Thursday, May 31, 2012

Public Service Broadcasting - Spitfire

Okay, been meaning to post this for a few weeks now but better late than never eh? Sampling Leslie Howard from the classic war movie The First Of The Few it's a (oddly enough given the samples) Krautrock-ish track that...erm...invades its way into your brain and refuses to leave.

It's taken from the band's brand new EP, The War Room, a mash up of instrumentals and spoken word stuff culled from the BFI's National Archive. It's all rather moving and atmospheric, a strange combination of clipped vowels and dreamy music that someone seems entirely appropriate given the distinctly retro vibe being created by the Jubilee and Olympics right now...isn't all that torch business just wonderfully, eccentrically old school British eh?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

King Charles / Beta Blocker and the Body Clock / King of Cats @ O2 Academy, Monday 28th May

Nope, the Queen hasn’t gone to that great walk about in the sky leaving her eldest in charge (lord help us), this particular King Charles has bugger all to do with the Windsor lot. He looks the part though, far more than any member of our royal family has for...ooooh...the odd century or four. With enough hair to make several thousand merkins and a suitably raffish moustache he cuts a dashing figure, part Pirates of the Caribbean, part Barbara Cartland’s wet dream. King Charles the pop star men want to be and women want with.

Kicking off the evening though (kicking off being a pretty appropriate description in fact) in the sweltering heat (boy it was hot in there) was King of Cats, a one man tornado of rage and hurt...with a bit of a comedy twist...I think (you can never be sure in this post-irony world). Short in stature and high in voice he’s a lo-fi meltdown wandering the tightrope of despair and frequently falling off, only to grab back on and haul himself up at the last minute. You’ll either love him or hate him, there’s no half way house here and for some his toddler tantrum vocals could be as excruciating as nails down a blackboard. I rather liked him. Cult-dom surely (and deservedly) beckons...

Less divisive, Beta Blocker and the Body Clock (one man, one drummer) trawl a similar street as San Fran’s indie rock icons Girls. Clearly the temperature (by this stage it was so ‘hott in here’ Nelly was seen wandering naked by the for the grandparents) wasn’t helping the band’s woozy fuzz pop sounds connect with the crowd.  

Happily someone had found the on switch for the air conditioning by the time King Charles came on stage. A good job too. Dressed to thrill all in white, shirt unbuttoned to reveal little kiss curls of chest hair (steady ladies) you half expect him to go straight into an impersonation of Rik Mayall’s Lord Flashheart. Woof! Channelling his inner Hendrix (not for the first time this evening there was a bit of Jimi in there) Mr Flick - a bold mix of folk, rock and rap - opened up the set and, despite not featuring on the King’s debut album, Love Blood, it’s arguably the best example of ‘Glam Folk’, a term that he’s used to describe his particular sound. The crowd loved it and it’s not hard to see why. There’s a sad lack of real characters in music these days and if nothing else KC brings a splash of old skool glamour back to a world that’s become increasingly safe and bland. In fact you’d probably have to go back to the glory days of Adam Ant (surely a shoe in for Charles’ spiritual granddad?) to see someone who clearly cares so much about the ‘look’.

All image and no tunes would still make Charlie a dull boy though. Fortunately he’s got plenty stuffed down his codpiece, from the impossibly jaunty Mississippi Isabel (Regina Spector meets Vampire Weekend) to the distinctly Adam Ant-ish Polar Bear. The crowd lapped it all up, this blend of folk, rock and white boy afrobeat, clapping and singing along with an impressive degree of enthusiasm for a distinctly sweaty Monday night in Birmingham. In fact it’s a measure of how much the fans have clutched the King to their bosoms that so many people seemed to know all the words, a mere three weeks after the album came out (although many tracks have been floating about the interweb in one form or another for a while). Despite sweating buckets he gave back the love, playing most of the album’s songs over an hour or so and bravely leaping about as well as unsteadily mounting the keyboard at one point. When the stages grow in size with the audience I imagine we’ll see him do more of this kind of stuff, swinging from chandeliers, sliding down banisters, leaping from speaker to speaker with a rose between his teeth...that kind of thing. Just me? Oh. Okay.

The inevitable encore was preceded by rousing chants of “We love Charles” and he reappeared for a solo run though Love Is The Cure. Any female hearts that remained frozen were well and truly melted. The band (featuring a bassist wearing a cravat...nice touch dude) rejoined his majesty for Ivory Road (“you’re the wax in my moustache”...I hear ya there brother) and finally a clever rebooting of Billy Joel’s classic We Didn’t Start The Fire, proof that he’s just as concerned with social matters as he is with those of the heart. Well, kind of.

Despite the fact that at least 50% of the audience were just a security barrier away from tearing the clothes off his back he came amongst his subjects after the show, posing for photos, signing whatever was put in front of him (no breasts sadly...tut tut...young people today) and chatting with a lengthy queue of fans...some of whom (mainly the ladies...freaky) were sporting a range of stick on taches (£2 from the merch desk).

