Friday, November 30, 2012

The Smaller Than Usual Semi Regular New Music Roundup thingy – 30th November 2012

Just time for a trio of new tracks this week, I blame the weather. It’s darn cold up here in my Gimp Loft. First up sexy ladies (Eli and Fur) playing some dirty electro...or vice versa. The choice is yours.  

Next London trio Elephant 12 channel the spirit of Rage Against The Machine in the kind of track you want to play in your office at full blast on a Monday morning but don’t have the balls to. Not unless you’ve won the lottery at the weekend that is...or unless it’s your own office I guess. In which case you could probably dance around naked with a Barbie doll up your ass and no one could do a darn thing.  

NB: Can't embed this track for some reason but here's the link. You're welcome...

Last up some breathy psych pop from Railbird, sounds a little like Kate Bush getting it on with Yeasayer...and that’s good enough for me.

Ta ra m’luvvers! x

The Gig-a-low Down - w/c 3rd December

December already. How did that happen? Answers on a mince pie to the usual address (that’ll be the nearest Wetherspoons). Here’s the pick of next week’s advent-tastic gigs in B-Town.

Monday 3rd December

Martha Wainwright @ HMV Institute – cut this woman and she’d bleed music...and blood obviously...but it would be musical blood. Support comes from various bits of the Broken Social Scene too.

Tuesday 4th December

Electric Six 10th Anniversary Tour – they wanna take you to a gay bar...for a nice cocoa and a lie down. 10th anniversary tour? Jeez I’m old.

Wednesday 5th December

Beans On Toast – Frank Turner endorsed drunk folker plays freebie gig at the Yardbird. Blowjobs optional.

Thursday 6th December

Arrows of Love / Ghosts of Dead Aeroplanes / Skull TV @ Hare and Hounds – grungey apocalyptic rock with support from London 5 piece, support comes self appointed musical magpies Ghosts Of Dead Aeroplanes and experimental rockers Skull TV. Tickets here...a fiver...bargain.

Friday 7th December

Pip / Kate Tempest @ HMV Institute – Thou Shalt Always Go See Scroobius Pip...and Kate Tempest too, ‘cos she’ a fly Janis Joplin.

Saturday 8th December

Rebellion Xmas 2012 @ Ballroom - featuring Cocksparrer and Rancid plus a gazillion other bands who’ll probably make your ears bleed. A frankly incredible punk all dayer. Band name of the event goes to Gimpfist...closely followed by Bruce Tality. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Scroobius Pip - man of the Mo-ment

Rebelling against the temporary moustache growing trend bought about by the annual Movember event, but still wanting to support the cause (mens' unmentionable bits and pieces), hip 'n' hirsute  poet and all round speaker of sense Scroobius Pip decided to climb MOunt Snowdon and give himself a MOhawk. Predictably the weather was pretty shocking and he narrowly avoided falling off the darn thing the vid for yourself and pop over to make a Mo-nation / donation when you've finished. What a dude.

PS: Scroobs out on tour now with a Birmingham date at the HMV Institute on Friday 7th December - support comes from the equally awesome Polar Bear and Kate Tempest. Tickets here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

American Idiot @ The New Alexandra Theatre, Monday 26th November 2012

Okay, hands up who was expecting Green Day to come up with a musical? Their 2004 album American Idiot may have been a bit of a concept piece originally but still, it’s a pretty big leap to transfer the whole thing to the stage. Capturing the energy that comes with this kind of music in the more gentrified setting of a theatre was always going to be a bit of a challenge too. The producers have responded by packing a helluva (as they say in the US) lot in to this show. From a set’s that’s liberally festooned with flatscreen tellies through to a cast that literally throw themselves into their respective roles, tumbling over staircases, flying all over the place on wires and dancing their asses off with the kind of unselfconscious energy that neatly recaptures the kind of energy you want from a punk gig.  

At times it’s a bit of an ADD sufferer’s wet dream, with the tellies blaring messages out at you whilst the cast spin off in a dozen different directions but I guess that’s the point. We live in a world with a million and one distractions, most of which are (intentionally or otherwise) there to keep us neatly anaesthetised to the stuff that really matters (surely one of the band’s key messages here?).

