Monday, June 30, 2014

Are you Poe-ing tonight...?

Fresh from Glasto (as fresh as they can be I guess) Larkin Poe play the Hare and Hounds this evening, their very first date ever in Brum! I've heard great things about sisters Rebecca and Megan (all the way from Georgia in the US of A) . Clearly Elvis Costello has too as they've supported him on tour once or twice. Not too shabby eh? And yes...they ARE related to Edgar Allen Poe. Spooky. Expect beautiful sibling harmonies and top notch country tinged folk.

Tickets here!

Friday, June 27, 2014

It's Glastonbrummy!

Glastonbury? Pah! Anyone knows that the place to be this weekend is Glastonbrummy in Digbeth which is playing host to some of the world's best tribute bands (Black Elvis! Joanne Joanne...a female Duran Duran act! Fleetwood Bac!) as well as a veritable pyramid stage full of original talent. Hell yes. And the whole ruddy weekend costs less than the price of a Glasto spinal column in a bap...well's been a while since I went...and even then I lived off peanuts, nettles and bits of discarded gaffer tape.

Anyway, cop a load of this to get you in the mood...

Tickets available right here, right now.

STOP PRESS!!!! The lovely peeps at Glastonbrummy are doing doing a 12 hour payday flash sale from midday, weekend tickets only £10! Just enter the code FLASH here!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Dexys @ Kasbah, Coventry, Wednesday 25th June 2014

As gaps between gigs go the 30 years between Dexys last appearance in Coventry and this one is pretty impressive. Of course the band’s (and their lead singer Kevin Rowland’s) decline and fall has been pretty well documented over the years making their rebirth in 2012 (following a brief reunion in 2003) all the more remarkable.

Tonight’s show is one of a series of three warm ups for their Glastonbury slot on Saturday (I hope they’re all packing wellies) following on from a fairly extensive UK tour in 2012 and a handful of festival dates last year. Decades may have passed since Geno made number one but the band’s sense of style (okay, so maybe the old dungarees look may have been a little ‘out there’ but still, it was distinctive right?) is still firmly in place with Kevin and Pete (Williams) both looking as cool as the Kasbah was hot. Was that a tweed suit that Pete was wearing? Tweed? In June? Inside? Playing a gig? Jeez...that’s dedication.  

If you’ve been lucky enough to see any of Dexys shows over the last couple of years you’ll kind of know what to expect. Much of the first half is dedicated to material from the band’s last album, One Day I’m Going To Soar, which has proved to be a bit of a grower. 

Opening number Now starts off as the kind of gentle piano led lament that you might hear at a wake in a Irish boozer before Pete kicks it into life and the ever reliable Big Jim Paterson trombone’s it up a gear. Lost is pure therapy, with Kevin pouring out his heart “I could not exist in the world, like there was something wrong with me”. Given the decade or so he spent ingesting up to 9 grams of cocaine a night before ending up alone and broke in a squat the mere fact that he does still ‘exist in the world’ is, quite frankly, a miracle. 

The (new) soul searching comes to an end with a different kind of ‘horn’ section for Dexys courtesy of a lusty version of She’s Got A Wiggle On. It takes a moment to track down the female voice, Siobhan Fahey, up on the balcony of the Kasbah. Looking down on the band and dolled up in a distinctly French looking outfit...oooh la la...she comes across like a particularly sexy Juliet (yep, I was a bit of a fan in her Bananarama days). This is all just mere foreplay though. I’m Thinking Of You, with a gloriously expressive trombone solo from Big Jim (earning him a touching hand on heart appreciation from Kevin) and the 70s light disco soul of I’m Always Going To Love You (think Hot Chocolate’s So You Win Again) sees the love affair rise and fall as quickly as many of Kevin’s real life relationships seems to have done. Incapable Of Love nails down the coffin lid and if you listen to the lyrics it’s yet another painfully honest confession. 

Siobhan’s a fine foil for this piece of theatricality tonight, all they need is some crockery to chuck at each other and it would

Hold on! There’s hope though. Free, part Come On Eileen, part mission statement, sees Kevin and Pete batting back and forwards the pros and cons of committing to a relationship before Kevin comes down firmly on the side of giving it all a miss.“I can’t fucking wait to go outside and live my life” he sings before coming to the conclusion “Why would I buy a book when I can join a library?” You heard the man ladies, form an orderly queue and you never know...he might thumb through for a few weeks. Ahem.

