Wednesday, November 26, 2014
This Saturday sees two of Brum's very best bands play truly significant shows. Over at The Institute Goodnight Lenin are playing their biggest ever headline gig to celebrate the release of their ruddy marvellous debut album In The Fullness Of Time whilst at the Hare and Hounds the newly named Kioko (who previously traded as Tempting Rosie) raise a glass or two to their equally cracking new EP True What They Say.
Sadly I can't make either of 'em so I'm relying on you...yes you...to show the love. Enjoy!
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Having last toured the UK in 2013 in support of the distinctly electro flavoured Pale Green Ghosts album Grant’s back this time with a modest, ahem, 34 piece orchestra in tow. It makes sense though given the lushness of that voice and the soaring songs (many of which focus on Grant’s struggles to come to terms with himself, his life and his loves) that practically cry out for the gravitas that only a full fat orchestra can really deliver. The venue’s pretty perfect too, Brum’s grand old Town Hall, a Victorian Grade I listed building that’s seen everyone from Charles Dickens to Black Sabbath do their thang (although sadly not on the same night).
By the time Grant and his band join the orchestra there’s already a lot of bodies up there. Dressed all in black he acknowledges what a huge honour it is to be playing here “in this beautiful place” and, not for the first time this evening, seems genuinely humbled by it all. It doesn’t take an expert in psychoanalysis to figure out that Grant’s music is therapy for him and performing seems to be similarly important. In fact scrap that, Grant’s shows aren’t so much a performance more a baring of the soul. Take the second verse of opening number You Don’t Have To for instance, “Remember how we used to fuck all night long? Neither do I because I always passed out. I needed lots of the booze. To handle the pain.”
Short of dropping his trousers, bending over and spreading his cheeks that’s as raw and exposed as any artist gets. Rather than music to slit wrists by though it’s all strangely soothing, mainly down to Grant’s honeyed tones which, were he to try such a thing, could probably make Sabbath’s Paranoid sound like a lullaby.
Mixing the often sparse electro sounds of Pale Green Ghosts with an orchestra is a brave thing to do but generally it works, especially when the machine generated beats give way to the lush strings. Less successful perhaps are the odd moments when the two collide, in particular this evening Vietnam seemed to suffer a little as the electronica, which on record is relatively subtle, came across as too harsh. It’s a minor quibble though and the rest of the set found the kind of harmony that Grant himself is clearly still struggling to achieve judging by new songs unveiled this evening. Geraldine saw Grant channel his inner Scott Walker, No More Tangles took inspiration from old shampoo ads to tackle that knotty subject of codependency and the “horrors of relationships”, Global Warming looked at being a middle class wanker obsessed with first world problems (MOR with attitude and the kind of witty pop that Neil Hannon specialises in) and the title of Black Blizzard alone should tell you all you need to know about its themes. Again if all this makes the night sound unbearably bleak it wasn’t...far from it. Maybe it’s the fact that Grant’s survived, thrived even, despite the years of addiction, failed relationships and HIV diagnosis, that still makes the whole thing so uplifting, that old ‘triumph of the human spirit’ thing (in fact one of tonight’s audience called Grant’s music “aural Prozac” on Facebook, which is as good a description as you’re likely to hear). Stop peering beneath the surface for meaning though and some of Grant’s best tracks are just great songs. Marz gets an early airing and it’s evocation of one of Grant’s boyhood haunts, a sweet shop run by the Marzita family (hence the spelling) underpinned by some simple piano and that voice of his, is every bit as soft and warming as the butterscotch mentioned in the lyrics.
Utterly sublime. Later on Pale Green Ghosts got the kind of grand orchestral build up normally reserved for the opening sequence of a Bond movie but hell, if you got a 34 piece orchestra at your disposal make the most of it eh? GMF also benefitted from having all those bods on stage making it even better than the recorded version...by at least 65%.
After a bombastic Queen of Denmark and it’s polar opposite, Glacier, the spotlights framing the stage flickered and died as Grant left the stage to a pretty much universal standing ovation, returning for the cod German electro-disco of That’s The Good News. It’s a bit of an oddity in Grant’s discography but after appearing on a deluxe edition of Queen of Denmark in retrospect it clearly hinted at his new electro direction. Who knows, maybe there’s a full on OTT disco album in there somewhere, Nile Rodgers and John Grant...now there’s a hook up the world could do with. Good times indeed.
