Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Spice up your life...

For four weeks in May (6th - 31st) the Eastern Electronic Festival brings some of the best British Asian talent to Birmingham with a wonderfully eclectic mix of events, exhibitions and gigs (a wallet/purse pleasing number of which are FREE!). Highlights include a showcase with rising star Swaati (May 8th, 5.30pm at the Symphony Hall Cafe Bar), an exhibition celebrating 20 years of Asian Dub Foundation (good grief that makes me feel old...12th-31st May at The Drum), a canal boat trip in the company of spoken word poet Amerah Saleh, and singer songwriters Alisha Yasmin Kadir and Raju Mali plus a whole night stuffed full of live music (Oobleck/Alfie Birds 17th May 9pm until the cock crows) featuring the wonderful Nathan ‘Flutebox’ Lee...simply one of the most extraordinary performers I’ve ever seen and possibly the only dude on planet earth (or anywhere else for that matter) to beatbox WHILST playing the flute. Trust me, it'll twist your melon. For full details...and there’s a heck of a lot going on...head over to the festival website.

Here’s a selection of vids to give you a bit of a flavour...

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

20th Century Boy @ The New Alexandra Theatre, Monday 28th April 2014

For a sadly all too brief moment back in the early 70s Marc Bolan and T. Rex were frankly ruddy huge with nine top 3 singles and three top five albums in the space of just a couple of years. Fame’s a fickle business though and Bolan’s flame flickered a little as glam rock faded from favour (boy that’s a lot of ‘f’s), but he seemed to be staging something of a comeback (amazingly he toured with The Damned of all people in ‘76) when he (spoiler alert) was tragically killed in a car crash just a few weeks short of his 30th birthday.

Staged by Gary Lloyd (one of the brains behind Thriller Live) this musical, first aired back in 2011, looks at Bolan’s rise and fall through the eyes of his son Rolan, flashing back from the early 90s to key points in Marc’s life. It’s an interesting approach, marking (or Marc-ing even) it out as a something a little different from the ‘jukebox musical’ template that’s so popular right now and creating the opportunity for Bolan and son to duet together, something that would clearly have been impossible in reality (short of a handy De Lorean or Tardis that is). Of course Bolan’s heyday was the early 70s so perhaps understandably a few liberties have been taken with songs and dates to ensure the better known songs are liberally scattered throughout the production. So I Love To Boogie (from 76) is sung in a scene from the 60s for instance and a particularly raunchy Easy Action soundtracks Bolan’s rumpy pumpy with his soon to be wife June Child. It works though, partially perhaps because Bolan himself took rock and roll influences from the 50s and 60s to create his glam sound and partially because...well...let's face it this is a musical and not a freakin’ documentary.

At times the writers pull few punches and Bolan’s ego, occasional violent outbursts, drink/drug abuse and mistreatment of some of those who’d helped him become a star (notably John Peel and Tony Visconti) are all well covered which lifts this above the puff piece it could so easily have been. Act II’s Whatever Happened To The Teenage Dream, with the stage bathed in red light and Bolan on the floor (literally and metaphorically) summed up his fall from grace rather brilliantly. From there on Bolan seemed to rally a little though and, had he lived, there’s a fair chance he’d still be spreading Hot Love today but destiny had other plans of course. Whilst most people in the audience will know what happens the last few minutes of Bolan’s life and that fateful decision to let girlfriend Gloria Jones drive still packs a punch. From T-Rex to a tree sad. Of course this being a musical Bolan soon rises from the dead and the encore delivers enough hits to dry any tears and get the audience up and dancing.  

There are some impressive performances from this cast with Warren Sollars really nailing some of Bolan’s mannerisms and voice (both singing and talking) and Sue Jenkins’ moving from devoted to grieving mother as the scenes shift from past to present. Lucy Sinclair as June Child delivers some of the best vocal performances of the night, closely tied with Donna Hines as Gloria Jones (the gospel tinged Light Of Love being a real highlight), whilst Luke Bailey is perfect as Bolan’s son looking to find himself.  Kudos to Steve Simmonds for a brief but wonderfully weird Fast Show version of Captain Sensible too...I’m sure the good Captain would love it. The use of authentic film clips projected onto the scenery adds a little extra depth and life to the whole show and happily the sound was beefy enough to conjure up that live gig feel during the 'concert' scenes. All you needed was a swarm of schoolgirls throwing their underwear at the stage and Jimmy Savile...actually let's gloss over that...and you could almost have been back in the 70s...    

