gig reviews - april/may 2010
30.5.10 - Ruby Lounge, Manchester
Neal Casal is one of Ryan Adams’ Cardinals. I say this right
at the beginning only to confess that were it not for Ryan I’d
have probably never heard of the dude. But Neal’s solo career
is long and varied, and after Ryan put the Cardinals on hiatus
in March 2009 Neal is back with a new album and a guitar. He’s
also brought Jon Graboff, pedal steel guitarist for the Cardinals,
but who also appears on guitar tonight. The Ruby Lounge is full
of people who look like Ryan Adams and who are here for that
connection (not criticising, just an observation) and people
who seem like genuinely ardent fans of Neal’s. There aren’t
many casual observers but if anything that makes for a tighter,
more receptive crowd.
First support comes from a local band who don’t deserve to
be written about. Second support comes from a man who looks
like the unholy lovechild of Ryan Adams and Pete Wentz. He is
actually Jo Rose from Manchester via Tennessee musically. He
plays slow, acoustic country and is nice to listen to, and although
he attempts a little intersong banter he isn’t confident enough
to pull it off and the audience is mostly just baffled. This
is my one criticism of him, though, and he deserves to be checked
By the time Neal and Jon take to the stage it’s 9.30pm which
even for Bank Holiday Sunday seems a little late. They open
with Chasing Her Ghost and play twelve songs in a little over
an hour. Neal is chatty, talking about how he always bombs in
Manchester so is glad to be getting a good reception tonight.
His music is sweet and melodic country music, with both is and
Jon’s voices and guitars harmonising beautifully. Neal’s voice
in particular is wonderfully clear and he never misses a note.
I suppose I’m looking for the Ryan comparisons but there are
some; Neal’s guitar sounds in parts like Cardinals songs such
as Natural Ghost and Sink Ships, and a song called Queen Sylvia
sounds a lot like Ryan’s Sylvia Plath. These similarities aren’t
a bad thing, and really only serve to show how much the Cardinals
took to Ryan’s music. I am extremely charmed by Neal’s songwriting
skills. He and Jon leave the stage to a lot of applause and
the audience waits impatiently for an encore.
It comes in the guise of just Neal, who plays an upbeat and
jaunty little tune called Tomorrow’s Sky, which with the exception
of Chasing Her Ghost is probably my favourite of the night.
Neal then says, “Come on Jon man, come on up here!” so Jon rejoins
him and they play two more songs and finish just after 11. I
have thoroughly enjoyed myself and am giving this gig an 8/10.
17.5.10 - Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
Johnny Flynn needs to take some echinacea. The last time he
was in Leeds he played the Brudenell by himself and had a shockingly
bad throat. Tonight he’s backed up by his band The Sussex Wit,
but his throat is bad again and he struggles to sing.
The Cockpit has made an effort tonight, though, with tables
and candles in the main room. Sadly the audience is somewhat
sparse and even after the lacklustre support band it remains
fairly empty. Johnny and the band start strong with The Box
and Cold Bread, but after this Johnny starts apologising for
his voice. Clearly I’m not the only one who was at the Brudenell
in November, because there’s some mild heckling. Undeterred
the band rattle through some new songs like Kentucky Pill and
Lost And Found, as well as touching on Johnny’s solo EP Sweet
William. There’s a nice mix of old and new songs, giving us
a chance to hear the new stuff love (the album drops June 7th).
There’s a crowd-pleasing version of Tickle Me Pink where we
are, to be honest, the lead singer, since Johnny can’t manage
the high notes at the end.
Johnny Flynn is one of the new breed of folk music that’s popular
at the moment – check him out if you like Laura Marling or Emmy
the Great or Jeremy Warmsley. They are all very different, but
they have the same attitude to music and much of the same style.
