Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Euros Childs / Laura J Martin / The Wellgreen @ The Hare and Hounds, Tuesday 29th October 2013

Given the frankly apocalyptic predictions for ‘St Jude’s Storm’ the previous day I was half expecting to find that the Hare and Hounds had been reduced to a pile of bricks or, at the very least, blown into a tree or something. Thankfully Michael Fish must’ve been on duty because yesterday’s gentle breeze was barely enough to trouble an empty crisp packet here in Brum. All of which meant that tonight’s openers The Wellgreen (all the way from Glasgow) were happily able to take to the stage with barely a hair out of place. 

Kicking off with Maybe It’s The Pressure of the City Life (well worth a listen) there’s a classic feel to many of their tracks with subtle hints of The Byrds, Beatles and Beach Boys in there and some great two part male harmonies. A ‘well good’ start to the night.

Whilst The Wellgreen’s performance was a relatively simple affair Laura J Martin shoehorned more into her all too brief set than most bands manage in an entire career. Although she’s a solo performer she’s got a neat bundle of kit that provides a backing track onto which she adds some live looped stuff, mandolin, flute, one of those keyboard things that you blow into, a plucky thing glued onto what looked like a tambourine...I half expected her to drag out a kitchen sink from the back of the stage at one point. In the hands of lesser artists this could all sound a bit of a dog’s dinner but she clearly knows what she’s doing, neatly juggling all of these different sounds to create something...well...pretty unique. Take Red Flag for instance which seemingly embraces everything from traditional British folk to Native American rhythms (replete with some particularly enthusiastic ‘war whoops’). 

Bonkers but brilliant. Vocally she’s the lovechild of Kate Bush and those CocoRosie sisters with a little added Scouse charm, a mix that’s as intoxicating as the music. Last track, Spy, saw her play one of the funkiest flute solos in history...seriously I’ve rarely seen someone really ‘rock’ a flute. Ian Anderson eat your heart out. Highly recommended.   

One day Euros Childs will be recognised as a national treasure. I’m pretty certain of it. For over twenty years (first as part of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci then as a solo artist) he’s consistently released clever, quirky, catchy indie pop and with his latest double album (yes, a DOUBLE album) Situation Comedy the well’s clearly not drying up. A bouncy run through one of his classics Be Be High gets things started off, it’s as catchy as hell but a little off the wall at the same time...which is a pretty good description of the man himself. That’s followed up by a trio from the newbie, Second Home Blues, Avon Lady and Ooh La Oona, each one of which are as lyrically delightful as they are musically. Avon Lady in particular’s a real treat, as fine a lesson in observational songwriting as you’re likely to find this side of Neil Hannon. Old Euros ain’t just a singer and songwriter though. Oh no. He also does a fine line in self deprecating stand up too (at times reminding me of a Welsh John Shuttleworth, that might just be me though), scattering the set with odd observations and random musings all delivered in that gloriously laid back and rich Welsh accent of his. A good natured heckler is handled particularly well in fact that the individual concerns returns with a pint for him a couple of minutes later. Now that’s real charm. No Patio Song, Donkey Island or Tête à Tête sadly but we did get the boogie woogie soul soothing That’s Better. 

To be frank though if Euros was going to play all his best songs we’d probably still be there now. Arderchogg!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Totally Irregular New Music Roundup Thingy

I have so much new music to listen to in my in-box that I’ve taken to hiding behind the sofa whenever I open it.  Scary. Oh well, here are a few new tunes that flicked my switch, tickled my fancy and generally interfered with my nether regions today...

The Phoenix Foundation – Evolution Did

How many songs about evolution can you name in 60 seconds? Exactly. Well now, thanks to The Phoenix Foundation, there’s at least one. Bonus points for the vid too...nice to see Einstein on keyboards.

Empty Pools – Exploded View

Cool post rock track gets its groove on.   

La Femme – Packshot

French noir indie pop anyone? Variety c’est la spice de life!

Cub Sport – Paradise

They’re from Oz, they make perfect summer time synth pop records and they’ve possibly seen the video to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody...

Lizzo – Batches and Cookies

One for fans of rap and the Great British Bake Off here. The lovely Lizzo’s on tour with the equally lovely Har Mar Superstar in November too with a gig at the Hare and Hounds on November 14th.  Tickets here! Bring some doughnuts and let’s get mucky...

Friday, October 25, 2013

25 not out...

A momentous anniversary passed me by recently. I went to my first proper gig 25 years ago. Yes...I know...I don't look that old, very kind of you to notice. I thought the date was November sometime but it was actually (according to the internet and that's never wrong is it eh?) October 9th 1988. The band/artist? Marc Almond. The venue? The Powerhouse. I went on my own too...mainly because I was a bad ass loner on a mission to destruction. Yeahhh! Or maybe I just didn't have any friends? Ahhhh the miseries of youth. Anyway, here's what you missed if you weren't there...or weren't born yet...

I dread to think how many gigs I've been to since then. If you're really bored you can have a read through the list here. There are some gaps but it's fairly comprehensive.

PS: You'll notice a huge gap between 1988 and 1992...I was an impoverished student living in Brighton then and could barely afford to eat let alone go out to gigs. In fact I seemed to spend most of my time working at 7-Eleven on Western Road selling boxes of condoms to hookers. Happy days...