Some of those who were lucky enough to have seen the real Bolan live have given this production a ‘thumbs up’, which is pretty much as good a recommendation as you can get. After all Bolan fans tend to know their stuff and are fiercely protective of his legacy. Given the fact that this production tells Bolan’s life story though there’s plenty for T-Rex virgins to enjoy too and, even if by some miracle you’ve never heard a single one of these songs before, plenty of them (glam) rock. All in all a 21st Century joy. 

20th Century Boy is on at the New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 3rd May. Tickets here!

Photos by Robert Day

Monday, April 28, 2014

Bob Log III and Thomas Truax...two of a kind

Unique. It’s a pretty overused word these days. But this Wednesday night Birmingham Promoters are dishing up a truly unique double bill courtesy of Thomas Truax and Bob Log III. Not content with the current range of musical instruments available on planet earth Truax also makes his own using pretty much anything he can find (check out his drum machine in the video) whilst Bob Log III has spent the last couple of decades glued into a motorcycle helmet with a telephone stuck on the front of it through which he hollers the blues (well you would wouldn’t you?). Watch out for a track called Boob Scotch where he invites ladies (and men sometimes, particularly the more well endowed chaps) onto the stage their boob in his scotch.  

Tickets available right here, right now. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Dexys to rock the Kasbah!

As comebacks go the rebirth of Dexys Midnight Runners/Dexys is pretty remarkable. Barring a brief reunion tour in 2003 little had been seen of ‘them’ (whilst the current Dexys line-up differs from several of the previous versions Pete Williams, Big Jim Paterson and, of course, Kevin Roland from the classic Young Soul Rebels group are in this current incarnation) since the mid 80s. Given the difficulties that the band’s somewhat mercurial driving force, Kevin Rowland, had been through over the past couple of decades this state of affairs seemed likely to continue. Seemingly out of nowhere though in 2012 a new album (One Day I’m Going To Soar) was released to widespread critical acclaim and they backed this up with a series of rapturously received live dates here and abroad.

Happily two years on all concerned still seem to be enjoying this second/third/fourth coming and they've now landed a prime slot at this year’s Glastonbury Festival. To prepare for arguably one of the biggest shows in their history Dexys are playing a couple of pretty intimate warm up dates, one on June 24th at The Roundhouse in Norwich and the second on June 25th at the Kasbah in Coventry. According to the band’s website these shows will be an edited version of the One Day I’m Going To Soar tour plus...intriguingly...a few Dexys favourites. The band’s current female vocalist Madeline Hyland can’t make these dates but...and this is an equally ear tingling prospect...Siobhan Fahey (Ex-Bananarama/Shakespears Sister) is stepping into her high heels. Blimey. 

These dates will sell out so grab a ticket while you can, here’s a direct link for the Kasbah ones...just to make life super easy. You’re welcome. 

PS: Here's a trio of Dexys classics that may or may not get an airing on the night too.

PPS: I had to plump for the full version of This Is What She's Like...truly stunning...stick with it. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Funke and the Two-Tone Baby – The Last Thing We’ll See Is The Sea

Possibly inspired by the truly apocalyptic weather that pretty much trashed the entire country earlier this year one man blues bomb Funke and the Two-Tone Baby blasts back with a brand new 4 track EP, The Last Thing We’ll See Is The Sea. Opening track, The Great Storm, sort of confirms this assumption (although whether it’s a metaphorical storm or a literal one is, I guess, up to you dear listener) and it sure lives up to its name, whipping up the kind of harmonica filled fury that could power a decent sized wind farm. There, that’s the energy crisis sorted then. Next up Never Used To Dance is a subtler beast, albeit with the odd pleasin’ blast of holy hollerin’. I’m not sure whether the subject of Wasting My Love is a real person or not but if she is somehow I don’t suspect she’ll be on Funke’s Christmas card list this year, “In this world of are queen” he sings, ever so slightly menacingly. Hell hath no fury eh? Despite the title, Darkest Of Days, the EP ends with a surprisingly upbeat...well, as upbeat as the blues can get...tune. Okay so the lyrics are still seemingly focussed on that lost love from track three but vocally and musically it’s a belter, the kind of song that makes you want to bang one foot on the floor until it’s a bloodied stump.  

