Thursday, January 30, 2014

John Newman / Lolo @ The Institute, Birmingham – Wednesday 29th January 2014

A number 1 album and single, Brit Award nominations, sell out tours, heralded as an MTV Artist To Watch...short of delivering world peace and discovering a cure for cancer things couldn’t be going much better for John Newman right now. A quick glance at his back story and you can’t help but feel he sort of deserves it though. Aside from that voice he had a tricky childhood (alcoholic father who left home when he was six leaving the family pretty much broke), but in the best traditions of all great soul singers he used this as a positive force, writing and producing his own stuff in his early teens before moving to the smoke at 20.  The rest is history. Snapped up by Island Records he got his first big breaks on Rudimental’s Feel The Love and Not Giving In before releasing arguably THE single of 2013 in the shape of the self penned (with Steve Booker) Love Me Again. And the dude’s still only 23...good grief. Cutting it live was all that mattered tonight though. Would we him again at the end of it all?

First up Lolo (aka Lauren Pritchard), another young prodigy who allegedly moved to LA at just 16 to be the lead singer of a reggae band and ended up living with Lisa Marie Presley for a you do. After a spell in musical theatre she re-launched herself as Lolo last year and currently lives in hipster’s paradise, Brooklyn (the place that is...not one of Beckham’s seedlings). Dressed in cut off black denim jeans and a t-shirt she’s got a touch of the young Janis Joplin about her (perhaps with just a dash of La Winehouse and the lovely Miss Del Rey), both physically and vocally with a raw soulfulness and live power that’s clearly benefitted from a decade or so in the biz. This was perhaps most noticeable this evening on a show stopping Weapon For Saturday, a true ‘tour de voice’ that’s sooooo much better live than on record...or MP3 or whatever you’re supposed to listen to music on these days. Working the crowd like a pro it was an impressive set and it frankly doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to see her back here headlining her own sold out show before the year’s out. Cop a listen to the insanely catchy piano driven Year Round Summer Of Love and tell me I’m wrong.  

As with most gigs I’ve been to at The Institute recently this was another sell out (who says there’s no money in music anymore eh?), with a mix of hip young things ready to go three shades of crazy once Love Me Again kicks in and older soul fans seeking a new messiah. As a pre-recorded checklist of his musical heroes faded out and a giant sheet covering the stage dropped to the floor Newman strode onstage in trademark suit and bleach striped quiff and launched into Tribute. First off the boy can sing. Okay so there are a few issues, a slight nasal quality and the fact that his vocal is obviously influenced by those aforementioned heroes (the true soul greats of the 60s for instance) but there’s no doubting his ability. Casual fans may not realise that all these songs are self penned (or co-writes) too, given the fact that you can imagine Otis Reading belting some of them out that’s pretty impressive for a lad from North Yorkshire. Secondly he’s a bit of a nifty mover too. Not a patch on Sam or Dave in their prime (at least not yet) but it’s nice to see some footwork up there. Thirdly there’s clearly a HUGE amount of love for him in the room tonight, something he repays by the bucket load over the next hour or so.

On one or two of the early numbers he seemed to struggle a little on the odd note, given the fact that he’s been on the road pretty much non-stop this year it’s no surprise but it’s something he needs to watch. As his voice warmed up those odd moments passed although to be honest often the best soul shows have those little imperfections...that catch in the voice that indicates real emotion as opposed to mere performance.
He played pretty much everything off the debut album, from the Northern Soul-tastic floor fillers like Cheating through to the more lighters-aloft (if they were still allowed that is) stuff like All I Need Is You, dedicated this evening to us, his audience. Bless (as an aside he seems like a pretty humble bloke, genuinely amazed by what’s happened to him over the last year or two). As glitter balls beamed a thousand shards of light across the stage during an emotional Losing Sleep and Newman did his best Rick Astley shuffle I spotted several ladies of a certain vintage looking distinctly moist eyed (actually there were a unusually large number of ladies of a certain age here tonight...must be the mothering instinct).

In amongst all the soul stuff there’s a much heavier number, Day One (“For anyone who pisses you off” he explained), a recent addition to the set by all accounts that hints at a rockier side to Mr Newman. Who knows? Maybe he’ll decide to go a bit Zeppelin one day?  

