Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mamas Gun make the Reconnection

Okay, so summer might be pretty much finished now (not that it really got started this year eh?), but here’s a perfect slice of summertime soul n’ pop from the lovely Mamas Gun. Citing Queen (the band, not her Maj) as a bit of an influence it appears that they sent the track to none other than Brian May who not only gave it his thumbs up but is now set to collaborate with ‘em on some stuff soon as well. It’s taken from their equally fine second album, The Life & Soul (highly recommended), and you hear it live, as nature intended, as they’re off on tour across the UK this November. Satisfaction guaranteed.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Cults / Fanzine / HEARTS / Victories At Sea DJ Set @ The Hare and Hounds, Wednesday 24th August 2011

Wow...just noticed that it’s nearly the Hearing Aid’s 5th birthday (28th August). I’ve been ‘doing this’ for 5 years. Good grief. Scarily the gig going’s been going on for a lot longer than that...23 years and counting...(oh my ears) albeit with some serious money related lean patches along the way...but 5 years seems like a hell of a long time in blogging world. Train spotters may wish to note that the first band to be reviewed on the Aid (in an alarmingly slapdash fashion...even more slapdash than usual) were CUD (at the old Academy 2). Ahhhh happy days...

Anyway, back to the future, and after some fine tunes from Victories At Sea DJ’s HEARTS kicked off proceedings with (in their words) some “trip-rock garage pop”. The lady HEARTS has a pretty powerful vocal which works well with the more understated male voice in the duo. Musically there’s a touch of late 90’s dance act Republica in places, mixed with a little of the XX’s dreamy brand of electronic and Hurts’ classy pop. Sparse guitars stab in and out of the synths like finger nails in a lover’s back. Yep, finger nails in a lover’s back (you’d think after 5 years I’d be getting better at this wouldn’t you?) Judging by the enthusiastic young ladies at the front of the crowd and some generous applause at the end of an all too short set the band succeeded in winning over more than just a few hearts tonight, but then they’re an easy band to fall in love with.

Next up Teenage Fanzine...no...hang on, just Fanzine. Yep, more than one person tonight pointed out a bit of a Teenage Fanclub vibe to Fanzine (just check out their track I Wanna Touch Your Hand for instance) and clearly they must’ve been a bit of an inspiration, just as The Byrds inspired Norman Blake and co before them. With vocals so laid back they’re virtually horizontal and a distinctly lo fi feel to the music there’s a pleasantly soporific quality to Fanzine. If that sounds like a bit of an insult, it ain’t. Whilst Fanzine won’t get you pogoing off the walls if you’re in the mood for drifting off and losing yourself in some timeless West Coast sounds there are few bands that do this stuff better right now.

Last up, and no doubt responsible for a 23.6% hipper crowd (at least) than even the Hare and Hounds normally pulls in, it’s Cults. Originally an indie-pop duo formed by a couple of New Yawk University students they’ve now swelled to a five piece for this, their first major UK tour. Some bands are born cool, some bands achieve coolness and some have coolness thrust upon them. Cults pretty much tick all three of these boxes. Signed to Lily Allen’s record label and attracting drooling hipster column inches across the world they’re the kind of band Phil Spector might well be producing these days (if he wasn’t...allegedly...blowing the heads off hookers). There’s a distinct 60s girl pop meets 80’s indie feel to a lot of their stuff, from the edgier opening number Abducted (as loud and thrashy as they get) through to the glockenspiel-tastic Go Outside, currently being heard on the Brothers Cider ads (you know, the one with the exploding fruit). Lead vocalist Madeline Follin neatly treads the fine line between being as cute as sack of kittens and sickeningly twee which, whilst doing that side to side knee dance thing that teenage girls do, ain’t easy to pull off. She can belt it out when she wants to though, which comes as a surprise on one of tonight’s best tracks, You Know What I Mean. Just when you’re gently swaying from side to side, lost in some sweet, dreamy lady pop you’re clobbered round the ears with a surprisingly soulful and gutsy chorus. “We’re amazed to be so far from home and to see so many people here” says Madeline as the set draws to a close with Oh My God (no, not the Kaiser Chiefs song) another slice of glockenspiel sprinkled pop. It’s no surprise to the hipster crowd though. It’s still early days of course, Cults are barely a year old in their current form, but they’ve got the makings of a band that could be a great deal bigger than the name implies...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sexy Moseley Folkers...

Blimey, tempus fugit. It only seems like 5 minutes since the last Moseley Folk Festival and now it's nearly time for the next one (2nd-4th September). I have to say that this year’s bill is, for me, arguably the best ever. On top of desert blues superstars Tinariwen, Brit Pop troubadour Badly Drawn Boy and folk royalty Eliza Carthy you’ve got the Welsh wizard of tunes Gruff Rhys and...and...

the bard of Barking himself MR BILLY BRAGG!

Shit...just noticed they’ve got Crystal Fighters on the bill too...they were awesome at the Big Chill a few weeks back. Hope Sam Walter will be there (he usually is)...you’ve got to catch him if you have the chance.

It appears that tickets are close to selling out (they normally do) so if you want to be sure of one...or two...or three...hell...why not buy four...you’d better pull your folking fingers out.

Poly goes disco

The late lamented Poly Styrene continues to release tracks from beyond the (g)rave and the latest, Ghoulish, (out a few weeks back) includes a suitably haunting (but danceable at the same time) Hercules & Love Affair remix. One for those Halloween discos me thinks...

While you're at it check out a track by track interview on her last album that Poly gave just a few weeks before she finally shuffled off this mortal bondage forever.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Cults at the Hare and Hounds...this Wednesday!

Been meaning to bung up a post about this gig for a while...but I forgot...I’m doing that a lot these days...that’s old age for you. Anyway, this Wednesday (that’s tomorrow if you’re reading this today) New Yawk indie poppers Cults play the Hairy Hounds in Kings Heath. Notable for having a band member called Brian Oblivion (how rock n’roll is that? I may change my name you know...I quite fancy Derek Devoid...hmmm...no you’re right...needs more work) and releasing a sack full of indier than thou singles. Cute lady vocals climb under a duvet with woozily lo fi-ish 1960’s instrumentation...the audio equivalent of a Polaroid picture of two lovers sharing a bottle of Jack Daniels. Whatever the hell that means. Cultdom surely beckons...

