Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Wild at heart?

Nearly time for the Wilderness Festival. I was lucky enough to be there for the first one last year...huge fun...and this year's line up looks even better.

They've added the biggest splurge gun fight in history to the bill now too...yes...SPLURGE GUNS! It's gonna get messy...

The Semi Regular New Music Roundup Thingy

Someone asked me the other week what new music I was listening to...and I couldn’t think of a single track. That’s cobblers of course...I sit here in Baron Tower listening to 6 Music, Pig Radio and stuff as well as downloading / streaming music from the old bulging inbox pretty much all week long. That’s the problem. There’s sooooooooooooo much new music, all so readily accessible that it would frankly be a miracle if anything actually lodged in my brain these days. Is that a bad thing? Possibly. I love music, always have done, and having grown up in the era when vinyl and tapes ruled the roost (yeah...I’m ancient) and listening to stuff took a hefty investment (albums were £5 in 1982...you could buy a house for that in those days) is it any wonder that I (and most of the rest of the world) just gorge ourselves on new stuff all the time without much of it actually attaching itself to our hearts and minds? Nope. I’ve given up worrying about it to be honest, content to be a musical whore...which leads us nicely onto this edition of the now legendary (well there’s a guy in Sierra Leone who loves it...he wants me to send him £5,000 in return for a share of $1million...that’s nice of him innit?) Semi Regular New Music Roundup! Holla!

First up the psuper psychedelic psounds of TameImpala who, in any sane world, would have their own fleet of jets, a huge coke mountain and enough groupies to fill those empty Olympic seats...and that’s a lot of seats. The new album’s not out until October but in the meantime wrap your ears around this trippy proggy doo dah, Elephant.

Love Regina Spektor? Like Dresden Dolls? Quite fancy Tori Amos? You would wouldn’t you? In that case I reckon you’ll go three shades of crazy for Anna Haas. No UK dates yet...boo...but there’s an album out in September.

Straightoutta Wolverhampton Big Dutty Deeze unleashes This Is England featuring top notch beats from Rediculus. It’s a relentlessly bleak track but oddly all the better for it. This Country’s more divided between the haves and the have nots than at any other time in the last 30 years and this is as good an encapsulation of the latter’s lot in life as you’re likely to hear.

There’s a real Talk Talk vibe about the new Mothlite track which, given that Talk Talk ain’t likely to record anything ever again, will come as a pleasant surprise to some people...me included. Classy stuff.  

Okily dokily, last one for now and over to Brooklyn for Violens and some spiky shoegaze. Hmmm that could be an Olympic event...shoegazing. I reckon ‘Team GB’ would be pretty good at that. Gold medal I reckon. On seconds thoughts the Japanese would probably go whining to the judges again and get us demoted...which is a pretty shoegazey position to be in really.

Tipitina – Taking Care of Business

Okay so Birmingham’s Hotel Du Vin might some way from New Orleans but there was clearly a cheeky little bit of juju going on when Tipitina recorded their latest album there, Taking Care Of Business, live at last year’s Birmingham International Jazz & Blues Festival. A mouth watering jambalaya of covers from some true N’awlins greats (step forward Dr John, The Meters and Allen Toussaint) together with a handful of equally strong originals, it’s a boogie woogie bluesy joy from Birmingham City (well the band’s from Preston...but that didn’t rhyme so well).

Kicking off with The Meter’s classic Hey Pocky Way the band replaces the original’s funky horns with a jazzier arrangement, perfectly suited to the gloriously gospel tinged vocals of lead singer Debbie Jones.  Covering the good Doctor’s seminal Such A Night is a brave move but the band more than do it justice, neatly capturing that laid back, woozy morning after the night before...the night before...vibe. Kudos to Justin Randall’s piano playing on this track in particular, Mac would be proud of ya. Elsewhere the band mash up the Latin rhythms of Tico Tico with Amy Winehouse’s You Know I’m No Good dragging it kicking and screaming from the gutter to a late night cocktail bar. If you like your jazz hot, your blues cool and your...er... woogie boogied...this album's the business. 

Taking Care of Business is out on Big Bear Records.   

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Jamaican 50th Anniversary of Independence Concert, Symphony Hall, Wednesday 25th July 2012

Jamaica and Birmingham go together like...well...rice and peas...with the original Jamaican immigrants and their descendents having a huge impact on Brum’s musical soundscape. From Steel Pulse to UB40, The Beat to Musical Youth, Andy Hamilton to Soweto Kinch, Jaki Graham to Jamelia Birmingham’s the home of the Jamaican British (or British Jamaican...you take your pick) sound. So it’s entirely appropriate that Birmingham’s Symphony Hall should play host to a very special celebration of the 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence. By a happy coincidence (what are the chances eh?) this anniversary coincides with the...not sure if we can even write the words given the frankly paranoid rules around the use of Olympic iconography...whoops...said the word Olympic...balls...oh well...Olympic Games and who should choose to base their team here...Jamaica! Kismet.

Tonight the organisers did a cracking job of pulling together a bill that embraced the past, present and future kicking off with some reminiscences from Count Prince Miller who, incredibly enough, took part in the original independence day concert in Kingston way back in 1962. Blimey. The dude’s still going strong too, must be all that rum punch.

MC for the night, Radio WM DJ Joe Eldred, introduced soprano Abigail Kelly who sang a delightful trio of Jamaican folk songs in an operatic stylee culminating with a clapalong version of Nobody’s Business But My Own before handing over the baton (metaphorically) to Horizon Youth Choir for an impassioned Something Inside So Strong. I guess the drawback of trying to fit so much in to one night is that you barely get to see what performers are capable of and I’d have loved to see/hear more of Horizon and the next group from Aston Performing Arts Academy whose energetic medley (snippets from Alicia Keys, Shaggy, Fugees) amongst others was a real highlight. Bonus points for the mass Usain Bolt pose. 

