Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Indietracks 2014 @ Midland Railway Centre, Derbyshire July 25th – 27th

Cool music, lovely people, real ale, steam trains, sun...sun...even more sun...wouldn’t the country be a better place if it was run by the good folk behind Indietracks and the bands who played? Yes, yes it would. MJ Hibbert would be Secretary of State for Education, Hidden Cameras would be in charge of the armed forces and Gruff Rhys would be Prime Minister, although given his wonderfully laid back drawl and thoughtful pondering Prime Minister’s Question Time may well last a week.

As with last year’s event the line up was a rather splendid mix of the old and the new as Friday’s evening ably demonstrated. In fact it was a bit of an new/old sandwich with Spearmint and The Chills bookended by new blood Teen Canteen and the relatively recent (compared with The Chills at least) Allo Darlin’. 

Teen Canteen opened the whole shebang, relocating the sound of classic 60s girl bands to 21st century Glasgow. It’s always great (but surprisingly rare) to hear proper accents in pop but the Canteen say it loud, they’re Scottish and proud. Loved those sparkly hot pants too. Spearmint may have left theirs at home but they’d lost none of their sparkle. All of a sudden we were back in the 90s, arguably the last golden age for mainstream British music, and whilst Spearhead didn’t hit the dizzy heights of Pulp, Blur and Oasis (unfairly in my humble opinion) it was still a genuine treat to revisit old favourites like We’re Going Out and what could well be the Indietracks anthem of the weekend, Sweeping The Nation. This set wasn’t just a nostalgia-fest though, the ‘mint are back with a brand new album, News From Nowhere, which provided one of the highlights of their performance in Tony Wright, a poignant but barbed look back at the two paths in life that Shirley and the song’s subject took. 

Wright clearly packed in music for a steady job in his “dad’s spring factory” whilst Lee and co struggled on. It’s a choice most of us face in life, do what you love and possibly end up living in a bedsit on a diet of baked beans on toast or sell your soul to ‘da man’ and buy a nice little three bedroom semi and a Lexus. Having done both (well minus the Lexus and semi)  know which one I prefer. Beans it is then.

Next up The Chills who, incredibly, are nudging close to their 35th anniversary. You can spot some early era REM influences in there, or then again maybe early REM were influenced  by The Chills? Whatever the order of things they delivered another of the weekend’s highlights by playing the aptly titled Heavenly Pop Hit. Bliss.

After bumping into Rev Oliver Harrison (The Chap Magazine’s shaving expert dontcha know) in the men’s loos and the ruddy lovely Jyoti Mishra (aka White Town) that just left Allo Darlin’ to top things off in their only festival appearance of 2014. The mandolin driven 4 piece served up much loved tracks Capricornia and My Heart’s As Strong As A Drummer to huge whoops of appreciation before being joined by a couple of special guests, Emma Kupa (ex-Standard Fare) and the Just Joans, the latter of which played on the Darlin’s cover of their own song If You Don’t Pull. Ahhhh, we’ve all been there eh? Speaking of covers they capped things off with a grin inducing version of Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al, replete with THAT bass solo.

By Saturday afternoon the sun had well and truly got his hat on so it was pretty nice to get a bit of shelter for Ace City Racers’ Buzzcocks meets Britpop-ish set on the Indoor Stage before dashing out to catch punk pop trio Skeletal Shakes’ weather appropriate jangly cover of the Martha and the Vandellas' classic Heatwave.  Phew, what a scorcher. The Church Stage was jam packed for Elopes, in fact it actually seemed hot enough to actually make jam in there so we stood outside to listen. Gender politics pop (is that a is now) never sounded so good.

Does humour belong in music? Silly question Mr Zappa, especially where MJ Hibbert and the Validators are concerned. I have a confession, this was my first visit to Hibbert World, a place where dinosaurs come back to the earth from space, where being happy ain’t a crime (“Hey there Emo boy give us all a smile”) and the Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme tune is relocated to Peterborough. 

Genius. Behind the humour (and some of his stuff is ruddy funny) the dude speaks a huge amount of sense, and you can see where the comparisons to Billy Bragg (albeit a Billy Bragg on happy pills) come from. Actually you can kind of imagine Hibbs penning something like Bragg’s Sexuality, which he kind of has courtesy of his own tune Gay Train. The whole set was huge fun and when Hibbert unveiled the offer of one CD for £5 or 4 CDs for £10 (“Because no one’s bought any and I’m moving to a smaller flat”) my heart melted for the man...or then again maybe that was just the heat. Either way I ended up buying six CDs, a 7 inch single and a bunch of badges for £15 which tells you all you need to know about how much I enjoyed this performance. The highpoints kept rolling by like the steam trains (more on them later) with Canada’s Thee AHs combining an indie grunge vibe with lead singer Sarah’s megacute vocals in perfect AH-mony. Their soaringly super falsetto-ly fantastic Spooky Love headed straight into my top five Indietracks 2014 moments.

Not many things would draw me to a packed out tin chapel on the hottest day of the year but then again not many artists are like multi-instrumentalist Laura J Martin who loops flute, mandolin, xylophone and a weird plucky thing to create a Japanese flavoured fairy tale world of wonder. If Studio Ghibli hooked up with Kate Bush this is what it would sound like. She has a way of acting out some of the songs that’s distinctly Bush-ish too, using hand movements and facial expressions to add extra colour to the performance. How she coped with the heat I can’t begin to imagine, maybe that’s the benefit of being so darn cool? 