Good looks, good tunes and good times. There’s a new king of pop and you’d (wait for it...pun warning ahoy) have to be right Charlie to miss out.

Monday, May 28, 2012


Future pop princess Florrie releases the latest in her series of EP's (Late) on May 31st and it's the usual high quality mix that we've come to expect from the former Xenomania house band drummer and model...a drummer and a model...yep...hubba hubba. After a protracted mating dance she's recently signed to a 'major label' too so expect HUGE things in the coming year or two.

Meanwhile latecomers to the Florrie party can also get stuck in to this little beauty...

...oh and this one too...

Friday, May 25, 2012

Louis Barabbas & the Bedlam Six / Alabaster de Plume @ Hare & Hounds, Thursday 24th May

There’s an art to putting on lipstick. Arguably taping it to your guitar and trying to apply it WHILST playing isn’t usually the best technique. But then again the chap doing it (yes, I said chap), Mr Louis Barabbas, isn’t your usual musician either...

First up tonight though a word or two about the splendidly named support act Alabaster de Plume, part poet, part singer songwriter and part semi-detached observer of the human race.  Imagine if Morrissey, Kenneth Williams and Dylan Thomas had a kid together (tricky I’ll grant you, but pretty much everything’s possible these days), I reckon the resulting wonderful human being would be de Plume. “I imagined one day that an image of the Queen was talking to me” he explained, staring into space before launching into I’m The Queen, a gloriously unhinged trawl through her Majesty’s inner thoughts. Stuff Gary Barlow’s track, make this the official Jubilee anthem. Brilliant.

Until recently tonight’s headliner Louis Barabbas sported the finest beard in music. Fact. He’d been growing it for two long years but then he hacked it all off for the video to his band’s latest release Deep Enough.

Powerful stuff eh? Amazingly enough this was actually the intention when he started growing it, which demonstrates the kind of forward planning that would put most bands (and economists for that matter) to shame. There’s more to the man – and band – than the beard though, mighty as it was. Some artists wander on and do their thing, some really get into it and one or two edge dangerously close to expiring right there in front of us. Louis belongs firmly in the last category, throwing himself around (and off) the stage, flinging his legs in the air like a showgirl on speed and neatly rearranging several vertebrae in the process.  Ouch. Highkicking things off with Mother, which wouldn’t sound out of place in Lionel Bart’s Oliver!, Barabbas bounds around the place, his face alive with a million and one expressions. It was pretty warm in here tonight and a lesser man may well have knocked it back a gear or two but you know what, I just don’t reckon he has it in him to give less than 100%. “This is a song about murdering your wife...” he explained with more than a little gleam in his eye before launching into a surprisingly upbeat number. In fact several of tonight’s best songs seemed to focus on the sticky subject of love and, on top of the anthem to spousicide already mentioned, we got “this is a song about being married too long” (Thick Carpets, Old Lifts) and “this is a song about being cheated on by a girl” (Mary) too. Maybe it’s his way with the lippie that doesn’t go down too well with the ladies? In fact by the end of the set a good 80% of his face was smeared with what looked like the entire contents of a Boots make-up counter, a bloody red mask...perhaps in place of that missing beard eh?

It’s tricky to categorise the precise musical style of the band (it’s unlikely that they know themselves) but they’ve been described as ‘dirt-swing’, whatever the heck that means. It’s theatrical, a little rocky, a little folky, a little punky, a little New Orleans jazz...shades of the great Sensational Alex Harvey Band in places maybe? Tom Waits jamming with Gogol Bordello? A music lesson in a Victorian asylum for the criminally insane? Other than that I’m struggling to come up with any comparisons and in this day and age that’s all too rare.

There was some first class banter too, particularly between Louis and the drummer, culminating in some kind of a cat fucking challenge. Rumours that Louis was later to be found wandering the back streets of Kings Heath looking for a suitable partner were still unconfirmed at the time of writing.  A Barrab-astounding performance all round. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Semi Regular New Music Roundup Thingy

Remember Neneh Cherry? Chances are if you’re under 30 probably not. No matter. She was an in yer face bundle of rapitude and, happily, quarter of a century later she ain’t lost that spirit. Covering a Madvillain/MF Doom track against a bit of a free jazz background isn’t likely to guarantee a smash hit but I rate this...big time. The new album The Cherry Thing is out on June 18th on Smalltown Supersound. Niiiiice.

This couldn’t be more ‘80’s if you glued it to a DeLorean with bits of melted down Rubik’s Cubes. Age Of Consent’s Heartbreak wears its influences proudly, the Mode, Pet Shop Boys, Soft’s all in there. Ahhhhh...makes me feel young again...well youngish.

Regular readers will know all about my man crush on Norway’s Team Me. Their latest single only goes to reinforce it...ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh...blissful.

Sooooo...electro and rockabilly hook up in a low rent motel and do the nasty...9 months later out pops Drop The Lime. It’s a weird mix but, ya know, I kinda like weird.

