Saturday, March 27, 2010

Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip / B Dolan /Sound of Rum @ The Academy 2, Friday 26th March 2010

You say ‘rap’ to a lot of people and they still think of some blinged up moron banging on about how much pussy he’s had for breakfast, and I ain’t talking about no Whiskas munching ball of fur here neither. Either that or they’ll single out wannabe gangsters threatening to pop a cap in the ass of anyone who disses ‘em...other rappers, cops, their grandmother etc. Yawn. Happily of course there’s an equally rich seam of artists out there who use the genre in far more positive and creative ways and tonight was jam packed with them.

First up, Sound of Rum. What does rum sound like you may ask? I’d plump for that Captain dude off The Simpsons...aahhhhhhhh m’hearties...something like that. This is a different ‘sound of rum’ altogether though. This particular rum’s a female fronted rap attack in the form of vocalist Kate Tempest who come across like a fly Janis Joplin backed by a jazz combo. Yes, that good (depending on your view of both Ms Joplin and jazz combos in general of course). There aren’t too many female rappers out there (the last ones I saw live were the awesome Yo Majesty) but our Kate clearly has a real flair for this schnizzle (yep, I think I’m Snoop now, jeez) and, behind the shouty bravado that’s a mainstay of rap in general there lies the soul of a poet (she’s a regular at ‘poetry slams’ and you can see oodles of her stuff online at that there You Tube thingamijiggle fo’ real muthahumpers). I arrived just as she was in the middle of delivering her opening vocal only track. Not sure what it was called, (possibly ‘Life of a Scribe’), but it was impressive stuff. The rest of the equally ace set saw Kate backed by a jazzy twosome (drums and guitar), apart from when she split the audience down the middle of the room and got one half to shout ‘Sound of’ and the other half ‘Rum’ while she rapped her heart out (I was on the ‘Sound of’ side...we rocked). What a pity the masses are force fed claprap when they could be listening to this eh? A rum do all round.

Next up, B Dolan, who apparently shaved off his trademark beard a few days back at the London show. Shame. I like beards, all facial hair in fact. Male or female. Bring it on. Speaking of bringing shit on, old Bernard certainly does just that. Reminding me a little of Dalek (the rap act, not the plunger faced Dr Who bothering monsters) and MF Doom on record, he’s a disciple of the dark side of rap, employing heavy, nervous beats as a backing to his equally dark, troubled lyrics. Live he’s more like the pissed off teddy bear of rap however, bless him. Dressed in a blue jump suit (I had to bite my lip to stop myself from singing “he’s a baby, he’s baby” from Shooting Stars) and backed by a little box of tricks he came on wearing a George Bush mask, freaking out a fair portion of the audience (well it would wouldn’t it?). Capable of rapping at the speed of light he gave us a dozen or so tracks, the pick of the bunch being ‘Economy of Words’ (a bitter attack on the economic global meltdown) and ‘Earthmovers’ (an equally bitter attack on man’s unstoppable obsession with building shit). “It’s rainy and cold over here and you’re all pissed off and sarcastic...I fucking love this country...I ain’t leavin’ ever!” he quipped. Like Bill Hicks before him B Dolan obviously finds the "have a nice day" culture in his native US a little trying, so I can see why he likes being here. If there's one thing we do we lead the world in it's sarcasm. Don't say that too loud though or fucking Kraft will buy what's left of the country and move our sarcasm production over to Poland or somewhere. Anyway, back to Bernard, “I’m gonna suck up all your negativity then Dan and Scoobius will come out and fire rainbows through their dicks and fill you up with positivity”. Happily he left my negativity intact, in fact he probably topped it up a bit thanks to his hilarious poem about Justin Timberlake and his subsequent put downs of a heckler who tried to stand up for the trousersnake:

Heckler: “He’s not here to defend himself, don’t slag him off”

B Dolan: “You want to what? You want to suck him off...hey it’s your party pal”.


Finally Dan Stephens and David Mead, better known as Dan le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip, a partnership that’s now produced a fine brace of witty albums that tackle everything from religion and drug abuse to teenage apathy and suicide. I love these guys. Scroobius is more like a preacher than a rapper, not a preacher in the Daily Mail way either, more of a cool dude vicar who rides a chopper, smokes weed and plays hardcore punk records in his vestry. The venue’s packed out by the time they come onstage (it’s a sell out tonight, like most of the dates on this tour) and there’s already a sweaty fug in the air (or maybe that’s just me).

Of course we got all the classics from their debut album (‘Angles’) kicking off with ‘The Beat That My Heart Skipped’ and ending with encore ‘A Letter From God To Man’, but tonight was also the first chance for us to hear a lot of the new stuff live too (from recently released album ‘The Logic of Chance’). I’ve read a few negative reviews of their follow up to Angles, ignore ‘em, it’s just as thought provoking, catchy and fun as its predecessor. Tonight ‘Get Better’ was as neat an encapsulation of the choices facing our nation’s teens as you’ll ever hear, positive without being schmaltzy, inspirational without being too preachy. And in ‘Great Britain’ (a list of some of the things that ain’t so great about our once great state, set against what sound like an 80’s arcade game) Scroobius proved that whilst he doesn’t have all the answers, at least he poses the right questions. Tonight wasn’t just about the music though. Dan and Scroob are a great double act, self mocking and tongues firmly in cheeks throughout the set. Scroob did lots of that putting the microphone over the crowd so that they could sing into it “A trick I learnt from a Coldplay DVD” he drawled. Yeah, right. He had a real obsession with getting the audience “nasty and sweaty “ too, asking the lighting engineers to dim the lights so we wouldn’t feel self conscious and could lose ourselves in le Sac's beats. Judging by the moistened state of some of those in the pit it worked too. Rap that gets you stroking your chin as well as shaking your ass... makes a refreshing change from having a cap popped in it don't it?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Cool As Folk - Moseley Folk Festival 2010 line up revealed!

