Friday, April 27, 2012

The Rapture - How Deep Is Your Love

...and the winner for the most random video of 2012 goes to...(rustle of envelope)...The Rapture for How Deep Is Your Love! Come on up guys and get your award...

Neat tune though. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Team Me UK tour starts next week!

You know sometimes how a tune grabs you from the very first listen and you end up popping it on repeat for...oh...four hours or so? Okay, so that's a rare event but one tune this year made me do just that...and no, I'm not making it up. In 'With My Hands Covering Both Of My Eyes I Am Too Scared To Look At You Now' Norway's Team Me have created the kind of anthemic, life affirming song that makes you want to rip off all your clothes and run down the street hugging strangers. Again...not making that up...thank heaven for understanding police officers. Anyway, they're going to be one of the big hits of the festival season this year but you lucky people still have the chance to catch them on their UK tour which kicks off at The Rainbow next Tuesday 1st May. Tickets from our chums at Birmingham Promoters of course. Unmissable.

Dent May spreads a little Fun

Blimey the weather's pants here in England right now. Okay, April showers we're used to...but day after day of pigging rain, enough already. I make the point about the weather here in the UK 'cos I've noticed that a growing number of my dearly beloved readers (hello to you're looking particularly lovely today...have you done something new with your suits you) come from overseas. This shouldn't really surprise me, what with the web being world wide and all that but it's still rather lovely that someone in Chile should take a moment or two out of their busy day to read this humble blog. It seems that The Aid is particularly big in America fact I'm expecting to seal a takeover bid with Google any day now, they're currently offering a half eaten doughnut from the 'trash can' and a soiled mouse mat...tempting. I'm holding out for $100billion...we've got some negotiating to do I'll grant you. in the spirit of international relations here's a peach of a track full of woozy loved up summertime good vibes from American musician Dent May...lovely stuff.

Generous soul that he no doubt is he's done a rather spiffing (yes, we actually talk like that over here in the UK...well I do) mix for us all too, featuring (amongst others) Orange Juice and Kid Creole and the Coconuts. God bless America...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Dancing In The Streets @ The New Alexandra Theatre, Monday 23rd April 2012

Can there be a record label more suitable for the ‘jukebox musical’ treatment than Tamla Motown? The music, the artists, the’s pure musical gold and after three years in the West End this latest production of Dancing In The Streets hits the road.

For anyone with a short attention span, relax. There’s no storyline at all. Instead it’s one hit after another...each a bone fide classic. It sounds obvious (and it is) but the success of this show stands and falls on the quality of the cast and musicians. The music of Motown is so ingrained in the public’s musical heart and soul that anything less than a top notch performance risks becoming at best amateur cabaret and at worst bad karaoke. Happily all of tonight’s artists tread this high wire pretty successfully with some truly memorable performances, notably Martha Reeves and the Vandellas Nowhere To Run (even better than the original perhaps), Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s You’re All I Need and roof raising ensemble renditions of River Deep Mountain High, Dancing In The Street and show closer Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.

 The whole show’s linked together by veteran West End star Ray Shell as a janitor kind of dude, frequently appearing with a broom to brush up the stage (I guess it saves paying a cleaner at the end of the night). Bantering with the audience he’s the playful heart of the piece, providing neat little breaks between the almost relentless flood of hits. There’s no scrimping here, the cast get through dozens of tracks (literally), albeit often in slightly truncated forms. It’s the only way to do it in a couple of hours and I’m guessing that’s what the audiences want...all killer, no filler.

Choreography and costumes were always crucial to Motown live shows and the producers have wisely invested just as much time and energy into getting these just right. The Supremes’ outfits in particular were every bit as glam as the originals and all the tracks came with the right dance moves, bravely attempted by certain members of the included. I have no shame. Always fancied myself as a Vandella...  

The live band did a great job of recreating the music too, better perhaps on the more complex, slower stuff than the punchy horn driven tracks but, short of inventing a time machine and dragging the original Funk Brothers into the 21st century, you’re ain’t never going to get that back.

