Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christ-mix!

Every year I trawl the intermess looking for a decent funk and soul Christmas mix and here's this year's for you courtesy of Cookin Soul. It' good. Have yourself a Merry Christmas and we'll hook up again in 2015...unless I OD on gin and tonic, turkey and a belly busting variety of meats, cheeses and confectionery that is...

Monday, December 22, 2014

Some tracks of 2014...

Sticking two fingers up at all those boring Top 10s of the year here's my Top 11. Frankly I could probably have done a Top 100 but life's too short for that, right? Enjoy. 

Thee AHs – Spooky Love

Babe – Tilt

Temples – Mesmerise

Miss Halliwell – Allegedly Gory

Lack of Afro – Recipe for Love

Joanna Gruesome – Psychic Espionage

Joan As Policewoman – Holy City

Kate Tempest – Circles

July Talk – Summer Dress

Tune Yards - Water Fountain 

St. Vincent - Digital Witness

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Free Monkey for all readers...

Heading up my "Good Grief Why Aren't This Band Famous?" list is The Miserable Rich (who may or may not still exist, I think the jury's out at the moment), a lush chamber pop collective from Brighton fronted by the angel voiced James de Malplaquet. Anyway, they've just released a live album and, in the spirit of Christmas, a free download of a rather nifty mix of an old track of theirs called Monkey. While I'm in a giving mood check out some of their other stuff. Seriously good. You're welcome...

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Happy Shoe(gaze) Year!

Boy With Wings - Untitled (Live) from Boy With Wings on Vimeo.

New Year's Eve...oh lordy the pressure to have (cue overexcited voice) "the best night EVAH!" hangs palpably in the air along with the thick aroma of cheap fragrances, stale cigarette smoke and vomit (plus other bodily excretions too disgusting to mention at this time of day dear reader).

There never seems to be that much going on in Birmingham sadly, which is distinctly at odds with its newly unveiled status as one of the top 10 cities in the WORLD according to the good folk at Rough Guide (Ha! Take That Blandchester). This year the people behind the Fierce Festival are putting on a bit of a bash though featuring a live performance from Boy With Wings, a new name to me but one of those all too rare bands that instantly seem to have 'it', fusing as they do a little shoegaze, a little indiepop and a little electronica all of which wrap around the kind of  effortlessly cool lyrics (merde, they even have a song written in French) that so much of modern pop's lacking these days. You can check out and indeed checkout (by buying the ruddy thing) their album right here on a name your price basis and snaffle a ticket to the Fierce NYE 2015 Party over here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Take My Hand (the theme from Toast Of London!) - Matt Berry

Musicians who do comedy or comedians who do music, they're not normally easy bedfellows are they eh? Somehow Matt Berry manages to straddle the two worlds rather well as demonstrated on the rather melancholic theme tune to the hilarious Toast Of London. If you've not seen it yet here's a few classic moments...

Monday, December 15, 2014

Happy Bloody Christmas!

If you're a little broke this December but still want to help your fellow man/woman in a spurt of festive goodwill then why not pop along to a local Blood Donor centre and give 'em a pint? It's pretty quick and painless and you never know when you or someone you give a toss about might need some. They're always a little low on donations around Christmas time as most of us are too busy drinking our own body weight in Egg Nog so if you've ever considered it now's probably as good a time as any. This afternoon I'm off to donate pint number 50 (blimey how did that happen?) which qualifies me for a gold badge and Knighthood...probably. If nothing else though this all gives me another excuse to pop up the rather fabulous Dance In My Blood by the much missed (by me at least) Men Women and Children. Bloody marvellous.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Saint Saviour / Bill Ryder-Jones @ The Hare and Hounds, Monday 8th December 2014

With some deservedly impressive reviews rolling in for her latest album, In The Seams, there’s a better turn out for tonight’s gig at the Hairy Hounds than there was back in 2012 when Saint Saviour last played here. At that time she was seriously considering packing touring in altogether as, in common with a sadly growing number of artists, she was pretty much doing everything herself which is undoubtedly (a) pretty ruddy time consuming and (b) soul destroying if the turnout’s a little, ahem, slim.

First up though someone else who seems to have been through the musical wringer a bit over the years, Bill Ryder-Jones, former guitarist of The Coral who stopped touring with them for a while citing a “stress related illness” (nasty) before quitting the band for good. I’ve always been stuffed full of admiration for anyone who can get up on stage and do their thing but getting back on the road after going through that must surely take balls the size of Saturn.

Musically both Bill and Becky (aka Saint Saviour) are coming from a similar place right now, intimate, low key and deeply personal. Ryder-Jones (who also produced Becky’s latest album), wrapped up in a hoody and scarf and audibly carrying the remains of a cold with him, this evening played a selection of self penned tracks ranging from Hanging Boy, which has just the merest echo of his twang-tastic days with The Coral through to the more Sweet Babboo-ish There’s a Wall Between Us and on to The Lemon Trees which, despite the cold, nudged him more towards crooner territory (it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to see him morphing into an edgier, more urban Richard Hawley). 

As he warms up, metaphorically and literally, the scarf and hoody come off and newer songs lift the pace with Catherine (Bill’s love letter to the streets of Liverpool) in particular showcasing his, up until that point, understated guitar skills a little more.

