Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Dizzolvers / The Fighting Cocks / Streetsoul Productions @ The Rainbow, Friday 26th September 2008

I've been away. On my holidays. To Kephalonia. Very nice it was too. They had litres of local wine for just a few Euros. Bargain...or it would be if the £ was worth anything these days. Happily our chums at Kamikaze! haven't gone bust, merged with a massive Japanese conglomerate or applied to good 'ol George W for a massive bailout yet, so I guess there's still hope for us all. Well, of course there isn't. We're all going to hell in a handcart for stuffing our fat faces with cheap and easy credit and filling our vacuous lives with polyester t-shirts, computer games and lard. But one thing's for certain, we're going to need a soundtrack for it all...just so future generations can be flogged albums (well they'll download them anyway) called Now That's What I Call The Credit Crunch Vol II. Perhaps Streetsoul Productions (emcees R.E.P and Vice) will be on it. The days of white hip hop artists being viewed with a certain disdain are happily fading into the distance. Like him or loathe him (for the record I like him) Mike Skinner has played a huge role in this and, naturally, there's a Streets-y element to some of Streetsoul's tracks. The addition of Rob Carvalho on backing vocals really lifted the live show to another level (with one track paying respect to emcee Vice's gran who is, according to the song, well into hip hop...respect due). On top of another Rob backed tune, Searching, I especially loved the feel of Relax, a worthy companion piece to J5's Concrete Schoolyard. As well as putting on impressive, feelgood shows, the Streetsoul Productions team seem to be something of a cottage industry at the moment too, with 4 albums due for release in the next few months and, I believe, a clothing range. P.Diddy, P.Schmiddy.

Next up the frankly bonkers, genre screwing The Fighting Cocks. Reggae, ska, gypsy, punk, drum n'bass, oi, pop, metal, electro...fuck it...let's just chuck everything into the pot, boil it up on a campfire and serve it in a bowl full of sexy, sassy mentalism (I'm not sure you can have such a bowl The Fighting Cocks...making sense of things just don't really matter). Imagine Shampoo, Daphne and Celeste (at last...I'm not the only person in the world to love Daphne and Celeste...and no, I'm not being ironic...they were pop genius)The Slits, Gogol Bordello, Ian Dury and Goldie having a good old cockney (sorry...Essex) knees Bollywood. There...that's what they sound like...kind of. If the UK was ever looking for a band to write a new National Anthem The Fighting Cocks would be the dream choice. Stand by the side of a busy road in any inner city area, record all of the different music blaring out of the cars that go past, mix it all up and, eventually, you'd have the perfect Fighting Cocks track. It's 2008 in musical form. It's the end of the world as we know it. It's nuttier than a squirral's bowel movement. No matter what kind of a day you're having I defy you to listen to any of their stuff and not feel a little better. They should be on the NHS. You get the picture...I really rather liked them.

Last up drum n'bass grimesters The Dizzolvers. Older readers may recall a glorious Birmingham drum n'bass band called Plutonik from back in the day. Like Plutonik The Dizzolvers do most of their shows 'live' using real instruments. It makes a big difference. I've been to hip hop shows that use backing tracks. They're all very good but live music should be (in my humble opinion) just that. Live. Whether you have a full band or just stand there banging a tamborine, it helps bring the whole thing to life a lot more. The Dizzolvers are full of life. Lead vocalist Lady Boogaloo has a soulful voice that's a smooth as silk, MC Jim Stryde spits the rhymes ten to the dozen and the rest of the band add that magic ingredient X that changes a mere performance into a show. They're less than a year old but already drumskin tight. Definately one of THE Birmingham bands to watch out for in 2009. Check out their track Keeping year has a theme tune already.

After the live bands the night carried on with the Urban Disturbance DJ's. For all I know they could still be there...the night certainly seemed in full flow when we left. Congrats to Carlo, George and the team for a darn fine show.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Rogue States / This Beautiful Thief / The Likely Lads @ The Rainbow, Monday 8th September 2008

There's something a little bit naughty about Monday night gigs. It's the start of another working week. You're supposed to be all sensible and tucked up in bed by 9pm with a mug of cocoa. But balls to all that. What better way to ease away those post weekend blues than indie-grungesters The Likely Lads. Vocally there's a bit of Kele Bloc Party in there, fused with some nagging post punk chord workouts. Their track 6.03 was the pick of the set and, happily enough, you can listen to a decent version of it on their MySpace jobbie. Full marks to the fans for the mental crowd action at the front by the way (especially the back flips...good work).

Next up This Beautiful Thief (pictured above). And they are too. Beautiful that is. Not thieves. We'll have none of that round here thank you very much. Lead Thief, Oliver, has a cracking voice and, being a Geordie, he's as loveable as a box full of puppies (why are Geordies so nice? Maybe I should move up there...). Anyway, enough regional stereotyping, TBT make finely crafted, grown up pop that's every bit as good as the mighty Maximo Park (just check out Falling Down and Deadhead). Memorable, pounding choruses and loadsa energy made it a great set too. They gave out free CD's as well...that always goes down well with me. You can catch 'em supporting The Levellers this weekend during Artsfest (Sunday...I think they're on around 1pm).

