Friday, October 24, 2014

Rumba de Bodas - Karnaval Fou



Saluti! You know what, had I not been born English I’d probably choose to be Italian. Good wine, good food, good lovin’...and a climate that supports all three of these life-affirming pleasures...what’s not to like eh? I’m mulling all this over whilst listening to Karnaval Fou, the brand new album from Bologna’s Rumba De Bodas, an equally delightful treat from one of the best live acts I’ve ever seen (and I’ve been lucky enough to see quite a few). Musically it rather brilliantly blends together ska and jazz with a little electro here there and just a dash of Italian magic to conjure up the kind of album that could quite frankly get the dead up and dancing.

Lead singer Matilda De Angelis’ voice is a delight from start to finish, capable of whipping up a party mood on opening number Sweet Sunshine (the kind of track Paloma Faith would sell her soul for) or yanking at the heart strings on standout track La Ballade du Dernier Prisonnier. Piaf herself would be proud of that one. In between the band dish up a little West African highlife courtesy of Marary Fo, some electro swing via Nowadays, the divinely dreamy Italia-skank of Goodnight and the Mariachi majesty of Mariachi Sun Dance. It’s all utterly brilliant, music that lifts the heart and soul...and it ain’t too bad at getting the ass moving too. Favoloso!


Karnaval Fou is available right now on Amazon...and probably other places...but I’m not sure where...anyway, track it down...you’re clever and all that. x

Monday, October 20, 2014

Holly Johnson @ The Institute, Sunday 19th October 2014



It’s 30 years since Relax was ‘banned’ by the BBC and the nation’s youth was corrupted by that dodgy video featuring some mild S&M and er...possibly ‘water sports’ and no, we’re not talking water polo here. Ahem. For a brief period Frankie Goes To Hollywood were HUGE. If Relax wasn’t ‘cumming’ out of your radio at you then you were quite possibly surrounded by people in those iconic Frankie Says... t-shirts. Perhaps predictably given the level of fame and fortune things rapidly soured with Johnson quitting the band in 1987 before getting embroiled in a lengthy legal dispute with record label ZTT that kept him out of the charts for a couple of years. Brief solo success followed with a brace of top 5 singles (Love Train and Americanos) before he gradually faded into the background releasing the odd record during the 90s (the decade in which he was also diagnosed as being HIV positive) and turning his hand (both hands no doubt) to painting instead. But now, as Smash Hits would have said, he’s back, BACK, BACK with a brand new album (the first in 15 years), single and tour.

Holly’s arrival on stage was heralded by some rather theatrical thunder and lightning and I half expected him to come on singing It’s Raining Men (now there’s an idea...). Sporting what looked like a leather suit, some sunglasses and a pair of Frankie era white gloves he seems in remarkably good shape, in fact break out a bottle or two of Just For Men (hell, I can talk), squint a bit and you could almost be looking at Holly c. 1984 again. The night kicked off with the Holly of 1989 though and a rocking run through Atomic City (at number 18 in the charts a relatively minor hit), embellished by a decent backing band and the impressive vocal talents of (apologies in advance if I’ve got her name wrong) Christina Hussain. Barely pausing for breath, which set the tone for pretty much the entire set, Holly launched into a bombastic Warriors and then, POW, the first of the biggies, Welcome To The Pleasuredome. Nearly three decades on from reaching number one (at a time when that really meant something) it still sounds EPIC and so, it must be said, does Holly. 


Shutting my eyes for just a second I was 14 again and looking around a moment later it was pretty clear that a fair portion of the audience were having similar flashbacks. Ahhh, the joys of middle age reverie.

Rage Hard was faster, rockier and, well, HARDER than I remember it, with Holly just giving it a little wide eyed stare as he sang the work ‘hard’. Hmmmm, what could be referring to? This is a man who called his autobiography A Bone In My Flute so I think we can guess. The light pop of Love Train chugged by pleasantly enough before Holly announced that they were “going to risk a new one on you now”. Style wise Follow Your Heart is glossy 90s dance pop, a little low key disco (with just the merest hint of No More Tears (Enough is Enough) in there) and some self therapy which perhaps wouldn’t have been out of place on Holly’s debut solo album Blast. Holly tried a few other new ones from Europa (his new album) and each track exposed a little more of the man’s heart and soul. He’s freely admitted to being an “archetypal miseryguts” in interviews and it’s clear that some of Europa is concerned with Holly addressing his “black dog” (aka depression). If this makes the new stuff sound like an exercise in wrist slitting, it’s really not. Most of the songs are upbeat and trying to see the positive in life...okay so maybe not Lonesome Town but following some cheerful comments from the audience after performing this one he smiled softly and said “Thank you...I’ll never feel alone again”. Awww, bless him.