Tickets from our good chums at Birmingham Promoters for the bargain price of £7.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Flyover Show 2011, Saturday 20th August 2011...under a flyover in Hockley

Once again the fourth annual Flyover Show showcased a fine range of musical talent in a decidedly unusual venue, from established acts through to complete newcomers (including some nervous pre teen rappers...bless ‘em). Coming just a matter of days after some of the worst, most pointless ‘riots’ in this country’s history (let’s face it, they only succeeded in dividing what’s left of our ‘society’ even more than ever before) this could easily have felt less like a celebration and more like a wake. That it didn’t is probably down to the endless enthusiasm of Mr Flyover himself, Soweto Kinch, and a small (it looked like a slightly smaller crowd than in previous years to me) but perfectly well informed cross section of the people of Birmingham.

As with previous years the bill was a real mix of genres, from the soulful old school sounds of Omar (there’s still Nothing Like This) through to a bit of drum n’bass courtesy of Goldie, some jazz from Julian Joseph, Jay Phelps and Soweto and rappers a plenty...step forward Juice Aleem, Why G, Try My Angle, B City Collective, Ghetts and Jonzi D. This eclectic blend of styles reached its peak with Goldie’s Band, a random bunch of young musicians recruited for a BBC TV show. Only half the band were here tonight but it was enough to give a flavour of how successfully they (and Goldie) had somehow managed to combine everything from fret melting rock guitar to sitar and harmonica.

New Yorker Baba Israel also deserves an honourable mention for introducing the crowd to the wonders of hip hop didgeridoo as well as generally spreading the message of peace, love and understanding that we could all do with heeding right now. Impressive beat boxing too.

The undisputed highlight though was a stunning headlining set from Akala, kicking off with a frenetic 8 minute rap covering everything from his troubled upbringing through to the dangers of celebrating gangster culture in rap and the brain numbing influence of MTV. It was inspirational stuff... best summed up simply as ‘knowledge is power’...let’s hope the youth were listening eh, they seem to need all the help they can get right now. Smashing stuff is easy, smashing the system takes brains.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Flyover Show 2011 - the Soweto is over...

Okay, you can ignore the useless pun but please don't ignore the Flyover Show itself...especially this year. Having moved from its regular May slot to August this FREE one day festival (held under Hockley flyover) comes just a couple of weeks after the riots that, for several days, threatened to tear the entire City apart. I've not written much about the riots...it's all just too depressing. Protesting over social injustice is one thing, trashing businesses, burning down homes and running people over is something altogether different and, quite frankly, UNFORGIVABLE. Hopefully, as in other years, this year's Flyover Show though will be a celebration of the good side of our City, a time when everyone, irrespective of their background, age, colour blah blah blah, can just get together and listen to some great music. Please...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Free Download! Greg Bird & Flamingo Flame - Statuette / Fire & Horses

"Statuette/Fire & Horses" by Greg Bird & Flamingo Flame by Speech Fewapy Records

I grew up in the ‘80s, reaching the dizzy old age of 10 in 1980 and a decidedly ancient ne ne ne ne ne ne ne ne 19 (that’s a dodgy Paul Hardcastle reference for anyone under the age of 30) in 1989. No matter how hard you try, the music that’s around during these formative years gets hard wired into your brain and elicits some kind of Pavlov type response whenever you hear it...or something like it. That’s why the last few years have been pretty awesome, musically speaking, with loads of new bands (big up La Roux, Everything Everything, Metronomy, Hercules & Love Affair, Mirrors and the late lamented Findo Gask for instance)discovering the 80s for themselves and coming up with their own twist on, arguably, pop's best ever decade. That’s probably why the first 5 seconds of Greg Bird & Flamingo Flame’s new double A side (double A side...how 80s is that!) got me grinning like a loon. Both songs have echoes of Duran Duran, Heaven 17, Blancmange and loads of other 80s loveliness plus more than a gentle nod towards current indie darlings Wild Beasts in places (especially with Greg's slightly breathy, come to bed vocals). Thanks to the good folk at Speech Fewapy records you can even download the whole thing for free (I used to have to pay £1.15 for a 7 inch you know...jeez...)! Of course if you’re really dedicated to all things ‘80s you’ll probably copy it onto tape, pop it in your Sony Walkman and go roller skating in a ra ra skirt too. Just a thought.

PS: Greg's playing at The Rainbow on Friday 18th August with the rather excellent Free School.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wilderness Festival, Cornbury, 12th – 14th August 2011

Day One – Friday 12th August

Within minutes of arriving onsite at the very first Wilderness festival I found myself blindfolded, smothered in theatrical slap and about to bid goodbye to my old self...for the weekend at least. Yep,Wilderness is a little different. Putting the “oooooh” into Boutique it sticks art, theatre, fine dining, debate, music and ginger beer into a great big blender and whips it up into a surreal mix of luxury and the ‘back to nature’ spirit that a lot of festivals try to achieve but few really manage. Six years in the planning and bought to you by the good folk at Secret Garden Party it’s a brave and much needed reboot of the festival experience...Festival 2.0 if you like...retaining the insanity of most festivals whilst adding some glam, culture and theatricality to proceedings. Hence the facepaint and blindfolding, dished out by the Old Vic Tunnels (part of the Old Vic Theatre lot) who encouraged us all to embrace our alter egos.

Clearly mine is a slightly camp middle aged bloke with a cardboard hat on crossed with a reject from a Kiss tribute band. It was great fun though, especially if you got into the spirit of the thing and, after a few glasses of vin rouge and a pint of Aspall’s cider, my spirit was worryingly willing. The rest of the first evening was spent in a merry haze of rave folk (courtesy of We Were Evergreen in the London Folk Guild tent), gymnastics and fire (the gymnasts may even have been on fire...it's a bit of a blur) in the Secret Garden Party’s woodland ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ mash up. Made the mistake of going to bed still wearing my make up...ended up looking like a drag queen who’d fallen on particularly hard times. No change there then I guess...

