Wednesday, December 23, 2015

And so-ul this is Christmas...

Nothing says Christmas like a soul and funk mix eh and in what has become something of a Christmas tradition I've trawled the internet to pluck one of the very best out for your delectation and delight. Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Feel the Love...

Fed up with Christmas songs yet? Check out this great new track from The Assist (fresh from supporting Slade a few nights back) with the kind of instantly catchy laid back baggy groove that would give the Happy Mondays or the late lamented Flowered Up a run for their money. Love it!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Rich pickings...

Look, it's tough enough for a lot of musicians to keep body and soul together so the last thing you need is some numbnuts nicking the tools of your trade. It seems to be happening far too often these days, obviously this stuff must be fairly easy to move on in exchange for a quick fix of something but come on...musicians are (generally) the good guys, they're the ones that make you feel better without having to shove a needle in your arm or snort the entire Bolivian cocaine crop up your hooter. Nick something else if you have to...or better still get a life.

Anyway, the latest unfortunate victim of instrument theft is Richard March, member of Bentley Rhythm Ace and numerous other bands including Rhino and the Ranters and The Peaky Blinders. Some scuzzball nicked his double bass (good grief...have you seen the size of those things? You can see him plucking the hell out of it on the vid above) the other night and it's no doubt leaning up against the wall of a pawn shop right now. There's a positive to this story though and the good people of Brum (and beyond) have started one of those Crowdfunding jobbies which has already raised £785 of the £850 needed to get Rich back up and running (well, playing) again. Hopefully if there's any money left they can buy a pair of concrete boots for the thief if he or she is ever caught. Grrrrrrrr...

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Baron's Lucky Dip # 2

Okay, singles this time and a neglected glam synth classic from Sheffield's Pink Grease, one of a squillion bands from the incredibly fertile mid noughties who sadly fell by the wayside (see also Rumble Strips...I'm still mystified about that one). They split in 2007 leaving behind a dozen or so singles, an album, some memorably messy gigs (anyone remember the one at the Bar Academy?) and an unreleased follow up from which this little beauty was plucked. One to dance in your pants to.

PS: Pink Grease's lead singer Rory was last spotted in goth glamsters White Witches. Here's the only offering I can find on t'You Tube.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Howard Marks - Live in Exeter this Wednesday!

Howard Marks may have become (in)famous for smuggling brain melting quantities of cannabis back in the 70s and 80s but he's spent much of the last 20 years or so touring his one man shows, writing hugely entertaining books and generally living up to his legendary nickname, Mr Nice. Yep, as drug smugglers go Howard's up there with the very best (and nicest) of 'em, an incredibly articulate and gentle man he's got an informed opinion on most things, all delivered with the kind of lush, laid back Welsh accented voice that could soothe the very hounds of hell.

It's fair to say that life hasn't exactly been a bowl of cherries for him over the years, getting caught for smuggling hundreds of tons of weed will tend to do that to a chap, but he's always accepted his attitude that's standing him in good stead right now as he's being mercilessly pursued by a certain Mr G. Reaper Esq. Whilst others might, quite naturally, retreat to their beds somewhat incredibly Howard's still touring, no doubt sharing words of wisdom that, given his impending ending, will be even more thought provoking and moving than his previous shows. And tomorrow night he's right here in Exeter at the Phoenix, tickets still available...something that very sadly he might not be for much longer. Frankly unmissable.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Baron’s Lucky Dip # 1

One of the twisted benefits of moving house after 20 odd years in the same place is the discovery of stuff you’d stashed away sometime in the 90s and kind of forgotten about. In my case that includes a bit of vinyl...okay a lot of vinyl...and CDs (oh so many CDs), all of which seemed to become a little obsolete once the internet became a viable way of listening to music. Moving forced me to confront this mountain of music and carry out some pretty brutal (to me at least...bearing in mind that I struggle to throw anything away) editing. I’m pretty sure I’ve given away some gems but it all went to charidee so hopefully someone did well out of it. The upside of course is that now I can see stuff and get to it (NB: after mulling over having bespoke shelves made or going down the Ikea route I plumped for some rugged industrial Big Dug jobbies to be doing the job).

Now I can get to it through I should listen to it all, right? Hence...drum roll...The Baron’s Lucky Dip, a semi regular feature in which I randomly select a record and share it with you for your delectation and delight. Of course this could do wonders for my street cred (stop sniggering) or, conversely, reveal my strange addition to Hi NRG tunes. Ready...ok...blindfold on...

Space – Money

Hmmm, don’t remember buying this (on 12 inch yellow vinyl no less) but do recall seeing them play a few times, notably at The Flapper (and Firkin as it was then) supporting another little known outfit called Catatonia. Space were a much more interesting proposition than history perhaps gives them credit for, what with lead singer Tommy Scott’s gloriously OTT vaudevillian delivery and the band's obsession with weirdos (see Mister Psycho and Neighbourhood) but c'est la vie. After splitting up in 2005 they reformed in 2011 and actually have a new album out in 2016 so happy endings and all that jazz. Here’s a taster:


Monday, December 07, 2015

Semi-Toned / Orchard Harmony @ St Mary’s Church, Whimple, Saturday December 4th 2015

There’s a fair chance that St Mary’s Church has witnessed some jolly fine voices over the generations but perhaps tonight was the first time that 15 of them performed the Macarena complete with the obligatory dance moves. The group in question, Exeter University’s a capella fellas Semi-Toned, are having one hell (or maybe heaven in this case) of a year having come second in the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella competition before going on to win The Voice Festival UK, touring the US, playing the Edinburgh Festival and releasing a BuzzFeed bigged up video mash-up of If I Were a Rich man from Fiddler on the Roof and Rich Girl by Gwen Stefani. How’s that as an excuse for getting your dissertation in late eh?