The elitist musical purist in me (go on...admit it...there’s a little of that in all us) always wants to dismiss shows like this, but it’s frankly impossible. It’s an amazing night of classic music performed by some truly talented singers that well and truly (Four) Tops your expectations. Go see.     

Dancing In The Streets is on at Birmingham’s New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 28th April (tickets here)  before touring the UK throughout May and June.    

Monday, April 23, 2012

Barnett and Bastille storm Birmingham

This Thursday night sees one of the best new British artists around, George Barnett, support the hotly tipped Bastille at The Rainbow (Digbeth, Birmingham). George was stunningly good when I saw him live earlier this year and his self produced debut album, 17 Days, should be superglued to your ears. Seriously. Cop a listen to this beauty from it.

And this was written, played, recorded and produced by George before he turned 18...amazing.

Tickets from our good chums at Birmingham Promoters, right here, for just £6!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Busdriver / Abes Oddysee @ The Rainbow, Friday 20th April 2012

Bo! Word to your mother. Break it down etc etc. Yep, tonight Digbeth’s legendary boozer, The Rainbow, is well and truly bouncing along to a hippity hoppity beat kicking off with a rising local collective Abes Oddysee. Keeping it old skool there’s a pleasing hint of of J5’s laid back grooves in this four pieces set. Lyrically they’re focused on the key subjects of young inner city kids these days (1) What the fuck am I going to do with my life? and (2) Where can I score some weed? All four took the mic at various times and the different styles worked well together. Of course there’s a rich history of rap collectives going back to the early 80’s but few young crews (yes, crews...I’m down with the street) seem to be making it right now. Shame. No mention of the local rap scene in the recent NME feature on Birmingham either so kudos to tonight’s promoters Fantastic Damage for giving it more of a platform. “Make hip hop one of your 5 a day” one of ‘em shouted at the start of the set. If it’s this good I’d be inclined to agree with him.

As rap names go Busdriver’s not the most convincing. Perhaps only Tax Inspector, Quantity Surveyor and Customer Service Representative have less street appeal. Still it’s not stopped Busdriver, aka 34 year old Regan Farquhar, who ‘dropped’ (as they say in the biz) his first album at the tender age of 13 and is now touting his 11th, Beaus $ Euros. A quick poke around t’interweb reveals a lot of love for this dude and, whilst he might not be as well known as some of his peers (Tinie Taxi Cab, DJ White Van Man and MC Chauffeur), this is less about talent and more about the frankly fickle finger of fame.

From the outset the flow’s amazing. Busdriver packs more words into the average track than most rappers stick on a whole album. Freestyling a warm up he rapidly reaches about 350 WPM (words per minute) and still finds time to pose for photos. Incredibly he reveals that he’s been ill for a month (touring a cold, moist Europe in Spring will do that to you) and gives a shout out to the NHS. Can’t imagine many rappers doing that. “We don’t have that (free healthcare) in the US...I’m going to to a mailbox”. He makes a good point...and I know that most of his raps do too but, oh boy, is he fast. I swear I saw sparks coming off his tongue at one point. On the plus side this is a hugely impressive display of oral dexterity, on the minus side you kinda want a rewind button so you can keep going back for a second, third and fourth listen “Oh...that’s what he said...clever”. Plenty of stuff did get through though. It’s powerful material too, a world away from the tired macho posturing and preening of most mainstream rap, rich in wordplay and humour whilst still getting across some serious points. Take No Blacks, No Jews, No Asians, a Gil Scott Heron worthy cut from the driver’s latest album. Two minutes of sparse electro and pounding drums bedding a blistering rant against continuing racial inequality. He dropped Me Time too, fusing classical music (sadly my knowledge of the classics fails me here) with a frankly synapse fusingly fast lyrical blast against the modern world and all its woes (war, poverty, media manipulation, get the idea). Check out the video. It’s a miracle he didn’t explode for real tonight.