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Childs play...former Gorkys Zygotic Mynci frontman to hit the Hare

Next Tuesday the hugely underrated Euros Childs plays an intimate gig at the Hare and Hounds. Like fellow countryman Gruff Rhys he's got a wonderfully laid back style and an annoying habit of making penning clever but catchy songs look as easy as falling off a frog...which is even easier than falling off  a log. Trust me, I've done both.

Here are just a trio of classics:

Tickets are available here from the lovely folk at Birmingham Promoters who have an insane number of great gigs on at the moment (check out Har Mar Superstar on November 14th and Summer Camp on November 24th fact check out all their listings right now. If there's nothing that floats your boat then you need a new boat baby).

London Grammar / SIVU / Jaymes Young @ Academy 2, Wednesday 22nd October 2013

Thanks to the internet it’s seemingly possible these days to record a track in the morning, stick it up online at lunchtime and be the next big thing before Deal Or No Deal. All it takes is for an uploaded video on You Tube to catch the public’s imagination and voila, record labels beating a path to your door and Jools Holland climbing over your fence begging you to tickle his ivories. I’m not entirely sure if this was London Grammar’s sole route to success but they, like a number of other acts recently, do seem to have come from nowhere. Now with a US tour under their belts and debut album that narrowly missed being number one in the UK charts they’re playing a sold out show at the 600 person capacity Academy 2 with a return visit to the main Academy room already booked for next February. Blimey.

First up, all the way from LA, Jaymes (nope, that’s not a typo...I makes a change) Young. Chilled would probably be the best way to describe Mr Young and his music. Nothing wrong with that but in the rapidly filling Academy the atmosphere perhaps isn’t most conducive to appreciating the brooding melancholy of arguably his best track to date Dark Star. Add in the relentless chattering from the crowd – it still never ceases to amaze me why people pay to go to a gig and then talk through the majority of it...kind of like going to a restaurant, ordering a meal and then taking out your packed lunch to eat instead – and any spell that he hoped to conjure sadly fell a little flat.

SIVU (it’s Finish apparently, his real name is James Page...I guess he figured the musical world already had a perfectly decent Jimmy Page) fared a lot better.  Flanked by a violinist and cellist he started off with Bodies a beguiling mix of Villagers and Wild Beasts with a touch of Radiohead in the mix (perhaps his most relevant musical touchstones). 

Adding strings to anything makes it a much richer and fuller sound and this, combined with SIVU’s relatively low key vocals and angsty lyrics, came across as a particularly good combination. As the set progressed you could tell he was winning over a growing number if the crowd (the chattering stopped) and I’m guessing it won’t be too long before he’s back here as a headliner.   

Confession time. London Grammar’s rise to fame has pretty much passed me by. Hey, it’s impossible to keep your finger on the pulse all the time...I’m still recovering from Wham splitting up. Like the XX (to whom t’Grammar have lazily been compared) the live show is a fairly low key affair. No laser beams, screaming guitar solos and crowd surfing here. What you do have though is lead singer Hannah’s voice. And that, my friends, is a very wonderful thing indeed. Imagine the love child of Anna Calvi and Tori Amos (not biologically possible but I’m willing to watch the practical experiments), with a dash of Lana Del Rey thrown in for good measure. Yep, the girl’s got fact during opening number Hey Now she pretty much covered all the bases (or maybe that should be basses) from a low manly rumble to its polar opposite. Such vocal gymnastics frequently drew appreciative whoops from the capacity crowd (featuring far more couples than the average gig...I imagine London Grammar’s album is the post coital soundtrack du jour), deservedly so. A lot of the material’s focussed on relationships and Hannah’s made no secret of the fact that ex-boyfriends have provided a rich source of inspiration with tracks like the brooding Darling Are You Going To Leave Me and that breakthrough track Wasting My Young Years (both of which were rapturously received this evening) being notable examples. The latter of these two tracks seemed beefier tonight than on record/download/CD/tape (delete as applicable), a smart move that lifts the music from out of the bedroom and into the arenas that they seem to heading inexorably towards. In fact the change of pace from chilled out noodling to more beat heavy moments creates some interesting contrasts (older readers may recall bands like One Dove did similar things way back in the 90s). 

Despite this being their first UK headlining tour they seemed remarkably composed, Hannah in particular. She even had the balls to engage in a little audience interaction (always a brave thing to do), picking out her three favourite members of the crowd and neatly managing to avoid alienating all those who thought she was pointing at them when in fact she was after someone else. It’s a simple enough thing but this kind of interaction can really help win to fans and influence people. Sure, some of the lyrics might equally be a little simplistic (the chorus of Flickers in particular), but hell, it’s their first album (Flickers redeemed itself tonight courtesy of a little dubstep section though). After a surprisingly funky ending to Metal and Dust and the traditional going off and coming on again routine they finished with a well chosen cover of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game, which somehow seemed to be even more haunting than the original. In Hannah Reid London Grammar have a serious vocal talent, follow up their debut with an album that makes the most of it and they’ll be question (mark) at all.  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Norman Watt-Roy / Wilko Johnson / Jay Tamkin @ The Hare and Hounds, Tuesday 22nd October 2013

To paraphrase his old mate Ian Dury, “There ain’t ‘alf been some funky bastards”. Oh yes, getting the chance to see legendary bassist Norman Watt-Roy (the funkster behind many of Ian Dury and the Blockheads’ hits) in relatively intimate surroundings is exciting enough, chuck in a guest appearance from wild eyed guitar genius from Dr Feelgood, Wilko Johnson, and this gig was pretty much unmissible.  