Like many jukebox musicals the plot’s fairly simple. Three young men living in the fictional Jingletown all want to get the hell out of there. On the verge of leaving one guy gets his girlfriend pregnant and stays behind, one dude sets off in search of a rock n’roll lifestyle and the third ends up joining the army...arguably three different forms of idiocy to the one that they’re all rebelling against in the first place. This lays out three different stories to follow and there are some fairly graphic bits in the show that put it poles apart from your usual musical fare (the odd bit of shagging, plenty of shooting up and the odd amputation and novacaine induced hallucination...I’m betting you won’t get that in the new Spice Girls’ musical...sadly). None of its overtly gratuitous though and in the context of both the music and its themes it works well to capture the kind of nihilistic lifestyles being portrayed. Okay, amateur analysis over, is it great night out? Yep, you bet. From the first blast (surprisingly loud for a theatre) of the theme song American Idiot at the opening of the show through to a surprisingly emotional 17 guitar full cast version of Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life) there’s not a dull second. These are some of Green Day’s best songs too and even casual fans will appreciate hearing stuff like Boulevard Of Broken Dreams, 21 Guns  and Wake Me Up When September Comes up there on stage. Regular gig goers might feel the urge to leap up and try to form a circle pit in the aisles during the more upbeat numbers and it might have been nice to get some of the cast off the stage and in amongst the audience once or twice (a little cheesy I know but a good way of recreating that punk gonzo spirit a little more) but American Idiot successfully brings the musical kicking and screaming into the 21st century. 

With a youthful all American cast it feels authentic and Alex Nee impressed as the Billie Joe Armstrong channelling Johnny whilst his drug dealing nemesis St Jimmy managed to be devilishly addictive in the hands of Trent Saunders. This really is an ensemble piece though and the show’s at its best when they’re all up there, thrashing about like there’s no tomorrow (kudos to Steven Hoggett for some inspired moments of choreography). You’d be an idiot -American or otherwise - to miss it...

American Idiot’s at The New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 1st December before transferring to Hammersmith Apollo for a brief run (December 4th – December 15th). 

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Gig-a-low Down, w/c 26th November 2012

Monday 26th November

American Idiot @ The New Alexandra Theatre (runs until 1st December) – Okay, so this ain't really a gig but, direct from Broadway, Green Day’s hit musical of the hit album promises to take punk rock where it’s never gone before.

Tuesday 27th November

Laura Mvula @ The Hare and Hounds – hotly tipped Birmingham vocalist plays the kind of intimate gig people will cut their ears off for this time next year.

Thursday 29th November

Evan Dando and Julianna Hatfield @ HMV Institute – acoustic versions of hits and misses from The Lemonheads, Blake Babies and their own solo stuff.

Friday 30th November

Boat To Row / Misty’s Big Adventure / Young Runaways / Charlotte Carpenter @ O2 Academy – Folk loveliness meets musical mayhem as the old skool (Misty’s...bless ‘em) meet the new (everyone else).

Saturday 1st December

Goodnight Lenin @ Birmingham Cathedral – now more of a tradition than Noddy Holder yelling “Ittttttt’ssssss Chhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhrrrrrristmasssssssssss!” the Lenin warm yer cockles just a few months before the release of their debut album.  The gig’s already sold out but you can always stand outside and drink mulled wine with the Goths of Pigeon Park.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Semi Regular New Music Roundup Thingy – w/e 23rd November

There’s an insect crawling across my screen. WTF? Shouldn’t they all be dead by now? I have enough trouble surviving the winter and I’ve got woolly things to wear and hot drinks and stuff. Maybe he’s (I’m assuming it’s a ‘he’, it looks like a ‘he’) come to check out this week’s new music thingy eh? Right, let’s see what he makes of this, Glitch from fuzzy luvvy Graham Coxon approved posters The History of Apple Pie.

Hmmm...he’s still crawling, do insects dance? Bees do don’t they? This ain’t a bee though. Not sure what it is. Anyway, let’s try this on him, an electro goth  protest song about female circumcision (seriously...) from Ulterior. Sounds a bit like Carter USM in a really, really bad mood. 

Imagine Cornershop getting jiggy with classic era Jackson 5 and Laurence from Felt’s follow up project Denim...the results would possibly sound like this frankly grin inducing new single from Brum’s very own TheVoluntary Butler Scheme. What is it with Birmingham at the moment...we seem to be on a bit of a roll right now. Even the insect liked this one...I can see him shaking his little insect butt now. Awww...bless...

Scuzzy surf pop anyone? Check out French Films’ Convict, purpose built for cruising down Californian beach fronts looking all cool and indie-ish. Pity I’m stuck in Birmingham then eh?

Oooooh this is good too, at least it is if you like a little Hall and Oates style glossy 80’s pop courtesy of Night Works If you don’t then you’re probably better off sticking knitting needles in your ears. Not recommended but hey, it’s a free world right?

Right, that’s it for another week. Judging by the insect the pick of this week’s tracks was The Voluntary Butler Scheme. Good choice. Maybe we should put it in charge of the Country? Couldn’t do a worse job eh? 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Goodnight Lenin sell out!