The album’s title track (co-written with Vangelis!) soon lifted things up again, in part due to the kind of humungous drumming last heard in the intro of Genesis’ In The Air Tonight. Epic. The best track of the newbies though, no question at all, was So Much It Hurts. 


The rawest and most honest material he’s ever written there’s a touch of the Brel’s about it and, were he up for it, you can imagine a duet with Marc Almond on this track making an already pretty special track something truly beautiful...

From the sublime to the ridiculous and Frankie’s last hurrah, Watching The Wildlife. Not their finest moment and Holly advised us that this was the first time he’s played it live since 1987. All that being said it didn’t sound too bad, oddly enough given the song’s title a little tame perhaps, certainly not a criticism you could level against a track that Holly referred to as “The one I call the money shot...”. Yes. RELAX. Armed with a huge torch that he used to pick out various members of the audience Holly prowled the stage and, for several minutes, The Institute felt a little like being picked up in a sweaty S&M dive (sounds like a good night out to me). Let’s face it you could play this track in Westminster Abbey and it would feel like getting picked up in a sweaty S&M dive. It’s pure pop filth, from the pounding drums to the hi energy synths and Holly’s “Ow ow ow’s”. Arguably the first time pop well and truly ‘came’ out of the closet.

Speaking of mighty claims to fame Holly introduced the encore, Two Tribes, with the proud boast that he “stopped the Cold War singlehandedly”. Okay, so he was joking, but if you remember the video the sight of two aging political leaders slugging it out pointlessly in a ring before the world is spectacularly blown to smithereens (or as spectacularly as the ZTT budgets would stretch to in 1984) you can’t help feeling that it might just have helped a little (maybe Putin should watch it eh?). 


Capping off the holy trinity of Frankie hits a mass singalong to The Power Of Love (“It’s not just for Christmas....it’s for life” Holly reminded us, perhaps with an eye on a new Frankie says...t-shirt design) ended what was, for fans of Frankie and Holly, overall an impressive and long awaited return.

There were glimpses this evening of a much more serious and grown up Holly than perhaps we’re all used to and if So Much It Hurts is anything to go by there may well be an intriguing new career as more of a torch singer in the offing. Whatever he does next let’s hope he’s back for good (whoops, wrong band), it’s ‘Holly’ good to see him again.

Setlist: Atomic City / Warriors / Welcome To The Pleasuredome / Rage Hard / Love Train / Folow Your Heart / In And Out Of Love / Heaven’s Here / Americanos / Lonesome Town / Europa / Disco Heaven / Dancing With No Fear / Penny Arcade / So Much It Hurts / Watching The Wildlife / Relax

Encore: Two Tribes / The Power Of Love

Friday, October 17, 2014

Norman Watt-Roy & Friends / The Standard Lamps @ The Hare and Hounds, Wednesday 15th October 2014



Ian Dury and The Blockheads, The Clash, Madness, Nick Lowe, Rodger Daltrey, Nick Cave, Frankie Goes To Hollywood...as CVs go that’s not a bad line up eh? In a career that’s lasted 47 years and counting Norman Watt-Roy’s been the face with the bass and, despite being just a couple of years away from collecting his pension, he’s clearly showing no signs of slowing down, in fact this is his second gig at the Hare and Hounds in less than 12 months and he's back again in December with The Blockheads! ‘Watt’ a trooper. 

First up The Standard Lamps, the band that is, not the household appliance. 


With a couple of covers and half a dozen darn fine self penned upbeat country tinged boogie blues tunes (try saying that after a few pints of cider) these Lamps well and truly shone (oh come on now, you’ve got to let me have a few puns). Pick of the covers was their primal version of Shakin’ All Over (which Wilco Johnson himself apparently checked out at a recent gig) featuring some proper gutsy old skool rock ‘n’ roll drumming, the sort that rumbles yer vital organs...you know the kind of thing. Their set closing call to arms...or maybe that should be turntables...You Don’t Listen To Your Records Anymore...galloped along like a mule with a thistle up its arse. Yehawww! Nothing standard about these boys.