Opener Jay Tamkin had a few technical issues this evening but that didn’t detract from the fact that he’s clearly a pretty darn impressive guitarist, singer and songwriter with (in his semi-acoustic guise at least...he’s also got his own funk you do) just a hint of fellow Devonian Seth Lakeman on some of his folkier tracks.

Boy, I’d hate to be Norman Watt-Roy’s dry cleaner. Whilst some artists work up a bit of a sweat Watt-Roy puts so much into his performance he’d be drier after a deep sea dive. It’s worth it though. Half man, half bassist he’s possibly one of the funkiest muthas on the planet, on the move from the moment he hits the stage right through to the very end. As perhaps you’d expect the set itself includes a generous helping of Dury classics kicking off with a jazzier version of The Blockheads’ biggest tune, Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick. Norm’s vocals aren’t too dissimilar to Ian’s dulcet cockney tones (he sings on a number of tracks this evening) but it’s the bass playing that most people are here to see/hear. He really does seem part bass, almost like he was born with the thing in his arms making him a wonderfully natural and instinctive player capable of laying down fluid grooves like it’s the easiest thing in the world. Introducing Billericay Dickie with “Here’s one of the first songs that made me love Ian in the first place” Norm and the band (all equally first class musicians) add a little Lionel Bart touch (to my ears at least) to another Dury classic. As rich in innuendo as anything he penned Norm clearly relishes every word. Of course he does...he ain’t an ‘effin thicky.

It’s not just chock-a-Blockheads with Ian’s stuff though. Tonight Norm and co are here to showcase tracks from their new album Faith & Grace too, revealing more of his jazzy side with some wonderful instrumentals and lounge funk on offer. He gets the crowd singing along too “I need some help with this one, it’s a difficult lyric” he jokes before launching into Norman!Norman! (its sole lyric is his name, repeated over and over again), cue some enthusiastic chants and finger pointing from the crowd. There’s a lot of love for him here tonight, justifiably so. Perhaps there’s even more though for his special guest and good mate, Wilko Johnson who comes on to play a few numbers.

Diagnosed with terminal cancer in early 2013 Wilko set off on a farewell tour in March. Whilst most people would react with horror at being given just months to live Wilko seemed genuinely okay with it all. In fact for the first time in his life he admitted that he actually started to appreciate being alive. Perhaps this change in attitude, coupled with a well deserved reappraisal of his legacy and some rapturously received live shows, is why he’s still up there on stage right now rather than pushing up the daisies. 

Whatever the reason he seems in remarkably great shape, pacing the stage as wild eyed as ever and machine gunning the audience with his guitar to Everybody’s Carrying A Gun. The combination of Wilko’s choppy playing style and Norman’s smooth as funk bass is a pretty magical mix and when he left the stage after a stunning run through When I Was a Cowboy the thought that this may be one of their last shows together was pretty poignant. Let’s hope not though eh?  I reckon the cancer’s a hell of lot more scared of Wilko than he is of it...

They’re reunited for an encore, it has to be Roxette (what else eh?). Wilko’s on testifyingly fine form again with Norman by his side laying down the grooves. Add some dirty sax blasts, funky drumming and cool keyboards and it’s an epic climax. After Wilko leaves the stage, just when you think it’s all over, Norman plugs in again for a bit of a Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick jam. After nearly half a century of playing in bands his enthusiasm is something else. Oh Watt-(Roy) a night!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Brothers of Caedmon – Runaway Train EP

Up and coming folk rockers...or rock folkers if you’d prefer...Brothers of Caedmon are back with a brand new track (and EP) called, appropriately enough, Runaway Train (Track? Train? Geddit...oh alright...). It’s a catchy little number too, a brooding banjo driven belter (top marks for the banjo solo...far too few banjo solos in the world) that you can easily imagine going down a storm Stateside.  It’s accompanied by three other tracks the second of which, Who Could Save Us Now, is perhaps the most lightweight one on offer here but track three Dragons and a White Nurse hits the spot again nicely, bringing a funkier flavour to the mix (as the kids say...or at least they did the last time I spoke to ‘em). Personally I reckon it’s their best song to date lyrically and performance wise with lead bro Conor giving it “more, more, morrrrrreeee” on the vocals. 

That just leaves the final tune, a live version of the bluesy Doors-ish Blueberry Jam to prove they can cut it out of the studio as well. It’s still early days but I’m genuinely impressed with the tunes and their delivery. They’re playing plenty of gigs too (for what it’s worth that the one piece of advice I’d give to any band, get out and play your ass off) – in fact you can see them at TheSunflower Lounge this Friday October 25th (where they'll be selling the EPs too) – which should continue tightening everything up nicely. Caedmon’s to watch...

Monday, October 21, 2013

Miss Halliwell – Rulerfueller

It’s a dull, grey Monday morning. It’s piddling it down. And yet I’m merrily smacking my hands on the kitchen table (that’s as close as I get to playing an instrument) like a man possessed. The reason? MissHalliwell’s new single Rulerfueller, the latest perfectly aimed missive from Miles Perhower and his band of merry souls.

If you have a week or two to spare and take a look back over this blog...all seven years of’ll see that I’ve had a bit of a Miss Halliwell / Miles Perhower fetish. They’re one of just a handful of bands I keep returning to and there’s a very good reason for this. In an increasingly unfair world (you only have to drink in the news today that ‘our’ government is basically putting the future of energy production in the UK in the hands of foreign companies and investors, guaranteeing them a minimum price per megawatt hour of energy produced that’s TWICE the current level...oh yes my friends, heat and light’s about to become a luxury good...) Miss Halliwell are one of the few bands bothering to speak out. The fact that they do so with tunes that manage to be both awkward and yet strangely catchy at the same time is a mystery that I’ve not quite figured out.

