Thursday, July 28, 2011

Big Chill comes the sun!

The Big Chill’s got a pretty good track record when it comes to the sunshine, especially when Norman Jay hits the decks in his traditional (and legendary)Sunday slot. Ahhhhhh...heaven! This year the weather seems to be warming up nicely for another hot one, but even if it piddles it down (no chance...seriously...I’ve sorted it) the line up’s one of the best so far. On top of the biggies, Kanye W, Jessie J and Chemical B(ros) there’s a whole bunch of other ‘must see’ treats. Here’s my pick of (some of) the best of the rest:

Wild Beasts

Purveyors of one of the most gorgeous singles of the year (Bed Of Nails) Kendal's finest continue to tingle the spine and tickle the fancy with their lush dream pop/post punk cocktail. Mine's a large one.

Hercules & Love Affair

21st century disco kings/queens Hercules & Love Affair will bring a large dose of Noo Yawk cool to the Chill. If Anthony Hegarty shows up to do Blind I may well spontaneously combust with excitement. Either way their show will be GLAM to the max.

Femi Kuti & The Positive Force

With Fela Kuti (the godfather of Afrobeat)doing his thing up in the heavens his oldest son, Femi, is carrying on the family business in fine style. Can music get much more joyous than this? I doubt it.

Ladi 6

The name might be new over here but Ladi 6 has been wowing audiences back in her native New Zealand and across the US as part of the fat Freddy's Drop crew. A real deal rapper with a soulful twist. See, I've resisted the urge to say she has '6 appeal' too...oh...bugger.

Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings

The undisputed queen of soul n'funk (in my eyes at least) Sharon Jones takes it back to the old school with the kind of pure, raw passion that most singers would swap their grannies for. It's also a little known fact that her band, The Dap Kings, provided much of the musical muscle for Amy Winehouse's Back To Black. A tribute number from Sharon and the band could well be on the cards. Now how special would that be eh?


Winning the 'Shit, Where Did That Come From' Award for 2011, Metronomy have released the album of their career this year with the instant pop classic The English Riviera. I couldn't just post one of their tracks, so here's another one...filmed in Torbay.

So, there you have it. Just a few picks from a Big Chill that's stuffed full of musical loveliness. See you by the cider bus...

PS: I think tickets are still available but, as ever, I'd get in now if you want to be sure of getting in.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Goodnight Lenin / The Travelling Band @ MAC, Saturday 23rd July 2011

Outdoor gigs are always a bit of a risk in the UK, but there was simply no chance of any rain ruining this evening. Yep, whoever controls the weather up there is clearly a Goodnight Lenin fan too. After days of damp misery the sun shone on a sold out MAC as the inexorable but thoroughly justified rise of Goodnight Lenin continued with this, their biggest hometown show to date, slap bang in the middle of a summer that’ll see them play over a dozen of the UK’s best festivals.

First up though The Travelling Band. There’s a touch of the legendary American country rock act The Band to this lot, albeit with more a pastoral English folkiness.

It’s a winning combination especially on pick of the set Battle Scars, a gently trotting track that neatly fuses some country sounding guitars with a nu folk vibe. The perfect festival band, a fact suitably reinforced by getting their big break as Glastonbury’s New Talent award winners back in 2008.

That left the stage set for Goodnight Lenin. Like a fine wine they just seem to be getting better, tighter and more polished but without losing the playful sense of fun that lifts them high above so many other folk flavoured bands. After coming onstage to Three Lions (see, there’s that playfulness) they whipped through a dozen or so self penned tracks covering all bases from the joys of youth (Wenceslas Square) to “fictional tales about real people we know nothing about” (Edward Colby). Tonight they were supposed to have been joined by footballer turned musical maverick Dion Dublin who’s invented his own instrument, the Dube. No, it’s true. I’ve seen him play it too! It seems that he went on holiday instead. Shame. He missed the chance to be part of something really special. Maybe next time eh?

Missing celebs aside there were some truly spine tingling moments this evening, with John Fell’s “there is relentlessly nothing” refrain for example lifting Old Cold Hands to new heights of emotion. Those glorious three part harmonies continue to dominate the band’s sound though, acquiring a richness and depth that only comes from gigging like crazy. There’s no substitute for putting in the hours and I know just how frantic their summer schedule is. It’ll be the making of them, not only in terms of their performance but also spreading the word further afield. John, John Joe and Liam shared the fruits of all this effort this evening in a magical acoustic number (Sober Eyes), where they ditched the mics and wandered offstage to sing together.
It’s the obvious friendship that the band have for each other and the in between song banter that makes every Lenin show a real treat. Tonight was no exception. Perhaps it’s that old light and dark thing. Some of the sounds are deeply emotional and the fun side just seems to balance it all out perfectly.

Whether debut single Crook In The Creek actually reached number 37 in the Bolivian charts as the band claimed this evening is up for debate. What’s beyond dispute is that there are few acts around right now who’ll break your heart one minute then have you chuckling the next. A good natured (and band encouraged) stage invasion capped off a strong contender for gig of the year. As Dion Dublin might've put it, the boys done good.

PS: Check out some awesome shots of the gig from Shakey Pix!

Off The Cuff Festival 2011 Day Three

Screamin' Al from The'

Sunday 24th July

Dananananaykroyd / The Computers / Tall Ships / Flash Guns / Venice Ahoy / Talons / Victories At Sea / Peace / Pharoahs / Death Ohh Eff

Oh my days. I think I’ve broken myself. It’s my own fault. Actually, scratch that. I blame the pairing of The Computers and Dananananannanananannananananaykroyd. That’s just a recipe for bruised limbs, banging heads and a complete footprint shaped mark on the back of your head isn't it eh? Anyway, before a possible trip to A&E (I’m joking...I need ICU) here’s how the day’s dizzying parade of bands (11 in 10 hours) went down.

It all kicked off with Death Oh Eff’s particular brand of shouty electro math-pop. There was a lot of shoutiness going on today. This is a very good thing. It’s always hard being the opening act, especially when you’re playing in a cellar at 2.30pm on a warm summer’s day but DOE pulled in a decent crowd who were rewarded for being up, conscious and there with a lively run through some of the bands best stuff, including the suitably tropical Mother. Pharaohs kept the energy levels high with some enthusiastic leaping about and a song about Gary Glitter, best demonstrating their knack for rocking out one second then scrambling your brain with some complex guitar noodling the next.

Peace were one of those rather brilliant festival surprises, like Vampire Weekend fronted by the lovechild of Robert Smith and Yannis from Foals. Clearly strong believers in the old adage “always leave ‘em wanting more” they only played for about 15 minutes but it’s the quality that counts (actually I believe that’s all the material they’ve got right now). Cop a listen to Blood and see what you think.

Victories At Sea played their first gig at Off The Cuff 2010 and now here they are a year later showcasing the development of their...muso wank alert...shimmering soundscapes...sorry....I’ll never write that again...and ever so slightly ominous vocals. “We’ve only played about 5 gigs since our first one, ‘cos no one likes us except Sammy and Rhi” (two of the lovely ladies behind OTC). I’m sure that ain’t true. As one gorgeous layer of sound built over another it’s hard to imagine anyone with ears being immune to them. I wrote in my notes ‘like Joy Division on speed’ (yes, incredibly I write notes for this shit) and there’s something about the slightly Hook-y bass lines and faintly doom laden sound that kind of backs this scribbling up. After ‘shimmering soundscapes’ Venice Ahoy blasted the assembled masses with some loud thrashy pop punk. I believe it was their last ever gig. Shame. Tall Ships married Mr Twisty Math-Rock to Miss Heartfelt Vocals, resulting in the birth of some rather epic tunes. They had a lush song about evolution (it may have even been called that) with a snatch of keyboards that sounded a little like Walter/Wendy Carlos at his/her finest. Clever, but surprisingly moving at the same time, stuff.

