Tuesday, September 30, 2014

July Talk / Hidden Charms @ The Institute, Monday 29th September 2014

After fighting our way through the infighting Tories currently polluting the good streets of Brum and dozens of Horrors fans (they were also playing The Institute tonight...The Horrors that is, not the Tories...) the relative peace and tranquillity of The Temple (think of it as The Institute’s loft conversion) came as a blessed relief. Of course you can have too much peace and quiet though. Thankfully London’s Hidden Charms were on hand to liven things up a bit. Quite a bit. In fact one hell of a bit. Think Small Faces, Hamburg era Beatles, Mod swagger, razor sharp riffs, effortless cool...that’s Hidden Charms in a nutshell. 

Okay, so they’ve only been playing together for a matter of months and there’s an element of reinventing the wheel...albeit the wheel of a particularly kick ass Vespa...but when this lot let rip their charm’s irresistible. 

I did chemistry at school but I can’t ever remember it being as frankly hot ‘n’ sexy as the chemistry between July Talk’s Leah and Peter, the latter of which begins the set by eyeballing the crowd slightly menacingly and slapping himself in the face. Hell, it sure beats a meek and mild “Hello Birmingham” eh? What follows is an hour or so of primal sweat, honey and whisky drenched rock ‘n’ roll madness that makes most bands seem as exciting as Sunday School. There’s a real physicality to the show with Leah constantly pawing and clawing at Peter like a cat with a mouse and Peter in turn pulling her hair and palming her away by the face. It’s Burton and Taylor, Sinatra and Gardener, Sid and Nancy...every gloriously fucked up passion fuelled relationship rolled into one and played out before you to a dirty, bluesy soundtrack. And where the hell did Peter’s voice come from? Dude sounds like he’s been chain smoking roll-ups and gargling with gravel since birth. Makes Tom Waits sound like a freakin’ choir boy. Pair him with Leah’s vocal, which ranges from butter wouldn’t melt angel to unhinged party animal, and the result’s hotter than a July heatwave. 

Highlights? Pretty much every tune’s a killer but Summer Dress (Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus meets Johnny Cash meets Blondie), the smouldering slow burn to explosive orgasm of Paper Girl and the Stones-ish whoohoohoo of Guns + Ammunition are three of the best. 

I’ll also take the vision of Leah provocatively dribbling honey and whisky into the open mouths of various members of the audience to the grave with me...and Peter 'tightrope walking' along the edge of the barrier at the front of the stage whilst playing guitar could have easily ended up with a trip to A&E but, like all the best bands, this lot perform without a safety net.   

Friday, September 26, 2014

July Talk...live in Brum next Monday!

A little bit rockabilly, a little bit punk, a little bit pop and sung by a bloke who sounds like Tom Waits' younger brother and a lady who's vocals are every bit as deliciously sweet as his are snarlingly sour Canada's July Talk make a frankly glorious racket my friends. And they're bringing it all to the Institute in Brum next Monday, September 29th. Highly recommended.

Tickets right here! You're welcome...

Thursday, September 25, 2014

All Years Leaving 2014

After last year's inagral...inaugral...inorgril...first ever All Years Leaving festival the good folk at This Is Tmrw  have another cracking line up  for this year's event (and when it comes to music these chaps know their shit), pulling together some of the very best bands from the Midlands and...er...the scary bits that aren't the Midlands. Taking place on Friday 24th and Saturday 25th October tickets are a mere £13.50 per day or a piggy bank saving £25 for the whole ruddy thing. That's less than a twentieth of the price of one of those new bendy iPhones! Bargain.

There are 13 named bands playing plus one 'secret' act. Oooooh, just like Christmas innit? Here are just a handful of highlights...

Tickets right here!

And if you're really at a loose end here's a review from last year's festival, Day One and Day Two!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Blockbuster The Musical @ The New Alexandra Theatre – Tuesday 23rd September 2014

All together now...“I’ll have a ‘p’ please Bob”. What? Oh...not THAT Blockbuster (gameshow much beloved of students back in the 80s). Nope, it’s jukebox musical time again and this show travels back to the 70’s ...quite literally...for its material including The Sweet’s extraordinary hit single which provides the title. Described as Grease meets Back To The Future by producer/director/star Paul Nicholas the plot, as with pretty much every jukebox musical, is basically there to introduce the songs so at one point we have Paul living next door to a woman called Alice, setting things up nicely for Smokie’s hit Living Next Door To Alice. See what they did there? This track, like all the others songs in the show, was written by Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, a sort of Stock Aitkin and Waterman of their day. I’m not sure who are today’s Stock Aitkin and Waterman...probably some bedroom producer called Davy TwitFace or Bllcks (what is it with bands/producers omitting vowels these days? Tssrs). Anyway Chinn and Chapman had an impressive 19 Top 40 hits and 5 number ones in the UK between 1973 and 1974 alone and, being born in 1970 (I know, I wear it well) I grew up with this stuff. In fact Mud’s Tiger Feet may well be one of my earliest musical memories. 