Day Two – Saturday 13th August

Determined to expand the old grey matter popped along to The Forum tent for An Optimists Guide to the Future by Mark Stevenson (roughly based on his book of the same title). Given the carnage that unfolded, seemingly unchallenged by the authorities for several days, across large parts of the country I can’t help feeling that the future is pretty ruddy grim right now. Stevenson, perhaps wisely, ignored the social meltdown of society and focused more on the scientific, technological and medical breakthroughs that are going on right now, often behind the scenes. It was fascinating stuff and, if only ‘they’ could find a way to stop worryingly large numbers of people from going feral...and equally large numbers of liberal excuse-niks from blaming the rest of us for the troubles then we might actually have something to be optimistic about.

Optimism is something that Hayseed Dixie have by the pintful. As long as they have their beers, birds and distinctive brand of goodtime country they’re happy enough.

They’re the perfect festival band too, chucking in some Dixie-fied covers of Love In An Elevator and Ace Of Spades alongside their own classics like the by now legendary Poop In A Jar. Now that’s a song title eh? Coldplay eat your heart out.

In retrospect getting involved in the ‘how many people can you get in a one person tent’ competition in the Bearded Lawn area wasn’t the best of ideas.

Certainly deciding to be the first person in the tent, swiftly followed by 10 enthusiastic teenage boys, was a recipe for a serious spinal injury. But we won and were rewarded with a generous swig of Sambuca that took my mind off the 4 crushed vertebrae. Happy days. All Sambuca’d up it was time for CW Stoneking, 30’s throwback and singer of ‘hokum blues’. He’s an odd looking (and sounding) character, truly a man out of time, but it’s all done with such conviction that you really could be listening to some dude in the 20’s or 30’s banging out tunes at some state fair in the deep south.

Backing up this high-fallutin’ claim, his loving cover of an old Trinidadian Calypso tune, Brave Son Of America (originally by Wilmouth Houdini?) nestled neatly next to Stoneking’s own stuff like Jungle Lullaby and Handyman Blues.

Next up Bugs, a play that’s performed ‘blind’ by the actors involved (from The Factory Theatre), by that they mean that each person knows their own lines and cues but not anyone elses...at least I think that’s what it means. It certainly added a frisson of excitement to the piece, a tale set in the future in which we’re all able to communicate with each other via the power of thought, thanks to some hi-tech implant. Scarily it’s the kind of thing you can imagine happening. I’m sure Apple’s busily working on something like this right now. If it can happen, it will happen. Back to the old school with reggae and ska legends ‘Toots’ & the Maytals, responsible for such smashes as Pressure Drop, Funky Kingston and Monkey Man of course, which prompted much skanking amongst the crowd.

There must be something in the water over in Jamaica as ‘Toots’ himself is still in remarkably fine form having reached pension age last year.

Despite a desire to explore some of the many other gorgeous treats across the Wilderness site (including the spa area...with its saunas and hot tubs...that would’ve sorted out the tent related spinal collapse) the pull of Gogol Bordello was impossible to resist. Eugene Hutz (one of the few men to give me moustache envy) and co have been gypsy punking it up for over 10 years now and the energy’s every bit as infectious as the first time I caught them (way way back in 2005). After leaping from the stage mid-set he leered over the crowd urging them to get a “muthafokin’ serklepeet” going, not an easy thing to do in rammed festival crowd. Still, it’s a measure of Hutz’s charisma that the crowd duly obliged and some kind of “serklepeet” did indeed seem to break out.

With The Masked Ball Big Top fit to burst the rest of the night was spent wandering the site catching the odd gig culminating in a dude called Stompin’ Dave who plays the banjo whilst tap dancing on a wooden plinth plugged in to an amp, providing some basic percussion. Awesome fun. He should team up with Stoneking...

Day Three – Sunday 14th August

Day three and idled over to the Idler Academy (suitably late so we missed the start of it all) to catch some kind of camping related talk with Mathew De Abaitua (promoting his new book The Art Of Camping) and The Idler’s Editor Tom Hodgkinson. I’ve not read The Idler much but the whole ethos of it...enjoying life’s journey rather than stressing about keeping up with the Jones...really appeals. As you’d expect from a pair of chaps who’ve worked out the secret of turning slacking into a career it was particularly well informed and witty stuff, clearly those years spent lounging around reading and pontificating were well spent. I could quite happily have idled the rest of the day there but Robyn Hitchcock was calling. Not literally, he don’t have my number, he can have it if he wants...reckon he’d be fascinating to chat to for an hour or seven though.

Can’t for the life of me work out why Robyn’s not HUGE, given his Lennon meets Barrett at a Mighty Boosh convention brand of surrealist pop. Half of the joy of a Hitchcock gig is the between song banter and he was on fine form today, wittering on about being from the future and how his song Tarantula would give you a baby if you listened to it. Happily it didn’t but you wouldn’t rule it out. From a national treasure of our own to one from the States, Daniel Johnston. This guy’s story is pretty extraordinary. Despite, or maybe because of, suffering from mental illness for most of his life he’s become something of a cult with a string of naive but touching tunes about what’s going on in that head of his.

“It’s great to be here” he commented after playing a couple of songs “What country am I in?” The audience laughs but I’m not totally convinced he was joking. After playing most of the gig solo, his slightly shaky guitar playing matching the trembling hesitant vocals, he was joined by his band, fleshing out his sound into something approaching a more commercial vibe. After receiving some wild applause he came back on stage to do an encore only to find his mic tuned off. Disconnected again eh? The story of his life I guess.

Guillemots were here in all their usual high pomp pop glory, effortlessly knocking out some of the classiest tracks of the last decade. Fyfe is, quite frankly, a genius when it comes to this stuff and despite one or two slightly sniffy reviews their new album (Walk The River) is the kind of grown up pop that few bands bother making these days. This afternoon, on top of the older hits (including a rowdy run through Trains To Brazil) the band showcased some of the spiffing newer tracks courtesy of the album’s standout Vermilion and a Fyfe only stripped back I’m Not Amazing. Yeah you are dude.