Ending the main set with the Randy Crawford meets Terrence Trent D’arby (remember him?) meets Ashford and Simpson of Gold Dust the crowd stamp so wildly for an encore that Newman’s quiff looks distinctly floppy when he returns. Rudimental fans are given a treat with a run through the drum and bass and soul mash up of Not Giving In (a surprisingly effective mix) and then, well, it just had to be...Love Me Again. Let face facts, this is a TUNE. It’s one of those tracks that brilliantly picks over the carcasses of past classics and comes up with something that’s arguably even better (a little like that post Christmas turkey curry). I defy even Stephen Hawking to resist throwing down some talc and spinning around to this one. As the crowd drown out both the band and Newman during the chorus they take over for a good minute or so, belting out Love Me Again...and again...and again. After an audience pleasing show like this it’s not hard to understand why.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

It’s ‘Hall’ good...coming soon to the Town Hall and Symphony Hall!

Another brilliant line up of gigs from Brum’s Town and Symphony Halls. Here’s just a small selection from the next couple of months:

Suzanne Vega – Monday 3rd February (Town Hall)

Heaven 17 – Friday 14th February (Town Hall)

Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain – Wednesday 19th February (Symphony Hall)

Rodriguez – Tuesday 11th March (Symphony Hall)

ABC...with FULL orchestra! – Friday 28th March (Symphony Hall) 

Tickets for all of the above available right here

Monday, January 27, 2014

Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip / Itch / Sarah Williams White @ The Institute, Saturday 25th January 2014

It’s been nearly seven years since Le Sac and Pip’s first hit, Thou Shalt Always Kill, a deliberately provocative swipe at the mindless hero worship of many a sacred musical cow (everyone from The Beatles through to Lostprophets...hmmm they may have had a point there in retrospect). Okay, perhaps it had a vague whiff of the novelty one hit wonder about it but the pair have since gone on to produce some of the freshest most thought provoking hip hop around, hence the pretty much capacity crowd tonight.

First up opener Sarah Williams White’s fusion of Erykah Badu-ish neo-soul and laid back jazz with just a dash of street courtesy of a neat little dubsteppy element. At least it would have been if we’d got there in time. I’m guessing she came on a little earlier than we expected...either that or it was the world’s fastest set. 

What bit we did see was impressive though, with the Killing Me Softly referencing Your Silence Is Killing Me perhaps best demonstrating her sophisticated multilayered sound. Mental note made to catch her full set sometime soon.

Next former King Blues member Jonny Fox with his rap/rock/garage mash up Itch. King Blues established a reputation as a pretty incendiary live act and one of the more politically focussed bands around (something that’s sadly lacking right now despite the ever increasing inequality between the haves and have nots). Splitting in 2012 Fox is seemingly carrying on where the band left off with a particularly enthusiastic solo outing this evening. Somewhat off puttingly he was joined on beats by a bloke (later referred to as Screwface) wearing a rubber mask of a baby’s face that may well have given gentler members of the audience nightmares for a month. The horror...the horror! Itch himself was a relentlessly upbeat presence though, pacing around the stage, hyping up the crowd and even diving in at one point to arrange a bit of a circle pit...brave soul. 

Musically set highlight Hopeless Romantic’s tale of a downtrodden girl neatly fused rock and rap whilst Like I’m Drugs bravely attempted to blend a Europop chorus with grimey beats. Hmmmmm...tricky. The latter’s the kind of tune you can imagine going down a storm at one of those club’s in Ibiza that serves buckets of vomit inducing brightly coloured cocktails for a euro. That being said listening to some of his lyrics in the cold light of day, away from the scary baby faced creature and bouncing rap caricature, he’s clearly got more to say than most. Gutter Stars in particular perhaps get’s closest to realising his musical vision referencing as it does the granddads of consciousness raising rock / rap, Rage Against The Machine (appropriately enough the band’s Zack de la Rocha gets a namecheck in the tune too).