Serendipitously enough it’s this song that kicks off the show too and provides one of the evening’s best moments as Aaron Sidwell busks on the London Underground, gradually being joined by a number of alarmingly well choreographed commuters. Sidwell’s got form in the music biz, having been in bands and knocked around with Professor Green...and quite possibly Colonel Mustard...in the library...with the lead pipe. He can strum a guitar pretty well enabling him to start off several songs on his own before being joined by the main band, often hidden Wizard of Oz like behind a curtain at the back of the stage.

It’s probably fair to say that the likes of The Sweet, Mud, Racey and Smokie aren’t perhaps the coolest names in pop but you can’t deny the catchiness of the tunes and Bockbuster certainly breathes new life into them.  Any song involving Sidwell and Aimie Atkinson (who plays Teresa, the object of his affections) comes across particularly well and there really does seem to be some genuine chemistry between the pair. Willy, played by the gloriously named Lee Honey-Jones, delivers a fine rendition of Little Willy...ahem...and Mickey (a smash hit for Toni Basil in 1982 but originally written for Racey back in the 70s) will get you digging out your cheerleader’s outfit as soon as you get home. Or maybe that’s just me...

Personally I’d ditch the whole Living Next Door To Alice bit. For me, and I’m guessing most of the audience, it’s forever associated with that Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown version...and no one wants to be reminded of Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown when you’re dealing with a love story. Nicholas is great as Crazy Max but a little beige as Paul and the plot between him and Alice (Louise English) perhaps slows the glam action up. That being said English does a fine Suzi Quatro on Can The Can and seems more at home with the rockier stuff than Suzanne Shaw who has the unenviable task of tackling Devil Gate Drive.

What often adds the extra zing to the show is the snappy choreography by Rebecca Howell who’s been behind some of the more recent Pet Shop Boys shows. Getting Willy to adjust his imaginary cuffs during his routine might not be the most sophisticated moment in dance but the evening’s littered with neat little touches like this and the cast throw themselves enthusiastically into it all. It’s still early days for this show (I believe this is only the second week it’s played) and a lot of these songs have been lying in the great record box in the sky for decades so there may be a few adjustments still to make. Racey’s Some Girls is surely due a slot if they’re looking to make some tweaks in the future and just one vocalist should take the line “We just haven’t got a clue what to do” in the title track itself (come on now, that’s the best bit!) but Blockbuster undoubtedly shines a long awaited glitterball on a period of pop that was the very antithesis of the grey strike ridden post boom decade that spawned it.     

Blockbuster The Musical is on at The New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 27th September, tickets right here

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Rumba De Bodas - Sweet Crazy Sunshine

“The best thing to come out of Italy since Chianti” (copyright me) and one of the most enjoyable live acts I’ve EVER seen Rumba DeBodas are back with a fabulous new single, the jazztastic Sweet Crazy Sunshine, accompanied by an equally joyful video that’s practically guaranteed to get you leaping around in your pants. I have it on good authority that there’s a new album on the way too! Hurrah!      

Friday, September 19, 2014

'Jazz' it happened...

Here's a lovely selection of pics from this year's Birmingham International Jazz and Blues Festival. We're ruddy lucky to have stuff like this in Brum and you'll be pleased to know that work's already started on next year's event. I'd be especially happy if Lewis Floyd Henry played again...every day...every hour...every minute of it in fact.

Unity in the UK

Oh dear Alex, that didn't go how you expected it to did it? Never mind chins up eh? Here's a few tunes for you...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Avenue Q @ The New Alexandra Theatre, Tuesday 16th September 2014

If you grew up watching Sesame Street then it won’t take long to get into the swing of things on Avenue Q. Like the Street the world of Avenue Q is inhabited by a variety of brightly coloured puppets who interact naturally with humans as though it’s the most normal thing in the world...all without the aid of mind altering substances too. And, like Sesame Street, Avenue Q examines some of the issues that most of us face, albeit with more of a focus on coming of age ‘adult’ stuff as opposed to why someone stole your action man or pulled your pigtails during the lunch break. Of course in the wonderful world of TV you don’t actually see the puppeteers/performers at all, onstage this is a impossible conceit to maintain but it’s surprising how quickly you forget they’re there...in the nicest possible way of course.   