Two Trick Mind (Busdriver’s collaboration with Nocando) slowed the pace right down giving all concerned (us and him) a much needed chance to catch our breath. If TV On The Radio made pure hip hops tracks this is what it would sound like. A crowd pleasing run...okay...sprint...through Imaginary Places left any doubters open mouthed. How is it possible to keep this pace up without spitting up a lung?! Drenched in sweat (seriously, the dude was soaked) after giving it his all he wandered off stage loitering around for a while taking richly deserved pats on the back from the discerning few who had shown up tonight. Hip hop isn’t about bling. It’s not about huge arena tours, sponsorship deals, scantily clad young ladies or popping caps in people's bottoms. Nope, true hip hop...the language of the streets, the music of protest and rebellion, thought provoking, witty and what we witnessed tonight and Busdriver’s simply one of the best in the business. What a ride...

Friday, April 20, 2012

Folk for free!

Fancy attending what promises to be one of the loveliest, most chilled out new festivals of the year? For FREE!?!! You're in luck. The good folk behind The Lunar Festival (the same dudes who run Moseley Folk and Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul Festivals) are looking for volunteers to check wristbands, direct happy campers and generally do the old steward thang. In return for working a couple of half day shifts (or one night shift) you get to enjoy the rest of the festival for FREE! Bargain.

Here's the link to the form.

And here's the link to the lowdown on the whole deal.

Completed forms should be sent to

Tonight! Busdriver! Live! Birmingham!

Yes! I’m using lots of exclamation marks today! Lots!!!! There’s a good reason too! Legendary rapper’s rapper Busdriver stops by The Rainbow! For the bargain price (or maybe that should be fare?) of just £8! Holla! In a 25 year career (the dude started when he was 9) he’s become one of the most original artists in the game, witty, thought provoking and just a little bits nuts. Here’s three of his best...

Tonight. The Rainbow. Be there.

PS: This gig's bought to you by the good people at Fantastic Damage...Birmingham's premier purveyors of quality hip hop.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

New Music Roundup Thingy - April 2012

Okay, not done one of these for a while. I blame the weather. And the dog ate my homework. And Simon Cowell tried to cop off with me (NB: legal disclaimer – he didn’t really...or did he...? No. He didn’t. I’m sure he’s 100% straight...). Anyway, enough waffling, you don’t come here for waffle do you eh? You come here for the very latest in quality tunes hot from my throbbing in box. My how it throbs etc etc. Here’s the current pick of the bunch...

Moonface - Teary Eyes and Bloody Lips

Imagine if Belle and Sebastian hooked up with the Psychedelic Furs and Can. This is what it would sound like. Probably. Welcome to the new old new wave!

Moonface "Teary Eyes and Bloody Lips" from Secretly Jag on Vimeo.

O.Children – Red Like Fire

Goth, goth, to tha’ hills! Yep Toby and his O. Children drop another slab of brooding goth brilliance from their forthcoming album. It’s a bit goth. Well...very goth.

Field Music – Terrapin

Sunderland’s finest follow up their acclaimed album Plumb with a limited edition covers release. Here’s their twangy retelling of Syd’s Terrapin. It’s a grower.

The Polyamourous Affair – Whoever Controls The Groove

With a band and track name like that you better come up with the goods eh? I’m still sitting on the fence a little with this one. It’s a bit Scissor Sisters and a bit Giorgio Moroder...all good so far...but it never really busts out into a big old gay chorus. And I do love a big old gay chorus. Still, it’s as DISCO as you’re likely to get this year.

Billy Vincent – Feathers

Neatly blending folk and Americana with a touch of the old Waterboys, Billy Vincent’s debut album (out May 7th on Something Nothing Records) is a fine collection of self penned but classic sounding tunes like this brooding beauty, Feathers.