Time for the hits and classics then and the full and extended version of There, There My Dear, starting off as a slow jam (as done by Dexys Mk 3) before changing up a couple of gears to the more familiar and punchy New Soul Rebels era version (Dexys Mk 1) goes down a storm. It’s on this older material than you can really appreciate just how well Kevin’s voice has weathered the wilderness years. The dude’s 60 too and this ain’t an easy song to sing. Remarkable. One thing that the old Kevin perhaps wouldn’t have done was to have a laugh. That’s all changed as Pete and Dud...sorry...Kev...riff merrily on the “I’ve been searching for the new soul rebels” line like they’ve lost it down the back of the sofa. Hilarious. Next comes another surprise. It’s Geno (Big) Jim...but not as we know it. it what you want but Geno’s got a wiggle on too. The purists might hate it but bugger me, it works! Record and release this now...please.

I Love You (Listen To This) is probably Kevin’s best vocal of the night. Pure heart and soul. One thing you’d never do is mistake that voice for anyone else. How many other singers can you truly say that of eh? One Day I’m Going To Soar? On this, vocally at least, he really did. The Waltz (also from the much maligned at the time but now critically acclaimed Don’t Stand Me Down) slows things down to reflective sway before a typically Dexys style brassed up climax paving for the way for...well...imagine if they didn’t play it? Come On Eileen, the song that launched a million drunken office Christmas parties. I bought this record on 7 inch vinyl when it came out (yes, I’m that old) and played it to death. And you know what? It still sounds great. Defiant, optimistic, joyful...horny (yes, again...) it’s right up there as one of the best pop records of all time and, judging by the look on Kevin’s face, he finally seems comfortable with its success. Punching out the words as Big Jim and Pete share a mic it’s a magical moment for anyone who grew up watching Kevin and co outside Vi’s Stores on the original video. Hell, it even made me yearn for a pair of denim dungarees and a grimy neckerchief.

If there’s one song that tops Eileen perhaps it’s Dexys’ opus This Is What She’s Like. Of course with the all new happier and more relaxed Kevin the intro’s played for mention of The Little Nibble in Bearwood a resident of the ‘wood that’s practically unforgivable. 

There ain’t many bands that could get away with a song that can stretch to 16 minutes or so but it cleverly shifts pace numerous times, packing in more than most albums. Just as its writer has packed more into his life than most of us could imagine in fact.  

Theatrical, funny, sad, could chuck dozens of words at a Dexys gig and most of them would stick, but none would really do it justice. Glastonbury, you’re in for a treat.

Photos from the gig courtesy of the lovely Mr Ken Harrison 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The (Miles)Perhower and the Gory...

"The more you ignore me the closer I get" warbled Mozza a few years back. It's the kind of sentiment that could well apply to Miss Halliwell. Despite...or maybe because coverage in the music press and relatively intimate gigs they keep producing some of the best and most vital sounding music around right now, most recently discarding pretty much all of their existing material and writing an entirely new set in just a matter of weeks. Who else has the balls...or vaginas...(is that that the feminine version of balls...hmmm...answers on a ovary please) to do that eh? 

This is their latest release, bursting forth from the underbelly of alternative pop, two minutes of twisted post punk with a dash of old skool synth and Miles Perhower on top lyrical form. If you've not fallen for their charms yet who knows, maybe you never will. But if you've got a couple of minutes to spare today to actually LISTEN, do your mind, body, soul and ears a favour. And oh yes...if you like what you hear spread the word people. Facebook and Twitter might suck balls but at least we can use 'em for something good.

PS: Miss Halliwell play The Holly Bush in Cradley Heath on Friday 27th June. 

PPS: Don't forget that the next Sunday Xpress (Miss Halliwell are regulars) is this Sunday (obviously) at the Adam and Eve too. Headliner this time is the rather glamorous Supercilious Ms T!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Dexys midsummer stunners...

As a warm up for their Glasto slot Dexys play the Kasbah in Coventry tomorrow night...their first gig in the City for a mere 30 years. Dexys rebirth over the past few years has been nothing short of miraculous. Lead singer Kevin Rowland spent a decade or so mired in drug addiction and self doubt and the chances of any meaningful new releases or live shows were about as high as England winning the World Cup. Okay, maybe a little better than that but still, you get the idea. Their 80s albums were each pretty different, ranging from the soul punk of Searching For The New Soul Rebels to the more fiddly Irish folk feel of Too-Rye-Ay and then on to the polished adult pop of Don't Stand Me Down (dismissed at the time by pretty much everyone but now rightly hailed as a classic). Their most recent release, the confessional but ultimately redemptive One Day I'm Going To Soar, brings together strands of all three previous albums with the added maturity that no doubt comes with the chasm like 27 year gap that separates it from Don't Stand Me Down. In my humble opinion Dexys were and are are one of the most important British bands of the last 30 years or so and Rowland, for all his self confessed faults and foibles, is a true original. How long the 'new' Dexys will last is anyone's guess, for now though 'Let's Make This Precious' eh? 

Tickets available right here...