The fifth Moseley Folk Festival takes place on the 4th, 5th and 6th of September and, once again, there’s a cracking bill topped off by the hurdy gurdy man himself, Donovan. Other stand outs for me include The High Llamas, The Destroyers, The Unthanks, The Divine Comedy, The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and the lovely Beth Jeans Houghton. Check out their website for more info and, while you're there, don’t forget to have a butchers at their other festival Mostly Jazz, now being compered by Craig Charles. Smeg-a!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Top Tracks # 17 - Yello 'Oh Yeah'

On top of soundtracking one of my favourite films of all time, 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off', Yello's an intriguing proposition. Vocalist Dieter Meier's a millionaire industrialist, conceptual artist and professional poker player. Oh yes (or should that be 'Oh Yeah'?), he played for the Swiss national golf team too. Beat that JLS. They had a hit with an 8minute 11 second long track called 'The Race' and, amongst others, they collaborated with the divine Shirley Bassey and the even more divine (but now sadly dead) Billy McKenzie. Dieter's 65 now and seemingly owns half of Argentina (together with a company that makes watches out of recycled you do) but they're still putting out albums bless 'em. I had the good fortune of meeting him at a HMV record signing in the early 90's and yes, he really is as smooth as that in real life. Chk chk chk a chkaaaaaa.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mamas Gun / Arabella / 1EYE @ The Academy 3, Tuesday 23rd March 2010

Bit of a last minute deal this one. There was I, luxuriating in my mock Victorian bed on Sunday morning (now there’s a vision eh?), chomping on a mouthful of toasted muffin and reading the Sunday Times Culture section when I came across an article about tonight’s headliners (named after Erykah Badu’s second album fact fans). The thrust of the piece was that they were ‘big in Japan’ but unknown over here. Perhaps I wouldn’t normally bother checking them out based on this somewhat backhanded compliment (‘big in Japan’ was something that people often used to describe bands who weren’t much cop) but as the article name dropped influences like Sly Stone, classic era Stevie Wonder and Shuggie Otis I was sufficiently motivated to log on, tune in and...blimey...this is rather good. So...

Making our way to the Academy 3 on a decidedly moist Tuesday evening we arrived in time to see most of local support 1EYE’s set. They played a pleasing mix of Reggae, Latin and Soul (the Latin stuff worked best for me...I do ‘amo’ a bit of Latin) with a tight brass section and a complimentary pairing of male (Alek) and female (Leoni) vocalists that warmed me up nicely. It’s always nice to see something other than indie or rock coming from the streets of Brum and 1EYE gave us some really good tunes. ‘One Call’ in particular, which made a nice use of the word ‘ejaculate’, stood out (or should that be ‘shot out’), especially the wonderful Latin instrumental break in the middle of the song that made my nether regions twitch.

Next up (all the way from Coventry) Arabella. Blending Red Hot Chili Peppers funkiness with a little old skool blues they got a nice groove going especially on tracks like ‘Overdose’ and new single ‘Out of Love’. Lead singer James has a really strong voice when he lets rip and despite protesting that they felt they didn’t deserve to be sandwiched between two such strong live acts they more than proved themselves worthy. I’m really liking some of the bands coming out of Coventry right now and this lot, along with LP45, are well worth catching.

Finally Mamas Gun invade the stage like men on a mission...and I really can’t blame them. In a country that’s overrun by ‘talent’ show muppets and singing fishermen (whatever next...singing gynaecologists...don’t laugh it’ll probably happen) it must really piss off bands like this...people who can sing, play, write and produce their own insanely catchy music...when they seemingly get ignored by the masses. Still, it doesn’t seem to bother them tonight, no petulant displays and ‘we should be playing somewhere bigger than this’ attitude from a band who could arguably sell out the Tokyo Dome. Far from it in fact, they seemed delighted to be here performing for a healthy but not capacity crowd. From opening number ‘Rico’ right through to encore ‘Supa Sneakers’ it was nothing less than a master class in soul, funk and pop, summoning up the spirits of Prince, Sly, Beck and the Godfather of Soul himself...Mrrrrr Jammmmmmes Brrrowwwwwnnn. Sure, you could criticise them for coming up with tracks that sound a little like existing classic tunes, but when it’s done with as much love and style as they do it that’s just bitching for the sake of it. I’ve read a few snooty reviews of the album too that witter on about it not being ‘pimp’ enough (good grief...what the hell does that mean?). Balls to musical snobbery I say. Short of digging up dead soul stars and reanimating them it’s time we starting embracing the living ones a bit more. Lead singer Andy has a stunningly good voice and on the Marvin Gaye-ish ‘Let’s Find a Way’ tonight you’d be hard pushed to find a better soul performance. Anywhere. Kudos must go to the rest of the band too though. Putting the show firmly back into show business and the fun back into funk they’re all clearly experienced musicians and characters in their own right, especially ‘The Professor’, a blonde, moustache and dreads (well on the back part of his head anyway) sporting bass player from Perth. At one point he demonstrated just how low his voice could go...suffice to say that the man’s balls must still be in Oz...that’s some deep shit there. Like I said at the start of this review I’d never heard of them before and I’m guessing a fair number of the crowd here tonight were new to the band too. The whoopin’ and a hollerin’ at the end of the gig told me all I needed to know about how well they went down though...that and the fact that I couldn’t help reaching into my pocket to buy an album (and that’s a very rare thing these days). If there’s any justice in the world they’re ‘Gun’nabe huge.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Joy Formidable / Baddies / Airship @ The O2 Academy Saturday March 20th 2010

In the week in which I discovered that Birmingham’s last remaining independent record shops (Swordfish and Tempest) are to close, tonight’s gig proved, once more, that both the live scene and new music in general is as healthy as ever. There’s something about gigs featuring new bands (by which I probably mean a band on its first album) that’s hard to beat and each one of tonight’s groups still had that mixture of excitement and freshness that, I guess, often gets knocked out of you when you’re on album number 6 and making appearances on The One Show (in between a feature on men who dress up as their favourite vegetables and a salutary warning – presented by Dom Littlewood naturally – of the dangers of sticking parts of your anatomy in food blenders).