Mindful of the old adage of saving the best for last though the night ends with Caramel, with Grant seated at the piano and at his most soulful it’s a song that sums up the perfect love he’s spent his days searching for.
As he sings the last lines of the evening “...and my soul takes flight” looking round it’s clear that many of those lucky enough to be here felt the same way. Truly beautiful stuff from one of the greatest mother fuckers in music right now.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
I’ve lost track of the number of really great ‘local’ bands that imploded / exploded / just faded away over the years without making the impact they deserved. It’s always happened of course and it always will but that doesn’t make it any less annoying when you see/hear some of the toss that sells (or is downloaded for free) by the bucketload. C’est la vie.
One of those bands still lingering in the dusty corners of my mind were The Bourgeois Four who I last encountered at a gig at The Actress and Bishop way back in 2007, when Twitter had barely uttered a tweet and One Direction were still at the breast...I guess they probably are now but...er..in a different way. Anyway here's a rare and authentically scratchy video of the Four in action back then...
Well now they’re back, back, back with something old and something new (I guess the borrowed and blue will come on the follow up) courtesy of Speech Fewapy’s double AA side single Celebrity Body Crisis (the newbie) and Facecrime (the oldie, see vid above). Deliberately recorded with all the rough edges left on (on kit that probably dates back to pre 2007...positively prehistoric) they’re a pair of punk flecked missives with a nod back to that great garage sound of the 60s. Having only listened to Facecrime (inspired by George Orwell’s 1984 no less) a couple of times almost a decade ago it’s impressive that the chorus brings about a Pavlovian twitch in the old leg as lead singer Tristan Roe warbles “Panic now” in a strangely delicious way. It’s ruddy great to hear it...and them...again. Now, who’s up for an I Thee Lothario reunion?
Celebrity Body Crisis / Facecrime is available for free download at https://soundcloud.com/speech-fewapy-records/sets/celebrity-body-crisis-facecrime-by-the-bourgeois-four and also available through itunes, spotify and amazon.
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
On top of bringing back the blues to Brum through the weekly Nothin’ But The Blues nights at the Asylum 2 Big Bear music main man Mr Jim Simpson has a major exhibition of just some of his photographs (many rarely seen) of proper 100% musical icons at the height of their fame.
Little Richard, The Rolling Stones (still featuring Brian Jones), The Moody Blues, Howling Wolf, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and, of course, the band that Jim plucked from the back streets of Aston and launched onto an unsuspecting world...inventing heavy metal along the way...BLACK SABBATH! The exhibition’s on at new Harborne based gallery Havill & Travis and, best of all, you can actually buy signed editions of some the photos too...so there’s that tricky Christmas present situation sorted. In honour of the exhibition Jim’s done a wonderful interview with the equally splendid John Kennedy which you’ll find over here at Brum Live.
Last some sad news, saxophonist Mike Burney, who played at the Big Bear organised Birmingham International Jazz & Blues Festival for over a quarter of a century passed away last Thursday evening. Hailed as one of the finest jazz musician the Midlands has produced he played with everyone from Wizzard and the Beach Boys to Sammy Davis Jnr and Bob Hope. Here's a blast of the man in action in the appropriately named Wizzard track, Saxmaniax.
Monday, November 17, 2014
Kate Tempest / Loyle Carner and Rebel Clef / Mahalia @ The Hare and Hounds, Sunday 16th November 2014
Poet, rapper, playwright, novelist, Mercury nominee, winner of the prestigious Ted Hughes Award, inventor of a cure for the common cold (okay, so the last one was made up but frankly you wouldn’t put it past her)...for many Kate Tempest has seemingly sprung from nowhere over the past year or so. The reality’s radically different but no less impressive...
More on this later but first up Mahalia. At just 16 years old she seems incredibly confident and relaxed up there (she’s been performing for three years or so already) with an easy going and pure soulfulness that’s impossible to fake.
Playing half a dozen or so self penned tracks she addressed everything from the struggles of a single mum in the poem acapella mash up of Matalan to the evils of bullying in Silly Girl. There are plenty of great singer songwriters out there and it’s a fool’s game to try to predict who will and won’t make it but there’s just something that little bit extra special about this Mahalia that makes her well worth following. You’ll get your chance at her first ever Birmingham headline show at The Sunflower Lounge on December 21st.