Time for Saint Saviour then. As already mentioned (hey, if a thing’s worth saying once it’s worth saying a dozen times) In The Seams is clearly a tremendously personal album, much of which seems to be looking back wistfully at her childhood/early adult years and whilst she’s perfectly capable of belting out a tune, as she’s more than proved in the past, much of tonight’s set is delivered in more of a whisper than a scream which, moth to a flame-like, irresistibly draws you in. Opening number this evening, I Remember, is a particularly fragile creature and quite frankly it couldn’t have been more intimate if she’d crept into bed with you and sang gently into your ear in the wee small hours. Pausing between tracks to paint a little picture about each one (not literally, although how cool would that be...we could get Rolf Harris in...what’s that? Oh...good point...) she waxes lyrical on the rugged beauty of Craster in her native Northumberland and reminisces about her schoolgirl crushes and desire to “rescue” the mournful looking indie boys that stared out at her every week from the pages of NME and Melody Maker. I was always more of a Marc Almond kind of boy. With a couple of female backing vocalists and some pre-recorded strings (I imagine that the budget doesn’t stretch to lugging an orchestra around with you sadly), along with Ryder-Jones on guitar (he also adds an almost skeletal vocal to some tracks) it’s an often haunting and mournful sound and you’re driven by an almost overwhelming desire to just climb up on stage and give her a big old hug, especially after Nobody Died (imagine Kate Bush meeting Karen Carpenter on a windswept Northumbrian beach in winter), Becky’s attempt at giving herself a “kick up the arse” when she’s feeling particularly low which, given the tone of many of these songs, is a hell of a lot of the time.

There’s optimism buried in there though, perhaps most notably on Let It Go, tonight’s soar away highlight (despite the best efforts of a trio of individuals at the front who chatted through it...either respect the artists performing or stay at home watching X Factor, okay?). 

With echoes of Anthony and the Johnsons’ majestic Hope There’s Someone and Shakespeare’s Sister’s Stay With Me it’s arguably one of the best things she’s ever done and, in a fairer world, she’d be singing it to thousands of gently swaying pilgrims in the Albert Hall. Ending with an old song, Reasons, she finally unleashes the full extraordinary power of that voice and then she’s gone, ghost-like into the night (oh, alright then...she came back and signed albums and chatted to fans and stuff but that doesn’t sound so dramatic does it eh?).

Saint Saviour, a truly special talent. Go see her. You’ll feel blessed.

PS: Driving home after the gig there was a Nick Drake CD playing in the car, another artist who sadly received far too little acclaim at the time but who has now almost been raised to the level of a saint. It may be a clumsy parallel to draw but it’s easy to see Saint Saviour being similarly revered in 40 years time too. Let’s hope it’s not that long eh? 

Monday, December 08, 2014

King and Queen of Sorry – King and Queen of Sorry

Formed in 2012 King and Queen of Sorry (they’re a five piece so maybe there’s a Duke, Duchess and Prince of Sorry in there somewhere too?) do a fine line in Folk and Americana tinged acoustic pop, the results of which you can hear on their debut album also handily titled King and Queen of Sorry. Pick of the tracks include the rather fabulous boogie bluesy Sure Know Something - shades of the mighty Fleetwood Mac in their 70s prime in there - and the timely (this being the anniversary of World War I and all that) tale of a soldier fighting overseas in Open Door. 

King and Queen of Sorry is out now

Thursday, December 04, 2014

The Bourgeois Four..."bigger than Jesus"!

To celebrate the glorious return of The Bourgeois Four as announced exclusively (well sort of...) here on The Hearing Aid a couple of weeks ago two of the four, that's a whole 50% of the band...I always knew that Maths 'O' level would come in handy one day...took time out to answer some 'probing' questions. Who needs Paxman eh?  

First of all welcome back. You split a few years ago just when it seemed (to me at least) that you were getting somewhere. What happened?  

Tristan: Andy and I caught “Tom Cruise Syndrome”. We had a crisis of confidence and I, almost literally, pushed Andy over the edge…right off the stage, during our last gig. So we couldn’t make music anymore…for a while.

Andy: For one reason or another the creative process stopped, songs were being written but not finished. Rather than communicate my frustrations to the band, I had a paddy and quit. It’s only now that I realise that 90% of mine and Tristan’s conversations just consist of Alan Partridge quotes.

So why the comeback and why now?

Tristan: It’s just the next chapter. We’ve written a stack of new tunes. We got together, it got our blood pumping again, so we HAD to do it. It’s our gift to the world. And why make the world wait? has to be now.

Andy: Don’t look a gifthorse in the mouth, World. We’re leading you to water. Drink.

Wise words, speaking of which please describe the band’s sound in 5 words...or less.

Tristan: B-Punk. That’s “Bourgeois-Punk”.

Which ‘local’ (Brum/Midlands) bands do you rate right now?  

Tristan: Greg Bird and Flamingo Flame.

Andy: Elephantine blew me away live, as did God Damn. I love Calories, Sunshine Frisbee Lazerbeam and Sunset Cinema Club gigs always make me totes emoshe. Miss Halliwell always stir something within my innards.

Ahhhh, yes, the mighty Miss Halliwell. Good choice. Any advice for any new bands out there just starting out?

Tristan: Have a good time, all the time.

Andy: I was hoping that they could give us some advice.

Favourite venue in Brum to play and to visit as a humble punter?

Tristan: The Ship Ashore, probably.

Andy: The Tipu Sultan Bullshit Balti House

If you could get away with it what would be on your dream rider?

Tristan: Babycham…and Frazzles.

Andy: Steve Rider. He’s reeeaaal dreamy.

Climb into the Tardis with that dodgy swearing Scottish bloke and fast forward 5 years...what do you hope the band’s achieved by then?

Tristan: We’ll be bigger than Maroon 5 by then. Or at least the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Andy: We’re already bigger than Jesus. There’s four of us, there was only one of him. Fact.

And I'm pretty sure he never played The Actress and Bishop neither. Pah! Next year it’s the election and it strikes me that you might just have a view on politics and politicians. Thoughts?