Johnny sort of makes up for his voice by playing brief interludes
on both trumpet and violin, and he does keep apologising and
promising Leeds he’ll do better next time, but after Eyeless
in Holloway the band are done, and there is no encore. I adore
Johnny and his music and will forgive him a lot, but there’s
only so many times I’ll put up with a bad vocal performance
before I give up entirely. Tonight scores a somewhat disappointing
Unthanks + Hannah Peel
26.5.10 - Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
An early date on the Unthanks, “Here Is the Tender Coming”
tour, named after their third album , from 2009, and coinciding
with the re-release of the first album, ‘Cruel Sister’, originally
released in 2005, but unobtainable for the last 18 months. The
tour also consolidates the band’s name change, from Rachel Unthank
and the Winterset, (used temporarily to reflect the new band
line up, and while Rebecca Unthank was taking a bit of a back
seat while being at University), to a more accurate reflection
of a band build around the unique voices of the two Unthank
This was a gig that had been looked forward to for months
and that, in the end, turned out to be almost absolute perfection.
Due to a lengthy sound check the doors opened late, and so
as soon as people were settled Rachel came out to quiet the
audience and introduce multi-instrumentalist, singer and current
band member, the very lovely and charming Hannah Peel as the
support act for the evening. A solo artist in her own right,
Hannah joined the Unthanks for this tour, hot foot from studio
work with Tuung, and occasional work with her friend, Laura
Groves, of Bradford’s Blue Roses, who provided keyboards and
vocals on a couple of the numbers in Hannah’s short set this
Hannah gave us a selection of her own quirky, idiosyncratic
material, like the first song, “The Almond Tree”, the very strange
tale of Temperance the deer, who poisons people with meat, with
musical accompaniment from the Farfisa piano organ; “Song of
the Sea” and “Solitude”, accompanying herself on solo piano;
but the last thing I expected to hear tonight was a re-imagined
version of the Cocteau Twins, “Sugar Hiccup”, sung along to
a music box. This was taken from, “Re-box” an EP of covers done
on the music box, (originally released on 7” vinyl but still
available from I-Tunes as a download). We were also treated
to an equally enchanting music box version of New Order’s “Blue
Monday”, with Laura on synth. and vocals, before Hannah’s final
song, using a backwards music box loop and solo piano accompaniment.
I won’t attempt to describe how mesmerising some of Hannah’s
performance was, but simply recommend you check out, http://www.myspace.com/hanpeel
, and maybe try to catch her when she re-visits the Brudenell
on July 4th.
‘Magical’ is one of my, (many), over used words, but I can’t
find a better one to sum up the Unthanks band’s performance.
Ten people crammed onto the Brudenell’s stage, looking a little
cramped and precarious at times – seven bonny lasses, and three,
well, not so bonny lads, (No offence gentlemen, but given the
competition what else can I say?), a string section, brass section,
double bass, piano, drums, keyboards, melodeon, guitar, banjo,
ukulele, auto-harp, marimba, bouts of clog-dancing, and probably
a few other things I’ve forgotten – so no wonder the doors opened
late due to the sound check. Still, from where we were sitting
the sound, the singing and the playing were all immaculate,
and well worth the wait outside.
Drawing on all three of their albums, opening with “Felton
Lonnen” from their second album, “The Bairns”, one outstanding
performance followed another; “Annachie Gordon”, “Here’s the
Tender Coming”, everyone looking and sounding, entirely comfortable
and assured on stage, making everything appear effortless and
seamless. If Rachel and Rebecca were not kind enough to remind
us that these were ‘traditional’ song, most originating from
the North East of England, and to tell us a little of the long
stories behind many of the songs, it would be easy enough to
regard them as originals, given the Unthanks arrangements, and
the uniqueness of the sister’s voices, as soloists and in spell-binding
The band had the audience they deserted, and despite the venue
being packed there were times when you could have heard a pin
drop, or, at least once, when the sisters sang unaccompanied,
and without microphones, a car-alarm bleating in the car-park
outside the venue.