Still with me? Good. ‘Cos it starts to get messy in a bit. Imagine if Lemmy kidnapped a couple of violinists from the London Philharmonic, then locked them in a room with some mind bending drugs, I imagine the result would sound a little bit like Talons. DEATH ROCK VIOLINS I scribbled in my note pad, using the blood seeping from my bleeding ears as ink. Somewhere Antonio Stradivari is thrashing about in his grave grinning like a man possessed. Awesomely good. Next up Flash Guns, with a bit of a Strokes-y U2-y feel they got heads nodding (at least the heads that still remained in place after Talons had finished). They’ve already released a clutch of catchy singles including the pick of tonight’s set Passions of a Different Kind. Stadium glory surely beckons?

Right another band that may have been playing its last ever gig tonight. This time sadly it’s Youves, a band I’ve known since their days as Mirror Mirror. The Fall meets PiL meets Happy Mondays meets Late of The ingredient x. How the hell did they never ‘make it’ eh? Tonight might have been their swansong but they got the swan off its beak on E and dancing like a maniac. Ruthlessly plundering their Cardio-Vascular album they beat the living daylights out of Fully Erect and ‘the hit’, Aladdins Rave, before bizarrely debuting a new track. Cool. That’s the way to bow out. Predictably they got their tops off one last time sending flecks of manly sweat all over the mourners.

“More people are sad about us splitting up than Amy Winehouse” observed their lead singer. Well, at least they can always make a comeback....Amy might find that one a bit trickier.

Right. This is when it got messy. Devon’s finest punk rock combo The Computers simply won’t take no for an answer. When they want a crowd to go mental the crowd has little choice. I’m sure there’s some kind of subliminal Derren Brown kind of hypnosis at work here but from the second they launched into Group Identity a sizeable percentage of the audience began pogoing into the ceiling and thrashing about like someone going through an exorcism. The gig was a glorious blur of flailing limbs and pints of sweat culminating in the near death experience that is Teenage Tourette’s Camp. The spirit of their musical mentor Rocket From The Crypt’s Speedo is all over this one and, having seen them back in the day, The Computers are every bit as awesome. Now that’s one hell of an accolade. Top marks for the Jewish related banter by the way. After the band’s lead singer had jokingly castigated us for dancing to punk on the Sabbath he revealed he was Jewish and it was okay for him ‘cos Friday was his holy day. “Where’s your foreskin?” yelled one of the crowd “In Valhalla” he replied laughing maniacally before ripping into another tune. Hmmm...try as I might I still can’t get the image of a strange world inhabited by snippets of men’s privates out of my mind.

I was a broken man by this point but Off The Cuff wasn’t done with me yet. Having sworn never to attempt bouncing up and down in a low ceiling cellar ever again I was at it 15 minutes later thanks to the infectious Glasgow pop punksters Dananananananananananananaykroyd. Damn them. Like The Computers they won’t take no for an answer either and pretty soon the whole room was bouncing up and down risking severe brain damage in the process. Brilliant.

There’s something glorious about the Glaswegian accent screaming at you. It’s vaguely threatening but bloody chummy at the same time, that’s why a lot of banks have all their call centres up in Scotland. True story. Anyway, the band rattled merrily through one thrashy anthem after another with recent single Muscle Memory getting the biggest reaction of all. They’re a friendly bunch. Not even some mildly racist “Och eye the noo” could phase ‘em and they even arranged a ‘tunnel of love’ where the room split into two and was then encouraged to rush headlong into an embrace with stranger opposite them. The result was carnage but it had a cool soundtrack so that’s alright then. “Some guy’s had his balls stood on” yelled someone in the crowd “That’s okay” replied one of the band helpfully “a nice risk free ride for the ladies”. Safe sex the Danananananananananakroyd way. Stamp on some guy’s bollocks.

So, there we have it. 11 bands in 10 hours. From full on sonic assaults to glitchy synths and death rock violins Off The Cuff has firmly established itself as a dizzying introduction to the kind of music that puts an insane smile on your face and...if you overdo the pogoing...possibly a brace on your neck too. Get your tickets to 2012’s event as soon as you can. I get the feeling the Californians will be coming next year too...and they might well be bringing some of their mates.

PS:I missed Saturday's OTC ‘cos I was off seeing my chums Goodnight Lenin play outside at the MAC. I have no doubt that it was, of course, awesome. I’ll post a link to a review of Saturday when I find one.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

They tried to make her go to rehab...

Shit. What a waste. Recently it was pretty clear it was a case of 'when?' not 'if' but the death of Amy Winehouse at 27 (yep, another member of the 27 'club') still came as something of a shock. Thousands of words have already been written in tribute and there's not a great deal I can add. I came across this shaky You Tube footage just now though, her last public appearance dancing along to her god daughters show in Camden on Wednesday night. If that was one of her last memories as she breathed her final breath then at least it was a good one eh?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Off The Cuff Festival 2011

For a City as big as Birmingham there’s always been a distinct lack of decent music festivals. Sure there’s Capsule’s Supersonic, which now has a global reputation for putting on the kind of bands that happily send people three shades of loopy (that’s a good thing by the way), Moseley Folk, Mostly Jazz and the one day mini fest The Flyover Show. We’ve also got ArtsFest but somehow the music seems a little lost in amongst everything else. That was pretty much it. At least it was until Off The Cuff came along a few years back. A three day orgy of awesome sounds held in the bowels of the legendary Flapper. Lord bless the good folk behind OTC. Pulling together some of the brightest new bands from Birmingham and beyond OTC has rapidly become a pretty essential festival in my humble opinion...and you don’t have to camp in a tent with a dozen sweaty mates, defecate into a pit or piddle in a bush...unless you’re into that kind of thing. Putting piddling aside for a moment (I do hope you’re not eating your tea right now) here’s how it all went down...

Friday 22nd July

Johnny Foreigner / Tubelord / Shoes and Socks Off / Pandas and People

Kicking off Off The Cuff this year were Pandas and People a relatively new band (new to me anyway)from Redditch. Despite battling with a bust laptop they managed to pull together a strong set of classy alt pop (alt pop...did I just invent that...probably). There’s something about them that kind of reminded me of XTC (a notion that gained ground when I spotted the drummer wearing an XTC t-shirt), not that they sound anything like them...hmmm...maybe it’s the slightly off beat song titles and lyrics? I’m The Floor, Jokes That Aren’t Jokes...dead XTC-ish in my book. Maybe that’s just me. Anyway mixing a bit of math-rock with some poppy synths and singalong choruses it was an impressive showing in the face of technical adversity. Ha! Up yours Mr Laptop. Screw you. Technology? Who needs it? They left the best for last too, with a track that may have been called In The Dark. Cascading guitars and a screamo chorus got down and dirty in a sexy 3 minute 47 knee trembler. Sweet.

Next up Toby Hayes, formerly of post hardcore outfit Meet Me In St Louis. One man and his guitar, he now trades under the name of Shoes and Socks Off. Thankfully he kept them on tonight, along with his hoody which covered most of his face from where I was standing. In fact hunched over his guitar he almost seemed to want to make himself invisible at times, a feeling that was reinforced by the often bleak lyrical content.

“This girl fancies you” shouted someone in the audience early on in the set “I’d only disappoint you” replied Mr Hayes, adding ominously “ have NO idea”. Blimey. Like the love child of Kurt Cobain and Arab Strap’s Aidan Moffat there’s a kind of self sacrificing pain in there that can be uncomfortable to watch...and hear. Cop a load of this line (from a song on the new album) “When all your teeth fall out, you can use my mouth”...that’s got the same kind of kick you in the crotch intensity of Cobain’s “eat your cancer” lyric from Heart Shaped Box right?

Next up Kingston Upon Thames’ finest Tubelord. First time I’ve seen this lot but they’re not hard to fall in love with. From lead singer Joseph Prendergast’s geek chic outfit (some rather nicely turned up trousers and braces) to their At Their Drive In meets Los Campesino’s mix of meaty riffs and disarmingly sweet vocals the whole set was a blur of off kilter musical loveliness.