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Licensed to Chill...The Chills added to Indietracks line up!

New Zealand's finest, The Chills, have just been to the already excellent Indietracks line up (Gruff Rhys, Sweet Baboo, Joanna Gruesome and Spearmint to name just a few) and if you needed another reason to grab a ticket then having the rare chance to  hear 'em do Heavenly Pop Hit live is it! Frankly you'd be...ahem...'dumb de dumb dumb' to miss it.

Tickets to Indietracks (25th - 27th July) - three days of indie music loveliness right next to (and occasionally on!) a steam railway line - are available here!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Birmingham and Beyond!

The good people behind Counteract Magazine have put together a top notch bill for their Birmingham and Beyond Festival this weekend with hotly tipped Hull four piece Life headlining on FRIDAY and Brum's very own God Damn ripping yer ears off (in the nicest possible way) on SATURDAY. Other highlights include Grafham Water Sailing Club (who were ruddy good at Lunar Festival recently) and the mighty, mighty Layers. Here's a sample to get you in da mood.

Weekend tickets are a ridiculously cheap 12 quid (that's about 70p a band!) and available right here.

STOP PRESS ( know what I mean): Email your name to for £10 weekend tickets or a fiver for Friday and £8 for Saturday. Bargain! 

Scott Bradlee and Postmodern Jukebox @ The Institute, Monday 16th June 2014

Okay, so imagine if Lady Gaga had hung around the Noo Yoik jazz clubs of the 30s and 40s or if Robin Thicke had been ‘blurring lines’ in Appalachia back in the 50s? That, in essence, is the brilliant but simple premise behind Postmodern Jukebox, take ‘modern’ pop songs and re-imagine them adding a little (or in most cases a lot) more musical magic all with a distinctively vintage twist. To quote the chap behind it, US jazz musician Scott Bradlee, it’s all about the creation of “an alternate pop universe” (and let’s face it some of today’s pop songs...and their singers...could certainly do with being transported to an alternate universe at times). It’s been pretty ruddy successful too, with one of the group’s best efforts, a heartbreakingly poignant cover of Lorde’s Royals sung by a 7ft tall clown (sadly he wasn't here tonight), picking up almost 8million hits on You Tube to date...and all without the aid of breakdancing kittens, grannies battering would be muggers or drunk frat boys falling off roofs. Impressive eh? Now, after a sell out US tour, the Jukebox has popped over the Atlantic for a mere handful of dates, one of which is in Brum’s suitably vintage Institute.

Tonight’s gig (like the rest on this tour) is sold out and the room’s jam packed with a mix of the ‘yoot’ plus one or two older fans no doubt attracted by a night of ‘proper’ music...with real tunes and everything. I daresay the announcement at the beginning asking the audience to keep their mobiles off and in their pockets pleased them no end. Actually, who am I trying to kid...I am one of them...and yes, it delighted me. Happily everyone seemed to follow this gentle instruction too which is something of a blinking miracle these days.

From beginning to end Bradlee and his band set out to create a vintage atmosphere with fake radio ads “And now a word from our sponsors...” opening the show and setting the tone for the evening, transporting us all back to a time when the web was something spiders lived in, the net was something ladies wore to keep their hair neat in bed and ‘smart’ phones were made of cream coloured Bakelite. Ahhhh...happy days. The show’s MC’d by a dude called Drue, immaculately decked out in a white tux and black tie, and the core band remains onstage throughout as the singers (three lovely ladies and Drue himself) pop on and off throughout the evening. A brief ragtime instrumental version of The Final Countdown get’s the crowd going (it’s a particularly enthusiastic reception in fact) before Robyn Adele Anderson steps up in glam 20s garb for a similarly ‘ragtimified’ reworking of Macklemore’s Thrift Shop. It does indeed sound “fuckin” (or “freakin” if you’re under 18) awesome”. 

It’s swiftly followed by a Great Gatsby makeover of Swedish House Mafia’s Don’t You Worry Child and a tap dancing romp through Ke$ha’s Die Young. I’ve been a big fan of using tap dancers to add a little percussive fairy dust on things ever since falling in love with Tilly and the Wall back in the day and the chap that does the business on this tour kept up a mean pace (despite the blistering heat and an outfit better suited to lounging on the deck of an ocean liner sipping a G&T). Robyn sauntered off for the first of several costume changes (I’d hate to see this band’s excess baggage bill) to be replaced by Ashleigh Stroud channelling her inner jazz diva on Katy Perry’s Dark Horse. After some more comedic “words from our sponsors” the band ramped up the oddball with a mock brass battle soundtracked by the Game of Thrones theme tune (trombone won tonight...never pick a fight with a trombone...). Other highlights? How long have you got? Robyn’s klezmer-tastic Talk Dirty replete with a Yiddish Rap and Christine’s Sweater Weather (part Edith Piaf, part Eartha Kitt) good...bonus points for the whistling solo too, not an easy thing to pull off. 