Last up for this edition of everyone's favourite New Music Roundup Thingy, Manchester soul sista Lauren Housley debuting tracks from her forthcoming debut EP One Step Closer. Lovin’ the lush strings n’soul of See My Baby Cry...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Louis Barabbas & The Bedlam Six go deeeeeep

There have been some memorable videos over the years, Jackson's Thriller, Gabriel's Sledgehammer, Fat Boy's  Praise You but I'd like to add another one to the list...Louis Barabbas & The Bedlam Six's latest. I won't spoil it, just watch...

You can catch the band touring the UK from May 24th where the tour kicks off at the Hare (maybe that should be Hairy) & Hounds. Tickets here. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Pond / Swim Deep / Carpels DJ set @ The Hare & Hounds, Sunday 20th May 2012

Great rock band names...Black Sabbath! Iron Maiden! Hawkwind! Def Leopard! Metallica! Motorhead! You know what you’re in for just by the name eh? ROCCCCKKKKK! Call yourself Pond though and you could be a fey folk band with a penchant for songs about Maypoles and a hey nonny no. Any ill informed folk fans who may have stumbled in to this gig expecting a gentle rendition of All Around My Hat though may well now be undergoing counselling...

Before all that, a question - is it too soon for a 90’s revival? Seemingly not given Swim Deep’s edgy rebooting of the late 80’s early 90’s scene that spawned the likes of Ride, The Mock Turtles and The Soup Dragons. Ahhhhh, happy days. Yeah, I’m old, get over it. The clothing offers further clues, a Nirvana t-shirt, a Wayne’s World baseball cap and, beneath it, the kind of floppy haircut seldom seen since the days of Melody Maker. In the intervening months between the last time I caught them live they seemed to have beefed up the sound a little more, adding a slightly grungier to some distinctly Joy Division-ish drumming and bass guitar. They’re more than just the sum of their parts though and the fact that recent single King City already feels like one of this year’s key indie tracks is a promising sign. Ones to watch.    

Like a slightly spaced out pied piper Nick Allbrook, Pond’s youthful (the dude looks about 13) singer, guitarist, keyboard player and...suitably enough given the pied piper reference – flautist, climbs down from the stage and gently draws the crowd forward closer to the stage and then...BAM! Where the hell did that come from? It’s like the gods of rock descending down from above as the band explodes into one heavy psych mind fuck after another. Bowel rupturing bass lines, trippy moog keyboards and motorik drumming come together in perfect harmony, all that’s missing is the psychedelic light show and generously proportioned bare breasted lady.  

Featuring three members of Aussie psych rock legends Tame Impala Pond were one of the big hits at this year’s SXSW festival and it’s not hard to see why. Twisting and twitching, speaking in tongues,  eyes rolling to the back of his head, lying prone on the stage, back arching to the heavens like he’s trying to roger the ceiling, lead singer Nick literally seems possessed by some kind of unholy spirit,...hell, if you’re gonna rock out, go for it eh? All around him the rest of the band lays down some of the heaviest shit this side of Hawkwind’s spaceship.  From opening number, the broodingly dirgetastic Zanman through to the encore, a sweat drenched sprint through the MC5’s Kick Out The Jams, Pond literally rocked the place to its foundations, ripping tracks from their critically acclaimed current album Beard, Wives, Denim, including an incendiary Fantastic Explosions Of Time. KABOOOM!!!!

As is traditional for any rock band visiting Birmingham (I think it might even be in their contracts) it wasn’t long before they were asking if Black Sabbath came from here?  Met with a resounding “YESSSSSSS!” from the crowd they launched into a brief snatch of War Pigs. Incredibly it’s not part of their set yet (although they revisited it again later on whilst a guitar string...quite possibly melted by the sheer power of the ROCK...was being replaced). Trust me they’d be all over this track like a motherhumper. Nick was keen to pay his own unique tribute to Brum’s finest though, “Ozzy Osbourne ate crack for breakfast for 50 year and he still sings better than all of that’s talent!”.  Okay, so Pond might not sprinkle narcotics on their bran flakes but on the strength of this frankly mind blowing performance they’re clearly on a different planet to the rest of us. Wherever the hell that is, it’s well worth a visit. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday Favourites

In the first of a brand new feature that will probably last as long as the rest of 'em here's a pair of new tracks currently rocking Baron Towers. First up, they might look like they belong behind an IT Helpdesk, but Hot Chip constantly produce some of the jolliest dance stuff around. Their latest, Night and Day, is simply an electro disco geek classic. So there.

I lurrrrrved the Friends gig last weekend and they've just released the video for their latest slice of Brooklyn cool, Mind Control. Hubba.

Happy freakin' Friday!

PS: Oh, by the way, if you're in or around Brum on Sunday night check out Pond at the Hairy from our chums at Birmingham Promoters.

Trad for it!

