Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Wooden Horse – This Kind Of Trouble

Building on their rather darn fine debut album, What Comes Around, Wooden Horse are back with the follow up This Kind Of Trouble, another mightily impressive collection of mainly self penned songs from Worcester's finest purveyors of Americana. There’s the same authentic feel of the debut with lead singer Jamie Knight’s careworn vocals adding that touch of true touch of pain that real country blues demands and Ben Church painting in the background colours with some typically fine slide guitar playing. Long time live partner in crime pianist Stuart McIlroy’s on board too, notably bringing the boogie woogie to a rollicking cover of J.J. Cale’s (who sadly passed away just a few days ago) Crazy Momma and the Horse’s equally fine track You Ain’t Letting Me Down. Perhaps it’s the more reflective songs that are this album’s best calling cards though with the mournful laments of The Walking Rain and album closer Time I’s Leaving both striking that perfect balance between defeat and defiance. “Cos I wake up feelin’ empty, have to find a new best friend” sings Jamie on the latter, sounding for all the world like a dude setting off alone down a dusty track somewhere in the deep mid-west (as opposed to the deep West Midlands). Trouble never sounded so good. 

This Kind Of Trouble is out on 30th August 2013.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Indietracks Festival, Midlands Railway Centre Butterley, 26th July – 28th July

It’s midday. I’m on a steam train. Watching a band. Welcome to Indietracks (set in the lovely surroundings of the Midlands Railway Centre Butterly), simply one of the loveliest festivals in the whole wide world.

What defines indie music these days could well make a decent sized dissertation (I daresay it already has) but there was/is a distinctive sound/feel/ethos behind pretty much all of the 50 or so acts on offer over the weekend, even if the music varied from lively pop punk to fragile folk (and all ‘points’ in between...I warn you now this may not be the last railway related pun). So what, aside from the original meaning (something that was released on an independent record label) makes something indie? Well it’s the difference between tweed and polyester, real ale and Carling, Tony Benn and Tony’s something genuine, heartfelt and homemade, it’s quirky and a little off the wall, more woolly hat than baseball cap, more jingle jangle than jungle. Any clearer? No? Good. That’s kind of the indie way I guess.

I listen to my fair share of music (regular readers...hello to both of’re looking well... will note that my tastes are best described as ‘broad’) but the vast majority of the bands on offer were still ‘ear fresh’ to me as it were, which partially eliminated that annoying festival dilemma of deciding what the hell to go and see when two bands you really, really, really want to watch clash. This normally results (in my case at least) in running around in angst ridden circles missing both bands and then downing a pint of overpriced ‘beer’ to cheer yourself up. Whilst we’re on the subject of beer Indietracks is particularly well blessed on this front with a cracking range of real ales (probably made by bearded blokes called Trevor or Geoff) and a couple of lethal ciders. They were, without exception, all pretty fabulous too.

On then to the music and we managed to tick off an impressive number of bands over the three days. Perhaps one or two sent the tweeometer into overdrive, but then again in indieworld twee’s a badge of honour not an insult, right? In fact musical standards were impressively high with some truly groin warmingly enjoyable sets. Day One (well evening started at 7pm) saw a trio of highlights kicking off with Big Wave’s summery guitar pop and The Tuts. The latter are a punky female three piece with a seemingly easy knack for penning instantly hummable tunes with attitude. 

Think Kate Nash (I believe she’s a bit of a fan...) meets The Slits. By Sunday night an impressive number of the crowd were seen sporting The Tuts t-shirts too so I’m guessing the rest of Indietracks loved ‘em as much as I did. The big draw this evening though was indisputable indie legends bis. Famously the first ‘unsigned’ band to appear on Top Of The Pops they released a fine run of classic indiepop singles before splitting in 2003.  Happily they reformed to play the odd gig, although lead singer Manda Rin may have her hands full soon as she’s expecting her very own bis-kid. 

Awwww bless. Tonight’s gig sent me spinning joyfully back to the 90s with a hits rich selection of tracks including Icky Poo Air Raid, Kill Yr Boyfriend, Kandy Pop (I nearly pogoed myself into A and E during this one) and...hold the front page...a new song called Take a Deep Breath. Wisely it doesn’t mess with the classic bis sound too much and apparently there’s a decent stash of other new stuff just waiting in the wings. Why bis aren’t held in greater esteem baffles me, maybe penning set closer The Powerpuff Girls theme tune didn’t do them any favours but heck, even this sounded great tonight.  

After catching a snatch (steady now) of acoustic singer/songwriter Northern Spies on a real life puffing steam train (these on board gigs are hugely popular and can –’s a train carriage after all – prove tricky to get into though) day two kicked off properly with some lovely folky female harmonies courtesy of Jupiter In Jars in the beautiful (if rather warm...baking in fact) tin tabernacle church. 

Mercifully outside and next up, hailing from Athens, GA Tunabunny (pictured least one of them is anyway) rather brilliantly mashed together a little B52s with a dash of early Go Go’s and just the merest hint (in the guitars on (Song For My) Solar Sister particularly) of fellow Athens residents REM. Pale Spectres attracted a deservedly healthy crowd for their jingly jangly indietastic set, the sort of gig where it’s practically impossible to avoid sweeping your fringe over your eyes, looking down at your shoes and swaying gently from side to side. As if their indie cred needed backing up you could almost imagine a Smiths era Morrissey warbling one of their best tunes, Supermarket Love. 

Winner of one of the best male voices of the weekend The Understudies’ lead singer sounded like a cross between Paul Heaton and Stuart Staples with their lushly string embellished song Jackie (I’m pretty sure it was introduced as This Old House though) also hinting at a glorious cross between their two bands (The Beautiful South and Tindersticks respectively). 