Casting aside any thoughts of culinary related mutilation the first band up were Airship (playing their second gig in Birmingham in just over a week). They’re the only band on tonight's bill I’d seen live before (supporting the frankly terrifying Marmaduke Duke) and, as on their first showing they delivered a fine set of tunes that reminded me of a more sophisticated Kings Of Leon in places. The undoubted highlight of the set was new single 'Algebra', a lesson in the power of the quiet/loud/quiet/ loud approach that would outburn Arcade Fire at their very best.

Next up Baddies (not The Baddies...just Baddies...they want to make that quite it?). Snogging everything from Queens of the Stone Age and to Franz Ferdinand and Gang of Four (as far as musical influences go that is...not literally...although these musicians get up to all sorts of funny business) it was a sweat drenched lesson in how to win fans and influence people. They had me won over from the first number – Holler For My Holiday – a jerky power pop classic that ended with the lead singer staring bug eyed at us, every muscle in his body straining with the sheer exertion. Like a quick shag in a back alley (not that I do that sort of thing anymore...bad back) every tune hit the spot and left little moist patches in my jeans (there wasn’t any need for that was there...I do hope you’re not eating at the moment). If I had to pick the best of the bunch I’d plump for Battleships, the bastard offspring of Supergrass’s ‘Caught By The Fuzz’ and pretty much anything done by The Eagles Of Death Metal, replete with a screamalong “whoowhoowhooh”chorus. It’s loud, it’s fast, it’s furious...and it’s frankly impossible to resist. If this band don’t end up shagging the festival crowds silly then we might as well all go home and stick parts of our anatomy in food blenders. PS: Extra points for the subtle band uniform (black DM shoes, black trousers and white shirts buttoned up to the top) and for the lead singer's impassioned words about the musical massacre that the BBC seems set to carry out with the elimination of 6 Music. Yep, I know there are plenty of other ways to get your musical fix these days but, personally, I rather like the fact that there’s a national radio station that’s devoted (pretty much) to spreading the word about some of the best new music around.

Speaking of which, this leads me rather neatly on to the headliners The Joy Formidable. And they are both of these things. A ‘joy’ and ‘formidable’ that is. The’ joy’ comes with, what some people might call the ‘dream pop’ feel of the music, chiming guitars and inspiring lyrics that send the heart and soul soaring. The formidable only have to watch them live for a minute or two to see three people who put 110% into their performance. Co-vocalist and guitarist Rhydian was, after just a couple of tracks a justifiably sweaty mess (“I could do with a tap on my nose” he joked as torrents of the salty stuff flew off him) and drummer Matt was forced to tape up his blistering fingers mid way through the set to stop bits of them dropping off. In the middle of all this, rose-like, is Ritzy - a flailing blur of blonde hair, gutsy vocals and rock sass. Being a lady she didn’t sweat. What she did do was rock out (yes, I’m resorting to a my 'Reviewer’s Book of Cliches' again) as much as anyone I’ve ever seen, arching her back in full on rock goddess mode whilst singing in a voice that’s somehow both sweet and spiky at the same time. The set was littered with all of their best tunes (so far) including the slow burn ‘Whirring’, the scuzzy pop of Austere and current single Popinjay with its naggingly persistent guitar motifs (yes, motifs) and Nirvana (Smells Like Teen Spirit) meets the Cocteau Twins on the way to Pixies gig chorus. Arms were raised aloft, sweat (a lot of it) was spilt and The Joy Formidable demonstrated just what an appropriate name they’ve chosen. A band to clutch to your bosom and never let go.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Thank you for the music...

Well, it’s finally happened. This week I discovered that Birmingham City centre will soon lose its last remaining independent record store (NB: I don’t count The Diskery on Bristol Road as they only seemed to sell old vinyl the last time I was in there...and that was in 1983). Both Tempest and now Swordfish Records are to close in the coming months leaving just HMV as the sole purveyors of music in the country’s second city. I only rarely visited Tempest back in the day, but they had a good indie section and knowledgeable team manning the counters. Swordfish on the other hand was a bit of a second home for me. Saturdays would often be spent thumbing through the racks and, in later years, chatting to the owners Gaz and Mike about all kinds of obscure but wonderful stuff.

The shop began 31 years ago in Hurst Street before moving to Needless Alley in the 80’s then on to its final resting place in Temple Street 14 years ago. Recent years have seen the place get quieter and quieter. Add rising rents and you don’t have to be a business genius to see the eventual outcome. How many fans and bands have had their musical tastes shaped by this place? How many of us have gone home clutching some precious album or single in one of their Grateful Dead inspired carrier bags? And now how many of us will mourn the passing of a nothing less than a Midlands musical institution?

The shop will remain open for a while (they have some time left on their lease and unless they can sublet it they may be open for a bit longer), so if you want to experience a proper record shop before it’s too late pop in now and show them some love.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Vix n’The Kix / Kat Vipers / Little L @ The Hare & Hounds, Monday 15th March 2010

Ladies make up 50% of the human race (roughly). Strange then that relatively few of them seem to make it into bands. Why is that? Answers on a thong please. Tonight there were plenty of ‘em though. Ladies that is. Maybe there were plenty of thongs too, I wasn’t looking, although the barman was walking a bit funny...