Here’s a question for you. Who was the first artist to have a Billboard number one single? A record that went on to sell more than one million copies? Okay, not much of a mystery given the fact that I’ve stuck the vid up here but still, who’d have thunk it eh? Yep, Trad Jazz legend AckerBilk was a huge star back in the day and, remarkably, at the tender young age of 83 he’s still going strong. He’s joined by another Trad Jazz godfather, Chris Barber (a mere 82), at a special one off concert in Moseley Park on June 27th

More info for the vintage fans out there. Speaking of which, how cool is this video by the way?

Oh for the days when people bothered dressing up and stopped trying to look like a kid all their lives...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Lunar Festival...coming 'moon'...

As previously mentioned on the Aid a brand NEW festival promising four days of wonderful music, great food and drink and a magical location, is coming to the Midlands this year. The Lunar Festival is a camping event brought to you by the same people behind both Moseley Folk and the Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul Festivals. An intimate event (there are just 500 camping tickets in total...that’s less than the typical queue for the bogs at Glasto) it all takes place at the spiritual home of Nick Drake - the Umberslade Estate in Tanworth In Arden. On top of Benjamin Francis Leftwich, Fionn Regan and Scott Matthews there’s plenty of home grown talent on offer too including Boat To Row, The Old Dance School, Goodnight Lenin, Young Runaways, Friends Of The Stars they say in all the best ads...many, many more. 

Speaking about the festival Mike King from Boat To Row said: “We are massively looking forward to this. The line-up offers a mixture of everything that's good about music, lots of new bands playing alongside established acts.” 

John Fell from Goodnight Lenin said: “The Lunar Festival is looking like a great event. We always prefer smaller shows so with a capacity of 500 I think it’s going to be very special.

While Matt Pinfield, from YoungRunaways, added: “It's cool to be involved with a brand new event like this. “We've been a bit quieter than usual as far as gigs this year because we've been living in the studio so it’ll be good to get back on it.”

Mike: “You don't usually get the chance to see such acts on such an closely knitted event. I'm excited to see Fionn and Andy Oliveri (who Ben from the band and I play for).” 

John: “We all love Fionn Regan so that’s a definite highlight for us.” 

Matt: “Well we know a few bands on the bill so it'll be good to catch up with them, maybe drink a couple of beers and compare war stories, the usual stuff.” 

And, being the spiritual home of Nick Drake, there’s the added bonus that a number of acts might roll out some cover versions from the great man’s catalogue.

John: “We will certainly try. At the moment we're in the studio preparing our debut album but we will definitely try to get a Nick Drake cover in the bag. I think most bands will do something.” 

Matt: “I’m not sure about Nick Drake, we may do Beyonce though! We are doing mandatory fancy dress to mix it up though. We've decided on a theme but you'll have to wait and see what we’ve gone for - it's pretty serious.” 

Mike: “We are definitely doing one. A beautiful song called the Fly, one of my personal favourites.” 

John: “Would be a shame not to really.” 

So there we have it, Nick Drake (covers...they're not digging the poor bloke up), Beyonce (who knows, she might pop by), beers and fancy dress...and no Fearne Cotton...guaranteed (Dot Cotton might turn up...she’s a mentalist when she gets on the real ale). What’s not to love?

For tickets and more information on the festival, which runs from June 1 to 4, visit

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sabbath bloggy Sabbath

What in the name of satan's horns is going on with the much anticipated Black Sabbath reunion eh? For reasons best known to the band's management their drummer, Bill Ward, seems to have been sidelined due to 'contractual disagreements' and now isn't playing ANY of the forthcoming shows. His blog post seems to lay the blame fair and square at the team behind the band and, given that they seemingly wanted him to play the homecoming Birmingham show for FREE...almost on a trial basis, he has a fair point. Happily Tony Iommi seems to be match fit, but surely a Sabbath gig without Bill Ward ain't really, truly a Sabbath gig? Sort it out chaps...ego, money, really don't matter a hoot in the grand scheme of things. To quote the band themselves in Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, it'll all be a bit too late when "The gates of life have closed on you and there's just no return". Wise words.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Morten Harket / Songdog @ Birmingham Symphony Hall, Monday 14th May 2012

As dozens of grasping hands strain forward to claw at Morten Harket one or two manage to get a grip and from there on in it was all over. More hands join them and the former A-ha frontman is slowly, inexorably pulled off the stage and into a frenzied pit of hormones and fake nails. Within seconds he’s stripped naked and the ravishing begins...

Oh alright. That didn’t really happen. But the dude still has his fans and you get the impression that a good old ravishing is just a heartbeat (and a security guard) away. Happily opening act Songdog helped to calm down the atmosphere with their particular brand of, what the NME called ‘noir folk’. The NME are a bunch of arse so we’ll just ignore them though eh? Songdog seemed a surprising choice to open for a bone fide pop star but they’ve got their fair share of celeb fans from Robert Wyatt to The Boss, so perhaps Morten picked ‘em himself? Musically there’s a bit of Cohen, Waits and, to my ears at least, solo Bob Geldof (that’s a compliment by the way). Not the right platform for their talents but, thanks to lead Dog Lyndon’s way with words, worthy of investigation for fans of the more poetical lyricists out there.