Not since Ian Anderson stood on one leg has the flute seemed so ruddy exciting and if you think that’s hyperbole check out Spy or Dream of Sin.

Over at the Indoor Stage the recently reformed The Blue Minkies did their “shouty female” thang in fine style, firing out organ driven blasts of pop punk few of which made it to the two minute mark. It was the more low key revenge anthem Hopelessly Devoted To You that stole the show though, cramming in the kind of plotline that would keep Eastenders going for a year in just over 60 seconds. 

Horrible clash time...The Spook School and Joanna Gruesome overlapped. Cobblers. On top of a fine line in Buzzcocks style indie punk The Spook School have something of a secret weapon in their moustachioed drummer, one of the chattiest and most hilarious men in indiedom. He linked every song with random musings – the footballs made of tofu was particularly good – before providing the driving force behind such instantly catchy, pogo-tastic stuff like I’ll Be Honest. All too soon Joanna Gruesome came calling though. Sporting dyed blue hair, a well worn Black Flag t-shirt and a bandaged knee (it’s a tough business this indie pop) lead singer Alanna McCardle easily won the prize for most punk looking person of the weekend. Musically there’s a C86 / Pixies feel with some gloriously thrashy moments that grinds up against Alanna’s sweet and sour vocals, best delivered this evening in a crotch kicking Anti-parent Cowboy Killers and set closer Sugarcrush, McCardle leaving the stage with a scream still ringing in my ears three days later. 

Back outside and legendary godfathers/godmothers of jangle The Popguns were jingling and jangling all the way with their songs of love and loss including Waiting For The Winter which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Good grief. Tempus fugit eh?

That just left Gruff Rhys to deliver a typically original set, this time in support of current project American Interior, an album, book, film and app about a distant relative, John Evans, who left Wales for the US way back in 1797 searching for a lost tribe of Welsh speaking Native Americans believed to be descended from Prince Madog. Got that? Good. Part gig, part PowerPoint presentation Gruff guided us through Evans’ journey using a series of photos featuring a Pete Fowler created puppet to represent him (the puppet joined Gruff onstage, naturally...why wouldn’t he eh?). It was all charmingly ramshackle in that unique way that Gruff has whilst at the same time telling a pretty incredible story. Would you have fancied travelling to the mysterious and often downright dangerous US back in the 18th century? No Virgin Atlantic or high speed railway lines in those days, just rickety old boats and your own two feet. Inspiring stuff. 

Musically it’s classic Gruff, from the atmospheric theme tune of American Interior itself through to the repeated motif of Iolo, a trick he repeated himself later in the set by playing the delightfully motorik Gyrru Gyruu Gyruu from 2007’s Candylion. Another non American Interiors track also made it into the set, Sensations In The Dark which, although missing the full on mariachi brass, was still a treat. As is traditional he used placards to signal the end of the set, variously marked ‘Applause’, ‘Go Nuts’ and ‘Resist Phoney Encores’. I’d usually agree with that last one but I could’ve watched him all night. I-Rhys-istible.  

Day Three and for anyone suffering Cheddar Valley related hangovers (ouch...) Spanish three piece Axolotes Mexicanos were manna from heaven. How sweet is their lead singer Olaya? Sweeter than the sweetest thing in the world, covered in sugar and dipped in honey, that’s how sweet. 

As she doesn’t speak much English their bassist Stephen had to translate which ramped up the sweetness a notch or two. The music’s a fabulous mix of electro pop and punk, like Bis and The Ramones having a house (or maybe that should be villa) party. The sweetness masks an edgier side to the band though with tracks like Abortion (which Olaya dedicated to her, and Love Shot, an anthem to...ahem...there’s no other word for it really...ejaculating in your lover’s face. Hmmm, maybe that’s what Come On Eileen’s about? Indiest band of the weekend. Over in/on The Church Stage Totem Terrors channelled everything from LCD Soundsystem and Carter USM to Wire into a performance wonderfully at odds with a sleepy summer Sunday afternoon. After a quick jog across the site we caught a little of No Ditching’s double drumming Buzzcocks meets the Slits...that’ll be Slitcocks then (oooh that’s gotta sting) before staggering back up to The Church again for le formidable Watoo Watoo, the lovechildren of Stereolab and Serge Gainsbourg. It’s such a cool sound you actually feel at least 69% cooler just by listening to it. Fact. The only thing that could draw me away was the prospect of seeing Ravioli Me Away but they failed to show up for some reason. I only hope they ‘penne’ the organisers a suitably humble apology, if you ‘spaghetti’ my drift. Okay, I’ll stop now. EDIT: Ah, it seems they got lost on the way and missed their slot. Shame, maybe next year then?

After a gloriously chaotic shout and proud set from The Wendy Darlings (Indie Garage anyone?) Bordeauxxx bought all the joy of Los Campesinos to Indietracks, which is pretty high praise in my books. 

The Beach Girls and the Monster (you can get it along with 55 other tracks courtesy of the awesome Indietracks 2014 compilation album, just £2 to you guv) and if it doesn’t make you dance around your bedroom in your pants then you’ve got no soul...or pants. Either way we can’t be friends.

Having missed all of the on train gigs so far (oh yes, they play gigs on steam trains here) I had to catch The School’s Liz Hunt and Harri Davidsons set. Kneeling on the floor with her xylophone Liz sang songs about boys (at least most of them seemed to be about boys) as we gently chuffed through the Derbyshire countryside. Lovely stuff. After arriving back there was just chance to catch Cosines’ math pop cover of Rod Stewarts Young Hearts, which almost made up for missing them doing Hey Sailor Boy. Damn those timings!                