Andy: I don’t think we’ve ever intentionally set out to be political – Maybe the supposedly ironic name would make people think that we’re on some kind of class warpath, but we’re hardly Billy Bragg. We’re not even Melvyn Bragg…not sure what I’m trying to say there.

However, Celebrity Body Crisis (out now on Speech Fewapy) does touch upon the inane, sensationalist nature of a lot of mainstream news. Tris and I are stupidly obsessed with The Day Today, and looking at today’s front page headlines, it’s almost as if Chris Morris is writing them. I saw one recently that read: ‘I’ll let giant snake eat me live on telly’ which made me titter for hours. 

But, the things that are served up as “news” are quite worrying. How are you supposed to make informed decisions if all you are fed are photos of how shit David Milliband is at eating fucking sandwiches?

In this aspect, I’m pleased to see Russell Brand using his profile to stir up public debate on issues that are a little more important than what’s happening to Bobby fucking Davro in a jungle or whoever.
However, I vehemently disagree with his stance on not voting – I think that’s really dangerous and irresponsible of him. The people that benefit from voter apathy are the Nasty Nigels of this world and that’s a slippery slope to Nazi-geddon. Voting should be made compulsory and the media should be held more closely to account about the balance of air time it gives to parties. The Green Party have been done over on this and, to me at least, they seem like they have the most intellectually sound policies. Wouldn’t it be great though to see someone as good at generating headlines as NF, leading the Greens?

But no, we don’t have anything to say about politics.

Tristan: Vote NCDMV.

Is there a question you wished I’d asked? If so what is it and what’s the answer (yes...this is a complete cop out but at least I’m honest about it eh?)

Q: Which tunes shaped the band’s’ sound? A: These.


Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Saint Saviour...In The Seams out on tour

There are a few really special voices out there that float my boat and one of them, Saint Saviour, is out on tour right now promoting her truly beautiful brand new album In The Seams. Previously lead vocalist for Groove Armada she's now moved into more reflective territory, swapping the butt moving beats for soul stirring lyrics and delicate string arrangements.

Somewhat amazingly she's still playing pretty intimate venues, which certainly suits the music, but surely it's only a matter of time before the rest of the world wakes up to her...surely...

Support comes from the similarly under appreciated Bill Ryder Jones, former lead vocalist for Scally jangle poppers The Coral.

You can catch 'em both at The Hare and Hounds on Monday December 8th, tickets from our good chums Birmingham Promoters.

PS: Not sure if she's doing any stuff from her previous album Union (also highly recommended) or any of her back catalogue but here are another couple of Saint Saviour classics. Anyone tell me why Woman Scorned wasn't a number one? Answers on Simon Cowell's severed scrotum please.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Super Saturday...a big night out for Goodnight Lenin and Kioko

This Saturday sees two of Brum's very best bands play truly significant shows. Over at The Institute Goodnight Lenin are playing their biggest ever headline gig to celebrate the release of their ruddy marvellous debut album In The Fullness Of Time whilst at the Hare and Hounds the newly named Kioko (who previously traded as Tempting Rosie) raise a glass or two to their equally cracking new EP True What They Say.

Sadly I can't make either of 'em so I'm relying on you...yes show the love. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

John Grant and the Royal Northern Sinfonia @ Birmingham Town Hall , Monday 24th November 2014

Having last toured the UK in 2013 in support of the distinctly electro flavoured Pale Green Ghosts album Grant’s back this time with a modest, ahem, 34 piece orchestra in tow. It makes sense though given the lushness of that voice and the soaring songs (many of which focus on Grant’s struggles to come to terms with himself, his life and his loves) that practically cry out for the gravitas that only a full fat orchestra can really deliver. The venue’s pretty perfect too, Brum’s grand old Town Hall, a Victorian Grade I listed building that’s seen everyone from Charles Dickens to Black Sabbath do their thang (although sadly not on the same night).

By the time Grant and his band join the orchestra there’s already a lot of bodies up there. Dressed all in black he acknowledges what a huge honour it is to be playing here “in this beautiful place” and, not for the first time this evening, seems genuinely humbled by it all. It doesn’t take an expert in psychoanalysis to figure out that Grant’s music is therapy for him and performing seems to be similarly important. In fact scrap that, Grant’s shows aren’t so much a performance more a baring of the soul. Take the second verse of opening number You Don’t Have To for instance, “Remember how we used to fuck all night long? Neither do I because I always passed out. I needed lots of the booze. To handle the pain.” 

Short of dropping his trousers, bending over and spreading his cheeks that’s as raw and exposed as any artist gets. Rather than music to slit wrists by though it’s all strangely soothing, mainly down to Grant’s honeyed tones which, were he to try such a thing, could probably make Sabbath’s Paranoid sound like a lullaby.

Mixing the often sparse electro sounds of Pale Green Ghosts with an orchestra is a brave thing to do but generally it works, especially when the machine generated beats give way to the lush strings.  Less successful perhaps are the odd moments when the two collide, in particular this evening Vietnam seemed to suffer a little as the electronica, which on record is relatively subtle, came across as too harsh. It’s a minor quibble though and the rest of the set found the kind of harmony that Grant himself is clearly still struggling to achieve judging by new songs unveiled this evening. Geraldine saw Grant channel his inner Scott Walker, No More Tangles took inspiration from old shampoo ads to tackle that knotty subject of codependency and the “horrors of relationships”, Global Warming looked at being a middle class wanker obsessed with first world problems (MOR with attitude and the kind of witty pop that Neil Hannon specialises in) and the title of Black Blizzard alone should tell you all you need to know about its themes. Again if all this makes the night sound unbearably bleak it wasn’t...far from it. Maybe it’s the fact that Grant’s survived, thrived even, despite the years of addiction, failed relationships and HIV diagnosis, that still makes the whole thing so uplifting, that old ‘triumph of the human spirit’ thing (in fact one of tonight’s audience called Grant’s music “aural Prozac” on Facebook, which is as good a description as you’re likely to hear). Stop peering beneath the surface for meaning though and some of Grant’s best tracks are just great songs. Marz gets an early airing and it’s evocation of one of Grant’s boyhood haunts, a sweet shop run by the Marzita family (hence the spelling) underpinned by some simple piano and that voice of his, is every bit as soft and warming as the butterscotch mentioned in the lyrics. 

