Saturday, March 30, 2013

Miss Halliwell / BiD! / Adam Beckley / Cities Prepare For Attack! @ The Wagon and Horses, Friday 29th March 2013

Miss Halliwell are cool. Ice cool in fact. That’s partially due to the fact that tonight’s gig was pretty much held outside (okay, so there were patio heaters and what looked like some parachute fabric overhead but still, you could see sky and trees and ice and shit...). More importantly though Miss Halliwell are cool because they – helmed by the truly inspirational Miles Perhower – seem hellbent on doing their own thing irrespective of the consequences. How else would you explain the choice of tonight’s support acts? A series of laptop knob twiddlers kicking off with Adam Beckley whose ambient soundtrack for the nightbus to the end of the universe hypnotised the early birds, lulling them into a false sense of security before Cities Prepare For Attack! (I’m assuming this was his name...there were no intros...) unleashed the kind of sonic warfare that would have the UN issuing condemning press releases as fast as they could write ‘em. Imagine someone removing the top of your skull, inserting a fire alarm in full effect just behind your cerebral cortex then sealing the wound back up with molten razor wire...that’s pretty much the sound of Cities Prepare For Attack. The dude makes My Bloody Valentine sound like a folk act. Strangely the pain became soothing, numbing almost...a womb of noise that...some 12 hours or so later still refuses to let go. 

I couldn't help overhear Miles chuckling mischievously to Mr Cities after the set “I think you scared them all...but I think they enjoyed it”. Strangely...I did. There was another sonic terrorist in between BiD! and Miss Hallewell who performed a similar attack, perhaps a little less severe and with more variation but still, noise as a vicious weapon. 

Sandwiched in amongst all this mayhem were BiD! (formerly Betty and the Id), purveyors of post grunge new doom psych wave prog rock (yep, all them genres...occasionally in just one tune too) who, at various times throughout their set recalled The Knack jamming with Black Sabbath and (on one of the highlights, The Analyst) Wire sharing acid with Syd era Floyd. Away from the mass appeal of PEACE (arguably one of the best bands in the world right now...) Birmingham’s littered with other more oddball musical gems. BiD! are one of them. Miss Halliwell are certainly another. I see it as my personal mission in life to get people listening to them, writing about them, going to see them. If you’re looking for a lazy shorthand summary Miss Halliwell could well be as important as The Fall (a band they memorably supported way back at the start of their career). Like Mark E. Smith Miles has that rare ability to fuse his uncompromising vision and often challenging world view with some...well...surprisingly catchy tunes. 

Tonight the band starts without him, easing themselves back in with an instrumental number propelled by Rose of Berarwood’s staccato ‘clip you round the ear’ style of drumming. Miles enters through the crowd and the dynamic changes straight away, there’s an edge to him that suggests that anything might happen in the next 30 minutes and...for a moment or two mid set...murder seemed like a distinct possibility. Before all that though the band ground out Banner, one of the picks of Miles’ criminally underappreciated 2012 During The Interrogation EP, a post punk rant that careers around wildly for just over a minute achieving more than many bands could hope to realise in a whole damn album. This is paired with Signature, another EP track, Perhower’s finest stream of unconsciousness to date “You declare your independence, I declare I need a drink” he intones mournfully before spitting “1,2,3,4,5” through gritted teeth like a man on the verge of insanity. This, my friends, is how you do it. Whatever ‘it’ might be. It’s frankly mesmerising. “My name’s Jesus and I want to have sex with your mind” he announces. Out of the mouths of most people that would sound pretty ridiculous, but in a dour Black Country accent it loses any hint of pomposity and comes across more like a fucked up chat up line delivered round the back of Wetherspoons. Go on then son, have sex with our minds. Would you like chips with that? Yeah. Fucking chips. Free Chips for everyone. Yeah. That’s the name of the next song. It’s ridiculous, yes? How come it sounds so bloody great then? Grungey, funky, punky...a fuzzy drug induced trip that should be force fed to our children to teach them the difference between music and MUSIC, emotion and EMOTION, balls and BALLS.

“Southgate, give us a wave” heckles someone from the back of the audience (Miles bears a vague resemblance to Gareth Southgate)

The heckler’s ignored so the heckler tries again. And again. And again...

I forget the exact words but the gist of Miles’ response was that, when pushed, he’s a genuinely crazy motherfucker and if the heckler utters another word he’ll wrap his guitar around his head.
Unsurprisingly the heckler shuts the fuck up.

Most of the time such threats feel a little empty, you genuinely got the impression that Miles’ wasn’t joking though. Now that’s the difference between an act and a performance.

There were a few new tracks tonight too, no idea of their names but I can happily report that standards aren’t slipping one bit. Slowly but surely he and they are amassing what I truly believe to a seriously important body of work, something that won’t probably be appreciated until it’s too late and they’ve split up, grown up or given up. It would frankly be a tragedy if that were the case though. Trust me, if you only see one band this year, make it this one.  

(they didn't play this one last night but, hell, it's a great track...)

