Monday, December 23, 2013

Tout on the town...

Buyorselllllticccketsssssanyticketstobuyorsellllll...chances are if you’ve been to a ‘big’ gig (either size wise or a sell out) there’ll be a number of ticket touts outside doing their business. And what a fascinating business it is too. In the name of research (and partially because I quite fancied going) I hung out around a few of them before last night’s Sabbath gig. It’s a brilliant microcosm of economics in the raw, a fine lesson in something called the elasticity of demand (if my dim and distant memory of Economics A level serves me well) together with some good old fashioned blag. Think Milton Friedman meets Del Boy.

Inevitably for any big gig a fair few people won’t be able to make it for some reason...illness, hangover, imprisonment...and touts hoover up these ‘spare’ tickets, often at a bargain price and then flog ‘em on to anyone who turns up late hoping to get in. They’re a pretty well organised bunch, with various characters covering all the routes to the NIA and a constant stream of calls pinging backwards and forwards as the tickets were traded. Any attempt to cut them out of the deal and buy direct from a seller is swiftly dealt with...nothing violent mind you, just a firm hand on the seller and the promise of a better price than we were offering which, surprise surprise didn’t materialise.

Standing tickets (face value of £61 plus various dodgy add ons...handling charge, transaction tax, fairy dust fee etc) were snapped up for as little as a fiver then sold on for £30 or £40. Not a bad little tickle eh? Do that ten times and Bob’s yer uncle. One or two touts seemed to have a significant strip of tickets from the box office perhaps? Who knows.

As the time for Sabbath’s arrival drew near (8.30pm) a few buyers and sellers were locked in a battle of wills, both using different takes on the situation to argue their case.

“The gig’s about to start...I’ll give you a tenner or you’ll get nothing for it”

“Yeah, but this is one of the few standing tickets left...£60!”

It was far too close to curtain up to even consider buying a ticket and attempting to shuffle in at the back of the standing area by this point so we gave up and went for a pint at Spoonies instead. Just before we left though a couple of buyers returned to a tout explaining that they’d been refused entry because their tickets (replete with both bits...the tear off section and main ticket) had already been scanned in. They’d paid £30 each for them as well. Ouch. The tout insisted they were pukka and directed them to go to the box office, explain that they’d bought them online and then they’d get in somehow. Whether they did or not we never found out but Mr Tout scarpered pretty soon afterwards.

In the interest of journalistic fair play no one else seemed to have a problem and on the odd occasion we’ve bought tickets to sold out gigs we’ve got in okay but I guess you pays yer money and yer takes yer chance eh?

Anyway, that’s it from The Aid before Turkey Time. A very messy Christmas to all three of our regular readers out there. 

PS: Found the vid and tune (by named Unlucky Fried Kitten who now seem to have disbanded following the deaths of at least two of the band...blimey) on You a bit of an Ian Dury feel to it. Seemed highly appropriate...

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Merry Chris-mix 2013

As is sort of traditional now I trawl the nether regions of the internet each year to find a musical mix for you to listen to on Christmas day instead of having to endure Auntie Nora's taped copy of Now That's What I Call Christmas on constant repeat. This year's choice is suitably eclectic again...and all the better for it. Feel free to add any other links in the comments thingy if you find anything else worthwhile. Festive Death Metal compilations especially welcomed...

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Thriller Live @ The ICC, Tuesday 17th December 2013

Has there ever been a bigger, more iconic pop star than Jacko? Okay, so things went spectacularly wrong for the dude in his later years and perhaps he became more famous for his trials and tribulations than his tunes but put all that to one side for a moment and look at the facts. 750 million records sold (and counting). An album (Thriller) that stayed at number one in the Billboard top 200 album chart for 37 weeks. An estimated global audience of 500 million people for the first showing of his Black and White video debut. Winner of MTV’s Artist of the Millennium Award...and so it goes on. His death in 2009 hasn’t slowed things down either. In fact the cult of Jacko seems in better shape now that it has been for a good decade or so, something reflected by his latest’s richest dead celebrity (with earnings of a staggering $160million in 2012 alone).  

Whilst Thriller Live made its debut way back in 2006 when Jackson was alive and well as could be expected that is...with his passing it’s now pretty much the only way you’re going to see and hear his music in a decent sized venue. Don’t expect faithful impersonations though, that’s not really the point of this show, it’s purely and simply a glorious celebration of one of the most remarkable back catalogues in pop. It sounds like a cliché but the hits really do come thick and fast (around 30 or so in two hours) with opening number I Want You Back all too quickly giving way to ABC. Just a minute or two into the performance (and not for the last time this evening either) the crowd’s already up and clapping. Now that’s unusual. This is a show that practically demands some form of audience participation though, but then again you’d need to be dead on the inside to resist the pretty relentless torrent of pukka pop classics unfolding in front of you.

With no live band in view at first it was tempting to suspect that the whole thing was being performed to a backing track but after a few numbers a screen went back to reveal actual living breathing musicians. It quickly shut again and they retreated Wizard Of Oz-like back behind their curtain. No idea why...personally I like to see a band playing in these jukebox musicals, it adds a little extra zing to things but that’s a minor gripe. I was amazed to see Level 42’s keyboard maestro Mike Lindup in the line up too, giving you some idea of the kind of calibre of musicians behind the scenes.

Of course Jackson was a song AND dance man so the physical aspect of the show is just as important as the sonic. 

Some of the dance numbers and dancers were particularly impressive with David Jordan edging scarily close to Michael’s unique mix of fluidity and snap in Act I’s Dangerous routine and Act II’s Smooth Criminal, each one worth the price of a ticket on their own.