Marina and the Diamonds – Primadonna

You know what, there’s a HUGE gap in the market for a proper male pop star right now. A Prince, Jacko, Cliff Richard kinda dude. The girl’s seem to be all over this shit at the moment. Here’s another slice of perfect prime time pop from one of the best Marina (and her diamonds).

Reptar – Blastoff

Last up for this scintillating edition of New Music Roundup Thingy one of the big hits of this year’s SXSW (so the press release one took me up on my offer of paying for me to go and cover it...maybe next year eh?) Reptar with this bonkers but brilliant mix of Talking Heads, Pil, Foster The People, TV On The Radio...and all sorts of other loveliness. Wibbly.

Reptar - Blastoff from Lucky Number Music on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Catch the Busdriver...

Some tracks just sell gigs to's one of 'em. Busdriver's Imaginary Places is all that's great about hip hop. Quite how he manages to rap at that speed without setting fire to his own tongue is beyond me...

Busdriver stops by The Rainbow (Digbeth) this Friday, 20th April. Last few tickets here.

Top of the Poppy...

Birmingham's very own Poppy and the Jezebels return from hibernation this May with a rather poptastic new tune, 'Sign In, Dream On, Drop Out'. Produced and mixed by Richard X (Kylie, Sugababes etc)it's the kind of instantly addictive pop fix that you don't get much of these days. If you find yourself humming it all day don't blame me...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Record Store Day 2012

Now firmly established as the vinyl junkies annual fix this year’s Record Store Day takes place at record stores – yep, all six of ‘em – across the UK this Saturday. Anything that encourages people into record shops is okay by me and, here in Birmingham, both Swordfish and Polar Bear (Kings Heath) are taking part. I’m somewhat ashamed to say that I’ve not crossed the threshold of either of ‘em for months now, partially due to my throbbing inbox of new releases that’s growing by the day. Of course listening to music over t’web and listening to music on vinyl (or CD to a lesser extent) is as different as a microwave meal and cordon bleu cooking. Aside from the difference in sound quality there’s something a bit 'Chinese tea ceremony' about listening to vinyl...the delicate separating of disc and sleeve, the gentle placing on the spindle, the fingertip act of lowering the needle onto the record and the balletic backing away to avoid any unwanted you listen to your music, our few remaining record shops are well worth preserving. Do your bit and pick up something up while you’re there...something music related preferably...not syphilis or anything nasty like that...unless there’s a band called Syphilis? Oh god...there is...

Monday, April 16, 2012

Lose yourself in the Wilderness...

Looking for a festival experience that won’t leave you needing several weeks in a Buddist retreat just to recover from the horror...oh the horror! Fed up with selling a kidney just so you can afford to eat spinal column on a bap for three days? Tired of predictable line ups and unpredictable toilets? You’re not alone.

With both Sonisphere and The Big Chill biting the dust recently it’s clear that the traditional festival market (music, beer, burgers, more beer) continues to be a little tired and overcrowded. Keep the faith though people. There are some real gems out there, festivals that aren’t afraid to mix it up a little, injecting some of the magic, mystery and sizzle back in that the big corporate players have squished out a little. Last year saw the debut of one of this new breed, The Wilderness Festival (six years in the planning from the team that brought us The Secret Garden Party), a three day immersion in another world held in arguably one of the most gorgeous sites in the UK. There’s music (hell it wouldn’t be a festival without music) and this year they’re dishing up the likes of the delectable Rodrigo y Gabriela, the downright funky Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings (the hardest working lady in showbusiness) and, one of last year’s big festival hits, Crystal Fighters.

There the links with most other festivals pretty much crumble to dust/mud (depending on the weather). Committed to feeding all of the senses there’s a pop up restaurant on site hosting a different chef each night including Michelin Star gobbler Fergus Henderson and seasonal food fetishist Valentine Warner. Drool. Stuffed with fine grub, you’re free to hunt out the rather glamorous midnight masked ball (which last year featured a nude conga...happily for all concerned I resisted the temptation to join in) and dance away until the sun comes up. Which it will. The Wilderness Festival bods have a deal with the weather. Honestly.