PS: Record labels out there...big ones...Sony, Universal...that kind of big...release this shit and make up for all the vacuous crap you keep pumping out.   

PPS: I’m serious. Where are the risk takers in music these days? Why’s everything so freakin’ safe? This country...and world for that being systematically shafted by the rich and powerful like never before and the best response we have is Beyonce? Jeez...

PPPS: Have a nice Easter and all that...

Friday, March 29, 2013

Celebrating the Music of Andy Hamilton @ Silvershine Jazz Club, Bearwood Corks, Thursday 28th 2013

When Andy Hamilton passed away last year it ended a truly incredible career that began way back in 1928 when he formed his first band in his native Jamaica. In the intervening years he went on to act as Errol Flynn’s musical arranger before ending up in Birmingham, working in a factory by day then playing jazz at night. In the 70’s he promoted some of Steel Pulse’s first gigs, helping to usher in a new era of roots reggae, as well as encouraging many internationally famous jazz bands and solo stars to play Birmingham and, in later years, his newly adopted home of Bearwood. In 1986 he nearly died from diabetes but not only went on to make a remarkable recovery but, at the tender age of 73, also recorded his debut album, Silvershine, which became the UK’s biggest selling Jazz Album of the Year in 1991. Over the next 20 years or so he carried on playing, almost until the very end, with weekly gigs in Bearwood, monthly shows at Birmingham Symphony Hall and a regular slot at the prestigious Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul Festival. Now, just a couple of days after what would have been his 95th birthday, an impressive line up of past Blue Notes musicians (the band he formed back in 1953 and fronted for the next 60 years), family and friends gathered at the club named in his honour last year to pay tribute to one of jazz’s true legends.

Over the course of 3 hours the core Blue Notes band was joined by a series of guest artists including Steve Ajao and Alvin Davis (both pictured above), two of the UK’s leading sax symbols, with (amongst others) Roy Forbes and Kevin McCann on vocals, the nattily behatted Johnny Hoo on drums and (just a year or two younger) a kid called Aiden. At just 12 (I think...) he’s one of many younger players that Andy continued to encourage and, judging by his seemingly effortless style of drumming, it’s pretty clear that Andy’s legacy is in safe hands (more on that later by the way). 

Highlights came thick and fast throughout the evening, with a mellow selection of tracks early in proceedings giving way to some pretty funky stuff as the night got its groooooooooooove on. 

Part one saw some stunning playing from one of Andy’s long time collaborators Dutch Lewis (the dude seems to be able to play anything that you blow...flute, sax, clarinet, name it) and Steve Ajao, whilst Vic Evans took to the mic to pour that uniquely oaked voice of his all over some of Andy’s favourite tunes. 

I swear that man could sing a tax return and make it sound like the most beautiful thing in the world. Meanwhile on keyboards Tim Amann (also tonight’s musical arranger) drove the whole thing along in fine style, dishing up some wonderfully intricate flavours and providing all the other musicians with the perfect canvases for their solo slots. Part two lifted the pace with Vic Evans getting the crowd singing along to traditional Jamaican number Hold Him Joe (I’m sure it’s rude but that might just be my dirty mind...) and Johnny Hoo swinging the sticks on a super cool Autumn In Paris. 

A downright funky Autumn Groove (off Andy’s 1st album) narrowly missed out on being the track of the night, that title was won...perhaps as it should’ve been a whole new generation of Hamilton, his granddaughter Sophie, who out Ella-d Ms Fitzgerald on a super sassy Shiny Stockings. Roy Forbes’ perfectly pitched tribute to his mentor, a cover of Unforgettable, reminded us all while we were here before a suitably ska tinged number got some of the more energetic members of the audience up and shaking some ass, gently encouraged by Andy’s daughter Kim (also Sophie’s mum). All good things must come to an end though and what better way to cap things off than the rum rich vocals of Vic Evans on That’s All and a rousing Don’t Worry, sending everyone out into the cold night air with a warm Jamaican glow.   

I’m ashamed to say that, despite being a Bearwoodian for 20 years, this is my first visit to Bearwood Corks and the Silvershine JazzClub (formerly Bearwood Jazz). Really, really have no idea why. Just one of those things I meant to do but never got around to. For 20 years. Yes, I know. Slackness is thy name. I actually like jazz too, not an expert by any means but I know my Courtney Pine from my Cannonball Adderley and own at least one copy of A Love Supreme excuses. It’s a lovely venue too, intimate, charmingly old school (£2.10 for a pint of mild) and echoing with a thousand and one great nights past. It deserves to have an equally great future too. Support it.  It’s what Andy would’ve wanted. Silvershine on...  