Outside again and The Flatmates, part of the original indiepop scene back in the 80s, mashed up The Clash, Undertones and The Ramones to produce a set that well and truly gave the young 'uns (okay, so maybe half the band are young 'uns but still) a run for their money with the insanely catchy Do The Angels Care. 

By the end of it all set highlight I Could Be In Heaven pretty much said it all. 

By now the clock was ticking and, like a kid (oh alright then, middle aged chap) in an indie pop sweet shop, I was trying manically to scoff as many bands as possible. Just caught the last couple of tracks of the Night Flowers set including a jangled up cover of Jane Wiedlin’s Rush Hour before Sweet Baboo, aka Stephen Black, advised us all that the morse code for love is beep beep, beep beep and the binary code is one one. 

Yet another distinctively great Welsh musician he seems to inhabit his own little universe, at times recalling the tender vulnerability and vocal fragility of one of his heroes (lovingly mentioned in one of the set’s highlights If I Died) Daniel Johnson. Take Best Beach too, “many verses no chorus” for instance, totally at odds with conventional pop song wisdom it’s still oddly catchy. There were some really new songs too, one called Walking In The Rain – “I tried to make it sound a bit like Travis’ Why Does It Always Rain On Me so it will get used on the TV a lot” he half joked and another which may have been called We Used To Call Him Dennis which, appropriately enough, had a touch of The Mystery Jets about it. With all this ringing in our ears it was back up to the Church Stage for Mega Emotions who unexpectedly delivered one of the best performances of the whole weekend. 80s electro beats, male and female three part harmonies, rock guitars, cow for fans of Radio 4 (the band) and the much missed (by me at least) Men Women and Children. 

New single (possibly) Uncomfortable was darker and colder, imagine Numan backed by Chicks In Speed, whilst their Electroclash version of Madonna’s La Isla Bonita actually surpassed the original. Honestly.

Almost at the opposite end of the musical spectrum Withered Hand’s anthemic folk got the hands (withered and otherwise) in the air during a spirited Heart Heart and then, all too soon (although you might not think it if you’re still reading this epic...blimey War and Peace has less words) it was time for the last band of the weekend, Hidden Cameras. At this point my notes go a little blurry. Have you tried making notes whilst dancing like a loon to half a dozen hairy bare chested Canadian men wearing gold sashes? Exactly. The whole set was a brilliantly bewildering mix of styles veering from simple folk tinged numbers to classical music, rock and electro...or maybe that should be eclectro. 

Lead singer Joel’s called it “gay church folk music” in the past which, in the absence of anything better, ain’t too bad a description especially on stuff like Music Is My Boyfriend, a happy, clappy anthem that wouldn’t be out of place in a Polyphonic Spree gig. 

Certainly the whole thing’s incredibly uplifting whether you’re gay or a straight as an arrow. I’ve never seen anyone dance around playing a cello before either (as one of the band did), which can’t be easy eh. A genuinely special end to an equally special festival. Huge thanks and congratulations to all involved...once again Indietracks you’ve left me feeling well chuffed.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Looking for a Goodnight (Lenin) out...?

Hearing Aid favourites Goodnight Lenin play the Hare and Hounds on Friday 1st August (with fine support from MidnightBonfires) as anticipation for their long awaited debut album builds. Mixed by Jonathan Wilson In The Fullness Of Time (a highly appropriate title given its gestation period) is out on November 24th following the release of a single You Were Always Waiting (again...uncannily appropriate) in October. Good things come to those who wait though eh? 

I’ve long since given up predicting whether bands will ‘make it’ or not, who knows what goes on in the minds of the record buying public sometimes but they’ve got the songs, they’re a great live act (they were on particularly fine form at Lunar Festival last month) and they do a natty line in banter too so who knows, next time they play Brum it might be the LG Arena! 

The night's also a bit of a warm up for Moseley Folk Festival which has one of the strongest line up's ever. Cop a load of this lot!

Tickets for both events right here

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hall & Oates / Longfellow @ Birmingham Symphony Hall, Tuesday 22nd July 2014

Wow, according to Wikipedia (so it must be true...) Daryl Hall and John Oates have been ‘active’ as long as I have. Okay so I was born in 1970 whereas they first started playing together then but still, maybe that explains why I loved their run of classic singles (Kiss On My List, Maneater, I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do), Private Eyes) so much back in the 80s? For anyone unfamiliar with their sound the best selling rock duo EVER (yes really, even more successful than PJ and for the 30 somethings out there) blended a little soul, a little new wave, a little synth pop and just a touch of rock to come up with the kind of super smooth tunes that bands like Metronomy and Chromeo have pretty much based their entire careers on recently. Oates had a cool ‘tache too, you’ve got to love a man with a cool tache. That was then, but this is now. Incredibly Hall’s nudging close to70 and Oates started collecting his pension in April so would this evening be a case ‘You Make My Dreams Come True’ or ‘I Can’t Go For That’? 

First up a band called Longfellow who, having admitted that the biggest crowd they’d played to before this tour was 250 people at the Camden Barfly, must be cock-a-hoop at landing this tour. There’s a distinct Coldplay / Keane vibe about them which is about as Marmite as you can get. If you’re a fan of that nice Mr Martin and his chums there’s a fair chance you’ll love Longfellow just as much. If not...well, perhaps you’re better off waiting in the bar. They seemed at their best when they added a little Killers influence to the mix as on Siamese Lover and, given Coldplay’s miraculous rise to stadium success, it’s not hard to imagine several thousand souls singing along.  