Next up Laura Marling who’s maturing nicely both as a songwriter and performer with her new songs having a real 60’s female folkie feel (Joni Mitchell in particular) especially on pick of the set (and new single too I think), Sophia. She attracted an impressive crowd too, some of which inexplicably wandered off at the end missing the biggest musical treat of the whole weekend, Mercury Rev’s run through their seminal Deserter’s Songs. With the sheer volume of free music that we’ve all got access to these days it’s increasingly hard to remember (well it is for me anyway) how magical album releases used to be. Now tracks seem to dribble out months in advance, whether on You Tube via shaky gig footage or record company teasers or on Spotify, MySpace, any one of a trillion music blogs...it’s great but it sucks at the same time, like catching a peek at your Christmas pressies early. Anyway, Deserter’s Songs dates all the way back to 1998 and I can still (vaguely) remember hearing it for the first time, as nature intended. It was a strange and beautiful thing and, thankfully, tonight’s gig only enhanced that memory. Like the bottle of red wine that Jonathon manfully glugged from throughout the set the band simply seems to have got a lot better with age. His vocals are still a little fragile in places but it’s a fragility that he’s more in control of. He’s grown a beard too which, combined with an infectious grin and wilfully camp stage moves makes him look like a mischievous little pixie.

Bless. Goddess On A Hiway and Delta Bottleneck Stomp (two of the singles from the original album release) were as close to musical perfection as you’re likely to get here on earth and, judging by the Cheshire cat smile on his face at the end of the gig JD was pretty chuffed with how it all went too.

The final set on the main stage was down to Antony Hegarty, tonight backed by The Heritage Orchestra. Now I love Antony. He has one of the most beautiful voices of his...well...any generation and several of his songs can get the old eyes watering in seconds. He does like to chat though and this evening was no exception. His big theme is that the world should be run by women. Women are, according to Antony, the future. Us men have generally messed things up rather a lot (what with inventing electricity, computers, the combustion engine, a whole world of medical breakthroughs...not to mention high heels and handbags) and it’s high time we stepped aside and let the sisters do their thang. Interesting. Totally sexist (the idea that the world should be run by either gender has to be) but there we go, judging by the number of times he returned to his theme it’s something he’s pretty passionate about. Anyway, masculine emasculation aside, that voice of his was in fine form this evening, benefitting no doubt from being freed from behind the piano, yes, tonight Antony was out front which he didn’t always seem that comfortable about.

The backing of the Heritage Orchestra gave him the chance to really let rip though and tonight was as good as he gets in a live setting. I Am A Boy, Cripple and the Starfish, Hope There’s Someone, Fell In Love With a Dead Boy, You Are My Sister...one emotional knuckle duster after another. The one criticism I might have, and it’s a minor one, is that perhaps festival sets like this one would benefit from one or two more upbeat numbers? Just a thought. Even the Beyonce cover, Crazy In Love is delivered as a kind of funereal lament and beautiful as this set was (and it really was) I was crying out for a bit of a foot stomper by the end of it all, a lively orchestral run though the Hercules & Love Affair collaboration Blind would’ve well and truly scratched that itch.

Happily spent the rest of the evening wandering about chatting to well lubricated (alcohol wise I mean...there was no KY jelly involved...not that I can recall anyway) random strangers in the kind of way that only happens at festivals and was genuinely sad when my time in the Wilderness came to an end.

Despite my best intentions I failed to indulge myself in the spa area, stuff my face in one of the three banquets (mainly because they had all sold out before the event had opened) or join in the naked conga through the woods (watch those nettles). Still, it gives me a jolly good excuse to go back again next year eh?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Back from the Wilderness...

Two weekends. Two festivals. Too difficult coming back to reality...

There's something strangely liberating about living in a tent. For a few days at least. Everything you own (or everything you seem to own...that 'other' world of a house full of 'stuff' just doesn't seem real) can be packed up and carried around with (relative) ease and you spend your days just wandering around indulging the senses in everything the great festival infused outdoors has to offer. Inevitably I come back harbouring some weird idea about buying a 1963 double decker bus and living off the land but pretty soon end up back in Co-op queuing to buy houmus and pitta bread and lounging on the sofa watching Snog. Marry. Avoid. Oh well.

Anyway Wilderness 2011 was/is a delightful addition to the festival season for so many reasons. A full review (as ever) will follow, but in the meantime here's a pretty picture of Mercury Rev's Jonathan Donahue. Ain't he the cutest?!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Big Chill 2011, Eastnor Castle, Ledbury 4th-7th August 2011

Day One

Location. Location. Location. If Kirstie and Phil were looking for the perfect place to hold a festival the Big Chill’s site, nestled in the cleavage of two little hills near Ledbury, would come pretty close to the top. Big enough to pose more than a few annoying ‘who do we go and see out of X and Y’ clashes but compact enough to get from one side to the other in a matter of minutes it’s also (as the name implies) got a pretty chilled out vibe too. No hassle, no attitude, no gangs of marauding nut cases...we’ll save all that for our big cities eh? This year’s Big Chill provided more than its fair share of weird and wonderful festival moments though, from ranting rappers to a highly amusing non stick nipple pastie...

As with many festivals these days the traditional three day format is gradually seeping into a fourth, with Thursday seeing dubstep poster boy James Blake deliver a glitchy, kidney bruising set...seriously, anyone standing near the speakers stood a fair chance of haemorrhaging when the bass kicked in. Elsewhere on the site the White Rabbit Tent played host to Last Man Standing, a glorious mix of prime era Bowie, Bolan and Sensational Alex Harvey band on a bender round Soho, fronted by the enigmatic Max Vanderwolf. The rest of the evening blurred in a haze of Drambuie cocktails and Burrow Hill cider, not a combination that’s to be recommended if you wish to retain your dignity...or dinner. As one day oozed into the next we did manage to experience the voyeur’s delight that is the Electric Hotel though, a dance event set across several floors of a hotel, built in the grounds of the festival.

You, the audience sit and watch the action unfurl through the windows, listening in on wireless headphones. It’s a weird feeling, you’re taught not to do this kind of thing but...well...isn’t there a bit of voyeur in all of us? Just me? Oh. Okay.