There’s a complexity to their sound that’ll appeal to the chin strokers out there but it’s catchy enough to...dare I say it...yeah...I dare... hook a pop audience too. A cover of Tall Ships (they play OTC on Sunday) Vessels proved a real crowd pleaser and reinforced what you read about a really supportive, mutually appreciated ‘scene’ out there. As the sweat started to drip from the ceiling the band dedicated the last song to “the guys who’ve come all the way from California for Off The Cuff”. Wow. If you’re in any doubt of the growing importance of this festival now, there’s your proof. That ain’t a day trip my friends. Kudos to the Cali-crew. That last track by the way, Night Of The Pencils’, was everything that I’d grown to love about Tubelord in the 32 minutes I’d known them. Sweet quiet bits, twisty math-rock bits, heads down rocky bits and pop chorus sing alongs. Now, why the hell aren’t they “bigger than Memphis eh?”

By the time headliners Johnny Foreigner came on The Flapper had reached boiling point. It does that. That’s one if the things I love about the place. Within seconds of playing singer Alexei was dripping like he’d just stepped out of a shower.

Jo Fo have been together for 5 or 6 years now and they’re one of the few ‘local’ bands who’ve made any real impact outside of the City recently. Whilst they’ve clearly had their ups and downs, tonight felt like the triumphant return of local heroes, a wild celebration of songs that mean so much to their loyal fans who responded with the kind of fervour you rarely see at shows these days. They played the ‘hits’ and classics, stuff like Feels Like Summer, Criminals, Tru Punx and Sometimes In The Bullring together with new single Electricity vs The Dead which wisely keeps to their template of shouty post-punk pop. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it eh?

It’s fair to say that the band’s been a bit dismissive of the City that spawned them but this evening Alexei seemed to be in the mood for making up, charitably admitting that “You guys aren’t cunty anymore”. Bless him. He genuinely seemed overwhelmed by the response though and proud, yep, proud to be part of a festival that’s as cool as fuck right now. As the atmosphere became tropical (seriously I could swear I saw some of those weird tree frogs hanging from the ceiling) and the faithful whipped themselves into a frenzy encore The Coast Was Always Clear saw band and audience become one gloriously sweaty mess as the stage disappeared beneath a heaving mass of delirious humanity.

Some hours later Alexei posted a message on Facebook saying that it was the best gig of their lives. I reckon quite a few people could well be saying the same thing this morning ...

Friday, July 22, 2011

Speak Up @ Bull’s Head, Moseley, Thursday 20th July 2011

Blimey. What a gorgeous evening. Love, life, sex, suicidal siblings, name it, we covered it. I’ve been getting into this whole spoken word thing a bit recently (prior to discovering Jodi Ann Bickley and friends my last foray into it all was a Murray Lachlan Young gig back in 1868) and I’m amazed by some of the talent around right now. Young spoken word artists (they seem to shy away from the whole poetry tag...wisely I guess as it does sound a bit olde worlde) are popping up all over the place and nights like Jodi’s seem to be getting increasingly popular, especially in that there London.

I was reading a Time Out interview with one of the stars tonight, Inua Ellams, and he was asked why he thought spoken word was taking off. The gist of his answer is that it’s attracting people who may once have been drawn to hip hop back in the day, when it was much more about the lyrics than the image or the sponsorship deals. Think back to Gil Scott Heron (even though he seemingly hated the title ‘Godfather of Rap that’s pretty much what he was), Grandmaster Flash, Sugarhill Gang, Public Enemy, NWA, Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy...they were all about the words. Like any of them? Then the chances are you’ll find something to love in the spoken word scene. Many of today’s spoken word artists, like their hip hop ancestors, write honestly about their day to day lives, covering everything from the mundane to the life changing. Roll up, roll up folks...all human emotion is on display here. That, in a nutshell, is what makes a spoken word evening such a great event. We might all be different colours, religions, ages, sizes etc but, when you strip all the bullshit away we’re all (for better or worse) human. The fact that there’s someone up there capturing the stuff that unites us somehow makes the world seem a better place. Like life some of it’s sad, some of it’s funny and some of it’s downright puzzling, whatever the emotions being conveyed though it’s never anything less than 100% engaging. Actually, that’s a good point too. Whereas a lot of people nowadays treat music as something that goes on in the background spoken word shows demand and, more importantly, reward attention.

Right, now I’ve got all that off my chest, tonight’s show (like the previous Speak Up nights I guess...tonight was my first) was a pretty non-stop flow of scheduled performers and open mic-ers. It seems a little unfair not to mention everyone by name ‘cos they were all rather awesome so, in order (I think...let me know if I’ve missed you out) we had...deep breath...Jodi Ann Bickley, Hayley Francis, Ellie, Jim, Matt Windle, Zak, Mr Morrison, Kim Trusty, Michalia, Inua, Simon and Anna (Tantrums), Poppy Tibbets and Gregory Anchorman. WOW. 14 performers in three hours, each one of whom I could’ve happily listened to all night. After scoring a couple of beanbags and tucking into the free biccies (yes, FREE biccies!) Jodi was, as ever, a slice of loveliness. Kicking off with I’m A Dickhead and modestly promising that the night would get much better (in truth you can’t actually get much better than Jodi) she popped up a couple more times during the evening. Pick of her stuff tonight was No Strings Attached, a witty checklist of the do’s and dont’s involved in having a fuck buddy. Who else could get a laugh out of the words “good vagina” eh?

Hayley Francis took it old skool with Hopskotch, a wistful look back at the days when the web was a spider’s home, Ellie went all surreal on us with a fine piece of dream inspired poetry before Jim gave us a “bit of blue” and an ode to a pig on a spit. Now that’s variety.

Boxer, school visiting poet and all round dude Matt Windle impressed once again with a series of rhymes (Unconventional, Numbers, Never Get A Taxi, Just A Geek, The Crack...) that somehow seemed to echo his pugilistic tendencies, a jab of wit there, some fancy footwork of humour here and the odd killer blow of emotional honesty. A knockout.

Ragga rap poet Zak wowed the crowd with Parents Trap (he’s 11...I think...blimey) before Mr Morrison delivered another standout moment of the night (it was littered with ‘em) with Jenny From The Block, a brutal tale of the life of a Romanian prostitute. Follow that eh? Thankfully Kim Trusty could. I saw her do her epic A Quiet Heart at Bear’s House last year and had to pin myself down from giving her a hug at the end of it. It’s a devastating run through her love life to date and the men who’ve gradually eroded her desire to look for that someone special. If that sounds a bit of a wrist slitter, it isn’t. There are laughs in there too and Kim somehow treads the fine line between strength and vulnerability that makes the words all the more powerful.

Next up Mahalia who Jodi spotted playing at Mostly Jazz recently. With perhaps an echo of Randy Crawford to her vocals she played three fine slices of acoustic soul, like most of the performers tonight dispensing with the microphone and singing au naturel. Beautiful stuff. “She’s 13” announced Jodi as Mahalia left the stage to rapturous applause. A pure and fresh talent with the potential to set the world on fire.

Award winning poet and playwright Inua Ellams had travelled up from London to be here tonight, bringing with him his unique fusion of influences created by his upbringing in Nigeria, London and Dublin. That’s a hell of a mix and he’s a hell of poet as result. Like a number of the acts tonight he clearly LOVES...and I mean LOVES...language, speaking of the impact that Shakespeare (Hamlet in particular) had on him. Who says the bard ain’t relevant today eh? What Inua and a number of other poets are doing right now is bringing the beauty of the English language back. In fact I reckon if you could dig up and reanimate ol’ Billy Shakespeare he’d be right into all this stuff. Yep, Inua’s the afro bard. Check out Lovers, Liars, Conjurers and Thieves and you’ll hear what I’m banging on about.

