Monday, September 30, 2013

Live_Transmission @ Symphony Hall, Saturday 28th September 2013

Whilst both Peter Hook and New Order continue to try to recreate - with varying degrees of success - Joy Division songs, in between bickering with each other of course (seriously, life’s too short...them of all people should realise that), this evening isn’t so much a case of ‘dance to the radio’, more smash it up, melt it down and turn it into something completely different. Yes dear friends, The Heritage Orchestra and Scanner come not to bury Ian Curtis and co, but to reinterpret them (sometimes radically), swapping the often sparse and raw sound they captured back in late 70s Manchester for a frankly stunning audio visual spectacle that’s perfectly suited to Birmingham’s Symphony Hall.

The visual element is perhaps as important as the musical one. With the entire orchestra sandwiched behind a see through curtain and in front of screen visual artist Matt Watkins (all the way from Brum!) has two distinct surfaces to play with, adding a three dimensional feel. It’s entirely appropriate as the music’s often a case of JD in 3D too. Whilst opening number Transmission begins gently enough it suddenly explodes dramatically into a cinematic epic worthy of John Barry at his most Bond-bastic. It’s a technique employed on several of the tracks this evening, find a simple musical motif from the original to focus on, hypnotise the audience into a trippy sense of reverie and then shock the bejesus out of them with an organ shaking explosion of brass, strings, drums and synths. Equally shocking are the occasional samples of Curtis’ voice itself. It happens the first time midway through Transmission and you half expect Ian to come twitching onto the stage at any moment in a blur of limbs and with that distinctive thousand yard stare that he'd perfected.

Watkins’ visuals (actually partially ‘mixed’ live during each show too I later discovered from the man himself) perfectly compliment each track, like the music itself it often takes a minute or two to work out what you’re watching/listening to which only makes that “aha!” moment even more striking. 

Watch out for the pumping human heart, the cross section slices of an entire human being and the ghostly abstract dancing Curtis in particular. Perhaps most touching of all though are the visuals that accompany Isolation. Animating Curtis’ original handwritten lyrics it’s as if the piece is being created in front of your eyes, right down to the crossing outs and slightly wild scribbles. 

Read them and, with the benefit of hindsight, it’s a pretty devastating cry for help “Mother I tried please believe me, I'm doing the best that I can. I'm ashamed of the things I've been put through, I'm ashamed of the person I am. Isolation, isolation, isolation.” 

Of course now we all know how this sense of isolation ultimately sadly manifested itself. Appropriately enough the song released just after Ian’s suicide and the one Joy Division track that pretty much everyone on planet earth knows Love Will Tear Us Apart actually closes the show itself. If you’re going to blub this is the one that’ll do it. The original is transformed into a sweeping symphony with a beautiful lush opening section and then...and then...Ian’s voice comes in. It’s totally untampered with this time, unmixed and taken from the original vocal recording that he made in the studio back in '79. There’s a far softer, more human feel to all this than the version we’re used to, a warmth enhanced by the orchestra that movingly succeeds in relocating Curtis the man from Curtis the myth. Incredibly some 33 years on from his passing he’s still touching us from a distance.

Setlist: Transmission / Digital / Dead Souls / She’s Lost Control / Isolation / End Eternal / Heart & Soul / Atmosphere / Love Will Tear Us Apart

Friday, September 27, 2013

Kids Interview...Queen's of the freaking Stone Age!

In possibly their biggest scoop to date Connie and Olivia have just landed an interview with Josh and Dean from Queens Of The Stone Age! Oh sweet lord. Aside from looking like the biggest human being on the planet (seriously, dude looks like a giant) Josh Homme reveals something of a fixation with Celine Dion and a surprising gift for mime. Hilarious.

If you've not watched any of the Kids Interview Bands interviews yet get on it right now...just tell your boss / teacher / prison guard (I know my audience...big up to my homies in B Wing) you're doing some vital research's a thing...I'm pretty sure it's a thing. Anyway, watch and learn people. Some day all pop interviews will be this good.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Traps – Calypso

Hurrah! The Traps’ much anticipated debut album, Calypso, finally sees the light of day on September 30th. The band’s growing posse of fans will already be familiar with the singles on offer here, including title track and album opener Calypso which kicks the whole thing off in fine style. A lush cocktail of synths, sun soaked guitars and booty shaking drums it’s like a night on the beach with your mates and a bottle of rum...or Tennent’s Super if you’re on a budget. Before you’ve had time to dust the sand from eyes you’re hit with The Honey Drip. Arguably the band’s most addictive song to date there’s a lot going on here (piano, brass, synths, guitars, drums, triangles, something that sounds a little like a kettle...that might just be my dodgy speakers though) in fact you half expect the kitchen sink to come in at one point, but somehow it all sticks together in a suitably yummy way. Bee-rilliant. 

Away from the singles the band ease off the gas a little more on the broodingly epic Ida, which some might regard as the album’s ‘filler’ track (let’s face it pretty much every album has ‘em) and My Grip, which you could almost imagine being sung...well, Stuart Staples of T’Tindersticks. Floats my boat. They’re soon back on more upbeat ground though with Hornet’s Nest which seems to channel their inner Franz Ferdinand before stripping everything back rather beautifully on the piano and cello driven album closer When Do I Change.