In a nutshell the show’s about a young puppet called Princeton finding his felt feet in the world, leaving Uni and discovering that the world’s not gagging for yet another English graduate. Along the way to discovering his ‘purpose’ in life he has some particularly energetic sex with another puppet (honestly, you’ll learn all the positions you ever need to know in this show...plus a few that perhaps you’re better off forgetting), he encounters Different Strokes’ Gary Coleman and comes across...actually maybe that’s an unfortunate way of putting it...a porn obsessed puppet called Trekkie Monster. Yes folks, this is a puppet show with a difference. And it’s ruddy hilarious. The songs tackle everything from racism and internet porn to schadenfreude, the wicked but irresistible pleasure derived from the misfortune of others, and if you didn’t think you could get a catchy tune out of a word like that then this alone is worth the price of a ticket.

The cast is exceptional too. Lord knows it’s hard enough getting up there on stage and performing let alone playing several different characters and operating a puppet at the same time. Jessica Parker deserves a special mention for stepping into the role of Kate Monster and Lucy The Slut, neither of which she was due to play. I never thought it was possible to fall in love with a puppet but her portrayal of Kate was a delight from start to finish. Similarly Tom Steedon, who played her love interest Princeton, somehow managed to make you actually care about the cloth and stuffing on his hand. He came into his own as Rod though, a wonderfully uptight closet queen who...well...that would spoil things wouldn’t it eh?

In many ways this is a musical for people who wouldn’t dream of ever going to see one. If you’ve ever enjoyed the irreverent humour of stuff like South Park or the Simpsons though you’ll love Avenue Q. And, whilst I’d never seen it before, a quick trawl through You Tube shows that this cast absolutely nails it...arguably even better than the original performers back in 2004 on Broadway perhaps. Simply Q-mendous fun.  A must see. 

Avenue Q is on at the New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 20th September. Tickets right here...see, the internet isn’t just for porn...ahem...       

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Assist...by The Assist

Walsall's finest (after Noddy Holder that is...) The Assist release their first proper single, handily entitled The Assist, on Monday 13th October and it's a cracking mix of early Arctics style swagger and Britpop catchiness. The song's a kind of statement of intent too, correctly coming to the conclusion that the only way they're going to make it in the big bad old music biz is to work their frickin' socks off...judging by the number of gigs they've been playing and their impressive use of the old social media that's not something that's likely to bother 'em. Play it a few times and you'll be humming away like a loon.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Folk in the Forest

If you go down to the wood today...well not today exactly but next Thursday September 24th...you'll catch a veritable gaggle of unplugged acoustic loveliness from the likes of Tom (aka Top) Peel, Mike Molony and Rick Wellings...and it's all FREE. Whoooohahahahaha!

They've even got a Fire Pit and a moth trap too, although hopefully not too close together, no one wants a crunchy moth stuck to their marshmallow. The whole shebang takes place at the Sandwell Valley RSPB Reserve, a mere 5 miles or so outside Brum City centre.  Mo' details here y'all.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Undone - The Bird and the Bee

Hurrah! Indie pop duo The Bird and the Bee are back with a new single (from that dodgy Sex Tape movie). Okay so it came out weeks ago but it takes me time to catch up with stuff these days, too busy laughing at that 'hilarious' Mr Salmond. If the lovely people of Scotland believe a word he says then they'll be well and truly 'Undone' too. Good luck with that. On the plus side at least we'd get rid of Cameron, Clegg and, hopefully, that bloke who looks like a muppet masquerading as the leader of the Labour party...

Anyway, The Bird and the Bee, jolly good stuff. Here's a couple of older classics just in case you'd missed 'em.

PS: You Tube did that linky likey song thing too and pulled up this one. Apparently a number one in the US of A. Funnily enough I'm 'all about the bass' too...that's a diet of sausage rolls and cider for you.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Rudy’s Rare Records @ The REP, Tuesday 9th September 2014

I dread to think how many hours I spent in record shops over the years. In Brum we had...deep breath...Swordfish, The Diskery, Plastic Factory, Reddington’s Rare Records, Highway 61, Tempest, Second City Sounds, Frank’s Wild Records plus a Virgin Megastore, and at least two branches of HMV. There were probably others that have now faded into the memory, along with regular record fairs (one or two a month). Of course that was pretty much the only way you could hear a wider range of music back in the day, often under the gentle guidance of the record shop owner. Radio stations pretty much revolved around the top 40 and barring the odd maverick...step forward Mr John Peel for instance...you’d only hear a limited amount of what was out there. Now of course some Nigerian dubstep is just a click away (I actually made that genre up, or so I thought, and within 2 seconds I’d found some online). Anyway this waffle has a point. Sort of. Set in an imaginary record shop in Brum this stage adaptation of a Radio 4 series sees Dudley’s finest, Lenny Henry, play Adam the son’s owner who reluctantly moves home to look after his aging father, the titular Rudy. It’s the sort of setup that’s spawned some of the best sitcoms in history, Steptoe and Son and Frasier among them, and Rudy’s Rare Records clearly follows in their footsteps. Once again the son is pretty straitlaced compared with the father, in this case we have a third generation too though in the shape of Adam’s son, who clearly takes after his granddad. Sensible chap.  