Jazz legend Andy Hamilton received a touching tribute from his sons and friend Vic Evans who played Honeysuckle Rose...s’funny I’d never really focussed on the double entendres in this track before. They are risqué aren’t they...or is it just my dirty mind? Hmmmm...probably.

With a comment on Jamaican’s love of religion...any religion “If you invent it...Jamaican’s will join it...we’ve got more churches per square mile than any other country in the world” Joe introduced the soul stirring Town Hall Gospel Choir. I’m not religious but hell...er...maybe that should be by heaven...I love gospel music. There’s no bull there. It’s pure, joyful and totally devoid of any pretence and if the good Lord was watching tonight he’ll be downloading some Town Hall Gospel Choir tracks right now...to stick on his...wait for it...i-God. Ouch.

Anyway, glossing over mild blasphemy (God’s more of a vinyl fan I reckon) Musical Youth dedicated a rousing version of Pass The Dutchie to the City of Birmingham and the City of Birmingham (well, those of us who were there) reciprocated with much Jamaican flag waving and jigging about. Next up Jaki Graham reminded us that she’s responsible for one of the great modern soul pop classics in Could It Be I’m Falling In Love (yes I know it was recorded by The Spinners in the '70s but Jaki and David Grant's version is the best). Forgotten just how brilliant this track is...have a listen...see? Brilliant.

After a quick break (and with the clock ticking...the event started a little late so there was a bit of tail chasing) the Lord Mayor of Birmingham presented the Jamaican Olympic Squad with something made of silver...couldn’t see what it was...probably a bull...or a bust of Jasper Carrott. Much of part two involved a tribute to Bob Marley with various performers picking tracks from the most enviable back catalogue in reggae...yes...even more enviable than Chaka Demus and Pliers. No Woman No Cry and Redemption Song were particularly impressive....not sure who sang which. Damn my fading memory.

Beverley Knight, the undisputed queen of UK soul, has nothing to prove but any doubters here tonight would’ve been converted thanks to a powerfully sensual version of Bob’s Is This Love. Not content with outshining one Jamaican legend she did it again with Jimmy Cliff’s Many River’s To Cross. Just beautiful.

Finally, proof that you should always leave ‘em laughing, Benjamin Zephaniah’s poem about the melding of British and Jamaican cultures should be stuck on every school curriculum in the country. Somehow managing to take the piss out of both nations but remaining as funny as hell to all concerned it was, perhaps, the greatest celebration of all. After all the City that laughs together, sticks together eh? Here’s to the next 50 years...apparently Count Prince Miller’s already got it in his diary...

Pictures courtesy of Steve Thorne

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Catch Usain Bolt at The Symphony Hall!

A bit late notice this one (my fault...been staring at the sun for the last few days) but tomorrow night the Symphony Hall's hosting an amazing concert to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jamaican Independence. On top of Beverley Knight (she'll have to sing Gold right?), Jamelia, Musical Youth, Jaki Graham and Benjamin Zephaniah there'll be some slots for local up and coming artists too...oh and some guy called Usain Bolt'll popping along as well. Yep, the fastest dude in the universe will be there along with the rest of the Jamaican team. Just how fast is he? Well there's a rumour he caught a number 9 bus the other day and we all know how fast they pull away when they see someone running for it...

Tickets still available at the moment, right here.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Madonna @ NIA Birmingham, Thursday 19th July 2012

Back in the glory days of pop, the 1980s, there was a holy trinity of artists who pretty much ruled the roost – Jacko, Prince and Madonna. Sadly Jacko’s now playing that great gig in the sky and Prince lives in his own little world most of the time so that just leaves Her Madgesty to carry on releasing records, touring, exposing herself, winding up the French...

This current tour (her biggest to date apparently) includes 90 mega-shows which, with an average ticket price of around £80 (some are a heck of a lot more), well and truly proves that the material girl’s still living up to her name. A quick gander at the merch desks backs this up, t-shirts £35, programme £25, hoodie...a wallet busting £90...hell even her latest CD was being flogged at frankly unbelievable £20. That seems to be par for the course on tours like this though and the fans happily doled out the dosh. £15 for a mug? Hmmm...you said it.

Once you’d remortgaged your home to pay for a fridge magnet (classy) and found your seat (some of which seemed to be in a different county) you were in for a fairly long wait. In fact it was 9.45 before things got going. Not a patch on Guns n’Roses, who routinely keep fans waiting for several years before Axl waddles on stage, but still...a tad tardy. Unsurprisingly given her capacity for splitting opinion there have been some spectacularly savage and fantastically fawning reviews for this show. The haters (and there are quite a few of ‘em) bemoan the lack of the old hits and the sometimes radical reinvention of those that are included. The lovers...well...they’d be happy if she just showed up and waved for an hour or two. The truth lies somewhere between the two camps. This isn’t a bad show. Far from it. It’s got some great moments, some truly iconic performances and...hell...it’s Ma-bloody-donna.