After selling squillions of albums and singles over a 25 year career A-ha split in 2010 (barring a brief reformation to perform at a gig in tribute to the victims of 2011 Norway massacre). Now the band’s pin up lead singer and breaker of a million and one teenage hearts Morten Harket is back as a solo artist. He’s already got form here of course having released a handful of solo albums during A-ha’s frequent sojourns but, with the band no longer there to retreat to, there’s inevitably much more of a focus on this latest release, Out Of My Hands. Reviews have been mixed, with one critic (what do they know eh?) calling it “utterly without soul”. Ouch. Actually Harket’s new solo effort isn’t a million miles away from A-ha’s last, critically acclaimed release, Foot Of The Mountain. Perhaps it’s a bit poppier, a little less filmic and a touch more Europop in places, but certainly not worth some of the more withering reviews.

The lights dim, the screams rise and, when Harket enters stage right, so do the audience (this is a seated venue but clearly no one was in the mood for sitting). Sporting a pair of shades he bears more than a passing resemblance to the Hoff at first. Fortunately that’s as far as the similarities go, the dude can sing. It’s unusual for a vocalist who specialises in singing the kind of notes only heard by dogs to continue reaching those heights as the years pass but, if anything, the voice is stronger and clearer than ever...and maybe even an octave or two higher. Opening track Burn Money Burn seems to be one of the new album’s better tunes, thanks to its mix of Euro synths and chugging rock guitar together with a topical lyrical theme (by the time you read this who knows, maybe we’ll all actually be burning money just to keep warm). The fans love it, to be honest the fans would probably be happy if he just came on and read the latest IMF Fiscal Report, but it’s a decent blast of thinking person’s pop.

Dispensing with the shades he soon dons a pair of reading glasses, noting that he “should know the setlist by now”. Bless him. He keeps these on for most of the rest of the set in fact, one of the few signs of the passing years.  That voice, all sexy, smoldering choir boy, is still there well and truly intact though and at 52 he remains one hot dude, albeit a slightly more grizzled hot dude than back in the 80’s (hell, aren’t we all?). The Symphony Hall’s the perfect place for that voice to do the biz too and the sound throughout the gig was as clear as a Norwegian fjord.

With the show billed as Morten Harket – The Voice of A-ha it wasn’t long before revisiting past glories but there was a neat mix of hits, album cuts and unreleased numbers in the setlist, from the band’s cover of Greenfield and King’s Crying In The Rain (originally recorded by the Everly Brothers) through to Out Of The Blue Comes Green (voted for inclusion in the set by the fans) and the song that, Morten informed us, started the whole thing, We’re Looking For The Whales. Reinforcing the fact that the split was entirely amicable he dedicated this last number to Pål and Mags and, happily, seemed quite comfortable with the whole back catalogue deal (which ain’t always the case with artists who are flying solo after being in a band). Avid fans of both A-ha and A-Harket obviously knew all this stuff off by heart but for casual listeners (I’d fall into that camp) there were some real gems. Los Angeles (written – and played this evening – on a guitar given to him by The Everly brothers) came from his ’95 album Wild Seed and had a bit of a Mercury Rev vibe about it, whilst Keep The Sun Away (from the new album) had that same kind of big, bold pop that A-ha made in their prime. In contrast Lightning (recently released as a single) was far too Eurovision for its own good, sample lyric “You were lightning, time went’s frightening”. We’ll gloss over that though.

Predictably the final number of the second encore was THAT song. Young and...slightly less young...ladies rushed to the front of the stage to press the flesh and you could almost smell the oestrogen in the air as several hundred middle aged teens relived their first crush. Oh how many Smash Hits posters were snogged to soggy oblivion as Gary Davies played that tune on “wonnerful one FM” eh? Take On Me is such an iconic single that you’d need to be clinically dead to avoid having a little jig to it though and, remarkably, Morten hit those high notes time and time again (although it looked like he felt the effort a little more...). The odd bland track aside it was a great show and a revealing glimpse into a back catalogue (both A-ha’s and Harket’s) that deserves to be...wait for it...hunted high and low through. Oh dear, there wasn’t any need for that was there?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Friends / AlunaGeorge @ O2 Academy 2, Saturday 13th May 2012

Next door (in the big room) the newly reformed Happy Mondays are twisting the melons of hundreds of mums and dads on the old ‘topping up the pension’ circuit. Meanwhile, here in the Academy 2, the night gets off to an equally twisty (but infinitely cooler) start thanks to the sinuous ass shaking of Aluna Francis, one half of new London R&B electronic duo AlunaGeorge. It’s always nice to see an artist enjoying themselves up there and Ms Francis seemed quite happy bopping away to the glitchtronic soundtrack, sprinkling sweet as candy vocals over the top like hundreds and thousands. One for fans of late 90’s garage 2-steppers Shanks & Bigfoot...their classic Sweet Like Chocolate must surely be an inspiration on some of this stuff?