The Last Thing We'll See Is The Sea is due for physical and digital release on June 16th 2014. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Making The Connection...Miles Perhower unveils Brumdemoters (Chapter 3)

What’s the point of music now? Serious question. What’s it for? Often today it’s a soundtrack, something that accompanies us as we wander around in a bubble of gadgets tweeting our every footstep. In the past it’s been many things of course (a way of communicating with each other, a form of protest or rebellion, an emotional crutch – for both artist and listener, something to make us shake our booty etc) but these days...and maybe it's just me and/or my age...its meaning and power seems increasingly watered down. This isn’t always because of the artists (there are still some truly wonderful talents around) or us, the audience, but in a world with so many other things to distract us (I still find it frankly astonishing that our so called Prime Minister plays ‘Angry Birds’) is music the potent force it once was? 

I was mulling all of this over whilst watching the third inspirational instalment of Miles Perhower’s Brumdemoters films, a large chunk of which is set in a centre for people with cerebral palsy. Miles volunteers there and decided to set up a band (The CPM Connection) with some of those who attend the place on a regular basis. The results are fascinating and uplifting in equal measure, conjuring up a kind of naturally flowing post punk experimentalism that revels in the sheer joy of playing and banging stuff (which is surely how music began back in the distant past when some hairy dude started hitting one piece of rock with another in a pleasingly rhythmical pattern...”Hmmmm” he thought, “That’s got a good beat...all I need now is a way to record and release it and I’ll be hang on, bugger, I’m a caveman...what am I going to do with all that money?”). 

In the latter part of the film Miles wanders Bratislava (as you do) to the sound of a future post house classic that then disintegrates rather wonderfully into a free jazz nervous breakdown. Like much of his output it’s unlikely to soundtrack the next John Lewis Christmas ad campaign (although how wonderful would that be?) but both it and The CPM Connection material (here’s how I clumsily try to wrap things up in a neat conclusion) really made me STOP and THINK. Perhaps in a world of sensory overload that’s still one of music’s greatest gifts?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Record Store Day 2014 @ Swordfish Records featuring Matthew Edwards / Drakelow / Charlotte Carpenter

It’s no exaggeration to say that I spent a fair percentage of my youth (and dosh) in record shops and Swordfish Records was always a firm favourite. After some distinctly uncertain times happily they relocated back in March 2013 from their old home on Temple Street to 66 Dalton Street (just by the Law Courts...insert criminal record jokes here). Since then things seem to have been on the up with an endless stream of reissues and collectable vinyl flooding into the place pretty much on a weekly basis. As is now traditional they also host a Record Store Day event, which this year kicked off with a surprising stripped back set from DUMB. Er...we missed it they played earlier than previously announced. Oh well, I guess that’s what you call DUMB luck.

Charlotte Carpenter’s one of those artists for whom music is therapy and, by her own admittance (online and during this set), it’s helped her through some petty shitty times. Of course this lends her songs the kind of integrity and feeling that you just can’t fake. Many of her songs manage to cleverly combine fragility with strength, a kind of determination to carry on regardless that makes for inspirational listening. Listen to Found A Light and you’ll hear what I mean. 

Pick of the set was probably Sinking though, a more upbeat track with shades of Beth Orton on a indie tip.

Drakelow’s orchestral manoeuvres in the corner are always hugely enjoyable (they’ve played Swordfish a few times now). This afternoon there was just a couple of them, Matt and Lucy (you’d need to lose the entire Frank Zappa section to squeeze any more of the band in) but it was still typically beautiful stuff. Kicking off with a tender retelling of the old James Taylor classic, You Can Close Your Eyes and a stripped back version of the band’s own Record Store Day release (String) the combination of the duo’s vocals and Lucy’s heart breaking violin (ain’t the violin just the most moving instrument in the whole wide world?) was, to coin a cliché, tear jerkingly good. 

Swallowing Diamonds picked up the pace before the pair submitted themselves to Red Folder Bingo (a book of songs that one of the audience members could pick at random). Wild World was the winner and, even if Matt had to cheat a bit by occasionally glancing at the lyrics, it’s still a ballsy thing to attempt.