First up singer thongwriter (oh balls...I’ve got thongs on the brain now) Little L (and a chap called Jos, who, I’m pretty sure, was thongless). Like a bright ray of sunshine on a dull Spring day Little L can’t fail to bring a smile to your face. Quirkier than the average female singer songwriter she’s got some great lyrics and nice vocal acrobatics (witness the instantly catchy’ faaaaaaaawwwwwlllliiiinnnnngg’ bit in‘Hasty Hasty’). Each song seemed to come with a little story and there were some delightful cover versions (or bits of cover versions at least) in amongst the self penned stuff, with a quick snippet of ‘Neverending Story’, a great chunk of George Michael’s ‘Faith’ and surprisingly successful acoustic take on Gaga’s ‘Poker Face’, which is highly appropriate as I through Little L was an (WARNING: cheesy link ahoy) ‘ace’ start to the evening.

Next on the bill, and someone I’ve been looking forward to seeing for ages, Kat Vipers. It’s always a good sign when you can’t handily compare one artist with another. I know it’s lazy journalism to a certain extent but the quickest way to communicate what someone sounds like is to compare them to someone else. That’s not so easy with Kat, but musical references could include anyone from Tori Amos and Regina Spector right through to Ofra Haza and Baby Dee. In fact she’s a bewitching blend of cultures, styles and influences, just cop a listen to ‘Vindicate’ for instance (a justifiably angry rant against the piss poor quality of a lot of the music spoon fed to the masses) and ‘Quack Song’ on her MySpace page. Truly original stuff. Tonight was just Kat (sans band) and, judging by her recent blog and quick chat with her after the gig, this tour is something of a swansong to her ‘old’ material, which would be real shame. On top of the songs already mentioned several others stood out as particularly strong (‘Freak’ and ‘Trojan Horse’), so perhaps there’s room for reinterpretations of some of these in Kat v. 2.0? Whatever her future direction you can bet your bottom dollar that it’s going to be well worth following...

Coming hot on the heels of the recent Fuzzbox reunion (yes...they’re back, back, BACK!) tonight sees Vix Fuzzbox leading her other band Vix n’the Kix. Truth be told in places they sound a lot like Fuzzbox would’ve sounded if their blend of pop and scuzzy punk had been allowed to develop. Both ‘Bye Bye’ and ‘Blah Blah Blah!’ are just perfect Fuzzbox tunes, fizzing with energy and attitude. Elsewhere there was more of an eclectic mix of influences with a cover of ‘The Clapping Song’ and some rockabilly touches. Vix, like Miles Hunt (of t’Wonderstuff) is a hugely underrated Midlands musical treasure and, if there were any justice in this world Vix n’the Kix would be duffing up the Sugababes and giving Girls Aloud a collective wedgie. But there ain’t. So tonight we lucky bunch in the Hare and Hounds get Vix and the girls to ourselves. Both the aforementioned ‘Bye Bye’ and ‘Blah Blah Blah’ enjoyed rowdy outings and an unexpected highlight came in the form of a cover of early We’ve Got A Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It single ‘Rules and Regulations’. Seizing the opportunity for a quick chin wag with Vix after the show she revealed (cue fanfare) that the forthcoming Fuzzbox shows would embrace both their punky and poppy eras (hurrah), possibly with a couple of new tracks thrown in for good measure (double hurrah). Rehearsals are also well underway now and, according to the lady herself, proving to be “more fun than we ever imagined!” Fuzztastic.

PS: All three of my snapper chums were there tonight (click on the links under 'Da Snappers' to the left of this) and check out the results. Picture perfection.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

I Thee Lothario / Isolated Atoms / 51 Breaks / Corelli @ The Sound Bar, Saturday 13th March 2010

I Thee Lothario...suits coming soon.

First time I’ve been to the Sound Bar in ages. Slack old me. I’ve been drawn up to the nether regions of Corporation Street by a night of local synthy rocky type stuff, capped off by Hearing Aid favourites, the mighty I Thee Lothario. All hail the Lothario. I rather fancy myself as a Lothario actually, glossing over the fact that I look more like a skinnier version of that bloke from the Go Compare adverts that is (or the Italian Chef from the take your pick). Anyway, enough of me. How are you? Come on in. Sit down. Fancy a cup of tea? Biscuit? I have Hob Nobs you know...

First up Corelli. Like all of the band’s on tonight’s bill they’ve wisely looked back to the glory days of the 80’s for some of their key influences, so there’s a little Flock of Seagulls, some Spandau Ballet (the lead vocalist has a touch of the Tony Hadley’s there) and that feeling that every lyric really ruddy matters. You don’t get that with N-Dubz. Pick of the pops included ‘I Listen to Dance Music (Because of You)’ – which has echoes of the great Andy Wickett (local legend – who Lady Baron swore was in the audience tonight – and the man who once sang lead vocals in Duran Duran) and ‘Dead In The Water’ plus an inspired and mightily impressive cover of Spandau’s ‘To Cut A Long Story Short’. Corelli good (Cor...really good...see what I did there? Oh, you did)

Next up 51 Breaks who did a fine job of supporting the hotly tipped Chew Lips a few months back and were just as strong tonight. Rich sounding glossy pop with emotive vocals and a sack full of anthemically catchy tunes, including a rather fine new one called Trenches (I think...) they’re arguably one of the strongest of Birmingham’s synth rock bands (I hesitate to call it a scene, but there really does seem to be something building out there). Whilst I might not haunt big venues too much I know what sound good in a huge arena and what gets a crowd going...and 51 Breaks have it by the bucketful.