I’ve no idea how long it’s been since Hall & Oates last played Brum but judging by the fact that this gig sold out faster than Michael Gove voodoo dolls at a NUT conference it’s clearly been a while. Tonight was the last date in their brief UK tour and, unusually for the Symphony Hall crowd, from the moment they came onstage, pretty much everyone was on their feet. Hall now sports facial hair, a full beard in fact, whilst Oates’ once magnificent tache is a shadow of its former self. Oh the shame of it. Other than that they look pretty good, all the more remarkable considering that Hall’s been suffering from and battling Lyme Disease for a few years now.  Nasty. Perhaps that’s why they kicked off with the tick’s anthem (Lyme Disease is spread by ticks you see...oh you got that already...good) Maneater. That choppy guitar riff and sultry sax still sounds cool. Hall’s vocal is a little deeper now with a slightly rougher edge (that takes a moment or two to get used to if you’ve played the original for the last 30 years or so) but his ability to hit the higher notes is still impressive, especially as the gig progresses and the voice warms up. It’s nice to see Santa’s younger brother up on stage too, actually it’s long-time band member Charles De Chant (who’s been with the band since ’76) but the long white beard and hair make him a dead ringer for Old St Nick.

As their last album of all new material was back in 2003 there’s no new product to tout so this evening was all about the hits and that’s just what they dished up, plucking the gems from the back catalogue. The chiming Out Of Touch was followed by a rifftastic and hard rocking Family Man (with the first of many impressive guitar solos from various members of the band) and, taking things all the way back to the start, the Bee Gees meets Springsteen of Back Together Again. 

It’s hard to imagine that Scissor Sisters don’t have this bad boy on their iPod. Another lesser known track, Las Vegas Turnaround (sung as well as the day it was written by Oates), had more of a Steely Dan vibe with little of the glossy pop sheen that gave Hall & Oates their biggest hits. It’s a neat reminder that the band went through several phases before striking gold and somewhat surprisingly they’d been around for almost a decade before making much of an impact here in the UK.  Coming from a similar era Sara Smile and She’s Gone followed, proof perhaps that less is MOR they’re pleasant enough but if you grew up in the 80s you want a little synth in there. We didn’t have to wait long. I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do) was the band’s biggest global hit and it’s the perfect encapsulation of their strengths, smooth vocal harmonies, catchy choruses and transatlantic pop gloss. 

It still sounds remarkably fresh, possibly thanks to the revitalising influence of the aforementioned Metronomy and Chromeo, and tonight the band make the most of it with De Chant blowing up a storm on the sax and various guitar solos extending the thing way, way beyond its allotted 4 minutes or so. No complaints here. Highlight of the night. 

After the traditional off again on again nonsense of the encore Rich Girl and You Make My Dreams Come True were followed by another couple of gems from the golden age, Your Kiss Is On My List and Private Eyes (as with I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do) both US number 1’s, when having a number 1 really meant something). Both Hall and Oates found time to do a little self promotion too, Daryl plugging Live From Daryl’s House (a series of online gigs’ve guessed it...his house) and John bigging up his new solo album A Good Road To Follow. It’s as a duo that they’ll always be best known though and this evening was an even better celebration of that than I’d been expecting. Let’s hope they don't leave it so long before they’re ‘Back Together Again’ eh?    

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Indietracks Compilation 2014

This weekend it's Indietracks, simply one of the loveliest festivals around, and as is traditional they've put together a compilation featuring pretty much every band on this year's bill. You can download the whole ruddy thing for just £2 with all profits going to The Midland Railway Trust, hosts of the Indietracks Festival.

Tickets for the Festival itself (£72) are available here too!

Here are a few vids to get you in the mood...

Friday, July 18, 2014

Kiran Leonard / The Shalfonts / Tom Peel @ Hare and Hounds, Wednesday 16th July 2014

Hailed as a genius in the making when his track Dear Lincoln and its accompanying album Bowler Hat Soup was released last year the then 17 year old Kieran Leonard was even touted as a spiritual heir to the relentlessly inventive Frank Zappa. Hmmmmm. Would tonight’s gig be more a case of Hot Rats or cold turkey though?

First up though, and rather brilliantly mis-billed as Top Peel on a sign downstairs directing gig goers to the right room, Mr TomPeel. Top Peel’s not a bad nom de plume for him actually, given his ability to move, amuse and, just occasionally, bewilder audiences...often all at the same time. Tonight was indeed, ‘top’ Peel though, with a first half of acoustic numbers including the thought provoking Salt and Pepper (you’ll never look at condiments the same way) and the sweetly yearning love song to Laura (Half French dontcha know). Act II saw Peel wrestle with a series of increasingly improbable musical props, beginning with a relatively modest Tascam Four Track (‘liberated’ from a school cupboard) and culminating in one of those portable TVs with a built in video player (via a reel to reel tape recorder strapped to his front) showing a film of Tom’s headless dancing bod. Quite how he manages to do all this whilst still carrying a tune and dancing around without rupturing himself is, quite frankly, one of the wonders of our time. Endlessly entertaining no matter how often you witness it tonight he really was on form.  