Utterly sublime. Later on Pale Green Ghosts got the kind of grand orchestral build up normally reserved for the opening sequence of a Bond movie but hell, if you got a 34 piece orchestra at your disposal make the most of it eh?  GMF also benefitted from having all those bods on stage making it even better than the recorded at least 65%.   

After a bombastic Queen of Denmark and it’s polar opposite, Glacier, the spotlights framing the stage flickered and died as Grant left the stage to a pretty much universal standing ovation, returning for the cod German electro-disco of That’s The Good News. It’s a bit of an oddity in Grant’s discography but after appearing on a deluxe edition of Queen of Denmark in retrospect it clearly hinted at his new electro direction. Who knows, maybe there’s a full on OTT disco album in there somewhere, Nile Rodgers and John there’s a hook up the world could do with. Good times indeed. 

Mindful of the old adage of saving the best for last though the night ends with Caramel, with Grant seated at the piano and at his most soulful it’s a song that sums up the perfect love he’s spent his days searching for.  

As he sings the last lines of the evening “...and my soul takes flight” looking round it’s clear that many of those lucky enough to be here felt the same way. Truly beautiful stuff from one of the greatest mother fuckers in music right now. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Bourgeois Four - Celebrity Body Crisis / Facecrime

I’ve lost track of the number of really great ‘local’ bands that imploded / exploded / just faded away over the years without making the impact they deserved. It’s always happened of course and it always will but that doesn’t make it any less annoying when you see/hear some of the toss that sells (or is downloaded for free) by the bucketload. C’est la vie.

One of those bands still lingering in the dusty corners of my mind were The Bourgeois Four who I last encountered at a gig at The Actress and Bishop way back in 2007, when Twitter had barely uttered a tweet and One Direction were still at the breast...I guess they probably are now a different way. Anyway here's a rare and authentically scratchy video of the Four in action back then...

Well now they’re back, back, back with something old and something new (I guess the borrowed and blue will come on the follow up) courtesy of Speech Fewapy’s double AA side single Celebrity Body Crisis (the newbie) and Facecrime (the oldie, see vid above). Deliberately recorded with all the rough edges left on (on kit that probably dates back to pre 2007...positively prehistoric) they’re a pair of punk flecked missives with a nod back to that great garage sound of the 60s. Having only listened to Facecrime (inspired by George Orwell’s 1984 no less) a couple of times almost a decade ago it’s impressive that the chorus brings about a Pavlovian twitch in the old leg as lead singer Tristan Roe warbles “Panic now” in a strangely delicious way. It’s ruddy great to hear it...and them...again. Now, who’s up for an I Thee Lothario reunion?    

Celebrity Body Crisis / Facecrime is available for free download at and also available through itunes, spotify and amazon.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Big News From Big Bear

On top of bringing back the blues to Brum through the weekly Nothin’ But The Blues nights at the Asylum 2 Big Bear music main man Mr Jim Simpson has a major exhibition of just some of his photographs (many rarely seen) of proper 100% musical icons at the height of their fame. 

Little Richard, The Rolling Stones (still featuring Brian Jones), The Moody Blues, Howling Wolf, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and, of course, the band that Jim plucked from the back streets of Aston and launched onto an unsuspecting world...inventing heavy metal along the way...BLACK SABBATH! The exhibition’s on at new Harborne based gallery Havill & Travis and, best of all, you can actually buy signed editions of some the photos there’s that tricky Christmas present situation sorted. In honour of the exhibition Jim’s done a wonderful interview with the equally splendid John Kennedy which you’ll find over here at Brum Live

Last some sad news, saxophonist Mike Burney, who played at the Big Bear organised Birmingham International Jazz & Blues Festival for over a quarter of a century passed away last Thursday evening. Hailed as one of the finest jazz musician the Midlands has produced he played with everyone from Wizzard and the Beach Boys to Sammy Davis Jnr and Bob Hope. Here's a blast of the man in action in the appropriately named Wizzard track, Saxmaniax. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Kate Tempest / Loyle Carner and Rebel Clef / Mahalia @ The Hare and Hounds, Sunday 16th November 2014

Poet, rapper, playwright, novelist, Mercury nominee, winner of the prestigious Ted Hughes Award, inventor of a cure for the common cold (okay, so the last one was made up but frankly you wouldn’t put it past her)...for many Kate Tempest has seemingly sprung from nowhere over the past year or so. The reality’s radically different but no less impressive...

More on this later but first up Mahalia. At just 16 years old she seems incredibly confident and relaxed up there (she’s been performing for three years or so already) with an easy going and pure soulfulness that’s impossible to fake. 

Playing half a dozen or so self penned tracks she addressed everything from the struggles of a single mum in the poem acapella mash up of Matalan to the evils of bullying in Silly Girl. There are plenty of great singer songwriters out there and it’s a fool’s game to try to predict who will and won’t make it but there’s just something that little bit extra special about this Mahalia that makes her well worth following. You’ll get your chance at her first ever Birmingham headline show at The Sunflower Lounge on December 21st.