The penultimate group of the night, Isolated Atoms, have a touch of Interpol about them, fusing (like their American cousins) some Joy Division and Bauhaus with The Cure and, on one or two tracks like ‘Run to You’ for example, Placebo. Gothy, synthy rock in other words and all the better for it. You can imagine this lot soundtracking some huge teen (as in the movie being huge, not a film about a fat teen...although I imagine they’d have no problem finding a few) vampire movie. The lead singer had a nice line in audience baiting, referring to us as ‘faggots’ at one point, but then again, coming from the Black Country (home of the aforementioned meat based treat) that’s probably a term of endearment right? He honed in on one young lady on several occasions, putting her in a head lock and yelling down her ear. I assume he knew her, she certainly knew him by the end of the night. I actually rather liked the edge this gave. He spent a large part of the set in amongst the crowd and, whilst he didn’t resort to the tactics of art punk misfits Selfish Cunt (their lead singer would lob glass bottles at people and throw their pints at them in order to get a reaction) he put himself out there, which takes balls.

Finally, bow down before the pomp and glory that is I Thee Lothario. Despite promising me matching pastel silk suits months ago, the band stubbornly refuses to day...when I win the lottery...I will dress them all force if necessary. Whoohhhahahahahahah. Anyway, what can I say about them that I haven’t already? Once more it was a gloriously polished performance, this time though without their secret weapon – sax god Byron – in evidence. I feared his absence would take the gloss off things but, if anything, it bought some of their best bits to the fore (Aaron’s vocals and Steve’s (EDIT: It's Stu, not Steve...whoops...I blame the cider) tower of synths - currently the tallest structure in the Western world - were particularly impressive). Kicking off with ‘Arise. Release. Repent.’ it was a nothing short of a greatest hits set in the making. Trevor Horn are you listening? Get this lot in the studio and you’ll be back at number one before you can say Video Killed The Radio Star...then they can buy their own silk suits. ‘Let’s Dance’ initiated much boisterous frugging along at the front of the crowd whilst the bitter ‘Love’s Young Dream’ got a particularly impassioned performance tonight. Did they really dedicate a song to me too? It sounded like they did (I hope they did...shit...otherwise I’m hearing things and this blog’s title could end up being strangely prophetic). Aw guys. I’ve never had a band dedicate a song to me. I feel like the Queen Mother. Anyway, dead monarchs aside, I Thee Lothario delivered a belter last night, with closing number ‘Soldier To Your Heart’ whipping the audience into an arm waving woowoowoowoowoowoowoowoo frenzy. Possibly Thee best I’ve ever seen them play...

PS: So is Birmingham home to a burgeoning synth rock scene? It sounds that way. Odd that, almost exactly 30 years after the City played host to THE synth / new romantic club, The Rum Runner, and spawned THE synth rock band of the decade Duran Duran, a harder edged but clearly influenced clutch of bands are springing up. Watch this space.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Back with a (Big) Bang - Fuzzbox reform!

I’ve had a thing for Fuzzbox since 1986. Hell, what red blooded hunk a hunk o’ burnin’ love wouldn’t eh? We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It started off as scuzzy punk pop tarts before emerging, butterfly like, as Fuzzbox and conquering the charts with a trio of glorious tunes ‘Self’, ‘International Rescue’ and ‘Pink Sunshine’. Then, for reasons unknown, they imploded. Ka-boom! Vix did some TV work in the years that followed then formed the equally poptastic ‘Vix and the Kix’ in 2007. Now, as if from nowhere, comes the news that Fuzzbox (the original line-up) has reformed and will be playing a short tour in May. Wonders will never cease. Whether we’ll get the scuzzy version, the pop version or a little of each remains to be seen, but it’ll remind the world of just what an underrated and utterly loveable band they were (in all their incarnations). Thunderbirds are GO!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Top Tracks # 16 - Matthew Wilder 'Break My Stride'

Time for another in the random selection of tracks that have made their way through to what's left of my brain. This time it's Matthew Wilder's frankly ridiculously catchy hit 'Break My Stride'. I liked this so much back in the day (1982) that I bought the album from WH Smiths (in the sale) for £2.99. You could get a house for that sort of money in those days. Just check out this video - dancing girls, three keyboards, leather trousers and a truly awesome moustache plus the only man in pop to rhyme the words 'rocky' with 'cocky'. Genius.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Kick it tout! The Ticket Factory takes a stand!

I’m not one for moaning for no reason (well, maybe I am, but not in this case) but ticket touts (by which I mean people who buy tickets for gigs with the sole intention of ripping people off by charging three or four times their face value) really, really get on my nerves. Whilst they may witter on about free enterprise and meeting demand let’s cut the crap here, they take tickets off genuine fans who want to go to gigs. Okay, they might sell them on to genuine fans (albeit genuine fans with more money than sense) but they only care about the cash. And boy, these people are making some serious wedge. Let’s take the recent Flight of the Conchords gig. Within minutes of these tickets being released there were dozens on ebay, Seatwave, Getmein etc at up to four times the face value. Some of these sellers had 20 or more listings for various gigs. You do the math. Oh alright then, I will. Let’s say the tickets had a face value of £30 and they were being sold on for a modest £90 each, that’s £60 profit per ticket x 20 listings x two tickets per listing...that’s er...hold on...good grief...£2,400. A nice little earner eh? Pay tax on that do you? Nah, I didn’t think so.