Suitably fired up by Itch Le Sac and Pip received a pretty rapturous reception. Whether opening number Stunner is about Pip’s ex Kat Von D (as some fans have claimed) or not (Scroob’s denied it all) it’s a brilliant dark brooding beast of a track. “I wore my heart on my sleeve and you stole my fucking shirt” seems pretty clear cut to me but I ain’t no Clare Raynor. In between the retina confusing bursts of light and dark Pip looked pretty pumped performing it too, edgier than before and sporting an uber cool haircut a little at odds with the more nerdy hipster look of old. Crowd favourite The Beat That My Heart Skipped got pretty much the whole audience singing along to the “Bom bom bom baddy bah baddy baddy bah” bit, aided by Pip poking the mic stand out as far as he could into the bouncing mass at the front whilst I Feel Sick Tonight ramped things up another notch with Le Sac providing the simple but relentless beats.

“Alright Birminim” (what is it about the word Birmingham that some people find difficult to pronounce...bless him) “I think this could be the biggest gig on the entire tour” – cue huge whoops from the ‘Birminim’ crowd. It probably was too. The place was as full as a Poundland on giro day. Now that’s full.  

Of course Pip and Le Sac aren’t just about the bangers. Love You Too Much To Leave gave everyone a breather whilst reminding those that need it of Pip’s spoken word background (full marks to the dude for bigging up local spoken words stars Polarbear and Jodi Anne Bickley this evening by the way). Once again the crowd took over, belting out the chorus and drawing an admiring “Bootiful” from Pip.

In between the tracks we got a man going topless in the balcony (he was later reunited with the shirt he threw onstage via some impressive teamwork from the audience all coordinated by Pip), some humorous banter from Le Sac (“I thought I was in Matisyahu’s band...”) and a bizarre request for Pip to take his beard off. I reckon that would be the end of him you know. He’d be like Samson. In fact I wonder if any photos of him exist sans beard? Hang on...nope...can’t find one. Maybe he was born like that?

Anyway back to the music and pretty much all the old favourites got an airing tonight, Angles, Get Better (still the most positive message for young people ever recorded), Thou Shalt Always Kill (bonus points for including UB40 in the lyrics...) plus some newer classics from recent album Repent Replenish Repeat. Of these Terminal in particular stood out, giving the audience perhaps the best chance to hear Pip at his poetic inner City best this evening. “Again, out of no doubt it was down to the chemicals, but she seemed to float and glow as we bounded on like thin blood through wide ventricles”. Beautiful stuff. Last song of the night? It just had to be A Letter From God To Man. At a time when religious conflicts, economic shady dealings and ecological disasters are responsible for pretty much all the horrors of the world this track should be required listening for the entire human race.

Such was the demand to meet Pip after the show the merch stand couldn’t cope so he took to the streets, standing out in the cold to meet the faithful and sign whatever was thrust his way. Proof that Thou Shalt Always Kill (in the best possible meaning of the word of course) right until the very end...

Friday, January 24, 2014

Connan Mockasin / Teleman @ Hare & Hounds, Thursday 23rd January 2014

Anyone bemoaning the lack of truly unique, slightly bonkers musicians (and no...Justin Bieber doesn’t count) these days just needs to plug straight into the world of Connan Mockasin. Whether his claims of not listening to anyone else’s music for the last ten years or recording his album in a Tokyo hotel room are true or not the stuff he’s come out with so far is delightfully idiosyncratic...or a bit nuts depending on your point of view. Given this it was gratifying to see a brilliant turnout for tonight’s gig (it was a sell out in fact), kicked off by promoters This Is Tmrw favourites Teleman. Sharing a similar head space with Django Django, Dutch Uncles and Alt J they’re one of a number of bands around right now that in better times would’ve been playing Top Of The Pops, in turn distracting the nation’s youth from some of the putrid filth currently masquerading as music. As it is they’ve found support from the ever reliable 6 Music who gave Cristina and Steam Train Girl (arguably their two strongest tracks to date) plenty of airtime last year.

This is their first gig in Brum apparently, an announcement that’s met with a particularly enthusiastic cry of “Come back again” after just a couple of tracks. It’s an understandable reaction given that the band manages to cleverly blend motorik beats with more of a hipster indie feel. There’s a touch of Blur about them at times too with lead singer Thomas sounding a little like the lovechild of Albarn and Coxon especially on the fairground organ driven In Your Fur (surely destined to be a future hit single?). Elsewhere they go more Fujiya and Miyagi on our ass with the naggingly insistent Skeleton Dance. 