You may well be a little tired and emotional after all that so handily they’ve laid on a spa, hot tubs and all manner of pampering for the mind, body and soul near the wild swimming lake (trunks optional...actually I might be making that bit up...depends if your bits are pretty). Suitably refreshed you can head over to the Idler Academy for a stimulating lecture on Cloudspotting, the birth of gin or something equally off the wall. Or how about embracing your thespian side with the Old Vic Theatre Tunnel? Stargazing with the Royal Observatory? Chilling out next to one of the many smaller performances spaces (which last year saw intimate shows from the likes of Daniel Johnston and Fyfe Dangerfield). You get the idea. It’s not just a festival, it’s more a retreat from all the bullshit that the modern world chucks at us and a damn fine excuse to be someone else for a few days. Trust me, you won’t want to leave...

The Wilderness Festival makes the world a better place between the 10th - 12th August in Cornbury Park, Oxfordshire. Weekend tickets available from £119. Early booking for the restaurant and spa HIGHLY warned...they will sell out...

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Laibach @ HMV Institute, Wednesday 11th April 2012

Oh lordy, how do you do justice to a Laibach gig eh? Somehow I’d got them pidgeonholed as some kind of death metal outfit (the same oddball misunderstanding that made me think Justin Bieber was a porn star...yes, I know) whereas they are, as any fool knows, / industrial / rock / synth / insert any one of a number of genres here band from Slovenia. Founded over 30 years ago arguably they’re most famous, or infamous perhaps, for their cover versions, putting a truly unique spin on stuff from everyone from The Beatles and The Stones through to Queen and Status Quo. Seriously. Oh and they’ve been accused of being both far left and far right extremists too. Not quite sure how that works? Perhaps some folk have construed their military uniforms, decision to sing in German and stomp around in jack boots as a sign of Nazism. Actually the whole point seems to be the opposite of all that (it’s that whole big subverting the obvious thing) but you can sort of see where all the misunderstandings come from.

Unusually there wasn’t a support band this evening. Instead the audience (including one or two people who’d well and truly dressed for the occasion in fetishist style military uniforms, not the kind of thing you’d get in Primark) were treated to some stirringly Wagnerian warm up music. Different...

Coming onstage to stark black and white footage of some huge machine slowly grinding into life synth player and co-vocalist Mina Spiler (dressed as the sort of lady who just might have a cellar full of gimp masks and nipple clamps) barks at us down a megaphone and, for a second or two, you could almost imagine being surrounded by machine gun toting soldiers and bundled into a gas chamber. It’s an odd feeling, but I guess that’s the point. Laibach are masters and mistresses of messing with you, twisting and subverting imagery and lyrics and their performance - part gig, part rally – brings this all home. She’s soon joined by lead singer Milan Fras and the second he opens his mouth half the audience immediately disappears down the back of his throat. Boy, that dude has a deep voice...makes Barry White seem like a soprano. It’s so deep it takes several days to get to the bottom of it. In fact James Cameron is rumoured to be planning an expedition down there any day now. True story. Of course what comes out of it is, unless you speak fluent German, often a little difficult to understand but the track in question, Boji, is an ominous, menacing thing. Taking several minutes to kick into gear it ends in a wild cacophony of noise, pounding drums, deranged piano and Milan’s frankly terrifying growl. File under uneasy listening.

If that was all there was to Laibach you’d probably go bonkers and run screaming from the building after half an hour. Happily it isn’t. In fact they eins zwein drei vier/veer wildly between punishingly stark industrial anthems and twisted house music beats to a remarkably sweet (albeit sweet with a hint of menace) cover of The Beatles Across The Universe beautifully sung this evening by Mina. Elsewhere, clearly demonstrating a sense of humour that some people miss about the band, they cover Queen’s One Vision, retitled Geburt Einer Nation. It’s as camp as tits and, for me at least, an improvement on the original (heresy, I know). Cover versions aside tonight was also a chance to hear some of the soundtrack from new movie Iron Sky, an everyday tale of a bunch of Nazis who hid out on the moon after World War II (hey, it’s a comedy too!). It’s difficult to think of a better band to soundtrack this admittedly bizarre proposition than Laibach and, although it’s an older track, B-Mashina perfectly captures the mood of thousands on menacing Nazi flying saucers descending to the earth. Now there’s a reference you don’t get to use in most gig reviews.