Local boy (well, man now) Matthew Edwards has been living in San Francisco for the last 20 year or so fronting The Music Lovers and (following the fairly recent dissolution of that band) Matthew Edwards and the Unfortunates. Not sure if he’s back for good but his particular brand of reflective, slightly melancholy pop somehow seems much better suited to the streets of Kings Heath than, say, Haight Ashbury.  There’s a wonderful croonerish tone to his voice (a little like the love child of Scott Walker and David Bowie to my demented ears) or perhaps more recently the likes of Richard Hawley whilst the songs themselves embrace everything from being murdered by a French movie star in the Alps (Sandrine Bonnaire...a surprisingly upbeat tune despite the subject matter) to the impact of a car crash on a relationship (Accident). 

He’s a pretty new name to me but I was impressed enough to buy a copy of his most recent album, The Fates (on vinyl naturally), and I’m pleased to report that the addition of a full band on these tracks ramps up the lushness no end. Beautiful, classy and intriguing stuff from a bloke we should clutch to our bosoms and never let go. San Francisco’s loss (for now at least) is our gain.   

So that was it for another Record Store Day in Brum. There have been plenty of rumblings about the whole thing becoming a bit of a money spinner for the bigger record labels (Paul Weller's just announced he's having nothing more to do with it in future) and less about the music and more about the money (predictably a lot of releases ended up on eBay before you could put the needle on the record) but anything that gets people into record shops and buying physical releases rather than ruddy downloads has to be bloody good thing, right? But remember kids, Record Stores (or shops as we say here in England) are for life, not just for Record Store Day. Use ‘em or lose ‘em...  

Friday, April 18, 2014

Goodnight Lenin / Dan Whitehouse @ Prince Of Wales, Thursday 17th April 2014

At last, after a gestation period that makes the average Elephant birth seem a tad premature (apparently it takes around 2 years between getting jiggy and wetting the baby’s trunk...who’d be a lady elephant eh?) this year will finally see the release of Goodnight Lenin’s debut album. Definitely. 100%. No question at all. Hurrah! To prove they can deliver the goods against the clock a few weeks back they set themselves the challenge of recording, mixing and mastering a single for Record Store Day in just one mammoth 24 hour session. The resulting recording, just 24 copies of which have been pressed, will be sold on Record Store day itself, this Saturday 19th April (hence the timing of this gig I guess).

Tonight’s all about the live stuff though and first up a firm favourite on the local scene Dan Whitehouse. I’ve been lucky enough to have seen singer/songwriter Dan oodles of times over the years in various different incarnations (from solo acoustic through to being backed by a full band) and his combination of heartfelt lyrics on love, loss and everything in between coupled with a gentle warming vocal delivery never fails to impress. This evening was no exception, in fact in footballing terms he played a blinder, much against the odds as well as the power cut out after just a number or two and, rather than stand there looking embarrassed, he just got on with it and strode to the front of the stage and played unplugged, leading the crowd in a “Oooooh Oooooh Oooooh” singalong. What a trooper. Playing tracks from his new album, Reaching For A State of Mind (pick of the bunch being the hauntingly beautiful waltz of regret that is Why Don’t We Dance?), plus some old favourites including a sublime Somebody Loves You (which once again moved at least one audience member to tears) the whole thing was a treat from start to finish. 

Critical acclaim hasn’t been in short supply over the years and he’s toured with some pretty impressive names (Willy Mason, Julian Cope, Peter Green and World Party to name just a few) but he’s yet to make that big break he deserves. In the meantime you’ve still got the chance to enjoy him up close and personal. Make the most of it.

The place was pretty rammed by the time Goodnight Lenin took to the stage kicking off with the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young classic anthem to freedom, being yourself and sticking it to da  man (hell yeah!), Almost Cut My Hair (one of the two tracks Goodnight Lenin recorded for their Record Store Day release). Wow. Covering a song’s always a bit of a gamble but, having listened to a fair few versions by the originators, Lenin’s interpretation is right up there with the best. There’s a richness and depth to it (kudos in particular to John Joe on keyboards and Sam on drums) that sets the lyrics up in a widescreen landscape whilst still capturing the, let’s face it, “Fuck you World” of the original version. In fact, in Fell’s delivery this evening there was perhaps a little more of that in there, an edge to the vocal that bordered on the slightly (only slightly mind you) menacing.  