All of the vocalists were strong but particular praise must be reserved for Cleopatra Higgins (perhaps best remembered in her previous incarnation in all girl band know, the ones that did Comin’ Atcha!) who pretty much stole the show whenever she opened her mouth. Here's what she's capable of taken from her recent appearance on BBC's The Voice (can't seem to find any official Thriller Live vids with her on for some reason)...

Jesse Smith brought a little more of an edge to the rockier numbers too (a raunchy Dirty Diana was particularly memorable...who doesn't like to see scantily clad female Centurions eh?) reminding you that Jackson’s range extended beyond soul, disco and pop. Who knows what he'd have gone on to to do if he'd lived. 

If you’re of a certain age you’ll have grown up with Michael’s music as the soundtrack to your life and this show’s a glorious celebration of it all. Sure, like all ‘jukebox musicals’ it’s a little cheesy in places (the disco slapstick of Blame It On The Boogie for instance) and if you’re not a fan of getting up and shaking yer booty a little...okay then, a lot... you might find yourself sinking into your seat from time to time but for everyone else on planet earth this is a pretty much unmissable treat.  All Thriller, no filler.  

Thriller Live is on at The ICC until January 5th 2014 (tickets here) before heading back out onto the road again. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Art Of Falling Apart

I'm not normally one for forensically picking apart albums but The Quietus has just published a particularly fascinating dissection of Soft Cell's The Art Of Falling Apart. I imagine most people now pretty much just think of them as the band that did Tainted Love but their follow up stuff was so much better/darker/weirder (check out Baby Doll for instance) which, as a bit of a odd young thing, really appealed to me at the time. Hell, it still does. Anyway have a listen to a few choice tracks from the album itself and if it gets your juices flowing pour yourself an Absinthe or two and read the article as well.

Monday, December 16, 2013

It's Quest-mas time...

...mistletoe and bile. Yes dear friends here's the latest gloriously demented proclamation from Miss Halliwell. I'd literally* give my left nut to see this make Christmas number one. Less X Factor, more XXX Factor...

You can catch the carnage this Thursday at the Hare and Hounds.

* Okay, maybe not literally...but you get the point. 

Remi Harris – Ninick

Big Bear Records’ latest signing, Remi Harris, has already won lavish praise for his live shows (both as a solo artist and with his self titled quartet) now he’s releasing an album that looks set to cement his reputation as simply one of the finest gypsy jazz guitarists around. Like the best players he makes it all sound so darn easy. There’s an effortless fluidity to his playing that makes you just want to kick back with a packet of Gauloises and glass of vin rouge or three and let the music do its thing. From self penned opening number Perrin’s trumpet and guitar flirtations through to the closing track, Django’s Tiger (written by the master himself Mr Django Reinhardt) it’s an impressive collection of tracks with more than a few surprises. Take the nimble fingered cover of Lady Madonna for instance into which Remi breathes new life or George Benson’s groove laden The Man From Toledo or a gloriously languid take on Somewhere Over The Rainbow (pretty much guaranteed to chill out even the most tormented of souls). Perhaps it’s on Joseph Joseph that Harris’ talents are best revealed though. A Yiddish / gypsy mash up it zings along like a Rabbi on a skateboard. Now that takes chutzpah... 

Ninick is out on Big Bear Records on January 20th 2014.    

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Them Wolves - Wolf song

Okay, so it may have taken a while for Them Wolves to make this video for one of the standout tracks from their debut EP (German For Duke...available from all good record shops), but it's been worth the wait. Especially if you want to scare the bejesus out of small children and those of a nervous disposition. Enjoy!

PS: You can catch them live at The Haygate (Telford) on December 14th) and The Flapper (Brum) on December 20th.

PPS: Best sleep with the lights on tonight eh?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Misty's Big Adventure - The Bigger The Front

Okay, I know. Two posts in the space of an hour but I've just got to share this one with you. The magical Misty's Big Adventure's new single The Bigger The Front, arguably one of the best things they've done in years. Check out the funky string arrangement half way through and the kids singing. Oh my...that's good. Ruddy fine video too. If only eh...?

Miss Halliwell - Favourite Guitar you're stuck for gifts this Christmas. You want to give something a little different for a change. That gift set from Superdrug just don't cut it any more and you can't quite stretch to an iPad for everyone. Relax. I have the answer. The new DOUBLE (yes, a double...think how flash that'll make you look eh?) album from Miss Halliwell / Miles Perhower. You can read my rambling attempt at a review right here and cop a listen to one of the many stand out tracks by clicking the video thingy above.

At just £10 (including P&P...which to be fair probably costs £10 now the Tories have flogged the Post Office) it's the perfect gift for anyone who knows good music when they hear it...or a decent education for anyone who doesn't. Plus you'll seem at least 38% cooler just by giving something as frankly magnificent as this album. What's that?'re welcome.

Order your copy of Fresh From The Holy Spring / Gusting Guests right here, right now. You can even catch Miss Halliwell live at the Hairy Hounds on December 19th too.  Blimey, anyone would think it was Christmas...

Monday, December 09, 2013

Pledge for Pete

Original member of Dexys Midnight Runners and an integral part of the new line up Pete Williams issued his debut solo album (See) last year. Ruddy good it was too. Now, with a note book bulging full of new songs and a band ready to leap into action he's signed up with Pledge Music to raise the funds to record the follow up. I'm a big fan of both the man and the model. For the uninitiated Pledge Music gives musicians the chance to offer a series of goodies to fans in exchange for cash (essentially plugging the gap left by the absence of record labels). These goodies can range from something as simple as a copy of the new album right through to an intimate acoustic gig with pledges starting at just a tenner. Anyway, click on the video above and cop a listen to the man and his music...

...then you can pledge right here!