PS: Just discovered that Paul Foad, key member of The Blue Notes and Sophie’s dad, was in legendary post punk band Au Pairs too! there’s a reunion the world needs right now... 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

'Kappa' load of this...The Grafham Water Sailing Club unveil new single

I reckon there’s something in the water you know. All of a sudden there are so many great bands springing up all over the Midlands it’s become freakin’ impossible to keep up with them all. Here’s one that’s escaped my notice so far (yeah, I’m a slack arse), The Grafham Water Sailing Club. Sure, it might not be the snappiest name in music but you know where snappy names lead you? N-Dubz. I rest my case. Formed in Coventry last year the band’s latest offering, Kappa Kappa, is part 60s noir spy film soundtrack and part post punk epic, with a dash of millennial angst thrown in for good measure. It’s one of those broodingly brilliant tracks that makes you at least 26% cooler just by listening to it. If you want to see if they can cut it live you’ve got a couple of chances in April too, the first is handily (well handily if you’re Midlands based anyway) on 4th April at The Bulls Head , the second est dans le Paris, Avril 28th a La Cantine de Belleville. Er...tres bien. 

Ice Ice Playlist...

Okay, so now we’re clearly  in a new ice age given the endless sub zero temperatures gripping most of the UK I might as well use it as a flimsy excuse to upload a bunch of random old tunes linked tenuously by the word ‘ice’. Yes, that old chestnut again. Some you’ll know, one or two you might not...depends how ancient/anal you are...

It would frankly be rude to start off with anything other than Professor Green’s spiritual granddad, Vanilla Ice. Ol’ Vanilla arguably ushered in the era of the white rapper (forgive him Lord, he knew not what he was doing) and, whilst his fame may have lasted slightly less than a strawberry mivvi in Dubai’s midday sun, we’ve still got this cheeseball hip hop classic to remember him by...bless...

From the ridiculous to the sublime, still sticking with the hip hop vibe here’s Ice Cube’s Today Was A Good Day. Bizarrely this track was introduced to me by Alexei Sayle who was standing in for some DJ on Radio 1 about 60 years idea why...maybe it was Savile off on one of his ‘charity’ events?

Okay, back in the time machine for some top notch 80s indie, first up The Icicle Works’ Love Is A Wonderful Colour...

...and you can’t have The Icicle Works without Icehouse’s Hey Little Girl can you eh? Not sure you’d get away with certain parts of this video these days but we’ll gloss over that and just enjoy the band’‘homage’ to Messrs Ferry and Sylvian.

Right, fast forward to this millennium for some Fiery Furnaces and their Tropical Iceland. The Friedberger siblings have been unusually quiet recently (after releasing an impressive 8 albums and an EP in 6 years, plus 12 solo efforts from Matthew Friedberger...including 9 in just 12 months...and 1 solo effort from sister Eleanor) but it seems like they’re touring North America in May so who knows, they might be back in business. Expect 17 double albums, a musical, a 23 hour tour documentary and a neat range of tea towels before the year’s out.

Okay, let’s go all out now, Foreigner’s Cold As Ice may have one of the cheapest videos in history, seemingly filmed in a railway siding whilst the guard was having a crafty fag somewhere, but it’s a stone cold classic...

Finally, just to prove I listen to stuff recorded less that 400 years ago, here’s Korean pop poppet Hyun-a with Ice Cream...which bears more than a passing resemblance to Kelis’s Milkshake. Don’t listen to it more than once, it’ll rot your brain.   

Stay warm my friends...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Misty's new adventure...

Way, way back...early noughties I think it was...I came across a new-ish band from Birmingham playing at The Flapper one night. I can’t recall who the chuff they were supporting but what I do remember is falling instantly head over heels madly in lurrrrrrve with them – so much so in fact that I ended up buying two copies of their debut homemade album that night. They, Misty's Big Adventure, sounded – and still do for that matter – like no one else around, fusing ska, loungecore, pop, punk and a dozen other genres that probably only exist in the mind of their gloriously dishevelled looking leader, Grandmaster Gareth. They’ve flirted with fame ever since, landing some decent support tours, getting some airplay on the cooler radio stations and inspiring devotion amongst their small but perfectly informed fan base. I’m ashamed to say I’ve not seen them live for a while, something I fully intend to rectify this year, but in the meantime they’ve just released yet another classic track, Aggression, a kind of freaky assed Ghost Town for the 21st Century...which is timely as we’re now not so much living in a ‘ghost town’ as a ‘ghost country’, but that’s far too depressing to contemplate today eh? Both the video and song embrace familiar Misty’s themes, notably a feeling of detachment from 98% of ‘society’ which is something I can certainly relate to. There’s such a jolly ska beat behind the track and a delightfully sick sense of humour in the video that you somehow find yourself dancing through the tears though. Genius.  

PS: As if a new Misty’s track wasn’t enough Grandmaster Gareth has slipped out a rather splendid new one as well...busy chap.   