It took a couple of tracks for Loyle Carner and Rebel Clef to really find their flow tonight but both opening number BFG and Cantona, touching tributes to the former’s dad who passed away earlier this year, revealed the kind of emotional vulnerability that a lot of rap sadly lacks these days. 

Like Tempest I’m guessing Carner started out writing poetry and there were some fine alliterative rhymes in the mix, notably on Night Gown, but the duo left the best to last with Hendrix, an addictively catchy track that apparently can’t be released as it features a sample of the man himself. If Jimi were alive I reckon he’d have no beef with it but it’s too good to stay underground. Shed the sample...or get some other guitar god on the case...and get it out there.

With the room now packed full of a unusual mix of punters ranging from a couple of ladies of a certain age right at the front through to hipsters, bookworms and the odd head nodding hip hopper Tempest lingered momentarily off stage before joining band seemingly savouring the moment. Once she’s up there though there’s no stopping her. Most of us have trouble remembering our pin numbers but the sheer volume, speed and complexity of some of tonight’s tracks is staggering and she barely stumbles over a single syllable. Everybody Down, the album that’s finally bought her the attention she deserves, is a wildly ambitious piece of work set in modern day London and featuring 12 tracks linked by a series of characters. Rizzle Kicks this ain’t. Opening with the sparse Kraftwerk-ish beats of Marshall Law Tempest packs in more lyrical content than most artists manage in an entire album. 

Brilliantly observed, witty, insightful, socially aware...the pictures she paints with words are splattered with sweat, coke (and we’re not talking the fizzy drink here) and jizz. It’s a wild ride and we’ve only just begun. Over the course of the evening Kate takes us through her characters’ trials and tribulations set against the backdrop of the fallout from the recession that’s condemning many of her generation to a grim slog for survival. Familiarity with the material helps as the beats can, at times, make catching every word a little tricky, especially given the pace that some of them run at but it’s perfectly possible to enjoy much of this stuff as just great pop music (in the very best sense of the word) with both The Beigeness and Circles (featuring a gloriously soulful solo from Kate’s backing vocalist) possessing some particularly hooky choruses. More challenging was the industrial pounding of Happy End that threatened at times to shake the fillings from yer teeth but it certainly created the right atmosphere for the track’s subject of Harry and Becky running away together to avoid her uncle actually removing Harry’s teeth with his boot. Nasty.

If anything the between track chat made an equally powerful impression though. It’s clear that Tempest has worked her (white towelling) socks off to get this far and she talked of the night’s she spent rapping at strangers on night buses and travelling for seven hours to get to a gig attended by just 12 people...none of whom were there to see her...before returning home to get changed for work. It’s a subject she returned to in a seemingly spontaneous performance of one of her older poems The Becoming with Tempest in the raw, stripped of the beats, addressing the young girl she was, the young woman in her twenties that she is now and the older Kate still to come urging herself to keep working, striving, growing.  

She’s been doing just that for some 11 years now (I was lucky enough to see her a few years back with her band Sound Of Rum, dubbing her “a fly Janis Joplin”, a description that still seems apt) and the sheer joy and gratitude emanating from the stage now that people were finally listening to her was almost physical.

Like her spiritual granddaddy, (Sir) Billy Bragg, Tempest clearly intends to use her growing fame and influence to... for wont of a better phrase ‘make a difference’. “If you take just one thing from this evening it’s to go to battle with your greed and cultivate your empathy” she concludes after a particularly passionate plea for us all to try to be better people. Out of the mouths of most performers this would sound like Bono-speak but you get the distinct impression that she’d genuinely give away her last penny if someone else needed it more than her. This makes the last track of the night especially poignant. “I’ve had my heart broken recently” she reveals before launching into an emotional Hot Night Cold Spaceship, a single tear sliding down her face as the last beat fades away. Here’s hoping that the obvious love in the room after tonight’s performance might just go some way towards mending it eh?

For once, to paraphrase Public Enemy, do believe the hype. Tempest is an exceptional talent with the drive and commitment to make the most of it. What she’s achieved in the past few years is pretty extraordinary but I get the feeling we ain’t seen nothing yet. This gig sold out weeks ago and her next show in Brum on February 11th at The Rainbow Warehouse looks set to do likewise (tickets from our good chums at Birmingham Promoters right here). In fact it’s certain to get...wait for it...Everybody Down. Oh come on, it had to be done. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Kentish Fire - In Our Band

Not for the first time I'm insanely addicted to catchy pop tracks this week and, hot on the heels of Taylor Locke's offering yesterday, here's another cracker. Formed back in 2009 Camden's Kentish Fire do a neat line in indie disco and this one's Ting Tings-tastic. Apparently the video took a year to make which, when you compare it to that comet footage which took 25 years, seems ruthlessly efficient. Bonus points if you can spot all the song titles the band manage to shoehorn into this track...maybe they'll buy you a sticky bun or something if you get them all right. That's what's wrong with the music biz these days, not enough sticky buns...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Taylor Locke - Running Away From Love

Take a little 10cc, REO Speedwagon and Dodgy, whip it up in a blender and leave it out in the Californian sun for a few hours et voila, you've got Ex-Rooney guitarist (nope, me neither) Taylor Locke's ruddy catchy new single Running Away From Love. 'Interesting' vid too, I do hope the naked lady had her factor 50 on...

Friday, November 07, 2014

Motörhead / The Damned / The BossHoss @ The NIA, Thursday 6th November 2014

Now that’s a pretty varied bill right there, a German Country and Western band who do covers of pop and hip hop tracks (The BossHoss), the fathers of UK punk (The Damned) and the hardest rocking band in the world...any world for that matter...Motörhead.