I’ve referenced The Fall before because they’re possibly the only other band that come close to doing this, unlike that nice Mr Smith though you can actually make out pretty much everything that Miles has to say for himself. “Depression is contagious and deadly strains continue to evolve” intones Miles dolefully “Can’t we find a reason why we need a kick up the arse?” Amen to that. Aside from the ‘riots’ of a few years ago (which were more to do with grabbing the latest mindless gizmo or pair of trainers than grabbing power or protesting against anything) we seem to be living in strangely apathetic times. I blame the internet. It’s alarmingly easy to cocoon yourself in a blanket of snaps of kittens doing the washing up, lists of the 12 best lightbulb jokes of all time and...well...blogs like this, in the process forgetting what the hell’s going on in the ‘real world’. This apathy – and whilst it applies to pretty much every generation those under 30 are probably getting the rawest deal of all – is presumably the ‘Rulerfueller’ that Miles and co speak of so engagingly here. Still, as long as there’s a new series of X Factor to watch life ain’t so bad is it eh? Eh?

Music can do a lot of things. It can make you laugh, it can make you cry, it can make you sing along and dance like a loon...all valuable stuff certainly...but at its very best it can also make you think. And that's why, especially given the musical blandscape out there right now, Miss Halliwell matters more than ever. 

Rulerfueller is out to buy right now right here.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Irrepressibles @ Birmingham Midland Institute, Friday 18th October 2013

St Martin’s Church, Birmingham Town Hall, the back of The Rainbow pub and now the Birmingham and Midland Institute...four gigs, four different venues but the one thing that ties everything together is the fact that The Irrepressibles gigs are M-A-G-I-C-A-L no matter where they’re held (trust me, stick them in a bus shelter and they’d shine). Undoubtedly a huge part of this is Jamie Irrepressibles’ voice. I’ve spent hours mulling over how to best describe it, settling on everything from a heartbroken angel to a cross between Anthony Hegarty and the late, great Billy Mackenzie. But it’s probably best if you just listen to it for yourself and make your own mind up...

Hear that? Magical, right? Tonight’s gig once again has me dashing off to my Boys’ Book Of Adjectives but frankly words don’t do it justice. Tonight was a heart meltingly intimate and stripped back affair featuring reworked tracks from the albums Nude and Mirror Mirror together with new material currently being released across a series of EPs. Joined by a cellist and violinist and dressed casually the now bearded (suits him too) Jamie settled down to the piano and for a large part of the show had his back to the audience, frequently losing himself – and us –  in the intensity of the music. It certainly can be intense stuff too “It’s a bit intense this” he commented early on (see, told you it was intense) but it’s incredibly uplifting too. Reviewers often use the phrase ‘soaring vocals’ when such an epithet ain’t justified. Here’s it’s woefully inadequate. When he’s in full flow you honestly believe there’s something spiritual going on...and I’m as atheist as they come. Picking highlights from The Irrepressibles’ shows is never easy but the skeletal reworkings of New World, Arrow and Two Men in Love (something of a trilogy) were stunningly sublime. All three are songs about love, in this particular case homosexual love which both matters enormously and, at the same time, not at all. Love is love. End of story. Thankfully we’ve come a long way from the dark ages when homosexuality was illegal, but worryingly there seems to be both religious and cultural backlashes at the moment against the freedom to choose who you fall in love with. Step forward that nice Mr Putin for instance (am I the only one who can’t help thinking that he doth protest a little too much, if you get my drift...ahem).  That’s why songs like these – and their particular orientation – matter. Jamie himself was bullied as a child for his sexuality and undoubtedly millions of kids (and adults) around the world are enduring the same hell right now. Listening to the lyrics and emotion within these songs may just help them make a little more sense of their lives and, who knows, give them the strength to carry on. But gay, straight, bi, transgender or any of the other myriad of sexual predilections that make up this great big melting pot that is the human race, love is love...and these are simply some of the most beautiful love sings ever written.  

A couple of covers also made the set list this evening, first up Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting then Always On My Mind (as covered by...well...pretty much everyone from Elvis to the Pet Shop Boys). Both were slowed to almost glacial pace, lighted dusted with weeping strings and haunting piano. Listen to Always On My Mind and if the hairs on the back of your neck don’t rise a little then you’re probably clinically dead. I’ve listened to this track a dozen or so times and it still gets me. Watching it live was even more emotional...

Mindful of the old adage to save the best ‘til last the pairing of Nuclear Skies (tonight played on an acoustic guitar) and a stripped to the bone In This Shirt (always a devastatingly beautiful song but somehow more touching in the ‘nude’ form) rightly earned a standing ovation.

Clearly not one to play things safe Jamie picked an unrehearsed track for the encore, Raise My Soul, leading to a mild look of panic in the cellist’s eyes but, hell, if this was unrehearsed then they don’t need rehearsals. The crowd voted on the last track of the night, a repeat of Nuclear Skies, but to be honest I was hoping they’d play the whole set again...and again...and again...

 PS: The first EP of the Nudes trilogy is out now. Order all three for just £21 here.  