Monday, March 25, 2013

Miss Halliwell...back from the dread

What makes a great band? Decent tunes? Meaningful lyrics? A pretty logo? Sure, all of these might help but what marks out the great from the good - in my humble opinion at least - is one thing that few people really, truly focus on...belief. Does that lead singer really mean what he or she is singing about or is it all (or partly) just an act? When they come off stage are they still the same person? Let’s face facts, many performers are just that. That’s not necessarily a bad thing by the way, if they really lived the kind of life they sang about they’d all be dead by 27...which quite a lot of them were come to think about it. Anyway, I guess what I’m going on about is integrity, the kind of borderline madness that drove Richey Manic to carve 4 REAL into his arm with a razor blade (still arguably one of the most beautifully disturbing moments in music). Having read his blog for a while I can confidently say that Miles Perhower, frontman with the reanimated (and massively underrated so far) Miss Halliwell, falls...dives headfirst perhaps...into this category. Have a read. It’s great stuff. Disturbing sometimes but hey, life ain’t always a bowl of frickin’ cherries eh? Once you’ve read the blog (there's more here too...see what I mean?), had a cold shower and hugged a loved one whilst weeping gently to yourself for a while, make plans to head on down to The Wagon and Horses (Digbeth) on Friday night (29th March) for Miss Halliwell’s first live show in ages. Oh, and here's a trio of some of their best tracks to date as well...enjoy. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Semi Regular New Music Roundup Thingy w/e 22nd March 2012

“Music ain’t like wot it used to be back in the 70s” say some boring old farts, but here’s proof that it’s pretty much just exactly the same as it used to be back in the 70s. Step forward Wolf People with this rather awesome piece of post rock folk, All Returns (out 15th April). Majestic. Can someone bring ‘em to Birmingham soon please? Ta! Eh...hang on...they’re coming! This Is Tmrw just booked ‘em for a gig in May! Whoop!

Okay, this is one of those ‘we’re not going to reveal our identity’ kind of things. Colour Of Bone (could be a person, could be a band, could be a weird cult with pointy hats and sixteen wives for every chap...could be The Alarm...) may be hiding behind silhouettes at the moment but one thing’s certain, his/their particular brand of fuzzy pop rock is pretty addictive.  Oh...hang on again, just found out it’s some dude called Sam Stockman, an actor who’s in something called Whitechapel on something called ITV?!  Honestly, you just can’t keep a secret nowadays can you eh?

This is real good. Me, You and Thomas are a two piece from Brizzle who specialise in raw, fuzzy indie rock. The lead singer’s got a vaguely folky / shoegazey feel to her voice which neatly juts up against the battered drums n’ geeetttar. This single’s out on Howling Owl Records on 8th April and there are just 50 copies. Blimey. If they’d like to send me one I promise to walk up and down the streets playing it to random strangers.

When Edwyn Collins’ brain exploded (or, to be more technically accurate, when he suffered a double cerebral haemorrhage) back in 2005 it seemed pretty certain that he’d not last more than a few days. When he did it seemed equally certain that he’d never walk or talk again, let alone write and perform stuff. Miraculously though, he is. And it’s right up there with some of his best releases too. Blimey. Ed wins...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Priscilla Queen of the Desert @ The New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Wednesday 20th March 2013

Musicals can be a little camp, sometimes intentionally, sometimes accidently. There’s certainly no doubting which side of the yellow brick road Priscilla falls on though. The whole thing makes Julian Clary look like Bear Grylls on steroids. There’s a plot of course – the everyday take of a gay man’s trip across the outback in a knackered old bus to meet his son for the first time – but it’s really just a shameless excuse to plunder disco’s greatest hits. And what huge hits they are (oooooh errrr missus), kicking off with a simply fabulous version of It’s Raining Men (I've made no secret of my lurve for this track over the years) performed by ‘The Three Divas’ who descend from the rafters in the first of a series of gloriously OTT frocks. That’s just for starters of course...Don’t Leave Me This Way, Venus, Go West, I Love The Nightlife and I Will Survive all come out of the closet...and that's before before the interval.

The story revolves around the show’s core trio, Tick (Jason Donovan), Bernadette (Richard Grieve) and Felicia (Graham Weaver) and whilst this isn’t the kind of night that’s necessarily overly concerned with character development there’s enough in there to get a flavour of Tick’s struggles with his sexuality and Bernadette’s transsexual transformation. Grieve makes a particularly convincing post op and it’s easy to imagine that he/she does indeed keep his/her manhood in a jar in his/her purse (ready to stuff down the throat of younger rival Felicia). Donovan of course is by far the biggest name in the show and given his well documented (and false) outing by The Face magazine back in the 90s it’s particularly good to see him embracing his camper side with such joyful abandon. It’s the quieter numbers that suit his voice the best though and Act Two’s bedtime scene with son Benji featuring Always On My Mind was one of the show’s more touching moments. Naturally there are a few Donovan related lines scattered in there too with Tick mentioning a crush he had on Scott (the character that Donovan played in Neighbours). Kylie’s in there too of course with Felicia in particular worshipping at the temple of La Minogue culminating in a suitably camp Confide In Me.

Vocally it’s actually The Three Divas (Emma Kingston, Ellie Leah and Laura Mansall) that steal the show and their frequent appearances always ramp up the party atmosphere a notch or two. There are a number of fine star turns from the supporting case too with Francis Mayli McCann bringing the house down with her Cynthia (the things that girl can do with a ping pong ball...) and Ellie Leah (taking a break from being a Diva) as the pendulously breasted Shirley.