Before all that the sell out audience...sorry...congregation witnessed a series of beautiful performances from Orchard Harmony (an all female a cappela group with its creative heart right here in Whimple) the absolute highlight being a candle lit Ava Maria sound-tracked procession through the church. Spines well and truly tingled. In fact, helmed by musical director Julia Green, the arrangements and staging of Orchard Harmony’s two sets were simply pitch perfect from start to finish.

Well and truly putting the fun in funky Semi-Toned practically blew the roof off the place with one of the liveliest and imaginative a capella sets this side of...well anywhere really.  

Boy these dudes can sing (they’re not bad little movers either) and their choice of material was every bit as impressive ranging from a fresh take on Fleetwood Mac’s epic The Chain through to a haunting rendition of Regina Spector’s Samson (which apparently also won the Outstanding Soloist award for the group’s Michael Luya in The Voice Festival’s Semi-Final) and on to the aforementioned Fiddler mash up. A sensationally seasonal Santa Baby, with Julia channelling her inner Eartha up in the pulpit on lead vocals and the combined might of the rest of Orchard Harmony and all of Semi-Toned providing the backing, was the metaphorical sixpence in the pudding of a truly wonderful Whimple evening. 

Friday, December 04, 2015

A tale of two cities (well, one City and one village)

Not for the first time in life I wish I could be in at least two places at once this Saturday. Whimple based peeps should head to the church to see the award winning all male a capella group Semi-Toned, well at least you should if you’ve already got a ticket ‘cos it’s Sold Out (wonder if some of any my ticket tout buddies from Brum will be outside doing their thing?). 

Brum based folk should head off to St Paul’s Church to see the bewitching double bill of Katherine Priddy and Michael King. Last minute tickets here!

PS: My gig going has been pitiful this year for various reasons and I’m still mulling over the dilemma of getting to and from Exeter after 11pm (which is when the trains all seemingly turn into pumpkins) – at the moment kipping on a park bench is the most attractive (for that read ‘cheapest’) option but maybe Winter isn’t the best time to try that one out eh? Anyway, whatever you’re up to enjoy!     

Friday, November 27, 2015

Sunday Xpress's end of the year bash!

Awwwwwwwwwwwwww, going to miss this one now I'm in deepest Devon but if you're in or around Brum there's frankly no excuse. Yet another awesome line up with one of the first ever live outings for noise rockers The CPM Connection (with added Miles Perhower) and Hearing Aid favourites The Courtesy Group. And it's all ruddy free. Kick off's at 4pm with open mic slots (which are always hugely entertaining). Pop along and Xpress yourself!

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Mercury’s rising...

Almost time for this year’s Mercury Prize winner to be announced (one of the few awards I pay any attention to these days) and I’ve certainly got my favourites, in no particular order they are (along with the pick of their respective albums):


Gaz Coombes  


I rarely back the winner, although sacrificing that goat to ensure Anthony and the Johnsons won a few years back seemed to work, but who knows, fingers crossed for one of the three listed above. Needless to say in the spirit of friendly competition  good luck to all the rest of those on the shortlist, just in case I happen to end up sat next to them on a plane...who am I trying to kid...train...oh, alright then...bus. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Aimless Comet - Roscoe Balaban

It's always a treat to have a cool new track spurt out of whatever social media nipple you happen to be suckling on and today's (via Facebook...who sadly seemed to have banned nipples...lady ones at least...naughty nipples) comes from Roscoe Balaban who, for many years, has figured in the ever shifting line up of Hearing Aid favourites Miss Halliwell. Young Roscoe's solo offering is as raw as a papercut drenched in vinegar, a '4 real' cry from the gut underpinned by some rather fine and atmospheric guitar work. The boy can sing too, pleasingly retaining a little Black Country twang for good measure. Aimless it certainly ain't. Highly recommended.  

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

In these shoes...

It's been a difficult old week for reasons that are too personal for this humble little blog, but suffice to say I have my reasons for posting up this vid...and not just because it's a cracking tune. Enjoy.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Jim Causley @ The Beehive, Honiton – Saturday 7th November 2015

“It’s great to ‘bee’ here”, as far as opening lines are concerned playing a venue like The Beehive is pretty much a pun lover’s gift. Somehow though Jim Causley resisted overdoing it (I’d have gone on about the place having a nice buzz and why doesn’t Sting play here etc etc...which is probably why I’m not allowed on a stage anymore) before playing a two hour solo set showcasing one of folk’s finest talents singing an equally fine selection of self penned, adapted (in the case of setting ancestor Charles Causeley’s poems to music) traditional tracks and covers (one particular highlight being a suitably wry rendition of Chris Wood’s version of Frank Mansell’s poem The Cottager’s Reply). Causley’s an utter delight from start to finish. A natural and instantly engaging performer, peppering his two sets with anecdotes and local history (like fellow young folkie Sam Lee Jim has a clear passion for preserving the material he sings and hopefully passing it on to future generations) you get the distinct impression that he could’ve played all night and most of the following day for that matter if he’d been allowed. With songs like the moving Honiton Lace and In The Sidings, plus a more Rambling Syd Rumpo style tune about some bloke mowing a young lady’s ‘field’ (ahem...), I’d have happily listened to him too. Jim-ply the best.

PS: As regular readers might know I’ve recently moved to an East Devon village called Whimple which, until recently, Jim called home and it was nice to be able to whoop and holler like loons whenever he mentioned the place (even if we’ve only been here for 5 minutes). Hopefully Jim’ll be back for the legendary Whimple Wassail (huge fun) on January 17th.   