So much for the setup then, how does it translate on stage? For starters it’s blessed with a great cast. Fresh from recent dramatic triumphs (Othello and Fences) Henry has a more subtle edge to his performance (although he can quickly turn on the old Lenny comedy tap) and there are some touching moments of pathos between him and his onstage father brilliantly portrayed by Larrington Walker. 

If you’re not used to a broad Jamaican accent Walker’s may take a moment or two to get used to but it’s the real deal and both writer and actor have clearly had some fun coming up with some wonderfully amusing lines and verbal mash ups. Keep an eye open for Larrington’s dance routine too, boy that dude can move. Joivan Wade is perfect as Adam’s son, I won’t reveal the plot twists but again it creates some neat moments for intergenerational bonding. Speaking of the plot it’s a fairly simple tale of a record shop under pressure from developers, practical Adam wants to sell up whilst Rudy won’t even consider it. There’s a great line early on in the show that perhaps sums up why he feels that way, “This place is an art gallery” he explains gesticulating at the rows of records on the shelves. With that broad Jamaican accent though he places an ‘h’ in front of the word art...I could be imaging all this but doesn’t that just sum up the difference between record shops and downloads? There’s a real h(e)art and soul to the former that you just can’t replace with a click or two.

An entertaining support cast add some extra spice to the whole thing with Natasha Godfrey as that rare subgenre, “a black goth”, Lorna Gayle as the subject of Rudy’s affections and Jeffrey Kissoon as his oldest friend and partner in crime...mainly card playing, rum drinking and chasing the ladies. 

Having a live band onstage is a great idea, they could’ve skimped on this and used pre-recorded stuff but this makes the production a bit more of a cross between a play and gig, especially during the second half of the show which sees the cast perform some old school classics. Put it all together and it adds up to a proper feel good night out with plenty of chuckles along the way. Any music fans over 40 will recognise places like Rudy’s from their teenage years, anyone much under this age will hopefully get some sense of what they’re missing and seek out the few remaining record stores still left (happily in Brum both Swordfish and The Diskery are still alive and well). If this particular Rudy could send a 'message to you' I guess that would be the best of all...

Rudy’s Rare Records is on at The REP until September 20th before moving on to the ‘ackney Empire. Cor blimey guv, apples and pears etc.

All photos copyright and courtesy of Robert Day

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The right Duff...

One of my personal favourites, the lovely Mr Patrick Duff, is currently on tour across the UK with a date this Thursday September 11th at the Hare & Hounds.

Gutted that I can't make this one but you have no excuse...well you might...you might be in Latvia or somewhere...but if you're free and in Brum please go along. Trust me, you won't be disappointed. Tickets from our chums at Birmingham Promoters right here. For older readers here's a slice of vintage Duff from his days in Strangelove.


Thursday, September 04, 2014

Roland Gift / John Simmit @ The Hare and Hounds, Wednesday 3rd September 2014

Anyone who was alive and kicking (hmmm, good title for a song there) back in the mid 80s might be a little surprised to Fine Young Cannibals’ lead singer playing the relatively intimate Hare and Hounds tonight. Of course he’s kept a pretty low profile for 20 years or so but that didn’t seem to do Kate Bush much harm eh? Maybe he’s just dipping his toe in the water before some bigger solo dates? Whatever the reason tonight’s gig, announced a mere three weeks ago, was unsurprisingly sold out...and more than a trifle moist as a couple of hundred 40-50 somethings packed into the place.

First up though opening act Dipsy...from the Teletubbies. No...I’ve not been on the ‘shrooms again...really. Well, the bloke who played him anyway, John Simmit, in his stand up guise (something he was doing before he was plucked from obscurity and pretty much kept there thanks to being sewn into a lime green costume for four years). It’s pretty unusual to have a stand up opening at a music gig but I’m all for mixing stuff up. He had some fairly good lines and routines and generated a healthy number of chuckles though, which is as much as you can ask for with an audience that’s there for one thing and one thing only.