Would Adolf approve of all this industrial pomp? I doubt it, I always had him down as more of a reich n’roll lover...

Aside from the covers Tanz Mit Laibach got one of the biggest cheers of the night. As fine a slice of industrial disco as you’re ever likely to hear it’s like the Gestapo equivalent of Village People’s YMCA. Genius.

Audience interaction or acknowledgement for that matter was minimal, except for a few bows of gratitude towards the end of the show, but it wouldn’t work half as well if Milan had broken character and chatted in between tracks. A Laibach gig is about immersion, from the bleak black and white back projections and retina scorching lights through to the kidney rumbling climax of encore Leben Heisst Leben (aka Europe’s Life Is Life).

Dig deep and you’ll get all sorts of hidden meanings in the imagery and lyrics or just Laibach and enjoy the spectacle, whatever you choose to do they’re not a band you’re ever going to forget seeing and that’s something that’s all too rare these days.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Monochrome Set / The Chinese Burn Society @ The Hare & Hounds Monday 9th April 2012

Like one of those strangely admirable real ale tickers (you know, those dudes who travel all over the UK taking a sip of real ales then writing it down in an exercise book) I’m gradually knocking off all of the major post punk bands of the late 70’s and, with my metaphorical Wire and Magazine cherry popped last year, tonight was a rare chance to catch the equally influential The Monochrome Set.

First up though a band playing only their seventh (or eighth...they couldn’t quite decide) gig, local boys The Chinese Burn Society. As bands go they’re perhaps not the most conventional of propositions, with a cellist playing the kind of up front driving role seldom seen since the glory days of ELO. Other musical influences include prog rock, 60’s mod, Brit pop, psych and, in pick of the set, Grog Song, the Bonzos and The Beatles. It’s a curious mix but somehow it works. Perhaps it’s the influence of local musical maverick Tim (aka Bom and his Magic Drumstick) who, unsurprisingly given his alter ego, plays drums in the band. Rather impressive he was too, neatly getting the balance right between timing, rhythm, fluidity and power. The two vocalists, one with a Weller-ish twang, the other several octaves higher, worked well together, creating a pleasingly rich multi textured sound (yep, I've been reading Mojo Magazine again).

All in all it was one of those sets that you just didn’t want to end...partially ‘cos you didn’t quite know what the heck they were going to pull out of the bag next. Final track, Bubblegum, included Tim/Bom playing a length of pipe and two of the band blowing kazoos...see what I mean?

The Monochrome Set is one of those bands that have influenced many but failed to have the success that they deserved. You can hear their influence in everything from Orange Juice and Franz Ferdinand through to the lords of all things indie, The Smiths. Tonight’s line up included both original members of the band, Bid and the hairy chopped Lester Square (who was also in the original line up of Adam and the Ants too...blimey). He’s a character and not just because of the mutton chops. Rejecting the conventional guitar pic for the first track, The Monochrome Set (from their 1980 album Boutique Strange), Lester chose a dildo instead, not the most obvious choice I’ll grant you. It’s a choice that would probably appeal to Morrissey though, as this opening number must surely have done. Cop a load of the lyrics “I fascinate, infatuate, emphatically. You’re dreary, you’re base, deary. Your face is weary for me”. Now you try telling me that old Stephen Patrick doesn’t owe a huge debt of gratitude to Bid? Musically there’s an echo of the early Ants in there too, with Lester adding some neat complex post punk guitar noodling in there for good measure.