PPS: What a great venue The Beehive is! Thoroughly recommended for performers and punters alike. 

Holy Pinto - Best Pals

The world's run by lizards you know, well at least it is if you believe some of the odder theories out there...giant lizards pretending to be people...the Queen...lizard...Dave Cameron...lizard...Cheryl Cole (or whatever's she's called this week)...lizard...well, you can kind of see the last one. Anyway, to kick off the new week here's a new track from Canterbury's finest Holy Pinto featuring a giant lizard (see, there was a link in there somewhere). Whether you're a lizard or not it's a darn fine slice of indie punk that starts off all gentle and lullaby-ish (albeit a pretty twisted lullaby if you listen to the lyrics) before exploding into a bit of a Creep era Radiohead chorus and then onto a bonkers Latin interlude, "there are no rules" indeed. Ace! (fun vid too). Gecko and see 'em live if you get the chance...sorry, it had to be done.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Shit Present / Young Adventurers / Will Rene / Honey Pot @ The Cavern, Exeter – Thursday 5th November 2015

First gig in months and first gig in Exeter too and we picked a cracker (although rather boringly public transport cocked up the end of the night and we had to miss pretty much all of Shit Present’s set to catch the last ruddy train at 11.00...that’s barely tea hiss etc).

If you’ve not been to The Cavern it’s a great little venue, not dissimilar to the Liverpudlian version (or at least the one they ‘created’ after the council turned the real one into park...genius) and the kind of place you instantly feel at home at (or maybe that’s just because I feel at home in a cellar, who knows?). The booze is reasonable (£3.50 for a pint of Thatchers), the sound’s pretty decent and there are plenty of cool nooks and crannies to lurk about in if you want to have a natter (n between sets of course...chatting during a band's set should be punishable by death) or cop off with someone.

Okay, tourist information over with, on with the bands and first up self confessed lo-fi miserablists Honey Pot whose emotionally raw lyrics and downcast vocal delivery could well induce wrist slitting in even the most upbeat personality, but if you subscribe to the old adage that misery loves company there’s something strangely comforting about it all too. I’ve not been a teenager for, ooooh, over a quarter of a century or so but for many of us it’s both the best and worst of times and Honey Pot’s music bravely captures that sense of isolation and confusion (actually it doesn’t get much better as you get older but we’ll gloss over that) which takes real guts. Loved the Vini Reilly-ish guitar sounds too, ace.

Next up, with a song about ear wax amongst other subjects, Will Rene, who could well become a Hearing Aid favourite. Imagine Buddy Holly’s great, great, great grandchild crossed with Jeffrey Lewis, early Elvis (Costello that is) and then add a little dash of Adam Green and Jacques Brel (kudos to Will for his pacey cover of Brel's Le Moribond) into the pot and you might just end up with Will (now there’s one for the geneticists to try). Pick of the set, The Trigger’s Broom Paradox (presumably named after the classic Only Fools and Horses sketch where Trigger get’s an award for using the same broom for 20 odd years before proudly revealing that it’s only had 14 new handles and 17 new heads...) is typical of Will’s material (and, quite possibly personality), cramming in more words and thoughts than normal but somehow creating something rather wonderful. If you’re ever lucky enough to see him live (highly recommended by the way) ask him how many official Bond themes there have been...

I was watching a programme about girls/women in bands the other night and there was some debate about whether you should even mention the fact that a band is all female or not. Of course it really shouldn’t be notable in this day and age but the sad and confusing truth is that, out of the hundreds of bands I’ve seen far over the years, far less than half of them are all female or even have a woman in the line up. I’ve always thought this was an odd thing and no one’s properly explained it to me so I’ll carry on banging on about it until we have more girl/woman/female (delete as applicable) bands like (hence this rambling bit) Young Adventurers.  Riot Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrl meets indie pop and with a lead singer who’s clearly put in the hours in a tattoo parlour Young Adventurers made a glorious racket tonight with Pix(ies) of the bunch Song 4 brilliantly blending punky guitars with more melodic vocals. Ladies of the world pick up thy guitars and play! 

That should have warmed us up neatly for ShitPresent but sadly the last train back to the wonderful wibbly world of Whimple is 11.01 and it’s a 9 mile walk or a mortgage-tastic taxi ride back so we had to leave just as they were getting going which was a bit of a, well, shitter to be honest. I guess that’s what you get for choosing to live in the countryside (to be honest public transport in Brum’s not a huge amount better though). Anyone know of any cheap rooms we can rent for the night to avoid this catastrophe in the future?! Answers on a Shit Present 12 inch single to The Baron, Whimple, Under a Barrel of Cider.   

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Shit Present...great line up!

Exeter's very own pop punksters Shit Present launch their brand new record this Thursday (November 5th) at The Cavern with support from Young Adventurers, Will Rene and Honey Pot (hmmm, wonder if they've ever played The Beehive...see, I'm all over this Devon gig lark already). Tickets are a ridonkuously cheap £5 or £8 with a shiny 12 inch copy of the new single (vinyl, it's the future).

Monday, November 02, 2015

Jim at the Beehive!