Of course the danger of kicking off a set with a cover is the risk that the band’s own material won’t quite make the grade in comparison, but that simply isn’t the case. Take one of tonight’s standout tracks Heart Of Gold (the Goodnight Lenin one) for instance. Sure it shares the same title as one of Neil Young’s best loved songs but it’s also every bit as gentle, fragile and yearning as its namesake. High praise indeed but justified. In fact it’s particularly telling this evening just how many of Goodnight Lenin’s tracks already have that classic feel, being greeted like old friends by the crowd (those that were listening that is...on more than one occasion various members of the Lenin had to request a little hush...quite why you’d spunk £10 on a ticket to see a band and then stand chatting to your mates is beyond me but it’s a questions I’ve been wrestling with for nearly a quarter of a century now so I guess I’ll never know the answer).

On top of Heart Of Gold, the weary, resigned heartbreak of A Cautionary Tale and the fiddle powered folk rock of Ode To Rebellion (which got the biggest whoop of the night) already feel like part of our musical heritage. 

There were plenty of new tracks though, some as mellow as a Sunday morning (Break Into A Heart?) but one or two that revelled rather gloriously in the band’s rockier side, perhaps first truly unveiled during their gig at The Old Rep last June.  I have no idea what these songs were called (hell, maybe the band don’t know yet) but there’s more of a free flowing feel, experimental feel to them embracing groovy bass (from ace of bass Matt), organ sounds, bow melting fiddle (both courtesy of John Joe...the new hardest working man in show business?) and screaming guitars that seguewayed neatly into another Lenin classic, Old Cold Hands perhaps the best example of the band’s emotionally potent three part (Liam, John and John Joe) harmonies tonight. God this song gets me every time...”It’s hard to realise that there is relentlessly nothing...” intoned Fell as a cascade of sound collapsed around him. Amen to that.

After some big news about the album (it’s coming out in November...honestly...) appropriately enough the set ended with the other track recorded for Record Store Day, a fine cover of the Neil Young penned Helpless (which makes a pretty good companion piece for Old Cold Hands when you think about it).
As ever the gig itself was sprinkled with the odd bit of legendary Lenin banter and wit plus a revealing insight into John Fell’s toe fetish (we’ll save that for the band’s biography when they’re all rich and famous). Most of all though it underlined (as if we needed reminding) just what a great group we’ve got here, lyrically, musically and, perhaps just as importantly, a ruddy nice bunch too. Yet another great night Lenin.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Record Store Day's the 'vinyl' countdown...

I was going to post a preview of Record Store Day 2014 in Birmingham but the lovely David Malys has already done a much better job than I could manage over at Counteract Magazine (right here in fact). Amongst the highlights are collective Die Das Der's takeover of Kings Heath from 1pm onwards and the Brum Notes/Swordfish Records' in-store session at 5pm.

As part of Record Store Day someone's done one of those silly surveys that apparently reveals a growing trend for people to buy physical releases of music (even cassettes...yes..I know...) with absolutely no intention of playing them. The music fan in me finds all this a little odd but if it helps to keep the last few remaining record shops in business then c'est la vie. Here are a couple of the acts you can catch, first off Hoopla Blue who'll be playing in Kings Heath outside Polar Bear Records during the afternoon...

...and next Matthew Edwards, (ex The Music Lovers) who's recently returned to Brum after a decade or two in San Francisco and who'll be dropping by Swordfish Records to play a short set. Really like this track...suits my mood right now...

So pop along, buy something, maybe even play it if you're feeling wacky...

Monday, April 14, 2014

Moonshine on...

Still looking for something else to do this Easter apart from eating your own body weight in chocolate eggs and watching The Great Escape on repeat? Madame Moonshine's Speakeasy is back and, following on from the first event in February, there's another impeccably glamorous mix of music, food and fun for the more discerning punter. Here's a quick selection of the live acts on offer:

Tickets here!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Bluebeat Arkestra - The Chillr

Brum's own The Bluebeat Arkestra have just unveiled a new track and video from their forthcoming self-titled EP (due out in a couple of weeks) and it's a beaut. Blending groove driven bass with the kind of vocals that could soothe even the most troubled of souls it's a sophisticated mix expertly produced and buffed up by Sam Redmore (Birmingham's beardiest DJ). Seriously classy stuff. Head on over to the band's Facebook page to share the video and you'll be in with the chance of winning a bunch of Arkestra goodies as well!

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

George Barnett...3 Statues...the video

I'm frankly in awe of how much work this dude puts into writing, playing and producing his own music...let alone doing his own videos too. Hello world, wake up please...this is the kind of talent we should be supporting.