Day Two

Friday kicked off at some unholy hour in fine style with the 11 piece Balkan beat machine Mahala Rai Banda which, literally translated, means “dance your asses off”...probably. There’s some kind of primordial link between the ears and feet that makes it pretty much impossible to stand still when you’re listening to this kind of stuff. Happily respite was in hand with the return of scuzzy kraut-psych girls Electralene, fresh from a three year hiatus, who won the ‘unexpected cover of the weekend’ award thanks to their rocked up version of Small Town Boy. Caught a little of Here Be Magic and Fenech Soler (thanks to the proximity of the two main stages at The Chill it’s pretty easy to toddle between the two) before one of the big surprises of the festival, the shroud wearing pint sized goth popette Zola Jesus.

Think Florence with a bit more of an edge singing a bit of Sisters of Mercy and you’re only halfway there. After running backwards and forwards across the stage pressing her hands against the speakers, literally feeling the music pump through her body, she humped one of the sets of wheels used to move speakers about and lay down on it, scuttling about like a bug. Brilliantly bonkers. She’s got one of those Tardis voices...how the hell does something so big come out of something so small? I guess studying opera for 10 years helped.

Next up, embracing reggae, ska and soul, rising New Zealand rapper Ladi 6 came to party, fresh from a gig supporting Erykah Badu. Appropriately enough there’s a touch of Badu-ism to her vocal too, reaching its peak on the pick of the set, the soul meets hip hop beats of Bang Bang. Classy. Bonus marks for wearing a glittery top hat in the middle of the afternoon too. Nice touch.

Meanwhile back over at the main stage Ariel Pink, wearing the kind of dress your nan might donate to Oxfam, was doing what he does best..having a bit of a hissy fit.

In between some fine ramble pop (that’s a new genre that Mr Pink seems to specialise in...singing in a blah blah blah kinda way) and some kind of twisted Zappa-esque mini musical of a track called (possibly) Get ‘em, We Got ‘em, he smashed his mic stand up, wandered off stage, came back, lit a fag, then taught his microphone a lesson it’ll never forget. Finally he just walked off leaving the rest of the band to play on. Clearly the bassist had soon had enough too as he unplugged his guitar. Arial wanders back on, surveys the wreckage and starts unplugging stuff as well. There’s at least 15 minutes left of the set but, in the immortal words of Bugs Bunny, that’s all folks. Seemingly he does this kind of thing a lot. Always leave ‘em wanting more eh? Smart guy or whack job? Go, see him if you get the chance and decide for yourself.
After the mayhem must come calm. Kicking off with the self sacrificing Bed Of Nails (half Antony and the Johnsons, half The Associates) Wild Beasts were a shot of beauty straight through the cortex.

Echoes of the clever end of 80’s pop (Tears For Fears, Japan, The Associates, Talk Talk) ran through the set, a perfectly judged mix of the old and new culminating in a spine chilling Hooting and Howling. Blissful.

Providing the kind of weird juxtaposition that you only get at festivals like this Neneh Cherry (yes...she’s back, back, back) reminded those in the crowd old enough to remember her heyday (late 80’s) just what a talent she was...and happily enough still is.

In contrast to a lot of artists she’s wisely updated some of her better known tunes, delivering a more funked up Man Child for instance and an ass pleasingly bass heavy spin on Buffalo Stance. The first of many tributes to Winehouse came with an acknowledgment that “it’s been a tough year for the girls...Ari Up, Poly Styrene and Amy” and a spirited cover of Martina Topley Bird’s Too Tough To Die. Cherry impressed...ahem.

Prime era New Yawk disco anyone? Oh go on. You know you want to. Tough. ‘Cos even if you didn’t Hercules & Love Affair are irresistible. The brainchild of New York based DJ Andy Butler they’re unashamedly OTT, fronted tonight by a rather lovely camp black queen with the biggest calves I’ve ever seen. Must be all that dancing. Oh...and voguing too. Remember that? Girlfriend vogued herself into another dimension. Of course none of this would matter a jot if the music weren’t any good. But it is. It’s brilliant, shimmery glitter in the eyes, sweat down the back, unmentionable bodily fluids up in and around every orifice D I S C O. If Sylvester (legendary disco queen) were still alive this is the band he’d give up his high heels for.
Top that. Empire Of The Sun gave it a pretty good shot with a spectacular orgy of costume changes, dancing fish creatures and some good old rock n’roll guitar smashing. In amongst all the eye candy the Fast Car (Tracy Chapman) influenced Walking On A Dream was pretty damn special.

After a quick break for refuelling, a Levi Roots chicken wrap soundtracked by the equally soulful Aloe Blacc in the background, day one closed with the Chemical Brothers doing what they do best...one big party tune after another, all performed in front of a huge screen featuring BIG, BOLD GRAPHICS. Music for the ADHD generation...and their mums and dads. God, have they really been around for 20 years? Jeez.On the way back to the tent we ended up stumbling into the White Rabbit Tent again for another show by Last Man Standing. This time it appeared as though the entire cast of Alice In Wonderland were in the audience, off their tits and dancing like loons. But then again that could’ve been the cider...

Day Three

A near full tent at 12pm is an unusual thing, but I guess there’s a lot of attention on Dionne Bromfield right now. Vocally she’s got more in common with lighter soul voices, the likes of Duffy for instance, rather than her godmother but she won the hearts of every single member of the crowd with a confident and, hell, let’s say it, brave performance just two weeks to the day since the death of her inspiration, Amy Winehouse.

After a sassy run through first single Foolin’ the applause went on for a good minute and a half, almost moving her (and me...I’m a soppy fool sometimes) to tears. I’ve rarely seen such a reaction after a track. Bravely she even tackled Winehouse’s Love Is A Losing Game, dedicating it to “my mentor, godmother, boss and an amazing person”. Somehow she kept it all together, doing the track, and Amy’s memory proud. Now that’s soul.

Out on the main stage Crystal Fighters continue to beat new fans into submission with their curious mix of pop, folk, rave, rap...you name it really. They’re a pretty perfect festival band with an alarmingly large number of tracks that you’ll already know without knowing it was by them.

Solar System, Champion Sounds and the summertime anthems for teens Plage had all lodged themselves in the collective brains of the crowd who kept muttering to each other “I didn’t know this was by them...”. “Here’s some motherfucking noise for your British Summer” yelled the lead singer, literally just as the sun came out in one of those magical festival moments. The track in question, Be alone (almost an old skool rave up) was pretty hot stuff too.