It’s funny - given that for half my life I’d associated ‘folk-music’
with beardy, real ale swilling , Arran-sweater wearing, finger
in the ear blokes, singing songs with endless verses; after
having been dragged a few times to the Staincliffe Hotel folk
club at Seaton Carew by my Mam and Dad when I was in my early
teens – that all the gigs I’ve been to so far this year can
be filed firmly under the ‘folk’ label; including The Imagined
Village at Leeds Irish Centre, and a semi-pilgrimage all the
way to Lincoln to sit in a school hall surrounded by mostly
pensioners and be mesmerised and awe-struck by Martin Carthy’s
guitar playing and Norma Waterson’s singing. But perhaps it’s
just important to remember how useless musical label’s are,
and how apt for the Unthanks to quote the late great Louis Armstrong
on their MySpace page, (http://www.myspace.com/rachelunthank
): “...all music is folk music, I ain’t never heard a horse
sing a song.”
Of course, that is not to devalue the work that bands like
the Unthanks are doing in keeping these old songs alive, fresh
and relevant, by placing themselves firmly within the English
folk tradition, and in extending and broadening that tradition
in new and surprising directions. So, tonight we are reminded
of this by the choice of material, and in particular, a stunning
cover of Robert Wyatt’s “Sea Song”, and an interpretation of
Lal Waterson’s “At Firsts She Starts”, both with Rebecca taking
the lead voice; a rendition of “Twenty Long Weeks”, like some
slow Nick Cave song, sung by Geordie angels; “John Dead”, sung
by the sisters, unaccompanied and at the front of the stage
without microphones; an audience sing-a-long to a chorus of
“Till the tide comes in..”, from “Blues Gaen Oot O’the Fashion”
Both of the sister’s have voices so absolutely unique and
distinct as to make comparison almost a ridiculous exercise.
Rebecca has a ‘smokey’ undertone that made me want to write
Billie Holiday in my notebook, but really, given they sing in
their regional voices, if they have folk precursors, one can
only really cite the Nottinghamshire singer, Anne Briggs; and
of course, Lal and Norma Waterson, especially in the way that
their voices interweave and complement each other when they
sing in effortless harmonies. Truly great voices, that on songs
like “The Testimony of Patience Kershaw”, (a song based on a
transcript of the real words of a working woman from 1842),
can move a grown man to tears.
So why was the gig only almost absolute perfection? Well,
on their album, “The Bairns” they have a cover of a song by
Terry Conway, “Fareweel Regality”; that I first heard Terry
sing on an album called, “The Northumberland Collection”, by
Kathryn Tickell and Friends. I find the Unthank’s version so
moving and powerful, for reasons completely unfathomable to
me, that it makes my spine tingle and I have to choke back sobs
every time I hear it, and that’s quite a confession for a grizzly
old bloke like me. So of course I had hoped to hear the lasses
sing it live - but then, maybe it was for the best that they
didn’t, since the Brudenell might not have been dark enough
to hide my inevitable embarrassment at being such a big softie.
Like I said at the very beginning, the Leeds show was an early
date on the tour, so if you are quick you might catch the mighty-
fine Unthanks live in another town, or look out for them at
one of their many festival appearances. There is no need to
take my word for it, you will feel yourself in the presence
of greatness, but be prepared to be moved occasionally to tears.
We Go Magic + Phosphorescent
18.05.10 - The Lexington, London
On arrival to The Lexington, fresh from my first whiff of the
stale, sweaty ‘summer stench’ of the tube I was pleasantly surprised
to see a reasonable crowd assembling and the support act, Phosphorescent,
just tuning up and check-one-two-ing. Their first time in London
from Brooklyn, the band put on a decent show and received a
warm reception from the ever growing crowd filing in for Here
We Go Magic. Consisting of six members and with an organ and
pedal steel competing with the two guitars and bass the sound
did become a bit muddy in the more riotous sections of the set
as with Here We Go, but big band plus small venue never equals
great sound. Their songs however, managed to shine through and
the set, sweet though short, definitely impressed.