Great stuff. Milky Wimpshakes’ anarcho rebellion stream of consciousness anthem Chemical Spray got a few heads banging (mine included...I blame the cider) before we ventured back into the again for The Magic Theatre. Consisting of 50% of late 90s indie hopefuls Ooberman, Sophia and Dan, we met one dude who’d travelled hundreds of miles just to see them. It was worth the journey. With backing strings from the Liverpool Philharmonic (happily on a laptop, I fear if they’d all tried to fit inside the church the entire place may have dissolved in a pool of molten tin) and Sophia’s beautifully ethereal vocals it’s a heady combination. The songs are every bit as a fascinating, taking in everything from the slightly ghostly tale of a young Victorian girl trying to finish sowing a sampler before the grim reaper comes a-callin’ through to a tale of a wife poisoning her husband. It’s not all death and decay though (no matter how beautifully portrayed), as the Country meets Latin American fusion of I Got The Answer was joyful enough to lift even the sorriest of souls. Oober-fans were well rewarded with four or five tracks too, including simply divine versions of Roll Me In Cotton and Shorley Wall. So good I forgot to get my camera out...

Back outside and Wave Pictures made their bid for catchiest song of the weekend with the twisted shanty of Spaghetti before Cars Can Be Blue lived up to at least part of their name with Dirty Song (sample lyric “You can sodomize me, get behind and ride me, stuff your cock inside me, proceed to fuck me blindly) and I Am A Slut. DIY shouty indie punk at its dementedly shabby best. For some Pastels were one of the big draws of the weekend, others favoured the livelier The Brilliant Corners. I plumped for the latter (this turned out to be an even smarter move once the weather turned). 

Currently celebrating 30 years The Brilliant Corners are indiepop pioneers with a string of early indiechart hits. With three guitars and a bass there’s plenty of jingle jangle going on but the Corners’ secret weapon’s their trumpet. It’s used sparingly but it gives them more of a distinctive sound, best heard this evening on the bopping brilliant Delilah Sounds. As well as thoroughly enjoying the Corners our move to the indoor stage saved us from a frankly apocalyptic rain storm which resulted in tonight’s headliners Camera Obscura being moved inside. “I blame The Pastels for making it rain” lamented lead singer Traceyanne. Formed way back in 1996 it’s perhaps only recently that they’ve broken through  to the wider world courtesy of a TV ad using their song French Navy and some impressive radio support for their hummable single Do It Again from new album Desire Lines. 

Both tracks got an airing this evening with Do It Again best capturing their particular brand of slightly wistful indie pop and the decidedly upbeat (for Camera Obscura anyway) French Navy sending the crowd out into the stormy night on a high. Given the pouring rain it was a miracle that the British Navy weren’t called out...

Day three and we took an hour or two to explore some more of the Midland Railway Centre site (part of the money raised through the festival goes towards keeping it all on track), pausing on the way to stroke the odd owl or two (a local sanctuary were here to raise some dosh too). Did you know that some owls can live for up to 70 years?! No, me neither. A brief sojourn in the only fork lift truck museum in the WORLD...yes...I know...try to contain your excitement for a moment...lead to another museum crammed full of beautiful old trains in various states of repair. How we ended up with horrible plastic tubes to travel in when once we were surrounded by walnut veneer and lovely chrome fittings I’ll never know but I guess that’s ‘progress’ for you. While we're at it aren’t enamel signs beautiful too? 

I can’t imagine any order, warning or product that isn’t made a little bit more appealing by being rendered in enamel. Hmmm...maybe British Gas should start sending their bills that way?

Anyway, back to the music and The Beautiful Word simply stole my heart in the tin church. 

The combined vocals of their two female singers would frankly melt diamonds and each of their folky tinged song had that gentle toe tapping quality that takes you out of the real world and far off into somewhere magical. And no, that really wasn’t the real ale talking. Truly gorgeous stuff.

Back outside and Flowers blossomed in the sun delicately laying ethereal vocals over the top of reverb-tastic guitars and drums paving the way for Kid Canaveral. A kind of ‘Arab Strap you can dance to’ they’re yet another of those great Scottish band that manage to be mournfully epic. Hmmm...maybe it’s something in the water up there?  Or booze perhaps, as evidenced by set highlight, the decidedly bouncy You Only Went Out To Get Drunk Last Night. Bonus point for revealing that one of the band has “introduced her handbag to the contents of her stomach last night” after one too many pints of Chedder Valley Cider. I feel your pain m’luv. Still with me? Good, nearly there. Sunday night’s highlights were a kind of amorous double bill with The Lovely Eggs first followed by the elusive lesser spotted Helen Love (rarely seen live apparently). The Lovely Eggs are proper nuts. That’s a good thing by the way. A great thing in fact.  Any band with a song called Fuck It gets my vote, if they also do a video for another song with comedy legend John Shuttleworth then it’s a bonus. Lancashire’s finest The Lovely Eggs tick both boxes (egg boxes, naturally). 

The Shuttleworth featuring vid, Don’t Look At Me (I Don’t Like It) is as fine a piece of twisted indie as you’ll ever hear and tonight the sight of several dozen people raising their “sausage roll thumbs” in unison (so much cooler than lighters eh?) was a brilliant moment.  

A quick dash outside and we caught an all too brief glimpse (damn those line up clashes) of The Wake, the missing link between Joy Divison and New Order, before hotfooting it back to the indoor stage for Helen Love. Formed in 1992 and John Peel favourites they’re perhaps the indiest band in the world with a record box full of limited edition singles in various shades of vinyl and some truly classic indie disco tunes. Tonight’s set was all action, no talk (I don’t think Helen herself uttered a word) with the band’s Ramones meets DIY indie mash up inspiring the biggest crowd action of the whole weekend. It’s dance in your pants fun, so DIY you half expect to see Nick Knowles behind the sound desk. They played all the ‘hits’ with Happy Hardcore, Shifty Disco and Long Live The UK Music Scene going down particularly well. 

The whole thing was capped off with a riotous Does Your Heart Go Boom which saw a dozen or so fans invited up on stage and armed with glitter mortars, sending thousands of bits of shiny plastic gently falling across the crowd. Who needs lasers when you’ve got glitter eh?