To be honest the touts don’t often have a direct impact on me, many of the gigs I go to are for up and coming bands who are still under the tout radar....until the Flight of the Concords gig that is. My other half is a huge fan. Being the lovely man that I am I said I’d try to get tickets for her. At 8.58 there I was online, ready and waiting. At 9am the bun fight began and the gig sold out in minutes. I couldn’t even get access to the website. Gutted. I waited a bit then tried again. By a stroke of luck some tickets became available (I guess some credit cards were rejected or something like that). The only trouble was that they were for something called a Lounge Package at a wallet busting £77.50 each (+ ‘transaction fee’ of course). So it was going to cost...wait for it...£156.70 to see the gig. Now I don’t know about you, but that’s quite a lot of money to me. Still I had it (just) and knowing that ‘er indoors would be distraught if she missed the gig I coughed up. After checking on ebay I came across a whole bunch of tickets obviously being sold by professional touts (people who had sold some cases thousands of tickets before). Incensed I penned an email to The Ticket Factory (the official ticket agency for the NIA who I’d purchased my tickets through). To be honest I’d not expected a reply but, heavens be praised, they did get back to me and said that whilst they don’t condone the resale of tickets (it goes against the terms and conditions printed on their tickets too) it wasn’t actually illegal. They were, however, in the process of tracking down and cancelling the orders of those who were touting these tickets and had found me a pair of better seats without the ‘Lounge Package’ premium. Now that’s what I call a result. I’ve said it once (so have thousands of other frustrated music/theatre/sports fans) and I’ll say it again, this issue needs to be addressed. I don’t want young / poor /genuine fans priced out of certain gigs just so someone can make a wedge by ripping people off. Ultimately the solution lies with the venues and (genuine) agencies but we can all do our bit by not buying from the touts. They’re creating and meeting the demand in the first place. Don’t buy from them and they won’t exist. Some hope I know (if you really want to see a gig and you have the cash you’re not going to listen to me are you?). But with online touting seemingly getting more and more popular and out of hand if we don’t all take a stand you too could find yourself priced out of a gig or event one day soon...

A big thank you to The Ticket Factory for helping me out and for taking action on this. If you find yourself in a similar situation may I suggest that you draw the original agent’s attention to the touts in question and ask them to withdraw and relist the tickets. The respectable and responsible agencies will do so.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

The XX / These New Puritans / Glasser @ The 02 Academy 2, Friday 5th March 2010

Somewhere across town this evening cheeky, chirpy Irish chappie Ronan Keating is getting ready to entertain a no doubt packed NIA with his tales of life being a bit like a rollercoaster. Actually I reckon (WARNING: Cheesy link ahead) life’s a bit more like tonight’s openers, who didn’t actually bother to announce who they were (I later discovered they were called Glasser). Why is life like Glasser? Well, bear with me here. Vocally there’s some of the madness of Bjork and Bush (Kate) and musically there’s tribal drumming a plenty (the likes of which have been seldom heard since the days of the mighty Bow Wow Wow...look ‘em up) and a distinctly oriental feel. To reinforce this vibe the band came on wearing robes, the two blokes ( ...'played' Apple Macs) also had those hats that Chinese people wear when they’re working in the rice fields. Put it all together and it’s a confusing, strange but oddly intriguing combination that’s generally well worth sticking around for. See? Just like life.

Next up was nothing short of the sonic assault unleashed by These New Puritans. Anyone who jigged along to their 2007 track ‘Elvis’ will no doubt be a little surprised at just how...well...BIG...they sound now. Opener and Balkan beat banger ‘We Want War’ is a simply remarkable bit of stuff. Where the funk did that come from eh? The lead singer has a kind of Terry Hall type of dead pan delivery and the whole thing’s topped off with pounding drums, brass sections, choirs, ominous whispers, quite bits, loud bits...very loud bits. It goes on for over 7 minutes too (not that size is everything) and leaves some of the audience looking a little puzzled. Good. That’s one of the functions of new music...mix that schnizzle up a bit, that’s what I say. I’d love to see the track done with a full orchestra and choir (rather than laptops) but I guess this would be a logistical nightmare. The rest of the set couldn’t possibly compete with, what is, nothing short of the band’s masterpiece – and an incredibly ambitious piece of music for any band to try to pull off. But there were plenty more Terry Hall-ish vocals, heavy beats and Middle Eastern flavas, all of which gelled best in the second best track from their current album (Hidden), the threateningly titled ‘Attack Music’. No ‘Elvis’ sadly, it looks and sounds like the band has moved on from their art rock days...where they go from here will be intriguing.

Finally, The XX. This band was all over the trendy press last year, like footballers on their teammates’ wives. Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim’s whispered songs of love, lust and Geography homework ( or two of the songs tonight were a little difficult to make out) set against stripped back beats and twangy guitars are an intoxicating mix (think Everything But The Girl meets The Cure in places). Judging by the clearly devoted fan base crushed into the venue tonight it’s not just the tastemakers and reviewers who’ve fallen for them either. It’s like listening in on a private conversation between two post coital lovers (not that I do that sort of thing...often). And here, for me, is both the strength and weakness of the band as a live proposition. It’s incredibly intimate. You almost want to be snuggled up under a duvet with the group. Both ‘Basic Space’ and ‘Crystalised’ (with its Joy Division-ish guitar intro) had enough of a connection to send tingles down the spine. An inspired version of Womack and Womack’s ‘Teardrops’ also tickled my musical fancy. It’s not often that a band can truly reinvent and make a well known song their own, but tonight they well and truly pulled it off. Other tracks were just a little too low key and hushed to draw me in, even though I was standing pretty close to the stage. That being said the band’s doing something a little bit different and, let’s cut them some slack here, they’ve made a cracking and emotionally raw debut album that can’t be easy to translate into a live show.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Nightstylers in da house

I’m pretty broad minded when it comes to music (that’s kind of the raison d’etre of this site too...musical snobbery be damned), so I can see the appeal of big, glossy commercial house (the sort of thing that comes bangin’ out of clubs at 3am...just as blokes in cheap white cotton shirts and ladies in...well...very little likewise). Whilst I wouldn’t be seen dead in Coconuts, Slippery Dicks or The Wang Palace (or whatever such places are called these days) I’m not averse to some joyful, hands in the air, dance around in your pants, house. Speaking of which, Nightstylers (a duo consisting of Andrew Galea and Patrick Ruane) seem to be kicking out just that. Galea’s a former producer of The Freestylers (remember Bomfunk MC’s?) so it’s no surprise that new single and, apparently a number 1 in the Upfront Chart, ‘No More Lies’ is as catchy as hell. Featuring a soulful vocal from a young lady called Majuri it’s Euro house-tastic, stuffed full of those big cheap sounding keyboards and build and fall moments that are guaranteed to get the (foam) party started.