Bullits, seemingly a concept driven group featuring Lucy Liu, Jay Electronica, Jeymes Samuel and Idris Elba (Luther and The Wire) played their first show live here today and, whilst the concept may have been lost a little (there’s a bunch of mini movies on You Tube right now...something about Amelia Sparks, murder, bent detectives...I need to watch ‘em all really) there was no mistaking the energy of the show.

In true hip hop style a bunch of ‘em got down and dirty at the front with the crowd with Jay climbing over the barriers (brave soul) mid performance.

One of the big hits of Glastonbury this year was Janelle Monae, a one woman Outkast who’s seemingly quiet comfortable slipping between showband tunes, soul, jazz and Bond movie style theme songs (during which she theatrically defeated some bad guys on stage...KAPOW!).

A bit of a musical chameleon she’s not adverse to plundering from the masters either, so a spot of moonwalking, a cover of I Want You Back and the whole James Brown dance routine (replete with cape draped on her shoulders at the end) all seemed to be fair game. A seriously impressive show. Believe the hype. It’s well and truly on the Monae.

Metronomy’s take on Miami Vice meets Torbay delivered some of the biggest grin inducing tunes of the weekend with the double header of The Bay and The Look entertaining a growing crowd getting set for Ms Jessie J. Some performers make a decent stab at engaging with an audience but Jessie’s a natural. After limping onto her throne (that broken leg still clearly a long way healing) she bantered with everyone from “dem bad men” down the front to random passers by at the back of the field “they probably think a cat’s being tortured” and even the photographers leaving the pit after their allocated trio of songs “just cracking off one last shot eh mate?”

You can’t help but love her. After dedicating Who You Are to “Amy and the many other innocent people who’ve lost their lives recently “ Do It Like A Dude and Price Tag saw several thousand teens joyously singing along...even “dem bad men”.

Job done.

Then things went a little weird. It’s safe to say that Kanye West’s set divided opinion somewhat. It began promisingly enough with Kanye appearing not on stage but on the giant viewing tower in the middle of the crowd. A few moments later he was onstage...as if by magic. How did he get there? Three theories were doing the rounds. Theory One – he had a tunnel built under the crowd according to one of the security guards. Er. No. I think not. The idea that Kanye West had a 100 foot tunnel dug under a Herefordshire field just for that one trick is a little far-fetched. Plus I got that bloke from Blackadder to do some investigative digging. A load of Baldricks. Theory Two – he just ran through the crowd one of the photographers suggested to me rather sniffily. Had he seen this? Well, no. But he thought Kanye West, one of the biggest rappers in the world dressed in a flashy white suit could negotiate his way through several thousand fans. Hmmmm. Theory Three – it was a lookalike. That’s my favourite. Maybe the whole gig was done by a lookalike. That would explain a few things. Mr West explained that he was late (45 minutes or so) because he was screaming at people to get the show as he wanted it. Judging by his voice (which sounded pretty shredded at times) he wasn’t kidding. That wasn’t the weird stuff though. That all came with a rambling 10 minute speech (seriously) about how hip hop’s not dead, how he wants to give a better product to y’all, how he was jerked around by some award organisers recently and, most bizarrely of all, that people look at him like he’s Hitler. Wow. Hitler? Dude, get a grip. Get therapy. Crack open a Babycham or something. Unsurprisingly after a lecture like that a good 50% of the crowd were decidedly in an un-Kanye kind of mood. This is a bit of a shame as he actually seemed to have made a real effort with the show, employing a nest full of Black Swan style ballet dancers, a huge backdrop and, rather modestly, a big plinth for him to stand on.

I’ve seen a few hip hop shows (is Kanye still hop hop?) and few artists bother to put so much effort into the frilly stuff so I guess that’s to be applauded. The music? Oh yes, almost forgot about that. Well the big hits, stuff like the King Crimson raping Power, Diamonds From Sierra Leone and Goldigga (all of which have their roots in previous tunes of course) still went down a storm. Our Kanye loves the old vocoder though doesn’t he? Track after track was vocodered to eternity until you began to wonder whether you were watching a man or a Dalek. I’m gonna exterminate yo ass, mo fos. After nearly two hours, and with a substantial number of people actually booing him (a trifle harsh really), he paid tribute to a special lady he met at a house party four years ago, Margaret Thatcher. No. Not really. Amy again. Bless her. Rather than attempt to sing one of her tunes though he got his DJ to play a couple of snatches of Tears Dry On Their Own and Back To Black while he wandered about the stage, looking for what was left of his reputation perhaps? He left us with an ominous “Media lighten up on your artists who are still here!” Judging by other reviews of this show they clearly weren’t listening. Maybe he should’ve vocodered that bit too eh?

In need of a little fun the Enchanted Garden provided some light relief in the shape of three ladies wearing very little and performing some kind of comic burlesque skit. The highlight came when one of their nipple pasties (the thing they stick over the nipple to protect their modesty...’cos no one knows what a nipple looks like eh?) started to peel off. She vainly tried to stick it back by massaging her breast, making it look like part of the act before giving up and tearing it off to loud applause. Bravo young lady. If life gives you lemons whip out a nipple. As the night wore on a wander through the Art Trail (a series of installations running up and down a small hill) revealed a small group of young chaps performing The Decemberist’s Mariners Revenge Song...all nine minutes of it...in the hazy moonlight.

Day Four

Up with the larks again and just in time for About Group, a curious new-ish confection from Hot Chip’s Alexis. White boy soul, funk and krautrock style freakouts all rubbed shoulders in the reimaging of Terry Riley’s 67 tune You’re No Good. Classy stuff.

Speaking of classy stuff Birmingham’s Steel Pulse delivered a master class in roots reggae, even somehow getting the sun to turn up and shine. They are, of course, pioneers of the UK reggae scene, responsible for arguably one of the greatest albums of all time Handsworth Revolution (little did any of us know at the time that Handsworth and large swathes of the UK were just about to be plunged into the worst riots for generations).

Ku Klux Klan, “still rocking against racism for old time’s sake” observed lead singer David, remains a stunningly powerful piece of work and, whilst things are a whole lot better than back in the 70’s it’s sad that, all over the world, people are still fighting over skin colour, religious beliefs, tribal loyalty or even which postcode they live to. Good grief. Standing there in the sun though, listening to the gentle reggae beats and watching a band that’s seemingly even better and tighter than they were 30 years ago the whole world seemed a nicer place. More thoughtful inspirational reggae and less mindless wannabe gangster posturing and perhaps the world actually would be.