Friday, October 18, 2013

Paul McCartney @ Maida Vale, Wednesday 16th October

It’s just after midday. I’m in the BBC’s famous Maida Vale studios. And I’m 10 feet away from a living, breathing, singing Beatle. How did that happen...?

A few weeks earlier I’d casually entered a lottery to win a pair of tickets to this gig via 6Music, safe in the knowledge that I didn’t have a hope in hell of winning. 66,000 other people had done likewise. With just 100 pairs of tickets up for grabs the odds seemed pretty slim, not quite National Lottery slim but a whole lot worse than the tombola at the local church fete or the outside chance in the 4.15 from Cheltenham. And yet on a chilly Monday morning a week or so after entering I logged into my email account and there amongst the spam was a pair of tickets to arguably one of the most intimate gigs that McCartney had played since his Cavern Club days.

Arriving outside Maida Vale at 9am there were already 30 or so people in the queue, I imagine one or two may have slept there. Now that's devotion. It’s a curious place, the studios on one side of the road and a row of posh looking houses on the other (probably all flats these days). After a two hour wait we were let in and put into another queue for half an hour or before swarming into the studio itself. It’s a little like an old school hall, much smaller than you’d imagine and, unlike pretty much every other gig venue, barrier free. Only a white line on the floor indicates where the audience can’t go. There’s no stage either, so if you’re vertically challenged it’s tough. Predictably several people at the front were about 8ft tall but that’s always the way. We managed to get one row off of the very front and, with a little head bobbing, we had a pretty decent view.

When Macca eventually bounded on it was a strangely moving moment. If you’re under 70 there’s a pretty decent chance that the music and iconography of The Beatles music has been hard wired into your brain. Has there been a more important band in history? Despite splitting up over 40 years ago they seem as popular and influential as ever. Ignore all the rose tinted stuff that often fogs the 60s and, from a purely musical perspective, their development and output in just a few short years is still nothing short of staggering. And right there...almost within touching distance...was one of the two blokes who was responsible for writing most of it. Lennon’s long gone, Harrison too.  Ringo’s still about and doing plenty of stuff but, let’s be honest here, he wasn’t the...ahem...Starr of the show was he? That just leaves McCartney. At 71 and with a fortune estimated at anything between £400 and £800million he clearly doesn’t need make music for the money any more. He doesn’t need to haul himself out of bed to do freebie gigs like this either, which leaves you with the undeniable fact that he’s doing this purely for the love of it all.

That comes across pretty much immediately as he comes into the room and launches into Coming Up from McCartney II (released in 1980). He looks remarkably fit. Even his hair looks better than it did a while back. Obviously it’s dyed but it’s a mellower shade now thank goodness. Why he can’t be glad to be grey like Tom Jones I don’t know. I reckon it would suit him. Save a fortune in Just For Men as well. Anyway, Macca sounds great too. The vocal gets better as he warms up (to be fair this is midday and he only flew in from New York a couple of days ago) and barring the odd slightly strained note it’s pretty impressive. Having listened to my mum’s copy of the Help album on vinyl over and over again when I was young seeing Macca play We Can Work It Out just a few feet away was a particularly special moment...the slight quaver in the voice makes the “Life is very short” line seem all the more poignant. He’s here to promote his new album of course, New, which had been picking up some decent reviews and plays his current single, also called New, which wisely plays to his Mc strengths. Cleverly produced by Mark Ronson it’s a little bit Beatles-y with (to my ears at least) jaunty touches of Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields in there. Forthcoming single Queenie Eye also plugs into his past, more playful than New it’s Sergeant Pepper era Beatles and comes complete with its own call and response bit for the crowd to shout along with. That warms us all up nicely for a good old sing along to cod reggae classic Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da before Macca and band blast through Get Back.

And then it was all over. Several days later it still seems like a slightly surreal dream...

Setlist: Coming Up / Save Us / Junior’s Farm / We Can Work It Out / New / Queenie Eye / Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da / Get Back

PS: If you want to try to spot me I was just behind the left shoulder of the tall bloke in a white top on the left hand side of the screen. Clearly he preferred to watch most of the gig via his ruddy mobile phone. C'est la vie. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

PINS / September Girls / Youth Man @ Bull’s Head, Wednesday 17th October 2013

You wait ages for three female fronted (in the case of two of tonight’s bill 100% female line ups too) bands and then three come along at once. Okay, I know there are other testicle free groups out there (and there always has been) but given the fact that ladies make up roughly 50% of the population it’s a never ending source of puzzlement that you see relatively few women only or women dominated bands. Why? Beats me. Answers on a XX chromosome please. 

Anyway, this evening kicked off (kicked off being the operative word) with Youth Man, a band that seems to grow in stature by the day (seriously...I saw them four days ago and they were even better this evening). Lead singer Kaila wins the award for wildest performance of the night, succeeding in losing her guitar strap within the first two numbers and ending up on her knees screaming up a storm. They’re more than just a front woman though, this evening drummer Marcus kept up his end by trashing part of his drum kit in the first song and giving it the kind of beating that would probably result in a ten year stretch if drum abuse was a crime. Meanwhile bassist Adam lay down some surprisingly funky bass lines, notably on the band’s self titled song Youth Man. 

Early track, Cold, chills the Man out a little, giving us more of a chance to hear Kaila’s more soulful side but it’s last track, the frenetic schizoid Heavy Rain that still steals the show. It’s the kind of tune that makes you want to bounce off the walls until you’ve broken something and I’m pretty sure the drummer was just a beat or two away from spontaneously combusting. Beautiful, blistering carnage.