No More Lies is out on Wrecked Records on March 22nd...or you can probably hear it in Slippery Dicks right now!

The Miserable Rich / Dan Whitehouse @ The Glee Club, Thursday 4th March 2010

Thursday already...and my third gig of the week so far. Oh what a rock n’roll lifestyle I lead, in between watching Bargain Hunt and Deal or No Deal that is. Tonight I was back in the Glee Club studio, a lovely intimate little venue (which I actually prefer to its big brother, da Main Room).

First up, Dan Whitehouse. The last time I saw Dan (a few years back now) I think he’d just come back to the Midlands from London and was in the process of pulling together a band. Back then he played an impressive acoustic set, packing in the kind of emotional intensity that a lot of singer songwriters aim for but few achieve. Tonight he’d got this band together (keyboard, violin and percussion) and gave us a charming, assured performance culled (I think) mainly from his series of self released EPs. Chatting in between tracks he quickly won over those in the crowd who were new to him and, judging by the number of people clutching his CDs near me, gained himself quite a few extra fans in the process. Check out his MySpace page for a whole bunch of live videos and tracks.

The Miserable Rich were one of my great musical discoveries of 2009 - beautiful, heart breaking music and lyrics, lead singer James’s angelic vocals and a group of musicians at the very top of their game. Their debut album (12 Ways To Count) is a must have in my book and, judging by some of the tracks unveiled this evening, the follow up’s sounding every bit as strong (it’s due out in May I believe). After all, if it ain’t baroque don’t fix it eh? (that’s a ‘witty’ play on words by the way, the band are kind of baroque chamber now you know). Tonight was the third time I’ve seen them in a year and, once again, from the moment James opened his mouth to the second the last of the applause died away at the end of the set I was in musical nirvana. It’s like having someone sing you lullabies while a thousand angels stroke your furrowed brow. Sigh. James seemed on fine form tonight, a little chattier than I’ve seen him before and happy to regale us with tales of stalking Yummy Mummys and his Chilean girlfriend (who seemingly thinks she’s a wolf). I normally narrow down the highlights of a band’s set to a couple of tracks but that’s not so easy to do with the Miserable Rich. Suffice to say it was long highlight, but, in no particular order the waltzing ‘Somerhill’ (new single – out on March 29th), the drunk’s lament ‘Pisshead’, the paean to freedom from the working week ‘The Time That’s Mine’ and, still my favourite, ‘Boat Song’ were all life enhancingly gorgeous. Do me a favour. Please. Just listen to it. Now. Shut your eyes and listen to it. If that don’t move you then you’re probably clinically dead.

Their last Glee Club show pulled in just a few of us, this time it seemed close to selling out. When the rest of the world catches up with them...and they mark my words, they’ll be selling out much bigger venues in the blink of an eye. Catch them, up close and personal, while you can.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Girls / Spectrals / Circus Town @ The Hare & Hounds, Wednesday 3rd March 2010

Circus Town...'dirty pieces' not pictured

Fancy seeing ‘Girls’ at the Hare & Hounds? It took me a moment to realise that it wasn’t an invitation to letch at the fairer sex (not that I’d do such a thing...being a gentleman and all that...the short sightedness doesn’t help matters either), but instead the chance to see a band called ‘Girls’, which, of course, doesn’t feature any. Pfff. In fact all of tonight’s bands were female free zones, kicking off with ‘dirty three piece’ (their words, not mine) Circus Town. Whether they had a dirty ‘piece’ or not I couldn’t possibly comment on. Imagine Led Zeppelin jamming with The White Stripes (which, as anyone who’s seen the recent movie/doc ‘It Might Get Loud’ realises is a pretty good combination) and you’ll have some idea of the sound. Delivering a fiery set of garage blues belters – including an unholy trinity of fine tracks entitled ‘Black Bones’, ‘Beg’ and ‘Crawl’ – they made me yearn for a bottle of Jim Beam and a trailer park full of hookers. Powerful stuff. Bonus points for the drummer’s ‘Flowery Twats’ t-shirt too (I’m assuming this was a Fawlty Towers related item and nothing to do with ‘dirty pieces’ again).

Next Spectrals. Billed as Jesus and Mary Chain meets Bobby Darin and Phil Spector (before he blew the head off someone, obviously, I guess he’s just perfecting the ‘bars of sound’ right now eh?) they reminded me more of Duane Eddy meets The La’s (again, not a bad combination). Raw and a little unpolished it might be but they do a grand job of reinventing that late 50’s early 60’s reverb heavy pop sound that you get in old surf movies featuring girls in bikinis called Cindy Lou and bronzed hunks called Brad. Jukeboxtastic.

Girls...who are all boys...

Finally, all the way from San Francisco...Girls! Fronted by a certain Christopher Owens – a former member of the Children of God religion/cult (aren’t all religions cults?) – they’ve got a kind of fuzzy, woozy thang going on. Like Spectrals they’re fans of the old reverb-erb-erb-erb too and what some of the tracks lacked in fire they made up for in fuzz. Let it get under your skin and it’s a bit like being stoned (the nice sort of stoned, not the angry mob chucking bits of rock at you kind). Personally I like my Girls loud and nasty, so tracks like ‘Big Bad Mean Motherfucker’ and the catchier than pubic lice ‘Lust For Life’ get my vote. The latter track tonight seemed to be a bit of a shortened version though (a shame ‘cos I think that’s their best song), maybe Chris lost his lust halfway through? The set drifted on nicely enough though, Chris singing hazily about finding his ‘life in the sun’ and bringing a much needed Summer-time vibe to this bloody endless bloody miserable never ending ball shrivelling Winter.