It took a couple of tracks for Loyle Carner and Rebel Clef to really find their flow tonight but both opening number BFG and Cantona, touching tributes to the former’s dad who passed away earlier this year, revealed the kind of emotional vulnerability that a lot of rap sadly lacks these days.
Like Tempest I’m guessing Carner started out writing poetry and there were some fine alliterative rhymes in the mix, notably on Night Gown, but the duo left the best to last with Hendrix, an addictively catchy track that apparently can’t be released as it features a sample of the man himself. If Jimi were alive I reckon he’d have no beef with it but it’s too good to stay underground. Shed the sample...or get some other guitar god on the case...and get it out there.
With the room now packed full of a unusual mix of punters ranging from a couple of ladies of a certain age right at the front through to hipsters, bookworms and the odd head nodding hip hopper Tempest lingered momentarily off stage before joining band seemingly savouring the moment. Once she’s up there though there’s no stopping her. Most of us have trouble remembering our pin numbers but the sheer volume, speed and complexity of some of tonight’s tracks is staggering and she barely stumbles over a single syllable. Everybody Down, the album that’s finally bought her the attention she deserves, is a wildly ambitious piece of work set in modern day London and featuring 12 tracks linked by a series of characters. Rizzle Kicks this ain’t. Opening with the sparse Kraftwerk-ish beats of Marshall Law Tempest packs in more lyrical content than most artists manage in an entire album.
Brilliantly observed, witty, insightful, socially aware...the pictures she paints with words are splattered with sweat, coke (and we’re not talking the fizzy drink here) and jizz. It’s a wild ride and we’ve only just begun. Over the course of the evening Kate takes us through her characters’ trials and tribulations set against the backdrop of the fallout from the recession that’s condemning many of her generation to a grim slog for survival. Familiarity with the material helps as the beats can, at times, make catching every word a little tricky, especially given the pace that some of them run at but it’s perfectly possible to enjoy much of this stuff as just great pop music (in the very best sense of the word) with both The Beigeness and Circles (featuring a gloriously soulful solo from Kate’s backing vocalist) possessing some particularly hooky choruses. More challenging was the industrial pounding of Happy End that threatened at times to shake the fillings from yer teeth but it certainly created the right atmosphere for the track’s subject of Harry and Becky running away together to avoid her uncle actually removing Harry’s teeth with his boot. Nasty.
If anything the between track chat made an equally powerful impression though. It’s clear that Tempest has worked her (white towelling) socks off to get this far and she talked of the night’s she spent rapping at strangers on night buses and travelling for seven hours to get to a gig attended by just 12 people...none of whom were there to see her...before returning home to get changed for work. It’s a subject she returned to in a seemingly spontaneous performance of one of her older poems The Becoming with Tempest in the raw, stripped of the beats, addressing the young girl she was, the young woman in her twenties that she is now and the older Kate still to come urging herself to keep working, striving, growing.
She’s been doing just that for some 11 years now (I was lucky enough to see her a few years back with her band Sound Of Rum, dubbing her “a fly Janis Joplin”, a description that still seems apt) and the sheer joy and gratitude emanating from the stage now that people were finally listening to her was almost physical.
Like her spiritual granddaddy, (Sir) Billy Bragg, Tempest clearly intends to use her growing fame and influence to... for wont of a better phrase ‘make a difference’. “If you take just one thing from this evening it’s to go to battle with your greed and cultivate your empathy” she concludes after a particularly passionate plea for us all to try to be better people. Out of the mouths of most performers this would sound like Bono-speak but you get the distinct impression that she’d genuinely give away her last penny if someone else needed it more than her. This makes the last track of the night especially poignant. “I’ve had my heart broken recently” she reveals before launching into an emotional Hot Night Cold Spaceship, a single tear sliding down her face as the last beat fades away. Here’s hoping that the obvious love in the room after tonight’s performance might just go some way towards mending it eh?
Thursday, November 13, 2014
Not for the first time I'm insanely addicted to catchy pop tracks this week and, hot on the heels of Taylor Locke's offering yesterday, here's another cracker. Formed back in 2009 Camden's Kentish Fire do a neat line in indie disco and this one's Ting Tings-tastic. Apparently the video took a year to make which, when you compare it to that comet footage which took 25 years, seems ruthlessly efficient. Bonus points if you can spot all the song titles the band manage to shoehorn into this track...maybe they'll buy you a sticky bun or something if you get them all right. That's what's wrong with the music biz these days, not enough sticky buns...