Friday, May 29, 2015

Oh FFS...

Don't think I've posted anything by FFS yet but if I have so what can never have too much of a good thing. If you've not heard of FFS before you'll probably / hopefully know the bands behind it, Franz Ferdinand (the FF bit) and Sparks (go on...guess...yep...the S bit). The idea came about way back in 2004 but it's taken a decade or so to make it happen. For my money the Sparks side of the equation is much more evident than the Ferdinand DNA but happily the two bands seem to gel pretty seamlessly. There are a few live dates coming up (none in Brum...what a shocker eh?) plus an album available on CD (awww bless...remember them?), vinyl (including a special limited edition coloured vinyl version) and download (for those with no soul). Here's a couple more tracks to whet your whistles, or any other part of your anatomy for that matter.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Go Selector!

Spent a very enjoyable couple of hours at the Coventry Music Museum on Saturday. It’s a great little place, stuffed full of memorabilia and staffed entirely by volunteers (including The Primitives’ Tracey Tracey’s mum and dad and music historian/journalist Pete Chambers). As you’d expect there’s a load of cool Two Tone stuff including a recreation of a fan’s bedroom from the late 70s and a 60s era listening booth. I’m just a touch too young to remember the latter but the bedroom rang more than a few bells. Anyone fancy a Marathon bar? Ahhh happy days, what kind of ruddy stupid name is Snickers? Pffff. Anyway, it’s just two quid to get in and it’s well worth a visit. I had no idea Hazel O’Connor or Delia Derbyshire were from Cov either. You live and learn. Anyway, here are a few Cov classic for your delectation and delight (PS: I just had to include a Terry Blair and Anouchka track, Terry Hall at his poppiest...he even cracks a smile or two, bless him). 

Just one question...why the hell doesn't Birmingham have a place like this? Oh yeah...too busy wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on a library that they can't afford to keep open...good grief. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Young Romance - Never Learn

Here's something with a little spunk to get your Bank Holiday weekend off to a decent start. They're a London based duo, been around for a couple of years. He (Paolo) plays guitar, she (Claire) plays drums and sings and between them they make the kind of Noise Pop that makes you want to bounce around in your underpants. Enjoy.

PS: I've not posted much new music from my bulging in box for a while (oh how it bulges), mainly because very little's grabbed me. This may be down to my advancing years (when you're 111 inevitably pretty much everything sounds like something else) but also because music seems to be in a bit of an odd place at the moment. Looking back over the years there have always been distinct movements, something that unites fashion and music as well as giving like-minded bands a...wanky word ahoy...'scene' to be part of. Whilst this helps new bands find a fanbase it also, in a 1 + 1 = 3 kind of way, seems to feed that particular genre too. From Merseybeat to Glam, Punk to New Romanticism, Mod to Ska, Britpop to Nu Rave these movements all had a distinct focus that seems to be lacking right now. The absence of any single mass media 'channel' (be it Top of the Pops, NME, Radio 1 etc) might well be to blame. The big record labels also seem to be playing it as safe as possible, picking and pushing acts that have mass appeal and aren't likely to do anything too challenging or outlandish. At the other end of the spectrum you've got bands that simply can't afford to tour very much (or spend ages writing and recording) as many of the smaller labels have gone to the wall after the budgets that physical record sales generated withered away to nothingness (it seems like you have to have your track 'streamed' a billion times on Spotify before you make a fiver). Of course great music is still being made and played and maybe none of this stuff matters...brave new world and all that...but I fear a future where music's like water (hell, we're almost there already) and everyone just takes it for granted. Bands will come and go in the blink of an eye without having the chance to develop, the rich culture and history that music's built up over the decades will cease to be added to and all we'll be left with is autotuned fluff hawked by IT companies only interested in ad revenue...

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Voca People @ The New Alex Theatre, Wednesday 20th May 2015

Okay, quick question, how many Israel-based a cappella/beat boxing groups that claim to come from outer space (the Planet Voca no less, it’s hidden just behind the sun if you fancy a weekend away...I’m pretty sure Ryanair go there) can you name? I’ll give you a few minutes. Nope? Still nothing? That in itself is probably enough of a reason to catch VocaPeople if you get the chance. And that’s before they sing a single note.