Look up cool in the dictionary and there’s a fair chance you’ll find a reference to Brooklyn’s latest musical offering, Friends. Despite sharing a name with a ‘90’s sitcom (seriously...let’s have a little more imagination people) they’re so cool right now people were chipping bits off ‘em and popping them in their drinks tonight. Fact. Happily the hipness doesn’t get in the way of a good time though and lead Friend, Samantha Urbani (resplendent in green fluoro lipstick) quickly connected with the audience by leading us in some kind of primal scream therapy, “Go on...scream!!!” “Let out your demons” drawled keyboardist Nikki Shapiro...bearing three week stubble and black that’s a brave look. And scream we did. Inhibitions suitably lifted and connections made Samantha abandoned the stage altogether by the third song, Friend Crush, and literally leapt into the arms of one lucky dude at the front of the crowd. After bouncing her around in a mildly provocative manner (lucky, lucky dude) she played out the rest of the song getting up close and personal with the rest of us.“Iiiiiiiiiii wanna be your friennnnnd” she sang breathily. The feeling was already mutual. She went on to win even more hearts though by bravely attempting to pronounce our city’s name correctly...always a challenge for our American cousins more familiar with the Alabama version. “Is that right?” she asked after getting it spot on. The crowd enthusiastically cheered. “Oh you’re just...taking the piss”. That’s just an English phrase right? Full marks for learning to speak the lingo.

Musically the band’s heavily influenced by late 70’s, early 80’s New York post disco scene, perhaps most notably the criminally underrated ESG (that might explain the mix of older punters amongst the hip young thangs). There’s funky bass in yo face, cowbells, synths and lashings of street sass...what’s not to love? Pick of the set was...oh hell... the whole darn thing. Mind Control was awesome, like Lene Lovich getting it on with Rick James and Tom Tom Club at Studio 54, and the languidly dreamy anthem to post modern relationships I’m His Girl firmly cemented itself as one of the tracks of the decade. This and any other. After the Bonde De Role-tastic Van Fan Gor Du the band left us wanting more, dispensing with the tired old cliché of the planned encore. I’d expect nothing less of a band this ice cool. Now that’s how you win, Friends. 

PS: Wot, no merch stand? Shame!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Alabama Shakes / Childhood @ HMV Institute, Friday 12th May 2012

There’s an all too rare moment this evening when the whole audience falls silent. No chatter, no tweeting, no click of camera phones...just silence...broken only by a howl of pure pain from the band’s vocalist. Hell, even our goosebumps got goosebumps. Yep, Alabama Shakes are in town.

First up though new London four piece Childhood chilled out the capacity crowd with their woozily jangleriffic blend of 4AD records finest mixed with Floydian style rock outs. The generously afroed lead singer and his three spaced out friends ( of ‘em looked well...ahem...chilled) veer between the blissful surf tickled pop of Girls and heavier numbers that really get the sap rising (heck, it’s should be rising). Debut single Blue Velvet in particular hit the spot tonight and is well worth digging out for those moments when you fancy a phat one...that’ll be 24/7 then.  

Although they formed as far back as the dim and distant days of 2009 Alabama Shakes rise has been pretty swift. Having only released their debut EP in September 2011 the hype machine went into overdrive and deals with Rough Trade and Jack White’s uber cool Third Man label pretty much sealed the deal. Oh...and that guarantee of success (here in the UK at least)...a prime slot on Later...soon followed too. So, what’s all the fuss about y’all? Well the fuss is standing just a few feet away in a packed HMV Institute, belting out some of the finest primal rock n’soul you’re likely to see this side of the Mississippi...and (to paraphrase the ads) she’s worth it. Brittany Howard, the ‘bama’s lead vocalist, possesses the kind of voice that could well raise both Janis Joplin and Otis Redding from the grave to see who the hell the competition is. Capable of sounding sexy, fragile and as powerful as a H-bomb (often all in the same line) she gives a delightfully unselfconscious performance, pulling all kinds of unflattering faces in the search for that perfect note and redefining that well worn phrase ‘givin’ it all you’ve got’.

Kicking off the set with the brief declaration of intent that is Going To The Party the Shakes bravely follow it up with Hold On. Bravely? Well, unless you’ve been hiding under a large wi-fi-less rock for the past few months you’ll know the band’s big breakthrough single Hold On, a smouldering bowl of countrified soul that gives hope to the hopeless and love to the unloved. It’s pretty much become their theme tune and I reckon most bands would want to hold that baby back for an encore. Shooting your proverbial load just a few minutes into the set might’ve backfired a little, especially for a relatively new band. In fact this evening the opposite seemed to happen. Hold On was the vocal equivalent of a warm up at the gym for Brittany’s voice and, as the set wore on both it and she just seemed to get better and better. At just 23 years old there’s that crack in her vocals that hints at the pain that’s often behind truly great vocalists (in Brittany’s case I guess this includes the death of her older sister from a brain tumour), and it’s not something you can fake. Ya either got it or you don’t. And she got it. By the bucket load. It’s not just the vocals though, she’s a decent rock and blues guitarist too and it would be shameful to ignore the rest of the band who provide the perfect backdrop to the theatrics, groovin’ away in fine style.  