An honourable mention for the most enthusiastic tambourine player on planet earth. The dude’s like the Duracell bunny on E. Robyn’s fabulous doo wop version of the perma-twerking Miley Cyrus’ hit We Can’t Stop drags it out of the gutter and lifts it up to the stars, Drue’s Motown overhaul of Nickelback’s Rockstar (loved Scott’s cheeky use of Rhapsody In Blue in there) injected real soul into the pretty plodding original and Robyn’s Blurred Lines well and truly put the ho into hoe down. Yeehaw! 

All three ladies came together for a fab 60s girl band version of Ellie Goulding’s Fire (highlight of the night?) and the set was capped off by a bouncy Get Lucky...which is pretty appropriate really as everyone in the audience this evening clearly had done just that by scoring a ticket.

Okay, so at first the whole thing might scream ‘novelty cheesefest’ but it’s pretty clear that a lot of thought’s gone into these interpretations and they’re all done with a oodles of love and considerable musical talent. It helps if you know the original versions of the songs as hearing the transformation is all part of the fun but if you don’t know Ke$ha from a sack of spuds (and I don’t...) then you’d still get a kick out it all. Great interpretations, accomplished performances, gorgeous costumes and a lively, fun approach...this show’s ‘Scott’ it all.  

PS: Rarely seen a queue for the merch stand as big as the one tonight...the band's probably still there now pressing the flesh. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

This weekend...Bearwood Shuffle # 6!!!!!!

Yep, it's back! This weekend sees the sixth Bearwood Shuffle, a free afternoon of live music on the bandstand in Lightwoods Park on Sunday June 15th. Once again there's the usual eclectic mix of talent from the legendary Blue Notes through to up and coming hip hop collective Dantannabeatz. Here's just a 'flava' (who says I ain't down wiv da kidz eh?). Peace.

PS: Don't forget to follow Bearwood Shuffle on Twitter for all the latest info. Who knows maybe that nice Prince chappie will turn up?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Lunar Festival @ Umberslade Estate, 6th – 8th 2014

Arthur Brown carrying a flaming torch, leading a procession through the site with a brass band playing Fire; Donovan performing with Temples; crouching down in the mud with The Polyphonic Spree’s Tim DeLaughter; watching a dude having a 6 inch nail hammered into his head...these are the kind of moments that make a truly great festival experience...and Lunar Festival was stuffed full of them.

It all started gently enough, Simon Fox greeted early arrivers on Friday with some pluckingly lovely banjo driven tunes at times coming across like a one man Miserable Rich with touches of John Martyn for good measure. Early afternoon tiffin anyone? No? How about some brain twisting psych then? Step forward The Exploding Sound Machine who rolled up an organ-asmic set in one phat joint. Bonus points for the band dressing up in authentic 60s style clobber too...although I suspect this is their normal day to day wear. Golden Glass did an equally good job of convincing you that you’d just stepped through a wormhole and shot back to 1968 with their trippy blend of psych folk, The Doors and The Brian Auger Trinity. It was left to The Dollcanoes (rapidly becoming one of my favourite Birmingham bands around right now) to bring things kicking and screaming back to the present day (well, almost) with some inspired synth flecked Riot Grrrl. Shouty anti capitalist anthem What You Need It For? chimed well with the festival crowd whilst I’m An Idiot could well be the theme tune for anyone still sadly stuck at work and missing it all...

At their best Money managed to straddle the stadium and the bedroom with some rather beautiful and reflective tunes that doff a cap to both U2 and Pink Floyd. If they can somehow avoid sliding into Coldplay land they may well the money in the coming years. Toy picked up the pace a little with the kind of motorik beats that call for an open highway and a bag of illegal highs. Imagine Terry Hall fronting a krautrock band on acid and it’s a bit like that. “Sounds like Can” mused a long haired dude next to me nursing a pint as their last number Join The Dots faded into the late afternoon sun. Can? Don’t mind if I do. Mine’s a cider.

Blimey! It’s Kurt Cobain! He’s doubt to “Enertaaain usss”. Hurrah! Oh. Hang on.’s Tim Burgess. Sporting bleached hair with his roots showing and white framed plastic sunglasses The Charlatans’ frontman certainly bears more than a passing resemblance to old Kurt even if the music, a mix of country and gentle psych tinged folk, is a world away. 