It’s fair to say that Dublin’s September Girls had some sound problems this evening. In fact tonight the five piece was joined by a sixth member, Felicity Feedback, who stubbornly hogged the limelight for a large part of the set. The vocals seemed very low and muffled too, perhaps as a result of the sound guy trying to silence the ear shredding screech of various bits of audio gubbins doing battle with each other. This was a huge shame but if you could blank out the technical issues their mix of Bangles meets the Go Gos in a 1960’s happening is actually a deliciously intoxicating mix. With psych back in fashion tracks like Green Eyes, which veers towards Stereolab/Broadcast territory, should be on the turntables of hipsters from here to Hoxton.

The drummer was frickin’ awesome tonight too, delivering metronomically meaty beats throughout the gig like Joy Division era Stephen Morris on steroids. I’m guessing (and it’s just a guess) that recreating their sound ‘live’ is a little more challenging for soundmen/women than most groups, get it right though and September Girls could be well be flavour of the month.

If September Girls hark back to psychier times PINS are seemingly lodged firmly in the punk and new wave era with opening number Lost Lost Lost (and indeed much of the rest of the set) bringing to mind Patti Smith at her most potent. Tonight was seemingly the night for technical difficulties as the lead singer’s stand gave up the ghost during the first number causing her to slump to the floor singing into the now flaccid mic. I blame all of that oestrogen floating around this evening. Besides it happens to every mic now and then. Doesn’t it?! Anyway, problem rectified Shoot You came across as a pissed off Nancy Sinatra in a Tarantino movie whilst I Want It All slowed things down to a haunted dirge punctuated by Lene Lovich style yelps. Of course looks shouldn’t really matter when it comes to music but we all know that’s bollocks. One Direction wouldn’t be famous of they all looked like a like the back end of a bus and, rightly or wrongly, it’s even more of an issue with female artists. PINS look good though, exuding a cool sexiness as opposed to the current vogue for exposing as much of your body as possible without the aid of a speculum and team of fully trained gynaecologists smothered in lube. More importantly they seem like mates, exchanging the odd cheeky grin to each other. If the road to fame and fortune is paved with endless nights in the back of a van travelling from one Travelodge to another this’ll come in handy. Much of the set will be familiar to PINS heads but Oh Lord might be new to most. Cleverly fusing the retro pop of the B52s (those “whoooooos” in particular) with punk goddesses The Slits and the shout-tastic Chicks On Speed it’s perhaps one of their most accessible tracks to date. As band and audience gently sweat together the bass player comes out to join us “Always wanted to do that...” Awww bless. It’s not quite a stage dive (well, it’s not quite a stage) but still. With the crowd checked out lead singer Faith ends the show doing likewise passing on the mic for an enthusiastic sing along to Girls Like Us. You’re not wrong there, boys (can I still be a boy at my age?) like you too.

Hare they come...Norman Watt-Roy (with Wilko Johnson!) and The Monochrome Set!

Promoters World Unlimited put on some cracking gigs all the time but next week sees two truly influential acts play the Hare and Hounds in just a couple of days. First up on Tuesday 22nd October the bass genius behind Ian Dury and the Blockheads Mr Norman Watt-Roy.  I saw this dude play with The Blockheads earlier this year and needed three strong men to lift my jaw off the floor. More bass than man he's possibly the funkiest player you're ever likely to see. Seeing that he's to be joined by 'friends' made me hope that the equally legendary Wilko Johnson may be coming along for the ride. Incredibly it seems that this might actually be the case (health allowing...Wilko has terminal cancer...although the cancer seems far more terrified of him than he is of it). Either way, trust me, you need to be here. Just listen to this bass solo and tell me I'm wrong...

And here's Wilko at his very best on Later...(with Norm funkin' it up too)...

Then, on Thursday 24th, you've got post punk legends The Monochrome Set. No Monochrome Set no Franz Ferdinand (and a host of other bands) it's a simple as that. Few have written a two minute pop song as catchy and clever as this in the past 30 years or so. 

Tickets for both gigs available right here for Norman and right there for The Monochrome Set.   

Monday, October 14, 2013

Oxjam Brum Takeover 2013, Saturday 12th October – all over the place

On top of the obvious great cause Oxjam Brum’s also rapidly becoming a pretty important showcase for some of the best bands that Birmingham’s got to offer. Inevitably this leaves you spinning around in a vaguely confused state (even before a pint or six) agonising over where to go and what to see. All of the venues are pretty close together so it’s perfectly possible to hop from one to the other but then again I hate walking out of a place just as another band’s setting up...yes, I know I’m a big softie. Still we did take in four venues over eight hours or so, kicking off with the canal boat Frederick and a delightfully ramshackle set from The Bombergs’ front man Rick Wellings. Anyone who can mash up Nick Cave with Take That on a canal boat gets my vote and his cover of Nick Lowes (What’s So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding wasn’t half bad either. 