Next up, The Shalfonts, fronted by the exotically accented (well Norwegian sounds pretty exotic compared with Castle Bromwich) Bryn Bowen. He’s a star this bloke, putting in the kind of bug eyed, head thrashing performance, punctuated with laconic pause laden between song ‘banter’ that makes Jack Dee sound upbeat. There’s a healthy dose of US alt rock to many of their tracks, a little early REM here, some prime era Pixies there plus perhaps a touch of anti-folk hero Dufus (aka Seth Faergolzia) in Bryn’s vocal delivery and ‘giving it all ya got’ performance. Plus they’re signed to a record label called Giant Manilow, what’s not to love about that eh? Check out Netman and Bird from brand new album Grant Mansions for a decent slice of Shalfonts pie.

Shoeless and wearing odd socks, one of which sported a large hole revealing a couple of his toes, Kiran Leonard looks like the kind of dude who’s happiest spending all of his time playing music (as opposed to shopping for new socks say), which is something he seems to have been doing since he popped into the world a mere 18 years ago. This would explain tonight’s set which gleefully plucked stuff from pretty much every musical genre in history, plus a few that Kiran himself is no doubt working on in his bedroom. Eclectic’s too narrow a word. Just as you think you’ve got him nailed down as a post punker, he goes a little proggy, then synthy...agggghhhh! It’s no good, labels just won’t stick to him which has to be good thing, right? Maybe we’re seeing the first signs here of an access all areas (of music) generation who’ve grown up with a pretty much limitless ocean of tunes and aren’t afraid to show it? Live Leonard’s vocals are every bit as 21st century schizoid as the music, veering from the soaring beauty of Jeff Buckley to the gutter sneer of Johnny Rotten and on to the grizzled growl of Beefheart, sometimes all in the same song. This evening Dear Lincoln got an airing, thrashier and rawer than the version that’s wowed the 6 Music crowd it still came across as one of his more commercial tracks, as opposed to Oakland Highball, an everyday story of a bloke abducted by aliens, shown the horror of the world projected into a chalice of water and then returned to earth only to top himself unable to bear what was effectively the weight of the world on his shoulders. It sounds even nuttier than that in reality, the sort of thing that Beck may have come up with during an acid trip party with Arial Pink. It’s the epic Geraldo’s Farm that steals the set though. One of the more coherent examples of Kiran’s genre splicing it’s underpinned by a simple repeated synth motif that somehow holds everything together as Leonard and the band (all of whom are seemingly equally fine musicians) spin off in all sorts of directions like a musical catherine wheel. One for the beard strokers, head bangers and prog munchers to unite over. 

Where does he go from here? Anywhere he damn well likes. Old gits are constantly bemoaning the lack of genuine musical innovators, freaks and weirdos these days and, to be fair, they’re/we’re often pretty much on the money but you get the distinct sense that Kiran and co really could develop into the kind of band we’ve perhaps not seen since Zappa’s heyday. The Grandsons of Invention anyone?        

Thursday, July 17, 2014

This is what we're like...B-side Brum song listing revealed

Well the votes are in, the debates have been had and a virtual album of Brum’s best musical moments compiled. At a star studded launch in Birmingham’s Glee Club here’s the selection that was unveiled:

Apache Indian – Arranged Marriage (1992)
Hailing from Handsworth, Birmingham, one of the earliest UK artists of Asian origin to make an impact on the singles charts.

Joan Armatrading – Love & Affection (1976)
Only UK Top 10 hit for award-winning singer songwriter, who settled in Birmingham as a small child.

Black Sabbath – War Pigs (1970)
Opening track from the band’s second album, Paranoid.

Broadcast – The Book Lovers (1996)
Title track of EP from Birmingham indie electronic band, a favourite of the late John Peel.

The Spencer Davis Group – Gimme Some Lovin’ (1966)
Number two hit written by Steve Winwood, Spencer Davis and Muff Winwood and since covered by the likes of The Blues Brothers and Olivia Newton-John.

The Devils – Barbarellas (2002)
Electronic pop band formed by two of Duran Duran’s original line-up, Nick Rhodes and Stephen Duffy, the track tells the story of the Birmingham club where they played many early gigs.

Dexys Midnight Runners – This Is What She’s Like (1985)
Twelve-minute track from the ‘comeback’ album Don’t Stand Me Down.

ELO – Mr Blue Sky (1977)
Number 6 hit taken from the album Out of the Blue and a favourite of Birmingham City fans.

Felt – Primitive Painters (1985)
Cocteau Twins singer Elizabeth Fraser guests on this mid 80s indie favourite.

Fine Young Cannibals – I’m Not The Man I Used To Be (1988)
Top 20 single by trio formed by singer Roland Gift and two ex members of The Beat, Andy Cox and David Steele.

Soweto Kinch – Jazz Planet (2004)
Live favourite by Birmingham-based jazz sax player and rapper.

Laura Mvula – She (2013)
One of the standout tracks from Birmingham-born MOBO winner’s debut album, Sing To The Moon.

Musical Youth – Pass The Dutchie (1982)
Multi-million-selling number one hit which is a cover of two songs, Gimme the Music by U Brown, and Pass the Kouchie by The Mighty Diamonds

Ocean Colour Scene – The Day We Caught The Train (1996)
Number four hit from the band’s second album, Moseley Shoals.

Jocelyn Pook – Red Song (2001)
Haunting track from Solihull-born composer best known for her score for Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.

The Specials – Gangsters (1979)
Debut single by ska revival favourites from Coventry and first release by the newly created 2 Tone Records.

Steel Pulse – Handsworth Revolution (1978)
Title track from their debut album, which reached number 9 in the UK charts.