By the time Here We Go took the stage, the venue was almost
full with what seemed to be real fans of the band, I sight I
rarely see at small gigs in London making it refreshing all
the more. The band played around an hour of quirky psychedelic
pop jams that got everyone moving and seemed fitting under the
primary school art display style decorations hanging from the
ceiling, almost as if they’d put them there themselves. The
set began with jaunty psych-pop a la Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
complete with seriously great backing vocals and quickly turned
off into 60’s Floyd territory with squealing organ solos (provided
by their very sexy keyboard player), pounding bass grooves and
crazed guitars that tumbled over and fell into each other to
create some really fun and catchy psych pop tunes with a clear
method buried deep down in their madness.
Here We Go received a great reception from it’s audience who
were growing ever more animated as the songs continued and the
sound swelled. The band put on a blinder, soldiering on despite
the kick pedal breaking and one of the keyboards cutting out
mid solo. With MGMT’s latest offering and a new Here We Go Magic
album out on June 8th this kind of sunny psych pop could hopefully
come back, and I hope it does...too many bands taking themselves
way too seriously these days. Anyone who’s going Glasto, be
sure to check them out, it’ll be well worth it.
Brian Jonestown Massacre
14.5.10 - Shepherds Bush Empire
A few months back I interviewed Anton Newcombe of legendary
psychedelic rock collective the Brian Jonestown Massacre for
one of the web sites I write for. Infamous for his eccentricity
and dislike of journalists as well as well documented bouts
of physical violence, I approached the event with natural caution.
My most recent memory was seeing him obliterate a heckler at
a London gig with a barrage of laser-targeted abuse. He stormed
off the stage at least two or three times during the gig.
The Newcombe I met was erudite, fiercely intelligent, well-read,
contradictory, alternately arrogant and humble, and above all
passionately creative. With a clear head after a period of self-enforced
sobriety, he was polite and friendly throughout. So don't believe
everything you read in the music press.
So I arrive at the Shepherds Bush Empire with a different perspective
than many. Let's start with the support band. They only murmured
their name once in embarrassed stoner rock fashion, so unfortunately
your reviewer is unable to enlighten you on who these gentlemen
may have been. There were five of them, and they were actually
quite good, but as usual the crowd were largely disinterested
and applause was polite rather than rapturous.
I can only imagine how great the roar that greeted BJM must
have felt from the stage. With Matt Hollywood and Anton Newcombe
playing together live after years apart, devotees of the band
had already got their money's worth.
With such a large back catalogue, it's no surprise that the
songs that get the best reaction tonight are the classics: When
Jokers Attack gets an awesome reception (with six guitarists
playing at full pelt). If I shut my eyes when I hear Who? it
could be 1967. Vacuum Boots, the second track in tonight's set,
is energetic and deliciously ramshackle. Servo drives the message
home with its insistent rhythm and riffs.
Matt Hollywood plays the guitar with a disdain Alex James can
only dream of. In fact he spends most of the gig facing away
from the audience, strumming away to the drummer. Percussionist
Joel Gion is the polar opposite – animated, chatting with the
crowd, shaking his tambourine like his life depends on it.
The jumping gets higher in the audience as crowd surfers are
gently peeled from the morass. Plastic pint glasses are thrown
at the stage, but Anton doesn't flinch. Times may have changed,
but this band remains an awesome musical force. Overlooked by
the mainstream press, they can pack out one of London's biggest
gig venues and send 2,000 music lovers blinking into the night
- tired, sweaty, satiated. Forget the albums, if you really
want to connect with this band, hunt down a live show and get
down to the front of the crowd. You won't be disappointed.
10.5.10 - Heaven, London
Wandering coolly around the venue pre-gig, Dev Hynes could
just be another typical London gig punter. It's only when you
hear him sing that you realise the depth of his talent.
By rights, he should have his face plastered on bus stops across
the country, and be playing a decent slot at this year's Glastonbury
festival. Instead, record companies continue to force feed us
the awful Kate Nash and buffoons like Paolo Nutini. In Lightspeed
Champion we have a British songwriter in the classic Dylan/James
Taylor mould, more than capable of writing melodies that swim
in your head for days, combined with intelligent, ironic and
thoughtful lyrics and harmonies that the Beach Boys would be
Dev kicks off with Marlene, one of the best tracks from his
latest album Life is Sweet, Good to Meet You. Let me know if
you hear a funkier beat from a songwriter this year. Faculty
of Fears is another highlight. Midnight Surprise is a crowd
favourite, another great melody with more than a hint of Bright
Eyes about it.