I’ve been to my fair share of festivals over the years but this really has to be one of the best...and friendliest around. Within minutes of pitching our tent we’d got chatting to a few people who became firm festival buddies (hello to Ross, Adam – the dude left it until Sunday to reveal he was one of the members of the team that won University Challenge last year – Clare and Mark) and we ended up on Sunday having a good old natter to the lovely Vintage Vixen and her other half Jon. Every single one of the Indietracks crew were smiley happy people and you didn’t hear a cross word all weekend...which given the amount of real ale and cider downed is frankly a miracle. If he were still around I’m fairly certain that this would be the patron saint of indie John Peel’s favourite festival. No doubt about it. Trains, real ale, lovely people, limited edition coloured vinyl...he’d be in heaven. I was. Chuffin’ brilliant.  

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Now that's what I call Indietracks...

Nearly time for Indietracks 2013! It's my first time and my knowledge of at least 85% of the bands is sketchy to say the least. Well, not so much sketchy as non existent but that's a huge part of this festival's charm...the opportunity to see the often hidden cream of indiedom over one indietastic an old railway station to boot. Genius. Happily the organisers have put together a cracking compilation album featuring pretty much every band on the bill. You can listen to it for free or download the whole thing for a frankly kerrrrazily cheap £2 (more if you're feeling flush...all the dosh goes to keeping the Midlands Railway Trust on track). Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

One Beat Saturday featuring (deep breath...) Boat To Row/JAWS/Dumb/Wide Eyed/Velvet Texas Cannonball/Grafham Water Sailing Club/Racing/Youth Man/Ian Bowkett/Bad Moon/Sugar/These Kings @ mac, Saturday 20th July 2013

As thunder and lightening rain down (literally) on Baron Towers the warm and settled weather of last weekend seems like a long time ago. Thankfully mother nature's clearly a music fan though as One Beat Saturday neatly avoided the frankly apocalyptic storms currently drenching anyone silly enough to go out in a vest and flip flops today. Anyway enough of the weather, it’s been a pretty impressive 12 months for Birmingham bands/artists (at last) with PEACE, Swim Deep and Troumaca all making names for themselves outside B-Town and Laura Mvula securing a top 10 album. Capitalising on all this One Beat Saturday gathered together another dozen up and coming acts kicking off with These Kings’ impressive Editors go math rock-ish set, Sugar (nope, not the Bob Mould version) who laid some cool stoner vocals over twisted goth grunge guitars and Bad Moon who funked the place up a little with slap bass and a 60s underground meets 90s indie vibe. Next up poet Ian Bowkett made the first of several appearances, rather brilliantly capturing what it’s like to be young and in love these days (alcohol seems to be a pretty important it were), a theme he winningly returned to throughout the day/night. Youth Man’s punk fuelled assault on the senses were a real highlight, with blisteringly paced tracks running headlong into sludgier territory whilst Cold, released last year as a single, revealed a more soulful, reflective side. Punk Anansie anyone?

Racing’s laidback retro funk grooves provided the perfect afternoon summer soundtrack (impressed with the moustache on the keyboard player too). Check out this bad boy, cooooool eh? 

They paved the way for Grafham Water Sailing Club to twist heads with their motorik beats and disintegrating Joy Division drums. So good in fact that they set off the fire alarms (no mean feat in an outdoor gig). Unlike most of today’s bands Velvet Texas Cannonball have been around for a while and all that experience showed as they put on the kind of set that fans of classic rock (think The Doors, Free, Led Zeppelin) would happily sell their denim jackets to witness. Wide Eyed’s take on shoegaze added some neat Smashing Pumpkins style riffs to the mix leaving Dumb to undermine The Pixies’ comeback with a set of tracks that nudge close to Black Francis at his bitter best. Here's their latest track, uploaded mere minutes ago...

The impressive number of Jaws t-shirt wearing audience members were rewarded with their particular brand of jangly 90s style indie rock that fellow B-Towner’s PEACE and Swim Deep have successfully revitalised. They got the biggest crowd up and dancing too...well swaying from side to side at least. 

That just left Boat To Row to folk things up at the end. Closing their set and the whole wonderfully eclectic event with their plucking beautiful love song and ‘theme tune’, A Boat To Row, To Row To You, brilliantly demonstrated that Birmingham’s certainly moving to more than just one beat these days. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Traps - The Honey Drips

Oh my...I'm not sure this brand new video for The Traps fine single The Honey Drips will make it through Cammo's naughty filter. Whilst I and I'm guessing pretty much all of the human race aren't in favour of kiddie fiddling, rape or other nastiness I can't help feeling that trying to banish 'porn' (which no doubt covers consensual straight and gay stuff, erotica material too) from the internet is beset with difficulties. Would both this and Amanda Palmer's naked Daily Mail trashing video be allowed? Hmmmm. Who's to say what constitutes 'porn'? Having read a page or two of that Fifty Shades nonsense (pretty grim stuff) would the erotic written word be banned too? Then again the thought that 8 year old kids are routinely accessing Gloucester Garage Gang Bangs Volume 8 is pretty disturbing. Anyway that's a debate for another time and place...for now we're all still free to watch a charming young lady dribble honey all over herself.

PS: In the interests of equality here's some man candy too courtesy of my old favourites The Weather Girls.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Amanda Palmer does Creep

Want to know why I love Amanda Palmer so much? She does stuff like this, 'ninja gigs' for free out in the open air taking music and magic to the people. Here's a video of yesterday's in Dublin, just playing for the love of it...

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Victories At Sea – In Memory Of

Victories At Sea have been bewitching live audiences for a while now, but a proper release of any of their music’s been frustratingly absent. Happily that’s all been rectified with In Memory Of, a 4 track debut EP on the uber cool Static Caravan label. Opening with Stay Positive, which manages the neat trick of being atmospheric enough to enjoy lying in a lonely bedsit but sufficiently groovy to dance to (in an eighties stylee), it has pleasing hints of prime era OMD and Killing Joke in there, coupled with the kind of anthemic guitar sounds that Big Country practically trademarked back in the day. Next up Dive sounds like the kind of track that PEACE would SSWEAT BBLOOD AND TTEARS over, whilst No Escape’s dreamily sparse outlines gradually get filled in with lush thickly layered guitar. Glorious. Truly there is no escape. Serial killer’s lament? Musical suicide note? Break up anthem? Whatever the story behind Low it’s a suitably epic end to the EP. “Now the sky is falling” laments VAS’s lead singer JP hauntingly as an ominous wave of sound descends then echoes away to nothingness. An EP that’s well worth remembering...

