some idea of the ‘Let’s Buy Happiness’ sound. When lead singer Sarah lets rip she’s got a surprisingly strong voice which, combined with some cutesy bopping about, makes her the perfect indie pop package. They’ve got some good tracks too, from the floaty ‘Works Better on Paper’ through to the more drum beat driven ‘Fast Fast’. If sonically multi textured indie’s your bag, happiness is pretty much guaranteed.

Speaking of indie, who’s the number one male indie pin up of all time? Easy. No contest. So if you’re going to take your inspiration from someone why not go straight to the Mozfather eh? Lead singer Frankie’s done just that, pulling off some perfect Moz moves tonight, from the trademark mic whip right through to the old hand on hip, I’m a little teapot pose...he’s even got a proto Moz quiff on the go. Musically though (whilst there are some odd Smiths-isms...one particular reference to watching Mike Leigh’s Naked in ‘Tender’ stood out) the band draws influences from everything from 50’s rock n’roll to 80’s Postcard era 80’s indie, pulling it altogether into one of the most grin inducing sounds around right now pop fans. Fact. Lordy I enjoyed this gig, even in my enfeebled state. On top of track after track of instantly catchy indie pop loveliness coupled with Frankie’s energetic performance the band’s got that rare knack of building a great instant rapport with an audience. Responding to an early bit of friendly audience banter (someone shouted out ‘why-aye’...the band’s from Sunderland and all have the accent) the drummer offered his own take on what he called ‘Birmanese’...a high pitched take on the legendary Birmingham twang. Damned funny...in fact he was pretty amusing all night, berating one of the guitarists for being a ‘daft c**t’, threatening to beat the merch guy for not flogging CD’s properly and begging the audience to blow on him ‘cos he was getting too hot. Comic genius aside, from opening number ‘Photograph’ right through to the night’s closer ‘Fragile’ (one of the band’s few low key tracks) there wasn’t a duff second.

Conjuring up comparisons with The Rumble Strips, Vincent Vincent and the Villains, Orange Juice (interestingly Edwyn Collins produced their debut album) and fellow Geordies Maximo Park they’re a band that deserves to be clutched to our collective indie bosom like a bottle of Newkie Brown. Amazingly their album, Hunger, has, to date, only reached number 32 in the charts, a fact ruefully acknowledged by Frankie tonight “It fell to 138 the following week. It’s tough in the music biz if the supermarkets don’t stock you”. Good god...what’s the world coming to when something as beautiful, inspiring and powerful as music’s being stocked next to sodding tins of baked beans eh? It’s a serious point. With HMV inevitably on their way out (it’s only a matter of time sadly) and a tsunami of free tracks online you have to fear for the next generation of bands. Oh well, if pop is destined to eat itself (and its young) I can’t think of a better soundtrack than Frankie & The Heartstrings right now. Gan on and give ‘em a listen, alreet?

PS: Amazingly I did feel better after the gig...maybe they should be available on the NHS?

Tonight! Live! In Birmingham! Anna Calvi!

Yes, tonight the hotter than the sun Anna Calvi plays the Academy supported by a trio of rising stars including the frankly awesome Grouplove.

If you don’t know what you’re missing cop a load of this vids above. Awesome, right? Told ya. See you there...tickets still available from here, should be some on the door if you’re there early-ish too.

Monday, May 09, 2011

The Icicle Works @ The Academy, Saturday 7th May

Whilst tonight’s gig celebrates 30 years of The Icicle Works lead singer Ian McNabb’s assembled an all new band around him for this tour. Happily he’s picked some cracking people to play with including the loveliest man in rock, Dodgy’s Matt Priest. If you’re not familiar with the band’s back catalogue (and given that they split in 1990 there’s a good chance you might not be) the ‘Works were one of a trio of rather ace Liverpool bands back in the early 80’s (along with Teardrop Explodes and Echo and the Bunnymen). They were also responsible for one of the best tracks of the 80’s the simply sublime ‘Love Is A Wonderful Colour’. The loin moistening prospect of hearing this live was enough of a draw tonight, but McNabb and co were on particularly fine form so competition for track of the night was a lot fiercer than you might expect.