He’s actually got some impressive solo songs under his hat with previous singles The Doors Of Then and White from 2012’s Lambchop seasoned Oh No I Love You sounding particularly good this evening. Great to hear The Only One I Know reworked as a folk song too, maybe it’s my age but somehow this new treatment seems to suit the lyrics even better than the original (even if bits of me did yearn for the crashing drums and squelchy guitars to kick in from time to time). It was down to British Sea Power to close Day One and at times they did so in suitably anthemic style courtesy of Machineries of Joy, Waving Flags and Animals. 

At other moments they can, for me at least, ‘chug along’ a little rather than driving you three shades of crazy but hey, there’s always that giant dancing bear to liven things up eh? 

After the live music finished the hardcore festival goers danced the night away (‘erb optional) with Don Letts and The Silver Dollar Soundsystem. They (and the rest of us) had a rude (boy) awakening the following morning when the weather gods unleashed pretty much all they had. Thunder and lightning bright enough to pierce heavy eyelids and the kind of torrential rain that would give Noah a stiffie. The result? Festival favourite, mud. 

It didn't phase anyone though and by the time Saturday’s opener’s Batsch played their hip swinging mix of afrobeat and synthpop the skies (if not the heads) had pretty much cleared. Later, in the packed and gently steaming Northern Sky tent, legends John Renbourne and Wizz Jones lifted hearts and tickled ribs with an intimate mix of virtuoso guitar playing (recalling their friend and peer/mentor Bert Jansch) and gentle chat. Trust me, their richly textured and poignant version of Fresh As A Sweet Sunday Morning does more to soothe a hangover than any amount of ProPlus. Lovely stuff. Oh yes, and if Bruce Springsteen happens to read this (a long shot I know but a boy can dream) Wizz would like a mention next time you cover his track, When I Leave Berlin! Staying for their whole set meant missing some of Laura J Martin. 

What that girl can’t do with a flute ain’t worth knowing. Seriously, Spy has to be one of the most remarkable bits of flute playing in history. Add Laura’s breathy vocals, a mix of Tori Amos meets Kate Bush, and some delightfully quirky lyrics and you’ve got something really special.

After one of the best burgers EVER from the Meat Shack local boys Victories At Sea were the perfect accompaniment to the hazy sunny afternoon, their shimmering synthy soundtracks with one foot in the 80s and the other in heaven inspiring an old dancing dude (this bloke danced his ass off all weekend...legend) to really go for it. “The t-shirts we have for sale are as good as the music” suggested lead singer JP doing his best to shift the merch. Hell, they must be some shirts then.

Like flames to a moth Katherine Priddy (that sounded better in my head...the lovely Miss Priddy looks nothing like a moth...but her music does have that kind of beautiful’s what I mean) started off with just a handful of people watching her then they seem to be drawn in magically and siren like from all corners to the site. It’s hardly surprising. Katherine just has ‘it’, whatever ‘it’ may be. 

The phrase ‘fragile, ethereal folk’ might be the kind of glib cliché that dodgy reviewers trot out from time to time but I won’t let that stop me. Fittingly enough, given that we were on the very land that Nick Drake walked in his youth, some of her songs and performances have that magical otherworldly quality. One, as yet unnamed but it could simply be called You, was a haunting Drake-ish ode to lost love whilst Indigo reminded me of All About Eve at their gentler best.

Tucked into the corner of the Lunar Cafe and armed only with a guitar Tom Peel bravely battled a sound check going on on the main stage to play a selection of his greatest hits. In my mind Peel’s a ruddy star as well as being one of the nicest blokes on planet earth and any day I can hear him sing Bad Things is a good day in my books. Somehow he even managed to turn the whole Fair Trade movement into a catchy song in Salt and Pepper too. Not even Billy Bragg’s managed that one.

Goodnight Lenin are pure festival gold and in the sun with a powerful sound system behind them they sounded at their very best. 

I’ve seen them so many times before that I kind of forget that they may be new to some of the crowd here today but if you’re a lover of Neil Young then you’ll fall head over heels in love with them. Today they were as tight and phat as I’d ever seen or heard them and they continue to explore their rockier side a little bit more which is, in my humble opinion, the way to go from here. And yes...that debut album really is coming out soon.

How do you follow that? We followed it by watching a dude get a 6 inch nail forced into his face. Ouch. Nope, not MC Hammer...ahem...but a loveable bunch of freaks from the SDR Circus. As if that wasn’t stomach churning enough two of them had a tug of war using uninflated balloons which they somehow passed through their noses and out through their mouths. WTF?! Don’t try this at home kids. Freakishly good fun and a ruddy friendly bunch of people too. Just keep them away from your tool kit...lord knows what they’d get up to.  

Thankfully Donovan was soon on hand to calm things down a little and he dished up a real crowd pleaser with Catch The Wind, Jennifer Juniper, Hurdy Gurdy Man and Mellow Yellow all making the setlist. 