Multi Folk Award nominee Jim Causely plays The Beehive in Honiton this Saturday, November 7th, quite possibly performing tracks from his forthcoming new album (Forgotten Kingdom) plus a smattering (at the very least) of traditional tunes to boot. Tickets are just £8 in advance or a tenner on the door...discounts for OABees perhaps? Sorry, couldn't resist that.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Diane Charlemagne RIP

Sad to report that Diane Charlemagne, the voice behind Urban Cookie Collective's The Key The Secret and Goldie's seminal Inner City Life, passed away on Wednesday. As legacies go that's not a bad couple of tracks to leave behind though is it eh? RIP.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Zuri Aura - Luminous Shift

Ooooooooooooh this is double lush with an extra helping of lush on the side, Zuri Aura live and unplugged as part of Exeter's very own edition of Balcony TV dishing up the kind of chilled out reggae summer time vibes that'll warm the cockles (and any other parts for that matter).  Looks like they're playing at somewhere called The Old Firehouse too (there's another gig venue to add to the old list) on Friday night (30th).

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Exeter gig venues

I knew Brum's best gig venues like the back of my hand but Exeter's still uncharted waters at the mo. From what I can tell there are 5 main places to catch regular gigs though. These are, in no particular order (or at least in no particular order until they've plied me with peanuts and cider):

Exeter Phoenix

Exeter Cavern (PS: The vid above is Mark Morris at Exeter Cavern, happily he's back on November 26th, highly recommended. Tickets right here).

Exeter Corn Exchange 

The Bike Shed

The Monkey Suit

(There's Westpoint Arena too but the only acts playing there in the near future are alt-j, The Horrors and Elton John, sadly not all on the same bill although how great/terrifying would that be?).

Any other tips from clued up Exeter gig goers gratefully received, the grimier the better (the gig venues that is, not the gig goers, although I ain't fussy).

Krafty Kuts - A Golden Age of Breakbeat

Still struggling to get back into the swing of things...Devon is so chilled it's almost intoxicating compared to dear old Bearwood, even without the cider...but this is certainly helping, Krafty Kuts' Golden Age of Breakbeat, just over an hour of the breakiest beats this side Respec' due to the Gooba (he knows who he is...) over in the US for the tip. As he put it, "play it LOUD".

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Oooooooooh Devon is a place on earth...

Well, I've finally relocated to sunny Devon so I'd better get a shift on and find some gigs to big up/review/loiter outside looking a bit shifty. This lot (Sound Of The Sirens) sound good, playing at Exeter Phoenix on Friday November 13th. Tickets right here, right now for a mere fiver.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Gigs, gigs, gigs...

I might be up to my neck in cardboard boxes (moving house...don’t do it people), spending night after night debating just how many copies of Soft Cell’s Non Stop Erotic Cabaret I actually need (I’m currently down to a mere 6 copies) but there are oodles of great gigs coming up in and around Brum right now. Pick of the next week or so includes lonelady this Thursday (8th) at The Rainbow, John McCullagh & The Escorts (see vid above) this Friday (9th), also at The Rainbow and the double delights of Du Blonde (see vid below) and Goodnight Lenin at The Hare & Hounds next Monday (12th). Enjoy...and have a pint for me.

PS: Oh go on then, here's a track from Non Stop Erotic Cabaret too. 

Monday, October 05, 2015

Ghosts of Dead Aeroplanes - Barry Norman

Taking a much needed break from packing up the detritus of a life spent trawling car boot sales/charity shops/skips/bins I stumbled across the new one from Brum' very own Ghosts of Dead Aeroplanes. Romping home at just under two glorious minutes (all the best things in life take just under two minutes) it's the catchiest thing they've ever done and in a better world they'd be on Top Of The Pops pogoing around and smashing up the set with one of Savile's leg bones. It's taken from their brand new release The Yellow EP due out on October 30th with just 250 copies being unleashed upon an unsuspecting world (unless they've read this, but come on now, who reads this?) and you can catch 'em live at The Rainbow on November 6th. Altogether now "Barrrry Norman, Barrrrrry Norman...".

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Everything must go...

Just occurred to me that I've been neglecting The Aid for the last week or so but in case you're wondering what I'm up to I'm on the move (hopefully...if you've ever sold a house you'll know it's never a done deal until, well, it's a done deal). Having lived in the same place for 21 years I've accumulated a bit of stuff. Make that a lot of stuff,'s a MOUNTAIN of stuff. Much of it is of the music related variety, tapes (remember them?), CDs (ditto) and vinyl...boxes and boxes and boxes of vinyl. Despite knowing that most of it is pretty worthless I grew up at a time when music was a physical thing that you owned rather than a file on a computer or a freebie out there on the intermess (I wonder how long will it be before 'they' start charging you to use the internet just like 'they' charge you for any other utility?) and parting with it is proving just a tad tricky (incidentally I just found a pile of records by both Tad and Tricky...spooky eh?). Anyway that's why The Aid is quiet at the moment, I'm surrounded by piles of records rocking backwards and forwards and weeping gently.

PS: When I titled this Everything Must Go it was a statement of intent, now it's more of an admission of defeat...I fear the whole ruddy lovely lot will be coming with me.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Geoff Foulkes - RIP

Sad news yesterday from Troumaca announcing the passing of band member Geoff Foulkes who'd been battling cancer for the past year. No matter how long any of us spend in this mortal coil it's the memories we leave behind that matter and judging by the huge outpouring of love and affection Geoff spent his all too short time here on earth better than most. RIP.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

King Crimson @ Symphony Hall, Monday 14th September 2015

Genesis, Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Nirvana, Primus, Iron Maiden...just a handful of the bands that have  acknowledged a debt to King Crimson, albeit in one of its many different guises. Formed way back in 1968 it’s ploughed through its fair share of members, with only one, Robert Fripp, sticking it out. Good man. Okay, so he’s taken time out on a regular basis and ‘retired’ or turned his back on the evil ol’ music biz on more than one occasion but here he is, a full 32 years after the last proper UK King Crimson tour with, according to the mighty oracle that is Wikipedia, line-up number 8.  