The Streets – Turn The Page (2002)
Opening track of Birmingham-born Mike Skinner's debut album, Original Pirate Material.

Torqux feat. Lady Leshurr – Blazin’ (2013)
Rapper/singer from Solihull who collaborated with duo Torqux on this track from their debut EP.

UB40 – One In Ten (1981)
Top ten single from band’s second album Present Arms; the title is a reference to percentage of the workforce claiming unemployment benefit in the West Midlands in the summer of 1981.

The Wonder Stuff – Caught In My Shadow (1991)
Top 20 hit from Stourbridge band’s third album, Never Loved Elvis.

You can watch/listen to all the winning tunes right here

No room for Jasper Carrots’s Funky Moped sadly but good to see a nice diverse selection. I’m assuming that the B-side Brum name refers to Brum and some of the places ‘beside’ it, after all how else could you include Coventry’s The Specials or Stourbridge’s Wonder Stuff? Excluding Duran Duran (who've sold the odd 100 million or so records over the past 35 years) is, for a 80s pop fan like me, frankly unforgivable but that’s the nature of lists like this (I got the distinct impression that The Specials' Horace Panter - one of the judges on the panel and also in attendance during the afternoon wasn't a fan...ahem).  

Vix (Fuzzbox) and Dan Whitehouse provided some fine live music during the event too, with Dan covering The Streets track and Vix Armatrading’s Love and Affection plus an acoustic Pink Sunshine. It would’ve been good to hear either of them tackle War Pigs but maybe next time eh? Hopefully if nothing else the national/international media will pick up on the whole B-side Brum story and it’ll focus attention on our musical contribution a little more, perhaps giving a much needed boost to the current generation of bands and artists along the way.

Along that vein here’s my own personal ‘new band’ (most tracks are from the last 12 months or so) virtual Brum album (NB: if they're going to do B-side Brum next year with a different panel selecting classic tunes perhaps they should also do a 'new' B-side Brum compilation of tracks from the past 12 months too? Just a thought...):

Goodnight Lenin – Old Cold Hands
Miss Halliwell – Allegedly Gory
Youth Man – Wide Awake
God Damn – Shoe Prints In The Dust
Chris Tye – Unassuming Start
The Dollcanoes – Us
Elephantine – Porcelain    
Boat To Row – Tightrope
Midnight Bonfires – Exhale
Dan Whitehouse – A Dream That’s Floating Out To Sea
Drakelow – Amber
Call Me Unique – The Wife
Mutes – M.P.D.G
Mistys Big Adventure – The Bigger The Front
Sunshine Frisbee Laserbeam – AUTO
Tom Peel – Salt and Pepper
Dead Sea Skulls – I Wanna Buy A Rolex
Table Scraps – Bug
Katherine Priddy – The Old Tree

Bonus track

Dirty Old Folkers - BONUS

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

‘Jazz’ you like’s the 30th Birmingham International Jazz and Blues Festival!

Hot on the heels of the Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul Festival (held in Moseley Park last weekend) comes the Birmingham InternationalJazz and Blues Festival...which is mostly free! From July 18th to July 27th some of the very best jazz and blues artists from across the world descend on various venues across Brum to dish up the good stuff. As ever the programme’s so jam packed with events it’s pretty hard to just pick a few highlights but the Remi Harris Trio and Tipitini are both highly recommended, Spain’s Potato Head Brass Band went down a storm last year and The Magnolia Sisters (Botanical Gardens Saturday 15th, tickets £15) will be Caj-unbelievably good fun. Ex Mike and the Mechanics / Squeeze vocalist Paul Carrack plays the Robin 2 as does (would you believe it?) Steven Seagal's (yes, THAT Steven Seagal) Blues Band. I guess if anyone tries to hijack the venue you're in safe hands. If you get a chance to catch Lewis Floyd Henry too make sure you grab it. How this dude isn’t a HUGE star yet frankly mystifies me...

Here are a few vids to whet your appetite, but you can get stuck in to the full programme right here

Monday, July 14, 2014

Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul Festival @ Moseley Park, Friday 11th – Sunday 13th July

Day One

Despite its relatively modest size Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul has an impressive track record when it comes to booking genuine 100% musical legends and this year two names really stood out, Ginger Baker, arguably one of the most influential drummers of all time, and Mavis Staples who, as part of The Staple Singers helped to both shape and soundtrack the US civil rights movement back in the 60s. More on both of them later but as is traditional there were plenty of treats on the Friday afternoon to justify booking the time off work/ringing in sick/‘working from home’...ahem. Free School (now with added Greg Bird) continued their sonic journey into space, Moroccan born Albare laid down some sublime Latino jazz grooves and Jay Prince kept things nicely chilled with the kind of laid back hip hop that makes Snoop seem hyperactive. Sons of Kemet made an early pitch for act of the weekend with an intoxicating mix of jazz, West Indian rhythms and bowel rumbling tuba. The kind of music that makes you want to rip off your clothes and dance naked round a fire...happily for all concerned I resisted the temptation. Local heroes The Peaky Blinders stuffed more hits into their all too short set than you might think possible (including a cover of Monkey Man, perhaps in anticipation of the Kings Heath Monkey Man’s appearance in a wardrobe busting variety of outfits over the weekend) paving the way for Kraak and Smaak. 

Okay, as names go it might not be the best but this Dutch collective were every bit as addictive, fusing 90s style Euro house and disco beats with some fabulously funky basslines. If Chic had formed in Europe in 1990 this is what they’d sound like. Several hundred dancing festival goers can’t be wrong, this lot ‘kraak-ed’ it.    