Whilst the set’s basic but effective the producers have wisely gone all out on the costumes, filling the stage with a retina scorching burst of colour and glitz and it’s frankly impossible not to get swept along with the whole thing. The main characters might’ve spent the show in drag but the evening most certainly didn’t...

Priscilla Queen of the Desert is at the New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 30th March. 

Flatpack packs more in...

The annual Flatpack Festival kicks off today and, on top of all manner of weird n’wonderful films, there are even more music related goodies on offer than ever before too including screenings of contemporary music vids at Yorks Bakery Cafe (Friday 2nd March – FREE!) and a showing of a new biopic on Terri Hooley ‘Godfather of Belfast Punk’ (also Friday 22nd, tickets £5/£7 9pm at The Electric Cinema). 

For more info on these and a bumper popcorn bag full of other loveliness head over to their info(Flat)packed website

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

BC Camplight rides again

A few years back BC Camplight released the truly awesome album Blink of a Nihilist (from which the little beauty above is taken). Sadly it failed to set the world on fire (what do they know eh?) and he vanished from sight in a puff of smoke. Well, he would’ve done if it had set the world on fire....maybe it was a dust instead? seems like he’s had a few, well, let’s say ‘challenges’ in the intervening years culminating in seeing an alien in the Arizona desert (where he was living in a camper van) which in turn inspired him to quit his US homeland and decamp Hell, it happens. So now he’s back, back, BACK etc with a new single Thieves InAntigua. If the Beach Boys had become a mariachi band this is how it might’ve sounded like. Yep, it’s that good. Enjoy...

He plays the Manchester Deaf Institute (his first headline show for FIVE ruddy years) on 6th April and hopefully he’ll travel a little further afield soon (Birmingham...hint hint). 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Sex, blogs and rock 'n' roll...

Okay, maybe not so much sex on this post, although you are looking particularly hot today...hubba hubba. Nope, this is a blatent post to promote a trio of lovely people who deserve some of your time/admiration/money.

First up the lovely Jodi Anne Bickley and her One Million Lovely Letters project. Actually 'project's' too small a word for what she's's more of a lifelong commitment, a vocation...a calling...she's like the pope without all the smoke, dudes in dresses and Latin schnizzle. For the uninitiated Jodi was a rising star of the spoken word scene before a nasty little tick bit her at a festival and she contracted encephalitis which then led to a stroke. Here she is in full flow...

Confined to bed for long stretches at a time she decided to turn her talents to writing letters to people who needed a little pick me up, with the aim of completing ONE MILLION. That's a whole lotta writing my friends. Incredibly she's not charging anyone for this and is doing it just 'cos she's one of the loveliest people on planet earth...

Next up a new blog from a dude I met at a gig last week, David Malys. It seems he's been reading The Hearing Aid since it started in 1794 (hands up who else was at that amazing Beethoven / Haydn show...those muthas rocked), for which he frankly deserves a medal. Anyway, he's started a blog, Seven Inch Selections, a fascinating trawl through his record collection complete with the stories behind each purchase. There's something addictive about vinyl and Mr M captures this passion/madness better than most. Plus, if you're a nosy git like me it's the perfect chance to snoop around another man's record box without having to break into their house and get arrested.

Finally the legend that is Tom Peel has launched a brand new Subscription Service promising exclusive access to all his new songs plus all kinds of other goodies including (for a mere £35!) a personalised song too! Good grief. In a better world Tom would have his own TV Show, range of dolls and chain of tea shops but for now he remains one of the best kept secrets in outsider pop. As cool as a British summer and just as trouser moistening...

Here's the man himself with the big can you resist eh?

Plugs over, here's some music for you to play LOUD.

Gawd bless Primal Scream eh? Can't think of a song title, hell, what year is it? 2013? That'll do! Coming soon, Good Friday, May Day, The Seventh Sunday Before Advent and National Fish and Chip Week...

Friday, March 15, 2013

Semi Regular New Music Round Up w/e 15th March

Whoops. Not done one of these for ages. Oh well, anticipation is everything eh? Strap yourselves in...strap on a strap on...strip and strap...hell, everything goes here...

If you watch one video today (apart from one featuring cats dressed as ninjas, a mouse humping an elephant or David Cameron being fisted by the new pope), make it this one from the lovely / slightly deranged Darwin Deez.

Old skool Jan Hammer/Depeche Mode synths and a shouty bloke? That’s me happy then. Welcome to the delightfully named Lust ForYouth...insert your own Jimmy Savile gag here.

Sticking with the young theme here’s another odd vid from Young Dreams...underneath it all there’s a rather lovely hi-life tinged anthem to hope in the face of adversity...that sounds familiar.

This sounds a little like The Rolling Stones if they were fronted by Keith instead of’s’s Black Manila...but still...I imagine it’s a darn sight cheaper going to see ‘em...and probably a darn sight more ‘satisfaction’ too...