Friday, December 06, 2013

Haim / Saint Raymond @ The Institute, Thursday 5th December 2013

With an album that’s gone top 10 pretty much everywhere that matters, several Glastonbury appearances (including showing up during Primal Scream’s set at Bobby’s request) and somewhat bizarrely a slot on The Andrew Marr Show with Cammo (boo...hiss...he’s behind you etc) in attendance, 2013’s been a pretty good year for Californian sisters Alana, Este and Danielle Haim (FYI it rhymes with ‘time’ not with ‘lame’). It’s not been an overnight thing though. Danielle and Este were in The Valli Girls way, way back in the early noughties before starting Haim in 2006 so they’ve clearly paid their dues. Before seeing if all this translates to their live show though first up opener Saint Raymond (aka Callum Burrows). He’s apparently had something called an iTunes Single of the Week this year. Not sure who decides that kind of stuff, probably a computer programme somewhere. Anyway he’s also received the attentions of ‘Zane Lowe’ too. Nasty. I’m sure you can get cream for that. Vocally there’s the occasional touch of the Bugg’s about him in places (no surprise as, like young Jake, he also hails from Nottingham...clearly something of  a breeding ground for hip guitar toting dudes). He’s a likeable enough soul with two or three particularly strong tracks, Everything She Wants, Bonfires and Young Blood (due for release in early 2014) which has a decent shouty chorus and a vaguely Vampire Weekend-ish feel that you can see going down well with the crowds at V...when they’re not throwing pints of piss at each other that is.  

I’d underestimated how popular Haim had become. Their appearance produced the kind of reception normally reserved for visiting deities. One or two of the girls up on the balcony seemed in grave danger of leaping off into the arms of their heroines...a pretty appropriate reaction really considering the first number was Falling. One thing you quickly notice about Haim is that the vocals are a lot rawer live than on record. That’s actually no bad thing as the second thing you notice about Haim is that these girls can really play. If that sounds a little patronising it’s not meant to be. Watch the video for Falling though and there’s zero evidence that they can do anything other than flick their hair around sexily and wear hot pants. In reality the three of them can...cue review cliché...’really rock’...ahem. Danielle (Rock Haim) in particular could well have slotted right into Joan Jett & The Blackhearts and it’s pretty clear she’s the driving force behind a lot of tonight’s best moments. And there were a heck of a lot of them. Falling, classic 80s sounding power pop, is followed up by The Wire with more of a new wave feel. Not for the first time all three share vocal duties and although they all have their own distinct sound they can still bring the kind of harmony that only comes from having inhabited the same womb at some point.

Ignore anyone who says Haim are like Fleetwood Mac. They know not of what they speak. If you’re looking for influences Pat Benatar meets Wilson Phillips is perhaps a lot nearer the mark. Of course they give the Fleetwood Mac crew some ammo by covering Oh Well, although that sounds bugger all like the Fleetwood Mac that most people know and love. 

It’s a ruddy good cover too, dirty primal blues delivered with a menacing swagger. Baby Haim (Alana) is on vocal duties for this one, “I can’t sing, I ain’t pretty and my legs are thin” she sneers, gesticulating at a shapely pair of pins. Oh well (as it were) she got one of ‘em right.

“Let’s go fucking crazy guys, I want to see you go nuts” yells Este, as if the capacity crowd needed any encouragement. Honey and I and Go Slow pass by pleasantly enough but it’s My Song 5 that reignited the night, adding a mental dubsteppy element underneath Danielle’s punk blues riffs. 

Listen to this and you can hear something fresh developing, whether they choose to follow that path is up to them but dubstep blues that’s a concept.

“You’re the best people eva” shouts Este. Awww bless. We try. The crowd’s ongoing rapture is rewarded by Don’t Save Me which get’s the biggest reception of the night so far. A bouncing Baby Haim seems as excited as the audience. Again this version fizzes with an energy that’s possibly understated on the record, Danielle’s choppy guitar playing in particular lifts it out of comfortable MOR territory. Just in case they were in need of some energy after that someone throws a sweet on the stage and Este bravely/unwisely pops it in her mouth and eats it. Let’s hope the hand dryers in the loos were working tonight eh? Urgggh. Forever ramps up the atmosphere another notch with Danielle in particularly throaty form. The band asks for the lights to be turned up and a thousand hands are in the air. For some this is clearly the ‘Haim’ of their lives.

Encores of Running If You Call My Name and Let Me Go finished things off and not even a brief fight in the crowd (swiftly diffused by one of the meanest looking bouncers you’d ever want to mess with) could darken the mood. 

I expected this to be a decent show, they’ve got some classic pop songs in their belts, they look good and they’ve got that close knot gang mentality that all great bands have at one time or another. But I wasn’t expecting the degree of musicianship, the energy (both given and reciprocated) and the rawer feel that many of the tracks have in their live form. Whether they choose to continue down the radio friendly unit shifter route or go all death metal on our ass (seriously, I can actually see them doing something much, much heavier at some point) is up to them...only Haim will tell. For now though ‘Falling’ in love with this band’s just too damn easy. 

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Black or White (Christmas)...Thriller Live comes to Birmingham

If you're after a break from the pantos Thriller Live (the Jacko musical) is having a mammoth run at the ICC from December 17th - January 5th. The touring version of the West End show it's pretty much Jackson's greatest hits all in one night, from his time with the Jackson 5 right through to his solo albums. Given his sad demise back in 2009 this is as close as you're going to get to the man himself these days and it all looks like ruddy good fun from start to finish. It's a darn fine pressie idea too if you can't face The Bull Ring...

Tickets available right here.

Can't resist posting a little classic Jacko whilst we're at it. Remember him this way...

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

The Miserable Rich do Christmas

I've not heard much out of my favourite chamber pop band for a while but all of a sudden they release not one but two (count 'em) Christmas themed tunes in the space of a few days. First up is a cover of that low key Jona Lewie Crimbo classic Stop The Cavalry, swiftly followed by an original track, Everything You Wanted.