PS: Tonight was a Birmingham Promoters gig (jolly nice peeps they are too) and I strongly urge you to check out their line up for the coming months...Mr Hudson, The Fall (yes...THE FALL), Faust (yes...FAUST), Beardyman, Patrick Duff (ex Strangelove singer and performer of one of my favourite ever gigs), Horace Andy, King Adora (reforming for just a couple of dates), Darwin Deez (hotly tipped Coldplay dissin’ indie King)...the the beat...goes on.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Starless in their eyes...

I told you this week was chock full of great gigs and here’s one I missed off my list. Starless and Bible Black produce the kind of classic, acid tinged, blissed out psych folk that's every bit as intoxicating as it's 70's predecessors. The haunting voice of Helene Gaultier (seemingly channelling the spirit of Sandy Denny) drifts in and out of the tunes like a mist on a Spring morn. And if that isn’t enough to get you down to the Hare and Hounds this Friday (March 5th) you’ve got the acoustic folk of Beneath The Oak and The Gardenelles as well, all for a fiver. Another one of the splendid Lunar Society nights (run by the good folk of Moseley Folk) it promises to be an evening of musical loveliness...

Tickets are £5 on the door, more info right here.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Los Campesinos! / Swanton Bombs / Islet @ The Rainbow, Monday 1st March 2010

The Interweb. You really have to be all over it (MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Bebo, Asbo, Hobo, GoGo blah blah blah) if you’re in a band these days don’t you? Well, you don’t have to be, but I can’t think of any band that’s deliberately (I presume it’s deliberate...either that or they can’t be arsed...which isn’t half as exciting) shunned the world wide web...until now that is. Meet Islet. Billed as a ‘No Wave’ group from Cardiff they seemingly don’t want to be part of the wwworld as we know it. Can’t blame ‘em really. A couple of chaps have set up a fan site for them but that’s as much as you’re going to get...for now. If you want to see and hear much more of them you have to get off your arse and schlep down to a gig. So schlep I did. And I’m really rather glad I did. Performing like four people possessed, Islet (three boys, one girl) thrashed, screamed and jammed their way through 20 odd minutes of mayhem. You know the noise that goes on inside your head when you’re stuck in the three items or less queue at a supermarket and everyone in front has trolley full of stuff...none of which are on the ‘system’...and they want to pay using a bizarre selection of coupons? Or imagine throwing two drum kits, several guitars (plugged into their amps, naturally) a cowbell...hell why not add the cow too...and Can (the ultra cool German Krautrock band) band down the stairs. sounds like that. Sort of. Bonkers...but quite possibly brilliant. At the end of every song the band kind of rotated and swapped instruments) so, at various times, everyone played guitar, keyboard, drums...each other (seriously, they started hitting each other with little tambourines at one point). The double drumming pieces (two drummers, drumming in perfect sync) were particularly wondrous, pounding away like maniacs they sent dozens of shards of splintered wood flying through the air. I kind of hope that Islet never ever releases any music. A strange thing to say I guess, but it would be a little like trying to bottle a kick in the crotch and a kiss...

Next up, Swanton Bombs. Two men, one drum, one guitar. Playing stripped back street blues, they’re as raw as a freshly cut knife wound...which is what makes it for me. Thump the hell out of your instruments, yell your lyrics as though your life depended on it and then vanish backstage for a hand job and a can of Special Brew (NB: I’m not sure the band actually did this...but I’d like to think they did ).
Los Campesinos!...well, one of them anyway

Finally Los Campesinos! I’ve seen this band before a few years back and kind of forgot how good they were/are. That happens a lot. The problem with seeing loads of bands and having access to pretty much everything ever recorded on the Interweb (apart from Islet obviously) is that you ( certainly) miss out on developing that kind of band loyalty that you had back in the day when a record purchase was a serious business. Yep, I’m a musical whore, skittering off to my next musical thrill on an almost daily basis, which inevitably means that bands often slip off my radar. Able to pull off joyful pop (witness ‘You! Me! Dancing!) and Arab Strap style misery (say hello to ‘The Sea is a Good Place...’) tonight’s gig was more than enough to put them firmly back in my sights. Kicking off with the snappily titled ‘I just signed. I just sighed. Just so you know’ they set out their musical stall with a gloriously loud and thrashy workout (there’s 8 of the buggers up there on the stage you know...including a violinist...well, why not eh?), the pissed off shouty bloke’s vocals neatly contrasted by one of the girl’s sweeter than honeydew voices. ‘ Romance Is Boring ‘ (the title track from the new album – out now) was half Art Brut, half X-Ray Spex – a short and bittersweet anti Valentine’s Day card (ha...take that Clintons) and proof that the band’s winning way with the sing along chorus is alive and well. Speaking of which, both ‘You! Me! Dancing’ and ‘Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks’ got energetic airings tonight too, bookending another new track, the aforementioned Arab Strap-tastic ‘The Sea Is a Good Place to Think About The Future’. Pared back, by the band’s standards at least, it was one of the highlights of the gig for me (but then I’m a miserable bastard at the best of times). Proof, perhaps, that Los is more...

PS: There will be pictures...proper pictures...over at my other home, Gig Junkies (pop in some time, I'll put the kettle on and we'll have a natter), courtesy of Mr Wayne Fox esq.