It’s nice to be a Lunar-tic...

Is there anything better than being outside in the sun, with a cider or two, watching live music? Well yes, there’s sex, but getting jiggy outside isn’t a good idea, especially in the middle of V Festival (far too much piddle flying about). Yes, the Great British festival can be a wonderful thing and the good people behind Moseley Folk and Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul are putting on a third event this year, The Lunar Festival, with an ear tingling line up. Unlike MoFolk and MoJaFuSo you can camp at The Lunar Festival, just to get that truly authentic festival vibe. And, if it’s just 10% as good as either of their other events, it promises to be something pretty jolly special. 

Capacity is relatively modest so you won’t have to spend 6 hours queuing for the loos/bar/ostrich burger but it also means you should probably snap up a ticket right now if you want to go. Here’s just a small sample of the delights on offer...

Plus there's loads of other stuff going on, pop up clubs, workshops, climbing (best not to try this after three pints of Vicar's Todger) and a simply beautiful idea that involves playing Nick Drake's (he was a local lad) albums in the woods on his actual record player! Vinyl, it's the future. 

Tickets - available here - are just £85 for the three days (which includes camping). Now that's a billy bargain. 

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Goodnight Lenin play The Prince of Wales!

Okay, just over a week to go until Goodnight Lenin play The Prince of Wales (the pub, not the bloke...although how cool would that be? I reckon you could get a half decent tune out of him). On top of celebrating the release of their super duper limited Record Store Day single (just 24 copies have been pressed!) there's a rumour that the long awaited debut album will finally be seeing the light of day very soon so who knows, this could be one of the last times you get up close and personal with 'em. And that's a very sexy thing let me tell you...ahem...anyway, Goodnight Lenin, next Thursday, Prince of Wales (support comes from the rather lovely Dan Whitehouse too).

Tickets right here, right now!

Monday, April 07, 2014

Table Scraps / Adore / Female Smell / The Double Happy / IONS, @ Muthers Studio, Saturday 5th April 2014

A moshing butler, a raffle prize that included a Bubba Ho-Tep action figure, a Fray Bentos Pie, drumsticks’lube’ (answers on a postcard please...) and five bands for £5 with all proceeds go to kicking cancer’s butt (does cancer have a butt...I guess it does...), what’s not to love eh? First off high fives to Thomas Wagstaff (Female Smell) and Nat Jones for organising it all. Happily Wags beat the disease a few years ago and tonight was his way of paying back the Teenage Cancer Trust who clearly gave him oodles of support during his treatment and recovery.

If cancer had the nerve to wander into Muther’s studio this evening (cool venue by the way) it’s likely its ears (again, not sure if cancer has ears...I’m really over thinking this aren’t I?) would be torn clean off by pretty much every band on the bill. IONS kicked things off with some neat multilayered guitars and railing at the moon vocals (nope, even I’ve got no idea what I’m on about today) recalling At The Drive In having a jam with Foals. At their majestic best when they hit their riffy, proggy stride.

After a quick breather and bottle of Newkie Brown (keepin’ it old skool) The Double Happy laid done some mighty solid slabs of sound, surprisingly tight vocal harmonies and the odd primal scream to freak out anyone not paying attention.  Set highlight Taxidermy’s one hell of a tune, part Sabbath, part Jane’s Addiction its time changes and juddering stop start hip hop rock vocals make it the kind of song disenchanted black clad teens ( aged men) would (Double) happily go three shades of mental to.

Another quick break...and another bottle of Newkie Brown...then it’s time for the Smell. I’d not seen them live before but the rumours were true, they’re bloody good.  Tonight bare chested lead singer Garry Payne comes across like the bastard child of Lux Interior and Iggy Pop, inspiring the event’s elaborately moustachioed MC Rupert Bell (dressed in a full butler’s outfit...and I mean the proper shit...none of this fancy dress crap) to mosh himself into oblivion. As the band gloriously grind out the noise Payne chews up and spits out the lyrics like a terrier with tourettes (yep, I’ve lost it again), most effectively perhaps on recent single Normal Today, a brooding post punk meltdown that manages to be both maddeningly catchy and more than a little disturbing at the same time. I blame the video. 

As the all too brief set clatters to an end the remaining band members plunge off stage, passing their lead singer in the crowd to deservedly wild applause. A performance not to be sniffed at...   