Ever wondered what would happen if you kidnapped Prince and made him smoke ‘erb for six months? You’re not alone. Radio Riddler (the side project of Fun Lovin’ Criminals’ Frank and Brian), who may well themselves have sparked up enough joints to keep Howard Marks busy for a lifetime, clearly also pondered this question late one fuggy night and, oddly enough, it actually works. 

It’s perfect festival fare and their reggae-fied versions of everything from Let’s Go Crazy to When Doves Cry were pretty ‘spliffing’.  

Omar’s band may have been detained at a border somewhere but you can’t keep a good Souleyman down and backed by a rather glam looking lady with a laptop he treated the early evening crowd to the truly unique and exotic sound of Syrian rave, perfect for A-ravian nights I guess. Canadian six-piece Soul Jazz Orchestra closed the second stage in fine style with their mix of Latin and Afro grooves that, at their best, came across like the dream soundtrack to some ultracool Blaxploitation movie. Apparently Stevie Wonder’s a fan and that’s as good a recommendation as any.

Day one climaxed with Fun Lovin’ Criminals’ fan friendly, hits heavy set. Huey was in fine motherfuckin’ form (if you’d had a fiver for every time he said ‘motherfucker’ you’d be motherfuckin’ rich). 

From the laid back groove of King Of New York through to the band’s unofficial anthem, Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em and on to the biggies Scooby Snacks, Barry White and last number of the night Fun Lovin’ Criminal itself it was a timely reminder (20 years or so after they formed) that FLC actually have some pretty awesome tunes under their belts and the informal laid back style of tonight’s (‘erb enhanced maybe?) performance certainly made the best of ‘em.

Day Two      

Nice to hear at least one band pay tribute to Tommy Ramone today (his death was announced on the morning of day two), kudos to the Atlantic Players for their hugely enjoyable set of classic soul hits too before The Heels took ska billing on the Second Stage with some rather cool versions of the Mission Impossible theme tune and Billy Jo Royal’s Hush (perhaps best known in its Deep Purple or Kula Shaker incarnations). Day Two was, as is now traditional, curated by Craig Charles who’s arguably doing more to keep the soul and funk flag flying than most. The day before was his birthday and what better way to celebrate than by seeing son Jack Tyson-Charles (mum/actress Cathy Tyson was also spotted in the crowd) blow the place apart as vocalist for Lack Of Afro, Adam Gibbon’s mission to create new soul and funk classics. 

He’s succeeding too with tracks like Holding My Breath coming across as a perfect floor filler and, in true saving the best till last fashion, Recipe For Love sounding like a crate digger’s wet dream.
Next up Alexia Coley looked a million dollars in her red dress, she sounded pretty darn great too. If Amy (Winehouse) and James (Brown) had got jiggy Alexia might well have been their lovechild. As the sun beat down the next few acts took it in turns to try to out sweat each other. I reckon you could measure great live soul performances in sweat, with a teaspoon for those who couldn’t give a damn and a bucket for those who put their heart and soul into it. Myron and E were up first, the kind of old skool vocal duo that for some reason seemed to have pretty much died out with Sam and Dave. Loved the co-ordinated dance moves and the super smooth vocals of Myron (Glasper) coupled with the rawer (and enigmatically named) E’s were blended in soul heaven. Definitely a bucket worthy performance.

Next up Hannah Williams and the Tastemakers gave the crowd a brief chance to catch its collective breath and, as you’d expect from someone who’s supported the mighty Sharon Jones, the girl can sing bringing a rare knack of moving from the sweet and soulful to the kind of gutsy growl that Joplin traded in. Being a lady she didn’t sweat of course but we’ll award her a bucket too. Omar Souleyman may have provided the WTF moment on Day One (in a good way of course) but King Khan and The Shrines outdid everyone with an irresistibly nuts mix of psychedelic soul, R & B and garage punk sung by Armish Khan, a chunky Canadian of Indian heritage who perhaps didn’t do his best to win over the crowd by not knowing where the hell he was. You can forgive him though (I’m guessing him and his relentlessly enthusiastic band of merry men don’t know where the hell they are most of the time) when he puts on a show like this. With larynx shredding shrieks and freak beat tunes it’s like being transported back to some speed fuelled house party in 70s Detroit. 

Can he kick it? Yes he Khan. 

It takes some act to follow that but Cody Chesnutt nailed it. Channelling the spirit of Marvin Gaye but with his own unique feel this dude could well be the most soulful man on planet earth right now. Sporting an army helmet throughout (it’s a look I guess) he blazed through tracks from his crowdfunded album Landing On A Hundred (which should frankly be required listening for anyone with ears) putting on the sort of gig that I thought only existed in grainy footage on You Tube these days. The fact that he was still there signing and selling copies of his album at the merch stand for a good 20 minutes or so after the show tells you all you need to know. Give the man a bucket? Nahhh, the dude deserves a swimming pool.  

Highlight of the whole weekend for me and, quite clearly, many others.

“It’s taken me 50 years to have the best birthday evvvvaaahhhhh!” yelled Craig Charles before introducing the next band. That’s the kind of statement that you’d normally take with a sack of salt but it really was shaping up to be that kind of day and Ibibio Sound Machine didn’t let the side down. With possibly the most diverse band line-up in the world (seriously, there were less countries represented in the World Cup) their mix of West African high life, tribal rhythms, synths, funky jazzy brass and anything else they want to chuck into the mix got more people up and shaking their ass than anyone else. I seem to have accidently invented a dance that lead singer Eno adopted for The Peacock Song too...I say dance it’s more like fanning your hands out like a peacock behind your head but if it takes off I’m happy to take credit for it.