After a few more oldies (including a fine version of The Lighter Side Of Dating) and having not spoken so far Bid decided to open with “Andy (the band’s bassist) told me to say something nice about Birmingham...then he said, nah...don’t bother” perhaps not the best way to win over an audience eh? Still it seemed to tickle Bid. He seemed to be particularly amused throughout the evening in fact, chuckling away to himself in between songs...and even during a couple too. Later on he decided to have another go at building bridges, informing us that the band hadn’t played Birmingham for 30 years and that the venue they had played all those years ago had apparently been burnt down by us...all of us...the people of Birmingham. A joke, of course, but it did seem a curious way to win friends and influence people. We weren’t here for stand up though...and when he wasn’t smirking away he and the rest of the band blazed through an impressive back catalogue, most of which had, like the rest of the world, sadly passed me by...Alphaville (clearly an influence on Blur), the ‘60’s tinged B I D Spells Bid, The Ruling Class (neatly messing with the old music hall tune My Old Man’s a Dustman)...all hidden gems. Tonight wasn’t just an archaeological post punk dig though, there’s a new album out, Platinum Coils, their first in 17 years and despite Bid asking security to lock the doors all the new tracks stood up well against the older stuff. Hip Kitten Spinning Chrome is particularly strong, inspired perhaps by Bid’s recent brush with death from an aneurysm (“There’s a kitten on my hip and it’s going on a trip up the river to my head”). Hmmm...maybe that’s why he was grinning so much...perhaps he was just pleased to be here...anywhere...even Birmingham.

Quirky, cult, them what you will, but The Monochrome Set deserve their place in musical history. And your record collection for that matter.

Platinum Coils is out now, available here.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Mystery Jets / PEACE @ The Rainbow, Wednesday April 4th

The search for a huge Birmingham band (not fat huge, although I’m sure there’s a few around) has been going on for a while now. For a city as big as Brum, with such a rich musical heritage, we should be churning ‘em out like widgets. There have been a few success stories, Misty’s Big Adventure, Editors, The Twang, Johnny Foreigner and Goodnight Lenin have all flown the flag in one way or another and perhaps it shouldn’t matter if our local bands ‘make it’ or not...but, rightly or wrongly, to me it does. Recently one band’s been getting some really decent press though, PEACE, who proudly claim to make “music to fuck you in the heart”. Ouch. That can’t be good for your ventricles. On tonight’s performance they’ve certainly got the ability, look (all floppy fringes and black outfits) and tunes to more than justify the hype too. Previous single BBLOOD slaps you in the face like a meatier Vampire Weekend whilst elsewhere they channel influences from everything from the Velvet Underground through to the shoegaze movement and on to grunge. Yes, grunge. In fact the monstrously good forthcoming single, Follow Baby, offers up a neat indie twist on the grunge template with the kind of catchy riff that just might grip a generation. Awesome.

Three albums in (four if you count the US only release Zootime) and with a fourth one in the bag (Radlands, due for release on 30th April) Mystery Jets have been steadily compiling a pretty impressive greatest hits collection and adoring fanbase. Tonight the place was packed full of ‘em and from the moment the band came on stage through to the end of the encore the atmosphere was euphoric (I’ve rarely seen so much good natured crowd surfing in such a modest sized venue).

Having taken a year or so off to record the newbie, in Texas no less, this was one of the first chances to hear an older, wiser Jets (in an intimate setting too). That seems to sum up much of the new material in fact. Whereas a lot of the earlier stuff seemed in love with the idea of being in love (Young Love, Two Doors Down, Half in Love With Elizabeth) now, with hearts dented and livers possibly shrivelled, there’s more of a world weary air “You still swim around in the canals of my heart like cocaine” laments Blaine during one of this evening’s newly unveiled songs. Crikey.

It’s a suitable development though, after all life has a way of kicking the shit out of you and I’m guessing that even (or maybe especially) being in a moderately successful band comes with its fair share of bull...relationships, record company politics, crap bands doing better than you, not enough humus backstage...that sort of thing. This all comes painfully hot on the heels of the departure of the band’s bassist Kai Fish too (he quit on April 3rd, just one day before this gig).