After a quick mini set from Anna and Simon reminded me (as if I needed it) what great tunes Tantrums have produced (Mek Ya Feel Hype, If I Don’t Try...ear nibblingly great) Jodi hooked up with Poppy Tibbets, a collaboration that welds her poetry to Poppy’s lyrics. What’s not to love about that? Still with me? Good. Nearly there. Final act of the night Gregory Anchorman rise eyebrows and smiles with a gallows humour tale of his brother’s attempted suicide using paracetamol and the local railway line. Smiles? Yep. It was dead funny. I’m assuming it’s not true, but either way (seemingly thanks to the general rubbishness of our train operators) his bro was there tonight, so it’s all good.

Tonight was my first Speak Up and Jodi wasn’t lying when she promised it would make my Thursday at least 100% better. It really did. Spread the word people...spread the word.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Lenin live...

Just a quick reminder (as if you need one) that the Goodnight Lenin Wenceslas Square EP launch is happening this Saturday evening at the MAC. I think it might be sold out now but it's still worth trying the box office...just in case the ticket fairy has printed some more. If you can't get in, well, play this video at full blast instead.

PS: It's an outdoor gig but don't worry, I've had a word and it WILL be dry. I've even ordered a little sun. My pleasure...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tom Tom Club @ The HMV Institute, Tuesday 19th July 2011

For people of a certain age Tom Tom Club will probably forever be associated with one of the most naggingly catchy tunes of all time...Wordy Rappinghood...”with a rap rap here and a rap rap there, here a rap there a rap everywhere a rap rap”. Its mix of insistent synths, Latino percussion and this strange new thing called ‘rap’ seemed a pretty exotic concoction back in 1981. To be fair it still does today. It’s amazing to think that this year sees the track and band’s 30th anniversary and it’s as good an excuse as any to check back into the Club to see what else they’ve been up to. Of course the other undeniably big draw of Tom Tom Club is the husband and wife partnership of Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, aka 50% of one of the greatest new wave acts of all time, the mighty Talking Heads.

If you had to sum up the whole gig in just one word it would be pretty easy - joyful. From the opening bars of Who Feelin’ It (from 2000’s The Good, The Bad and The Funky album) on to ‘the hits’ and through a couple of familiar covers (Under The Boardwalk and You Sexy Thing) Chris, Tina and co seemed to be having a hell of a time up there. It’s not polite to mention a lady’s age but if I have half the energy of Tina Weymouth when I’m...ahem...whatever age she is...then I’ll be a happy chappie. Hell, if I had half her energy now I’d be chuffed. Tonight she was joined on vocal duties by Victoria Clamp (who’s been in the band, on and off, since the late 80’s and has her own group, Blondestreak). Together the pair danced, sang and joked together like a pair of 18 year olds, cracking through a 15 song set that revealed a fair few hidden gems from the back catalogue. The reggae groove of She’s Dangerous, the more funk driven Punk Lolita (tonight dedicated to “our good friend Debbie Harry”) and the blues tinged L’Elephant (en Francais...naturallement) underline just how many genres the band’s happily played with over the years. Tonight these tracks all seemed a little fresher though, partly down to the current touring version of the band (all of whom really know their shit...musically speaking) and, more importantly I guess, the obvious joy that they had in playing to a modest but adoring crowd on chilly Tuesday in Birmingham. It was The Man With the 4-Way Hips that came as the biggest surprise tonight though, with some frenzied bongo playing capping off a groovy run through a bit of a lost classic (it reached the dizzy heights of number 82 in the UK charts back in 1983). Less lost, but equally classic, are the two big Tom Tom Club hits. Genius Of Love came first, its glorious mix of flavours and summertime grooves as fresh and oddball as it was nearly three decades ago. You’ve got to love Chris’ vocals on this. Perched behind the drums he really nailed those “James Brown’s”. Glorious. Who needs to think when you’re feet just go eh? Genius was separated from its big sister single by a kittenish reworking of You Sexy Thing (a cover dating back to 1991’s Dark Sneak Love Action album), again some furious percussion and a bit of subtle scratching from newest member of the band, Kid Ginseng, added a surprising freshness. What can you say about Wordy Rappinghood? It’s a stone cold classic from a time when pop ruled the world. A piece of musical insanity that wilfully plundered from more genres than most of us knew existed at the time. Chicks On Speed based their entire career on it and I reckon a lot of other bands owe this track more than a passing debt. Just listen to it again and you’ll hear what I mean.

After the traditional going off and coming back on bit the encore kicked off with Clamp’s fine take on Take Me To The River before a crowd pleasing Psycho Killer. Watching this tonight you realised just how crucial Tina and Chris were/are to the Talking Heads sound. Tina’s bassline and Chris’ drumming were the bedrock to this track and its reinvention as a Tom Tom Club number added a funkier feel that, once again, sprinkled some fresh fairy dust all over the mother culminating in a frantic 60’s style freak out. Bonus points for Tina’s mad staring eyes by the way. Scary.

The band hung around at the end and I had the great pleasure of meeting Chris and Tina. These are the dudes who hung around CBGB’s with Blondie, The Ramones, Television, Patti Smith and The Cramps and a nicer couple you couldn’t wish to chew the fat with. Tina in particular was quite happy to chat about this and that (I can exclusively reveal that she shops at Forever 21...and why the hell not eh?) and it was only our eviction from the venue that curtailed the nattering, otherwise I reckon we’d still be there. 30 years on and this is one club that’s still well worth getting in to.

Turn up to Speak Up...wise words

I've written about the spoken word scene here in Birmingham before and one of the shiniest stars right now, Jodi Ann Bickley, holds her own night called Speak Up. The next one's tomorrow night at the Bull's Head (Moseley, Birmingham, know...that funny little island where it always rains and that nice Mr Murdoch listens in to your 'phone calls). If you've not been along to a spoken word night, go. She's brilliant, as are the rest of the performers. You'll laugh, you'll cry and you'll probably come out of it all feeling a darn sight better about the world than you did when you went in. It's Jodi's birthday bash too and I can't think of a better pressie for her than making sure the place is rammed.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Festival frenzy...

Still not taken the plunge and bought tickets to a festival yet? Relax (but not for too long...they’re all selling out now) there’s still time and I reckon three in particular are well worth checking out.

Firstly, this weekend, it’s Off The Cuff time. This isn’t a camping festival (unless you fancy pitching a tent in the Bull Ring), but it is three days stuffed full of some of the most exciting, energy fuelled bands around. Check out the line up and just cop a listen to some of the bands on offer. Whoo, and indeed, hoo!

Then, a couple of weeks after Off The Cuff (August 5-7th), it's The Big Chill. Hurrah!

The Chill’s one of my favourite festivals. Big enough to attract some great names (this year they’ve landed Jessie J and Kanye West) but compact enough to get from one end of the site to the other without requiring oxygen, pack horses and the services of Mr Bear Grylls. They even have the legendary Burrow Hill Cider Bus - much beloved of Glastonbury regulars.

Finally, the following week, you’ve got what promises to be one of the most exciting new additions to the festival season dahlings, Wilderness.

There’ll be music, chat, great food, sweat lodges...yep...sweat lodges. How many other festivals might potentially give you the chance to end up talking bollocks to the outsider artists’ outsider artist Daniel Johnston at a sweat lodge, naturally.

NB: I’m not promising Mr Johnston will be in a sweat lodge at 2am but who knows eh? If it's going to happen anywhere it'll happen at Wilderness.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Coming soon...July 31st to be precise...the very first Bearwood Shuffle!

Regular readers might remember my ruminations on the lack of live music in my ‘hood, Bearwood, earlier in the year. At the time a group of us got together and planned to put on some nights at a local pub but...for various reasons...that idea kind of fizzled out. Things evolved though and now we’re putting on something a little different...the Bearwood Shuffle (the name’s inspired by the somewhat eclectic musical genres we want to put on)!