Joining his 6 piece band onstage Gift looked pretty good, a little ‘fuller’ (as one reviewer tactfully put Kate Bush’s appearance recently), but in remarkably good shape for a bloke in his mid 50s. Of course it’s the voice that matters. Gift was always a distinctive vocalist, singing at the higher end of the scale with a slight quiver in his delivery that hinted at the soul staples of heartache and pain. The good news...no, make that great news...is that it’s still there. Perhaps just a tiny little lower in places the only stretch seemed to be the odd high note during She Drives Me Crazy. And let’s face it 8 year old choirboys would struggle to hit some of those notes. Speaking of the songs the set was a crowd delighting mix of the hits (ALL of ‘em) plus some new tracks from forthcoming album (and soundtrack to Roland’s new self penned film apparently) Return To Vegas. There’s a pleasing old school 60s feel to a lot of the new material with some swirling Hammond organ, girl group harmonies and hooky choruses in there. As I failed to grab a setlist from the clutches of the megafans (some of whom seemed on the verge of orgasm at times) I’d only be guessing at the titles but the country soul of She’s Not Your Girlfriend stood out as a little different and 24/7, with its classic soul style countdown of the days of the week, hit the spot rather nicely. Nice to hear It's Only Money from his self released 2002 album too. It didn't make much of a splash back then but it's a bit of a grower. 

Time and time again it’s the voice that really ‘sells’ each song. You can tell he’s also an actor. There’s a way he inhabits the lyrics, it’s subtle but believable most notably tonight on a surprisingly moving Not The Man I Used To Be. Despite the familiarity of the song it somehow seemed like he was singing it for the very first time. I have no idea of his private life but the performance of this track and several others seemed to have an honesty and rawness that's tricky to fake, no matter how much of an old thesp you may be. Predictably the biggest cheers were reserved for more upbeat stuff though. The intro to Good Thing may still sound like Gloria Jones’ version of Tainted Love but it’s a cracking track. Northern Soul goes 80s pop. Can it really be a quarter of a century old? Jeez.

Despite this being one of his first solo shows for years (although he’s toured extensively with Jools Holland and played the odd revival festival) Gift seemed pretty relaxed up there this evening, even enjoying/enduring a little banter with some of the more vociferous members of the audience. He’s soooo well spoken too. Okay not everyone who grows up in Brum or Hull (Gift’s homes for his formative years) has a regional twang but that accent’s pure Patrick Stewart in places. There’s evidence of a dry wit too. “Does anyone like punk?” he asks at one point. A good dozen or so old punks cheers uproariously “Okay...here’s some reggae” he deadpanned before launching into a slightly dubby Ever Fallen In Love. That’s the only significant fiddling about they did with the hits, everything else was dished up as nature intended and it was timely reminder of why the Fine Young Cannibals Raw and the Cooked album sold 5 million copies or so. Whether Gift will ever hit (if indeed he even wants to) those dizzy heights again remains to be seen. The voice is still special though, classically soulful but with that tremulous edge soaking virtually every line with emotion.  Not the man he used to be? Nope, even better I’d say.   

Photos courtesy of the lovely Mr Ian Dunn at Principle Photography

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Fine Young Comebacks...

Back in the mid to late 80s Fine Young Cannibals were a big deal, with a number one album, The Raw and the Cooked, in pretty much every country on planet earth and a string of hit singles (both Good Thing and She Drives Me Crazy made it to number one in the US). 

A large part of their success was undoubtedly down to lead singer Roland Gift, possessor of a particularly distinctive voice and once voted one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the world (sadly I only made it to number 51...ahem). 

After the band split he pretty much vanished from view for 20 years or so, apparently happy to be a dad and family man until a self released solo album in 2002. 

In the past few years he's returned to live performances, playing the odd festival and guesting with Jools Holland on a recent tour but now it seems as though he's finally getting round to writing and recording some more new stuff. Seemingly out of nowhere he announced a brief (a mere 4 dates) UK tour a few weeks ago which will no doubt see some of these tracks unveiled for the very first time. Returning to his home city of Brum (he was born and raised in Sparkhill for the first 11 years of his life) the whole thing kicks off in the intimate surroundings of the Hare and Hounds this Wednesday September 3rd. Tickets still available!  

Monday, September 01, 2014

Moseley Folk Festival 2014, Friday 29th August – Sunday 31st August

Would Morrissey pop along for a quick guest appearance during Johnny Marr’s set (ahem...)? Would Richard Thompson ride onto the stage on a Vincent Black Lightening 1952? And would The Waterboys show us the whole of their moon...yes...it’s Moseley Folk Festival time again!