Nope, Northfield’s finest haven’t licensed their music to Coca Cola, accepted that One Direction tour offer or agreed to appear nude in Front magazine (not yet anyway).  They have sold out Birmingham Cathedral for their annual pre Christmas gig however, which is rapidly becoming something of an institution here in B-Town. Not even Mary and Joseph can get in now...ho ho ho. The gig coincides with the release of the band’s new EP A Winter’s Night (coming out on Static Caravan), I’ve heard it and it’s ruddy brilliant (check out the awesome Free School remix too if you get a chance).   

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Wooden Horse @ Kitchen Garden Cafe, Sunday 18th November

It takes a lot to prise my lazy ass off the sofa on a nippy Sunday evening but the lure of an intimate night of quality Americana in the Kitchen Garden Cafe did the trick. After a typically miserable journey on the bus of the damned (aka the number 11) – just a 35 minute wait this time, cheers ‘Travel’ West Midlands – the Kitchen Garden Cafe was a particularly welcome sight. I’d not been here before but it’s a lovely venue, a real gem tucked away down York Road just a spit away (and on the opposite side) from the Hairy Hounds. Being a cafe and bar there was a superior choice of booze on offer compared with most gig venues, some nice ciders and a decent selection of wines too. Yeah I know...I’m a booze ponce. Sue me.

After settling down in the front row with a generous glug of Merlot Wooden HorseWorcester duo Jamie and Ben, took to the floor (there’s no stage, like I say this is an intimate place) for the first of two sets. Both of them are clearly huge Americana and blues fans, evidenced by the impressive diversity of tracks that they covered over the next couple of hours or so and their obvious talent for penning equally strong material that stands up really well against the US imports. Having caught them at Moseley Folk Festival back in September, playing a brief set, tonight was more Wooden Horse – The Director’s Cut, a twenty plus collection of tracks played with real heart‘n’soul. Jamie’s a fine vocalist, equally at home with the blues belters or gospel tracks as he is on the more introspective stuff whilst fellow Horse Ben (and his seemingly endless supply of guitars) has a wonderfully instinctive playing style that makes it look deceptively easy. Tonight they had a little added boogie woogie too courtesy of a guy called Stuart / Stewart (delete as applicable...I forgot to check the spelling), which fleshed out some of the tracks nicely. For anyone unfamiliar with the blues a night with Wooden Horse is a fine introduction with some real crowd pleasers sprinkled in, whilst the more knowledgeable aficionados will appreciate the quality of the performances and song choices. Pick of the first set included a spirited rendition of I’ll Fly Away (from the gazillion selling O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack) and the self penned testifyin’ Hell Ain’t Going home, which manages to be both bluesy and darn catchy at the same time. The latter track in particular saw Jamie and Ben at their very best, with Jamie’s vocals exhibiting a bourbon barrel richness (y’know, that smoky warm feeling) and Ben plucking the bejesus out of his instrument.

After a bottle of wine we plumped for a hot chocolate and brownie. Yeah, how freakin’ rock n’ roll eh? Set things up nicely for an equally rich second half of the show though with arguably the band’s best track to date, Yonder Calling, which rattles along like a freight train on a mission. It ain’t all belting it out and stompin’ along though and the poignant He Was A Friend of Mine proved the duo’s equally at home pulling on the hearts strings as they are getting the feet tapping. A joyful clap along to Will The Circle Be Unbroken and a radical reboot of JJ Cale’s Crazy Mamma (featuring a snatch or two of the Baby, Please Don’t Go for good measure) capped off a hugely enjoyable evening all round. Didn't miss that sofa for a second! 

Pictures courtesy of the lovely Richard Shakespeare aka Shakeypix

Monday, November 19, 2012

Gig-a-low down w/c 19th November 2012

Just a quintet of gigs whetting my whistle this week, although after just finishing 4 gigs in six nights my whistle’s quite wet enough thank you very much.

Monday 19th November

Mystery Jets @ HMV Institute – This year’s Radlands album’s the best thing the Dennis foolers have done to date...and that’s saying something.  

Wednesday 21st November 

Speak Up @ The Hare and Hounds - spoken word loveliness from Jodi Anne Bickley and friends. 

Thursday 22nd November

The Spinto Band @ The Hare and Hounds – saw this lot a few years back and it was more fun than wrestling Lisa Riley in jelly.

Friday 23rd November

The Levellers @ The O2 Academy – there’s only ‘one way’ to catch The Levellers in Birmingham this the O2 Academy.