So, on the afternoon of Sunday 31st July we’re taking over the bandstand in the recently liberated (from the dastardly clutches of Birmingham City Council) Lightwoods Park and putting on 7...yep...7 (7...really? are we going to fit ‘em all in?)...local bands. There’ll be singer songwriters, some indie rock, cigar box blues, death metal (well maybe not...unless someone plugs the wrong lead into the power supply...which is a distinct possibility) and, best of all, it’s FREE, gratis and for nothing. Hurrah!

There’s no grand plan (seriously...) behind all this but we’re hoping to run some more if the first one’s a success (hopefully we can get Aziz and Dal – see the review below – along one day) so if you’re interested in playing drop a line to

See you on the 31st!

PS: The Shuffle's on Facebook and Twitter you do.

Warley Woods Picnic in the Park – Sunday 17th July 2011

We live in England. It rains. That’s what makes our green and pleasant land green and pleasant. So the odd drop (okay, downpour then) failed to dampen the spirits of the good folk of Bearwood. Well, some of them at least. I didn’t get to see / hear as much of the music on offer as I have on previous years (I was helping to man a stand...more info on that to follow), but I did get to witness the stunningly great pairing of Aziz Ibrahim (guitar and vocals) and Dalbir Singh Rattan (tabla). He’s done a whole load of great stuff but you might know Aziz as a former member of the Stone Roses (MK II) and one of Ian Brown’s chief collaborators (he co-wrote Stars amongst many other tunes).

Dalbir’s played with some rather well known names too, including the modfather himself, Mr Paul Weller. It was all a bit surreal actually seeing two such well respected musicians playing in the rain in front of a small but damply enthusiastic crowd in my local woods, but there you go, out of the most unexpected situations come some of the best musical moments in life eh?

Musically the pairing frequently spar between each other, with Aziz constantly raising the bar with his guitar playing only for Dal to match him with some sophisticated and inventive tabla work. It’s difficult to pigeon hole the music, so I won’t even try, Aziz himself made it quite clear he hated the term ‘world music’ and I can’t say I blame him really. Surely any music played on this planet is ‘world music’ eh? He plumped for ‘Asian blues’ at one point, but even that’s too restrictive. Who cares what it’s called. It’s bloody great. Highlights of the set (he played for well over an hour...maybe nearly two...I lost track of the time) included numerous gorgeous jams as described above along with a...dare I say it...version of Stars that had the edge on the original.

Add snatches of Zep’s Kashmir and The Beatles Norwegian Wood with some Hendrix style teeth playing and you’ve got a set that made standing in the rain, cold and wind seem like the best freakin’ idea in the world. last thing... when Aziz’s guitar plug fell out he used it to play the tuning keys...using the feedback (?) created between the connection of metal on metal to create some kind of other worldly sounds. Now that’s inventive. If you were there, you were darn lucky. It stands out as one of the most surprising sets (in one of the most unusual settings) that I’ve ever seen. If you weren’t there make it your mission to see this pair live. I might even be able to help you out there the next post after this one for more info.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Frankmusik @ The Rainbow, Wednesday 13th July 2011

There’s a lot more to Frankmusik (aka Vincent Turner/Frank) than meets the ears. Sure he’s released some great pop tracks of his own so far (Better Off As 2 and 3 Little Words rank as some of the best pop tunes of the last 20 years) but he’s also something of a producer (he’s just finished working on the new one from Erasure), remixer (notching up mixes for everyone from La Gaga to the Pet Shop Boys) and fearless traveller (a few years back he hitched cross the UK from impromptu gig to impromptu gig, relying purely on the kindness of strangers...and somehow avoiding being kidnapped and turned into Frankmusik-furters). Most recently he’s been trying out his luck in the US and beavering away on his new album, some of which we got to hear for the first time tonight.

A week’s a long time in pop these days so two years (the gap between his albums) is an eternity, which explains this relatively low key gig (part of a mini tour) at The Rainbow, tonight enhanced by an impressive stage set up.

It’s not often bands put such an effort into this kind of thing on small tours but on top of some fancy neon signs and a lit up mic stand we were treated to a rather atmospheric back drop too (plus enough dry ice to hide Everest).

Sure makes a change from a brick wall. When the new album’s out in September somehow I can’t imagine you’ll get a chance to get as up close and personal again. The break’s clearly been good for him, tonight was a fun and Frank-tic run through nearly 20 tracks in an hour, the kind of run rate you’d normally only find at a hardcore or Japanese mentalists gig. It worked though, with Frankmusik bouncing around the stage and firing off one fizzy burst of pop after another all over the faithful.

The biggies (3 Little Words, Better Off As 2 and Confusion Girl) were scattered nicely in amongst the new stuff. Out of this trinity Better Off As 2 was neatly re-energised with a lovely burst of trumpet. God I love a bit of trumpet. Any brass instrument in fact. It’s the one thing that a lot of 80’s pop had by the bucket load but few bands use these days. Shame. More of this please Mr Musik! The new songs stood up really well against the more familiar material. There’s a more R&B feel to some of the tracks (the result of his Stateside sojourn no doubt),albeit a more European version, best heard on No ID which is pretty much guaranteed to be blasted from beach bars all summer long. It’ll no doubt be joined by new single Do It In The AM, the last track of the night and yet another slice of effortlessly addictive pop that should get people drooling for the album. No encore, instead a heartfelt thanks from Frankmusik to the faithful who’d turned up to support him. Hey, our pleasure my friend (feel the love people...).

Vincent hung around at the end of the show to chat to the fans, pose for photos, press the flesh and all that palaver, revealing himself to be an all round super nice guy too.

I’ve no doubt the new album will be massive (from what we heard tonight it deserves to be) but given his knack for penning classic pop (which ain’t as easy as you’d think) I get the feeling that his work as a producer and remixer in the future could be just as important (can’t wait to hear what he’s done with Erasure). For now though, yep...I can’t resist it...Frank you for the Musik.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Talk about...Frankmusik

Don't forget, if you're in Birmingham tonight (13th July) Frankmusik's playing at The Rainbow in Digbeth. It's just one of three UK dates for the Frankster this year and, as he's relocated to LA (maaaaaan)I'm guessing we'll be seeing less of him over here in the future. So if you want to experience the dizzy pop thrills of Better Off As Two, Three Little Words and Confusion Girl, or the transatlantic hippity hop of Do It In the AM, live and in the flesh, drag your bums down to the 'bow.

Tickets here from our good chums at Birmingham Promoters.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Win an MC spot with Sepalot (hey...that rhymes, this shit is easy!)

Change feat. Fashawn (add your 16bars version) by SEPALOT

Yeah, yeah, wan two, chek, chek, mic biggity biggity bong...yep MC Baron in da actually...wassup you hos and bros? Oh dear. I guess my chances of MC superstardom are pretty much the same as the survival of the Euro eh (economic satire and hip hop all in the same couple of lines...Private Eye eat your heart out). But, for all you budding mic abusers out there, German producer Sepalot is extending the hand of friendship by offering you the chance to add a verse to his forthcoming single, Chasing Clouds. Who needs Simon Cowell eh? All you’ve got to do is head over to the SoundCloud link (handily placed above), download the track and add your verse (lordy knows how you do that but I guess if you’re clever enough to ‘spit n’flow’ (whatever the hell that means) I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Either that or you can head over to Sepalot’s place (29 Rumplestrausen Autobahn, Berlin) and shout through his letterbox. He won’t mind. Mrs Sepalot might get a bit pissy, but that’s the rap game for you.

Dimbleby & Capper ‘Choose Your Head’ (mini album)

D&C Choose Your Head mini album by Dimbleby & Capper

Lucky enough to catch Dimbleby & Capper (actually usually just one person...neither of whom are called Dimbleby or Capper...she’s called Laura) at Saint Saviour’s criminally under-attended gig in April I’ve been looking out for an album of some kind for a while now. And here it is. It’s a dinky one, just 7 tracks (one’s a remix and one’s a cover too) but it neatly captures the D&C vibe, edgy pop with a nod to such luminaries as Fever Fever/The Knife, Siouxsie and the Banshees and sound mentalist Mr Phil Spector.