Sadly we missed The BossHoss as they presumably came on at lunchtime...I jest, but only just. We got in around 7.40 and the roadies were already dismantling their kit and scratching their arses a lot (their own arses I hasten to far as I’m aware The BossHoss don’t employ arse scratchers...although how cool would that be?).  

We were there in plenty of time for The Damned though and it’s always a bit of treat to watch these punk survivors blast through some of that era’s best tunes. Despite requests Captain Sensible refused to play Happy Talk (boo!) but we did get a rousing Eloise with lead singer Dave Vanian in particularly fine voice. It’s the pure punk stuff that went down best with the ‘head fans tonight though, Love Song, New Rose, Neat Neat Neat (featuring some truly Hendrix-worthy guitar playing from Sensible) and Smash It Up were all dispatched with as much vim and vigour as they were almost 40 years ago...well almost. National treasures.

Speaking of which it looked like we might lose another one last year. Conceived at the tail end of World War II Lemmy’s lifestyle appeared to have finally caught up with him recently. Struck down by heart problems, diabetes and a number of other ailments most people would probably just curl up in a rocking chair and mainline Werther’s Originals. And yet here he is, nudging close to 70 and looking pretty much the same as he did when the ‘head first started deafening the world for a living way back in 1975. The formula’s stayed pretty similar for the past four decades too, play it fast, play it loud, play it hard...why mess with rock perfection eh? 

Kicking off with the addictively riffy wild west (Midlands) rock out of Shoot You In The Back Lemmy’s vocal is perhaps a little rougher these days, but given that he’s always sounded like he’s been using his own larynx to sand rust off a ship’s hull that’s no great problem, far from it in fact. Much of Motörhead’s music revolves around overdoing it a little...okay...a it’s entirely appropriate that the man himself sounds like he’s ‘lived’. Mid set number Lost Woman Blues in particular benefits from this edge and if he ever fancied it you could almost see Mr Kilmister pulling off a pretty impressive full on blues album.

Pretty much everyone here to worship at the mole-ter though just wanted the band to rock their socks off and the longstanding trio of Lemmy, Phil Campbell and Mikkey Dee dutifully obliged. Sure many of the songs share the same DNA but Campbell and Dee are phenomenal players and throughout the set they seemingly vied with each other to see who could pull off the most jaw dropping performance. Dee won by a knockout during Killed By Death though by somehow playing the kind of drum solo that a well co-ordinated octopus would struggle with whilst simultaneously chucking drumsticks high into the air then picking up fresh ones on the down beat. The man ain’t human. 

In the middle of all the mayhem Lemmy remained as solid as a rock, cracking the odd between song joke, growling out the words and playing the bass with the ease of someone who’ll probably still be grinding out the hits when they try to nail down the lid. Predictably Ace Of Spades got the biggest reception but less predictably ex member “Fast” Eddie Clarke joined the band (Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor was also in attendance). This ramped the volume up to 11 but by this stage I guess everyone in the mosh pit was a deaf as a post anyway, besides as the lyrics to encore Overkill put it “Only way to feel the noise is when it’s good and loud”. 

Mission well and truly achieved this evening I’d say. 

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Mutes – No One Is Nowhere

Mutes continues his unique sonic journey with the release of brand new EP, No One Is Nowhere, seven tracks of fragile ambient dream pop beauty. Opening up with the shadowy lo fi guitar of Intro (echoes of The Durutti Column in there perhaps) it’s the perfect soundtrack to lose yourself in and practically guaranteed to soothe even the most troubled of brows. Much of it is instrumental, where there’s a vocal it’s buried deep in the mix like a voice from beyond. Combine this with the beautifully delicate guitar playing and other worldly sounds, most notably on the sublime Horror, and it’s all strangely enchanting.

Hop over to Bandcamp and you can buy the whole shebang together with an exclusive t-shirt designed by the equally talented Lewes Herriot for a mere £7 quid!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Table Scraps do the Munster mash...

In the true spirit of Halloween Brum's Table Scraps have treated us all by recording a ruddy ace lo fi garage rock version of The Munsters theme tune that's only available via Soundcloud until Sunday! It's spook-tacularly good...

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

I should Kioko...

Hearing Aid favourites Tempting Rosie are no more! Boo! But wait, they’ve not done a Beady Eye and split up, instead they’ve changed names and direction a little, moving from their ska roots to a bit more of a reggae vibe. Now trading as Kioko the first fruits of this new era for the band is an impressive EP, True What They Say. Kicking off with the harder edged Deadly Roots (shades of early UB40), on to the lovers rock of Don’t Keep Me Waiting and through to the Two Tone-reggae mash up of I’m Attracted it’s like a blast of summer sun and the perfect antidote to the impending chill of winter. In particular the title track, True What They Say, is pretty much made for wandering along a beach at sunset with some ‘erb on the go. In the absence of all that you can always neck a can of Special Brew and wander down Kings Heath High Street before catching the band’s EP launch at The Hare and Hounds on November 29th! Hmmmm...wonder if Hairy Hounds regular and UB40 sax machine Brian Travers might be up for a guest slot...?   

Friday, October 24, 2014

Rumba de Bodas - Karnaval Fou

Saluti! You know what, had I not been born English I’d probably choose to be Italian. Good wine, good food, good lovin’...and a climate that supports all three of these life-affirming pleasures...what’s not to like eh? I’m mulling all this over whilst listening to Karnaval Fou, the brand new album from Bologna’s Rumba De Bodas, an equally delightful treat from one of the best live acts I’ve ever seen (and I’ve been lucky enough to see quite a few). Musically it rather brilliantly blends together ska and jazz with a little electro here there and just a dash of Italian magic to conjure up the kind of album that could quite frankly get the dead up and dancing.