Day One

As is traditional the afternoon of Day One eased early arrivers into things rather nicely with the string tinged waltz folk of Birmingham Conservatoire’s Steady Hands. As isn’t traditional though it was raining. It never rains at Moseley Folk. Well, almost never. It was pretty pathetic rain mind you, not even enough to dislodge the rug dwelling Guardian readers who between them seemed to consume pretty much the entire output of the nearest Waitrose over the weekend.

Martha Tilston and The Scientists provided one of the festival’s anthems courtesy of the delightful Artificial, a wry look back on her years of working in an office. I’ve been there...who knows I may go back there again one day...but it really can be a soul crushing experience. Okay, so it’s not as bad as working down a pit (or one of those more traditional subjects for a folky lament) for 18 hours a day but it’s great to hear a folk take on something current. Martha-lous!

Sporting a rather fetching poncho Oklahoma’s Samantha Crain’s a pocket sized powerhouse, blasting out everything from a protest song about Scientologists in New York to an imaginary sequel to the Convoy soundtrack courtesy of the laid back country and western flavoured Somewhere All The Time. By the time she played the U2 meets Brian Auger Trinity For The Miner even the sun had peaked out to take a listen.

Up at the Tennis Court ‘stage’ (actually one end of the bar...perhaps not the best location for some of the quieter acts of the weekend) Tom (or Top as he’ll forever be known in my mind) Peel had left all of his weird and wonderful vintage musical kit at home for a change and was laid bare (not literally ladies...) before us, all acoustic like. If anything though it gave the gentler songs more chance to breathe, especially a ruddy lovely I Love It In The Town Hall When You Give Me A Squeeze. And who else brings along home grown plums for his audience eh?

Gentle perhaps isn’t the first word you’d use to describe Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore but this afternoon, hunched over a microphone with an acoustic guitar, he seemed pretty at home at a folk festival. Opening with Blood Never Lies (from 2011’s Demolished Thoughts) and instant classic (think Led Zeppelin meets Lou Reed) The Best Day (the title track from his forthcoming album) he pretty much won coolest dude of the weekend award hands down too. A wonderful strum through Fri/End cemented the deal. He may be more Sonic Middle-age these days but the stripped back folk grunge feel of his set well and truly proved that, well, less is Moore.  

It may have taken Jimi Goodwin’s keyboard player almost 12 hours to get here but it was worth it. The ex-Doves (and ex-Sub Sub member for those with long memories) singer is currently enjoying a bit of a moment thanks to recent single Oh!Whiskey, a painfully honest account of his struggles with the demon drink. Vocally and musically he shares something with Elbow’s Guy Garvey (someone he’s collaborated with in the past) but for my money there’s something rawer and more real about Goodwin and Ghost of the Empties (spot a theme here folks) makes for a devastating listen. 

As well as revisiting past misdemeanours he revisited past glories too with a suitably downbeat transmission of Doves’ The Last Broadcast.  Things ended on a bit of a high though with a rather unexpected Stone Roses-ish Love Spreads style jam during Lonely At The Drop.

Midnight Beard-fires...sorry Bonfires...seem to really be hitting their stride right now. At times coming across like a glorious love in between Wild Beasts, Alt-J and Vampire Weekend and in a better world recent single Exhale would’ve been massive. Come on now people, wake up.

Ask most 40 somethings to name their favourite three indie bands and the chances are The Smiths will be in there somewhere. Whilst Mozza might be reluctant to revisit arguably one of the strongest back catalogues in British pop Day One’s headliner, Johnny Marr clearly has no such reservations and his set was liberally sprinkled with Manc magic. That’s not to say that Marr himself is any slouch when it comes to solo stuff though. In fact both opening number, the new wavey Upstarts and the dance punk of current single Easy Money sounded particularly good tonight. I’m guessing a lot of the audience were here for The Smiths hits though and they weren’t disappointed. Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before (introduced as a “folk song from up the M6”), Bigmouth Strikes Again, There Is A Light That Never Goes Out (which gets one of the biggest singalongs of the weekend) and Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want were all duly served up with Marr doing a pretty good job on vocals. It’s not Morrissey of course but there’s more than a hint of that dour delivery in there without coming across as a parody...not an easy trick by any means. Nice to hear Getting Away With It (Marr’s hit with Electronic) again as well. As if one guitar hero wasn’t enough Marr wheeled out The Cult’s Billy Duffy (who looked remarkably well preserved) at the end too for a spunky I Fought The Law and a sublime How Soon Is Now. 

Best. Moseley. Folk. Encore. Evah.