The basic proposition is pretty simple, eight vocalists who cover a huge variety of well known songs using just their voices instead of instruments (who knows, maybe they were all nicked out of their spaceship whilst gigging on Mars...they’ll nick anything those Martians). Clad all in white but sporting bright red lipstick (that goes for the male Voca People too) they clearly share a little DNA with the Blue Man Group and I’m guessing the plan is to have numerous incarnations performing across the world...and universe if things go really well.

In this show the Voca People have crash landed on earth and their spaceship has run out of energy. Sadly the local BP garage can’t help (probably for the best, I’m not sure what Voca People would make of Ginsters Pasties) but they’ve discovered that earth music creates energy. Hurrah! That’s as good an excuse as they need to run through brief snippets of some of music’s greatest hits, everything from Nirvana’s Come As You Are through to the theme from the Godfather  (trust me, you’d send an i-Pod into meltdown if you tried to get it to play this many tracks in a couple of hours). In fact if you’re looking for a musical education this show’s not a bad place to start as they not only run through the various pitches of the human voice but also the evolution of mankind and music itself, and all this in a matter of minutes (hmmm, maybe the nation’s youth should be taught by Voca People, it would certainly make trigonometry a lot more fun).

Comedy and audience participation’s a huge part of the show and if you’re anywhere near the front there’s a reasonable chance that you’ll be involved at some point in proceedings. One of the female Voca People took a particular shine to me (clearly Specsavers don’t have a branch on Planet Voca yet) and I ended up doing unspeakable things on stage with her. What all of this will do for intergalactic relations I have no idea, but if we’re invaded by the Voca Army anytime soon you know who to blame.

Strip away the make-up and humour though and quite clearly all the Voca-lists have impressive voices. In fact you could say that this is their Voca-tion. Ahem. Once or twice I yearned for each one of them to sing a whole song but then again that’s what traditional gigs are for and this certainly ain’t a traditional gig. Put it all together and it’s a crazy mash up of music, comedy, improv and science fiction with just a little bit of sex thrown in for good measure (all very mild though, this is one of those rare shows that genuinely is suitable for all ages). You’d need a heart as cold as Neptune not to come out of this show grinning like a loon and the spontaneous standing ovation from the audience at the end of the night was one of the most enthusiastic I’ve seen in a while. Truly out of this world.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Voca in Brum this week!

Always on the lookout for something a little different/nuts I stumbled on this lot recently. Claiming to come from the Planet Voca (just behind the sun), Voca People are an Israeli a capella / beat boxing troupe who cover everything from Glenn Miller to Bruno Mars via Nirvana, Eurythmics, Queen, Michael Jackson Baha Men. Sometimes all in the same number. And right now they’re in the middle of a UK tour with a date at The Alexandra Theatre in Brum this Wednesday. Tickets here!    

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Lunar Festival...three weeks and counting!

Festival season. A magical time when we stumble outside into the sunshine / rain / hail / snow (delete as applicable) and get back to nature a little. I've been to a fair few over the years (including 10 Glastonburys...oh the horror of the long drop toilets back in the day) and have come to the not at all earth shattering conclusion that the smaller ones are at least 87% lovelier than the MASSIVE ones. There are some beauties to choose from too (big up Indietracks for instance) but one of the very best (and still something of a undiscovered treat, making it absolutely wanker free) is Lunar Festival. Unbelievably it's just over three weeks until this year's (where does the time go eh?) so to celebrate here's a trio of darn fine acts appearing there that you might not be quite so familiar with...

Good eh? Tickets are available right here for just £89 for the whole ruddy weekend...including camping...which is probably the cost of a pint of cider at Glastonbury these days (pah!) and here's how last year's Lunar went down. It really is a proper gem of a fact you'd be a luna-tic to miss it (yes I know I probably used that last year but you can't keep a good pun down).