Time then for Mr Mockasin, this evening bedecked in white trousers, a white silk blouse top, black leather jacket and what looked suspiciously like his granny's sun hat. Proof that you can sometimes judge a book by its cover Connan’s music is a similar mix of the masculine and feminine, blending woozy psychouts with a vocal that’s occasionally so high pitched only dogs and particularly attentive teens can hear it. Swigging from a bottle of wine (naturally) throughout the gig the set’s relatively short on tracks but given that some of them stretch out languidly to 10 minutes or more that’s no real surprise. With a trio of albums under his sun hat there are plenty of gems to choose from though and the dreamy womb of a tune Do I Make You Feel Shy? (from new album Caramel) soon sets the tone for the evening, lulling the capacity crowd into the kind of blissed out mood that normally follows some serious action in the sack. Connan was just getting started though, flipping us over and gently wooing us with It’s Choade My Dear, a tune with such weird notes and vocals that it should frankly be labelled a Class A drug. Seriously what tunings are his guitar in? Every note sounds so wrong and yet so right at the same time. It’s really, really STRANGE. Ramping up the weird I’m The Man, That Will Find You (imagine Prince after a carrier bag full of weed) managed to be both creepy and rather sexy at the same time, with Connan whispering sweet nothings suggestively into the microphone. Hubba hubba ladies. Like all good lovers he saved the best till last though, with a trippy version of his magnum opus (or mignim opis as he’d probably pronounce it) Forever Dolphin Love. 

“Ohmygod he’s soooooo sexual” moaned one young lady towards the climax. It’s pretty unusual to come across (steady now) someone that sounds so different to everyone/everything else these days but Mockasin’s just that and despite (or maybe because of) the weird tunings, balls in a vice vocals and other worldly appearance it’s a pretty captivating package. All hail the strangely sexy God of Odd. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pip Pip hooray...

Okay you lucky, lucky people nearly time for the Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip gig at The Institute (Saturday 25th January). If you've not experienced this pair before do yourself a favour, sell the family cat, trade in your gran's false teeth, pawn (or porn if you prefer) a body part and get down there. Joking aside Pip's possibly one of the most articulate artists around right now. The dude talk sense. End of story. The fact that he can do so whilst being more entertaining than a million cat vids on You Tube is a bonus. Add Dan Le Sac's beats and you've got pretty much the perfect Saturday night. Don't take my word for it though...cop a listen to some stone cold Pip and Le Sac classics...

At the time of scribbling this tickets are still available (but I'd get in now if I were you) from our good chums at Birmingham Promoters! 

The Assist - Speak It Aloud

Ever keen to give up and coming bands a shout out here's a new track from Walsall four piece The Assist. Kicking off with a 60s tinged guitar intro and some surprisingly funky bass the tune quickly settles into its groove. Bearing echoes of scally popsters Cast and The Coral, albeit with harder edge, it's the kind of track that's practically genetically engineered to get audiences singing along and punching the air (just check out the "Oi Oi" bits...let's 'ave it etc etc). In fact it's Wals-all good...sorry, still can't resist a painful pun...blame my medication.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Elephant - Elusive Youth

New week, new music. This time Sarf Lahndon duo Elephant's new single Elusive Youth, a 60s meets 80s blend of cool breathy female vocals and Joe Meek-ish production values (at least that's what it sounds like on my dodgy PC speakers/ears). You can download it for free at their website.

I watched Working Girl yesterday for the first time ever and have added it to my list of favourite cheesy 80s movies (see also every single movie made by John Hughes). You can see the plot twists a mile off but I rather like that sometimes, especially after a long soak in the bath and a bottle of red. Anyway here's the suitably bombastic, soul stirring 'you go girl' theme tune from Carly Simon. Ahhhh the 80s...happy days.