Sunday 25th November

The Milk @ O2 Academy – Fine Essex soul pop from the hardest working band in Wickford. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Fucked Up / Fair Ohs / Them Wolves @ The Rainbow, Thursday 15th November 2012

In the list of great band names Fucked Up has to be up there with Selfish Cunt for its fabulous career wrecking potential. Let’s face it you’re never going to get on The One Show with a name like that are you eh? And thank the lord for that too. It’s not stopped Canada’s finest purveyors of punk rock from chalking up a decade of blood, sweat and tear soaked gigs though and there was no reason to suspect that tonight would be any different.

First up though, from considerably closer to home than Canada, Them Wolves, who lurch gloriously from full on Sabbs riffage to slower grinding, skull crushing noise...then back again...repeat until eyeballs explode and ears tear themselves from heads to seek sanctuary somewhere the inside of a jumbo jet engine for instance. 

Twin vocalists Greg and Stuart (they’re not really twins...they just sing got that? Oh good...) stand side on to the audience, each one trying to lacerate their throat before the other, whilst the band’s drummer literally destroys bits of kit, prompting a momentary ‘cabaret’ break in the glorious mayhem. Not just band, more a weapon of mass destruction.  

It’s fair to say that the Fair Ohs (well their lead singer at least) were in a bit of a confrontational mood, baiting the audience from the beginning with the promise that the set would suck and going on to pick on hecklers, old mates (“Fuck off you fat bastard”) and, finally all of us with a parting shot of “Fuck you all”. Personally I don’t give a monkey’s ass if bands have attitude – although a lot of it tonight was more tongue in cheek than a full on assault – just as long as they can take any flak they might get back (surprisingly most of the crowd failed to rise to the challenge) and, more importantly, perform their butts off.

Anyone who witnessed the earlier mentioned Selfish Cunt shows (now the stuff of legend) will know that, as that nice butter salesman Mr Rotten informed us, “anger is an energy”. (For anyone who didn’t see ‘the Cunt’ live, in the early days at least the act involved lead singer Martin Tomlinson leaping from the stage and smashing everyone’s pints out of their hands. The last time I saw them he’d progressed to lobbing glass bottles at people...not for everyone I’ll grant you but, hell, no chance of drifting off and texting your mates at one of these gigs eh...I believe they ended up being banned from pretty much every venue on earth for a while).

Anyway, The Fair Ohs did perform their butts off delivering a kind of metal math rock with a surf twang and the odd hint of Asian flavour Yes, really (see Everything Is Dancing for evidence). 

If Vampire Weekend and popped into a curry house in California...on route to a hardcore gig...bear with me here...this is probably what it would sound like.

Finally, fronted by the man mountain that is Damian ‘Pink Eyes’ Abraham, it was time to get well and truly Fucked Up. Tonight’s audience was split neatly into a small but particularly energetic pit of moshers (who seemed to know every word of every song) and the larger majority who just stood and watched the carnage unfurl. He might be a bit of a big lad but Damian’s got enough energy to smash particles and for well over an hour he’s seldom still, either jumping all over the stage or taking the show to the masses, trailing several feet of thick black mic lead behind him...or wrapping it tightly round his face at one point. It’s a look I suppose. Vocally it’s pure hardcore, musically there’s a lot more going on and if you’re able to separate these elements out from each other you could almost be watching two different bands with more of an experimental rock feel to some of the tunes. It’s not the kind of gig for muso beard stroking though, for the pit people it’s clearly better than sex...a chance to get as up close and personal with their hero as Mrs Pink Eyes gets. Damian’s clearly happy to share the moment with each and every one of them too, proffering his mic for them to scream out his words in a primal howl of pleasure and pain and dragging the fallen back to their feet before they get squished. Best tracks of the set? The Who-tastic (shades of Won’t Get Fooled Again) Running On Nothing was incendiary and the most accessible song of the set, The Other Shoe (positively poppy compared to some of their stuff) prompted some particularly enthusiastic sing alongs to its brutally nihilistic “dying on the inside” chorus. After the show (and once the Red Cross had been in to collect the casualties, sweep up limbs etc) Damian carried on mixing and chatting with fans, posing for photos, licking accessible and down to earth as anyone you’re likely to meet.

For the true believers a Fucked Up gig’s practically a religious experience, a sweat anointed baptism of bruised limbs and burning muscles. For everyone else it’s still one of the most energy charged performances you’re ever going to catch. Miss ‘em whilst they’re still around and you’ve really fucked up...

Semi Regular New Music Roundup Thingy - 16th November 2012

Ho ho ho...nearly Christmas! What? Oh yes it is...oh no it isn’t etc etc. Well, it is. Like it or not that headlong rush into an orgy of turkey, sprouts and bad telly’s here already. Hurrah! For any fellow B-Town dwellers Christmas officially starts with the opening of the German Market, a sprawling mass of increasingly humongous wooden chalets flogging wallet busting sausages, beer, stollen and marzipan chocolates (here’s a top tip...pop down your local Aldi and you can buy all this stuff for a fraction of the price).  Still, it’s supposed to be good for the economy...not ours obviously...but the good folk of Bavaria no doubt make a killing. Head to Orchard Pig cider (they’re normally in the bit near the library) if you want a proper drink. Marvellous stuff. One of your five a day too. Fact.