The set’s heavy on tracks from current album MDNA but...hello...as that’s what the tour’s called the fact that this comes as a surprise to some people says more about their ability to read and come to a logical conclusion than anything else. MDNA ain’t her best effort, but again it’s not worthy of the savaging that some critics...yawn...have heaped on it. It’s just a collection of big dumb pop songs, like opening number Girl Gone Wild for instance. After some scary monks ring bells for a bit and waft a giant censer (that thing they use for burning incense in churches) Madge appears in a black catsuit, the ‘monks’ disrobe and they all jig about for a bit, thrusting crotches and revealing the amazing multi platform stage thingy (bits pop up and disappear all over the place...cool). She slipped in a brief snatch of Material Girl (you’ve got to love Madge’s brief snatch...er...anyway...) for good measure too. Next up Gang Bang was supposed to feature a motel room set but it seems to have gone AWOL, maybe it was on the piss somewhere. Sets do that sometimes. I once saw a Kasabian set playing billiards in Digbeth. True story. Anyway, being the pro she is she improvised, strutting around the empty stage shooting the shit out of everything against a gory blood splattered screen projected backdrop. Who the lover is that she wants to blow away we only guess...poor Guy...er...guy. A neat segueway into Papa Don’t Preach gets the hairs on the back of the neck rising and for anyone who grew up in the 80s this shit’s pure magic. Carried aloft by some weird masked dudes the show shifts up a gear with Hung Up, performed on and under some large purple rubber bands stretched across the stage. There’s been some speculation about how much of this show is sung live and how much is pre-recorded and this section looked a little iffy. I could be wrong, it’s hard to tell when the vocal’s been vocodered to death.

There are a bundle of tracks from the new album, some good, some a little more ‘meh’...but again even the average stuff is well presented. That’s something a lot of critics seems to have missed. It’s a slick production with some neat touches, the flying drummers, the dancers falling into a pit, the seemingly endless stage permutations...it’s a brilliantly choreographed piece of theatre. Express Yourself cheekily morphed into La Gaga’s Born This Way, highlighting the similarity between the two tracks. There’s seemingly no love lost between the two of them (or their fans judging by some of the hilarious online spats) but let’s face it, they’re from the same mould. Yep, get over it. Give Me All Your Lovin’ is one of MDNA’s stronger numbers and the majorette routine was bubblegum cute (ahhh sweet memories of Toni Basil). As if to ram home the point that Madge was there a few decades before Gaga though a brief video montage of hits reminded you...and I know I’ve said this before...but hell...you’re watching MADONNA tonight people.

Speaking of which Vogue was pure classic Madonna, a little remixed at the start but not too faffed about with, with Madge giving particularly good face. Like A Virgin was reinvented as a piano led waltz, transforming it from a horny chat up line to more of a post coital hymn to lost love and fading youth perhaps. It’s a bold interpretation, again attracting much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth from people who’d clearly prefer Madge to play it safe...in other words just how they’ve sung along to it on their record player...Walkman...i-Pod. That’s the crux of the problem. Madonna’s such an icon, with at least a dozen truly classic hits, that many people don’t seem to want anything new. They want her preserved in aspic from whichever era they discovered her in and, let’s face it, that would be the easy (and I’m guessing) more profitable option. Surely the fact that she’s still willing to do something new is to be applauded?
Any gripes about of the lack of old hits were frankly rendered obsolete by a glorious Like A Prayer, arguably her finest moment. You’re watching Madonna people. Singing LIKE A FREAKIN’ PRAYER. Yep, you’ve spunked a week’s wages on the tickets, pawned your grandma for a programme and sold a kidney to buy a beer but it was all worth it just for that moment when several thousand people clapped their hands off eh?

Celebration closed the show, pointlessly really. Like A Prayer was all the celebration we needed and next to it this track’s like a wet weekend in Rhyl. With that Madge and her entourage disappeared into the set and the middle aged masses (the majority of the crowd for 30...okay...40 something) filed out into the night to relieve the babysitter.

Ignore the bad reviews, they’re seriously out of line. Ignore the arse licking reviews too. The show has faults, some of the tracks are weak and how much of it is actually live is questionable. But at the end of the night the pluses far outweigh the minuses. This is one of pop music’s true icons (up there with Elvis, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Daphne and Celeste...), the biggest selling female recording artist in history, still hauling her ass around the world for you. Yes, you. Open your heart and she’s still ray of light...

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Pure Love / Chain Of Flowers @ The Glee Club, Wednesday 18th July

Oooooooh what a feeling...when you’re dancing on the ceiling. Okay, Lionel may have sung about it but tonight Frank Carter actually did it, carried aloft by a hundred adoring hands. Pure Love and Chain of Flowers (tonight’s support band) may sound more like a couple of ‘bodice rippers’ from Mills & Boon rather than new projects from punk/screamcore stalwarts but that’s not entirely inappropriate given the fact that a sizeable portion of the audience left the venue with their hearts all a flutter. That may have been down to getting royally mashed in the pit but still...you could feel the love people, you could feel the love.

First up Chain Of Flowers featuring members of Welsh punk rockers Brutality Will Prevail and metal punkers Crossbreaker. There’s a whiff of 80s rock goth in the mix here (The Mission, Sisters of Mercy...all that lot), especially in the layered squalls of guitar and slightly portentous vocals. The other obvious head nod goes to The Cure (surely the source of the band’s name), with the lead singer channelling his inner Bob (with just a hint of Mozza in there too...nice). Pick of the set, Sleep, was the most Cure-like...albeit a Cure that had been down the gym for a month or two then popped into Spoonies for a swift pint or six of Old Rosie. If you’re in any doubt of the band’s love for the 80s the fact that they’ve just released a single on tape (do they still make tapes these days?) should seal the deal. Great stuff. The new gothgaze revolution starts here.