Crimson’s one of those bands that seem to inspire almost religious levels of devotion amongst fans and, rather impressively given that they last troubled the top 40 album charts back in 1984, tonight’s gig is a sell out, with a second show booked for the following evening. Rather sweetly before tonight’s began a pre-recorded message from the band was played asking that the audience put away their phones and/or cameras and Fripp, sounding a little like a more chilled out Michael Eavis, gently urged us all to  just “enjoy the moment” and, for the most part, the crowd dutifully obeys.  

On come the band, suited and booted and ready for busy-ness, wending their way through an impressive display of instruments, with a gentle cheer reserved for Fripp who pauses for a moment to survey the scene, raising his hand to shield his eyes as he looks up at the balconies. It’s a big venue, but then again this version of Crimson could hardly be what you call compact. Most bands have a drummer. A handful even have two. In a somewhat drum-atic move this current incarnation of Crimson’s plumped for three...THREE...well and truly putting the drums centre stage, literally (they’re all positioned at the front) and, in many tracks, musically too.  

Sitting at the back on the right hand side of the stage Fripp comes across as the Professor Yaffle of prog rock, stock still when he’s not playing but coming to life (gently it has to be said) when he’s needed. Unlike Professor Yaffle of course he doesn’t say much. In fact he doesn’t say anything. Aside from the singing bits none of them utters a word for the whole two hour set, a case of let the music do the talking I guess. And talk it does. It’s pointless trying to pigeon hole the Crimson sound, besides the pigeon would probably go mad and spontaneously combust. Suffice to say that there’s some jazz in there, some prog, some metal, some folk and a healthy dose of ingredient X. One moment you’re being blasted by an almost tribal ferocity of Burundi-ish drumming, the next soothed by a gossamer light flute. 

There’s something for even the most casual Crimson fan in the setlist with Red cropping up as an early highlight. It’s funk, it’s jazz, it’s rock, it’s prog...and tonight it’s epic, with the triple drumming rendering this Red in glorious 3D (that’s 3 Drummers by the way). Pat Mastelotto, Gavin Harrison and Bill Rieflin frequently play as one great big six armed drum machine, breaking off occasionally to add delicate (or almighty) little flourishes of their own. They make it look effortless but it must be three flavours of impossible to keep the complex timing in sync. At one point in proceedings, not content with having three of them on the stage, each drummer has two sticks in each hand...that’s 12 sticks...that’s like half a dozen drummers! It’s a drum do all round. But still they manage to stay in time. Amazing.

New track (one of several played this evening) Suitable Case For The Blues has lyrics which appear (at first listen at least) to be a bit of a lament for the state of the modern world, although some of the drumming drowned out a word or two here and there (hell, what do you expect with three world class drummers up front?). What the world would make of a brand new King Crimson album remains to be seen but the new material fits in well with the older stuff so happily it's not a case of Fripp it up and start again...

Back to the classics and the opening words of Epitaph get a small whoop of appreciation, “Confusion will be my epitaph” sings current Crimson vocalist Jakko Jakszyk (who, by a strange coincidence, is married to the daughter of original Crimson drummer Michael Giles...spooky) as several hundred audience members nod sagely, clearly no wiser in their 60s and 70s as they were when they first heard this music back in and 70s.

Fripp retains his dignified demeanour on his plinth throughout the evening and it’s easy to miss him, visually at least, altogether. But then you hear some beautiful guitar work spilling out, glance across and there he is, nimble fingers gliding down the fret like water over marble. Glorious. To his right stands Chapman Stick supremo and coolest looking dude in town Tony Levin who lays wonderfully warm and mellifluous funky bass licks across many of the evenings best numbers. A regular with Crimson since the 80s he’s apparently played on over 500 albums including John Lennon’s Double Fantasy and Peter Gabriel’s chart gobbling So. Not too shabby eh?    

Maybe it’s just my ears but Easy Money, from 1973, seemed to have little echoes of Bowie’s Fame and Genesis’ In The Air Tonight, both of which came afterwards of course, reiterating (in case it were needed) just how influential Fripp and Crimson have been over the years. Vocally this was Jakko at his best, soaring vocals more than holding their own against the musical onslaught, no mean feat. He was also ruddy good on the brilliantly brooding Dylan Thomas inspired Starless, initially featuring just one drummer it was a much needed moment of calm before all hell (hounds of Krim) broke loose again and the triple headed drum machine was unleashed once more.

Following a pretty much universal and thoroughly well deserved standing ovation the band wheeled out the biggies. Can you get proggier than In The Court Of The Crimson King? No, no you can’t. That doesn’t stop it being a great track though, even though it nudges close to Spinal Tap territory on one or two occasions, and tonight’s version sounded suitably mythic with Mel Collins in particularly fine form on the flute. Epic. The Prog-nificent Seven anyone?

That just left room for 21st Century Schizoid Man, perhaps sadly better known by anyone under the age of 40 via Kanye West’s purloining of its chorus on 2010’s Power. Thankfully Mr West wasn’t here tonight, or at least if he was he managed to avoid invading the stage and blathering on about how misunderstood he is. Arguably the band’s crowning glory it still sounds like nothing else on earth despite being just a few years shy of its 50th birthday. It’s the kind of track that makes you want to rip off your own head and kick into space. The perfect marriage of musical madness and majesty.

Seven musicians arguably...and incredibly...still at the top of their game, some of the most intriguing and influential (even if some of those influenced don't always acknowledge the debt) music ever made and an all too rare gig in a City that the band last played way, way back in 1973 made this evening some-King truly special. 