Lead singer Matilda De Angelis’ voice is a delight from start to finish, capable of whipping up a party mood on opening number Sweet Sunshine (the kind of track Paloma Faith would sell her soul for) or yanking at the heart strings on standout track La Ballade du Dernier Prisonnier. Piaf herself would be proud of that one. In between the band dish up a little West African highlife courtesy of Marary Fo, some electro swing via Nowadays, the divinely dreamy Italia-skank of Goodnight and the Mariachi majesty of Mariachi Sun Dance. It’s all utterly brilliant, music that lifts the heart and soul...and it ain’t too bad at getting the ass moving too. Favoloso!

Karnaval Fou is available right now on Amazon...and probably other places...but I’m not sure where...anyway, track it’re clever and all that. x

Monday, October 20, 2014

Holly Johnson @ The Institute, Sunday 19th October 2014

It’s 30 years since Relax was ‘banned’ by the BBC and the nation’s youth was corrupted by that dodgy video featuring some mild S&M and er...possibly ‘water sports’ and no, we’re not talking water polo here. Ahem. For a brief period Frankie Goes To Hollywood were HUGE. If Relax wasn’t ‘cumming’ out of your radio at you then you were quite possibly surrounded by people in those iconic Frankie Says... t-shirts. Perhaps predictably given the level of fame and fortune things rapidly soured with Johnson quitting the band in 1987 before getting embroiled in a lengthy legal dispute with record label ZTT that kept him out of the charts for a couple of years. Brief solo success followed with a brace of top 5 singles (Love Train and Americanos) before he gradually faded into the background releasing the odd record during the 90s (the decade in which he was also diagnosed as being HIV positive) and turning his hand (both hands no doubt) to painting instead. But now, as Smash Hits would have said, he’s back, BACK, BACK with a brand new album (the first in 15 years), single and tour.

Holly’s arrival on stage was heralded by some rather theatrical thunder and lightning and I half expected him to come on singing It’s Raining Men (now there’s an idea...). Sporting what looked like a leather suit, some sunglasses and a pair of Frankie era white gloves he seems in remarkably good shape, in fact break out a bottle or two of Just For Men (hell, I can talk), squint a bit and you could almost be looking at Holly c. 1984 again. The night kicked off with the Holly of 1989 though and a rocking run through Atomic City (at number 18 in the charts a relatively minor hit), embellished by a decent backing band and the impressive vocal talents of (apologies in advance if I’ve got her name wrong) Christina Hussain. Barely pausing for breath, which set the tone for pretty much the entire set, Holly launched into a bombastic Warriors and then, POW, the first of the biggies, Welcome To The Pleasuredome. Nearly three decades on from reaching number one (at a time when that really meant something) it still sounds EPIC and so, it must be said, does Holly. 

Shutting my eyes for just a second I was 14 again and looking around a moment later it was pretty clear that a fair portion of the audience were having similar flashbacks. Ahhh, the joys of middle age reverie.

Rage Hard was faster, rockier and, well, HARDER than I remember it, with Holly just giving it a little wide eyed stare as he sang the work ‘hard’. Hmmmm, what could be referring to? This is a man who called his autobiography A Bone In My Flute so I think we can guess. The light pop of Love Train chugged by pleasantly enough before Holly announced that they were “going to risk a new one on you now”. Style wise Follow Your Heart is glossy 90s dance pop, a little low key disco (with just the merest hint of No More Tears (Enough is Enough) in there) and some self therapy which perhaps wouldn’t have been out of place on Holly’s debut solo album Blast. Holly tried a few other new ones from Europa (his new album) and each track exposed a little more of the man’s heart and soul. He’s freely admitted to being an “archetypal miseryguts” in interviews and it’s clear that some of Europa is concerned with Holly addressing his “black dog” (aka depression). If this makes the new stuff sound like an exercise in wrist slitting, it’s really not. Most of the songs are upbeat and trying to see the positive in life...okay so maybe not Lonesome Town but following some cheerful comments from the audience after performing this one he smiled softly and said “Thank you...I’ll never feel alone again”. Awww, bless him.

The album’s title track (co-written with Vangelis!) soon lifted things up again, in part due to the kind of humungous drumming last heard in the intro of Genesis’ In The Air Tonight. Epic. The best track of the newbies though, no question at all, was So Much It Hurts. 

The rawest and most honest material he’s ever written there’s a touch of the Brel’s about it and, were he up for it, you can imagine a duet with Marc Almond on this track making an already pretty special track something truly beautiful...

From the sublime to the ridiculous and Frankie’s last hurrah, Watching The Wildlife. Not their finest moment and Holly advised us that this was the first time he’s played it live since 1987. All that being said it didn’t sound too bad, oddly enough given the song’s title a little tame perhaps, certainly not a criticism you could level against a track that Holly referred to as “The one I call the money shot...”. Yes. RELAX. Armed with a huge torch that he used to pick out various members of the audience Holly prowled the stage and, for several minutes, The Institute felt a little like being picked up in a sweaty S&M dive (sounds like a good night out to me). Let’s face it you could play this track in Westminster Abbey and it would feel like getting picked up in a sweaty S&M dive. It’s pure pop filth, from the pounding drums to the hi energy synths and Holly’s “Ow ow ow’s”. Arguably the first time pop well and truly ‘came’ out of the closet.

Speaking of mighty claims to fame Holly introduced the encore, Two Tribes, with the proud boast that he “stopped the Cold War singlehandedly”. Okay, so he was joking, but if you remember the video the sight of two aging political leaders slugging it out pointlessly in a ring before the world is spectacularly blown to smithereens (or as spectacularly as the ZTT budgets would stretch to in 1984) you can’t help feeling that it might just have helped a little (maybe Putin should watch it eh?). 