If you’re a bassist who knows his or her stuff surely Norman Watt-Roy must be some kind of deity? Mindful of his Indian heritage maybe he actually IS a Vishnu of the bass? Certainly the dexterity and power in those fingers points at some kind of higher force and when Norm get’s his groove on it’s as close to musical heaven as you’re likely to get here on earth. Perhaps what’s most heart warming about watching this dude play though is that the pleasure he still clearly gets from performing some 45 years or so on from when he first hit the road. He’ll suddenly break out into a grin halfway through a solo or a jam with the rest of his band (all highly accomplished musicians in their own right) and it’s a look of pure joy, albeit tinged with just a little (okay then, quite a lot...) bit of perspiration. Kicking off the set with a jazzed up Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, with Norm doing a fine job of filling Ian Dury’s boots (and panties), he’d already put more energy into the set that many bands manage in an entire show. A more sedate stroll through Billericay Dickie, with some accordion adding a little Parisian ooh la la to proceedings, gave everyone a moment to catch their breath. Here's a video from a show earlier this year to give you a little flavour:


These first two tracks pretty much set the template for how Norman tackles the old Blockhead numbers, constantly freshening things up a little without losing the music’s original and distinctive DNA, with both Inbetweenies and More Than Fair – which Norman acknowledges possibly has some of the dirtiest lyrics ever recorded – also benefiting from a little jazzing up this evening.

Tonight’s not just all about the past though. Last year he released a new album Faith and Grace with pick of these tracks including the laid back summertime groove of Wachu-wa, which is apparently how Mexicans sing ‘La la la’. Chuff me, I never knew that. “There ain’t ‘alf been some clever bastards” as his old boss might have said. Norman also took us through life so far in the autobiographical Me, My Bass and I, all the way from India to London via various waterways, a journey he made when he was just four years old. Part spoken word, part instrumental this track contained a couple of memorable quotes that seem to sum up the man. Referring to the departing bass player in one of his first bands Norman concluded that he “Couldn’t take the blisters”. Given the ferocity of some of his bass playing I imagine that by now Norman’s hands are quite possibly the toughest things on planet earth. Later in the same number, after a sublimely jazztastic piano solo from Frank Harrison Norman concluded, with more than a touch of tenderness that “Music was my life. Music is my life. Me, my bass and I”. Let’s hope it’s a long time before he needs a gravestone but what better epitaph than that eh?

Speaking of avoiding Mr G. Reaper Esq. the latter part of Norman’s set celebrated the frankly remarkable news that his old mate, Wilco Johnson, is seemingly on the mend after radical surgery for cancer. To be fair I suspect that Wilco actually just stared the cancer out and it ran away howling in terror but let’s stick with the boring medical explanation eh?   Everybody’s Carrying A Gun and When I Was A Cowboy were duly dispatched in fine style doing Wilco proud. Touchingly the encore was his old mate’s traditional tour de force, Roxette. What it may have lacked in mad eyeball popping energy was more than made up by Norman’s obvious delight that before long Wilco will hopefully be right there beside him playing it again. Now that’s what you call the (Dr) Feelgood factor.

PS: I had the very great pleasure of meeting Norman briefly at the end of the show and a more humble man you couldn’t wish to meet. He accepted my gushing praise with a gentle smile and half embarrassed “Thank you”, before popping off to the bar for a post gig G&T. Bless him. All hail the original Ace of Bass (one for fans of 90’s Scandipop there).  

Monday, October 13, 2014

Goodnight Lenin - You Were Always Waiting




Hurrah! The wait's nearly over. Yep, Goodnight Lenin's new single You Were Always Waiting is out on November 3rd and they've just unveiled the video for it. Who needs CGI when you've got brown paper and bubble wrap eh? Exactly! Just a few weeks later, November 24th to be precise, the band's long awaited debut album, In the Fullness of Time, is released too and then they play their biggest hometown gig so far on November 29th at The Institute. It's a positive orgy of Lenin activity. I wouldn't be surprised if they popped round your house and sang a few acapella numbers in your loo while they're at it. Anyway, get yourself a brew (tea/coffee/White Lightening...I know my audience), give the video a spin then share it with everyone you know...and maybe a few people you don't...that funny looking bloke at the bus stop for instance, the woman who won Bake Off...er...Ed Miliband...hours of fun. Cheers!

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Mad about the (Watt-) Roy...




Next week (Wednesday 15th October) sees half man, half bass Mr Norman Watt-Roy return to the Hare and Hounds to play some of the many Ian Dury & The Blockheads hits that he was involved with plus solo stuff and favourite covers. I've seen him a few times now and he's an absolute joy, funky as they come and with more energy than a man half his age...or mine for that matter. In the absence of Ian he does a ruddy good job on vocals too and...who knows...maybe even the Lazarus-like Wilco Johnson will show up like he did last time (against all odds he's seemingly kicking cancer's ass...remarkable).

Tickets available right here, right now.

PS: Don't forget to check out the other gigs from promoters World Unlimited (they've got Ian McNabb on the 16th October and Nick Harper on 13th November, both at the Hare plus oodles of lovely intimate shows at The Kitchen Garden Cafe!)

Monday, October 06, 2014

Miss Halliwell / Is I Cinema / The Prodigal Scum / A preview of Forrester & Fletcher’s “One Year Off”@ The Bear, Saturday 4th October 2014



How long have I lived in Bearwood? 21 years? Yep, something like that. And this is the first proper gig I’ve ever been to at The Bear? Disgraceful. Still if you’re going to pop your Bear cherry better make it a good one eh?