Should we have a John Huges related track too? Oh go on then...altogether now "Bueller, Bueller, Bueller...Bueller"

Friday, January 17, 2014

Sharon Jones - Stranger to My Happiness

After losing a couple of people to cancer this week it's nice to end with a tune from someone's who's been able to well and truly kick cancer's ass. Singing loud, she's bald and she's proud it's the ever inspirational Ms Sharon Jones. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Steve Evans RIP

Okay, a little (alright then...a lot) off piste here (and apologies for the fact that both this post and the last one have been about death, that's life I guess) but last night a bloke called Steve Evans died. He'd become something of a minor celebrity both here in the Midlands and nationwide thanks to a series of appearances on Richard Bacon's radio show and BBC Breakfast News. The reason? The dude had cancer. Okay, lots of people get cancer but Steve seemed to look at it all in a rather different way to some, seeing it as another stage in the journey that is life. His sense of humour in the face of his impending death and obvious love for his family and friends as well as his self deprecating Midlander manner was all pretty inspirational stuff. That's it really. I never met the guy, never tweeted him or wrote about him before but if you've not watched/listened to any of his interviews do yourself a favour and catch up with him. If you ever struggle with the meaning of life and your place in the universe this might well help...

PS: The track above from Minnie Ripperton seemed pretty appropriate somehow.

I can't embed his last interview that he gave mere hours before he died but you can hear it here.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Ronny Jordan RIP

Sad news about the passing of jazz guitarist Ronny Jordan today at the age of just 51. No details on the cause yet. Ronny was part of that whole Acid Jazz scene that briefly burned bright back in the late 80s / early 90s and he rose to fame with a super cool version of Miles Davies' So What. I queued up to get my copy signed (12 inch vinyl, naturally) back in 91/92 and he was a lovely guy. Time for an Acid Jazz revival methinks...

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Three Steps To Heaven @ The Alex, Monday 13th January 2014

Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley and Roy there’s a line up for you. Sadly Mr G. Reaper Esq. had other ideas. Buddy checked out way back in 1959, Presley in ’77 and The Big O in ‘88 so a show like this hasn’t been a realistic proposition for a good half century or so. Happily we still have the songs, film footage and recordings of course enabling talented young things to bring the granddaddies of rock ‘n’ roll to life once more.

As with many shows like this it all works best if you’re able to leave your precise memories of the original performances at home. Whilst the performers do pretty good impressions no one sings precisely like Elvis, Buddy or Roy, although all three ‘stand ins’ have considerable form with Damian Edwards playing Orbison since 2000, Ed Handoll doing Buddy since 2006 and Stephen Michael Kabos assuming the King’s crown over 15 years ago.

Buddy’s perhaps the easiest one to get away with, partly down to his voice (arguably Buddy’s vocal was weaker than Presley’s and Orbison’s) and partly because he’s perhaps not as ingrained in our collective musical memories as the other two. What matters most though isn’t the impersonations it’s the music and this is jam packed with classic hits from all three artists who take it in turns to do sets, occasionally popping up to sing with each other, something which sadly no one ever got to hear or see when they were all alive. The first half of the show focuses on the early years with tonight’s Buddy and Elvis reminding you of just how radical this new rock ‘n’ roll thing was. It’s hard to imagine the excitement it must’ve caused way back in the 50s but the simple fact is that without Buddy and Elvis many of the bands they influenced simply wouldn’t have existed in the form we know them...The Beatles for instance who named themselves partly in honour of The Crickets (Holly’s band) and who inspired a young John Lennon to pick up a guitar. Watching Holly play tonight his influence on punk and new wave came across loud and clear too (Costello based his entire look on the dude) and the twitchy jerk pop of Peggy Sue surely shares its DNA with pretty much anything by The Ramones.

Wisely the producers haven’t restricted the sets to the early 50s though (with the exception of Buddy of course...for obvious reasons) so we get to experience Elvis in all his Aloha From Hawaii pomp and glory and Roy’s late career rebirth courtesy of I Drove All Night and You Got It (his best bits all evening). 

Incredibly the Elvis special was watched by over 1billion people back in 1973, a figure that still seems remarkable even in the days of You Tube. Cop a load of this...

Tonight’s Elvis, Stephen Michael Kabos did a fine hip swinging, crotch thrusting, lip curling job of capturing some of that magic, especially on his own incendiary version of Burning Love. My loins are still a little moist just thinking about it...