I believe it’s a bit of a homespun production, recorded in her boudoir, which matters not a jot these days. Incredible to think the sort of kit that would’ve cost more than the GDP of a small country a few years ago is available to pretty much everyone eh? Whilst a lot of bedroom experimentation deserves to stay there however, this half a dozen or so tracks are screaming out for a much, much wider audience. From the scuzzed up (and ever so slightly deranged) infatu-anthem Let You Go to the more tribalistic Raise It Right (shades of Adam and the Ants style Burundi drumming in there) and on to a delightfully lo-fi cover of The Crystals Then He Kissed Me, the whole thing crackles with the same kind of infectious energy and invention you’ll find in one of D&C’s 'must see' live shows. It’s like sex for yer ears. Scrummy stuff.

You can listen to the D&C EP on the SoundCloud thingy above or, for the real deal, why not buy a hard copy, hand numbered by the house of D&C and featuring “a semi clad headless women and a variety of three interchangeable animal heads”.

PS: Here's a video too...I know...I'm spoiling you...

Saturday, July 09, 2011

NEeMA / Little Palm @ Birmingham Academy, Friday 8th July 2011

Look up NEeMA’s name on t’internet and you’ll normally find another one closely associated with it...Leonard Cohen. Yep, it seems that our Len’s taken a bit of shine to NEeMA over the past few years as friend, mentor and co-producer on her latest album (as well as drawing her for the front cover). Coming hot on the heels of support slots for Cyndi Lauper, Jeff Beck and Joe Cocker (and just before supporting Sir Reginald Dwight) tonight was one of only two solo UK dates and a seemingly increasingly rare chance to get up close and personal with the owner of, as Len puts it, “a voice of true feeling...a rare event!” (although I can’t imagine him ever using an exclamation mark can you? The dude’s so laid back he’s horizontal).

First up though, and tonight showing herself to be no slouch when it come to ‘true feeling’, the lovely Little Palm. She’s been a bit quiet of late, after hooking up with local noise pop heroes Tantrums, which is a bit of shame because tonight Little Palm was...well, as the lady next to us put it “the best support act I’ve seen”. Raw and emotionally honest she’s grown to become a particularly powerful vocalist, belting out her songs without losing the subtle nuances that make a great performance. There were more than a few ‘hairs on the back on the neck’ moments with Backbone, Catfish and...preceded by a shout out to her mum...Ragdoll all standout numbers. Tantrums are great and I hope she sticks with them but it would be a crying shame if we lost Little Palm along the way. Somebody who knows what they’re doing needs to sign this girl. Now.

Happily someone who knew what they were doing signed NEeMA a while back and, whilst she’s a relatively new name over here in the UK, since her first album back in 2006 she’s been touring around the world like crazy and with a little help from Mr Cohen, honing her songwriting skills. Like Len NEeMA’s got that quiet confidence that seems to come from that illusive little thing called ‘inner peace’. It’s a tricky bugger to find (I think I lost mine down the back of the sofa) but on stage she’s got a tremendously calming presence which, combined with her dreamy vocal, makes watching her a bit of a spellbinding experience. Certainly the audience tonight were unusually attentive, gently lulled by track after harmonious track. There were some surprises in amongst the self penned songs though. A cover of Dire Straits Romeo and Juliet for instance and more unusually, Dream Academy’s ‘80’s cult classic Life In A Northern Town. Living in a town in northern Canada, this track clearly had a real significance for the young NEeMA and this evening’s cover version neatly slowed down the pace of the original and stripped back the more bombastic chorus, making it somehow even more wistful and, well, NEeMA-ish. Whilst many of the songs had this gently reflective feel she’s got a genuine bone fide singalongapop tune in the shape of ‘Escape’, a bouncy number hiding some surprisingly existentialist lyrics. It’s as addictive as hell and I’ve been humming it ever since I first heard it a few weeks back. Resistance is futile.

With her band leaving her alone on the stage for a moment Elsa’s Lullaby (written for her dog) was pure, undiluted NEeMA, her equivalent of Jacko’s Ben and every bit as moving. This was followed by a couple more covers given the NEeMA treatment, Len’s Avalanche and Springsteen’s Ghost Of Tom Joad, tonight dedicated to the recently deceased sax legend Clarence Clemons. Between numbers NEeMA would chat about some of her travels and experiences and like her mentor, you get the feeling that it’s taken some time to get that inner peace we mentioned earlier. NEeMA explain that the song Eternity was inspired by this questioning. In this case, if we all go up to heaven and sit by the lord how the hell do we all fit? Think of the number of people that have already lived and how many of those go ‘up there’ and how many go ‘down below’. What if we end up kneeling by the feet of the big man for all eternity...won’t that get a little boring? Not being religious this doesn’t overly concern me but for the 5th grade NEeMA it clearly became something of an obsession. Summing up her struggle with this big question she comes up with the best bit of advice of all really, basically we don’t know jack so just enjoy yourself while you’re here (at least that seemed to be the gist of it all). Wise words. Suitably enough the evening was capped off with the hugely enjoyable Masi, a breathily hypnotising prayer song inspired by her time with the Wekweti people (the indigenous people of Canada), which neatly incorporated some of the musical influences from her Lebanese / Egyptian heritage. Lovely stuff. A beautiful evening of music from an equally beautiful soul.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Plants Plants EP

Plant Plants Ep by This Is Music

Produced by Simian Mobile Disco’s Jas Shaw much of Plants Plants’ (duo Stuart Francis and Howard Whatley) new EP cleverly blends experimental electronica with a pop sensibility...kind of like a 21st century Talk Talk having a gang bang with Foals. If they ever decided to remake Blade Runner the pick of the four tracks on offer here, Hands That Sleep, could well make it onto the soundtrack, thanks to its cinematic synths, enigmatic lyrics and slightly industrial sounding samples. Just when you think you’ve neatly got them pigeonholed though the EP ends with a deliciously sparse alt country sounding piece, aptly compared to the likes of Sparklehorse. It all 'leafs' you wanting to hear more...(sorry, just couldn't resist that...I don't get out much)

The Plants Plants EP is out now on Less Music.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Plenty more Swordfish (and gigs) in the city

One of Swordfish's busier days...

Heard some great news from one of the owners of Swordfish Records - the last remaining independent record shop in Birmingham City centre - at Mostly Jazz over the weekend. Regular readers may recall a post from last year announcing that they were closing. Now, after a little renegotiation with an understanding landlord, they’ve decided to stay open. Hurrah! Given that HMV is ditching music in favour of flogging dishwashers, cat food and suppositories, Swordfish could well soon be the only place to physically buy music in Birmingham. If you’ve never been in there pop along (if you have, pop back). You’ll find them in Temple Street (just up the hill a bit from Tesco Metro on the left hand side). Gaz and Mike (the dudes behind the shop) really know their stuff and are quite happy to chew the fat for a few hours, recommend the kind of cool shit you need to hear and track down hard to find releases for you. They’ve got a pretty impressive collection of bargain second hand vinyl too...