Profits from the sale of the 7 inch single (featuring both songs) are going to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan and you can buy your copy right here!

Whilst we're on the subject of Christmas songs fellow blogger Russ L's doing a musical advent calendar. Today's offering...Hard Skin with Ding Dong Merrily Oi! Oi! Genius.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Folie Ordinaire - Chez Folie

New wave disco anyone? With influences ranging from Chic to 80s era Bowie (there's definitely a bit of a Bowie vibe in these vocals from time to time) and more recently LCD Soundsystem to Scissor Sisters London three piece Folie Ordinaire are clearly plugged into the good shit.

Newbie Chez Folie proudly wears all these influences on its glittery hot pants, somehow managing to be hipster cool and disco fun all at the same time. Altogether now "La la la la la la laaah laaaaaah".

Friday, November 29, 2013

Layers - It Feels Like Christmas Now does doesn't it? Come Sunday we'll all be tucking in to that little chocolate behind the first advent calendar and panic buying stuffing by the crate load. Ahhhhhh...glorious...don't you just love Christmas eh? Here's another homegrown Christmas anthem for you courtesy of the lovely Layers. It snuck out last year true Christmas single's just been re-released. Play it to your gran on Christmas day after she's OD'd on 'egg nog'...that'll wake the old dear up. Ho ho ho!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Rudi The Red Nosed Reindeer

Heck, it's nearly December so let's start popping up some suitably festive musical fare eh? 

November 15th marked the 45th anniversary of the Birmingham recording company Big Bear Records, now probably the longest-established independent recording company in the UK. Forty five years ago to the day, the first ever Big Bear 45 was released, and the same recording kicks off their series of Revived Forty Fives from the Big Bear Archives.

Here’s the back story from the label itself...

“November 15th 1968 saw the release of the first Big Bear single and not without a whiff of controversy and a touch of skulduggery.

Back then, Big Bear managed Rock Steady Ska band The Locomotive who were flying high with their “Rudi’s In Love” hit on EMI Parlophone. The crucial follow-up was under discussion and band manager Jim Simpson believed that the next single should follow on in similar vein to the dance floor hit, and had already produced a zany Ska 45 version of “Rudi the Red Nosed Reindeer” in readiness.

The suits at EMI were unamused and had other ideas. Hoping to pick up on the emerging Progressive Music trend, they opted instead for the moody “Mr Armageddon”, which inevitably alienated the band’s new-found Ska audience.

Simpson, finding himself with a now-redundant 45 on his hands, did the obvious thing - he set up a record label. Island Records supremo Chris Blackwell offered distribution, and Big Bear Records came into being.
The next hurdle was the band’s name.

Simpson had signed The Locomotive to EMI as a band, so the “Rudi the Red Nosed Reindeer” single was released as by The Steam Shovel, a thinly disguised Locomotive. It clocked up a decent 7000 sales that first Christmas, enjoying several subsequent Christmas re-releases, reaching a total of around 18,000 units.

But it didn’t end there.

Simpson had commissioned the Big Bear logo, which he liked, but wondered if it reminded him of Walt Disney’s Baloo the Bear. Unfortunately, the multi-national Walt Disney company thought similarly [i.e. it was identical] and sent their lawyers into action. Suitably chastened, the Bear was re-invented, Walt was appeased, and Big Bear Records were in business with a logo that has served until today.”

Monday, November 25, 2013

Summer Camp / Fryars @ Hare and Hounds, Sunday 24th November 2013

Having recently moved into the Hare and Hounds permanently (got myself a sweet little spot just beneath the bar in the back more nightmare journeys on the bus of the damned - aka the Number 11 - for me) tonight’s gig was just a mere stumble away.

First up Fryars (formerly known as frYars) who I first heard back in the day (2007 or so) via an intriguingly oddball track called Chocolate (look it up if you can find the original, it’s rather great). In the intervening years he’s clearly smoothed out some of the oddness in favour of a more conventional and, let’s face it, commercial sound. Can’t blame him for that, fellow has to eat. Ancient readers may be aware of singer / songwriter Gilbert O’Sullivan who was pretty massive in the 70s. Well, at times Fryars has a similar feel this evening albeit it with a dash of electronica here and there. 

Opening with the sleepy On Your Own pretty much the whole set’s a lesson in classy and atmospheric MOR, the fruits of several years’ labour which should be properly unveiled in an album sometime in 2014. In between songs Fryars (aka Ben Garrett) revealed he has a pretty good sense of humour too, jokily mentioning that he’d only sold one of his t-shirts so far and, as a result, musing that the unit cost is currently £158. Whether anyone bought one at this price after the show is still unconfirmed. Unlikely, especially as it fails to mention the band’s name anywhere. After the pretty chilled out feel the last track, Cool Like Me lifted the pace considerably. It’s been used on a TV show apparently, probably in a scene featuring a teenage girl gyrating in a nightclub somewhere. It’s that kind of tune. Personally I miss the more experimental off the wall feel of his earlier stuff but you can see the newer material going down a storm.

Sadly the world’s littered with underrated bands. In the days when such things existed they ended up in the bargain bins of records shops whilst lesser groups sold by the bucket load. If anything it’s even worse these days. Pretty much anyone can record entire albums in their bedrooms right now, resulting in some brilliant and not so brilliant stuff coming out of the unlikeliest places. Since 2009 Summer Camp (husband and wife Jeremy Warmsley and Elizabeth Sankey) have been producing some absolutely classic slices of pop perfection that should’ve been huge. For some reason the kind of success that they deserve has, so far, eluded them giving anyone clued up enough the chance to hear arguably one of alt pop’s finest in relatively modest surroundings. Summer Camp shows are a treat for the eyes as well as the ears though. Clearly they’re huge movie buffs as every song is accompanied by a series of carefully selected film clips – everything from Gene Kelly dance numbers to Footloose (movie anoraks will have a ball) – projected on to the back of the stage. It’s a simple idea but I dread to think how long it all took. Probably as long as it took to craft the 16 or so pop gems that formed the set. As you’d expect new album Summer Camp provided the bulk of the songs, adding a little extra disco gloss to the sound first unveiled on their debut Welcome To Condale. Sankey (resplendent in a rather fetching pair of silver block heel shoes) and Warmsley (tweed jacket...button hanging on for grim life) were accompanied tonight by two thirds of post rockers's a long standing arrangement but still a curious gig for them I guess. What’s the best song to start the show with? How about a track called The End? Genius. 