Off to The Yardbird for some top notch roots reggae courtesy of The Emmanualites and super cool scat soul from Call Me Unique (soon to be seen supporting Jessie J at the NIA). After a quick dash through the drizzle and a chat with a chap in John Bright Street we hit Cherry Reds for the first time. It’s a new place, coffee shop downstairs and an intimate venue up above (full marks for serving Marston’s Oyster Stout too), within which Drakelow played only their second gig to date including a super sweet cover of the Mac’s Everywhere and their own equally good (in my humble opinion) Swallowing Diamonds. After doing some swallowing of my own...damn that Oyster Stout’s good...Racing rocked up. Lordy they’re fun. It’s a bit funky, it’s a bit disco, it’s a bit synth makes you want to wear a white jacket with the sleeves rolled up. Brum’s answer to Chic. Possibly. Good times. Finally (for our time in Cherry Red at least) I Am Anushka (aka Little Palm, aka Anna Palmer) put on another of her “Good grief why isn’t she famous yet?” sets. Playing possibly the only keyboard visible from space (seriously, it’s as long as the Great Wall of China) she defies categorisation but if Bessie Smith and Tori Amos got it probably wouldn’t sound anything like this. I’d love to post up some music...but I can’t find any. How rock 'n' roll is that eh?

Leaving Cherry Reds we decamped for the rest of the night to The Sunflower Lounge and some serious rockkkkkkkkkkkk. As bills go you’d have to go a long way to beat Layers, Youth Man and God Damn in a sweaty basement. Who knows, maybe it was the cause, the atmosphere or simply the alignment of the planets but all three were on particularly fine form this evening. Layers (always a great live act) were the best I’d ever seen them. Smiling like a dude who knows he’s fronting one of the best new rock bands around right now lead singer Lance really went for it this evening, even resurrecting his legendary back flip (a bit of a rarity these days after a slip a while ago nearly left him needing a full set of false teeth). Playing everything from their frankly essential debut EP with a real punch the vocals were impressively strong, all the more remarkable given the fact that he didn’t stand still for more than a couple of seconds, even ending up (as is traditional with Layers gigs) on top of the bar at the back of the room. Lord knows how he's going to do that when they're playing Wembley...

Most bands would struggle to follow them but Youth Man played another blinder. Female fronted rock groups are sadly an all too rare thing but if there’s any justice in the world Kaila White’s riot grrrl on speed vocals and gloriously uninhibited lose yerself in the moment performance should inspire tweenies around the world to incinerate their 1D posters forever. Current single Heavy Rain is like being locked in a food blender with punk’s greatest hits and pulverised into a sticky mess. Yes, that good. 

Completing the evening’s destruction (quite literally) were the slimmed down God Damn (currently reduced to a duo following Dave’s car crash from which he is, thankfully, now recovering from). Ending their set like Sabbath in a bad mood Thom decided to do some minor retuning on his guitar by bouncing it against the ceiling and then finishing off the job on the wall. You don’t see many bands trash their kit these days...but then again you don’t normally see many bands as bust your nuts great as God Damn either. The fact that both Youth Man and the incendiary Layers were every bit as good says a hell of a lot about the state of music in the Midlands right now.

Huge respect to all involved in this event, the bands, the organisers, the punters that turned out in the rain...the crazy dude in John Bright Street...

EDIT: Damn it...forgot to mention Table Scraps at The Sunflower Lounge! How could I? It's my age...I'll be forgetting my name and buying industrial sized boxes of Rennies next. Anyway, Table Scraps. Boy / girl, guitar /, loud, garage rock...eleven (at least) flavours of fuzzed up awesomeness. See them at The Bulls Head this Wednesday (supporting PINS and September Girls). It's literally going to be a pussy riot. Here's a vid...

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires @ The Hare and Hounds, Friday 11th October 2013

If you’ve not heard Charles Bradley’s life story let’s just say that his first 50 years or so (he’s 65-ish now) can best be summarised as ‘pretty grim’ (homelessness, drudgery, heartbreak, murder...short of a plague of locusts the dude went through it all). Happily things took a turn for the better when he began performing as a James Brown tribute act known as Black Velvet back in the 90s. This brought him to the attention of soul saviour and Daptone Records co-founder Gabriel Roth eventually leading to an acclaimed debut album No Time For Dreaming (2011) and the moving documentary Soul Of America (2012). On the back of all this unsurprisingly tonight’s gig in the Hare and Hounds sold out faster than Royal Mail shares...

No support this evening but Charles’ band, The Extraordinaires, warmed things up nicely with a couple of instrumentals including a sublimely funky take on The Lovin’ Spoonful’s Summer In The City. And then, resplendent in a bright red embroidered jumpsuit, ladies and gentlemen, the man himself, the Screaming Eagle of Soul, CB, Mr Charles Bradley mounts the stage (not for the first time this evening, literally and metaphorically) and takes off with Love Bug Blues.

There’s a crackle and rawness to the voice that you just can’t fake. Shaped by a thousand and one lonely nights, endless dawn to dusk shifts in dead end jobs and perhaps the primal pain that came out of his brother’s murder just as life seemed to be getting good. As you’d expect there are remnants of the Godfather of Soul in there, the odd ‘Huh’, that scream (part JB/part CB) and (especially as the gig progresses) the sense of showmanship. Like JB in his later years Charles makes for an unlikely sex symbol but each groin thrust (and there are many) elicits whoops of delight from the ladies. Strip away the jump suits, dance moves, finger lickin’ and groin thrusts though and what ultimately comes through is that voice perhaps best heard this evening on Crying In The Chapel. There’s a sorrow there that could make granite weep. If this was the only track he’d ever recorded it would be enough to earn him a place at the table of soul greats (right next to Otis, just across from Sam and Dave). 