Anyway, on with the show. Whilst Radiohead’s may have been a paranoid one, Soft Bullets' android...well, more of a robot really, is suicidal. Bless. There’s something heartbreakingly sad about watching cute animated characters top themselves and the soundtracks suitably mournful too, bearing a passing resemblance to Radiohead’s glory days.

Speaking of Radiohead the band’s unofficial 6th member Nigel Godrich has got a new outfit  - Ultraista - with fellow know twiddler Joey Waronker and Laura Bettinson (aka Dimbleby and Capper). This hypnotically dreamy new single’s the latest fruit of their labours.

Like Squeeze? Course you do. Silly question. Wrap your ears around this one then, New Drug by Transmission Party (aka New Yorker TJ Byrnes). It’s got a real feel of Deptford’s finest...

They’re from Manchester. They’re called Dutch Uncles. They’ve just released a rather fabulous new single (Hot Chip go mental in a xylophone factory) called Fester. That’s all you need to know. Enjoy!

Right, I’m off to get a German sausage inside me...fnar fnar...

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Jodi Anne Bickley’s Brain Fundraiser @ The Hare & Hounds, Wednesday 15th November 2012

Okay, this isn’t going to a normal review (wow...I can hear the collective sigh of relief from here) because this wasn’t a normal night. The aim was...and still raise dosh to help one of the UK’s most talented young spoken word artists, Jodi Anne Bickely, who was struck down by a stroke a while back and is now suffering from some pretty crappy side effects that regular doctors are struggling to sort out. I’ll let Jodi fill you in: 

“Basically I don't have the money to go to a head neuro and although I have the most wicked family - we aren't rolling in dollar. The blood tests I need to get are extremely difficult to get on the NHS due to technicalities with the test - a negative result can be a positive and therefore what’s going on with my brain is pretty hard to diagnose. (P.S I know I'm spelling a lot of stuff wrong, I'm trying to touch type because the computer screen is making me want to be a little sick on my lap). This all started with a tick bite back in last September, before then I had two jobs - performed a lot and just y'know did stuff. Because that's what you can do when you aren't ill. I can no longer work, otherwise I would man and I really wouldn't be asking any of you to dive into your pockets but like - I seizure and fit and pass out a shit load these days. I'm getting an EEG and having a scan of my neck, head and spine to see if anything nasty is hiding. Currently I can't sleep alone, leave the house alone, go down stairs alone - my fits are often violent which is mad because I've never been in a fight but apparently I'm like the hulk when I'm fitting”.

It warmed the cockles of my cynical old heart to see so many people turning out to support the cause and, in no particular order, the following performers all deserve a huge shout out and mucho respect...not only for donating their time but also for being a bunch of talented mofos: Polarbear and John Berkavitch, Frank Thomas, Rachel Rose Reid, Tom Peel, Dub Mafias Eva & Matt w/ Mr Woodnote, Bridget Minamore, Musa Okwonga, Sean Mahoney and Nichol Keene...who also produced a darn fine handmade compilation of poems from some of tonight's performers and a host of other wonderful wordsters (is wordsters a word...hmmm...well, it is now...ain't language great eh?). I believe the entire run sold out on the night but more are being produced and should be up for sale soon at! That's a few Christmas presents sorted eh?  

Each and every performer is well worth checking out, some lovely stuff there. The Dub Mafias set the cool kids the hook, some wonderful poems too from opener Frank Thomas’ emotive ode to his home town (well, village) through to Rachel Rose Reid’s time travelling Woody Guthrie tribute, Bridget Minamore’s house party nightmare and Tom Peel’s gloriously bonkers set. I had to dash off at 11.30 to catch the bus of the damned (aka the last number 11 of the night) and the thing was still in full flow, hell, it might still be going on now for all I know. If you’ve never been to a spoken word show, get along to one...ideally Jodi’s very one Speak Up (the next one’s on Wednesday 21st November at the Hare & Hounds). They’re wonderful, life affirming nights full of passion, humour, fun, sadness...all human emotion in fact, condensed into some of the best poetry and delivered by some of the best poets around.  

Anyway, back to the main thrust of all this waffle (I’d never make a poet) if you want to help fix Jodi’s brain...and it’s a brain worth can donate here

And, finally, here’s another taste of what you’ll be saving...

Beautiful stuff eh?