In Memory Of is available right now via Piccadilly Records 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Amanda Palmer & The GTO / Bitter Ruin / The Simple Pleasure / Jherek Bischoff @ The Institute, Tuesday 16th July 2013

Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra “Do It With a Rockstar” (FULL UNCENSORED - NSFW) from Amanda Palmer on Vimeo.

Amanda Palmer is naked. Not literally, although she’s not averse to getting her kit off (as both the video above and her recent Daily Mail baiting set in London amply demonstrated), nope Amanda Palmer’s nakedness this evening is more of the emotional kind. In fact whether it’s her lyrics, blog, occasional webcasts or spontaneous guerrilla gigs she’s possibly one of the most open and ‘genuine’ (whatever that word means in today’s all too superficial world) performers/human beings you’re ever likely to stumble across. Whilst Richey Manic famously carved the words ‘4 Real’ into his arm with a razor blade Palmer demonstrates her realness in rather less bloody, but equally striking ways (cut her in half and I reckon she’d have the words ‘4 Real’ running through her like a stick of rock) as tonight’s gloriously ramshackle (I mean this in the best sense of not really knowing what was going to happen next) show proved.  

This honesty inspires some pretty devoted fans too and when she decided to go it alone without labels and all that jazz she swiftly raised an incredible record breaking (ironically) $1.2million via crowdfunding site Kickstarter. She’s not been immune from controversy (or, to put it more sensibly, pointless bitching on the intermess) though and a request for local musicians to play on this tour for “hugs and beer” blew up spectacularly when she was accused of failing to pay artist for their musical abilities when she’d just pocketed a fortune for hers. For the record I was on her side here. I’m guessing most Palmer fans would happily pay/give up a kidney to appear on stage with her but nevertheless she backed down and is now apparently paying cash money to anyone who joins her up there. I mention all this to give newcomers to the lovely Ms Palmer some idea of just who/what we’re dealing with here. Despite appearances a hell of a lot of artists simply play it safe these days, Palmer doesn’t and, whilst it all seems to have worked out pretty well for her, that takes balls...or ovaries...or whatever.  

Anyway first up a trio of typically eclectic support acts (the last time I saw Amanda she had some burlesque dancers and the wonderful Devotchka opening for her) kicking off with Jherek Bischoff(guitars and uke), The Simple Pleasure (electropop) and Bitter Ruin (feisty boy/girl duo). A proper review of any of these is pretty pointless as their presence was pretty fleeting (Bitter Ruin played just one song for instance) although various members showed up in Amanda’s band or during her set. Speaking of Ms Palmer she introduced all the acts herself, a nice touch and a good way to get the crowd behind them too. Unusually for support acts the audience actually listened. Yes I know, miraculous eh? This wasn’t a regular gig crowd though. Palmer’s audiences tend to be, let’s say, more colourful characters. They’re predominantly female too, eliminating that slightly testosterone filled air (or perhaps it’s just BO) that you often get at gigs.

In terms of the main show Palmer kicked off (literally) with Do It With A Rockstar, a primal scream of a track which sees her seemingly battling with the desire of music fans to get close (very close in this case) to their idols and in return the idol’s desire to be loved. It’s a theme that Palmer returns to during the show, notably in a speech about her addiction (I don’t think that’s too strong a word for it in this case) to the ‘net’, a rollercoaster of good and bad that...and this was one of those uncomfortable moments...she “wants to get off”. At the risk of this review turning into some kind of amateur therapy session...and if she does ever read this...I’d advise her to do just that. I’m not one for shouting out stuff at gigs but I had to bite my lip to stop from screaming “Do it! The internet’s NOT REAL”. Sadly most of us have fallen under its spell pretty quickly but answer me this question. How many of the people who leave nasty comments online would actually say such stuff in real life? Exactly. Think of the internet as a magical kingdom full of all kinds of weird and wonderful creatures, clearly that includes the odd troll or two. Well, millions of them in fact. More than most other artists Palmer seems to spend a hell of a lot of time there and there’s a nagging feeling in my head that it’s not doing her much good.

Anyway, back to the gig. It’s an explosive way to open a show and by the end Palmer was already a trifle moist. Rather than taking a breather though the band launched into a familiar riff...holy fuck it’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. Palmer steps off the stage onto the barrier and is held aloft by the crowd then carried right to the back of the venue before vanishing into a pit of bodies. Extraordinary. Singers do the odd crowd surf if course but it’s often near the end of a show. Doing it at the start is a trifle unconventional. Happily she survives the ordeal and clambers back onstage sodden, hair dripping down her face and bra seemingly on the verge of making its escape (Note to The Daily Mail, stays in place...nipple outrage averted). The rest of the show’s a winning mix of old songs, new stuff, the odd cover (The Smiths Please Please Let Me Get What I Want and Pulp’s Common People) and chat. Palmer’s music clearly means a lot to her fans (an unusually high number passed the ‘knowing all the words to all the songs’ test) but perhaps not as much as Palmer the person. If she ever decides to jack in music I’m pretty sure she could happily carve out another career as a chat show host/life coach or therapist.

For a two hour gig a hell of a lot happened and recounting it all in dry, clinical detail kind of misses the point of it all. Trust me though, an Amanda Palmer gig is one of the most extraordinary musical happenings you’re ever likely to witness. Here are just four of the highlights though:

Bottomfeeder – wearing a shabby coat onto which had been sewn a long, wide train of fabric Palmer plunges gently off the barriers and, as she’s carried aloft, the train’s spread out covering (anointing?) the faithful. Strangely beautiful.