Heaven isn't a particularly great gig venue, but the energy
coming from the stage more than makes up for this, and there's
plenty of love coming from the audience.
On stage there's no showboating, and the set comes in at a
compact thirty minutes, but I've heard more good tunes in that
time than you get on most albums. Fans of Field Music, Conor
Oberst and The Dears will find much to love in the work of Lightspeed
22.4.10 – ICA, London
Arriving at 7pm and finding out the first act don’t go on stage
until 8.45pm, I wasn’t worried how I was going to pass my time.
With good food, a DJ at the bar and a Billy Childish exhibition
the ICA was a lively place to be late night Thursday.
First up was a Brighton outfit in the name of Pope Joan, an
indie pop band with quirky synth. Not really knowing what to
expect I was taken aback by their energy, especially the lead
singer Sammy Aaron Jr with his shouty vocals. The crowd took
a warm liking to their dance floor friendly music. My personal
favourite had to be the dark and delightful Mattias, sang in
a dramatic storytelling fashion.
A great performance which left the crowd ready for the main
act, what more can you ask from a support band.
Finally we came to the main act, Shy Child. They first hit
the UK airways with their third album Noise Won’t Stop back
in 2007. After a successful year on the festival circuit, supporting
the The Klaxons and appearing on Later with Jools Holland, the
band fell off our radar. Three years later they’re back on tour
with their 4th album ‘Liquid Love’. Hoping to get some great
pics, my heart dropped when I saw them set up close to the edge
of the stage and the lights behind them. It’s difficult to engage
with your crowd when all they can see is your silhouettes. The
old hits like The Noise Won’t Stop and Drop the Phone got the
crowd moving, others like the new Disconnected had the same
effect but with less energy. Gone is the edgy rebellious Shy
Child that I first fell for and in comes a more pop version.
A highly enjoyable evening but everyone left with one question
on their mind ....... where was Pete’s Keytar?
Duke And The King + Danny And The Champions Of The World + Trevor
Moss & Hannah Lou
24.4.10 - Academy Club, Manchester
Gathered in the basement of Manchester’s Academy Club are a
group of people who prefer their music a little off the beaten
track. Tonight’s gig, essentially a collection of some of this
country’s most competent exponents of folk, along with headliners
Duke And The King from across the pond, you get the sense very
few here have simply stumbled across this event.
First on is Trevor Moss & Hannah Lou, a married duo who
play folk tunes whilst singing about the mundane and every day.
Not that the songs are mundane or every day but, in the greatest
of folk traditions, simply talk about the normal, simple things
in life set to a meandering, wistful soundtrack. It’s genuinely
pleasant music, extremely difficult to dislike even if a little
difficult to become overly enthusiastic about. It is a shame
that, as they play, the room is half empty as it certainly deserves
a larger audience, if only to allow people to form an opinion.
The room then begins to fill in expectation of Danny And The
Champions Of The World and it is clear from the buzz amongst
the crowd that many of those assembled tonight are here simply
to see this main support act. The band is a collection of many
of the players of the UK folk scene, a folk super group as it
were, headed by the charismatic Danny Wilson. Tonight the band
consists of Danny plus the nights previous players, Trevor Moss
& Hannah Lou. Imagine Bruce Springsteen but instead of the
E Street Band support is given by the Woolpackers. Springsteen
on a banjo and it is as excellent as it is curious.
And then tonight’s headline act. All the way from New York
State, in the good old US of A, come 4 piece The Duke And The
King. American folk sounds with songs describing the great,
shattered American dream of the everyman. A truly competent
band, members swap instruments and vocals throughout the set.