Capping off the holy trinity of Frankie hits a mass singalong to The Power Of Love (“It’s not just for’s for life” Holly reminded us, perhaps with an eye on a new Frankie says...t-shirt design) ended what was, for fans of Frankie and Holly, overall an impressive and long awaited return.

There were glimpses this evening of a much more serious and grown up Holly than perhaps we’re all used to and if So Much It Hurts is anything to go by there may well be an intriguing new career as more of a torch singer in the offing. Whatever he does next let’s hope he’s back for good (whoops, wrong band), it’s ‘Holly’ good to see him again.

Setlist: Atomic City / Warriors / Welcome To The Pleasuredome / Rage Hard / Love Train / Folow Your Heart / In And Out Of Love / Heaven’s Here / Americanos / Lonesome Town / Europa / Disco Heaven / Dancing With No Fear / Penny Arcade / So Much It Hurts / Watching The Wildlife / Relax

Encore: Two Tribes / The Power Of Love

Friday, October 17, 2014

Norman Watt-Roy & Friends / The Standard Lamps @ The Hare and Hounds, Wednesday 15th October 2014

Ian Dury and The Blockheads, The Clash, Madness, Nick Lowe, Rodger Daltrey, Nick Cave, Frankie Goes To CVs go that’s not a bad line up eh? In a career that’s lasted 47 years and counting Norman Watt-Roy’s been the face with the bass and, despite being just a couple of years away from collecting his pension, he’s clearly showing no signs of slowing down, in fact this is his second gig at the Hare and Hounds in less than 12 months and he's back again in December with The Blockheads! ‘Watt’ a trooper. 

First up The Standard Lamps, the band that is, not the household appliance. 

With a couple of covers and half a dozen darn fine self penned upbeat country tinged boogie blues tunes (try saying that after a few pints of cider) these Lamps well and truly shone (oh come on now, you’ve got to let me have a few puns). Pick of the covers was their primal version of Shakin’ All Over (which Wilco Johnson himself apparently checked out at a recent gig) featuring some proper gutsy old skool rock ‘n’ roll drumming, the sort that rumbles yer vital know the kind of thing. Their set closing call to arms...or maybe that should be turntables...You Don’t Listen To Your Records Anymore...galloped along like a mule with a thistle up its arse. Yehawww! Nothing standard about these boys.

If you’re a bassist who knows his or her stuff surely Norman Watt-Roy must be some kind of deity? Mindful of his Indian heritage maybe he actually IS a Vishnu of the bass? Certainly the dexterity and power in those fingers points at some kind of higher force and when Norm get’s his groove on it’s as close to musical heaven as you’re likely to get here on earth. Perhaps what’s most heart warming about watching this dude play though is that the pleasure he still clearly gets from performing some 45 years or so on from when he first hit the road. He’ll suddenly break out into a grin halfway through a solo or a jam with the rest of his band (all highly accomplished musicians in their own right) and it’s a look of pure joy, albeit tinged with just a little (okay then, quite a lot...) bit of perspiration. Kicking off the set with a jazzed up Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, with Norm doing a fine job of filling Ian Dury’s boots (and panties), he’d already put more energy into the set that many bands manage in an entire show. A more sedate stroll through Billericay Dickie, with some accordion adding a little Parisian ooh la la to proceedings, gave everyone a moment to catch their breath. Here's a video from a show earlier this year to give you a little flavour:

These first two tracks pretty much set the template for how Norman tackles the old Blockhead numbers, constantly freshening things up a little without losing the music’s original and distinctive DNA, with both Inbetweenies and More Than Fair – which Norman acknowledges possibly has some of the dirtiest lyrics ever recorded – also benefiting from a little jazzing up this evening.

Tonight’s not just all about the past though. Last year he released a new album Faith and Grace with pick of these tracks including the laid back summertime groove of Wachu-wa, which is apparently how Mexicans sing ‘La la la’. Chuff me, I never knew that. “There ain’t ‘alf been some clever bastards” as his old boss might have said. Norman also took us through life so far in the autobiographical Me, My Bass and I, all the way from India to London via various waterways, a journey he made when he was just four years old. Part spoken word, part instrumental this track contained a couple of memorable quotes that seem to sum up the man. Referring to the departing bass player in one of his first bands Norman concluded that he “Couldn’t take the blisters”. Given the ferocity of some of his bass playing I imagine that by now Norman’s hands are quite possibly the toughest things on planet earth. Later in the same number, after a sublimely jazztastic piano solo from Frank Harrison Norman concluded, with more than a touch of tenderness that “Music was my life. Music is my life. Me, my bass and I”. Let’s hope it’s a long time before he needs a gravestone but what better epitaph than that eh?

Speaking of avoiding Mr G. Reaper Esq. the latter part of Norman’s set celebrated the frankly remarkable news that his old mate, Wilco Johnson, is seemingly on the mend after radical surgery for cancer. To be fair I suspect that Wilco actually just stared the cancer out and it ran away howling in terror but let’s stick with the boring medical explanation eh?   Everybody’s Carrying A Gun and When I Was A Cowboy were duly dispatched in fine style doing Wilco proud. Touchingly the encore was his old mate’s traditional tour de force, Roxette. What it may have lacked in mad eyeball popping energy was more than made up by Norman’s obvious delight that before long Wilco will hopefully be right there beside him playing it again. Now that’s what you call the (Dr) Feelgood factor.

PS: I had the very great pleasure of meeting Norman briefly at the end of the show and a more humble man you couldn’t wish to meet. He accepted my gushing praise with a gentle smile and half embarrassed “Thank you”, before popping off to the bar for a post gig G&T. Bless him. All hail the original Ace of Bass (one for fans of 90’s Scandipop there).