Unsurprisingly given where they recorded it there’s more of an Americana feel to the new stuff with the band openly acknowledging the influence of Uncle Neil Young. In fact the first track from the new album, Something Purer, whilst a million miles away stylistically, shares a similar sense of yearning with Young’s Heart of Gold. Despite being a new song the crowd greets it like an old friend, prompting some healthy moshing at the front as the more reflective verses give way to a ‘get your rocks off’ singalong chorus. Blaine was in fine voice, half lost soul, half rock god.

“You guys are well up for it” observed William, beaming at the response. We were too. Later in the set another newbie You Had Me At Hello slowed the pace right down, touching Gram Parsons territory. Impressive stuff. Sister Everett, seemingly inspired by William’s encounter with a fundamentalist Catholic nun, fused Steely Dan’s laidback charm with a lyric to Kings Of Leon’s raw country rock and Lost In Austin sounded like Radiohead’s Creep being shagged senseless by The Eagles Hotel California. Hubba hubba. Radlands deserves to be as big as the state that birthed it...and that’s huge.

The band reserved plenty of space for their older stuff too though with material from all of their previous releases getting a look in, including Half in Love With Elizabeth, Seratonin, Two Doors Down and a particularly enthusiastic Show Me The Light (their last album’s biggest hint at the band’s new direction). No space for You Can’t Fool Me Dennis but you can’t have everything eh? By the end of the night a sizeable portion of the audience were a grinning, sweaty mess. It’s no mystery why...

PS: Respect due to new bassist Phil for doing a fine job this evening. Good work there dude.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

On your marks, Monochrome Set, Go!

Legendary godfathers of artful indie The Monochrome Set are heading out on a rare UK and Germany tour this month in support of their first new album in 17 years, Platinum Coils. Widely acknowledged to have paved the way for the likes of The Smiths and clearly a huge influence on Orange Juice and, more recently, Franz Ferdinand (and even more recently than that perhaps Django Django too) they’re led by the charismatic Ganesh ‘Bid’ Seshadri and the amusingly named Lester Square. Ahem.

Click on the vid above for a slice of classic Set. The band plays the Hare & Hounds (Kings Heath) on Monday 9th April, tickets from World Unlimited. Check the Set’s website for other’re not going to check the BBC weather site are you? Good grief. I’ll shut up now. Jeez.

PS: World Unlimited have got Ian McNabb on at the Hairy Hounds on Thursday 5th too. Ahhhh Love is indeed a wonderful colour...

Monday, April 02, 2012

Viva Brother v NME

Vaguely interesting (hell, it’s a slow news day) mini storm in a teacup over Viva Brother’s recent decision to split and NME’s perceived role in the whole thing...yes, the old build ‘em up, knock ‘em down thing. Like I’ve said plenty of times before I stopped buying NME a while ago but it was, back in the day, a fine publication with plenty of decent writers and a real commitment to music that seems to have gradually been eroded in the never ending quest for the shiny and new. I was never a fan of Brother or Viva Brother (they were forced to change the name by another band...also called Brother) but you’ve got to feel for any bunch of musicians (no matter how full of it they might have been) who go from front cover darlings to back page jokes in a matter of months.

The speed of the music biz these days is (for someone who grew up pre-internet, CD, electricity...) head spinning. It’s literally impossible to keep up with new bands, new releases, new scenes and, in a world in which a band could (theoretically at least) form, record, release an album AND split up in a matter of hours (hmmm...that would be an interesting experiment) you sort of can’t blame the NME for desperately hopping from one thing to the next. The level of bitchy, dismissive reviews in the damn thing can be pretty depressing though. Those who can do, those who can’t review. Remember that...

All this really just gives me a great excuse to post Thee Headcoats (We Hate The Fuckin') NME though. Ha! Enjoy.