Finally, Rogue States (pictured at the top of this here review...well one of them is anyway). There's a touch of Rufus Wainwright about some of the tracks, strong emotive vocals, keyboards to the fore and melody driven (have a listen to Surrender). On other songs like Let It Out and Pushing The River Uphill they'd give U2 a run for their money, anthemic builds and choruses that are just screaming out to be...well...screamed out. Seems they're attracting label interest too so, who knows, they might get the stadium gigs they're made for.

And so to bed. Mondays...they're the new Fridays you know.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Moseley Folk Festival 2008 - A bit (more) of a review...

Better never than late, but I've never let that stop me. Yes, before leaving the good folk of Moseley Folk alone for another year I particularly wanted to pick out a few highlights that may have slipped under the radar. The Bohemian Jukebox tent was a goldmine. Friday night saw both Gemma Quarterman (see Sound Bar review below this one) and the delightful Lucy and the Caterpillar. I missed Lucy's set at The Great Escape in May (damn those tricky set clashes) but caught the full experience this time round. She reminds me a little of that woman from Ab Fab...Bubble I think it her name was (Jane of Little Voice)...crossed with Regina Spector. Cute as a button and sweet as a treacle pudding she sings songs about Baked Beans and Crisps and Red Wine. Sounds like my perfect meal. If you like your anti-folk quirky, perky and every so slightly murky (what else was I going to rhyme with quirky and perky eh?) you'll love Lucy and the Caterpillar (that's just Lucy btw...the caterpillar is the name of her guitar...obviously).

Saturday at the Boho Jukebox tent saw two festival highlights for me. First up Albino. I described them to Lady B as sounding a little bit like the classic soundtrack to Bugsy Malone. Lead Albino, Ben, has a wondefully rich vocal which seems to be mellowing nicely as he gets older. Musically there's some jazz, anti-folk, Bonzo Dog Doodah band nuttiness and lounge band sophistication in there. Their live take on Bon Viveur (you can hear a recorded version on their My Space page) was quite brilliant. You don't get the phrase 'bon viveur' used enough these days do you. I 'spose there ain't many of 'em left. The world seems quite happy with bright blue alcopops and frozen turkey gonads dipped in E numbers. Ahh well. Like a nice foie gras (the goose friendly version naturally), Albino are there to be enjoyed by those of us who appreciate the finer things in life. Full marks for including the lyric 'ectoplasmic slag' in a song by the way.

My next Boho treat were Kinkajou - gothic folk meets Jacques Brel...and every bit as good as that sounds. During more than one moment I found myself mouthing a silent 'wow' to Lady B. Lead Kinkajou Polly is a spine tingingly lush vocalist and the songs are populated with wrong 'un's, sex in graveyards and all kinds of other dark, delicious stuff. Just listen to Nocturne. As a huge fan of Marc Almond's masterpiece Mother Fist and Her Five Daughters (think about it...) this really hit the spot. I loved 'em so much I bought TWO CD's, both of which I can heartily recommend to anyone with ears. Can we get them back up to Birmingham again soon. Pretty please? Away from the Boho Jukebox tent the Main and Lunar Stages kept up a pretty high standard for the whole three days. Tuung tinged (and featuring their songwriter Sam) The Accidental were the pick of Friday night. Gentle without being too fey, it's the sound of an Autumn wood as the sun sets.

Saturday started off with the honey voiced king of Soul Folk (that's another of my new genres) Vijay Kishore (pictured). Why the hell Vijay ain't knocking the James Blunt's of this world into the bargain bin I'll never know, but he has a voice to die for. He was swiftly followed by Ben Calvert, who blends Nick Drake with Belle and Sebastian and adds a healthy dash of 21st century realism to boot. Just check out his new album The Broken Family's artists like Ben who'll keep folk alive and meaningful. Peter Moren (of Peter, Bjorn and John...Young Folks...the whistling song) fame played an all too short set, including a Elvis Costello flavoured take on A-ha's Take On Me. Brilliant. The Destroyers (pictured at the top of this review) blew the place apart (once again), with Paul Murphy adding his mad Uncle on acid magic and the day's closer Jose Gonzales divided the audience with an 'he's brilliant' / 'he's boring' set. You can't doubt his talent but, as a live performer, I'd say he's probably more suited to a smaller, intimate venue like The Glee.