It really doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to picture a good half a dozen of these tunes (step forward Silverspun for instance, imagine if The Strokes were on Postcard Records back in the 80s) going down the proverbial storm during next year’s festival season. Could The Traps be the next big band to break out of Brum? On the strength of this debut it’s a case of Calyp-so far, so good.

Calypso is out on the marwellous Speech Fewapy Records on September 30th. 

PS: Best not to watch the video with your mum in the room...or my mum for that matter. But what would my mum be doing in your house eh? 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

George Barnett...he's a keeper

Regular readers will know of my enthusiasm for George Barnett who'd already written, recorded and produced his very own debut album by the age of 17...oh yeah...he played all of the instruments too. It was a bloody great record as well (check out my review). Now, having had squillions of hits on You Tube for his even better than the real thing cover of Daft Punk's Get Lucky he's just released his latest track, Animal Keeper. Oh my. Play. Share. Like. Love. Learn the lyrics and start singing it at random strangers. I've said it from day one and I'll say it again...he will be MASSIVE...and this could be the song that breaks him. Enjoy.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Thomas Dolby’s The Invisible Lighthouse @ The MAC, Saturday 21st September 2013

Is it a gig? Is it a film?’s both. Welcome to the fertile imagination of synth pop pioneer, steampunk icon, ringtone godfather, record producer etc etc (you get the idea...he does a lot of stuff) Thomas Dolby. When Dolby decamped to the US to fiddle about with music downloading software and ‘invent’ the Nokia ringtone (you know it...the der der der der der der der der derrrrrrr one) it seemed that his days as a recording artist and performer were as sadly dead and buried as the ZX Spectrum. This was a huge shame. Back in the early 80s he came out with some truly incredible records, from the madcap pop of She Blinded Me With Science through to the criminally underrated thinking person’s MOR of Airwaves and then on to the glossy funk of Airhead (if you’ve not heard the album that spawned it, Aliens Ate My Buick, add it to your Christmas list). Nearly 20 years separated his last studio album Astronauts and Heretics and his most recent release, A Map Of The Floating City which was, much against the odds, an impressive return to form. He’s toured the UK a couple of times since his ‘comeback’ but not content with touting a standard show again he squirreled himself away and made a you do. Again he could’ve just shown it but hell, where’s the fun in that eh? Nope, he decided to narrate and play along with the film in real time too. Of course people did this back at the start of cinema before the talkies, playing along on a piano or organ, but that was all pretty basic stuff. Would it...could in today’s Hi-Def, BluRay, SurroundSound world?

 The film itself, The Invisible Lighthouse, is part Who Do You Think You Are, part conspiracy theory and part eco warning, telling as it does the story of Thomas’ family on the Suffolk coast, his own childhood and the almost supernatural presence of the Orfordness Lighthouse which is now, sadly, slowing disappearing beneath the sea. It’s a beautifully put together piece which, with the addition of Dolby’s live soundtrack, comes across like a hi-tech version of those slideshow that you might have seen at church halls in the 50s. That’s a very good thing by the way, lending it an intimacy and warmth that I really wasn’t expecting.

There are the odd snatches of songs, notably Europa and the Pirate Twins, Windpower and Oceanea together with some suitably mood setting instrumental pieces. At times Thomas provides live narration that then seamlessly links in with his filmed version picking up the thread. It’s a clever bit of timing that blurs the two worlds (the live and the pre recorded) pretty neatly so that when the moment comes for the lighthouse to be switched off for the very last time it actually feels like it’s happening right now, something that I found surprisingly poignant. As ‘home movies’ go this one’s got a hell of a lot of heart.

Straight after the screening Thomas takes questions. It’s clear (in fact he says as much himself) that he’s not really comfortable being centre stage so when one of the questions comes from a lady who’d kissed Dolby back when she was 16 and involved a request for a second helping (she’s now 44) I feared he might run for the hills. He took it all in good spirit though, even when she came back for a third kiss on his lap. What a trooper. He’s an intelligent chap and I could’ve listened to him talk all night but after around 20 minutes or so he swapped hats once again and became Dolby the pop star with a trio of songs, the Jacko-esque Evil Twin Brother, a moving dive into One Of Our Submarines and...well...he had to really...She Blinded Me With Science. This evening Thomas revealed that none other than Buzz Aldrin (yep...THE Buzz Aldrin) is a bit of a fan of this tune too – good man – and whilst this evening’s version of the tune still featured the ghost of the great Magnus Pyke on “SCIENCE!” duties  you really do have to see this clip...genius.

The light may have gone out in Dolby’s lighthouse but on the strength of this evening his creative flame’s still well and truly burning bright. An unmissable evening with a true original.  

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Layers / Dead Sea Skulls / Mutes @ Academy 3, Friday 20th September 2013

It’s been ruddy ages since I went to a gig like this. By that I mean a sweaty, loud, energy fuelled orgy of noise, boys and their toys...well instruments...but that don’t rhyme so well. First up, pretty much the opposite of the all that, Mutes. A mute is, as any fool knows, someone who’s pretty darn quiet. Whilst Mutes (actually just one dude...James’re contractually obliged to say, “no, not that one” anytime you mention his name) isn’t the noisiest band in the world his own rather beautiful concoction of layered vocals, dreamy sounds and lo-fi production values is surprisingly powerful. This evening he eschews (yes, I’ve been reading dictionaries again) his more bedroomcore side to begin with and channels more of an early 80s indie / shoegazing vibe...all jangly guitars and tambourine sounds. Right up my floppy fringed street. Perhaps keen to shake things up a bit he then spent a few minutes torturing a guitar, making it do diiirrrtttty, baaaaddddd things...but I liked it. The whole thing culminated far too soon with an enormous sonic fit of noise, looped and built up then gradually slowed down with some knob twiddling until...all...was...mute. James Brown, the hardest working man in slowbusiness.