Our lady violinist has a lilting, haunting voice, our drummer
has a soulful, booming holler that seems to negate the need
for a microphone. Middle of the set song, Susanne, is quite
possibly the saddest song I’ve ever heard, charting one man’s
unrequented love of a lady, and although the set is blighted
towards the end by sound problems this only results in the highlight
of the show, the band playing an acoustic offering without amps
or microphones, which sends the crowd wild. The band claim they
grew up round camp fires in the New York state mountains and
watching them on the stage you get a sense of this. 4 friends
gathered on stage playing as they would if gathered in the hills.
On stage ho downs also feature, banter with the crowd is witty
and warm. Having listened to the band’s music beforehand I was
expecting a dour, dark affair but, although much of the subject
matter documents the bleaker side of life it is delivered on
stage with such warmth and humour it can only be considered
a positive experience.
An excellent live show from start to finish, blighted only
by the extremely unhelpful door staff whose refusal to speak
to the promoters denied Trevor Moss & Hannah Lou the interview
arranged with Tasty.
22.4.10 - Cross Kings, London
Trail took to the stage just after all the charity money was
stolen. “I want to have a chat with who stole the money,” lectures
lead-singer, Charlie Afif, “if it was you, or your friend, or
someone you know, please persuade they to give it back, no questions
Despite the do-gooder protestations and crime-related fear-mongering
among the audience, it was a relief to have five-piece indie
outfit, Trail, on stage; they were playing a charity gig and
the previous hour had resembled a grimy Butlins club night,
complete with camp cabaret musical numbers, a booed off female
“comedian” and various slaughtered cover versions (they should
ban some people from owning loop machines).
After being a little disappointed by their debut album, “To
the Rest of the World”, I wanted to give Trail a go live to
see if their mechanical rock had more flair in the flesh. They
certainly looked like they knew what they were doing; as they
sauntered onto the stage, their ‘designer’ image would’ve made
Coldplay’s Chris Martin jealous.
With ‘Prism’ as the opening number, they soared through their
first song. In fact, they soared through their entire set. Followed
by ‘Forever Young’ and ‘Worry Free’, even a new song (about
vampires) from their new album couldn’t make this band falter
from their flawless performance, influenced by the likes of
the Foo Fighters, Blink 182 (on the drums) and Coldplay.
The performance was crisp, succinct, no-nonsense indie-rock.
These guys have got the tunes and talent but yet they’re still
lacking oomph. It’s as if everything has been carefully choreographed;
down to the way Charlie Afif caresses his microphone and guitarist
turns mid-way through a song to nod in time to the drummer (although
perhaps avoiding eye-contact with a middle-aged couple drunkenly
jumping around at the front).
If their ear-pieces were for a click-track, I say, lose it.
It’s sleek and slick but lacking all the excitement of seeing
a band live. I could’ve stayed at home and listened to their
album and had the same experience – and foregone the musical
torment at the beginning of the evening.
and the Champions of the World
19.04.10 - Union Chapel, Islington
A church hall could not have been a more perfect venue for
Danny and the Champions of the World’s acoustic set. As Danny
shuffles onto the stage, in front of lines of church pews, to
join fellow bandmates, Hannah Lou and Trevor Moss, “How are
we doing?” he chirps – and, with no messing around, they’re
off: banjo, ukulele and acoustic guitar.
While album, ‘Streets of Our Time’, is intentionally ramshackle
and a little rough around the edges, Danny George Wilson, Hannah
Lou and Trevor Moss’s three quarters of an hour set (supporting
The Duke and the King) in a chapel in Islington is far from
it. Gobsmacking three-part harmonies sound as synchronised as
if sung from a single, joint breath, bringing Fleet Foxes to
mind – and putting them to shame.
As the candles circling the room flicker among the red stage
lighting, and the audience shuffle in the pews, Danny doesn’t
stop to chat, the three ‘champs’ sway through their set with
full attention upon their musical creation. They cover all their
albums highlights, including, ‘Follow the River’ and ‘Streets
of Our Time’, ‘Restless Feet’ and ‘Truest Kind’ with more simplicity
than the recorded versions’ E Street Band vibe. While their
stage presence is unassuming, Danny’s voice is fantastically
granular and far more impressive sounding live than recorded
on the recent album.