El Ghost Fest II

Darn it...late notice this one but a worthy addition to the many fine gigs going on at the moment in and around  the place they're calling least for another week or two...until that much anticipated Milton Keynes scene breaks through. Anyway, this Saturday sees the second El Ghost Fest, cunningly titled El Ghost Fest II. The line up's a fine mix of thinking person's indie loveliness with six...count 'em...six bands playing including this lot. Neat eh? Oh...and if you arrive before 7pm or buy a ticket in advance (just a fiver) you get a free CD too. Blimey. If only that nice Mr Eavis was that generous eh?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Saint Saviour / Young Man / Greg Bird and Flamingo Flame @ Hare & Hounds, Tuesday 13th November 2012

Who’d have thought it eh? B-Town’s now seemingly home to the rebirth of old skool house! At least it will be if Greg Bird andFlamingo Flame have their wicked way. Sporting a sparkly eye mask, leather gloves and chain of fairy lights Bird knocks out the kind of tracks that crate digging DJs would willingly sacrifice their Numark turntables for. Singing live with a dude on an array of laptops and electronic gizmos and a guitarist adding additional colour to some of the quieter tracks (shades of Durutti Column in there perhaps) it was a masterclass in bringing this kind of music to life, one of the most glorious, soul lifting, hand in the air like ya just don’t care sets you’re likely to see. Both Animals and Skool (pick of their latest must have EP, Black Tableaux) were stunningly good, temporarily transforming the Hare & Hounds into some kind of fabulously sweaty gay disco in 1980’s Chicago. That’s a rather marvellous thing by the way. Simply one of the most exciting new bands in Birmingham.

By a strange quirk of fate (and this was only lined up at the last minute due to a venue change) the next artist actually comes from the windy city. Don’t go expecting any deep house from Young Man (aka Colin Caulfield) though...deep thoughts, yes...but deep house, nope. Think of the band as a kind of Aerial Pink Floyd and you won’t go far wrong. Playing only their fifth ever gig in England (and the last night of this exploratory tour) they get into some rather fabulous motorik grooves then spin off into more of a psychedelic vibe from time to time whilst Colin ruminates (stream of conscious style) on such subjects your knee when you’re a little kid in the Dear Prudence-ish Scrape On The Knee. A real grower.

Until recently Becky Jones, aka Saint Saviour, was probably better known as one of Groove Armada’s vocalists, since then she’s gone on to  release some stunningly great solo stuff. Last spotted in Birmingham in April 2011 (at a criminally under-attended show) she’s spent the intervening time raising dosh through Pledge Music to record and release her rather splendid debut album, Union, together with an impressively diverse bunch of covers. Happily all this hard work and self belief seems to be paying off and, despite the lack of major label backing, she drew a more respectable and enthusiastic crowd this time. Anyone who made the effort was well rewarded. Sometimes as a reviewer you struggle to find the words to suitably capture the feel of a gig and it seems pretty futile to even try. This was one of those shows. This is partially down to Becky’s fabulous voice (the closest you’ll get to it is Kate Bush meets Siouxsie Sioux meets Tori Amos meets Enya...hell, even that’s not close though) but it’s her ability to seemingly lose herself in a performance, blurring the boundaries between putting on a show and sharing some kind of intimate moment with her audience that makes a Saint Saviour gig something truly special. scrap that, that implies tracks from Union together with a few older numbers (and a beautiful reimagining of M83’s Midnight City) the hairs were seldom down on the backs of necks, spines barely had chance to recover from their tingles and tears weren’t far from falling. I’m actually saying no more than that. Go and see her live if you have a chance. And soon. I had the pleasure of chatting with her after the show and it didn’t come as a surprise to learn that this may be the last tour for some time (a fact she’s posted on her website already). The reason? Well, for a growing number of artists who are (either through choice or circumstance) self financing tours and recordings it’s tough out there. You’re seemingly more likely to be spending time raising cash and promoting yourself these days than you are creating the very thing that matters most. The music. The whole creative sector’s in a really odd place right now. In the music world we’re still in that state of flux between the old days (record labels, pluggers, music press) and the new world (Pledge Music, self management/promotion, blogs) and pioneers like Becky (and thousands like her) deserve our support or you can just imagine what we’ll end up with in 20 years time. Microsoft compatible pop clones, iTune friendly crowd pleasers and ‘talent’ show rejects. It really doesn’t have to be like this when we have a Saint Saviour amongst us right here, right now. Treasure her people, treasure her.      

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Gig-a-low Down w/c 12th November

Tuesday 13th

Saint Saviour / Greg Bird & Flamingo Flame @ The Hare & Hounds – Oh boy, this is a tasty combination, one of the voices behind Groove Armada and now a stunningly good solo artist together with Birmingham’s very own answer to Joe Smoove. Sweeeet.