By contrast Dead Sea Skulls go straight for the jugular. They’ve got a secret weapon though. Ash is quite possibly the best thing to happen to drumming since Gene Krupa (ask your, grandads...actually maybe make that your great granddads). 

Not content with pounding the skins he’s the band’s lead singer too. Being a singing drummer generally means you’re hidden behind your kit, Ash gets over this by playing standing up...a sight and sound that seems more remarkable each time I see him. Drum-believable. 

Musically they’re a kind of Kings of the Stone Age, rawer than Homme’s outfit but with that similar knack for producing intensely catchy tunes. Flanked by a bassist and guitarist the riffage is, pardon my French, fucking glorious and by the time they get to set closer Coming On Strong (imagine Led Zep and AC/DC in a battle to the death) anyone who hasn’t fallen for them frankly doesn’t have ears.

Last up, and celebrating the release of their rather spanking new EP, it’s Layers. Any fears that recent fatherhood and engagement (awww bless...more on this later) would have taken the edge of lead singer Lance’s performance were rapidly dispelled. Famous for his neck threatening backflips and relentlessly energetic performances (seriously, the man makes the Duracell Bunny look like a slacker) he and the band kick off (‘kick off’ being the right phrase too) with the punk fuelled Mind On Fire, two minutes of pedal to the metal machine gun drumming, filthy guitars and Lance leaping about like he’s on hot coals. By the end of it the drum mic’s lying halfway across the stage like it’s trying to crawl away. Now that’s how you start a show. You’d think they’d struggle to keep up the pace but pretty soon Lance is hurdling over the barrier and careering through the crowd, frequently vanishing into a pit of bodies. Layers have...well...layers though and Hands (again off the debut EP) is more of a slow burner with the odd SOAD style guitar flourish thrown in for good measure. “Commit yourself” sang Lance, before pulling off a groin destroying scissor kick accompanied by another full on blast of headbanger rock, proof indeed that he practices what he preaches... 

Not Enough (again off the EP) with its cool funky bassline and math rock guitars along with new song, The Fight (receiving its debut this evening) - shades of System Of A Down at their best along with a subtle but discernible reggae beat in the background - both hum with the kind of intriguing fusion that I reckon the band could make their own. As if to underline this genre blurring potential they delivered a soulful semi acoustic cover of Skunk Anansie’s Hedonism too, leading the crowd in a singalong that ends with a visibly emotional lead singer thanking us for our support. The pleasure was all ours my friend. There had to be an encore and it had to be Gradually, the EP’s epic closing number. Joined by a mini string section onstage this has the feel of The Chili Peppers at their low key prime and it smoulders gently for several minutes before bursting into life as Lance makes another leap into the crowd reappearing right at the back of the room on top of the bar. Hey, that’s one way to get a drink.

Making his way onto the stage again a moist eyed Lance (that might just’ve been the sweat though) dedicated the night to his new fiancĂ©...a suitably loved up ending from a band that’s oh so easy to fall in love with.

Layers EP is out now on Till Deaf Do Us PartyRecords. Buy it here you muthas.  

Photos courtesy of Mr Ian Dunn esq of Principle Photography 

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Sensateria returns...

From the good people behind the Moseley Folk and Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul Festivals comes a head melting garage themed (60s garage that is...they're not decking the place out with Ginsters Pasties and antifreeze) night. It's based on the original 60s themed bashes held during the 80s (got that...good) and, on top of that strange swirly oil light thingy that makes you feel like you've just consumed enough LSD to send an elephant off its trunk, there's spanking live music from US psych nuts Night Beats too. It's all happening on Saturday 28th September in Digbeth. Be there or be square. 

Tickets right here, right now. Faaaaarrrrrrr out maaaaaaaaaaaannnnnn...

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Courtney Barnett - Avant Gardener

The name might sound a little like a new town just off the M1 (other motorways are available) but laid back Aussie songstress Courtney Barnett's current single Avant Gardener (see what she did there) is a whole lot more interesting than a night out in Newport Pagnell Service Station. Imagine a little bit of Loser era Beck with a dash of Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians thrown in for good's a bit like that...actually you don't have to imagine it do can just listen to it...I've still not got the hang of this Internet business you know...

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Legend of Mike Smith @ The REP, Monday 16th September 2013

Thankfully not a glowing tribute to 80s DJ and TV presenter Mike ‘Smitty’ Smith, instead this show brings to life the latest album from jazz saxophonist, MC, festival organiser and all round dude Soweto Kinch.
Inspired by the Seven Deadly Sins (with a dash of Dante’s Inferno thrown in for good measure) it’s the tale of an aspiring MC and his struggle to get to a showcase gig that could make or break him. The Seven Deadly Sins? Dante? Hip hop? Okay so perhaps they’re not the most likeliest of bedfellows but if anyone can make it work you’d put your money on Kinch.

The plot itself is fairly straightforward. Smith has a few hours to prepare a rap and get to the gig. Along the way our hero has to battle with everything from sloth to gluttony though, via a series of set pieces simply but effectively depicted (clever lighting adds movement and depth to the stage) and using graphic novel style still images projected onto a cloth as the backdrops.