As the trio step away from their mics and sing outwards to
the chapel’s acoustics, the simplicity of their evocative songs
rings out. It’s ethereal. As they finish their last song in
perfect harmony, Danny pipes up, “Come and say hello. We’ll
be at the back. Don’t feel like you need to buy anything,” he
says humbly, as if saying this sentence is the official ending
of the song. Some music doesn’t lend itself to being recorded.
This is true for Danny and the Champs; their music needs to
be shared live. Preferably in a chapel.
18.4.10 – UEA, Norwich
There is, Reef fans take note of the irony, a line in Mike
Leigh’s Naked, where Archie (Ewen Bremner) asks Johnny (David
Thewlis) is he’s ‘takin’ the piss’. Johnny, without so much
of a beat, responds ‘taking it? You’re giving it away, aren’t
you’. And that sums up any attempt to accuse Reef of selling
out. The band who were first introduced to the public in conjunction
with that other lasting treasure the minidisc are now selling
their wares on the ‘it’s like I’m fifteen again’ merry-go-round.
But Reef, ho ho, aren’t giving anything away for free, hee hee;
for an extra tenner on your ticket price, you can listen to
Reef sound check, meet the band and, here’s the really, really,
really good part, visit the merchandise stall THIRTY MINUTES
before anyone else. What is the bloody point? Honestly. The
music industry complains that it’s dying due to downloading;
bands bemoan a lack of cash from album sales, so they put up
ticket prices. Things keep going this way, music will hopefully
die out as an art form. People will talk about four piece rock
acts in the same way we do about mime artists, or white dog
So now what? Do I review Reef? Perpetuating their dirty money
grubbing truffle hunt of Great Britain (what next, charging
groupies ten quid to give the eternally youthful Gary Stringer
a hand job, twenty quid if you want to do it on the tour bus).
People will go and see them and they’ll put their hands up (even
though it’s ‘on’, isn’t it, Will). There’s no stopping them,
because we all desire nostalgia, and in our gone in a flash
culture, nostalgia has a twenty minute turn around. Gary Stringer
looks a bit like he’s laughing at the crowd, I kept expecting
him to utter the words ‘ever feel like you’ve been cheated’,
but he just kept saying meaningless sentences with the word
Norwich in. No-one else seemed to notice, maybe it was just
Tom enjoyed it. That’s not a slight, by the way. But then, they
were a band he was into as a teen, and I wasn’t. The whole experience
was like attending a leaving do for some guy you never worked
with, who keeps on making in-jokes you’re not in on. Everyone
else in attendance looked absolutely thrilled; a school reunion
without any of the dickheads who went to your school.
I can’t, though, express how utterly loathsome I think charging
your fans extra for shite is. A sound check, for ten pounds?
That’s not a special offer, that’s an affront to your fan base.
Not to mention charging them, the people who gave you a career,
a tenner to meet you. Fuck. Pete Shelley, from The Buzzcocks,
used to ask people for their signature if they asked for his,
because he found the whole thing embarrassing. Not you though,
ay Reef? Not a bit of it. Honest, I’m sure it’s an overreaction
on my part, but I can’t get passed it. I’m seething. It’s not
the death of music, but it’s that kind of whimpering noise that
lets you know that the wound is never going to heal, and the
pain is all too much to bear.
0/10 from me
Tom gave it a 7/10: They gave it all they’ve got. Played the
hits, sounded tight, and he’s still got the voice. Zeus was
awesome as well.
N.B. Zeus, the bass playing Norse warrior, was quite a treat
actually. You want to google image that chap.
& Julia Stone + Alan Pownall
16.4.10 - Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
The Brudenell was at near-capacity on Friday night, if not
totally sold out, and was filled with a nice mix of people,
from young students to older people dotted around the edges.