After making their live debut on this year’s Valentine’s Day (awwwww bless ‘em) opinion was divided on Frank’s new direction. Shelving the larynx shedding vocals of his old band, Gallows (now fronted by ex Alexisonfire singer Wade MacNeil), he has, in his own words “learned to sing”. The music’s changed too, from the kind of sound that strips paint off doors to a...whisper it...slightly more commercial...rock sound with pounding drums and riff-tastic guitars. Inevitably this is going to both gain and lose fans (much more of the former I reckon) but if you’ve witnessed some of the mayhem that surrounded latter Gallows gigs you can’t blame him for wanting to chill things out a bit. Of course a more chilled out Frank is still a nut bustingly powerful proposition and from the outset it was clear that he’s retained that brooding stage presence and ‘give it all you’ve got...then give a bit more’ attitude that marked Gallows out as something truly special. Coming onstage carrying 5 beers it seemed as though Frank had hit the bottle (he’s notably abstemious when it comes to alcohol), but he gave them away to the crowd instead. A nice touch. It wasn’t long before Frank joined them, circled by the faithful who showed remarkable restraint...well for one song at least. After introducing Anthem (dedicated to fellow tattooist Jordon who’s just been run over in the US...there’s a Frank endorsed appeal to help pay his medical bills right here) it all kicked off with Frank launching himself headfirst from a table straight into the crowd. What followed was a furious whirlwind of bodies, limbs, tongues, sweat...all whipped up into a frenzy culminating in Frank literally raising the roof...well a ceiling tile or two anyway.

Bollocks to bottling the atmosphere at the recent Stone Roses gig (yep, someone actually did that and then popped it on eBay) if you could harness the energy from tonight you’d solve the energy crisis. Of course Frank’s not the only frontman to get down and dirty with his audience but he genuinely seems to get a real buzz from it, feeding off that energy to ratchet up his own performance a notch or two. It worked. New single (and the band’s best track to date) Handsome Devil’s Club threatened to see several dozen people spontaneously combust moving Frank to observe (during a brief moment of calm) “Never has a band playing only its eighth gig got such a reaction”.

Of course there were plenty of hardcore Gallows fans here but still, most bands would willingly sacrifice a drummer or two to get this kind of response. It was a short set (40 minutes or so), as you’d expect for a group still its infancy, and most of the tracks were new to the crowd but that only served to make the whole night more special somehow. When audience and band connect like this there’s only one way to describe it. Pure Love.

Photograph courtesy of Mr Andy Watson of Drw-Images

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

One Beat Sunday @ The MAC

The organisers of this day long rifle through some of the best new bands in Birmingham have promised sunshine and the forecast looks surprisingly hopeful...yes, I know...UK in sun shocker, well it is only July after all...and it has only been raining for the past three months. Anyway, come rain or shine there are some great bands on the bill like this lot...

...and this lot...

...oh...and this lot too...


...and not forgetting...

...tickets from our chums at Birmingham Promoters...in the words of that ad from Go Compare they're "only a tenor".

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

King Pleasure & the Biscuit Boys @ The Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Sunday 15th July

King Pleasure & the Biscuit Boys have been dishing up their particular brand of old school rock n’roll, swing, jazz and jive to audiences across the world for 25 years now. Perhaps something of an anachronism back in the late 80’s with the whole ‘vintage’ thing being so hip and cool at the moment they’re arguably at their most relevant right now. The King himself has also grown nicely into the part, the quiff may be a little greyer, there may be a little more...ahem...jelly in his roll...but with the voice, showmanship and energy still firmly in place a good time's pretty much guaranteed. 

Being an outdoor gig, on a Sunday, with picnics (bottles of wine, M&S dips, something nice from Waitrose’s variety of endangered species in breadcrumbs range) very much the order of the day (some people seemed to have bought half their kitchens with them) the mood was distinctly mellow. The fact that it wasn’t bloody raining for a change probably stunned most people into a stupor too. No matter. Gradually the band got some folk up and dancing though, inspired perhaps by the King’s forays into the crowd and impromptu dances with some of the braver (or perhaps more well lubricated) members of the audience.

Playing authentic sounding original compositions as well as plucking well known classics (together with a few more obscure but equally strong numbers) from the likes of Chuck Berry, BB King and Ray Charles (the latter two the band actually toured with) King and the Boys blew up a storm (happily metaphorically speaking) invoking an era when music came on shellac, the web was something spiders span and Twitter was strictly for the birds. Pick of the set included a schwiiiiiinging version of Louis Prima’s Oh Marie and a particularly horny dash through Tequila. Oh...special mention goes out to double bassist Shark Van Schtoop's (hmmm possibly not his real name) game of hide and seek with a photographer too. Every time the hapless snapper got him in focus he moved or hid behind his instrument. Hilarious! Still the kings of pleasure? You betcha. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Will Johns Band @ The Garden House, Saturday 14th July 2012

When you can count Eric Clapton as one of your mentors, George Harrison as one of your uncles and your dad worked on Zeppelin’s seminal IV album (not to mention The Rolling Stones Exile On Main Street) you could say the bar’s been set pretty high. Okay, so there’s no real reason why you should be any good but still...it’s a pretty impressive pedigree. Happily Will Johns more than lives up to it, taking inspiration from his heritage whilst clearly putting his own unique stamp on things.

In a 15 year career he’s played with Joe Strummer, Jack Bruce, Bill Wyman and Ronnie Wood as well as forming a band with Ronnie’s son (GLYDA) but now finally he’s performing under his own name, playing an electrifying mix of rock and blues. Tonight’s gig, part of the 28th Birmingham International Jazz & Blues Festival (one of the City’s underrated musical gems), is in support of his second solo album released just 24 hours earlier on Birmingham’s very own Big Bear record label.