Part gig, part improv, part theatrical production Ricardo Da Silva impressed as Smith...well, the main Smith anyway, both Soweto and Tyrone Isaac Stuart also played elements (alter egos perhaps?) of the role. He’s particularly good at the more comedic parts of the show, especially the innuendo rich Lust section. Hilarious. Trust me chaps, you’ll never buy a pair of shoes from a lady the same way again.

This being a Soweto Kinch production the man himself is pretty much onstage throughout of course, either blowing up a storm behind the backdrop or shadowing / tempting Da Silva in front of it. Happily (and if you’ve seen him before you’ll know how good he is at this) he even manages to work in a freestyle section too, leaping about through the audience and good naturedly ripping a few of them to pieces. Local poet Spoz copped for some particularly hilarious lines this evening...

Throughout it all Shane Forbes and Nick Jurd provide some fine and suitably jazzy drums and bass respectively, flanking Kinch either side of the cloth backdrop so they’re visible too, cleverly blurring the line between a more traditional jazz gig and this hybrid. Add effective choreography (street style with a little ballet thrown in) from Jonzi D (an MC and Poet as well as a graduate of the London Contemporary Dance School...jeez, these dudes make me feel such a slack ass) and the whole thing’s a delightfully fresh fusion of fly raps, jazzy beats and classical references that somehow manages to be as entertaining as it is ambitious.

A few decades on from hip hop’s birth in the Bronx it now takes another bold and intriguing step forward in Brum. Missing it would be the biggest sin of all...

The Legend of Mike Smith is showing at The REP until 28th September. Tickets here

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Gig the season to be jolly...

With the last few 'summer' festivals now squelching to a close it's time to head indoors again as all bands great and small hit the road for the traditional pre-Christmas push. These last four months of the year are generally jam packed with some cracking gigs and Birmingham's independent promoters have some of the best. I'm going to try to keep posting a few of these up here from time to time but for now here's a trio of must sees:

Birmingham Promoters - Carlo and co consistently put on some of the best new bands on planet earth and I can pretty much guarantee you'll find something to float your boat, tickle your fancy or fiddle with your widdle...whatever your taste. Pick of the pops for the next few months is the legend that is Har Mar Superstar (in his super new soulful guise) at The Hare & Hounds (14th November).

This Is Tmrw - This lot put on Foals at The Sunflower Lounge back in the day. I was there, squashed next to a particularly sweaty Yannis. Good times. Fast forward several years and hundreds of gigs later and they've still got great taste. This November sees them taking over The Hare & Hounds for the very first All Years Leaving festival featuring one of the best bands around right now, Dutch Uncles. Boy, can their lead singer bust a move...

World Unlimited - Folk, country, ceilidh, post punk, name it, World Unlimited puts it on. They've got the sensational John Otway on Sunday 22nd September still my beating heart...the best bass player in the universe and one of the original Blockheads...Norman Watt-Roy (October 22nd). Both gigs are at...surprise, surprise...The Hare & Hounds (again...hmmmm...maybe I should move in?)

Like I say this is just a tiny selection of what's on. Brum Notes magazine has a great listings section each month (and a weekly breakdown online too) but it's always worth checking in with the promoters too as they sometimes have some rather ace last minute bookings. See you down the front...mine's a cider...cheers...and a packet of smoky bacon crisps...I'll get the next round in...honest...

Monday, September 09, 2013

International Cassette Store Day # 1 @ Swordfish Records, Saturday 7th September 2013

Having endured the trauma of having many a cassette ‘chewed up’ and spat out by various tape players over the years (oh the horror) wasting many an hour trying to find particular tracks by having to fast forward/rewind through the damn things I’m amazed that they seem to be making a hip comeback. Whatever next? Dial up internet connections? Wax cylinders? Rickets? Still, anything that gets more people going into their local record store and buying music is fine by me and this afternoon’s event was hosted by Swordfish Records which, since its move to a new location a few months back, happily seems to be enjoying a new lease of life. Five bands / artists had pitched up to show some love for the old cassette and each played two or three tracks (hence the less than comprehensive review)...enough for a ‘cassingle’ we called them back in the day.

Oliver Rudge was up first. He’s picking up some decent press right now and it’s not hard to hear why. There’s an easy going feel to his vocal and songs and Blue Neon’s build from fragile skeletal sketch to soaring climax impressed. 

After the breakup of folk hopefuls The Young Runaways some of the band has regrouped as Drakelow. Swallowing Diamonds is one of their first releases and this afternoon, stripped back to just guitar, violin and vocals, it still shone. I’ve long since given up predicting success for particular songs or bands (my success rate was woeful...either down to my lousy taste or that of the ‘public’ be the judge) but, hell, it doesn’t take much of a leap to imagine this track going down a storm at Glasto one day. Top marks for their cover of The Wonderstuff’s Here Comes Everyone too. Miles’ would have been proud of that one. 

Next up Tom Peel...every home should have one. Ring Ring Ring takes that annoying modern phenomenon of the mobile phone ringtone and transforms it into a love song. Genius. He’s got dozens of songs like this though...all queuing up to find a home in your ears. Bonus points for using a vintage Tascam tape player in one of his songs too (hurrah), but points deducted for not bringing along some cassettes to flog (boooo!), something that Cannon Street had happily covered. In fact they’d gone beyond the call of duty by recording 5 unique tapes featuring two different songs on each plus a personal message on the B side...all for £3. Bless ‘em. To paraphrase pasty Masterchef scoff bucket and bar room brawler Greg Wallace, country folk tinged singing siblings don’t get much better than this. 