Pretty much every track came with some story or another but when they start off “When I was with The Beatles, a Beach Boy and Mia Farrow...” they’re worth listening to. He’s still putting on that dodgy Jamaican accent (bless him) for some reason but I’m guessing half a century of pot smoking might do that to a man. He was back again later to help Temples cap off their set with a unique psych rock take on Sunshine Superman. 

Before all that though Kettering’s finest rocked their ‘psocks’ off. In Shelter Song, Colours To Life, and Mesmerise they nail that distinctive 60s sound better than any band around right now with a cunning pop twist that makes pretty much every track as catchy as hell after just one listen. That would’ve been an awesome way to end the day but something even more magical was waiting in the woods. With a little help from their friends the organisers of Lunar Festival had managed to get hold of the very record player that once occupied the home that Nick Drake shared with his parents in nearby Tanworth. At midnight, bathed by the flickering flames of a fire, 60 of us sat listening reverently to a remastered version of Drake’s seminal Pink Moon. For 28 minutes not a word was spoken, seemingly not a breath was breathed and...even more remarkably these days, no ruddy mobile phones went off either. It was a strangely beautiful and moving event, especially knowing that the little clearing in the trees where we sat was one that Nick himself had once sat in many pink moons ago.

Sunday and it was still morning (only just) but The Grafham Water Sailing Club were calling with their ominous sounding post punk ready to mess with fragile frazzled minds. The old dancing dude was there again going for it. I have no idea what he’s on bless him (maybe it’s just life?) but I’d like a sack of it. The more I see of this lot the more I like them especially when they add a little housey stuff into the mix like on set highlight 90 Degrees. Happily the sun was now doing its best to hit the same heights too.

It’s been ages since I last saw Misty’s Big Adventure but I’m delighted to report that all the bits I loved about them back in the day are still present and correct. If anything getting older seems to suit the bands enigmatic leader Grandmaster Gareth. He always seemed mildly annoyed at being young (I have no idea how old he is’s difficult to tell with that beard and hat) and now he’s kind of growing nicely into his grumpy old man persona. Unlike many bands it’s frankly impossible to sum them up in a few words but there’s certainly a healthy nod towards the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah band in there. I was particularly struck by the existential Tetris inspired Stuck On Level 9, with (whisper it) poppy keyboards and choppy reggae guitar it would be a smash hit in a better world. Erotic Volvo (a man with a blue face dressed in a kind of red gown thing with blue hands sown all over it) gave the old dancing dude a run for his money and by the end of set closer Never Stops, Never Rests, Never Sleeps he seemed in grave danger of combusting. Still one of the coolest and most exciting bands on planet earth. 

Lunar was one of the friendliest festivals I’ve ever been to and some of Sunday afternoon was spent chatting and chilling with people in the sun (yes, the sun had his hat on). In between I caught Michael Chapman (vocally a gruffer, folkier, Yorkshire version of Johnny Cash) do Fahey’s Flag, simply one of the best guitar solos you’ll ever see. EVER. I can’t get my head around how the hell he plays it, those changes in pace and intricate bits of picking are just nuts. If an acoustic guitar could take mind altering drugs this is what it would sound like. In the distance I could hear Scott Matthews who, with a similar tone to his voice on his quieter moments, could well stake a claim to be Nick Drake’s spiritual heir. 

Okay so maybe there’s more of a Jeff Buckley vibe to some of his tunes but I can’t imagine he’d mind the comparison. Back in the Northern Sky tent Chris Tye impressed with a lovely cover of Walking In The Sun and the equally beautiful (but meteorologically opposite) New York City Rain. In stark contrast Pram’s experimental 60s and 70s soundtracks to unmade late night movies could well scare the bejesus out of you. There’s something spookily delicious about them, from the haunting slightly disconnected female vocals of Rosie Cuckston to Harry Dawes on theremin.

I can’t pretend that I don’t miss Paul Murphy’s huge contribution to The Destroyers but they can still whip the crowd up into a klezmer-clismic frenzy. 

If the residents of nearby Tanworth felt the earth move at teatime on Sunday then they can blame this lot. Zipping back up to the Northern Sky tent the Dirty Old Folkers’ Keep On, Carry On came across as irresistibly catchy as the Only Fools and Horses theme tune whilst the sight of Panda (a man in a giant panda suit) and Death (a man in a giant skeleton outfit) having a dance off to Big Fish, Little Fish with two nuns as backing singers wins the award for most surreal moment of the weekend...any weekend in fact.

Speaking of madness it’s probably fair to say that Captain Beefheart was a little odd. Now sadly not so much ‘safe as milk’, more ‘dead as a doornail’ the Captain’s no longer with us but his Magic Band (or some of them at least) still are. 