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Courtney as fox

The best thing to have come out of Australia since Kylie (oh come've got to love a bit of Kylie), Courtney Barnett is back with a brand new single, Dead Fox (out on June 22nd), accompanied by this delightfully gruesome animation (best viewed after lunch I'd suggest). Lyrically it's another of Barnett's wonderfully trippy musings drifting in between some laid back slack-rock, a pretty irresistible combination in my book. Cool as we sort of said back in the early 90s.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels @ The New Alexandra Theatre – Wednesday May 6th 2015

Based on the 1988 film of the same name starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine (which itself was based on an earlier film called Bedtime Stories with Marlon Brando and David Niven...notta lotta people know that) Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is the tale of two con artists who both ‘make a living’ by ripping off the rich. When one of them moves in on the other’s patch they make a bet to determine who gets to stay there, with the loser promising to leave town and never return...

That’s pretty much the plot but there are several twists and turns that you won’t be expecting unless you’ve seen the movie/s giving this musical (now in its eleventh year) a little extra ‘je ne sais quoi’. The big opening number Give Them What They Want sums up what Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ mission appears to be. There’s comedy, glamour, romance and just a little sadism thrown in for good measure (keep an eye open for the whip scene...ouch), all taking place on a suitably snazzy and remarkably adaptable Art Deco set.

Given that he robs from the rich Michael Praed, perhaps best known for portraying Robin Hood, is ideal casting as the more sophisticated of the two cons, Lawrence. 

Okay so he doesn’t go in for the whole giving to the poor stuff this time but a pad on the French Riviera is a heck of a lot more expensive than a hollowed out tree trunk in Sherwood Forest. Praed seems born to play this kind of role, effortlessly oozing suave sophistication. 

What was perhaps more of a surprise was how good Noel Sullivan was as his younger, sassier rival Freddy. Revealing a real gift for comic timing and pulling off a Ruprecht routine that rivalled Martin’s in the movie (that takes some beating) he also blazed through his major musical number in Act 1, Great Big Stuff, like Shirley Bassey with balls and was eye wateringly great during the whip scene.  

Completing the trio of male leads Mark Benton, as the corrupt police chief Andre, was a treat from start to fin, channelling a little RenĂ© Artois from ‘allo ‘allo along the way and generating some of the biggest laughs of the night amongst audience and cast alike (you could see Praed edging close to corpsing on more than one occasion). 

After his spell on Strictly he can pull off some mean moves too! 

The ladies, Carley Stenson, Geraldine Fitzgerald and Phoebe Coupe, were all equally strong. Look out for Phoebe’s delightfully OTT Oklahoma, Christine’s wide eyed and innocent Here I Am and Geraldine’s gently charming duet with Benton Like Zis/ Like Zat.

Add a truly kick ass band buried beneath the stage somewhere (one of the best I’ve heard at The Alex) and a relentlessly energetic ensemble and you’ve got a something of an undiscovered gem of a musical comedy (this is its very first UK tour) that deserves its place right up there with firm favourites Spamelot and The Producers. In fact it’d be a dirty rotten shame to miss it...

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is on at The New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday May 16th 2015 before heading off on a nationwide tour. Tickets here! 

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Batteries - Batteries

Regular readers...yes, both of them...will know that I have a bit of a thing for indie pop legends Bis so colour me three flavours of excited at the news that the band's Sci-Fi Steven has a new album coming out in August (nothing like advance notice eh...I'm so far ahead of the curve I can't even see it...what curve??? Where???) under the name of Batteries. You can pre-order a copy on CD (are they still making those?) or vinyl (it's the future) right here, right now and in return you'll receive a free download of the title track Batteries, a very brief snippet of which you can here above.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Goodnight Lenin / John McCullagh & The Escorts @ The Rainbow, Friday May 1st