As a fun but respectful tribute to three of music’s pioneers this show’s simply heaven sent.

Three Steps To Heaven is on at The New Alexandra Theatre on Saturday 18th January (shows at 2.30pm and 7.30pm - tickets here). If rock ‘n’ roll tribute shows are your thing check out Gene and Eddie (Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran) on 14th and 15th January and Winter Dance Party (Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, Dion and The Belmonts and The Big Bopper) on 16th and 17th January too. Discounts available for bookings to all three shows!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Conan the contrarian

I first saw Conan Mockasin a few years ago on a pier in Brighton (during The Great Escape Festival...I wasn't just stalking him). It was before the whole psych revival thing had got going and he played a dreamy version of  Forever Dolphin Love that, perhaps appropriately enough, did indeed seem to go on forever. This was all in strong contrast to the 2 or 3 minute pop songs being peddled by a lot of the bands that weekend and it remains one of the odder gigs I've seen, partly down to the location and partly down to Mockasin's distinctively twisted performance. Fast forward a few years and bands like Temples are taking psych to the masses (well, sort of) making 2014 the perfect year for Conan's follow up to his debut album (a classic slice of psych pop if ever I heard one), also titled Forever Dolphin Love. If anything he comes across as even more 'other worldly' than ever and some of his newer stuff sounds like Prince after a particularly large spliff or six (come on...admit it, that's a pretty intriguing concept eh?). Cop a listen to this and see what I mean...

If you want to see the full live spectacle you're in luck. He's off on a mini tour later this month with a gig at the Hare and Hounds  on January 23rd hosted by This Is Tmrw (tickets here). Farrrrrrrrrrrrrr out maaaaaaaaaaan.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Caught in the Counteract...

Counteract Magazine (courtesy of Jessica Goodman) has popped up a great list of Birmingham based bands tipped to break big in 2014, including Hearing Aid favourites Youth Man, God Damn, The Grafham Water Sailing Club, Tempting Rosie (who seem to have been around for about 20 years even though they're all only about 18...these boys were born skanking away) and the mysterious Juice.

If I've said it once I've said it about 11 times, music in Birmingham is going through a bit of a purple patch at the moment. It would be great to see even more cultural diversity and variety coming through...for example the growing Eastern European community perhaps best represented at the moment through the Balkanic Eruption nights at The Hare...but I guess this will come in time. For now there's a distinctive grunge/shoegaze thang going on with the odd nod back to Brit Pop (step forward Superfood) which is gradually recovering its unfairly maligned rep. Anyway, check out the list here and get along to a gig or six in the coming months. Trust me, pretty much any bill with a few local bands on it will have something to tickle your fancy right now...and it'll be a lot more fun than watching that Secrets of the Living Dolls doc...

Monday, January 06, 2014

Happy Scroo Year

Okay, so the hangovers should've worn off by now. Just. Time to get back to some kind of normality. Although January's traditionally a little quiet for gigs one or two tours really stand out this year, the first being Dan Le Sac vs Scroobious Pip. It all kicks off on January 19th in Manchester and hits Brum (The Institute) on Saturday 25th. Tickets available from our chums at Birmingham Promoters right here.

If you've not seen Le Sac and Pip before you're in for a treat. Put simply Le Sac provides the old skool beats and Pip raps his heart out. If only all hip hop had a tenth of Scroob's intelligence, wit and humanity the world would genuinely be a better place. Check out recent single Stunner for proof and the dude's hilarious deconstruction of a fan's review of the song/vid. Oh...and here's their "Christmas single". Now that's some dark shit...

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Happy New Year and all that!

So adieu to 2013 and a big hello to 2014. This being a music blog I'm duty bound to come up with a few embarrassing predictions that will no doubt sound the death knell for any poor unfortunates I happen to settle upon but here's a few 'top tips' together with a brief sample of their wares (regular readers may well be used to/bored by me banging on about some of them by now but it's my blog and I'll bang on if I want there). Enjoy...

Courtney Barnett 


Youth Man 

Miss Halliwell 

Hanni El Khatib

Joanna Gruesome


George Barnett

Ezra Furman