Whilst a not insignificant proportion of the British public is gently festering in a field in Somerset watching a speck in the distance and wondering who the hell it is (ignore me, I’m only jealous) I’m in Digbeth...or Deritend...or somewhere beginning with D. Not been to this venue before but it’s like one of those effortlessly cool ‘urban’ spaces that you read about in Vice Magazine but never get around to visiting because either (a) Countryfile is on or (b) you’re terrified of going anywhere without at least two dozen security guards, sixteen CCTV cameras and a steady supply of WKD.
If you’ve not ever been to a Sunday Xpress happening before, shame on you. The format’s fairly simple, an open mic slot between 4-ish and 7-ish anchored by the legendary Big Bren then bands from then onwards. Oh yes, the whole thing’s FREE too, financially and metaphorically speaking. From spoken word acts through to acoustic singer/songwriters it’s all hugely entertaining. Highlights today included a moving piece of prose from Sue, Paul’s Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien, Tim’s Spiderman theme tune spoofing Ciderman, “Goddess of Fabulousness” Swingerella (who’s shortly off to the Edinburgh Festival) and Will French’s set but to be honest every single performer we caught genuinely deserved their slot.
Open mic section over The Nature Centre kicked off the billed bit of the night with some brilliant slices of leftfield indiepop. With Beth from Kate Goes (not sure if they’re still going...) onboard seemingly no instrument is out of bounds; clarinet, sax, synthesiser/sampler thingy, banjo, flugelhorn...okay so maybe not the last one but I’d bet she could play that too. If you know your local indiepop you’ll be familiar with Kate Goes and Misty’s Big Adventure and The Nature Centre are worthy contributors to the cause. Any band with a song called Give Me Some Codeine And I’ll Give You The World must surely be destined for greatness, even if it is ending up playing a session on BRMB (the title of another set highlight). What’s that? BRMB ‘s now called Free Radio? Good grief. Next you’ll be telling me that they’ve cancelled Tiswas...
Prog, post punk, performance poetry, pop (albeit pop that’s off its tits), The Courtesy Group are all of this, none of this and...er...a lot more besides. Fronted by the seemingly possessed Al Hutchins who spent most of the gig either in the crowd, on the window ledge or clambering up various bits of the venue they’re arguably one of the most criminally underrated bands in Brum (and beyond). Imagine the bastard offspring of John Lydon and Mark E Smith drunk on Moloko Plus fronting the kind of band that could quite possibly raise Peel from the dead. They seem to have a new, additional drummer in place too who kicked things up a notch adding bells cow into the mix. Now who doesn’t love cow bells eh?
Looking like he’d necked half a shandy or two (hell, that’s what Sunday afternoons are for isn’t it?) Robert Lloyd, the only original member of cult post punkers Nightingales (genuine Peel favourites back in the day) wandered onto the ‘stage’ and eyed the crowd like a man looking for a fight. Several fights in fact, possibly involving some groin kneeing, eye gouging and major dental work. That pretty much set the tone for the gig, with Lloyd in typically confrontational form variously berating the audience for “letting the wankers in” (presumably a reference to the election, unless he’d caught someone whacking off in the corner somewhere) and calling us a “bunch of fuckers”. He might be in his mid 50s but clearly age ain’t mellowed him and that’s a very, very good thing indeed. We need the prick kickers, trouble makers, revolutionaries and moaning gits more than ever these days and this evening Nightingales well and truly messily ticked all these boxes in one of the most energising gigs I've seen in many a moon (and I've seen a few).
The set highlight came early on courtesy of 2014’s Dumb and Drummer which hammers together rockabilly, glam, punk...pre and post...and adds the odd funky grove for good measure. Arguably the best thing the band’s ever done (which ain’t bad going when you’re 35 years into your ‘career’) it packs more into a single song than most bands manage in an entire album. The contrast between Fliss’s deceptively sweet vocals and Lloyd’s gruff delivery, coupled with the sudden changes in pace from full on rock to gently trippy Merry Go Round breaks is a little like being punched in the guts one second then caressed with a feather the next. If you only ever listen to one track from The Nightingales make it this one.
Later in the set Bullet For Gove cemented the band’s commitment to confrontation (calling your last but one album For Fuck’s Sake kind of gives the game away too) with drummer Fliss pounding her kit into submission and Lloyd half crooning half howling out the words flanked by Alan and Andreas (lead guitar and bass respectively) on groove duties. Don’t expect to hear this track played on Radio 2 anytime soon...more’s the pity.
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