It really is genius too, the kind of clever disco dusted pop that relaunched sexy Kylie back in her golden hot pants days (in fact can't you just hear her singing this?). Next up, Down, from the debut album, an anthem for anyone who’s...well...feeling a bit down. It’s anything but downbeat though, with Sankey defiantly belting out “This is my life” whilst Warmsley provides the comforting refrains. Capping off a trio of Camp classics comes Fresh, first single off the new album. Is this the best song they’ve done so far? Heck yes. If Busby Berkeley hooked up with Chic this would be the soundtrack. Lush strings, funky basslines, lyrics dripping with romance and Sankey at her seductively theatrical best...find me a better, classier pop record this year if you can.

I Got You brings a bit of an oriental flavour to proceedings with Sankey and Warmsley exchanging adorable little glances at each other during the “For always, forever you and me” bits. Awwww bless ‘em. It’s a wonderfully intimate little moment, sweet without being saccharine...not an easy thing to achieve in these deeply cynical times. Keep Falling is as instantly catchy as anything you’re likely to hear, a glorious song that, were he still with us and making movies, John Hughes would surely snap it up for one of his soundtracks. And so it continues, one glorious track after another culminating in the delicious coupling of bitter break up anthem Better Off Without You and perhaps it’s polar opposite (musically and subject wise) the sublime Two Chords.

With a soundtrack currently in production for a documentary called Beyond Clueless there’ll be plenty more new Summer Camp material pretty soon, but the world really needs to wake up and smell whatever hot beverage takes their fancy right now. Summer Camp are a glorious reboot of pop’s golden ages (the 60s and 80s) and if you miss out on them while they’re this great, trust me, your regret will be more than ‘in-tents’.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Untitled Musical Project / Youth Man / Tales @ The Sunflower Lounge, 23rd November 2013

It’s been quite the week for noisy cult Birmingham based bands to reform for a ‘one off’ gig. Last Saturday witnessed the second coming of Distophia during the rather excellent All Years Leaving festival and tonight was the turn of much loved shouty, screamy, punky trio Untitled Musical Project to deafen the nation’s young...and not so young...once more.

First up though Tales. You had to feel for ‘em. The trouble with relying on technology for at least some of your sound is that it can...and will...decide not to play ball every once in a while. Tonight was one of those times and despite using a Mac...which always work...ahem...the band spent an increasingly desperate 10 minutes or so rebooting, unplugging and cursing the damn thing. Fortunately the bloody contraption eventually began to do what it was supposed to do, sort of, and the band got on with what they were supposed to do. They’re actually an interesting proposition, imagine White Denim going math rock and you’ll have a fair idea of some of their tracks. 

Such was the drummer’s ferocity that he broke several drumsticks before the set was over, presumably taking out some of his IT related frustration on something that wouldn’t cost a grand or two to replace. “Next time you see us we’re going to be four piece...get rid of the technology” he mused, possibly only half jokingly. “Anyone want to buy a Mac?” Relax, shit happens. It’s what you do afterwards that counts and, for the record, they turned what could’ve been a disaster into something of a triumph. A worthy addition to Brum’s burgeoning music scene.

Are Youth Man the hardest working band in Birmingham right now? Could be. I’ve seen them three or four times myself in the past few months...but they seem to be playing pretty much every week somewhere or other. In fact I half expect them to pop up and start playing in my bathroom one night. This is a good thing by the way. Generally speaking the more you play the better you get (yes I know...duh uh) and the more people get to hear you. It’s pretty simple really. That’s probably one of the reasons why da Man got played on Radio One this week too...they’re putting in the hours. It shows too. Each gig they’re just that bit better than before. Tonight was another typically spiky, fast, loud attack on the senses with lead singer Kaila jerking and screaming all over the stage like a woman possessed while bassist Adam provided some impressively nimble riffs and drummer Marcus beat the holy crap out of the drums. It’s a groin moisteningly impressive sight and sound, from the frenetic opening number of Heavy Rain through to the more reflective and soulful Wide Awake (rapidly becoming one of my favourite Youth Man tracks). 

Maintaining the theme of the night Kaila managed to bust a D string on her guitar giving Adam and Marcus the chance to jam whilst she swapped over to a replacement. Hell, even this bit was great. 

Kieren, lead screamer of Untitled Music Project, seems like such a nice boy when you’re chatting to him. The kind of lad you’d happily take home to mother. Up there on the stage however...oh boy...that’s a different matter. He’s more like the dude your mother warned you about, a wide eyed raging soothsayer on a mission to blow a ragged hole through your eardrums. Blazing through their greatest misses it was pretty much like they’d never been away and a reminder, if one were needed, of just how great they were/are. Take Beards and Drugs for instance, two and a half minutes of menacing indie punk perfection that builds to the kind of splenetic climax that normally precedes a successful exorcism. Imagine a mash up between the Beastie Boys and Dead Kennedy’’s a bit like that. Only better. If two and a half minutes is too long for you how about A Popular Music Composition which does its business and clears out a full minute quicker leaving your neck ever so slightly detached from the rest of your body. It was fast. It was frantic. It was, quite frankly, fantastic. Ending the set with cracking versions of perhaps the two songs that got them closest to a hit, Why Isn’t Paul McCartney Dead Yet? and The People vs Michael Miller left you with the nagging feeling that, despite protests to the contrary, this is one project (Untitled or otherwise) that’s still not quite finished yet...