Ever wanted to know what Elvis Costello’s pump it up would sound like if it was sped up? You’re in look, here’s NYC punks ParquetCourts.

After listening to Parquet Courts this little beauty from Body Lotion and The Bloody Hands (yes, that’s really their/her name) popped’s three years old but hell, it’s new to us right? I pretty much guarantee this’ll be the most original thing you’ve heard this week...month...year...

That’s all for this issue. I’m going for a rub down and a packet of nuts...

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Claudia Brücken @ O2 Academy, Wednesday 13th March 2013

Back in the glorious golden days of pop, the mid 1980’s, ZTT Records released some of the biggest and most exciting tunes around, with Frankie Goes To Hollywood effectively ruling the charts (and wardrobes...who didn’t have a Frankie Says...t-shirt eh?) for a year or so. Whilst Holly Johnson and co were busily corrupting the nation’s youth with Relax however another ZTT band were producing some of the decade’s most intriguing songs. That band was Propaganda and the singles, Duel and Dr Mabuse, still sound remarkably fresh nearly 30 years on. In the intervening three decades or so the band’s lead singer, Claudia Brücken, has released the odd album here and there and guested on a handful of tracks but now she’s well and truly back with a fascinating solo release, The Lost Are Found, a series of cover versions of hidden gems from everyone from Bowie to The Band. Live shows from Claudia over the years have been rare and tours...well...I can’t remember tonight was a pretty big deal.

Dressed in a simple black suit, heels and diamond necklace and joined by a band that includes partner Paul Humphreys (one half of synthpop kings OMD) she still looks a million Deutschmarks. It’s the voice that really grabs you though and opening number Kiss Like Ether (one of the singles from her own hidden gem, the 1991 album Love: And A Million Other Things) is the perfect showcase. Sounding upbeat and poppy one second then dark and seductive the next she’s got an impressive vocal range, more importantly she knows how to use it adding light and shade just where it’s needed. Kiss Like Ether had kind of faded from my memory a little but it’s a truly great track with hints of Donna Summer’s classic State of Independence and Siouxsie’s Kiss Them For Me in there. Tonight’s backing vocalist David Watson did a particularly fine job of accompanying her too.

It was clear that the lovely Ms Brücken has taken some time with the setlist, sensibly mixing in the older more familiar tunes with the newer stuff and setting off the more chilled out tracks with the dancier numbers. Introduced as “A song from my past” Dr Mabuse made an early appearance and it still sounds groundbreaking, a unique mix of the gothic and the dancefloor, a soundtrack for nightmares and nightclubs. Awesome. Not sure that the added guitar worked so well on this one tonight, perhaps being so familiar with the more sparse original was a factor? A minor quibble though.

Cloud Nine (a co-write with Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore) could almost be a Bond theme, where’s this track been hiding eh? Love it. A gloriously, fabulously, brilliantly camp Snobbery and Decay made a strong pitch for song of the night, with Claudia and David trading lines like Garbo (Greta) and Johnson (Holly).

Of course tonight wasn’t just about revisiting past glories, there’s a new record out and a languid reworking of ELO’s One Summer Dream showed Claudia’s more chillaxed (as the kids used to say) side. It was a classy and suitably dreamy interlude, achieving that wonderfully filmic quality that made you temporarily forget the sub zero temperatures waiting for you outside (yes, it's still ruddy freezing)... 

On top of ELO there was another Brummie link thanks to Claudia’s cover of The Lilac Time’s The Road To Happiness, a country tinged track with a vaguely 60s feel that’s undoubtedly one of the new album’s highlights. Again the more subtle nature of the material showed a different side to Claudia’s vocal ability wrapping you up in a mellow cocoon of sound. Heavenly stuff. An orchestral (manoeuvres in the dark) embellished and very timely cover of man of the moment, David Bowie’s Everyone Says “Hi”, neatly capped off the main set. 

Encore? Of course. As Claudia herself acknowledged she couldn’t play a gig without performing Duel and for 5 minutes a fair portion of the mainly forty something audience went a little weak at the knees (come on now, I’m not the only one who had a Claudia crush after watching that video). If anyone mocks music from the 80s point them in the direction of this tune, sure it sounds of its time but equally there’s stuff in there that makes it seem oddly timeless. Add those slightly disturbing lyrics (the slow lingering death of a relationship?) and Claudia’s dance dominatrix delivery and you’ve got one of the smartest pop songs in history.