Day Two   

Bookending Day Two were a pair of Thompsons, Kami in the morning and dad Richard in the evening. More on Thompson Snr later but first up Kami and her band The Rails who shook out any lingering hangovers with some rather fine Americana, pick of the bunch being the reflective anti-love sing Fair Warning (title track of their new album). If that left you with the blues then there’s no safer pair of hands than Chicken Bone John who not only plays a mean Cigar Box guitar but he makes ‘em as well. 

In an all too short set (I could watch/listen to this man for days) he hollered his way through half a dozen classic blues tunes by the likes of Lightnin’ Hopkins and Muddy Waters plus a darn good self penned number (well almost self penned, I think Pink Floyd may have had a hand in there somewhere) called Ready For My Starry Crown.

Former Low Anthem member Jocie Adams returned to Mo Folk with her new band Arc Iris. Vocally at times she’s a bewitching mix of Bush (Kate) and Amos (Tori) whilst musically she embraces everything from prog to folk to classical, sometimes in just one song. 

And anyone brave enough to rock a gold lame catsuit onstage has to be worth listening to.

Great to hear and see Boat To Row back at Moseley Folk and alongside old favourites like the divine A Boat To Row, To Row To You and this year’s lush new single Tightrope they played an as yet unrecorded song called Whistle And I’ll Come To You. With its surprisingly groovy bass line it may well be the best thing they’ve done to date.

Winner of the ‘I Didn’t Know He Wrote That’ award for the weekend Boo Hewerdine should by rights be headlining a festival like this. Regularly hailed as one of the best songwriters around he landed an Ivor Novello nomination for Patience Of Angels (written for his old band The Bible but memorably recorded by Eddi Reader) and penned Kris Drever’s Harvest Gypsies...which I had previously thought was some great old classic folk song. Older readers may also recall The Bible’s almost breakthrough hit Honey Be Good (which reached the dizzy heights of number 54 in 1989), as perfect  a slice of thoughtful pop as you’re ever likely to hear.

Next up Woods and their remarkably voiced singer Jeremy Earl. Not since Canned Heat’s Alan Wilson has a man hit such heights without trapping his knackers in a door. It really is a thing of beauty though, adding something magical to their more chilled out stuff. It’s their acid psych blowouts that really hit the spot though, impossible to listen to without feeling just that little bit stoned maaaaaaaan.

After a few magical minutes spent staring into Pete Ashton and Jenny Duffin’s equally mind bending portable camera obscura it was time for band of the day (and possibly the entire festival) Stealing Sheep. No question. Tribal drumming, deliciously haunting three part female vocal harmonies, oddball 60s pop, analogue synths...you’d be baa-rmy to resist. 

Listen to Shut Eye, Rearrange and Genevieve and do your ears a favour.

Someone wrote on one of Ólöf Arnalds You Tube vids that it’s “like listening to elves sing” and that’s a pretty good description...in fact I scribbled down exactly the same thing during her charmingly bonkers set. Hailing from Iceland she giggled and bubbled her way through songs as fragile as a snowflake, melting hearts along the way.

The Felice Brothers went down a storm with their particular blend of Appalachian tinged folk and country rock. 

One of those bands blessed with more than one fine lead vocalist their set was a fan pleasing mix of the old and new with a storming Whiskey In My Whiskey belted out by James Felice and the distinctly Dylan-ish (and I mean Dylan at his very best here) Cherry Licorice off brand new album Favourite Waitress drawled brilliantly by brother Ian. Is this the best thing they’ve ever done? Yes. Yes it is. An instant classic.

I’m loving Dan Whitehouse’s hook up with Harriet Harkcom. Adding a fresh feel to old favourites it’s a perfect combination and with a full band in tow songs like The Fire Of Lust and My Heart Doesn’t Age never sounded so good.   

That just left Richard Thompson to round things off. Okay, I know he probably sprang from the womb singing and playing guitar but even so for an hour and a half he made it all look so bloody effortless. The voice is richer than ever, the intricate guitar playing still dazzling and the between song banter wonderfully endearing. Highlights? The whole damn thing but Vincent Black Lightning 1952 deservedly got a huge whoop, Valerie was suitably fast and furious and Who Knows Where The Time Goes? (dedicated to its writer Sandy Denny) was heartbreakingly moving. 

Being an old pro he saved the best for the encore though with a version of Beeswing every bit as delicate and beautiful as the song’s subject.  

Day Three

Okay, hands up. Who scheduled Miles Hunt and Erica Nockalls for 12.40? Maybe being a bit of a Stuffies fan I’m biased but they deserved a later slot. Still, an impressive number of Moseley Folkers made it down on time and they were well rewarded with set wonderstuffed full of old and new classics. 