Sunday (unlike the other two days) was a lot more 'pure folk'. I've mentioned the magical last ever show by Ian Campbell - a true folk legend, long due some serious reappraisal. I can't find a MySpace page for him. Over to the fans to set one up? Waterson: Carthy (pictured) - the closest you'll ever get to folk royalty - briefly stopped time. Standing there in the park listening to Norma Waterson you got that spooky feeling of connection with generations past. The whole thing was wrapped up by our Seth. You can't knock the guy. He plays fiddle like Hendrix played the axe, it's almost part of him. Whilst he respects the history and culture of 'folk' he's doing plenty to bring it into the modern world and in front of a new audience. And, most important of all, despite the fame and fortune, he seems like a bloody nice bloke who's as at home playing in his local pub as he is in front of thousands of people at Glasto.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Rose McDowall / Gemma Quarterman @ The Sound Bar, Wednesday 3rd September 2008

It's another dull, damp evening. I'm sitting in Wetherspoon's finishing off a rather delightful pint of Old Rosie (surely trampdom beckons?). It's halfway through the working week. It's officially 'autumn'. I'm 38. I mention all this purely to give you a vague idea of my mood this evening. Not depressed. That never gets you anywhere. Just a little reflective. The kind of 'staring through the window looking at all the people scurrying past trying to get somewhere...anywhere...other than where they are now and wondering what their lives are all about' kind of reflective. It's a perfect Gemma Quarterman mood. I've been watching her now, on and off, for a year or so. She's always had a great voice. At first, some months back, a little nervous perhaps. Not wanting to fully let go. But now...anyone who saw her perform Hush at The Moseley Folk Festival must surely have gone away thinking they'd seen something special. Tonight, despite a few minor sound problems, she did it again. It's that voice, the emotion, the songs (all self penned and three of which you can hear on her My Space - Crosses, Tangerine Sun and Hush)...she's one of the few artists around right now who I could watch over and over and over again. Stuff The Sound Bar (in the very nicest way of course), get Gemma in The Glee Club...the Town Hall...fuck it...The Symphony Hall. She's ready.

Next up Rose McDowall. Being a very old man I remember Rose McDowall in her previous life as 50% of synth pop girl band Strawberry Switchblade. They had a rather fine hit in 1984 entitled Since Yesterday (you can see it here). That, as far as I knew, was that. However it transpires that Rose has been guesting with all manner of folk including Coil, Curent 93, Psychic TV, Nurse With a Wound...that ain't a bad CV. Granted, it's a slightly scary, out there kinda CV...but it ain't bad at all. Aside from Psychic TV I have only a passing knowledge of the other bands but I think it's fair to call them 'experimental'. This is a good thing. Given Rose's origins (pure pop) it's also a little surprising. So, with a limited knowledge of the last quarter century of Rose's life and works I had no real idea of what to expect. The first surprise was the size of her band. I'd kind of expected just Rose and a guitar but there was a violin, one of those skeletol cello thingies, two backing guitarists and a drummer. Musically it's a kind of goth folk, which ticks both boxes for me. Again the sound was a little off in places (I thinks there was a dodgy lead somewhere), which was a tad distracting. Rose has a quite a gentle, faraway voice too that took me a couple of tracks to get into but it gradually crept into my brain and, with the strings doing the biz too, I found myself drifting into a sort of reverie. A sublime take on the Velvet Underground track 'Sunday Morning' and a song with Ice in the title (damn my feeble memory) were particular highlights. Ending the show with a heartbreaking version of Since Yesterday (transformed from its poppy younger self into a more funereal lament) I wished that it could have started all over again. Suffice to say that I'll be investigating that back catalogue now...which, given the her collaborations, could be a long job. Any tips would be welcomed.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Moseley Folk Festival 2008 - Friday 29th August - Sunday 31st August

Well, that was fun. Three days of folk, anti-folk, funny-folk, legendary-folk, old-folk, young-folk, get the picture. I have to say that, having attended the very first MFF in 2006, this one (barring one or two minor grumbles) seemed even better. A more thorough dissection of the bands that 'rocked the show' will follow, but a few spring to mind straightaway...Gemma Quarterman (stunning version of Hush - you can catch her at The Sound Bar this Wednesday night), Ben Calvert (check out his new track Broken Family Daysaver), Chris Wood, Albino, Kinkajou, The Destroyers (of course), Chris T-T, Waterson: Carthy (we are not worthy), Ian Campbell (for a memorable song about someone in an old folks home retelling his life to a young Ian in the 1960's - if you know the name of the track please let me know) and Sexy Seth (pictured)...that's just for starters. It's pretty unusual to go to a festival and like everything you see, but I can't think of anything I disliked. The crowd were pretty chilled, the oik element was low and after the Friday night 45 minute queue for the bar (not quite sure what happened there - but lessons seem to have been learnt pretty swiftly)...getting a drink on Saturday and Sunday was a breeze (bigge up the Tardebigge Cider). It's weekends like this that make me glad to live in Birmingham...and live in general. The organisers should be rubbed up and down in a slightly sexy manner. I loved the Bohemian Jukebox tent. A nice mix of workshops and bands. Anyone who can get me up and folk dancing deserves a medal (not sure who the lady was but she was very kind...I'd have had me shot for bringing the name of dancing into disrepute).
Like I say I'll be reviewing my picks shortly in greater depth...probably when I've had time to listen to the mountain of CD's I bought...but for now...that's all folk(s)...I just had to go be silly again didn't I?