Judging by the eager swarm of middle age fanboys around her at the end of the show Claudia’s allure remains as strong as ever but she’s ripe for discovery by a whole new generation of fans raised on those who’ve followed in her wake, step forward everyone from Goldfrapp to Lady Gaga (I’d be frankly amazed if Ms Germanotta didn’t have Duel on her iPod). Simply one of the most distinctive (and underrated) voices in pop. Now that's Propaganda you can all believe in...
The Lost Are Found tour continues: 

Fri 15th – Manchester – Academy 3

Sat 16th – London – Borderline

Sun 17th – Brighton – Concorde

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Layers / Scholars / This Is Sinister @ The Sunflower Lounge, Tuesday 12th March 2013

Ahhhhhh springtime, dontcha just love it? Longer days, buds on the trees, daffs springing up everywhere, the sudden reappearance of our old friend Mr Sun...except someone, somewhere seems to have failed to read the script this year as the temperature allegedly plummeted to a nut shrivelling -10 today (with wind chill). Good grief. Happily tonight’s compact and subterranean venue rapidly achieved a slightly more tropical feel courtesy of This Is Sinister. They’ve been knocking around for a few years now and what was once an odd mix in their early gigs seems to have gelled remarkably well. Psych, prog, country, rock, genre’s immune but somehow they make it work. Musical trainspotters might make links to Pearl Jam and At The Drive In in places but this lot are frankly impossible to pigeonhole and there aren’t too many bands you can say that about these days. Pick of the set included Idle Pleasures and the country rock tinged Never Find A Way, complete with added harmonica, neither of which I can find online anywhere so you’ll just have to go and see ‘em instead. Oh, and ask them to do tonight’s closing number too, a spirited and pant wettingly enjoyable version of Twist and Shout that might just be one of the greatest covers of all time...

Time then for battle of the front men, with London boys Scholars sending their dude up first. The Sunflower Lounge is a little like an adventure playground with stuff to jump off, climb up, stand on, lean over...and Mr Scholars was all over it, leaving the stage after the very first note and spending most of the show in amongst the crowd. You have to admire bands who really make an effort and one glance at Scholars’ You Tube account (172 videos so far and counting) plus their extensive range of merch shows you just how serious they’re taking their one shot at fame and fortune. Happily they put just as much effort into their performance, delivering one anthemic rocker after another. There’s a decent blob of punk spunk in there too with both Bad For Business and Damages (off forthcoming album Always Lead, Never Follow produced by Hundred Reasons’ guitarist Larry Hibbitt) coming across like The Hives getting it on with Rocket From The a sex dungeon. 

It’s new single Black and Blue, with its vocal gymnastics and quiet / loud / slow / fast bits that most make Scholars well worth studying though and if record sales had anything to do with energy tonight it’d sell a million.

A year or so into their existence Layers are shaping up nicely thanks in no small part to lead vocalist Lance’s ability to bring a little more soul to the traditional rock set up. Oh yeah...he’s a human dynamo too, that might have something to do with it. Sensing that he needed to up the stakes if he was going to top Scholars’ main man he took an even more physical approach to performance, culminating with an audacious / suicidal set closing backflip and crowd drenching courtesy of a bottle of mineral water and just the odd drop or two of sweat. In between they played a short but nuclear powered set peaking with last year’s statement of intent, Corners. It’s a freakin' great rock song, neatly tapping into the full range of human emotion in just three minutes, fear, regret, anger...throat shredding insanity...and Lance made the most of it leaping about like his feet were on fire (maybe they were...I wouldn't be at all surprised). Impressive. It was all over far too soon though but, as the old saying goes, always leave ‘em wanting more eh? Appropriately enough the slightly more reflective (only slightly still rocked like a mutha) closing number Gradually was dedicated by Lance to tonight’s promoter, the lovely Rhi Lee, who’s sadly been seduced by the glamour of Laaahnden. Cor blimey...apples and’re ‘avin a larf...leave it Phil/Grant he/she’s not werf it etc etc. Rhi’s been an invaluable supporter of the local music scene here in Birmingham for a while now, putting on some amazing gigs as well doing her thang at The Flapper and The Institute. She’ll be sorely missed. What a 'Rhi Lee' (sorry, couldn't resist it) great night to end on though.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Gone Swordfishing...

For a moment a few years ago record shops seemed to be going the same way as eight track, laser discs and video tapes. Hundreds...thousands perhaps...closed down leaving a huge vinyl shaped hole in High Streets and lives across the world. In Birmingham alone we lost (deep breath): Plastic Factory, Frank’s Wild Records, Second City Sounds, Tempest, Highway 61, Reddingtons Rare Records plus two Virgin/Zavvi stores, a Music Zone and Borders (which had a pretty decent music section for a while). There may even have been more, lost in the memory somewhere. There were record fairs too, at least one a month, with queues to get in and rooms jam packed with unsavoury smelling men all vying for that rare copy of some obscure album from an equally obscure 70s rock band. That was then but this is now and, with HMV grimly hanging on by its claws, Birmingham was left with just independent record shops – The Diskery and Swordfish (plus Music and Video Exchange...but that’s more of a pawn shop...steady now...PAWN). I’ve not been into The Diskery since about 1988, but I imagine it’s not changed much. They tend to deal purely in old/second hand/collectable stuff as opposed to anything released this millennium. So Swordfish, to borrow the title of Graham Jones’ fine book on the decline of the record retailing was, ‘The Last Shop Standing’.  Faced first with high rents and then the end of their lease it seemed doomed. Incredibly though last Saturday, March 9th, they opened up a new store in Dalton Street, just a stumble away from Birmingham Magistrates Courts (perfect for those with a...ahem...'criminal record'...oh dear).  