Last up Midnight Bonfires, another new-ish folk-ish band making waves in B-Town. I’d not seen them before but the lead singer’s voice (think the offspring of Devendra Banhart and Anthony...of ‘and the Johnsons’ fame) is a strangely beguiling thing. Opening number Darkness Falls was like being rocked to sleep by a hairy angel whilst the last number of their set sounded like Nirvana having a jam with The Faces round a campfire (no idea what it was called...answers on a postcard please).

Whether National Cassette Store Day will be cherished by music fans as passionately as its vinyl big brother remains to be seen. Despite my best intentions I found myself getting strangely nostalgic for those little plastic boxes though and left with 7 of ‘em...I know...I need therapy.  

Friday, September 06, 2013

Pages From Ceefax

Okay, so this is a little left field but that's how we like it eh? I've just come across a band/artist/collective...details are sketchy at the moment...who are releasing a series of albums allegedly culled from a stash of tapes recorded in the early 80s and found in an abandoned terrace house in Kings Heath (a suburb of Birmingham for anyone not in the know). It's a wonderful story...I strongly suspect...ahem...that it's just that but no one really wants to look under Santa's coat do they eh? Anyway, whatever the truth the albums are a head fuckingly wonderful mix of vintage sounds (think the BBC's Radiphonic Workshop on an acid trip) and thought shafting spoken word. I fricking love it. Strongly not listened to whilst operating heavy machinery or attempting brain surgery though...that would get messy. Enjoy/endure...depending on whether you like Psychic TV or reality TV.

PS: Here's Tape One and Tape Two 

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Tape Expectations...first International Cassette Day this weekend!

If there's one format that I thought we'd never see again it was the cassette tape. Being of a certain age I can remember when Sony Walkmans were first launched, giving you the chance to take your music with you wherever you went. Previously of course the only way to do this was to strap a reel to reel tape player to your chest...something that one of the artists - Tom Peel (see the video above) - performing at Birmingham's contribution to the first International Cassette Day actually does. Genius.

The cassette tape also gave you the chance to compile your own mixes of music, either using your vinyl, another tape (if you had a swanky double tape deck) or the radio as your source. How sweetly primitive all that now seems. Fearing that everyone would become a bootlegger and they'd lose sales the record labels even ran a campaign against home taping...HOME TAPING IS KILLING MUSIC...if only they know what the future held eh? Ha!

The trouble with tapes though was that it was frustratingly tricky (and time consuming) to fast forward or rewind to a particular track that you wanted to listen to. Also they had a tendency to get 'chewed up', a horrifying process which saw your precious tape unravel inside your player. Oh the horror...the horror. I think I lost a Thompson Twins album that way once...sniff. Nightmare. Sometimes you could rescue it and wind it back on the spool with your finger, at other times it was too far gone and a decent burial in the bin was the only option. Sad times.

Of course now the cassette tape has become all hip and retro trendy in much the same way that vinyl has, hence the very first International Cassette Day! Birmingham's event is being held at Swordfish Records in their new-ish home (66 Dalton Street, B4 7LX) from 4pm until around 5.30pm on Saturday 7th September. There'll be a number of artists playing special gigs too including Oliver Rudge, Midnight Bonfires, Drakelow, Cannon Street and the previously heralded Tom Peel. It's all free as well so you'll have some dosh left to buy some tapes. C30, C60, C90 go! Oh, if you have no idea what that's a reference to cop a load of this classic from the archives (the numbers refer to the minutes of recording the different types of tape could hold by the way)...

Monday, September 02, 2013

Moseley Folk Festival 2013, Friday 30th August – Sunday 1st September 2013

Oh lordy, the OAPs are right you know. The older you get the faster the years fly by. It seems like only yesterday that we were singing along lustily to All Around My Hat (the degree of lustiness being in direct proportion to the quantity of cider consumed) and yet here we are again at another MoFo. I’m not complaining, it’s the bit between festivals that gets my goat...real life I think it’s called. Jolly silly idea.

Day One

Every year I say the same thing but I’m a creature of habit so what the hell, let’s say it again...I love the Friday afternoons at MoFo. Arriving early, grabbing that first pint of cider...knowing that most poor souls are still at work, chilling out with the opening acts, watching the place gradually fill up as the sun starts to set...glorious. There are always some cracking acts on offer too and this year was no exception. Abie’s Miracle Tonic’s mix of ragtime, swing, spirituals and anything else that takes their fancy was a joy from start to finish. If only all bands had a kazoo fuelled theme tune.

With a six piece brass section Forestears added some neat tropical / jazzy flavours to their Wild Beasts meets Villagers fusion before Seth Lakeman favourites Philip Henry and Hannah Martin cleverly combined a song about a nail makers strike in Bromsgrove in 1862 with some reggae grooves and lyrics from a track by The Israelites. Some folk purists might run screaming to the hills clutching their Aran jumpers but it’s this kind of cross pollination that will keep folk...and any other musical genre for that matter...alive and well. It worked rather brilliantly too. Stirring stuff.