Friday, November 22, 2013

Drakelow – Amber

Drakelow release their rather lovely new single Amber on December 9th, adding a little scuzzy distorted bass and meaty drumming to their more folk tinged sound. It’s a great mix, building to an emotionally stirring chorus sung with suitable yearning by the band’s lead singer and songwriter Matt Pinfield. Speaking of mixes the whole thing was mastered by Alan Douches in Noo Yoik who’s twiddled the knobs (as it were) for everyone from Sufjan Stevens to Motorhead (now there's a collaboration I'd like to hear). Cool. 

Amber is out on 7 inch vinyl ('s the future) and CD on Grandflat Recordings and will be available from the band’s website...and no doubt the band themselves...I’m sure they’ll always have a copy or two on the shops, in the bath...that kind of thing.  

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Miss Halliwell – Fresh from the Holy Spring / Gusting Guests

What will the neighbours think? Any minute now I’m expecting a knock on the door from the boys in blue “Hello sir, we have reason to believe you’re experimenting with mind altering substances...” I’m not. Well not this time at least. Nope, the sound seeping through the walls, between the cracks and into the ears of anyone within the immediate vicinity comes from Miss Halliwell’s brand new double album...which manages to be both uncompromising and challenging but still somehow often quite accessible in a way that few bands could even begin to pull off.

I had the genuine pleasure of spending a few hours in legendary Bearwood boozer The Bear with Miles himself a week or two ago and he’s every bit as ‘real’ as he comes across in both his music and writing. For a couple of hours we chewed the fat and drank the ale, discussing, well, pretty much everything under the sun really. The one thing that the afternoon left me with is this dude’s passion for what he does. That’s not to diss anyone else in a band, far from it. Anyone who pitches up to entertain an often apathetic public deserves respect. But Miles has that kind of commitment that leads some artists to lop off an ear, self immolate or nail their bollocks to a footpath (seriously, someone did this in Russia recently...saves Putin doing it for them I guess but even so...ouch). Perhaps age has mellowed him ever so slightly, he admitted as much, but then again if you read his latest blog posting (and I heartily recommend that you do) the righteous venom’s still flowing like blood from severed artery. It came out in our conversation too, not bitterness (he ain’t one for sitting around sticking pins in voodoo dolls) but more a determination to keep on keeping on, with or without the acclaim that the band deserves. There’s a part of him that likes it this way, so much easier to be true to yourself when a relatively modest number of people are listening. Quite what an impact landing a number 1 album would have on the band I can’t imagine...but bugger me, wouldn’t it be great to find out?

Given that they recorded their debut album (Die Son! Die!) live at a couple of incendiary shows back in 2009 and then made a movie about the whole thing perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that Miss Halliwell’s follow up is an ambitious double. Okay not exactly as the second disc bears Miles’ name alone but still, feel the weight my friends. Reviewing this album was always going to be a challenge. Actually at times it feels more like the album’s reviewing you, especially on disc one. In opening number Gentlears (the sound of Zappa humping Miles E. Smith in an asylum) Captain Miles rallies his troops before launching into a nutzoid rant against pretty much everyone and everything. Bonus points for the Brian Clough referencing lyric by the way. Even more bonus points for the fact that it’s not an idle boast. As Miles himself admits Rulerfueller’s as close to a single as Miss Halliwell is likely to get but don’t expect to hear it as ringtone any time soon...unless the world pulls its head out of its backside for a change “Can’t we find a reason why we need a kick up the arse?” challenges Miles. 

See what I mean? Far too few bands ask questions of their listeners these days, arguably at a time in our culture when we all need a kick up the arse more than ever. The album's title track Fresh From The Holy Spring is literally the sound of a man taking opposed to the...piss. Genius. I guess if so many artists can get away with releasing crap Miles and co are entitled to go (number) one better. Other highlights? The whole damn thing frankly but the tub thumping drum and guitar madness of Squeamish Knight deserves an honourable mention as does the discordantly surreal Ponytail Quest. "Honour Miss Halliwell" indeed. 

Disc two, entitled Gusting Guests, is a little more of solo project albeit it featuring a number of Miss Halliwell regulars. Stripping back a little (well, okay, quite a lot in places) of the gloss of disc one and replacing it with a more lo fi / experimental feel it’s a dazzlingly varied mix of stuff, from the scuzzy post punk feel of Perfidious Unholy to the electronic Speak and Spell meltdown of The Art Of Shutting Up though to the ambient chill out of Pity About The Ditty...and that’s just the first three tracks. Some of the material’s what you’d call ‘challenging’ and possibly not for those of a nervous disposition, Juggle World in particular may well bring about complete mental collapse in those on the edge, but if you want easy listening my friends then this ain’t the place for you.

Trust me on this one, there’s more creativity, passion and inspired lunacy in 30 seconds of either disc than many bands manage in entire careers. I don’t expect everyone to grasp my love for this band and/or the dude behind them but if your ears are ready for something genuinely different...and how often does that come along these days...then Fresh from the Holy Spring is the answer to your prayers. Amen and Halliwellujah!

The official album launch is this Sunday, 7pm, 24th November at the Sunday Xpress, Adam & Eve, Digbeth...AND IT'S RUDDY FREE! Miss Halliwell will also be playing at the Hare & Hounds on 19th December. Ho Ho Go. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The big Big Bear Reunion...the hunt is on!