Wednesday 14th

Jodi Anne Bickley’s Brain Fundraiser thingy @ The Hare & HoundsFundraiser to help one of the UK’s finest spoken word artists and sweetest people on planet earth fix her brain. Guests include another of the UK’s finest spoken word artists, Polar Bear!

Thursday 15th

Fucked Up / Them Wolves @ The Rainbow

Aluna George @ The Hare & Hounds

Ugly Duckling @ The Ballroom

Busy night Thursday then...? Good grief. Tough choice here but Fucked Up promises to be mental...and we all need a little mental from time to time.

Saturday 17th

Adam Ant @ The Ballroom Saw the rejuvenated Ant last year and he’s on fire right now. Catch up with one of the biggest – and most interesting – pop stars of the 80s.

Sunday 18th

Wooden Horse @ Kitchen Garden Cafe, King Heath - Quality blues and Americana from hotly tipped Worcester duo.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Hooded Fang / Don’t Move! / Jack The Lad @ The Hare & Hounds, Wednesday 7th November

Did you know that the world’s going to end on 21st December? Well, it is. At least according to some nutters who discovered an ancient Mayan calendar that seemed to predict the end of days on 21st December 2012. Still, save us all a fortune in Christmas presents won’t it eh? We can all eat, drink and make merry for the next month or two as well, safe in the knowledge that there’s no point in counting calories, units of alcohol or bank balances. Ha! Take that life expectancy! Anyway, if nothing else it’s also a pretty good excuse to get out to a few more gigs over planet earth’s remaining weeks and this one was more than worth crawling off the sofa, waiting hours for the number 11 bus and losing several extremities to frostbite for.

First up Jack The Lad. Okay, so the name might imply some dreadful lumpen lad rock but happily our Jack (aka James O’Gorman) swiftly reveals himself to be more of a sensitive dude with some honest inner city tunes and a pleasingly soulful voice. Lyrically there’s a touch of Squeeze’s Chris Difford in there (which is as close to pop perfection as you can get) and James’ easy going delivery and the rest of the band’s fluid backing added up to an impressive opening set. 

Marry Me When I’m 40 (one of the set’s highlights) might mean something different to an 18 year old (as James is) as it does to someone the wrong side of that particular ‘milestone’ but it’s a neat twist on the old love song cliché. The Lad’s got talent.

Next up Don’t Move! a 60s beat group meets early 80s Glasgow Postcard records scene combo sort of thing. Oh. They’ve got an accordionist too. Yes...I know. Awesome. There’s a whole world of instruments out there. Why does so much music rely on the holy trinity of bass, drums and guitar eh? Break out the accordions people. And the oud for that matter. I want to see more ouds. Er...anyway. Don’t Move! are an intriguing proposition and for once I’m kind of stuck for neat pigeonholes to shove ‘em in or bands to liken them to. That’s a good thing by the way. 

There’s certainly some 60’s style grooves going on there and the lead singer looks like he’s come straight from Carnaby Street’s golden period, but elsewhere there are some jerky post punk rhythms, a little prog noodling and the odd glorious accordion wig out. Whatever we’re to make of it, it’s a

Last up, seemingly deep frozen in a Detroit garage in 1966 and defrosted for our listening pleasure, Hooded Fang. Their irresistibly jangly Tosta Mista got plenty of spins on 6 Music a while back (although I doubt whether it’s reached the ears of anyone else in the UK) and it’s a fine indication of their overall vibe. 

It’s instantly addictive stuff and within seconds one particularly enthusiastic member of the audience was jiving all over the place, something he continued to do for the entire show like a man possessed. It’s possibly the most energetic performance by an audience member ever witnessed, which is either down to the Fang’s winning ability to crack out one garage rock banger after another or a particularly good batch of speed going around the streets of Kings Heath. I’d like to think it’s a little of both. Pretty much every single track sounded like a crate dug classic but the irresistible pairing of Tosta Mista and the surftastic Vocationation took things to a whole new level. Five minutes of pure 100%  garage rock perfection. Fangs for the memory. 

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Savages / Victories At Sea @ The Rainbow, Tuesday 6th November 2012

You know what, there’s a worrying lack of girls (ladies, females, women...whatever you’re supposed to call them these days) in music. Sure there are some massive exceptions but they tend to be solo artists, Adele, Sticky Minge, Lady GaGa...there are relatively few ‘girl’ bands...or indeed girls in bands out there. This troubles me more than the lack of females in Government (as if Government’s really change anything these days) or big corporations (ditto). Call me an old idealist but music remains one of the greatest art forms and communication tools in the world and it’s always struck me as curious that considerably fewer than 50% of the bands I’ve seen over the years (roughly 5% in fact I’d say) have any female component whatsoever. Why? Answers on a postcard please. Savages are that rare beast though, an all female group. And, whilst it really shouldn’t matter a toss what sex they are the rarity of this kind of a line up has certainly bought them added attention. Being touted as the ‘female Joy Division’ sets the bar particularly high but would tonight bring Unknown Pleasures or would it be a case of She’s Lost Control? Hmmm...