Pogonophobics (that’s people who are scared of beards...bound to be worth a point in a pub quiz one day) might want to avoid The Travelling Band but they’d be missing out. Playing the kind of anthemic grab yer mates in a sweaty headlock kind of tracks that prove they know their arse from their Elbow (just listen to recent single Hands Up for instance) they’ve also got the sweeter southern tinged country angle covered with one of the set highlights, a dreamily sun drenched (yes, yet another sunny Moseley Folk Festival...I always said Mother Nature was a folkie) run through Battlescars.

Up at the small but well appointed (it’s right next to the bar) Tennis Court Stage Tom Peel continued to do what he does best, culminating in arguably one of his best tracks to date When I Die during which – in a typically Peel-ian moment – the reel to reel tape player strapped to his chest did just that, sending a spool of tape drooling across the floor. Music needs this man more than ever before (check out his awesome subscription club...he’s promising one of his kidneys for all I think he may have dropped that offer now...).

How a band can make getting drunk sound so dreamily romantic is a mystery to me but The Leisure Society did just that on We Were Wasted. There’s so much more to them than bruised romanticism though, Fight For Everyone’s the kind of clever pop that Cowell and his evil crew of bland production monkey’s seem determined to kill off. Balls to ‘em. With the last number of the set, A Matter of Time, effortlessly fusing the spirits of Buddy Holly and George Harrison to produce something that could lift the weariest of souls...and the chilled out early evening crowd, there’s hope for us all.

In the beginning was the word ...and the word was Goodnight Lenin...actually that’s two words isn’t it? Oh well, never mind...the point is that Goodnight Lenin’s album seems to have been in the pipeline since before the Book Of Genesis. This matters because more people need to hear this band and, short of sending the boys round the house of every single man, woman and child in the country, an album’s a pretty good way of doing it. As with recent Lenin gigs the mellower tracks, whilst still in evidence, are gradually being joined by ‘beefier’ numbers and the band are allowing themselves to rock out more, as in new song Mirror in the Morning (which makes me think of Nights In White Satin on speed). As with their idol, Neil Young, this combination works surprisingly well. 

Lead singer, John Fell, is a lyricist beyond his years too with songs embracing love, loss and loneliness. It’s a mark of the band’s collective ability that they manage to do all this and still get people singing along with set closer Old Cold Hands’ distinctly existential chorus (“It’s hard to realise that there is relentlessly nothing”) getting a particularly impressive response. I’ve loved ‘em since day one and I’ll love ‘em after they’ve split up, reformed, split up and the landed their own sitcom on Sky. Maybe by then that debut album will be out eh?

By the time Ocean Colour Scene came onstage the place was packed. It’s unsurprising really, this is their spiritual home and tonight they’re playing their definitive album, Moseley Shoals, in its entirety. If you’re in your 30s or 40s there’s a fair chance that The Riverboat Song will send you hurtling back to Friday nights in the 90s when the track was used on TFI Friday which, at the time, was pretty much essential viewing (either before going out or after you stumbled home with a kebab and traffic cone). Somehow I managed to avoid seeing the band live back in the day so this, some 16 or so years after they hit the big time (Moseley Shoals shifted an impressive 600,000 copies in 1996) was my first time. THAT riff at the start of The Riverboat Song still sounds massive, proudly retro at the time (a throwback to the 60s mod era) it now oddly comes across a little fresher, set as it is in a world where this kind of guitar music’s perhaps still currently a little out of favour. 

Following the album’s track by track progression brings The Day We Caught The Train up next. A little bit Beatles, a little bit Faces it’s enough to get the forty something’s misty eyed. “We’re playing the whole Moseley Shoals album” remarked lead singer Simon Fowler “so the best two songs have already been played!”  He was joking of course. The whole Britpop tag may still have a stigma attached to it (that’ll pass, perhaps it already has) but it really was a golden age for British music and Moseley Shoals is right up there as a classic, not just of that era but a classic full stop and the crowd (possibly the biggest audience ever seen at Moseley Folk) lapped up every note. After the album run through there was still time for a few more with the acoustic Robin Hood swiftly followed by the band’s joint biggest hit, Hundred Mile High City. Touchingly the set finished with a tribute to the recently departed Jon Brookes (The Charlatans drummer) and folk legend Ian Campbell, courtesy of a moving version of Fairport’s Meet On The Ledge.  I started the set with a healthy level of scepticism (a bit too ‘lad rock’ for me) but left as a fan. Colour me impressed.

Day Two

Kicking off (for me at least...blame West Midlands Transport for that the number one bus service some kind of surrealist prank?) with Jack Harrison and Adrian Simpson, what Radiohead might sound like if they decided to go folk, Day Two was another delightfully eclectic mix. Ottersgear’s fiddle driven folk impressed with lead singer Mikey Kenney’s fragile soaring vocals possibly one of the strongest on offer all weekend.

All the way from Montreal (good job they didn’t travel by West Midlands Transport then) The Barr Brothers dropped in a couple of rather awesome heavy blues numbers in amongst their quieter American folk stuff, the pick of the bunch being a storming version of the Blind Willie Johnson number Lord I Just Can’t Keep From Cryin’. The drummer gets bonus points for playing an old bicycle wheel too.

Cannon Street continue to grow in confidence, working their way up the bill from the Tennis Court Stage last year to The Lunar Stage this time around. At this rate they’ll be headlining by 2014. With some truly stunning sibling harmonies (they’re sisters) and tracks that straddle the line between childlike innocence and wonder and the more adult world that they’re both entering their set’s a delight. St Mary’s View’s still my own personal favourite – You Tube it and check out that chorus – beautiful. Somehow they even pulled off a cover of Anthony’s Hope There’s Someone, not an easy track to cover at all and whilst it lacked the original’s haunting sense of isolation (could anyone emulate that?) it’s the kind of ambitious and leftfield choice that makes this pairing one to watch.