Tucked away in a corner of the Garden House pub (next to the kitchen door...not ideal but such minor niggles were swiftly despatched) it’s not the biggest or most glamorous stage Will’s ever played but that clearly didn’t matter to him or his band, a crack unit of musicians (keyboard, bass and drums) with the musical chops to keep up with him. And they’re some chops. Bearing an uncanny resemblance to a less grizzled Tom Waits Will and co blazed through three sets of originals and covers but even that wasn't enough and the crowd just didn’t want to let them go. It’s easy to see why. As a performer Will’s both a gifted musician (that’s some darn fine blues guitar playing there) and vocalist, blending a bluesy growl together with a lighter shade that’s perfectly suited to some of the slower numbers and covers – including a hugely enjoyable romp through Dire Straits’ MTV staple Money For Nothing. More importantly though what comes across loud and clear is that he clearly loves performing, exuding a kind of bug eyed excitement that’s pretty infectious. It’s almost as if he’s as impressed at the sound coming from the band as we were. From the testifying blues hollerin’ of original track I Believe (off the new album Hooks and Lines) through some of the standards of the genre (like Sweet Home Chicago and a heart melting Need Your Love So Bad) and on to some excellent cover choices (Will’s version of Purple Rain was suitably majestic this evening) the whole set was a masterclass in how to put on a show. Blues anoraks will appreciate the playing, anyone just out for a good time will have one. Guaranteed. Simply one of the best live blues bands on the scene right now.

PS: Will’s signed to Big Bear Records run by Jim Simpson who has a pretty good ear for discovering talent...as well as putting on early gigs by Led Zeppelin he signed some band called Black Sabbath back in 1969...

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Semi Regular...okay...not recently but sometimes...New Music Roundup Thingy

I promised to keep posting the cream of the crop from my bulging inbox and by heaven I’m determined to darn well stick with it...no matter how much turgid Oasis-a-like crap I have to endure. Happily the first choice couldn’t be less Oasis-a-like if it tried. Wrap your ears around some Jens Lekman...got a bit of a chilled out Prefab Sprout meets Belle and Sebastian vibe...gorgeous n’est ce pas?

Afrobeat revivalists Antibalas are back with a frankly so-funky-it-should-be -banned slice of booty shaking brilliance. Don’t blame me if you put your back out...

London four piece Arthur Beatrice serve up some classy pop with a nicely icy vocal (shimmering it says on the press release...and who am I to argue?) from the delightfully named Ella Girardot.

Grunge goth anyone. Thought so....you look the sort. Try some IO ECHO for size.

If Phil Spector stopped blowing away hookers (allegedly) and hooked up with Stereolab instead it might sound a little like this one from Brooklyn’s TEEN. As cool as a hipster’s fridge freezer.

 That’s it for this edition of The Semi Regular blah blah blah. All of the above are out over the next few months...not that the concept of being ‘out’ means anything anymore, but there you go...that’s the modern world for you. It was all shellac and wax cylinders in my day...

Otis Gibbs...a man on a mission

This looks good. Otis Gibbs is out on tour at the moment and he's dropping by the Kitchen Garden Cafe in Kings Heath on Monday 16th July for what promises to be a delightfully intimate set of old school style American blue collar country folk. Compared to Woody Guthrie (which is as good as it gets in American folk circles) and rated by none other that Sir Bill.i.am Bragg he's been travelling the world, playing bars, festivals, houses...you name it...for 15 years now, making a living without selling out to 'da man'. Amen to that. Tickets are just £7 in advance, £8 on the door.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Young Runaways...it's a 'Brum' do...

Hearing Aid faves Young Runaways are teaming up with OxjamBrum to play a series of free top secret (hush hush) gigs in and around Birmingham on Saturday 14th July.

The Oxjam Pop-up Festival will be visiting a number of locations on the day, complete with a few special surprises. The band, working on new material and in between gigs, decided they wanted to escape the studio for a bit to play some shows and this seemed the perfect opportunity. 

Frontman Matt Pinfield said: “The band is absolutely looking forward to it. It's going to be a day of unique performances in unusual locations. Imagine the magical mystery tour but with more roll neck sweaters and second hand board games.” 

I do love a good roll neck sweater...

Look out for clues and how to get involved at facebook.com/youngrunaways and facebook.com/oxjambrum.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

42nd Street @ The New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham – Tuesday 10th July 2012

Now three decades old but with its heart set firmly back in the razzle dazzle 1930’s the multi Tony Award winning musical 42nd Street is back on the road. It’s a timely revival too bringing some much needed sparkle and glam back to a country that’s being relentlessly battered by the weather on one side and the economy on the other. Actually the musical’s setting, the great depression of 1933, and its theme of ‘the show must go on’ couldn’t be more appropriate right now...just add that routine from ‘Singin’ In The Rain’ and it would be pretty much the perfect ‘keep calm and carry on’ night out.

For anyone still not familiar with the plot it focuses on the efforts of a director who’s lost most of his fortune in the stock market crash to stage a budget busting musical with a fading star, despite the fact that most of the population haven’t got two cents to rub together. See? It couldn’t be more relevant. Well, I suppose you could have Bob Diamond singing ‘We’re In The Money’ but I guess he’s got other things to concentrate on right now. Anyway, add the odd love triangle, a broken ankle and enough glitz and glamour to give Craig Revel Horwood a stiffie and you’ve got musical gold.

Unless you’ve been locked in a box all your life you’ll already know quite a few of the tunes too. Some are just ingrained in our collective DNA...Keep Young and Beautiful, We’re In The Money, Lullaby Of Broadway, 42nd Street, I Only Have Eyes For You...each one sets off a Pavlovian response and thanks to the endless enthusiasm and energy of the cast it’s pretty hard to resist leaping up, tapping your way down the aisle and giving it some ‘jazz hands’. 