Map Of Tasmania – one woman’s homage to her hairy bush played on a uke. Beat that Mumford and Son. Palmer’s not one for shaving her lady bits...or indeed any part of her anatomy. It’s rare to see hairy female underarms in this country but Palmer sports a particularly fine pair of armpit barnets. Given the hot weather I’ve been carrying out my own observations amongst the female British public and the most I’ve spotted is the occasional spot of stubble. The revolution starts here...possibly. 

Anyway, it’s a surprisingly jaunty tune and any song that requires the audience to shout “Fuck it!” every few seconds has to be good.  

Bigger On The Inside – this is a new song and during the intro Palmer freely admitted that her life’s been pretty shitty recently. The cynics out there would probably find this tricky to accept. After all $1.2million ain’t chicken feed and most artists would give their right nipple to have the kind of loyal fans that Palmer has. Of course, as already mentioned, Palmer takes criticism to heart, and clearly the slagging off that comes with the territory of fame has got to her of late. Add the illness of a close friend and mentor plus the odd email from fans seeking advice from her after suffering all kinds of abuse and trauma and perhaps it’s little wonder that she’s only written a mere two songs over the last year. 

Tonight the song itself is pretty painful to listen to, basically a stream of consciousness reflecting the last 12 months, she falters slightly at the end as a single but a distinct tear ploughs a lonely furrow down her sweat soaked face.      

Smells Like Teen Spirit – this went down so well that the band did it again as the encore with, if anything, even more moshing than before. Reviewers often say that the crowd goes mental when, in reality, they do nothing of the sort. This evening they actually did go three shades of crazy, a flailing mass of eyeliner, piercings and glitter.  

PS: Unable to quell the aging fanboy in me I hung around the back of the venue after the show with the teens hoping for a possible guerrilla gig or a chance to give her a hug. Despite clearly being knackered she did come out eventually and patiently signed stuff, posed for pictures and pressed the flesh. One girl burst into tears after meeting her and Amanda whispered something in her ear that seemed to help. This lead me to think once again that maybe she really is giving too much of herself and feeling a little uncomfortable about witnessing such an intimate moment I wandered off.  Somehow the thought of me, a middle aged bloke with a silly moustache, taking up her time when clearly others need her so much more just didn’t feel right...

I’ll leave you with perhaps the most poignant and telling moment of the evening. After playing Bigger On The Inside and mulling over the ups and downs of life online she quietly (and with just the merest hint of desperation in her voice) uttered a few simple words that we could all do with remembering “I just want everyone to be nice”. Here’s hoping the twisted Palmer haters out there are listening too eh? 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

One Beat!

Somewhat unbelievably we appear to have a summer this year. Yes, sun, warmth, wasps, flabby white flesh sweatily roasting all over the place (seriously, it’s enough to make you go vegetarian) and everything! Amazing. We might as well take advantage of it as the next decent summer’s not due until 2019 (I know, I’ve been chatting to Mother Nature in ‘Spoonies) so why not head down to the mac this weekend for One Beat Saturday, a glittering showcase of some of B-Town’s brightest hopes. The fun starts at 1.30pm and finishes at 10.00pm...when it’ll probably still be warm enough cook an egg on a bald man’s head. Actually I might give that a go...

Here are just a trio of the audio delights on offer: 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Amanda Palmer - Dear Daily Mail

This is hilarious. When The Daily Mail's 'review' of Amanda Palmer's Glasto gig focussed purely on her nipple falling out of her bra she penned this delightful little ditty. As if to ram home the fact that she didn't give a toss about them publishing a picture of said nipple (anyone with even a passing knowledge of Palmer knows that she spends a fair amount of her time in various states of undress) she ended the song in the nude. Now that's attitude. She plays The Institute in Birmingham tomorrow night. I'm guessing The Daily Mail won't be on the guestlist...

Drakelow – Swallowing Diamonds

Swallowing Diamonds. Not normally something I’d recommend. Damn expensive way to fill yourself up. Peanuts, that’s what I’d go for. Or some of that odd Bombay Mix stuff that looks a little like the bottom of a budgies cage. Anyway, emerging from the ashes of Hearing Aid favourites The Young Runaways, Drakelow have just released their rather sparkling debut track, Swallowing Diamonds (see, there was a point to the intro...sort of...forgive me, it’s hot and my moustache is terrible limp). It’s got a slightly harder undercurrent (edgier guitars that veer close to The Twilight Sad territory in places) than a lot of the Runaways stuff whilst still retaining those lush orchestral flourishes that really made their sound. Enjoy! 

It’s a ‘live-in’ thing...

Over four decades after their first hit the music of ELO still sounds pretty extraordinary, a lush mix of classical and pop with the kind of killer hooks that lodge themselves in your brain the second you hear them and just don’t ever leave. It looks unlikely that the band will ever get back together again but happily The ELO Experience has stepped into the breach and are dropping by (or dropping space ship perhaps?) The New Alexandra Theatre on Friday August 2nd.

Tickets available right now, right here.  

PS: In honour of the weather (I read the other day that this is the longest period of sunny weather since wonder everyone's running around naked) here's a suitably sunny track from the original band too! Altogether now "Mr Blue Skyyyy..."

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Lamours @ The Botanical Gardens, Friday 12th July 2013

Glamour. Style. Class. Where did it all go wrong eh? Look back at old photos and no respectable lady would dream of leaving the house without her slap on, a smart outfit and a hat to match. Chaps were just as well turned out, heck even the coal man wore a waistcoat. Now? Good grief. Where do we start? Onesies? Flip flops? Shell suits? I’m pretty convinced that the decline and fall of western civilisation began once we all started wearing jeans and discarding our hats and ties. Think about it. If you look like you’ve just crawled out of a bin is it any surprise you act like trash? Happily there is a small but growing band of resistance fighters in the ‘vintage scene’ who scour charity shops and save up their pounds, shillings and pences to buy faithful recreations of clothes from a more glamorous era. Clearly tonight’s band The Lamours well and truly fall into this category, not only dressing the part but bringing a vintage flavour to a dazzlingly wide range of top tunes (ancient and modern) too.