“This is genuinely the sweetest festival I’ve ever played”. Jack Savoretti may have been swayed by the adoring female fans that gathered at his feet (to be fair you would, you know what I mean...well I would about it Jacky boy?) but he makes a good point. 

That mix of good looks and gravelly just got out of bed voice (hints of John Martyn on stuff like Crazy Fool perhaps...that’s praise indeed) is a powerful combination and when he swings it a bit on the more upbeat numbers...step forward Knock Knock...there’s so much more to him than just eye candy for the ladies. Crazy Superstition, a track apparently lambasted by one German gentleman recently as being a crap 60s song actually came across as one of his best. But then again the German’s see The Hoff as a musical god so what can we expect eh?

Global Folk’s tabla, violin and kora mash up wins the most intriguing sound of the festival award and it’s fitting that MoFo’s definition of ‘folk’ stretches way beyond this green and pleasant land. When the result sounds this good I’d personally like to see and hear more of it on future bills.

How sweet are The Staves? Another line up of sisters (three this time) they’re straight outta Watford but, on the divine sounding Mexico, you could be forgiven for thinking they came from heaven itself. Just to prove it wasn’t a fluke they played Facing West too, the song equivalent of a being wrapped up in cotton doves. Like Jack (you still would, wouldn’t you?) they were also impressed with the festival, here’s Camilla’s quote for next year’s ad “Thoroughly nice...some bird from Watford”. Bless.

After (or Efter perhaps?) the lullaby folk of Alessi’s Ark’s Constellations caressed the crowd Efterklang’s lead singer channelled his inner 30s lounge lizard (white suit, slicked back hair, cigarette dangling from his lips, evoking comparisons with everyone from Roxy Music and The Associates through to the mournful world weariness of Tindersticks. On the emotional epic of Frida Found a Friend he ended up battering the stage with drumsticks (I think they’d set up mics specially to pick up the noise) adding an intense audio visual element on top of an already visceral experience. It was just one moment in a set that dripped with them, at times hauntingly moving at others as ass shakingly addictive as the best in artful 80s pop. Truly great Danes.

Top that? British Sea Power pulled out all the stops, decorating the stage with more branches than Greggs (seriously, you half expected David Attenborough to emerge from the undergrowth in the arms of a gorilla) and jamming the set with all their hits to date. Dressed like the escape committee of a POW camp recent single Machineries of Joy got the fans at the front bouncing along and they remained impressively energetic...especially when a giant flag waving polar bear emerged for the chiming guitar led singalong of...well, have a guess...Waving Flags. 

The fact that their newer songs came across as the strongest in the set, Loving Animals was particularly good, bodes well for a band already into their second decade. Whatever you make of the music any band that sends a giant polar bear and equally huge black bear into the crowd for a spot of moshing at the end of their set get my vote.

If British Sea Power entertained Wolf People astonished with one of the most dazzling displays of musicianship of the whole weekend...or ever in fact. Playing heavy psych folk with riffs so dirty they’re in danger of being investigated by Operation Yewtree this band sound like the bastard child of Sabbath and Cream at a pagan sacrifice. Opening number All Returns is one of the singles of the year and the rest of the set wasn’t too shabby either. I took no notes during the set...I was too busy trying to scrape my jaw off the floor.

After suffering not one but TWO cerebral haemorrhages in 2005 there seemed to be little chance that Edwyn Collins would survive, let alone walk and talk again. The fact that he’s not only doing just that but also playing gigs and releasing new music again is frankly a miracle. Coming onstage a little unsteadily with a stick he settled down on an amp and, hesitating just a little over his introduction, launched into a greatest hits set with Falling and Laughing from 1980, “Imagine that kids” he observed with a chuckle. He did a lot of chuckling this evening, who can blame him eh? 

Listening to some of the earlier songs it’s tempting now to read new meaning into all the lyrics, has his wife Grace not been A Girl Like You (her loving support’s clearly been hugely important)? Make Me Feel Again’s Harrison-esque lyrics and feel (“just need your bedside manner to make me well again) is strangely prophetic and has he not had to Rip It And Start Again...his whole life that is? Whether you buy into that or not there was a huge amount of love in the crowd this evening and Edwyn and the band (kudos to the amazing guitarist by the way...up there with the Wolf People dudes) and he repaid it with a joyfully life affirming set that said more about the healing power of music than anything I’ve ever witnessed.  

Day Three

The third day’s always the folkiest of the three and this year was no exception with The Cadbury Sisters (yep, another great sister act) bringing some more sweet but sorrowful sibling harmonies on Where’s Annie Now? and something a little darker on the haunting Animals (from a Wispa to a scream as it were...).
Tir na nOg deserved a later slot. Formed in Ireland in 1969 they’re a fine folk band with prog rock leanings, a range best demonstrated by the Cat Stevens-ish opening number Daisy Lady and their fine cover of The Stones’ Play With Fire. I was dragged away by the prospect of an unscheduled appearance from Sam Walter, a young chap who works at the festival emptying the bins but who also has one of the most extraordinarily expressive voices I’ve ever heard. 