In other great news (via the good folk at Conteract Magazine) the old Birmingham Academy / Hummingbird venue is reopening as a live music venue in September as the Birmingham Ballroom. Relax, it ain’t going to be a strictly come dancing joint. Instead the owners seem to be promising an alternative to the big corporate boys behind the HMV Institute and O2 Academy. If they can do a pint at less than a fiver that’ll be a bloody great start. Hopefully they’ll hook up with local brewers too and serve up something a little more palatable than Tuborg, Carling or Strongbow. Rancid donkey piss strained through an incontinent tramp’s Y-fronts would be an improvement. Sign up to the Ballroom mailing list here.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Mostly Jazz 2011

Day One – Friday 1st July 2011

Thankfully, having vented his spleen on the good folk at the Isle of Wight and Glastonbury Festivals recently, Mr Rain seems to have taken some time off for day one of the second annual Mostly Jazz Festival. I feel compelled to begin by defending the name again a little, just as I did last year, mainly because some people imagine it’ll be three days of cool cats in berets playing 6 hour sets of improvisational freeform noodling. In reality there’s a good mix of funk and soul in there too, but I guess ‘Mostly Jazz But With a Fair Bit of Funk and Soul Festival’ is a hell of a mouthful. If you’re looking for proof of the groove though, opening live act 9-piece Manchester based The Mouse Outfit, bought it by the bucket load. Imagine an i-Pod shuffle stuffed full of some of the best funk, hip hop and soul tracks ever recorded and that’s pretty much what you get from a Mouse Outfit show. Playing snatches of everything from Babe Ruth’s Mexican to Isaac Hayes’ Theme From Shaft along with a whole bunch of self penned jazzily laid back hip hop (sung in French...I’m guessing the lead dude is French...didn’t sound it when he spoke though) they’re the perfect festival headliners...a little wasted perhaps in their opening slot. Still, plenty of people were there to see it and I’m betting that, for the early birds, this was the highlight of their day. Make ‘em headliners next year. Please. They’ll blow the place apart. Mighty, not Mickey.

Next up the legendary Shawn Lee introduced by his good buddy Gilles Peterson. Now twenty albums into his career he’s worked with everyone from St Jeff of Buckley to Money Mark and Princess Superstar. Right now he’s fronting his Ping Pong Orchestra, drawing on his love of soul, funk, jazz and psych.

This lot are a crate diggers wet dream, serving up one sample rich stew after another. The 70’s cop show Lalo Schifrin style funk workout of Dirty Birdy got even the laziest asses shaking before Kiss The Sky (introduced by Shawn as “that track you might’ve heard on a Clarks TV ad”) lulled them all back into a sun soaked reverie. Ahhhhhhh festival moments don’t get much better than that.

Next crew, Alternative Dubstep Orchestra. Where do you start? Dub, brass, dhol drumming, tabla, ska,’s a mystical musical melting pot featuring, amongst many other fine musicians, a certain Mr Brian Travers (UB40’s sax man).

Pick of the set included a hauntingly dubbed up version of Walk On By, with vocalist Mish giving Dusty a run for her money.

Anyone for Jazzwerk? German trio Brandt Brauer Frick efficiently fused jazz and electronica before another of the day’s highlights, pocket soul rocket Alice Russell, transported Moseley Park to the other side of the Atlantic. Lordy this girl can whip up a tune. Anyone lucky enough to have seen her develop over the past decade or so (first as part of the Quantic Soul Orchestra, now out on her own) knows that she’s mellowing like a fine wine. Already great to begin with she’s now undeniably one of the UK’s best soul voices. Ever. She seems a lot more comfortable up there too. Happy tonight to chat in between tracks, a mix of Russell classics like Hurry On Now and newbies, like the wonky (her words) tune 2012. She couldn’t have picked a more appropriate track to end the set on, Hunger. Always leave ‘em wanting more eh? After a blockbusting performance from Russell day one closed in a suitably grand fashion soundtracked by The Cinematic Orchestra, with waves of chilled out orchestral jazz gently floating over an equally chilled out crowd (that’ll be the sun and cider for you).

Day Two – Saturday 2nd July

You come to a jazz festival you expect jazz right? Well that’s exactly what day two delivered, kicking off at the ungodly hour of 11.30 with jazz legend Andy Hamilton. He may be 198 but the dude can still play, gently coaxing sounds as warm as a Jamaican sunset from his sax. I was amazed to read in the festival programme that he was on death’s door in 1985 following a diabetic coma. Clearly the grim reaper’s a jazz man and decided to give him (and us) a few more decades. If I write less about the rest of the artists on offer today there’s a good reason for that. Jazz, let’s temper that a bit...can be a challenging form of music for a lot of people. I’m talking about ‘true jazz’ here, not the Jamie Cullum or Tribe Called Quest kind of thing. PROPER jazz. The whole skipabbebopbopanbideeweeee-ness of it all and the clich├ęd Fast Show image of a laid back hepcat in a beret whispering “niiiiice” and “smooth” after a 10 minute discordant sax solo is arguably the reason why it’s such a divisive form of music. That’s a real shame. Sure, it can be challenging, but the sheer talent of the artists performing and...yes...even those sax solos...reward the effort. Think of jazz as a language, not just a form of music and it kind of helps get into it a bit more. Concentrate a little harder and, what can sometimes seem like four people playing totally different tunes, actually reveals complex interplays and subtle rhythms. Amongst the more out there jazz sounds on day two we were treated to one of the most well known albums of all time, Miles Davies’ Kind Of Blue. Everyone owns this right? Well, a lot of people do. And even if you don’t you’ll recognise So What from the first few notes. Milestones served up a faithful reproduction of the whole thing and I guess if that don’t get you to appreciate, for want of a better word, ‘true’ jazz, nothing will. Respect due to all the bands who played during the early part of day two though. I lack the jazz knowledge to say much else other than I was stimulated, confused, amused and amazed in equal measure.

Emerging from our mammoth jazz buffet, afrobeat legend Dele Sosemi (who began playing with Fela Kuti’s Egypt 80 band when he was just 16 years old) raised the crowd from their chilled out reverie with an ass shaking, hip thrusting, sweat soaked set. Showcasing stuff from his solo albums as well as his time with Fela his appearance coincided with a break in the clouds. Afrobeat and sun, what’s not to love about that?

He gave a brief Q & A session before the show and spoke about Fela’s ability to combine messages about social injustice and political corruption with stuff that gets you up and dancing like a loon. Dele’s carrying on this tradition with tracks like Turbulent Times, relocating the struggles of day to day existence in Nigeria to the slightly safer, but perhaps no less stressful, life in his new home, London. Funky bass lines, jazzy piano, punchy blasts of brass and Dele’s laid back but powerful vocals...catnip for the ass. Appropriately enough the set ended with a Fela tribute, Custom Checkpoint (or a bit of it least...I think the full version goes on for a while). “It’s a quick one” explained Dele “I don’t normally like quickies...but a quickie’s better than nothing”. Oooer missus. Coming soon, Carry on Dele. I wish he could’ve done.

After a slice of afrobeat how about a side order of gypsy jazz courtesy of Manouche eh? Like a number of bands over the weekend Manouche ramp up their accessibility with some fun covers and snatches of well known tunes, fusing gypsy jazz staple Caravan with the Bond theme was particularly effective.

One of their lady singers had a tattooed armpit too. You don’t see many tattooed armpits. She had a trail of roses going up her arm and into her armpit. Ouch. She, like the rest of the band looked - as well as sounded - the part though.

Right, nearly there for day two. Phew. Welcome to the night of the BIG BANDS. BIG. First up, and in a novel twist on the old ‘how many people can you cram into a mini’ routine, Beats and Pieces managed to shoehorn all 16 of their members onto the compact Birmingham Jazz Stage. Quite how they managed to play so well defies all explanation but play they did. Some furious tenor sax solos stole the show for me, along with that accessibility enhancing cover...this time Radiohead’s Just (or Mark Ronson’s version of it at least). Big band number two, Matthew Herbert’s lot, tore up the big band rules (and a dozen or so copies of The Sun) in a set that combined electronica, balloon sampling (yes, really) and sultry smooth sounds.

It’s an odd mix in places with Mr H acting as the deranged sonic scientist in amongst a traditional big band set up, twitching across the stage like a man possessed. The Sun tearing bit provided live samples...and a jolly excuse for some big band fun as various member s of the group lobbed rolled up balls of the ‘newspaper’ at each other and the audience. Best use for it I guess. The most intriguing track of the set though was One Life Is, in which Herbert uses sampled sounds from his son’s life support machine (he’s okay now) to create beeps, each one of which represents 100 lives lost in the Iraq war. I guess your feelings on the piece depend on your view of the conflict but, stripping all of that out, it provoked the kind of thoughtful chin stroking that’s all too rare in big band...or any other kind of music these days.