As the crowd bayed for more (sadly festivals rarely allow for encores) the sun actually went in for a while. Spooky. It came back out for Norman Jay MBE though. Legend has it that it’s never failed to shine for Norman’s sets ever since he started appearing at The Big Chill way back in 1754. A dedication to “our number one soul sister” and a spin of Rehab got some of the crowd up on their feet but most were quite happy to lay down in the sun and let Norman do what he does best. Good times. Great tunes.

Afrobeat legend anyone? Femi Kuti is as close to Afrobeat royalty as you can get, being the eldest son of Fela. He’s continuing his father’s good work too, with Africa for Africa providing a rallying call to corrupt African leaders to stop squandering the wealth on the people. Yes. We’re looking at you Mugabe. An impromptu award ceremony capped the set off with Femi getting a Songlines award, live on stage, for Best World Music Artist. Thoroughly deserved judging by the serious amount of booty shaking going on in the crowd.

No stranger to shaking his rump the godfather of rock and one quarter of one of the biggest bands of all time Robert Plant chose the Big Chill as the scene for the last ever gig by his current outfit, Band Of Joy. The original Band Of Joy existed for a pretty short period of time (less than a couple of years), way back in the mid 60’s. This new incarnation hasn’t exactly hung around either, 13 months or so according to Plant. Whether this now leaves the way open for ‘that reunion’ (for which Plant and co were offered an eye watering $200million for in 2007) remains to be seen. What’s clear is that, at 62, the voice and stage moves are all still well and truly in good working order.

It’s a real shame in a way that The Band Of Joy has come to an end though. They’re a seemingly odd crowd, Patty Griffin (40 something country / folk rock), Buddy Miller and Darrell Scott (50 something country boys) plus a percussionist (Marco Giovino), bassist (Byron House) and, of course Robert. But then again, given Plant’s genre hopping post Zep career and recent folk/country direction maybe it’s not such a strange combo after all.

Whatever your thoughts on the make up of the group, it works, with Plant seemingly more than happy to share the vocal spotlight with Patty, Darrell and Buddy. The set was a mix of covers including a generous smattering of Zepplin tracks (including a crowd pleasing Misty Mountain Hop), a Richard Thompson number (House Of Cards) who Robert acknowledged was a “beacon of light” and a Porter Wagner song (A Satisfied Mind) sung, rather movingly actually, by Darrell Scott. Emotions also ran high as the set came to a climax with Plant looking genuinely touched about the whole thing, although he did find a moment of humour when he presented Patty with a Wolverhampton Wanderers FC hot water bottle to keep her warm. After furious applause the set, and this particular Band Of Joy, finally came to an end with Zep’s Leadbelly inspired Gallows Pole. Waving one last time to the crowd Robert shouted “Whooooo are ya!” and vanished off into...well...who knows where he’ll go from here. $200 million would buy a hell of a lot of hot water bottles though...

Right, nearly there. After witnessing the pocket sized new Queen of Soul Sharon Jones a few years back the chance for a return visit was impossible to resist. For the uninitiated she’s part of the Daptone stable, a New York based record label run the proper old skool way (recording on analogue kit, pressing vinyl releases, writing and recording original soul and funk tunes that already sound like classics). Each gig pays homage to those old soul revue shows too, with the band, The Dap Kings playing samples from the Daptone’s greatest hits and the group’s leader Binky Griptite whipping up the anticipation. After soulful solo tracks from two of the label’s latest signings, The Dapettes, Sharon Jones exploded...almost literally...onto the stage and, for a good hour or so, blew the roof of the place. Dammit it that woman can sing, dance and woo a crowd better than anyone on earth. Seriously. The highlight of the show had to be her recreation of dances from the 60’s, a frantic 6 minute run through everything from the Funky Chicken to The Railroad. Just awesome, out-dancing even the Godfather himself, Mr James Brown. Appropriately enough (given that the Dap Kings played on the Back To Black album) Sharon stopped singing Lucky In Love mid song and touchingly paid her own tribute to Amy Winehouse, watching us “up there”.

The Big Chill had echoed with her music all weekend long and, out of all the tributes paid this one, from one true soul queen to another, perhaps struck the biggest chord of all.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Chill we meet again...

Had an unreasonably great time at The Big Chill 2011. Soooooo much good music, a relaxed atmosphere and just the merest hint of drizzle. Review to follow over the next few days (when I've deloused myself and sobered up...a bit), but in the meantime here's a pretty picture of Mr Robert Plant esq during his last ever set with The Band of Joy. Historic.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Some new stuff...

Yes, witty as ever, here's some...er...new stuff. Well some of it's new, Matt & Kim's track has been out for a few weeks but what the hell eh? You just can't keep a good video down...

Matt and Kim Block After Block

This is one of those vids that makes you want to pack your bags and move into a loft apartment in Noo Yawk...unless you already live in an apartment in Noo Yawk...in which case you were probably in this vid. Well done. Jealous? Moi? Hell, you should see Bearwood High Street on a Saturday night. Dancing girls, A list celebs, supermodels...you can’t move for ‘em. Anyway, here’s the latest offering from Noo Yawk DIY dance punks Matt and Kim (not to be confused with SAW popettes Mel and Kim). It’s a great track. It’s a great video. Put the two together and you’ve got one of the most joyful 3 minutes and 15 seconds on the interweb right now. Enjoy.

Baby Monster - Fear Of Charlie Sunrise

Not sure who Charlie Sunrise is but let's hope this slightly dreamy 80's pop helps alleviate 'em eh? Again, as with the Matt and Kim video I'm guessing this cost about £5 to make (that's about a $billion now isn't it?)but it's all the better for it. Turn on, tune in and bliss out...or find a deserted theatre somewhere and do a bit of a Flashdance thing with a pigeon. Personally I like nothing better than doing the lambada with a sparrow...