Fronted by the glamorous Lola Lamour this13 piece band is here to play one of the biggest gigs of this year’s BirminghamInternational Jazz and Blues Festival in the delightful surroundings of the Botanical Gardens. With the ground in front of the bandstand thick with picnic rugs overflowing with dips, chips, olives and all manner of delightful comestibles from Mssrs Marks and Spencer Lola and her Lamours kick things off in fine style with a sultry jazz tinged version of Tainted Love, slowing down the original (Gloria Jones’ Northern soul stomper) and the more famous synth pop version (Soft Cell’s global smash hit) and transforming it into a sassy come on. Lola’s a natural glamour puss, constantly shimmying across the stage like a Hollywood starlet and rhythmically waving her arms about whilst her young but impressively tight band provide an authentic sound. It’s not just the vocal performance, movement and music that makes the night though. The between song banter, especially the innuendo laced references to Tom’s trumpet (which seemed to tickle the fancy of several ladies in the audience) harked back to the days when Mae West could scandalise a nation with just a few words and a raised eyebrow.

Across the two hour set the band plunders a wide range of genres (jazz, rockabilly, country, pop, death metal...oh alright, I made the last one up...I reckon they could get away with it though) and eras, from vintage staples like Minnie the Moocher through to imaginative reworkings of Touch and Go’s sole hit Would You Go To Bed With Me (naturally aimed at Tom this evening...that boy must have some trumpet) and Britney Spears seminal (ooooh dodgy choice of words there) Oops I Did It Again. In the latter Lola becomes Jessica Rabbit made flesh and for a few minutes, the sedate setting of the Botanical Gardens magically becomes a smoke filled speakeasy in 1920s Noo Yoik. Lovely to hear the late great Kirsty MacColl’s In These Shoes get a fresh airing too. Sensibly they’ve not messed with the original too much, keeping the original samba vibe in tact...although I imagine one or two gentlemen were rather distracted by Lola’s shapely legs. Ahem. Loved the version of Tom Jones’ early number This and That too, slightly darker than a lot of the set it was a particularly feisty performance featuring some cool guitar electric guitar from Kev (another band member on the receiving end of Lola’s it were...). They even tackle country via Tear Stained Letter, albeit country with a bit of a Latin flourish...and rock ‘n’ roll...(and why the heck not eh?) with Lola donning a suitable ‘yee haw’ hat to mark the occasion. Ending with I’ll Fly With You (cue another hat...this time the kind of thing that Carmen Miranda might dismiss as being a little OTT) , which inspired a small but enthusiastic conga line to snake its way between the picnic rugs, this hugely entertaining evening comes to a suitably up beat end. 

And, with a sassy wiggle, she’s off into the night. Oh L’amour...I think I’m in love...

Friday, July 12, 2013

Tonight! Live! The Lamours!

As part of the Birmingham International Jazz and Blues Festival vintage chanteuse Lola Lamour brings her 13 piece band to The Botanical Gardens for a classy evening of swing, tango, blues, samba, rockabilly...and Britney Spears like you've never heard her before. Be there or be oh so square.

Tickets just £15 (£10 concessions).

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Lewis Floyd Henry @ Church Street Square, Wednesday 10th July 2013

Playing as part of the magnificent (seriously, where else can you enjoy hundreds of free gigs as good as these over a two week period?) Birmingham International Jazz and Blues Festival one man band Lewis Floyd Henry touched down from whatever planet he's happily living on to play one of his typically eclectic sets. Embracing everything from blues to rap, metal to hip hop and covering such subjects as...wait for changes, rollercoasters and the illuminati he played for almost an hour and a half, raising smiles (his lyrics can be hilarious) and pulses (when he gets into a groove it's frankly electrifying). I'm convinced he's the lovechild of Seasick Steve and Jimi Hendrix...

The Birmingham International Jazz and Blues Festivals continues until Sunday 14th July. Check out the programme right here...

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Mostly Jazz Funk and Soul Festival 5th, 6th 7th July 2013

And the award for the most appropriate closing number of a festival goes to...drum roll please...Nile Rodgers and Chic for Good Times at Mostly Jazz Funk and Soul Festival 2013...cue loud applause. Yes, once again this small but perfectly formed musical gem in the festival calendar delivered more ‘good times’ than any sane person could rightfully expect. And here’s how it all went down.

Day One

Anyone sensible enough to book off / ring in sick on Friday were rewarded with a gloriously eclectic afternoon of music kicking off with local 8 piece Antelope’s soulful mash up and (going two better) 10 piece Alternative Dubstep Orchestra whose inspired scratchtastic fusion of dubby beats and rich brass transformed the classic Walk On Buy into a gloriously trancey trip.

Dressed in a voluminous pair of red trousers held up by what looked like a giant gold nappy pin and wearing a truly lobe stretching pair of triangular gold earrings Nai Palm, frontwomen with Aussie mindbending future soulsters Hiatus Koyote, won the best dressed prize for the weekend. 

Happily it wasn’t a case of style over substance though, Palm’s Badu-ish vocal delivery and the band’s fusion of jazz, funk and soul’s perhaps the best example of this festival’s name made flesh. Speaking of flesh Greg Bird and Enterprize (featuring the lovely Anna Palmer aka Little Palm aka Anushka) produce the kind of music that makes you want to hump the person next to you. I’ve been championing this dude for a while now and this afternoon’s set of ALL NEW material (yep, who else rocks up to a festival with a completely new set list eh?) was yet another triumph with the Arthur Russell echoing On and On and the Supremes Baby Love sampling But Then I Lost My Mind making strong bids for summer anthems of the year. 

Last year Giles Petersen famously signed Troumaca (more on them in a moment) after seeing them at Mostly Jazz, he wasn’t here this year but if he’s reading this here’s another tip...snap up Greg Bird right now.

On then to the aforementioned Troumaca and it’s been a great year for another of B-Town’s top bands with their debut album, Grace, in the can (or laptop...or whatever gizmo they use these days) and due for release in August and a healthy number of plays on the increasingly influential 6 Music. 