John ‘Drumbo’ French did a decent job of growling out the lyrics amid the thick swampy blues and slippy slide guitar, reaching its peak on The Doors meets Hendrix meets Dr John of Big Eyed Beings From Venus. Far out maaaan...which leads us neatly onto Arthur Brown. 

I’d not seen him live before and, like many people I imagine, I know him for just one song...Fire. If you’re going to be known for one song make it great one though eh? His set was a revelation though. At 71 his voice, range and energy are frankly mind blowing. Looking like Fagin on a particularly weird acid trip his set was a brilliant mix of the old and new, from a cover of Simon Dupree’s Kites through to The Unknown from the forthcoming album Zim Zam Zim (out this July). I’ve heard the whole album now and it’s brilliantly bonkers, a concept album of sorts focussing (as far as I can make out) on Brown’s quest for spiritual clarity. It’s a little Zappa, a little Waits, a little pop, a little psych...a melting pot of madness that’s one of the most extraordinary records I’ve heard in ages. I loved every minute of his set and the rest of the crowd seemed to agree. Of course he did Fire, sadly without the flaming helmet, but the SDR Circus guys made up for it with some impressive fire breathing by the side of the stage that practically singed the early evening sky. Arthur then led a brass band playing Fire up through the site to a giant wooden sculpture that he lit with a flaming torch and a slightly demonic look in his eyes. Whoohahahaha! See? He really is the god of hellfire...

What a dude. What a moment. What a festival.

How the hell do you top that? Impossible, right? Wrong. I can’t think of a single band in the world who could’ve done a better job of closing the weekend than The Polyphonic Spree. Breaking though a giant Brummie Moon (clever eh?) banner Tim DeLaughter and his band of merry men and women delivered not just a set, more a religious experience. Perhaps unfairly written off as a bit of a novelty act by the more precious and sniffy music critics you forget just how many truly great songs they have. Light and Day, Hold Me Now, Soldier Girl, It’s The’s like the best bits of The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev sung by the happiest people on planet earth. Dear reader I nearly wept. 

They sounded MASSIVE tonight (I think I counted 14 people up there). Did I mention the covers too? Only Live and Let Die (Wings) and ruddy Dreamer (Supertramp), both of which outdid the originals. “I want to play this festival every year” said Tim towards the end of the set, offering a bit of a prayer up to the universe. You know what, I’d have no complaints with that, hell, I’d be happy to see ‘em close EVERY festival.

That, barring a lovely drunken chat round the fire with some great friends and good rum was that. With just one previous Lunar festival behind them this one was a frickin’ triumph. Like a mini Glastonbury it just felt special, maybe it was the site (like Glasto the setting’s beautiful), maybe it was the choice of bands and stalls, maybe it was the cider, hell I don’t know but trust me, miss this next year and you'd be a Lunar-tic.  

All photos courtesy of the lovely Richard Shakespeare (aka ShakeyPix)!

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Lunar'll 'moon' be here

Okay, so what would you rather be doing this weekend? Plodding round Aldi/Tesco/Waitrose (delete according to your bank balance...I'm an Aldi kinda guy) or sitting in a field in Warwickshire with a pint of cider watching a man set fire to his head? It's a no brainer...quiet literally if the fire gets out of control but I'm sure the lovely Mr Brown's on top of all that after 40 years or so. Yep, this weekend sees only the second ever Lunar Festival (from the team behind Moseley Folk and Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul), the kind of blissful and chilled out event that Glasto probably was back in the day before all of that nasty sponsorship business fecked things up. It looks like the temperatures are set to soar too with a scorchio-tastic 25 degrees predicted by that permagrinning Scottish women on breakfast telly. So carpe that carp...grab a ticket, dust off your tent and dig out that pointy hat you bought at V Festival last year after sharing a funny fag with the Scouser you met in the queue for the loos...

Tickets here, tents here...silly hats here.

Here's a few more vids to get you in the mood:

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Paws for thought...

Morrissey baiting Scottish lo-fi melody makers Paws play The Sunflower Lounge TONIGHT! Tickets (a mere £6) from our good chums at Birmingham Promoters in collaboration with the equally fine folk at Counteract Magazine.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Sunday Xpress featuring loads of people...seriously...loads of ‘em...Adam and Eve, Sunday 1st June 2014

June 1st and the 1st time I’ve ever been to (a) The Adam and Eve pub (Digbeth) and (b) Sunday Xpress, a pretty much monthly FREE spoken word and music event compered by Birmingham’s unofficial poet laureate Big Bren. Given that the Adam and Eve’s been there for a hundred years or so (I’m guessing) and Sunday Xpress has been running since 2006 that’s a pretty shabby state of affairs on my part but there we go, I blame the irresistible lure of Songs of Praise, Countryfile and the Antiques Roadshow (hell yeah, cut me and I bleed rock ‘n’ roll).