As you’d expect much of the set drew from the band’s debut album, Boys and Girls, which topped the first ever Record Store Chart back in April (now there’s a question for the pub quiz), but some of the best gems were the non album cuts. Worryin’ Blues is the kind of song Jack White would sell his soul for and tonight saw Brittany at her testifyin’ best, frequently moving from soulful pleading to full on explosive rage. New song, the countrified rock n’roll of Making Me Itch, just begged for Jerry Lee to step up and pound the keys and Heavy Chevy ramped up the rock all the way to 11 to practically blow the place apart. Sending us all home safely the band encored with On Your Way, with Brittany singing of “the promised land”. Judging by the smiles on the faces of the crowd I reckon we were already there. Well bless mah soul...

Setlist courtesy of the lovely Wayne Fox...check out his pictures of the gig at in the next day or two. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Pond - Tears Of A Clown

To celebrate the start of their UK tour Aussie psych rockers Pond are giving away this wonderfully scuzzed up version of Smokey's Tears Of A Clown. Play it loud and frighten your gran...

With Friends like these...

Hipper than a hip hopper after a double hip replacement Brooklyn's latest sensations, Friends, are currently bringing their particularly hip brand of dance punk with a gig here in Birmingham this Saturday night at the O2 Academy. Be there or be very, very square...which I guess is actually kind of cool...oh good grief. Tickets currently still available right here.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Semi Regular New Music Roundup Thingy

Hola. How’s it hanging? Time for another trawl through the old inbox and first up Picture Book with a jolly electro ditty for the summer bravely entitled Sunshine (I guess Endless Dray Grey Days Punctuated Only By Thunderstorms aka the British Summer wasn’t catchy enough). Anyway, it’s got something and I don’t just mean the 'getting jizzed on by clowns' video (clown jizz is multicoloured you’s all that makeup they use).

Imagine if Syd Barrett had had kids, I reckon his son would produce something like this, Of Montreal’s Spiteful Intentions, a glam psych Bowie meets Floyd mash up with a suitably twisted video. Turn On, Tune In, Freak Out!!!!!

You’ve gotta love Tom Jones. No matter what Jessie J, Billy.I.Am or The Other Bloke trot out in The Voice, Tom can just turn on ‘em with a simple “When I was hanging with Elvis/Dusty/Aretha/Janis/The Beatles etc etc...”. Boom. Game Over. Sadly the routines when he’s been roped in to sing during the show have been a bit of a nadir, but happily his latest single goes someway to repairing the damage. Tom does Leonard Cohen...rather well too.

Ever wondered what a Lana Del Rey / Azealia Banks mash up would sound like? Me too. Makes me want to inject Iron Bru into my eyeballs. Make of that what you will, but I reckon that’s a good thing.

Okay, so I may have missed May Day but Skinny Lister’s new one (featuring Land Rovers ‘dancing’ round a Maypole) still deserves a spin for its jaunty, pints of real ale in the air spirit. Expect to hear it soundtracking the next Magners advert sometime in the future...

Just as jaunty, but with an odder video (seriously, odd) it’s Brooklyn’s Here We Go Magic with How Do I Know, a folky, country-ish toe tapper if ever I heard one...and I just did.

Last one for this edition of the semi-legendary Semi Regular New Music Roundup do you fancy a darkly industrial synth number from Toronto’s Trust eh? Clearly influenced by Front 242 and Nitzer Ebb Bulbform’s brooding breakdowns and twisted disco make a neat mix. One for those bondage clubs I’ve seen you at...

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Alabama Shakes, rattles and rolls

Unsurprisingly Alabama Shakes are winning hearts, minds and asses across the UK on their biggest tour to date and they're due to hit my 'hood, Birmingham, this Friday. The gig's already been upgraded from a smaller venue due to overwhelming demand but I wouldn't bet against this one selling out too. If you wanna know what all the fuss is about check out the footage above. And how about this beauty?

Now damn...that's a performance. Tickets currently still available from the good folk at Birmingham Promoters. You know what to do...

Sunday, May 06, 2012


Sad news about the death of Adam Yaunch from the Beastie Boys. 47...shit. Still, what with the music and the campaigning on behalf of Tibet he crammed more into his life than most of us will. Crank up a bit of Sabotage in his memory...

Friday, May 04, 2012

George Barnett - Bewitched

Just in case you needed any further proof that George Barnett's one of the best new talents in the UK right now (trust me...he is) crank this little beauty up. Taken from his frankly essential debut album 17 Days it's the kind of track that simply screams out to be played in front of tens of thousands of adoring fans...lighters aloft...arms in the air...singing along. And, you know what, I reckon it won't be long before that happens...