First up though and shipped in at the last minute after scheduled support act Blue On Blue had to pull out, an all too rare sighting for Birmingham’s very own Victories At Sea. I was chatting to one of tonight’s lovely promoters after the show and this really does seem to be something of a golden period for Birmingham bands. For the first time in ages it’s easy to rattle off loads of great acts and Victories At Sea are certainly one of them. 

Musically they follow in the wake of bands like Editors and Interpol (with a dash of early Foals here and there perhaps), adding huge great waves of squally guitars or vintage sounding synths to the mix. Lead singer JP’s an energetic frontman, constantly twisting and jerking around the stage and occasionally dispensing with the mic altogether to deliver his words as nature intended...raw and naked. It’s an impressive performance, emotionally rich and booty shakingly danceable at the same time. Keep this up and victory’s theirs for the taking.

So, Savages then. They’re riding a bit of a wave at the moment too following some well received live shows and an impressive appearance on Later that introduced the naggingly insistent Husbands to the wider world. Whilst they may seem to have sprung fully formed from the backstreets of London at least one of the band’s got previous. Lead singer Camille Berthomier aka Jehnny Beth has been one half of Lo Fi lovers John and Jehn for the past 6 years. Cool in a way that only the French can manage she, like the rest of the band come onstage dressed in regulation black. Clattering drums and a wall of guitar noise give way to the jerky post post punk rhythms of No Face as Jehnny goes all Siouxsie Sioux on our ass. Yep, whilst the music may give more than a passing nod to Salford’s arch miserablists vocally it’s purebred Sioux. Just to reinforce the point there’s a touch of snarling punk attitude in there too as Jehnny ends the song with a request...well...more like an order...for the photographers to stop using flash. “We’re not ‘ere to report, we’re ‘ere to ‘ave fun”. You get the feeling that any repeat offenders would end up having to visit an experienced proctologist to retrieve their equipment but happily everyone obliges and the room remains flash free for the rest of the set. It would be difficult to describe this show as ‘fun’ though. That’s not really the first word you’d associate with the often dour post punk scene. Savages are certainly an impressive force though, with each member of the band hogging the limelight at different times. Drummer Fay beats the bejesus out of her kit, bassist Ayse rolls out some groovy Hooky style riffs and guitarist Gemma makes her instrument do things that are probably illegal in 22 American states. Curiously the members of the audience that seem to react best to the endless sonic assault are the older blokes, presumably down to a Pavlovian response sparked by memories of their teenage selves getting down to the sounds of Gang Of Four. Perhaps there are one or two moments when the energy dips a little mid set but double A sides Flying to Berlin and Husbands reignite the flames nicely, the latter in particular providing a dizzying blast of raw energy exacerbated by Jehnny’s whisper to a scream delivery.  For a band that’s just a few months into its live career it’s been an impressive performance, dark, intense and brutal in a way that’s distinctly at odds with the mainstream music scene at the moment. It’s too early to be calling them ‘the new’ anything but, who knows, this just might be the kick in the crotch that it so desperately needs right now.  The post post punk revolution starts here?

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

The Gig-a-low Down – w/c 5th November 2012

Hooded Fang who play the Hare & Hounds this Wednesday.

Okay, so there are plenty of great gig listings out there for B-Town (hell, I’m sticking with it for now... at least until the inevitable backlash) but you can’t have too many people pimping this City's great gigs can you eh? So, on a weekly-ish basis I’m going to try to pop up a few recommendations with a distinct bias on the kind of stuff I like. If I’ve missed anything essential feel free to stick it in the comments section. The more the merrier.

Tuesday 6th November

Savages / Blue On Blue @ The Rainbow – first headline tour for the ‘female Joy Division’

DZ Deathrays @ The Actress & Bishop – Aussie thrash pop-a-loo-bop-a-whop-bam-boom

Wednesday 7th November

Hooded Fang @ Hare & Hounds – 60’s style indie garage from the Tosta Mista touting Canadian 4 piece

Jack White @ O2 Academy  - Jack fucking White. Enough said.

Friday 9th November

Maximo Park @ HMV Institute – everyone’s favourite Geordies and still one of the best live acts around

Saturday 10th November

Shatter Effect @ The Victoria – alternative electro rock from the West Midlands...all for £3. Bargain.