Sensorites - Slipstream

Slipstream (Single) by Sensorites

God this is so catchy. I apologise now. You'll be humming this for the next sixty years or so. It sounds like the kind of track Pans People would've danced to on Top Of The Pops back in the 70's. That's a good thing by the way.

Pete Williams - opening track from Light Metal Forgings

01 reconsider this by petewilliams

You know I love Dexys right? Well Pete was/is the bassist with the band. He shared vocal duties with Kevin Rowland back on the last Dexys tour too. Anyway he's just posted this beauty up and I LOVE IT. Play it, share it, blog it, talk about it...go up to random strangers and make them listen to it. Please. I thank you. Apparently he lives near me in da 'wood. Wonder if he'd play the Bearwood Shuffle one day...? Hmmmmm...(that's the sound of me plotting stuff).

Monday, August 01, 2011

Bearwood Shuffle # 1 @ Lightwoods Park, Sunday 31st July 2011

There were just a few at first. As the clock ticked and tocked towards 2pm the gentle trickle became a bit of a flood and pretty soon there were hundreds of happy Shufflers sitting on the grass chilling out to the very first Bearwood Shuffle.

(Missed the back story to all this? Here’s a (very) brief potted history. Group of Bearwoodians reckon there should be more live music in Bearwood. Groups meets in pubs and bars. Quite a bit. Not a lot happens. Group has a bit of a rethink. Group decides to put on a free afternoon of music in an old, long neglected bandstand in Lightwoods Park. Working on a bit of a shoestring budget group assembles all the kit, fills in all the forms, books all the bands (7 in total...7...ambitious eh?) and does the whole promotions thing. Restoring the group’s faith in human nature around 500 people turn up to watch. Blimey. Slightly sweatier group returns to bar to plan the next one).

With a mysterious yellow orb in the sky (it’s called ‘the sun’ apparently) the very first Bearwood Shuffle kicked off with the lovely Esther Turner’s spirited cover of Gloria Jones’/Soft Cell’s Tainted Love. Despite having her guitar run over just a hour or so before the event (relax, it was in a case, the guitar’s fine...the case might need some minor surgery though) Esther powered through a crowd pleasing set of covers (a bit of Pink, a slice of Perry, a light dusting of Lavigne) culminating in a fine version of Joan Osbourne’s What If God Was One Of Us? Actually God was there. Saw him sitting on the grass sipping a cheeky Shiraz. True story.

Next up Boomshadow who rocked up in a variety of outfits including Darth Vader (on the Flying V) and recruited their kids into the band for the day, winning the very first Bearwood Shuffle “Awww Bless ‘em” award. After rocking up they well and truly rocked out, blazing through a half dozen or so self penned tracks before hitting The Cure (not literally, although that would explain Bob Smith’s look these days) and unveiling their rather fine version of A Forest. Tree-mendous.

Rising singer songwriter Alex Lanyon got the crowd singing along (not easy on a mellow Sunday afternoon) in the extravagantly titled (deep breath here) If Talking Is Acting Thank God No One’s Yelled Cut. There’s always a moment when a performer tries to get an audience involved when it could all go a bit wrong. It’s a measure of Alex’s talent and bloomin’ lovely personality that a few hundred people happily sang back at him when he tried it.

Two double acts next. Gaz and Chaz then Kim and Joe. Git it? Good. Gaz and Chaz’s twin guitar powered acoustic rock created a neat wall of sound that added an extra layer of oomph (that’s a technical tem by the way) to their set of impressive original tracks. Kim and Joe (can't find a link for them)took things in a more soulful direction. Never seen Kim before, but boy can she sing. Kicking off with a soulful rendition of Summertime she went on to nail Feeling Good, Cohen’s classic Hallelujah, Adele’s Rolling In The Deep and a fun rattle through Hey Ya! Powerful vocals are all well and good but it’s control that really matters and Kim seems to have a knack for knowing just when to take the foot off the gas.

Right, a real treat next, ChickenBone John. I’ve not known this dude for long but he’s got me yearning to take up the guitar. Not just any old guitar mind you, one of his magical creations. You see Ol’ ChickenBone makes guitars out of anything. Seriously. Today he bought along one crafted from an oil can, “The tuning’s difficult but you get fantastic mileage out of it” he quipped and another made from a cigar box. It seems there’s a whole ‘Cigar Box Guitar’ scene out there, men in sheds crafting guitars from all kinds of crazy stuff. A toilet seat’s the best one I’ve heard of. Song wise he (and his double bassist Ken) gave us a bit of Booker White’s Jitterbug Swing, some Eric Bibb (Long Vacation) and John Lee Hooker’s classic Boom Boom before launching into an oil can guitar (naturally) powered Route 66. The man’s a legend. “Bearwood’s answer to Seasick Steve”. Go see him at Boxstock 2011, a cigar box guitar festival featuring some the genre’s biggest international names at The Public, West Brom, 1st October and you’ll see what I mean. In the meantime here's a video of him playing around with some African Highlife sounds...

Unexpected guest time. Earlier in the afternoon we’d been approached by a heavily tattooed Rastafarian dude who asked if he could play. Why the hell not eh? So we slotted him in after ChickenBone for a few numbers. Smart move. He was damn good...Kumari I think his name was (apologies if I’ve got this wrong...leave a comment and I’ll amend it if I have). Bringing the same kind of good time vibe as prime time Michael Ferranti his trio of tracks left the crowd gagging for more. On the final one of these he was joined by a couple of dudes from the nearby skate park who’d worked on a song together that afternoon and performed it live for the first time at the Shuffle. Impressive stuff.

Finally, as the sun peeped out from behind the clouds again, Gucci Pimp closed the whole thing in fine style, kicking off with Right Now before powering through one rifftastic track after another. There’s a distinct garage rawness to the Pimp sound together with a bit of a late 60’s psych rock flavour. They put their heart and soul into the performance too, wringing every bit of energy out of an album’s worth of self penned songs.

So that’s it. Bearwood Shuffle # 1 done. All we had to do was clear up and push the chemical toilets back where they belonged (not as pleasant a job as you might imagine) and we could all retreat for a well earned pint or two. Huge thanks again to all the performers who played on the day and everyone who turned up to watch. We’re doing it all again on September 18th!

PS: Picture from Bob Piper...more shots to follow. I'll post links n'stuff.