With an open mic segment at the start of all Sunday Xpress shows you genuinely never know what you’re going to get. This particular instalment dished up (deep breath) Ray Rowley and his musings on boy bands and bad knees, Lee with a poem about Bilderberg, Andrew Owens and his tale of a babysitter slayer and Jody’s contemplative piece on simplicity. Now that’s variety my friends. With just enough time to grab a restorative pint of Strongbow and some FREE grub laid on by the pub (I think I may have overdosed on sausage rolls) two of urban poet The Infamous Scrubberjack’s grandkids rocked up to perform, Lee (I think he was called Lee) demonstrated an impressive ear for accents (surely a career as a voiceover artist beckons) before brother Whizzy spat out 4 finely ferocious raps with barely a fluffed line (try saying that after three pints of Strongbow). They warmed things up nicely for gran. Don’t go expecting a sweet, grey haired old lady with pockets full of Werther’s Originals though. The Infamous Scrubberjack inhabits a world that makes Benefits Street sound like Park Lane. Stuffed full of crackheads, hookers and petty criminals her language was as fruity as a bottle of 20/20...and all the better for it. On a mission to take over the entire event granddaughter Chloe also stepped up, singing Let It Go (from Disney’s Frozen I believe...) acapella, which takes guts in front of a pub full of people. A talented bunch this family...must be a riot at Christmas time.  

Fresh (or maybe not so fresh seeing as it probably went on all night) from the nearby Supersonic Festival Steve Pottinger’s John Cooper Clarke inspired You’ll Never See A Nipple On Facebook raised a it were...whilst his tale of a Friday night journey from Digbeth to London Victoria on a National Express coach made the whole thing sound like a glorious episode from Hunter S. Thompson’s secret diary. Still with me? Good. Coyote was up next with a spirited couple of covers (Costello’s Watching The Detectives and Billy Bragg’s – via Florence Reece – Which Side Are You On Boys), plus a couple of originals, the pick of which was Baboom (?) a punk tinged piece of (Julian) Cope-ish magic featuring the frenetic bongoing of Kath. I do love a little frenetic bongoing.

Time for the main acts, first up Derrick D and the Backbones. Imagine Marvin Gaye collaborating with Gil Scott Heron and Howard from the old Halifax ads and that’ll give you some idea of their first track Asylum City. Derrick’s got a fine voice and he switches seamlessly from the kind of high notes that normally require you to trap your nuts in a door to a mellow croon and then onto some deep bass notes. Joined by The Supercilious Ms T who adds her own unique vocal tics, Kath on bongo duty and a bassist and guitarist it’s an impressively rich sound, pretty much the perfect accompaniment for Derrick’s thought provoking words too. Apple Watch, a tale a young Bangladeshi’s American dream turned nightmare was particularly strong.

As the various members of headliners Miss Halliwell gathered together to do battle band member Samurl played some neat self produced old skool/new skool post house tracks ending, appropriately enough with the Miles Perhower voiced W A R F A R E (I may have just made that title up...I do that kind of thing). 

As you’ll know if you read the preview of this gig you’ll be aware that tonight’s setlist consisted of 90% new stuff...or 100% new stuff if you’d never seen ‘em before (shame on you). I’m delighted to report that it’s business as UNusual with opening number Dimwit acting as a grunting meet and greet to the crowd and Artisan’s skittering time changes unable to defeat Miles’ uncanny knack for delivering catchy singalong bits. As I may well have said before, it’s pop Jim but not as we know it. Miles plays with words like a cat with a mouse, flipping them round, tossing them in the air and watching the results with a knowing insouciance. Take Author Eyes for instance (knowing Miles I’m assuming that’s how the song title will be written) and it’s “allegedly gory / allegory” line. Delicious stuff. Behind him Rose of Bearwood beat the drums so hard there was a real risk that they’d end up in the Bullring by the end of proceedings whilst still somehow keeping track of the schizophrenic melodies that have presumably sprung from Miles’s fertile imagination in the wee small hours. And then...a COVER. Yes. A cover. Not since The Fall dug out R. Dean Taylor’s There’s a Ghost In My House has a Motown classic been so thoroughly revitalised. Seasons saw Miles on the floor...literally and metaphorically...delivering a nihilistic anthem before rising, Christ like (okay, I’d had a cider or two by this point), to defiantly sneer his way through Natrul Obbit @, ambling around the stage adjusting the volume on things and fiddling with guitar pedals before wandering off back into the shadows once more. Still simply peerless. @’s the way to do it. 

The next Sunday Xpress happens on June 29th, 4pm-ish until whenever things come to their natural conclusion. Details here. Huge respect to all those involved in putting these events on and a spanked bottom to me for not dragging my sorry old carcass down there before.