They’d run out of Newkie Brown so I opted for a bottle that looked close to it which turned out to be Trooper, Iron Maiden’s brew. Not bad, if the band would like to send me a dozen cases I’d be more than happy to glug...sorry...plug it for ‘em.

Twenty years to the day that Kurt Cobain died (most people think it was April 5th although it’s impossible to be 100% sure as no one saw him from April 4th to the 8th when his body was discovered) and his legacy is clear to see in the grungetastic penultimate band, Adore. Freshening up the grunge goodness for another generation to enjoy...and by the looks of the pogoing ladies at the front they were...songs like Heaven Sent (I'm guessing at the's labelled as Demo 1 - see below - but I don't imagine that's what it's called...let's not get into that...ahem) add an extra complexity to the mix whilst retaining that existential angst and punk tinged attitude that originally made the whole scene so powerful. 

After Iron Maiden’s brew I opted for a bottle of 5,6,7,8...a cheeky Cabernet Sauvignon from the band Steps, followed by a drop of Mark Morrisons' brandy, Return of the Cognac. 

Suitably refreshed it was time for Table Scraps' boy/girl garage rock to bring things to a suitably epic conclusion. Fuzzed up guitar, drums beaten to within an inch of disintegration and vocals from the wrong side of the tracks (that’s a good thing by the way) combine to make the Scraps pretty much the perfect band to end the night...any night in fact. Each song’s a blistering assault, often clocking in at just two or three minutes of pure unadulterated raw power that’ll leave your ears bleeding and groin ever so slightly moist (too much information?). Single What You Don’t Allow sounds like the White Stripes wired up to the mains and force fed amphetamines. Glorious. 

Let’s end on where we came in though and the point of the whole night. Fittingly Wags took to the stage and, after drawing the raffle prizes (I won a Table Scraps t-shirt and Female Smell cassette...result!), thanked all the bands and punters and “the charity that helped me beyond words”, the Teenage Cancer Trust. The dosh was still being totted up but hundreds of quid will be winging its way to them as we speak, hopefully with a compilation of tonight’s bands too. In fact, you know what? Loud rock music might not be a medically approved therapy – although Wilko Johnson seems to be making a pretty strong case for it – but if just 1% of the energy, passion and sheer joy for life that fizzed through the entire evening could be bottled up and injected I reckon cancer wouldn't have a hope in hell. 

Friday, April 04, 2014

Florrie – Free Falling

Oh I'm loving this. It’s been ages since I last posted any new music from Florrie...naughty Baron... but cop a load of this brand new track that she’s just popped up in You Tube. If Lana Del Rey and Kylie got down and dirty in a cool nightclub in Sweden this is precisely what it would sound like. Tuuuuuuuuunne!! 

PS: Here are the last two live Florrie reviews for any latecomers, February 2011 and May 2011 (my how time flies).  

Beat and greet...Beat drummer launches new band!

(Photo by Horseman) 

Take some Beat, add a little Dexys, stir in some 360, The Heels and Urban Groove Syndicate and what have you got? Beat Goes Bang is a brand new group from the loins of The Beat’s original drummer Everett Morton and they’re playing one of their very first gigs on April 11th at the Hare and Hounds! In amongst Beat songs they’re promising to slip in some equally classic Trojan and Studio One covers and Friendly Fire’s Soundsystem, Jam Jah Sounds will be on hand to drop some more tunes throughout the night. Jam-tastic (sorry, it had to be done). Here's a couple of vids to get you in the mood... 

Tickets here! 

Thursday, April 03, 2014

West Side Story @ New Alexandra Theatre, Wednesday 2nd April 2014

West Side Story’s one of those rare musicals that’s really seeped into the wider public consciousness. On top of some inspired cover versions of its biggest songs (including the Pet Shop Boys’ joyfully camp electro-disco-pop rebooting of Somewhere and frequent appearances of some of its other big numbers in episodes of Glee) it’s responsible for one of the USA’s unofficial theme tunes too, courtesy of America (you know the one, “I wanna be in America, la la la la la America”). As if that wasn’t enough it’s also a good old fashioned love story based on arguably the granddaddy of them all Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, replacing the Montagues and Capulets with the gritty street gangs the Jets and the Sharks and then setting the whole shebang in the hustling bustling Noo Yoik of the 1950s. That's real cool daddio.