Awooga! Does Craig Charles know how to put together a crowd pleasing DJ set? Hell yes. Something old, something new, something funky...and souly too...if heaven has a clubnight Charles will be the DJ (no trainers though...and Francis of Assissi can do one if he thinks he’s getting in with those sandals). “This was the best birthday I’ve ever had...if I wasn’t sweatin’ so much you could tell I was cryin”. Awwww bless, now that’s soul. Speaking of which Day Two was topped off, cherry on the cake style, with the legend that is Miss Mavis Staples. A mere 64 years into her career she’s still in remarkably fine voice, far better than the last time I had the pleasure of seeing her nearly a decade or so ago in fact. There’s a patina to that voice that speaks of a 10,001 nights on the road, numerous civil rights marches in the 60s and a lifetime of Sundays in church. 

Kicking off with Come Go With Me she had us in the palm of her hand from the outset swiftly followed by For What It’s Worth and Freedom Highway from back in the day and I Like The Things About Me from 2013’s album One True Vine, separated by decades but united by the same kind of pride and quest for equality that helped change the world. How many other artists can lay such a claim eh? A stunningly soulful cover of The Weight and the more recent Everything Is Everything (Lauren Hill) continued to brilliantly balance the old with the new before she left us with a truly sublime I’ll Take You There. She sure did...

Day Three

And the Lord sayeth let there be jazz! Day Three’s always the jazziest of the lot and Scottish ivory tinkler Ray Harris sprinkled on the acid with a remarkably upbeat set for midday on a Sunday. I always feel for the early acts and Harris certainly deserved a later slot and bigger crowd. Check out the Latin tinged Where Do We Begin and the bluesy lament of Nothing Like You to hear what you missed. Ortet laid on some nicely chilled and contemplative jazz grooves, perfect for a little beard stroking, before funky ‘Felas’...and lady...London Afrobeat Collective got the hips moving again (their lead singer did things with her hips that would put me in attraction for a month...good grief). Prime Minister in particular was a prime slice of Afrobeat and if you’re looking for an introduction to this most infectious of genres you may well have to go to Africa itself to hear anything better. From Africa to Latin America and Sara Coleman added some ‘ay caramba!’ to the mix with her Brazilian Project before The Heliocentrics left planet earth altogether. 

Imagine Paloma Faith fronting an acid funk band and you’ll have some idea of their sound with set highlight Nuclear War sounding like the sort of track early era Moloko may well have dreamt of recording. It was indeed a “motherfucker”. Reed Bass flew the Birmingham with some neat jazz fusion and great solos, including one from the drummer, perhaps mindful of who was up next...

Ginger Baker may have spent much of the last 50 years or so playing hide and seek with the grim reaper but he’s still here. Just. “There’s a competition to predict when I’ll pop my clogs onstage” he wheezed after one solo “Second prize is a week in Manchester...first prize...two weeks in Manchester”. It’s the way he tells ‘em. Remarkably though he seems to come back to life behind a drum kit, playing with all the intuitive ease of man born with sticks in his hands. 

His current band, Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion, has a distinctly Afrocentric vibe, a passion that no doubt dates back to his jams with Fela Kuti back in the late 60s and early 70s and this set fused the two genres perfectly. “I need a piss” he said suddenly half way through and wandered off, returning a few moments later to continue the show. Given that he was once voted the musician least likely to survive the 60s it’s easy to forgive such foibles and, whilst he may not have got the biggest reception of the weekend those in the know recognised they were in the presence of greatness...even if he’d quite possibly smash you in the face with a snare drum if you’d had the snivelling audacity to tell him so.  

The Stevie Wonder-ful Trope revisited that artist’s back catalogue adding jazz to the soul and soul to the jazz before Courtney Pine’s hugely entertaining set won over pretty much every man, woman and child in the place. 

Seemingly capable of playing every tune ever written on his sax (often in just one number too) he’s the kind of dude that could motivate a corpse to get up and dance, underlining just how joyful and unifying jazz can be. For 5 minutes the steel drum backed Liamuiga transformed Moseley Park into some kind of West Indian tropical island and if I was stuck on there with just Pine for company I’d be a happy man.

Young Pilgrims kept the party going on the Jazzlines stage with the kind of brass fuelled mayhem that could well soundtrack a Mardi Gras in New Orleans paving the way for Earth, Wind and...hang on...that ain’t Earth, Wind and Fire. Nope, sadly their vocalist had lost his voice...a bit of a problem given his role in proceedings I guess...but help was at hand courtesy of The Family Stone (minus their original lead singer, Sly, of course who sadly lost the plot rather than just his voice). 

If you were looking to compile the ultimate party album it’s a safe bet that they’d be several Family Stone tracks on there and this evening the band dished up the very best of them, from Sing A Simple Song right through to the spellchecker’s nightmare Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin). 

This current line up features three of the original members, Jerry Martini, Cynthia Robinson and Greg Errico, with Alex Davis doing a fine job of filling Sly’s boots and together they delivered the hands in the air climax that this year’s Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul deserved with I Want To Take You Higher inducing the kind of crowd euphoria that normally takes a sackload of illegal substances. Glorious. Earth, Wind and Fire may have been absent but ‘water’ a way to end things.