Describing their sound as “sun drenched tropical blissdom” sets the bar of expectation as high as a rasta in a joint smoking contest but, with the sun beating down on the crowd (proper sun too...none of that weak assed stuff we usually get, full fat, tar melting, skin blistering, phew what a scorcher sun) and new track The Sun (appropriate eh?) blasting out it’s a joyfully apt description.

Stubborn Heart brings a much needed chill to the air with Better Than This tapping into early 80s electro and post-dubstep, using this an empty unmade bed for the vocalist’s hauntingly mournful delivery. Think James Blake for grown-ups.

“Who gets the party started?” Hypnotic Brass Ensemble that’s who. Consisting of 8 brothers who grew up in Chicago starting each day at 6am with a practice session under their dad’s supervision (he’s Phil Cohran, Sun Ra Arkestra trumpeter by the way) they’re arguably one of the best thing to happen to brass since the invention of Brasso. You know that bit in Rocky when Sly runs up the stairs and it makes you feel like you can take on the whole freakin’ world? Well every single one of HBE’s tracks has the same effect. Jazz, hip hop, soul and funk all brassed up and played with the kind of ease that you just know takes a lifetime to achieve. Strong contenders for band of the festival.

It’s a pretty tough act to follow and, perhaps wisely, the days last two acts, Yes King and Bonobo both had more of a laid back groove, perfectly suiting the chilled out post-work Friday evening vibe. Yes King’s dubby reggae reefer of sound’s an intoxicating mix with Overproof getting the crowd la la la-ing along and pulling the kind of loping dance moves that only the truly stoned can get away with. I can’t help feeling that headliner Bonobo might’ve been better in an early evening slot. As a live act there’s not a great deal to see and chief Bonobo, Simon Green, spends much of the set at the back of the stage twiddling the knobs. That being said the music’s fine enough and the ubiquitous dubsteppy bits gets a decent chunk of the crowd going.
Day Two

As is rapidly becoming traditional Saturday’s curated by the endlessly enthusiastic champion of funk and soul Mr Craig Charles and, well, the dude knows his stuff. Local band Dubcherry kick things off, sharing a bit of a vibe with their near namesakes late 90s band Dubstar. The Bluebeat Arkestra keep the local flag flying with a bewitching mix of flavours. Set highlight Pirouette is the sound of a road trip through late night Baghdad on the way to an illegal ska and dub house party whilst Bass Consultant lives up to the band’s boast of being “a little bit dirty, a little bit dancey”...even if most of the gently sizzling crowd remained recumbent.

Leigh Coleman played some pleasant Omar-ish sounding numbers as Moseley Park began to fill up in readiness for the full on funkathon. 

Returning favourites The Haggis Horns well and truly blew the one tiny cloud that had the audacity to float across an otherwise clear blue sky with a set that conjured up everything from super cool blaxploitation soundtracks to the greatest moments of their spiritual granddads the Average White Band. Joined by Speedometer’s vocalist Ria Currie for new track Diggin’ In The Dirt added a more soulful angle to the Horns’ usual sound whilst Love the Life You Live and the disco clap along of Traveller PtII cemented their reputation as some of the UK’s funkiest muthas.

Somehow I reckon Jeremiah Ferrari enjoy a crafty spliff or two judging by their lyrics and song titles. House of Leafs ain’t about libraries and there’s plainly nothing ambiguous about Jazz Cigarette. The lead singer, a cross between The Simpsons’ Sideshow Bob and Bob Marley (Sideshow Bob Marley?), is infectiously loveable though and his ragga rap delivery and lyrical sentiments behind set highlight Mindless Riot (a response to the, well, frankly mindless riots of August 2011) more than justified Craig Charles’ gushing intro.
Smoove and Turrell’s northern funk went down a storm the last time they played here and this afternoon was no different. John Turrell’s Geordie tinged vocals occasionally recall Eric Byrdon in his WAR era prime (and that’s some accolade) and there’s a delightful underplaying of the band’s collective talents that somehow makes the whole thing even more enjoyable. They were the only band this weekend to really make any kind of political reference, strange given the economic shitstorm that’s still ruining lives across the world, dedicating Broke to George Osborne the, to quote the normally affable Mr Turrell, C U Next Tuesday.  Crowd favourite Beggarman continues the theme, the kind of track Curtis Mayfield may have come up with if he’d been born in Newcastle, whilst new song Long Way To Fall is a disco blues funkster with echoes of that anthem to grabbing that little bit of happiness where you can, Staying Alive. Smoove and Turrell certainly have their fans but they deserve to be so, SO much bigger.

After some fine reggae and soul from The Soul Circle Gang John Turrell was back in action again as part of the Craig Charles assembled (he took votes from the listeners to his 6 Music show) Fantasy Funk Band. 

With a line up including the legendary Mick Talbot (Dexy’s, Style Council and pretty much every other band on planet earth), percussionist Snowboy, Speedometer’s Ria Currie and The Haggis Horns you can’t go wrong and their set of covers (some well known, others a little more obscure) was certainly designed to showcase their collective talents. Money (That’s What I Want), Express Yourself and a soul stirring blast through Move On Up kept a decent portion of the crowd up and mean feat in temperatures nudging 30 degrees and after a pint or two of cider.

Having been lucky enough to see the band back in the early 90s with Ian Dury expectations for The Blockheads minus their late leader were modest. Could anyone stand a chance of filling his shoes? Would the songs still work? Would it all be a bit ‘tribute band’. In fact, and I almost hate to write this, if anything The Blockheads are better now than ever before. Vocalist Derek Hussey was great mates with Dury and whilst he might lack a little of Ian’s growl on some tracks he manages to inhabit the songs brilliantly. All the hits are played giving you the chance to enjoy those lyrics in all their glory (just cop a listen to Wake Up and Make Love to Me for instance). It’s the spindly bass genius Norman Watt-Roy that’s the star of the show though. Wearing a suit throughout the show by the end of the first number his shirt’s dripping wet, by the time the set was over wringing out the suit itself could hydrate a thirsty elephant, but the dude remains suited and booted throughout. 