This is fun. Way back in 1980 legendary Birmingham based record label Big Bear (helmed by Jim Simpson, the dude who discovered and signed Black Sabbath) recorded an album featuring some of the City's best bands.

Now, to celebrate the label's 45 anniversary they want to invite all of the artists in this photo to a reunion bash and party at Asylum 2 on Thursday 28th November. Do you know...or indeed...are you one them? Email if you've got any leads.

THIS WEEK! Untitled Musical Project and Summer Camp...not both on the same bill...although that would be cool eh?

Amongst the typically rather spiffing gigs being put on by the lovely Birmingham Promoters this week are too particularly special ones. On Saturday – co-promoted by the equally lovely It’s Just Noise – local indie punk legends Untitled Musical Project reunite for their first gig in ages at the Sunflower Lounge. 

Expect the very least. Maybe even a little blood. Support comes from current Hearing Aid favourites Youth Man. Boom.

Then on Sunday, if your ears haven’t been blown clean off your heads, Summer Camp (with support from Fryars too!) pitch up at my new home, the Hare and Hounds. Yes, I’m moving in. I’ve decided. They won’t mind. I can sleep under the bar or something. You know what? If scientists had spent 20 years in a lab trying to create pop perfection I doubt they’d come up with anything as great as the Camp. A joint venture between indie wonderkid Jeremy Warmsley and his missus Elizabeth Sankey they take influences from arguably two of pop’s golden ages, the 60s and the 80s to produce...well...stuff like this...

Awesome eh?

Tickets for Untitled Musical Project here and Summer Camp there!

Monday, November 18, 2013

All Years Leaving Day Two ft Victories At Sea / Best Friends / Wide Eyed / His Clancyness / Sky Larkin / Distophia / Yuck – Saturday November 16th

Having barely recovered from the twisting, jerking vision that was Dutch Uncles’ lead singer Duncan Wallis in full flow (seriously, that dude makes a wheat field in a hurricane look static) and with a modest Orchard Pig Cider hangover just about in check it was onto day two with Victories At Sea playing a rare late afternoon set. Serving up a super cool alternative 80s indie vibe J P White and co should really be playing arenas by now, seriously. Tracks like Stay Positive and Dive are the kind of bouncing up and down tearily hugging yer mate anthems that bands like The Killers have...well...made a killing out of. Adding old skool synths to walls of layered guitar and White’s haunted man vocals the band drew a huge whoop of appreciation from the swelling crowd at the end of their set and, to be honest, if they’d been headliners rather than openers I don’t reckon anyone would’ve minded. A clear case of Victories at Tea...

Sheffield’s Best Friends may have started off by busting their kick drum pedal (how rock ‘n’ roll eh...breaking your kit before you start...not even The Who managed  that) but their take on scuzzed up surf pop (think a northern England version of The Drums) soon made amends. 

Bonus points to the bassist who remained resolutely hidden behind a curtain of dirty blonde hair throughout the entire set somehow managing not to bump into anything or fall off the stage. Check out recent single Nosebleeds (one of the tracks of the night) for the very best of Best Friends.   

Wide Eyed have come on leaps and bounds over the past few months with their goth tinged rock sound recalling a mash up of My Bloody Valentine at their less extreme with bands like The Mission and The Cult. They’re a band of few words so don’t expect any knock knock jokes but their ability to (wanky muso alert!) craft atmospheric guitar soundscapes is growing and given a few more months you can see this becoming a particularly potent mix. The last track of their set hit an especially pleasing motorik groove which might hint at their future direction.

Let’s just pause for a moment and appreciate how many fucking great bands there are in Birmingham right now. This festival alone dished up Hoopla Blue, Boat To Row, Victories At Sea and Wide Eyed but it’s perfectly possible to add another couple of dozen to this list without any great effort. If you’re going to spunk £20 or £30 going to see Arctic Monkeys (there’s a band on the slide now in my humble opinion) do yourself a favour and spend a similar amount on going to 5 or 6 ‘local’ bands as well. Trust me, this is a bit of a golden age for music in Birmingham, let’s all make the most of it eh?

Anyway, lecture over. From further afield (Canada via Italy in fact) His Clanceyness, possibly the most tattooed band of the weekend (the female keyboard player was especially well inked). There’s a hint of Tindersticks to some of their more low key songs albeit with an added 50s style guitar twang. Jonathon Clancy’s vocals have attracted comparisons to the late great Lou Reed, not a bad place to start – there’s certainly a laid back slightly monotone edge there – but happily his range is wider with a vaguely country-ish feel on tracks like Machines. Pick of the bunch this evening was Summer Majestic though, with its Satisfaction (by the Stones) referencing guitar riff and “Tch tch tch tch” backing vocals instantly winning the band a fair number of new included.  

Can it really be 8 years since the first Sky Larkin release? Jeez, where does the time go? Happily Katie and co don’t show any signs of running out of steam. In fact she and the band were on tip top form this evening, chatting away in between playing a mix of crowd pleasing favourites (step forward Matador and Fossil, I) and new songs including this year’s Loom and forthcoming single Newsworthy (out 9th December in fact), both typically fine pieces of jangly indiepop. 

Nice to hear a shout out to Johnny Foreigner too (they’d have been a great addition to this bill).

As performances go Distophia’s had to be the most widely anticipated by the local crowd. Having split in 2006 (seemingly only reforming as a one off for this festival) their story is a salutary lesson on the evils of the music hiss etc. They were poised to have possibly their breakthrough record released then, at the very last minute, their label scrapped it in favour of pushing fading (or maybe that’s faded by now) indie rockers Hard Fi. This is a great shame as Distophia were clearly much loved by their fans (a fair number of whom were here tonight) and, as I recall, highly rated by other local bands too. Amid plenty of witty banter (predictably Hard Fi featured heavily) and a wonderfully self deprecating sense of humour about the whole situation they found themselves in, their set was a long awaited celebration of what might have been, a glorious two fingers up to the fickle music biz and a chance for their fans to mosh themselves into next week. Even removing the element of sympathy that comes with getting so royally screwed it was a hugely entertaining set and tracks like Robert Redford and Joanne still easily stand up against the kind of alt rock anthems that broke big in the 90s. 