The stars of the show, musical stalwarts Marti Webb (celebrating an incredible half century in musical theatre) and local boy made good Dave Willets, are both in fine voice injecting plenty of emotion, especially in their solo numbers (Webb’s I Only Have Eyes For You and Willets show closing 42nd Street). Jessica Punch captures the talented but accident prone Peggy perfectly, getting some great laughs during the second act, and Graham Hoadly is delightfully theatrical as Bert Barry. It’s the full company numbers that really steal the limelight though with a number of taptastic routines mainlining glam right into your frontal lobe. Heightened by the simple but effective staging (the use of lighting and mirrors worked particularly well) the magical spirit of ol’ Busby Berkeley was well and truly bought back to life. Add some distinctly sparkly costumes from a recent US production and some gorgeous 30’s style ozone-layer-busting hair dos and it was easy to lose yourself in tapland right from the moment the curtain went up. An irresistible dose of glitz guaranteed to brighten even the dullest of days.

42nd Street plays at the New Alexandra Theatre until Friday 13th July before hitting the road and touring the UK until the end of November.

PS: For the vintage aficionados out there here's the trailer for the original 1933 film that the musical was based on. Beautiful stuff...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

WAZU - Murder1

I'm surprised there hasn't been a huge goth revival yet you know. Given the fact that thousands of our young folk seem to be facing a distinctly bleak future (actually the futures of our old folk and middle aged folk ain't looking too rosy neither) goth's whole gloomy nihilistic vibe would seem to be an infinitely better default than the oh so booooooring "yo yo yo mi 'angin wi mi crew" tinny plastic gangster preening much beloved of kids on the top deck of buses everywhere. Personally I'd much prefer to hear WAZU blaring (as much as stuff can blare out of a mobile phone speaker with all the power of a mildly irritated bumble bee) out of mobiles and, for anyone who still clings on to the idea that knifing people with their mum's potato peeler is the sign of being a 'man', it's got a suitably gangster title too. It's a win/win people. And now for the facts: WAZU are Australians, decamped to New Yoik (do any Australians actually stay in Australia?), and they're off on tour across America soon. No UK dates yet but once I convince the youth to embrace 'em I'm sure they'll pop over.  

Monday, July 09, 2012

Rich Batsford - On Til Dawn

I was lucky enough to see Rich a couple of times last year and bought both of his albums on the spot (a rarity for me these days). Why? Well, in a world gone mad Rich's beautiful music is simply a haven of tranquillity, a gentle metaphorical hug for tired souls and a loving caress for stressed out minds. In fact I reckon it's practically impossible to listen to this track without feeling that bit calmer and more at peace with...well... everything really. Try it. Go on. See? Genius.

Rich's new album, Mindfulmess, is available right now, right here.

Friday, July 06, 2012

The soundtrack to your weekend...

Oh well, if you're in the UK this weekend you'd better hope you grow gills...good luck to anyone's who's going to a festival. Brave souls. Looking on the bright side it gives me yet another chance to post this little beauty...as if I need an excuse.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

The Empire Strikes Black

Local Hearing Aid favourites Black Market Empire released their new double A sided single this week. A side, Vultures, is a rollicking drum driven singalong...er...the other A side (my personal choice) Scared Of You And I has more of The Strokes meets The Killers in The Cavern Club feel. Lead singer Shaun’s  vocal is top notch on Scared...pitched perfectly between world weary resignation (we can all relate to that right now eh?) and a desperately romantic hope for the future. 

Cracking stuff. You can download the single via i-Tunes or grab a physical copy from the band - not literally...that’s theft...you’ll do time and Big Dave from B Wing will end up taking you roughly from behind in the showers - after one of their top notch live shows.

PS: Their next live gig is at Proud Galleries in Camden on August 9th. Swanky! 

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul Festival 2012 29th June – 1st July

Day One - Friday June 29th

Given the frankly apocalyptic weather conditions (flash floods, lightning, hails stones the size of your head, plagues of locusts...that kind of thing) that struck the Midlands the day before this year’s MoJaFuSo it’s a miracle that the entire site wasn’t washed away into the oceans, only to reappear somewhere on a beach in Trinidad sometime in 2014. Happily the site survived and despite a little mud (hell it wouldn’t be a festival this year without mud) the place was pretty much intact as opening act, the Lizzy Parks fronted electro jazzers Maylight took to the stage on Friday afternoon. An unexpectedly groovy treat for the early arrivers (come on now...admit it...who threw a ‘sickie’ to be here?). 

Rising local stars Free School capped a hugely impressive week (support slot for Editors’ triumphant homecoming gig and a play on prime time 6 Music) with another fine set of retro futurist house tunes before Gilles Peterson (wearing the kind of mac usually favoured by flashers...but he’s just cool...so he can get away with it...the mac wearing that is, not the flashing) pitched the mood just right in his DJ set, gently easing the crowd into Paper Tiger’s chilled out inner city jazz hop.

A few years back Introducing hit upon the novel concept of recreating DJ Shadow’s sampledelic classic Endtroducing using a real live band. It’s proved popular. So popular in fact that Shadow’s agent has come down on ‘em like a crate full of 12inches and ordered them to cut it out immediately. 

Consequently this was the LAST ever Introducing presents Endtroducing show, frankly a tragedy for all concerned. It’s a great concept and their live versions of The Numbers Song and Midnight In Perfect World are just too good to stay locked up in Shadow’s box. Sort it out dudes.