King Crimson plays Birmingham Symphony Hall again this evening. Tickets still available...or you could wait until their next date in 2047. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Whiskey Brothers – Bottle Up and Go

Okay, so they’re not really brothers (and they’re drinking beer instead of whiskey on the CD insert!) but that’s pretty much the only artifice on this brand new, lovingly put together set of blues numbers old and new. Recorded more or less live (with Jim Simpson, the dude behind the legendary Henry’s Blue’s House in the 60s and 70s...he also went on to discover and manage a certain Black Sabbath...on production dutiesRichard Heath and Gerry Smith clearly know their Ma’s (Rainey that is) from their elbow and they’ve picked some real blues beauts to cover from the title track, a rollicking run through Tommy McClennan’s Bottle Up and Go, on to a poignant (not always an easy task on such a familiar tune) Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out  and some surprisingly authentic sounding self penned numbers including pick of the bunch Walkin’ Blues (dang, you can almost taste the dust). With a debut this good maybe next time they'll make it a double eh? 

Bottle Up and Go is out on Big Bear Records on October 1st 2015 and the band hits the road...albeit mainly Brum's inner ring road...on their Hometown Tour throughout September, October and November. Details right here

Monday, September 07, 2015

Moseley Folk Festival 2015, Friday 4th September – Sunday 6th September 2015

Festivals come and festivals go but there was something that little bit magical about the very first Moseley Folk waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back in 2006 that made all those who were there then feel that this one was a bit of a keeper. Its location (the lovely Moseley Private Park), its size (a few thousand), its team (some of the ruddy loveliest people around - RIP Russell Gill), its timing (just as summer slips gently into Autumn), its line-ups (a mix of pure folk legends and...well...anything the organisers fancy putting on) all came together to make Mo Folk special. And now, here we are, celebrating its tenth instalment with a typically eclectic mix culminating with none other than The Monkees.

Day One

Friday afternoon’s highlights included an ever so slightly surreal set from The Pictish Trail (aka Johnny Lynch) who interspersed his melancholy gems (comparisons have been made to Bon Iver) with standup and sudden 30 second bursts of bangin’ house. Up at the Kitchen Garden Stage Ministry For The Interior fused fiddle, guitar and sitar (I do love a good bit of sitar) to create a wonderfully meditative vibe paving the way for The Lost Brothers who had that two voices one soul feel that only truly great vocal duos possess. Think of them as an Irish Simon and Garfunkel...but hopefully without the decades of slightly bitter backbiting.

Late addition to the bill but firm Mo Folk favourite Scott Matthews was on particularly fine form this afternoon, coming across like the love child of Jeff Buckley and Nick Drake (anything’s possible with science these days).

What are they putting in the water in Liverpool at the moment? Whatever it is it’s clearly working judging by the bands coming out of there right now. 

Hot on the heels of Tiro Lark’s impressive set at Mostly Jazz Funk and Soul The Vyrll Society’s mash up of 60s psych and groovy beats, fronted by a dude who does indeed ‘move like Jagger’, was like Hawkwind jamming with The Stone Roses.

World Service suffered a little break in transmission when their keyboard player got stuck in traffic but at least it gave the band’s somewhat mercurial lead singer (in a former life he wrote and sang the original version of Duran Duran’s Girls On Film), Andy Wicket, the chance to improv some songs based on the problem. When the missing member (hmmm, that sounds like some kind of pornographic crime story) finally appeared normal World Service was soon resumed though, with Wicket running through the kind of perfect pop songs that deserve a much bigger audience.

Speaking of perfect pop songs Stockport’s Blossoms already have one under their belt courtesy of Blown Rose blending jingle jangle 80s indie with a more tripped out 60s vibe. Simply one of the best singles of 2015 and the rest of their psych pop flavoured set wasn’t too shabby either. Blooming great.

A quick dash up to the Kitchen Garden Stage gave a chance to catch lively punk folkers Balsall Heathens’ Whisky In The Giro...and no, that’s not a typo for a change. From the ridiculous (in the best possible way) to the sublime courtesy of Anna Calvi. 

Who knows where that voice comes from (at times the slight Calvi herself seems almost startled by it) but it’s enough to make Dame Shirley Bassey quake in her stilettos. She has the songs too, epic sounding tracks like Suzanne and I or Desire, both of which were spinetinglingly great this evening, echoing with her spiritual heirs, the likes of Piaf, Bassey and perhaps even Bessie Smith. Calvi plays a mean guitar as well, a twangtastic vintage telecaster. Add that distinctive trademark image (blood red lipstick and hair swept back flamenco style) and you’ve got it all. A true star.

Images don’t come much more distinctive than sporting nothing but a blonde merkin and a pair of trainers but that’s how Beth Jeans Houghton decided to introduce the world to her new incarnation Du Blonde recently. Rawer and punkier than her previous sound it’s an intriguing new direction, the origins of which were perhaps hinted at via a fine cover of The Pixies Where Is My Mind. Elsewhere Black Flag married Patti Smith with Karen O and set closer, Chips To Go brought a little Sparks-ish magic to the party. There’s no doubting the Du Blonde ambition, let’s hope the world’s listening cos this stuff’s ruddy great. Beth, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.  

After the twin delights of Anna Calvi and Du Blonde (even reading that pairing again is exciting...) Jason Pierce’s Spiritualized had a hell of a lot to live up to but the dreamy spacepop, motorik beats and stoner gospel still found a receptive crowd, even if Pierce himself remained hidden behind sunglasses at the side of the stage. 

Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space remains a gloriously twisted lullaby but it was set closer Come Together that really hit the spot. Dirty riffs, swirling organs, gospel voices, Pierce drawling the lyrics like a man who’s taken too many purple that’s the kind of climax you want from a ‘folk’ festival. Orgasmic.     

Day Two

Lush orchestration courtesy of Wooden Arms greeted early arrivers on Day Two of Mo Folk easing any lingering hangovers with classical music meets gentle trip hop beats before Abi Budgen, who never fails to surprise and impress in equal measure. This time highlights included a bluesy tribute to mums of the world (Momma Workin’ So Hard), the disco-tastic Skinny Jeans and Paper Trumpet Man, a tribute to Art Brut pioneer for paper trumpets...Adolf Wolfli...played on...yes, you’ve guessed it...paper trumpets.

Next up Sivu’s skyscraping vocals briefly cleared the clouds away courtesy of the Wild Beasts-ish Better Man Than He and Bodies, seemingly inspired by a vision of a giant flood “wiping the slate clean” a la Noah’s Ark. 

Happily it stayed dry for Eliza Shaddad whose performance drew one or two comparisons with Sinead O’Connor at her potent best. Next up a song in medieval French (surely a first for Mo Folk?) and puns in Swimming in the Longest River ( Nile...the Nile geddit?) from multi-instrumentalist Olivia Chaney, a singer with the kind of deliciously clear, crisp voice that could freshen up a sewage works in summer.

All the way from Portland, Oregon Houndstooth brought a little 60s garage twang to proceedings with low key break up anthem Borderlands’ “burned out love” refrain managing to be both sing-along-catchy and more than a little mournful at the same time.

Back in the 60s it may have led to cries of “JUDAS!” but thankfully we live in more enlightened times so Jim Moray’s new folk rock outfit, False Lights, with Sam Carter received the enthusiastic welcome it deserved. 

Opening number Skewball was particularly raucous, fiddle, accordion, guitars, drums...more wiser souls have pointed out it’s the sound of Fairport Convention meets Radiohead. Wife Of Ushers Well with its simple but nagging vocal sample reinforced the comparison with Carter going full on Yorke at one point. An intriguing new proposition, hip hip Moray!

Nothing beats a shared womb if you want to sing in perfect harmony and trio The Cadbury Sisters’ sound is every bit as sweet as their name suggests. Recent single, the dreamy Drifting, was impressive but the real highlight was their slowed down version of Make Me Smile. Grieve Harley anyone?

At their best laurel Canyon’s Dawes truly soared with The Eagles this afternoon with an impressive number of people in the crowd belting out the words to pretty much every song. 

Kudos to guitarist Duane Betts for some seemingly effortless but truly beautiful solos too, notably on the epic Somewhere Along The Way.

Stick In The Wheel dragged folk kicking and screaming into the 21st century with a song about the London Riots (sample lyric “got a TV but it was too heavy”). Folk has always been a music of protest and...whisper it...revolution...and it’s great to hear that this ethos is still alive and well, replacing tales of blacksmiths and miners with stuff about lorry drivers. And why the hell not eh?

Gaz Coombes is on something of a roll right now having cast off his slightly cheeky chappy Supergrass image and won over a completely new audience with the genuinely classic album Matador (seriously essential in any record collection). 

Tonight’s set showcased the album’s best bits with a brooding Buffalo and haunting 20/20 (distinct echoes of Radiohead again) as obvious highlights. The sideburns and knack for penning a decent hook may still be the same but Coombes’ songwriting is a million years away from his earlier stuff and that’s more than more than Alright by me.  

Bearing the hallmarks of previous producer Bill Ryder-Jones and current one Richard Hawley The Merrylees married a dizzying variety of influences, country, psych, goth, Merseybeat and pop...and that’s just for starters. No idea what it was called but the last song that mentioned vampires sounded like The Damned jamming with MC5.

Until recently Idlewild seemed, unfairly, to be destined to languish in the history books as a bit of footnote to the 90s indie scene. Comebacks are always difficult things and hopes can’t have been high when copies of the band’s new stuff drifted into radio studios last year. Seemingly Roddy Woomble’s sojourn in the folk world has worked wonders though as the new songs fizz with the same emotional honesty and raw power as the hits. Tonight’s Opening track Frozen In Time was stadium worthy with the kind of sing till your lungs burst chorus that most bands would sell their grans for. What followed was a timely reminder that Idlewild actually produced some of the best tunes of the 90s with each hit great or small greeted with a Pavlovian smile of recognition by the 40-somethings. Did they always sound this BIG? 

You Held The World In Your Arms Tonight, Little Discourage, Roseability, Captain...each and every track was dispatched with an energy that made the years peel away. Even the more low key and reflective Come On Ghost (the best song never written by REM) seemed epic. “Wow a moshpit at a folk festival” observed Roddy towards the end of the set “and no security, just faeries and elves...and us”. As the crowd moshed themselves into happy oblivion during the ultimate quiet / loud / quiet anthem The Remote Part I reckon even the faeries were getting stuck in. Idlewild, you well and truly held the world (well the Moseley bit of it at least) in your arms tonight.

Day Three

Boat To Row’s Michael King made all the effort of dragging my knackered old carcass down to the Festival for the savagely early hour of 11am worthwhile. Sweet ‘n’ soothing vocals plus some impressive nimble fingered guitar picking (shades of the great Michael Chapman...and that’s high praise) even drew out the sun which remained a welcome guest for the rest of the day. There, you want good weather stick on Michael King.