Musically he delves back into obscure folk songs of the (I’m guessing here) 18th and 19th centuries, performing them with the kind of vim and vigour than makes Brian Blessed seem like a church mouse. One second he’s singing as sweetly as an angel the next as lusty as a drunken lord. It’s a truly awesome sight and sound and the fact that just a handful of us were there to see it is a real shame. Hunt him out and you’ll never listen to folk music in the same way again.

David Campbell was on hand to continue the proud folk traditions his dad Ian, bringing one of the song’s made famous by his father, D Day Dodgers (written by Lance Sergeant Harry Pynn according to Wikipedia), to life. He paved the way for a new generation of folk star, Kathryn Priddy, to bewitch the crowd with her ethereal (it’s a bit of a clichĂ© but there really isn’t a better word to sum her up) vocals and lit rich lyrics. She’s not the first female singer to take inspiration from Wuthering Heights (step forward Kate Bush) and opening number My Love crackles with that novel’s doomed romanticism. The covers were good (Nick Drake’s Cello Song...not an easy one to play...and the trad classic She Moves Through The Fair) but I think she’s just written her first big hit in Darling. Trust me, you heard it here first. Put a fiver on it. A new folk star in the making.

After a flying visit to catch Dan Whitehouse’s fine brand of observational (Three Bodies) and uplifting songwriting (Somebody Loves You) it was a quick dash back down for folk’s answer to Ab Fab’s Bubble, Kate Rusby. 

That’s a compliment by the way, Kate’s between song banter was a delight and her scatty self effacing humour belies one of the greatest female folk voices around right now. With a set including classics The Good Man, The Elfin Knight, Awkward Annie and Planets, all tracks familiar to Rusby’s fans (who were out in force this afternoon) the whole thing was a treat from start to finish. Loved the bit where the band fused traditional folk tunes with the theme tunes from the A Team and the Muppets by the way. Ha!

The Klatsh Klezmer band soundtracked the by now traditional straw wars (basically several bales are straw are deposited in the crowd who tear them to pieces and chuck it all in the air) leaving The Be Good Tanyas to pick up the pieces. Sadly one of their members (Samantha Parton) has a brain tumour but Caroline Bullhorn did a fine job as her stand in, lending her voice to the band’s laid back brand of country and bluegrass. It wasn’t all chilled out though, new(ish) song September Fields had a vaguely disco beat behind it (well, as disco at The Be Good Tanyas get) whilst Rain and Snow (from debut album Blue Horse) seemed to embrace its inner reggae (it’s there, have a listen) roots more than ever before. An uplifting wander through Here Comes The Sun, dedicated to the recently departed Richie Havens, saw the great orange ball in the sky continue to oblige.

Missed most of Gordie MacKeeman’s set as they were scheduled to appear earlier in the day and I’d wandered off in search of cider which was a shame. The bit I did see was hoedown inspired madness of the finest order with Gordie seemingly mounting everything (steady now) on stage before leaping off in a fiddle playing blur.

The average age of the audience at the front of the crowd suddenly dropped by around 20 years with the appearance of Lucy Rose. In just a couple of years Rose has released some impressive tunes, adding a little funky groove and a touch of math rock (that certainly came across this evening anyway) to the more traditional folk vibe. Shiver was so chilled they could’ve served it in the mojitos in the cocktail bar whilst Lines’ chorus pierces through the verses like a needle through the heart. 

Although she admitted to nerves before the show, unsure how a ‘folk’ crowd would take her, it was strong performance capped off with a spiky version of Bikes that saw the teen fans dancing in that gloriously awkward but strangely unselfconscious way that eludes anyone over the age of 20.

The Dirty Old Folkers (the name says it all) continued their mission to corrupt the nation’s youth, and everyone else for that matter, with songs about wanking (Spank the Monkey) and rimming Hobbits (Lord of the ‘Rings’). The mash up of I Will Survive, Daytrip to Bangor and War Pigs (seriously) on the latter track has to be heard to be believed. Add a dancing panda and death (replete with his scythe) and you’ve got a show that out gaga’s Ms Germanotta. Brilliantly bonkers.

The Dubliners were legends in the folk world and whilst all of the original band have either retired or passed away three members of its last incarnation are carrying on as The Dublin Legends. 

Of course this music transcends line up changes. Many of these songs echo down the generations and over the course of 90 minutes they blazed through what amounts to an Now That’s What I Call Irish Folk Music greatest hits collection. Black Velvet Band, The Rare Auld Times, Seven Drunken Nights (“Awwww yer’ drunk yer drunk you silly owl fule”...a number of the crowd were only too pleased to oblige...there’ll be some hangovers today), Dirty Ol’ Town, Whiskey In The Jar, The Irish couldn’t get more Irish if you pickled yourself in Guinness and stuck a Shamrock in your ear. The crowd (even the less well lubricated ones) sung along as lustily as I’ve ever heard at Moseley Folk Festival and you’d need a heart of blarney stone to fail to be moved by the mass singalong of Molly Mallone. I’m still breaking out into the odd burst of “Alive alive ohhhh...” as I write this in fact.

After 8 years MoFo somehow retains its magic. The setting, the people, the bands, the timing (that cusp between summer and autumn is somehow strangely moving) combine to deliver a truly special weekend and all concerned deserve yet another pat on the back...and some cockles and mussels...alive alive ohhh (see?) for continuing to put it on.

PS: Vin Garbutt and Richard Thompson for 2014 please...