Perhaps predictably the audience, like me, had long since bid sayonara to their 30’s but there’s something about the transformative power of music that peels away the years and as the night wore on a healthy, good natured mini moshpit formed near the front. There was plenty of time for moshing too. With the lifting of a threatened curfew (for a club night of all things) the band ended up playing for just a nudge short of 2 and a half hours...there’s plenty of life in the old dogs still eh? Into that generous slot the McNabb lads crammed all the hits as well as some lesser known tracks like single only release and opening number ‘When It All Comes Down’...which somehow failed to chart way back on its release in...good grief...1985! Equally inexplicably McNabb wore a combat jacket kind of affair and shades throughout the gig. Consequently within a couple of tracks he was sweating like a sumo wrestler in a nylon shell suit. I’ve never seen a dude sweat so much...bucket loads of the stuff...gallons...flying through the air when he flung his head back and pouring off an endless line of guitars (I think a team of guitar techs must’ve been busy out back with sponges, towels, hairdryers, industrial heating units...). It wasn’t just the McNabbster giving it 100% though. I was particularly impressed with Matt’s drumming, as meaty as a rare sirloin when it needed to be, subtle and restrained at other moments, but always right on the beat. Bassist Roy Corkhill provided the perfect foil for McNabb’s incendiary guitar playing and keyboard wiz Richard Naiff completed a surprisingly tight and fresh sounding line up.

After acknowledging their gratitude for the turnout for a band that hadn’t released a record for 27 years they moved up a gear or two for a stunning versions of Whisper To A Scream and Understanding Jane before returning for the obligatory run though ‘Love Is A Wonderful Colour’. Ian informed us that he’d just heard that unnervingly blonde baritone, Rhydian, is covering it for his new album. Oh dear. Tonight the audience did most of the work, but it would be churlish reviewer to bemoan the fact that it became a bit of a karaoke number. Why the hell not eh? After all 30 years after they first formed this particular Icicle seems to be working better than ever...altogether now..."My friend and I were talking..."

PS: Live video shot at the band's recent Liverpool gig...Brum gig every bit as good!

Friday, May 06, 2011

Gigs a go-go!

There’s a stupid number of gigs on here in Brum over the next week or so...I guess it’s the same all over the country as bands start to get match fit for festival season. At the risk of losing what little hearing I have left and requiring an urgent liver transplant (somehow a gig without a pint or two of red wine just ain’t the same) I’m going to attempt quite a few of ‘em. Here’s my pick of the...ahem...pops.

Tuesday 10th Frankie and the Heartstrings @ The Hare and Hounds...top notch Postcard Records style indie with hints of the mighty Rumble Strips for good measure. Tickets from the good folk at Birmingham Promoters.

Wednesday 11th Anna Calvi / Grouplove @ The O2 Academy...smoky voiced siren coupled with the highly addictive US alt rockers Grouplove. Another cracking show from the hardest working lady in show business, Miss Perry.

Safari Funk 4 from Real Fur on Vimeo.

Thursday 12th Safari Funk @ The Selly Soak Launderette, Selly Oak...yes...it’s a gig in a launderette. Why the hell not eh? On top of the chance to wash your smalls you’ll get the chance to see the frankly afrofunktastic Real Fur too. Mine’s a pint of Daz...

Friday 13th Florrie @ The O2 Academy...trust me, Florrie will be massive. She is pop perfection the likes of which we’ve not seen since the glory days of Kylie’s golden hot pants. She drums like a mofo too.

Saturday 14th Misty’s Big Adventure @ The HMV Institute...in a better world Misty’s would be bigger than the Beatles.

Monday 16th Snoop Diggity Doggity fo snizzle @ The HMV Institute...cap meet ass...ass meet cap...yep Mr Snoopy Dogg hits up Birmingham fo some serious rap bizzle in a the HMV double jizzle...

Wednesday 18th Warpaint @ The HMV Institute...Warpaint? What is it good for? Huh! Say it again. No I won’t. Dreamy lady pop from dreamy pop ladies. Swoon.

Like I say there are a million and one other great gigs going on in the next few weeks. Check the awesome Brum Notes listings pages for details.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Park Life...

Spent a very pleasant day at Lightwoods Park on Monday listening to live music in celebration of the opening of their brand new skate park thingy. It’s pretty difficult to top live music in the sun and all of the (mainly local) bands put on a great show.

Strangle Kojak's Omar get's up close and personal with da crowd

The skanktastic headliners 360 again achieved the rare feat of getting me up and dancing again (not a pretty sight).

You can catch them at their Glasto Daze EP launch this Saturday (at the Hare & Hounds, Kings Heath) or, if you’re heading down south next month, at Glastonbury itself. Yep, it's festival season again! Don't worry, just pack the Imodium and you'll be fine...

Ice to see you...Icicle Works back on tour!

80’s legends The Icicle Works have been reanimated for a brief UK tour in celebration of their 30th anniversary. This Friday they play London’s O2 Islington Academy and Saturday they’re at Birmingham’s O2. If you only need one excuse to go and see ‘em then the prospect of hearing ‘Love Is A Wonderful Colour’ is it. A stone cold 80’s classic it also benefits from the fact that it ain't been played to death a la Tainted Love, Come On Eileen, Don’t You Want Me...

Tickets still available for both dates.