It’s been some time since I was punched in the guts but that’s pretty much what Aaron Fyfe did, albeit metaphorically. Putting the ‘f’ into folk this blend of Billy’s Bragg, Connolly and Hicks blew the socks off anyone there to listen. 

Voice frequently cracking with a blend of righteous anger and emotion he capped off one of the sets of the weekend with Rocking Chair, a hymn to seizing the day that we could all do with heeding. “This may not be the best life but it’s the best life you’re ever going to have”. A-fucking-men to that brother.

Peacock Angell jazzed things up a little with songs about murdering sparrows and life as a hobo courtesy of musical maestro Sid Peacock and the Ashley Hutchings’ approved Ruth Angell before David Campbell delivered another blow to the guts in a set that should’ve been heard by thousands. Son of the late, great Ian who made his last ever appearance at Moseley Folk David and his uke (joined later by his own son on mournful trumpet duties) played a selection of songs (including D Day Dodgers made famous by the Ian Campbell Folk Group) with a quiet intensity that was simply stunning. Campbell seems not of this time somehow, an echo of the past but one that’s every bit as relevant, perhaps even more so than ever. 

Brother Can You Spare A Dime may have been written in the depression but with food banks seemingly becoming an accepted part of modern life for many Campbell’s rendition today seemed particularly timely. An important voice in every sense of the word.

Stephen Steinbrink and Twelfth Day both helped lull the swelling crowd into a gentle late summer reverie with the latter’s harpist Esther Swift producing some particularly magical moments leading to another one, the appearance of genuine 100% folk legends Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick who this afternoon were determined to party like it was the ‘60s all over again...the 1660s that is. Swarbrick may have had his obituary published in 1999 but he seemed in fine form this afternoon, riotously asking for Carthy’s guitar to be turned up “a thousand fuckin’ times” and regaling us with tales of his missing teeth. 

Between them they’ve clocked up around 120 years service to folk which is enough to draw the crowds wanting to watch a little history but Carthy’s still living in the now as proved by this afternoon’s reworking (first heard in The Imagined Village project) of My Son John, updating the lyrics from the Napoleonic war to the more recent Afghan conflicts.

The Unthanks have clearly also been doing a little reworking of their own, boosting their traditional folk sound with a much richer, more orchestral feel. They’ve not lost sight of their roots though, cleverly using the sound of their Northumbrian clog dancing to add a little extra percussion to several tracks. Pick of the set Mount The Air was an epic (ten minute plus) slow build piece of cinematic chamber folk whilst Life’s A Flutter came across as the kind of icy trip hoppy beauty that Portishead would be proud to call one of their own. The King Of Rome hit Beatles-ish highs before Magpie stripped things back to basics again. Magical stuff.

After the now traditional Cut A Shine soundtracked hayfight The Polyphonic Spree continued their mission to lift the souls of every man, woman and child on earth with a set that could almost be described as a religious experience. Playing the whole of their debut album The Beginning Stages of...the whole set was a joy from start to finish. Imagine if The Beatles and ELO had got it on in California, started a cult and prescribed free weed for everyone. It was like that. Only better. If life’s every getting you down a bit stick on a Polyphonic Spree track and you’ll feel at least 78% better. Guaranteed. 

Joined by 13 or so disciples (imagine the cost of keeping this show on the road) lead Spreester Tim De Laughter was a man seemingly possessed with the pure joy of life, raising his arms heavenwards and frequently leaping onto the monitors at the front of the stage like he was about to take off. Given just how uplifting it all was you frankly wouldn’t be surprised if one day he did just that.

As warm up slots go opening for The Monkees ain’t a bad one to have on your CV. Goodnight Lenin (now with added Free School) made the most of it, unveiling their rockier more blue collar Americana sound to its biggest audience to date. The self penned numbers were as great as ever but lining up Michael King to join them for a joyous romp through Springsteen’s Dancing In the Dark was a stroke of genius.

Okay, so Davy Jones may have joined the eternal daydreamers and Michael Nesmith may be sitting this one out but 50% of The Monkees ain’t too shabby, especially as it still includes the irrepressible Mickey Dolenz, now 70 years young. Kicking off with a faithful Last Train To Clarksville Tork and Nesmith were in remarkably fine voice. 

There’s still that madcap sense of humour too (even if it did momentarily seem in danger of imploding when Tork’s keyboard stopped behaving itself) with Tork mock stumbling around, pulling faces and gently taking the piss out of Dolenz when he stifles a yawn at one point “Not keepin’ ya up are we?”. The crowd were there for the hits and the pair duly performed each and every one of them from The Beatles / Til Death Do Us Part Inspired Randy Scouse Git through to the countrified Listen To The Band and on to an impressively punchy (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone. 

You’d think it would be difficult to top several thousand people singing Daydream Believer together but somehow they managed it thanks to a Polyphonic Spree boosted version of The Purpoise Song (from The Monkees movie Head) that left host Janice Long struggling to hold back the tears as she closed proceedings. As “goodbyes, goodbyes, goodbyes...” go it really doesn’t get much better than that.   

Friday, September 04, 2015

Ready. Get set. Mo!

Yep, Mo Folk's tenth instalment kicks off today with oodles of great acts ranging from former Duran Duran lead singer Andy Wickett, firm Mo Folk favourite Scott Matthews (a late addition to the bill), Anna Calvi (boy that woman can sing) and Beth Jean Houghton's new incarnation Du Blonde (hmmm...wonder if she'll be in 'that' outfit?). The whole thing climaxes with Spiritualized so we can indeed Together. There was no need for that was there eh?

Tickets available on t'door I believe (although I'd get there early to be on the safe side).

PS: There's a collection for local food banks so bring a can...if you can...