By his own admission Hunt was apparently a bit of an arse back in the day but now he’s a rather self deprecating soul with a story for every song and a song for every story. Highlights included a lovely number about an old fella they encountered in their locals, Right Side Of The Turf and a co-write with Erica, Plans In The Sky, a kind of Shropshire based Fairytale of New York. Speaking of which they played Welcome To The Cheap Seats too, one of the Stuffies biggest hits originally featuring the late, great Kirsty MacColl along with Circlesquare, Golden Green and Here Comes Everyone, all of which worked surprisingly well in their more stripped back incarnation.

Cannon Street were a lovely last minute addition to the bill and despite not having their own guitars AND suffering from laryngitis they put on a typically lovely set replete with their haunting cover of Anthony and the Johnsons’ Hope There’s Someone, pretty much always guaranteed to bring a tear to the old eye.

There can’t be many people who’d make a song out of the shipping forecast but Lisa Knapp has and Shipping Song’s a strangely beautiful thing, benefitting hugely from her vocal gymnastics, the kind of voice that could make Bjork sound like a bit of a pub singer.

Harp wielding (can you wield a harp...I guess so) Georgia Ruth kept things folky with a tale “about a dog that dies by the third verse”, Old Blue. Admittedly it doesn’t sound like much fun but with that lilting Welsh accent of hers it was pretty paw-fect.

Old Dance School were already a formidable 7 piece now they’ve added another fiddle player, the musical equivalent of fitting a turbo charger to a jet engine. Possibly. I have no idea about such things. What I do know is that their Celtic flavoured folk makes you want to run naked through the heather necking whiskey. Hell yes. Their version of John Bull was some-string else and their closing set of reels was...well...reely good. That’s it, I’m out of puns now.

Back up at the tennis courts Beorma Border Morris were working the Kings Heath Monkey man (and a number of other innocent bystanders) into a sweaty mess before Katherine Priddy pulled in one of the stage’s biggest crowds. It’s not hard to see and hear why. There’s an all too rare purity to Priddy that’s perhaps too good for this evil old world and this set’s collection of self penned songs, along with a hauntingly fragile cover of Jackson C Franks Blues Run The Game, left the audience visibly enraptured. 

Anthem to lost love You was particularly moving whilst The Devil’s Got Me Bent Over His Knee, a song about “satanic spanking” saw Priddy heading off in a bit of a Country and Western direction. Yeehaw! Whatever the genre expect great things from her, trust me on this one...either that or she’ll disappear into the Highlands one day like the great Vashti Bunyan who, conveniently enough, she’s supporting at the Mac on October 7th.

Resisting the temptation of Lau who we could hear limbering up in the background we caught up once more with the truly extraordinary Sam Walter whose vocal shifts dramatically from angel voiced schoolboy to salty sea dog, often in the same word. At times he sounds like he’s just jumped ship from HMS Victory and some of the songs clearly date from or are influence by this period in history. As if this wasn’t enough he now sings some songs in Swahili too. Yes...I know. Okay so he can’t speak the language and I’m guessing no one in the audience could either but it’s a truly unique mash up of cultures and singing styles. It’s the soul searching What An Age To Be A Young Man that stole the show though, a more devastating deconstruction of modern society you’re unlikely to hear.

We did manage to catch the end of Lau who were busy whipping the crowd up into a folking frenzy, a shame to miss the bulk of their set but the odd clash is inevitable at pretty much any festival. Zervas and Pepper’s blend of Americana and folk made up for it though with Cigar Store Indian conjuring up dusty and forgotten small towns (shades of classic era Fleetwood Mac in there) and a spirited cover of CSNY’s Ohio warming up the crowd nicely for festival closers The Waterboys. Back in the 80s I’m guessing The Waterboys got quite a few younger listeners interested in folk thanks to Fisherman’s Blues and the even bigger hit Whole Of The Moon (admittedly folk with a glossy 80s pop music makeover) so it was entirely appropriate that they were headlining. Both tracks got an early outing in the set with the latter unsurprisingly generating a rousing call and response singalong. If that’s all you knew The Waterboys for though some of the other stuff might have been a little more surprising. 

The bluesy Still A Freak rocked along furiously with some great guitar and fiddle solos and All The Things She Gave Me peaked with a mind melting Hammond orgy that saw lead singer Mike Scott jigging away to himself in the corner of the stage before a stripped back Raggle Taggle Gypsy bought things back to planet folk. Other stuff was distinctly proggy whilst the extended jam on The Pan Within wouldn’t have been out of place on a hard rock album. A suitably eclectic and energetic climax to yet another fine Moseley Folk Festival. 

Huge congratulations once again to all involved. You folking rock...you really do.