Wide eyed and grinning like a man possessed he’s constantly on the move, hunched over his bass and plucking the funky basslines that give The Blockheads their distinctive sound. Over 35 years into their career it seems frankly unbelievable that they can still be this good but judging by the two young ladies wearing Blockette t-shirts and singing along to every song there’s still clearly plenty of life in the old Blocks yet.

To borrow his own words “OMG”.  

Is Craig Charles the best funk and soul DJ on planet earth? Yes. Yes he is. On top of spinning the songs with as much energy and enthusiasm as the people that originally recorded them, for a good hour or so he judged the mood perfectly playing one classic track after another before bringing things slap bang up to date with (I think) the Smoove remix of George Barnett’s ‘even better than the original’ cover of Daft Punk’s Get Lucky. If that left you feeling like you’d died and gone to soul and funk heaven relax, waiting for you is Ms Candi Staton, beamed down to Moseley Park to cap off a truly memorable day. She’s as sweet as, well, candy itself and her obvious love for tonight’s crowd was summed up in “my song to you” Honest I Do. Awwww bless her. It’s the faster paced numbers that the crowd are really after though, with a funked up version of Suspicious Minds and a joyful run through Young Hearts both hitting the spot. Gospel’s never far from Ms Staton’s heart though and This Little Light of Mine manages to  blend the religious with the secular thanks to some gloriously dirty Chic bass breaks from Ernie McKone. 

Good times indeed. Perhaps inevitably it was the tune that introduced Candi to a whole new generation, You Got The Love, that got the hinds up in the air. Funkier than the version most of us know and perhaps with more of that magical gospel edge to her vocal it was followed up by Hallelujah Anyway off her brand new album. With hints of Ce Ce Peniston’s club classic Finally it’s a fittingly joyous end to proceedings. Amen.

Day Three

And still the sun shines. Apparently the last time we had a protracted sunny spell was 2007 so that’s enough of a reason to make the final day of MoJaFuSo special but there’s the slight matter of tonight’s headliners too. Chic. Seriously. CHIC! Mother freaking Chic. The band that gave disco a good name. To be strictly accurate it’s not really Chic. Sadly one half of the driving force behind the band, Bernard Edwards passed away back in 1996, but this gives the remaining 50%, Nile Rodgers, a good excuse to crack open the archives to play some of the other stuff he’s been involved in over the years.

First up though some acts to fill in the pure jazz gap in the bill so far with Jazzlines Enemble, Mammal Hands and Stella Roberts band all nursing the early arrivers through the remains of their Saturday night hangovers. The Initiative ramp up the pace with some beatbox and rap fuelled excursions into the world of anti-jazz. At their peak they’re a kind of hip hop Steely Dan. Kudos to the dude playing the clarinet (Matt Robinson) on Give Me Woody Allen on speed. Who knew the clarinet could rock? If jazz is to have the future it deserves we need more of this stuff to carry on hooking in the younger fans and the magnificently named GOGO Penguin’s jazz hop breaks often aren’t a million miles from the stuff that rappers the world over sample. What’s better than a GOGO Penguin? How about a Snarky Puppy? 

All the way from North Texas this collective’s texturally rich post jazz with a side order of hip 70s funk has already seen them play with everyone from Justin Timberlake to Beyonce. Happily they left Mrs Carter at home leaving the rest of us to enjoy their set, the highlight of which, Quarter Master could well be the soundtrack to some cult 70s cop show. Ideas seem to fly off this band as thick and fast as the wispy cotton-ish seeds that drifted across the site all day long like a magical summer snow fall. It wasn’t surprising to hear that they’re recording no less than three albums this year and if the epic cowbell dusted space rock tinged Shofukan is anything to go by they’ll be essential purchases. A breed apart.

You think summer time soul and, if you’re a certain age at least, you think Soul II Soul. Inspired by the sound systems of the 50s Jazzie B added strings and some glossy production values to the mix to create some true ‘club classics’. 

Tonight was an all killer no filler selection with Keep On Movin, Get A Life, Joy and a sun drenched Back To Life sending all the 40 something’s spinning back to the Summer of 89, curiously enough probably the last time we had any decent run of freakin’ sunshine in this country, a fact not lost on the genial Jazzie B.

With the headline act just an hour away it might have been tempting to convene to the bar for a little light refreshment but that would have meant missing the...wait for it...Bengali / Afro / Cuban mash up of Lokkhi Terrra. Yes, Bengali / Afro  / Cuban. Admittedly it’s not a genre with many competitors but it’s hard to imagine anyone topping their truly memorable version re-imagining of Itchycoo Park.

If you were tasked with creating the perfect festival band you’d want a group that could unite all races, ages and musical tastes, someone with tunes that are practically part of the human DNA now, a band that causes several thousand people to whoop with joy after just a few notes. Happily that band already exists and for nearly two hours Moseley Park’s the scene of the biggest party on earth. 

Everybody Dance, Dance, Dance Dance, I’m Coming Out, Upside Down, He’s The Greatest Dancer...hit after hit after hit. By the time they get to We Are Family complete strangers are hugging each other, the world and its problems outside the gates just don’t seem to exist any more and pretty much the entire crowd’s a sweaty grinning mess. Most tunes are near perfect live recreations of their recorded versions but covers of Madonna’s Like  A Virgin, Bowie’s Let’s Dance and Duran Duran’s Notorious (all originally produced by Nile of course) breathed new life into old favourites adding a sizzling soulfulness, with Notorious in particular proving something of a revelation. Damn that’s some funky shit. Throughout it all Nile Rodgers smiled like a man who knows he’s enjoying possibly one of the most remarkable times in his career with the best selling song of the year (Get Lucky) under his belt, remission from the cancer that struck him down in 2011 and a scene stealing appearance at Glastonbury. As the first notes of Good Times blast out he’s joined by a sizeable number of the backstage crew and as many members of the audience as the stage can stand. 

It’s the perfect last number for a festival that was jam packed full of them. How the hell are they going to top that next year? Hmmm...anyone got Prince’s phone number...?