As with their last incarnation it’s mainly a mix of second hand and collectable stuff at the moment but they’ve just stocked – and sold out of (more copies coming I believe) – the new Bowie album and have a decent range of vinyl reissues on offer. 

If you want something the chances are they’ll know where to get it too. The owners, Gaz and Mike, have been running the place since 1979...first in Hurst Street, then Needless Alley, then Temple Street and now their new home and the walls are liberally adorned with cool mementos from over 30 years in the biz. 

I spent three happy hours in there myself on Saturday and emerged with a handful of vinyl and a couple of bargain CD’s. Pleasingly there was a steady stream of punters during that time and that’s pretty much the reason for this piece. If we want a physical record shop in Birmingham then we...all of us...yes...even you...have to support it. 

So spread the word, pop in once in a while, order something, have a chat, soak up the atmosphere, experience me...that’s something you can’t just download.  

Swordfish Records is at 66 Dalton Street, Birmingham, B4 7LX Opening hours 10am – 5.30pm Monday to Saturday.

Tel: 07563 567473

Twitter: @SwordfishBham

Monday, March 11, 2013

Layers live!

This Tuesday hotly tipped rockers Layers play The Sunflower Lounge along with Scholars and This Is Sinister...all for a budget busting £4.

With Birmingham suddenly hotter than a sumo wrestler in a sauna (step forward PEACE, Swim Deep, Laura Mvula, Jaws, Goodnight Lenin etc) they might just be the next ones to break through. Be there or have to lie to your mates in 6 months time...and you know how you get when you try to lie...all sweaty and blotchy, it's really not a good look.

Tickets here!

PS: There's a nasty rumour that this could be the lovely Rhi Lee's last gig as a promoter in Brum for a while, so make twice the effort to be there. So what if you live in Nebraska...there's still time if you hop on a plane.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Mostly Awesome...

Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul Festival has just unveiled its line up for this year and...well...just take a look at this...

Chic, Bonobo, Soul II Soul, Craig that's a line up worth getting your knickers in a twist for...or someone else's knickers for that matter. Further down the bill there's plenty more treats with The Blockheads, Greg Bird and Flamingo Flame, Troumaca, Smoove & Turrell...hell, it's all good. Oh and Candi Staton too. If she plays this my head might explode...

Tickets WILL sell out so if you want to go (silly question) get yo ass into gear right now. For the trainspotters out there here's the full bill in a day by day stylee. 

Bonobo // Hypnotic Brass Ensemble // Hiatus Kaiyote // Troumaca // Yes King // Stubborn Heart // BJ Smith // Greg Bird & Flamingo Flame // Alternative Dubstep Orchestra // Antelope


Candi Staton // Craig Charles // The Blockheads // The Fantasy Funk Band // Smoove & Turrell // The Haggis Horns // Jess Roberts & The Silver Rays // The Soul Circle Gang // Dubcherry // Terri Shaltiel // Leigh Coleman

Chic featuring Nile Rodgers // Soul II Soul // Snarky Puppy // Gogo Penguin // The Initiative // Mammal Hands // Lokkhi Terra // Richard Foote Marching Band // Martin Trotman Band // Anthony Marsden Band // Stella Roberts Band // Jazzlines Ensemble

Tickets are on sale now and are priced from £35 - £85


For more details visit

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Don but not forgotten...ATD's back

Rapper, producer, mixer...Akira the Don...or maybe that should be Akira the Dad now, is back with a brand new mixtape, number 29 no less.  Needless to say it's another winner, oozing with lyrical loveliness' beats. Yes, bangin' beats. I'm down wiv da kids. Brrraaaaaaaaaaaaaaap. Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013


Back in the mid 80s Propaganda released a pair of truly classic singles (see above...if you’ve not heard them you’re in for a treat) and the voice behind them was the lovely Claudia Brücken. Since the Propaganda days she’s done a bunch of other stuff, most recently working with partner Paul Humphreys (from synthpop pioneers OMD) as Onetwo. Now she’s off on an all too rare tour of the UK and Germany this month to promote her latest release The Lost Are Found, a fascinating set of covers from everyone from Pet Shops Boys to The Band. Hurrah! Unmissable. Here’s the list of dates:

MARCH 2013 – UK and Germany

Tues 12th – Glasgow – ABC2 – tickets
Wed 13th – Birmingham – Academy 3 – tickets
Fri 15th – Manchester – Academy 3 – tickets
Sat 16th – London – Borderline – tickets
Sun 17th – Brighton – Concorde – tickets

Wed 20th – Bochum – Zeche – tickets
Thu 21th – Frankfurt – Nachtleben – tickets
Sat 23th – Berlin – Postbahnhof – tickets
Sun 24th – Hamburg – Gruenspan – tickets

And here’s the latest single from the album, a timely cover of Bowie’s Everyone Says “Hi” from his 2002 album Heathen. Enjoy...