There are no ‘big’ names in the current touring cast (apparently this applies to pretty much every stage version of West Side Story), which can sometimes be a bit of a blessing as it helps you to focus more on the characters rather than the stars playing them. That’s not to say that there aren’t some real stars in the making in this cast, in particular Charlotte Baptie who stepped in to play the lead role of Maria after Katie Hall fell ill. I know understudies are trained for this sort of thing but it must still be pretty nerve-wracking to have to step up at the last moment, especially on Press Night. She was quite brilliant throughout the show though, not putting a foot wrong (no mean feat given the pace of it all). It’s no surprise to learn that she has a background in opera too, a talent she used appropriately not giving it the full on glass breaking routine but delivering that extra oomph just at the right moments. Aside from the odd slip in his accent (hell, you try speaking Noo Yoik for 2 hours) the subject of Maria’s affections, Tony, was also expertly handled by Louis Maskell and the chemistry between the two was a steamy as a New York street in August. Ssssssssssssssizzlin’.

From the explosive opening number of When You’re A Jet right through to the ending (I won’t spoil the plot just in case you're one of the few people who don't know what happens...even though I did I still found it incredibly moving) the stage constantly fizzes with energy and colour. 

Using the original blueprint created by choreographer Jerome Robbins (reproduced for this tour by Joey McKneely) the ensemble dance routines are groin splittingly good (just take a look at the photos), a fusion of ballet, Puerto Rican skirt swinging sass and the gangs’ rougher, tougher street style. Djalenga Scott as Anita, Maria’s sister, was particularly impressive kicking so high and vigorously that I feared one of her legs might fly clean off. She also wins the award for best accent of the night, ay ay ay, I’m assuming she’s not actually Puerto Rican? Kudos to the band too who managed to nail the big brassy numbers as well as the more intimate moments rather beautifully and a high five for the simple but effective set, replacing the balconies of Verona with the somewhat less romantic fire escapes of a New York tenement. Other highlights included Cool, Riff and the Jets were finger clickin’ good, and Act Two’s swishy opener I Feel Pretty was particularly fun, flirty and fresh. But let's be honest here, there's not a duff second in the whole show.  

All in all it adds up to a dazzling version of one of the World’s best loved musicals by a cast and crew who’ve clearly put their heart and soul into it. Whatever you do just make sure you ‘Jet’ a ticket while you can...

West Side Story is on at New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 19th April. Tickets here!

(All photos by Alastair Muir)

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Body Hound...this is 'growl' they do it...

Ex Rolo Tomassi / Antares peeps have formed a new band, Body Hound, and to show the love (the Body Hounds of love perhaps...ahem) they’re offering downloads of their brand spanking new EP, Rhombus Now, on a Pay What You Like basis! I’ve heard it and it’s riffier than a riffy thing...with added riffs...and you know what they say...never look a riff-t horse in the mouth. There are 6 whole tracks of progtastic head banging insanity that threaten to remove your noggin from your shoulders faster than a well oiled guillotine. Obviously not having a head interferes with life a little but sod it, you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs eh? For a taster of what you can expect cop a load of this brief live clip from a recent gig...EPIC.

The EP will be available to download from April 14th via the good people at Brain Wave.     

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Smells like teen spirit...Teenage Cancer Trust charity gig this Saturday!

Cancer. It's a bitch/bastard. I was watching a documentary last week about Kris Hallenga who's devoting the last months/years of her life to raising awareness of cancer in young people (she was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer at 23...there ain't no stage 5...) and apparently one in three of us will develop some form of the disease in our lives. Yep, one in three. If you're with friends or family right now take a look around you and let that one sink in for a second.

Anyway, this weekend there's a damn fine line up of bands putting on a gig to raise funds for the Teenage Cancer Trust who do all sorts of great work supporting young people with cancer across the country. Getting cancer at any stage in life must be a pisser, but when you're in your teens? Balls to that. Speaking of balls the gig's been organised by Thomas Wagstaff (formerly of legendary punksters Beestung Lips now with Female Smell) who himself had testicular cancer a while back (now happily sorted) and who was clearly helped enormously by the charity. Tickets are just a fiver (or £9 with a free drink and a raffle ticket thrown in) and it all kicks off (quite literally given the quality of the bands) at 7.30pm this Saturday April 5th at Muthers Studio (just by Digbeth Coach Station). Here's just a snatch (it's all about below the waist today isn't it? Must be Spring) of what you can expect...