Bad Bad Not Good soundtracked several seasons as wind, rain then sun fell on the rapidly growing crowd, joyfully freed from their desk shackles and well and truly ready to party. Playing the sort of ultra cool sounds that Shadow would sample it was one of those sets that makes you that little bit cooler just by being in the vicinity. Next up Ghost Poet bringing a little Gil Scott Heron meets TV On The Radio vibe. Pick of the set, last year’s breakout single Survive It, could well be our new national anthem thanks to its careworn hope in the face of hopelessness chiming perfectly with a country (and world) rapidly sliding to its knees.  

Festivals can make or break bands and Troumaca’s primetime slot (just before Roots Manuva) was perhaps a bold move given the fact that they’ve only been around for a year or so. The overwhelming consensus of opinion was that they nailed it though. In fact they nailed it, sanded it and varnished it. Carrying on Brum’s fine tradition for incendiary reggae (a fact acknowledged by the lead singer’s Steel Pulse t-shirt) they’ve added a little dubstep and tropicalia to the mix creating something that should chime perfectly with ‘dem yoot’. The rallying cry of Fire has rapidly become something of an anthem for them and so impressed Gilles Peterson that he offered to sign the band on the spot. Free School, PEACE, Troumaca...can it be that Birmingham’s much anticipated musical rebirth is finally happening?

Now nudging 40 the man born Rodney Hylton Smith, better known as Roots Manuva, has 5 solo albums under his belt and a handful of truly classic singles all of which got a spin tonight. It’s the perfect mix of hip hop, dancehall and ragga together with that little added extra (bonkers retro arcade game sound effects for instance) and a fine way with words that mark Roots out as something special. Dressed in a Kanye West style white suit and shades and joined by another two MCs he led a juiced up crowd in a series of increasingly enthusiastic bouncealongs and arm wavings including a joyful Moseley-centric version of Dreamy Days. Perhaps predictably the biggest cheer of the night went to the party banger Witness (1 Hope) though, which saw the bouncing reach frankly earthquake inducing levels. Off the (Richter) scale.   

Day Two – Saturday June 30th

Day two and thanks to the UK’s number one funk and soul DJ Mr Craig Charles (who curated this section of the festival), things were about to get F U N K Y.

Let’s face it...cover bands can suck. Big time. You’d be forgiven for approaching legendary US soul n’ funk band Tower Of Power fetishists Rotunda Of Wonder with caution then. Relax. Despite kicking off at dawn (oh alright then 11.30am...it felt like dawn) they managed to put on one of the shows of the festival. A blistering 10 piece band with a powerful lead vocalist (equally at home with the more bluesy soulful numbers) they blazed through an album’s worth of Tower Of Power’s greatest hits and misses funking up the small but rapidly hyped up crowd. Well worth getting up (and staying on the scene) for.

The Coleman Brothers (playing the first of two sets this weekend) provided a chance to chill out for a moment with some fine horny Latin jazz and, joined by sister Sara, a neat cover of The Doors Light My Fire before the Electric Swing Circus fused the 1920s and 2020s in an energetic set that saw some furious swing dancing taking place in the drizzle. Anyone for bongos? You’re in luck. The Bongolians make you feel like you’re in a particularly cool episode of Starsky & Hutch and, incredibly, they’re every bit as great as their seminal ancestors The Incredible Bongo Band. Yes. I know. Incredible.

Rather brilliantly the next band on the schedule Lack Of Afro...failed to turn up. Genius. That left the way clear for Speedometer to demonstrate just why they’re rated as one of the best, most authentic funk bands around right now. Like the funk greats there’s a real sharpness and kick to the horns that makes all the difference. It was a mind blowing flute solo mid set (which broke into Mission Impossible) that stole the show though. The dude that played that must have asbestos lips. Damn that’s some funky shit.

Rising from the flames of their DJ Shadow embargo Introducing turned their attention to recreating Mr Scruff’s back catalogue with the same sense of devotion, neatly lining up the crowd on a platter for Glasgow’s finest The Federation Of Disco Pimp to deliver yet another devastating funkathon. Another Average White Band...in the very best possible way.

Despite not having any original members (one of the band’s original lead singer’s son’s in the line up...so that’s something at least) Odyssey were a disco treat from start to finish. Kicking off with Native New Yorker they worked their way through the hits, Use It Up, Wear It Out, Inside Out and, thanks to a little technical cock up, a beautiful stripped back version of If You’re Looking For A Way Out.  

Follow that? Anyone who was at 2011’s Mostly Jazz will remember Craig Charles’ set as one of the highlights of the weekend and this year was no different. 

Wisely scattering his set with some well known classics as well as the more obscure stuff for the crate diggers out there he got the crowd dancing like no one else and a sing along version of Marley’s Is This Love? (which Craig charmingly acted out) was oddly moving. The set ended with daughter Nellie up on the decks and a good natured stage invasion to Alice Russell’s (I think it was her) funked up version of the White Stripe’s 7 Nation Army. Now that’s how to whip up an audience.

That only left room for one more band, The Family Stone. Sadly Sly’s decline and fall has been well documented and it’s hard to put the dude’s albeit self inflicted suffering out your head (check out You Tube for a truly tragic video of him seemingly living in a car last year). 

Happily the current line up features three original members (including a still sassy looking Cynthia Robinson) from The Family Stone and, of course, they still have the tunes, Everyday People, Stand, Family Affair, Dance To The Music...each and every one a (Family) stone cold classic. 

Sly’s stand in did a fine job, the younger female vocalist raised the blood pressure of every single male in the audience and this line up certainly did the material justice. In fact when they were playing they blew the place apart but the lengthy band intros undoubtedly slackened the pace a little. 