He’d just got started though, The World (Is Going Up In Flames) saw the Eagle soar again, the voice cracking like peeling paint on a porch door. Powerful stuff. It’s not all sorrow and pain though, You Put The Flame On It (off new album Victim Of Love) had a neat up beat doo wop feel courtesy of the Extraordinaires’ backing vocals leaving the crowd nicely pumped as the Eagle took off for a quick costume change. He returns clad in black this time for part II with Hurricane coming across as the eco cousin of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. Lovin’ You Baby saw the Eagle tear off his jacket and fall to the floor earning possibly the biggest round of applause of the evening and a chorus of “We love you” from the crowd earning a simple but heartfelt “I love you too” in return. If Lovin’ You Baby was the highlight of the night Confusion was the maddest, giving CB the chance to break out his nuttiest dance moves (the robot, then into the eagle wing pose and finally a bit of kung fu for good measure) and his theramin. Gurning wildly he stick (good grief, that came out wrong) conjuring up some truly out of this world sounds. It’s all good fun though and a little light relief even if it does veer close to that Ricky Gervais’ dance in the office at times. He ends the night by dedicating “My favourite song” Let Love Stand a Chance, to us, his audience. Stick this on the stereo when you get home and...let’s face’ve scored. There’ll be some kids conceived to this one over the years.

And then he was gone. Despite calls for an encore, including one from a particularly enthusiastic Welsh lady who made it up onto the stage, the Eagle had flown. Always leave ‘em wanting more eh?  

At his best Bradley’s as good as the name of his backing band suggests. Like fellow Daptone Records stable mate Sharon Jones he’s old school, an increasingly rare link to the true soul greats. He grew up watching them perform, not on old film clips but actually right there in front of him. Who knows, on the strength of tonight’s performance if life had given him some decent breaks back in the 60s he just might have joined them...

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings' Retreat's a treat

When Sharon Jones was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year she and the band were just about to release a new album and head back out on tour. If you've ever seen her live you'll know this is a big deal. James Brown may have been the hardest working man in show business but in full flow Sharon makes him look a bit of a slacker. Let's just say that the girl can shake a tail feather or two. Happily the energy she unleashes onstage seems to have been put to good use kicking the big C and her record label, the fabulous Daptone Records, have just announced that she's been given the all clear. Hurrah! To celebrate they've popped up a new video and song from the delayed album (which'll finally see the light of day in January 2014). Enjoy.

PS: Oh I can't resist it, here she is shakin' what the good Lord done give and learn Miley and learn.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Heads up, Euros Childs releases Tête à Tête

Former Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci frontman Euros Childs is back with a new solo album Situation Comedy (incredibly it’s his ninth since 2006) and single, the delightfully jaunty Tête à Tête. The video’s well worth a spin too...I’m guessing that tuxedo wasn’t hired...

Euros is off on tour in October, starting in Liverpool on the 24th and ending up in Brizzle on November 30th with a date here in Birmingham on October 29th at the Hare and Hounds (where else eh?). Highly recommended. 

Monday, October 07, 2013

Dead Sea Skulls - The Absent Ones

Meant to post this last week but life got in the way...damn annoying that. Still, better than the alternative I guess. Anyway, here's the latest one from Brum's very own Dead Sea Skulls. Whilst they're a relatively new outfit drummer Ash was in the incendiary Black and Reds and both guitarists were in another band (can't remember which, answers on a postcard please EDIT: It was Raven Vandelle). Great stuff!

PS: Anyone else think Ash should grow his beard back? The campaign starts here...

Friday, October 04, 2013

Drakelow to play first hometown show

Following a handful of festival appearances over the summer Birmingham band Drakelow will be playing their first proper hometown show next week. The band (made up of former members of Hearing Aid favourites Young Runaways) will be supporting London’s Landshapes, who are on tour promoting their first album Rambutan, at the Hare and Hounds Next Tuesday, October 8th. 

For tickets to the show hosted by sexy promoters This Is TMRW visit 

For info on the band visit or 

PS: Rumours that Drakelow are insisting on a bowl of diamonds for their backstage rider are still unconfirmed...

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Get Nude with The Irrepressibles...

Regular readers will already be familiar with my obsession with The Irrepressibles (you can read about it here...and here...and...good too...see...obsessed...oh yes, there's an interview here too) but for anyone new to the group (which ranges from a full orchestral line up to just a handful of musicians) I urge you to spare a few minutes from whatever you’re doing to bathe in some of the most beautiful music being made in the world right now.

Led by Jamie McDermott they’re criminally underrated here in the UK but much bigger across Europe, you may well have heard one of their tracks in the BT Olympic ads a couple of years ago. This one:

Now they’re back with a series of EPs (buy them here) which follow on from their stunning 2012 album Nude together with a number of special intimate secret shows across the UK. Featuring new music as well as reworking tracks from both Nude and its seminal predecessor Mirror Mirror you can find the dates and buy the tickets (for just £10!) right here. “Special” is an overused word these days but hell, if ever a band and evening deserved it, this is it. 

Here are trio of heart melting moments from them so far...

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Oxjam Brum 2013

Good music, good people, good causes, good golly Miss Molly...yep it's nearly time for the annual Oxjam Brum takeover (Saturday 12th October) when some of Brum's best bands play across the City to raise money for those less fortunate (that'll be the American Government today then...jeez). As most of my clothes come from Oxfam (and a variety of other charity shops too numerous to mention) the whole thing automatically gets my vote but it's a ruddy great way to see loads of live music for a mere tenner (£12 on the day). Here are just three of the bands playing to get your