Having dropped the ‘Lennon’ bit from his name (he used to trade as John Lennon McCullagh...genuinely his real name apparently) and picked up a new band (The Escorts...low mileage, furry dice not included) hotly tipped Doncaster troubadour John McCullagh opened up the night with half a dozen or so classic sounding self penned numbers mainly pulled from brand new album, New Born Cry (out today and available right here!). There’s an easy going charm to his performance and even the odd technical hitch doesn’t throw him. Although at just 17 he’s already been gigging like a good ‘un for a few years so that’s perhaps not surprising. Musically there are touches of Jake Bugg, The Coral and Cast (the latter’s John Power produced the album), in other words a bit of a retro cool Merseybeat vibe most noticeably on recent single and one of the picks of the set the jaunty toe tapping She’s Calling Me. At other times when he gets stuck into the harmonica there’s almost a Dylan-ish spirit (albeit a Dylan that hits the right notes in the right order). They save the best till last though courtesy of the New Wavey New York City with its irresistible guitar groove and chorus that practically begs to be sung along with by thousands of screaming fans in Madison Square Gardens. 

More informed folk than I have tipped McCullagh for great things (as well as releasing the album Alan McGee’s a fan and he knows a thing or two about picking a winner...) and it’s not hard to see / hear why. 

One to watch.

By their own admission Goodnight Lenin perhaps pontificated a little too much on the release of their debut album, the appropriately titled In Our Own Time. Much of the material was equally reflective which made a large slice of tonight’s set – new tunes ahoy! – all the more surprising. Opening number Desire saw Lenin get their groove on like never before. This was swiftly followed by Start Over which replaced the gentler Americana feel of old with an almost Springsteen like primal rock ‘n’ blues feel. Reborn in the USA you could say. It’s harder, faster, rawer and ballsier than before. In fact if In Our Own Time was a gentle chat up line and a walk in the woods album number two could well be a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and a quickie up a back alley. It’s the first time I’d heard any of these songs but I’m pretty sure the lyrics for Start Over included the line “When I finally get my hands on you” sung with such gusto by lead vocalist John Fell that oestrogen levels rose by at least 22% in the room. Blimey. After a spirited Old Cold Hands (a stone cold classic) Heart Of Mine’s catchy guitar riffs and repeated chorus simplified the band’s sound further before The Wire added an almost post punk feel to proceedings (some fine guitar playing from Liam on this one) with Fell spitting out the lyrics “I don’t need it, I don’t believe it anymore” like a man on the edge. Last year’s single You Were Always Waiting got a well deserved whoop of appreciation (is it me or has Sam funked up the drums a little more...nice work fella) followed by a good natured heckle from someone in the audience after Fell had raised the prospect of a new album,“It won’t take four years again will it?”. Somehow given the pace of the new tracks and the obvious joy the band seemed to get from playing them happily I don’t think it will. 

Standout track from the latter part of the set was Slow Down, a semi instrumental number that give John Joe the chance to get his fiddle out again (always a bit of a crowd pleaser) and the band achieve a Waterboys-ish rock/blues/country/hoedown on speed type groove. Frickin’ EPIC. 

Cannily retaining the essence of what they were but adding a lot more oomph (that’s a technical term by the way) into the mix, tonight was a fascinating glimpse into a band in transition. Choppier riffs, rawer vocals, songs that go for the balls not just the heart...yep, there’s revolution in the air for the Lenin and you should be ‘Russian’ to see hear it (oh come on...I couldn’t resist that one).  

All photos courtesy of the lovely Mr Richard Shakespeare.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Funke and the Two Tone Baby - I'm Not Well

Multi-instrumentalist one man blues machine Dan Turnbull, aka Funke and the Two Tone Baby, is back with another cracking single, I'm Not Well, which moves seamlessly from a brooding intro into a foot stompin', neck poppin', chord meltin' study of Mr Turnbull's mental health. To cut a long story short...He's Not Well. That being said it's inspired a belter of a track's not all bad eh?

If you like this one (and why the hell wouldn't you?) I can heartily recommend looking up his back catalogue (as it were) and catching him live if you get the chance too, a lovely fella and hugely entertaining performer to boot.