First up - and not the kind of support act you’d expect at a gig – a preview of a new play about what would happen if football was banned for a year. Not being a big football fan I wouldn’t give two hoots but I appreciate just how ingrained the ‘beautiful game’ is in the nation’s psyche and One Year Off takes a linguistically colourful look at the implications in turn using the premise to explore some amusing angles...hmmm...what jobs would footballers do if they weren’t kicking a ball (and each other) around some grass every week? I reckon Rooney would make a decent doorstop.

Next up the The Prodigal Scum, Birmingham’s self proclaimed “Premier Skiffle Punk band”. That’s a pretty apt description. They seem to share a little DNA with Brum’s Dirty Old Folkers too in their use of barbed humour in their songs and at times, to my damaged ears at least, legendary French World Music punksters Les Negresses Vertes. Hell yes...or...er hell oui perhaps. I believe the band’s lead singer is Peter Byrchmore, ex-The Nightingales and current Goldblade-r, and he certainly put on a suitably in yer face performance, calling out one dude who clapped out of time with the rest of the crowd and snarling the lyrics with a venom that’s sadly all too lacking these days.

The last time I saw Is I Cinema was waaaaaay waaaaaaay back in 2009 at The Rainbow. They impressed me then with their clever polished sound (with just a nod to Radiohead here and there) and five (jeez..FIVE!) years later they’ve buffed it up even further, blending prog, dub and ambient...all on the first track alone.“This is the sound of an uncomfortable amount of self indulgence” noted the lead singer at the start of it all and, well, yes, there certainly is a little of that proggy naval gazing on some if the tracks but when it sounds as epic as set highlight Apocrypha in full flow I’m more than happy to indulge ‘em. Sadly yet another overlooked gem in Birmingham’s iPod.

Speaking of Brum’s overlooked gems Miss Halliwell are capping off an unusually fertile period of live activity with a rare home gig. Dressed in a hooded jacket and looking like a prize fighter limbering up for a backstreet battle to the death the band’s ever enigmatic leader Miles Perhower kicks off with a warning that their kit may spontaneously combust during the set. This isn’t an idle metaphorical threat, apparently it was making odd noises during the sound check...presumably in protest at the glorious battering it was about to take? Like a post punk Fagin Perhower spends the entire set stalking the stage and dancefloor, spitting out his lyrics and proclamations as drummer Rose of Bearwood provides impressively powerful, potent beats. Despite the threat of imminent immolation Miles soon cranks up the volume, if he’s going to go down in flames let’s make it loud eh? The only sign of meltdown is purely human though as Perhower grabs a handful of band flyers, screwing them up and chucking them across the floor, later to join ‘em lying on his back as the band continues to play their inspired cover of Reach Out, I’ll Be There which, springing from his mouth, has a world weariness that’s a thousand ‘Miles’ from The Four Tops version. Elsewhere self penned set highlights Allegedly Gory (post pop anyone?) and Naturl Obbit@ are the soundtrack of a creative mind beating itself black and blue, “I will defend this passion to the end” sang Miles on the latter with an intensity that could split atoms. As ever it’s all over too soon and Miles once again disappears into the night. As we descend into The Bear’s downstairs bar some bloke’s bellowing out Sinatra’s My Way on the karaoke. It’s pure coincidence of course but at that moment the words uncannily seemed to sum up just what continues to make Miles and Miss Halliwell such a draw for me...

“For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows and did it my way!”

It could almost have been written for 'em. 

Friday, October 03, 2014

A show of two halves...



This looks cool. Crime writer Mark Billingham and Americana duo My Darling Clementine are collaborating on a brand new show called The Other Half which debuts at The REP on Monday November 10th. Inspired by the songs of the Clementine it's all set in a run down bar in Memphis (so that's pretty much any bar in Memphis then) where three couples tell their stories about that "long and difficult search for the other half...". My own search wasn't particularly long and difficult. I just went into the TV room at Brighton Poly and there she was, sitting watching Neighbours, but I guess things are tougher in Memphis.

For those new to My Darling Clementine here's a quick blast (by the way, in a past life one of them was the hotly tipped Lou Dalgleish who I recall seeing at Ronnie Scott's on a few memorable occasions):



The show's only on for one night in The Studio, so if you want to see it book now...why not bring your other half too eh? Tickets right here, right now. 

PS: If you don't have a 'other half' right now just get yourself down to Broad Street on a Friday or Saturday night. Granted they might be the kind of 'other half' that ends up vomiting over your shoes at 2am and getting their head stuck in a traffic cone but we'll gloss over that for now...