When all you wanna do is dance to the music talk is cheap.   

What a line up and what a funking great day. Mr Charles we salute you. Will there be a stronger funk bill in the UK this year?  Answers please on a Mosquito’s Tweeter...

Day Three – Sunday July 1st

Following the recent death of their leader, legendary jazz saxophonist Andy Hamilton, The Bluenotes could’ve been forgiven for pulling out of the festival altogether. Instead they chose to play on in tribute to him and what a tribute it turned out to be. The performance of one of Andy’s favourites songs, Blue Skies, by his vocalist and friend Vic Evans (voice as rich as 20 year old Jamaican rum) was incredibly moving. It’s an old cliché but they really don’t make ‘em like this anymore.

Fresh from doing a fine job standing in for Andy in the Bluenotes Moseley’s very own Steve Ajao played his own set including a lively snatch of Coltrane’s Impressions. 

Day Three was all about showing the diversity of jazz something that Zoe Rahman’s Irish/Bengali fusion and Husk’s experimental 30 minute death jazz opus well and truly demonstrated. Rahman’s a beautiful (in all senses of the word) pianist with a playing style that makes it look all too easy and in her hands the mix of cultures complimented rather than clashed. Husk on the other hand were probably going for the clash in a set that began with the vaguest wisps of trumpet and ended up in full on grrrrrr ROCK territory. For those who like their jazz shaken, stirred and then taken roughly from behind. This is a good thing by the way...without young blood doing something fresh jazz...as with any other genre of music...has no future.

In most bands there’s one musician who really stands out. The Stone Roses have John Squire, The Smiths have Johnny Marr, Jedward have Edward...you get the idea...it’s unusual to find a group with three truly exceptional artists though. The Neil Cowley trio is that rare beast. 

On paper they’re a jazz piano trio (cue visions of chilled out tinkling keyboards in chintzy cocktail bars) in reality they rock out with Cowley nudging close to Jerry Lee territory (playing with such fury that he almost shot off his piano stool), double bassist Rex channelling his inner Hendrix (who knew the double bass could rock so much?) and drummer Evan pounding away like Gene Krupa on speed. Cowley’s an engagingly funny guy too, tossing in the odd witty and self deprecating lines between tracks and reacting amusingly to the let’s just call it ‘exotic’ herbal fragrances floating through the air. A frankly ‘must see’ band on anyone’s list.

Soweto Kinch might well be the coolest dude on the planet. He always looks immaculate seemingly without trying too hard, he plays the sax (the coolest instrument ever...fact) and he’s behind one of the hippest free festivals in the world, The Flyover Show. A fine jazz saxophonist his real USP though is his ability to conjure up rhymes out of thin air, getting the audience to shout out words then incorporating them smoothly into a rap. It’s a party trick he’s done plenty of times before but it never ceases to impress, not even the word serotonin could faze him today. Equally strong were tracks from the new album (The New Emancipation) with I’m The Face’s social commentary reaching the heights of Gil Scott Heron at his finest.

The festival ended with a double bill of true legends. Fred Wesley was an integral player in James Brown’s band throughout the golden years of the 60s and 70s and his trombone funked up the Godfather like a motherfucker. Kicking off with Herbie Hancock’s Chameleon Fred and the New JBs delivered Funk For Your Ass before beginning to introduce A Blow For Me A Toot For You from one of his collaborations with George Clinton. As he was chatting away George crept onto the stage behind him, fingers raised to his lips to keep the audience quiet, then lovingly embraced him from behind. 

The two grandfunkers hugged for a moment or two then Clinton retreated offstage remaining there for much of the rest of Fred’s set as much in awe of the man and his band as the rest of us. Pick of the show...darn that’s a tough one...but Breakin’ Bread (from 1974’s album of the same name) managed to be funny, funky and touching all at the same time. Anything that gets me to sing along has to be pretty awesome.

So then, George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic...not so much a band, more a small country populated by cast of crazy characters. Tonight we got the likes of foxy tail girl (in the tightest pair of gold hotpants ever seen on stage...be still my throbbing crotch), chicken head roadmender man and Pinocchio nosed superpimp. At least I think we did. It might have been the cider...nope...the photos prove it. From the opening bars of Flashlight right through the next two hours band and audience were united in da funk. Cut Clinton in half and he’d bleed pure funk. Analyse his DNA and you’d find THREE chromosomes, X, Y and F...all getting down and dirty together. If James Brown was the Godfather, George Clinton’s the FUNKFATHER. Yes, you get the picture he’s still a funky mother. It’s no surprise that samples from Clinton’s music has formed the bedrock for so many other tracks including one of tonight’s highlights (Not Just) Knee Deep which of course spawned De La Soul’s seminal Me, Myself and I for instance. The psychedelic rock trip of Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain (from 1971) was also clearly a huge influence on the whole 70’s rock scene and judging by the looks on everyone’s faces during tonight’s performance it remains just as mesmerising today as it was over 40 years ago. Funk Floyd anyone? How do you top that? Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow sent the crowd wild before One Nation Under a Groove summed up pretty much what the whole weekend had felt like. We Got The Funk was neatly rebooted thanks to rap section (surprisingly it worked), it wasn’t until the last line was delivered that we discovered that the rapper in question was actually George’s grandson! 

Encore, Atomic Dog, saw the traditional end of show mayhem as the band was joined by what looked like everyone from the surrounding 20 miles in one last mass funkathon, George at the heart of it all jumping up and down like man of 20 (incredibly he’s actually 70 now).

Strong contender for festival of the year? Hell, you show me another one with as many beaming faces and shaking asses...