If you want to hear what all the fuss was about they’re apparently putting the long delayed album up online as a free (“Because we don’t give a fuck!”) download shortly. Who knows, maybe the story won’t end with this gig but if it does, heck, what a great way to finally go out.

That just left Yuck to wrap things up and they did so in fine style kicking off with arguably their best song to date, Middle Sea. They’re an interesting looking bunch, lead singer Max Bloom positioned himself stage left leaving the centre spot for the effortlessly cool bassist Mariko Doi to occupy whilst on drums the generously ‘fro’d up Jonny Rogoff provided the beat. There’s an unmistakeable Pavement feel to some of their livelier stuff whilst other tracks like tonight’s dreamy Rebirth hint at more of a shoegazey vibe gently lulled the crowd into a sonic reverie.

As inaugural festival’s go This Is Tmrw pulled a blinder, cool bands, a great venue, a decent dickhead free crowd, excellent sound (big up the sound guys, Greg on the Saturday...not sure who handled Friday’s EDIT: It was Dan Sprigg...cheers Swanny!) and the kind of event that Birmingham should be screaming about. I’ll certainly be ‘leaving’ a space in my calendar for next year’s. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

All Years Leaving Day One ft Dutch Uncles / Frankie and the Heartstrings / Boat To Row / Kins / Hoopla Blue – Friday November 15th

Any serious gig goer or music fan in Birmingham will recognise that This Is Tmrw, the good folk behind this inaugural two day festival, know their onions (musically speaking at least...who knows, they might indeed be experts on onions too...I’ll have to find out). So whether you’d heard of all or indeed none of the dozen bands on offer this weekend you could be pretty sure that there wouldn’t be any duffers.

Openers local boys Hoopla Blue had the honour of being the very first band to play the very first All Years Leaving...which will probably qualify them for a blue plaque or something one day. There’s a touch of doomed romanticism to them with the lead vocalist having a similar mournful quality to Japan’s David Sylvian or perhaps even a slightly more upbeat Morrissey (imagine that). Musically the discordant shards of guitar add an uneasy but intriguing feel to some of their tracks, whilst others hit an almost Vampire Weekend-ish groove. It’s an interesting mix though, perhaps best crystallised so far on Holy Ghost, a post punk meets C86 anthem for proto Goths.

Next up Brighton’s Kins. Think Radiohead with a slightly sunnier vibe (appropriately enough the lead singer’s from the comparatively tropical land of Oz). Textural guitars and vocals combine to create a bit of a trippy feel, enhanced by the band’s slightly spaced out style of performing...never seen a keyboard played on the floor before. Even the lead singer ended up on his back during the dreamy post coital drift of The Love Potion.

Boat to Row continue to develop, putting on arguably one of their best performances to date. Perhaps it was the prospect of the more upbeat bands still to come but there was a bit of an extra kick to their playing tonight that switched their already bewitching old school acoustic folk up a gear. Lead oarsman Michael King has a crisp, clean but gentle vocal which combined with his increasingly intricate guitar playing and the rest of the band adding their own deft touches transformed the Hare and Hounds into a bucolic wonderland. Leaving the stage for their last number the entire band decamped into the crowd, playing as nature intended. Unplugged that is, not nude. Truly beautiful stuff.

“Alreet!” You’ve got to love Sunderland’s Frankie and the Heartstrings, not only for their bouncy brand of indie rock (imagine a Postcard Records version of Maximo Park) but also for recently opening their very own record shop in response to the distinct lack of outlets for their new album in their hometown. Apparently four of the band work there pretty much full time now too, probably a smart move given that their latest album sadly failed to trouble the charts. It’s a real shame as pretty much every one of the tracks they played tonight is engineered to get you up and dancing like a loon with songs like That Girl, That Scene having a similar spark of pop genius as The Undertones at their very best. 

They’re great fun to watch too, bands with banter always are and if this pop business fails to work out I reckon they should all move into stand up comedy. In between songs the lead singer even attempted to pierce the guitarist’s nipple with a staple gun at one point. Comedy gold.

Last up for day one, and possibly one of the most underrated bands in the that world...right now, Dutch Uncles. Kicking off with Bellio their unique mix of math rock rhythms coupled with lead singer Duncan Wallis’ falsetto vocals (more than a touch of Sparks’ Russ Mael in there) are the best combination since Mr Strawberry met Miss Cream. In other words freakin’ delicious. 

Why wasn’t Fester number 1 eh? Criminal. Hang your heads in shame record buying public. How many other tracks based around a xylophone make you want to dance your ass off? Exactly. Speaking of dancing Duncan in full flow is a truly wondrous thing. It’s like someone had wired the dude to the mains and flicked a switch as he twitches and jerks around seemingly possessed by the music itself. From the driving funk prog of Cadenza to the string embellished Flexxin’ this was a lesson in just how great pop can be, clever, sophisticated sounds that appeal as much to the mind (you could devote an entire dissertation to the band’s lyrics) as they do to the booty. Ending the set with a divine cover of Grace Jones’ Slave to the Rhythm I unwisely attempted some Duncan dancing myself and narrowly avoided dislocating my hips. Heck, it was worth it though. 

PS: For the first day of a brand new festival things went remarkably smoothly. What was also nice to hear was how well all of the bands had been treated by the promoters too. Several of them mentioned this both onstage and off. Good work This Is Tmrw peeps.   

All Years Leaving continues today (November 16th) with headliners Yuck!