Buy the album here.

Tickets for George's headline show (July 13th) at The Clapham Grand, London here.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Longing for Latitude...

Still not got your big festival fix for this year yet? We’ve not been to Latitude before but always heard great things about it. Like all the best festivals it seems to have its own distinctive personality together with a mind, body and soul enhancing cocktail of music, comedy, poetry, literature and theatre. This year the musical bill looks particularly trouser moistening. On top of the headliners (they’ve recently added the divine Rufus W) you’ll find the reanimated Dexys, Lana Del Ray, Thomas Dolby, Alabama Shakes, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Django Django, Zola Jesus, Team Me...each and every single one of ‘em well worth the entry fee alone. The Poetry Arena’s got Benjamin Zephaniah, Scroobius Pip and John Cooper Clarke, over at the Literary Arena Dave Gorman’s no doubt unveiling another off the wall theme for his latest million seller whilst Miles Jupp’ll be his usual laconic self. Mark Thomas continues to give it to da man at The Theatre Arena and the art exhibition includes work from the mistress of the montage Linder Stirling. Blimey. Like the strapline says... “It’s more than just a music festival”. 

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Team Me / Phil Gibbs Band @ The Rainbow, Tuesday 1st May 2012

It might have been an unseasonably cold and damp Tuesday evening...I say ‘might’, what I really mean is “Damn it! What’s with the freakin’’s May already...oy vey!!!”...but tonight did more to warm my cockles (stop sniggering at the back) than a bath in a boiling hot toddy.

First up Phil Gibbs and his band (featuring TemptingRosie’s tip top trumpeter Ewan Whyte!). Phil’s been busily building a name for himself over the past few months and opener Part Time Lover, a fine slice of funk driven white boy soul, exceeds all expectations. Most of Phil’s vids online are solo performances so it’s easy to see he can cut on his own but the addition of a really great band adds that magical ingredient. I’m a sucker for brass so Ewan’s trumpet solos were always going to be winner, but the bassist laid down some particularly sweet reggae grooves too. Niiiice. Playing half a dozen self penned tracks Phil’s in fine voice tonight (even if he does do that slightly annoying spl-iii-ttt-iiiii-nnnn-gggg up the words thing that seems to be quite trendy these days) spinning out some distinctly summertime sounds...and lord knows we all need some of them right now. An easy going and hugely enjoyable set.

The older you get the harder it is for music to really (and I mean really) hit you. Sure, you still love stuff, enjoy listening to new bands and catching up with the trillion tunes recorded so far but it’s rare to get that same buzz that you got when you first started to connect with music in your own sweet way. That’s what makes Team Me so special.

Hailing from Norway (a country with a surprisingly rich musical landscape) each song practically drips with joy. They’re mini anthems to love, life and everything in between, carefully crafted to make audiences throw their hands in the air and go three shades of mental. In fact, you know what? If God existed (let’s not get into that one today eh?) and made music I reckon it would sound like Team Me. Seriously. Musically there are shades of everything from the joyful singalongs and orchestral pop pomp of the Polyphonic Spree to the indietronica of MGMT and through to more leftfield acts like Conan Mockasin and Yeasayer, but such comparisons are dumb and lazy (yep, that’s me), on tonight’s showing I honestly believe Team Me are in a league of their own right now. Having carefully draped handmade bunting around a stage crammed full of kit (legend has it that they bought more kit to The Rainbow than any other band in history) the set exploded into life with Patrick Wolf and Daniel Johns, three of the most joyful sounding minutes in pop history and somehow got even better from there on. 

Wearing a rather fetching headband (are they back in?) lead singer Marius – who started the ‘band’ as a solo venture but then had to quickly recruit other ‘team’ members to play live – is a super cute ball of energy, frequently losing himself in the music like a man possessed (in a good way of head spinning and projectile vomiting tonight). Flanked by Uno (who uses the novel technique of playing his guitar with a violin bow) and Elida (drafted in to replace the recently departed Synne) they’re a ménage a pop with that rare ability to get people clapping along without it all feeling a little self conscious and forced.  

Plucking tracks from their essential debut album To The Treetops! (darn it, even the title’s as adorable as hell) the grins of the audience grew as wide as lake Mjøsa (that’s Norway’s biggest lake dontcha know...see, who says the internet’s not educational?) culminating in a mini freakout as fans danced their socks off at the front. Who can blame them? Stephen Hawking would find it hard to resist this lot. Saving the best for last the pairing of Show Me (as low key as Team Me get but still more joyful than a sack full of fluffy pink kittens) and the frankly life enhancing With My Hands Covering Both Of My Eyes I Am Too Scared To Have A Look At You Know surely convinced everyone there that they were watching something truly special. “Mediocre band, perform mediocre songs for us now” sang Marius climbing off the stage to sing amongst the converts. The ultimate in humility or throwing down the gauntlet to the rest of the pop world? Right now I’m too busy bouncing up and down to care...