Day Three – Sunday 3rd July

Day Three and what’s that? Yep, it’s Craig Charles descending from space in his mothership of funk. As with the first Mostly Jazz Fest Dave Lister’s back and badder than ever, presenting more funk and soul than any right thinking person could possibly survive. Happily, after a couple of days in the sun, the Mostly Jazz crowd seems to feature very few right thinking people. That’ll probably be the cider again. God bless Hogan’s Cider. Who needs a liver anyway? Before tha funk (I’ll be writing in this style for a while now so brace yourselves) another festival highlight in the shape of the Paris 1940’s. Their party trick involves taking modern pop tunes and reimagining them as jazz classics. It’s not a new thing (The Puppini Sisters do something similar) but their song choices, vocalist (he’s a pretty boy too...I reckon you would given half the chance...yes...even you sir) and obvious love of performing won over every single one of the early birds (12.40 on a Sunday afternoon...jeez that’s practically dawn). The Lady Gaga medley (never thought I’d hear jazz versions of Poker Face and Paparazzi ) and Motorhead’s Ace Of Spades were worth the ticket price of day three on their own. Hell they even made Wonderwall sound cool.
Leeds’ The Moves have a powerful secret weapon in the shape of their lead singer Rae Rae.

As soulful as a plate of gumbo she belted out a collection of catchy self penned Latin tinged funk tracks and easily nudged herself into runner up spot for the weekend’s best soul voice (Alice holds the number one spot, naturally). More Leeds based loveliness next from the 8 piece Ariya Afrobeat Arkestra who hit da nail on da head with a groin thrusting retooling of Hendrix’s Crosstown Traffic. Somewhere up there Jimi was lighting up a phat one and grinning his ass off.

Local legends Cantaloop well and truly kept the party vibe going before Craig Charles introduced the soundtrack to his 18th birthday party...Pigbag. Yes. They’re back! Back! Back! Kept off the number one spot by Bucks Fizz and Wonder and McCartney ( a fact that still clearly irks Craig) their big hit, Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag gets the crowd going...even if the trumpet sounded a little sick today. Probably a bit of funk in the spit valve. Next, and in need of some respite from all tha funk, we headed over to catch some spoken word. I’ve written about the lovely Jodi Anne Bickley and the burgeoning spoken word scene in Birmingham before now but it’s worth repeating. SHE AND A WHOLE BUNCH OF OTHERS ARE WRITING SOME OF THE MOST GORGEOUS POEMS IMAGINABLE. WRITE HEAR, WRITE NOW. Honest, funny, sad, touching, crazy, sexy, name it.

Today she was joined by Ray Antrobus from London, yet another new name to me but his poem about coping with deafness was profoundly moving. Like Jodi’s work there’s plenty of humour in there too and I can’t get my head around why spoken word ain’t as big as, say comedy. I’d rather sit and listen to this stuff than an hour and half of Michael McIntyre any day. Jodi’s set included I’m A Dickhead But I Love You...a wry take about her drunken attempt to woo back an ex boyfriend and, once again, I was transfixed by her words and performance from start to finish.

Jodi runs her own Spoken Word nights (Speak Up) at The Bull’s Head in Moseley. The next one’s on July 21st. Be there. There’ll be biscuits and bean bags...and possibly one of the best nights out you’ll have all year.

Pausing briefly to come back to reality a quick dash across the park put us right in the middle of a samba takeover courtesy of Oya Batacuda. Oh my ass. My poor shaken ass. I apologise to anyone who saw me shaking my ass this weekend. It’s not a pretty sight but, damn it, I defy anyone to stand still when this lot get going. It’s like that scene in Fantasia when the music just takes over. Cover time again and a Brazilian take on Dawn Penn’s No No No saw half the band melt into the crowd in a sweaty mass. Who knew Moseley could be so tropical eh? The music just didn’t stop. There was literally seconds between each act. If I was going to suggest an improvement to the festival I’d plump for less bands and little break here and there, if only to give you time to grab some food, drink or breath. Next up, all the way “from the toon” Smoove and Turrell. Described by Craig Charles as ‘funking fantastic’ (now why didn’t I think of that?) they’re one of those bands that take their music seriously, but not themselves. So, in amongst the ‘funking fantastic’ set there was a whole bunch on piss taking going on, reminiscent of that great clip of The Faces (you know, the one with John Peel pretending to play Mandolin).

A funky take on Yazoo’s Don’t Go was one of the more original covers of the weekend and recession anthem Money (replete with Average White Band style horns), coupled with Mate of Mine (about redundancy) showed that the band’s cleverly tapping into funk’s heritage as a music of the masses. The spirit of James Brown is alive and well in Newcastle.

Right, my fingers are starting to bleed (is this the longest review ever...yep...could be...2,490 words and counting...I laugh in the face of brevity...whoooha ha ha) but there’s still time for more. Brassroots may be one of a dozen or so funked up brass bands around these days (see the Hot 8 Brass Band and The Hypnotic Brass Orchestra too) but they’re also one of the best. Check out this for a setlist of covers: Crazy In Love / Crazy (the Gnarls Berkley version), Forget You (the Cee Lo Green track), Around The World (Daft Punk), Karma Police, Miserlou, Hey Ya, Never Too Much (the Luther Vandross classic...this track was guy danced so hard he screwed himself into the ground), Sweet Dreams...all done with oodles of funky brass.

Oh my. Am I allowed to have a dozen festival highlights? Tough. This lot were yet another reason for making it over to Mostly Jazz this year and, if you’re within 5000 miles of the place you missed a treat. How do you top that?

Well, after Craig Charles blew a funk shaped hole in the sky with his DJ set (boy that dude can pick ‘em) there was only one man for the job. Booker T Jones. Living soul legends don’t get much bigger than this. Kicking off with a newbie The Harlem House (named after a joint he hung around after school in his hometown of Memphis) and then the track he wrote with William Bell, Albert King’s, Born Under a Bad Sign he had the crowd in the palm of his hands, even before laying down the mod anthem Green Onions, that cricket soundtrack Soul Limbo and a moving version of the Staple Singers I’ll Take You There.

Hold On I’m Coming perhaps suffered from a distinct lack of horns but that’s a minor gripe...this was a mastercraft in soul from one of the originators. Having just dropped a fresh album in cahoots with The Roots (The Road to Memphis) he shows no sign of slowing down and some of the new stuff is right up there with his very best, with Representing Memphis and Walking Papers deserving a special mention from tonight’s show. Hammond ecstasy.

So that’s that. Mostly Jazz Two, done... and I’m missing it already. I met a dude on a bus coming home who worked at the festival and he let slip who might be headlining next year. I can’t possibly say, but if it comes off the whole darn thing should sell out in seconds. You have been warned.

PS: In an entirely unrelated matter, probably, I spotted Robert Plant...yes...THE Robert Plant quietly munching a falafel over the weekend. Wonder what he was doing there...hmmmmm...

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Mostly Jazz Festival Day One...the story so far

Wow. Mostly Jazz Day One saw some frankly world class sets, with particular respect due to The Mouse Outfit, Shawn Lee, Alice Russell and The Alternative Dubstep Orchestra. A review will follow but in the meantime here's some pretty pictures to show y'all what you missed. Day Two here we come...ready or not.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Mostly Jazz's onnnnnnnnnnnn

Yep, today's the first day of the second Mostly Jazz festival and it's a frankly unmissable line up with sets from Alice Russell, The Cinematic Orchestra and this dude, Shawn Lee (amongst many others). Awesome eh? There may still be a few tickets on the gate...not sure about the deal for the rest of the weekend. If you're anywhere near Brum get yo ass down there and hope for the best.