Too often crowds at the Brudenell are full of hipster students,
given its location in the middle of student land. But this was
a diverse crowd and it was better for the performers.
Alan Pownall was accompanied by a guy on guitar who sang and
played some beautiful harmonies with him. Pownall describes
himself as sounding like Michael Bublé, but I feel this
is unfair; he’s a lot more soulful and genuine-sounding than
the polished Bublé. I’m going to call him acoustic soul,
and I’m going to say that I quite like it. He played an accomplished
set, which included some of the tracks that are free for download
on his website (http://www.alanpownall.com/home) and a cover
of the Strokes song ‘Someday’. This was downbeat and quite beautiful
in a very different way to the original, I love when artists
do this. Pownall’s album is due out in July and he is an artist
I intend to keep an eye on.
Angus and Julia took to the stage with a drummer and a bass
player in tow to flesh out their sound. Julia is engaging and
very sweet, she sounds like a normal girl, but then her voice
changes immensely when she sings. Angus sounds permanently stoned
and it’s to his disadvantage, because it means that his anecdotes
about certain songs are lost in his mumble. I’d actually like
to know what he said but I wasn’t the only one who didn’t catch
a word of what he was saying.
I’ve seen Angus & Julia before, supporting Martha Wainwright
18 months ago, and they seem to have matured and gained fans
in that time. They engaged with the crowd when asked for certain
songs, and use their voices as much as any other instrument.
They also seem to have a way of appearing to cover their own
songs live, by adding things and taking things away and, in
the case of ‘Hollywood’ (probably my favourite of the night)
by adding a distinctly jazz feel to it. It sounds almost as
if they’re doing covers of their own songs, in a lovely, familiar
way. I wish more bands would do this but it does take talent.
Julia sang a cover of ‘You’re The One That I Want’, mentioning
something about Olivia Newton John beforehand. Julia also has
a touch of the mumbles, but not as bad as Angus. The crowd helpfully
sang John Travolta’s part, which seemed to please Julia.
Angus & Julia Stone are Australian and fit quite nicely
with many similar Australian indie bands. If you like your indie
chilled out and mellow while remaining clever, I recommend them.
15.4.10 - Cafe Oto, London
“Ah, it’s that song they always sing in Canada,” greets the
duet Ólöf Arnalds and Davíð Þór
Jónsson provide whilst their audience is given gracious
permission to visit the bar and to use the toilet.
This is after Davíð Þór Jónsson’s
introductory solo set has seamlessly become Ólöf
Arnalds’ first in London, one which she reveals afterwards (when
we approach her to compliment her on her performance and beautiful
red dress – which mentioning in the main body of this review
would see me impeached) she has been nervous about. Yet this
isn’t shown throughout a debut in which she is utterly charming,
winning, and with Jónsson’s piano and guitar accompaniment,
Davíð Þór begins the evening by turning
off the lightbulb right at the front of Dalston’s Café
Oto, a venue renowned for its outstanding line-up of esteemed
jazz and outsider musicians. Tonight’s sell-out crowd is rewarded
with a late spring night of intimacy, with lowered lights and
artists pinned in place due to the eruption of a volcano in
Arnalds’ homeland. She makes light of it throughout her set,
her English more impeccable than that of Jónsson, whose
humour comes across as slightly more dry. After standing on
a chair to dim the lighting manually, he continues to perform
in a DIY, free way, verging on performance art and feeling at
home in Oto, manipulating the miniature grand piano he plays
on with cards and, at one point, with a bottle of water. His
minimalist playing is intriguing, teasing, and though he seems
at times to be performing via a fibre optic transmission from
another stratosphere, he catches his moment to become the charismatic
host of Ólöf Arnalds’ maiden London performance
as someone sneezes in the audience, smiling and blessing them.
Ólöf is all smiles, explaining tirelessly all of
her songs, and her free and easy attitude – remaining Icelandic
in the face of the suspension of all flights to and from home
indefinitely – allows for a warm, easy night, progressing from
Davíð Þór’s somewhat jittery solo performance.
They both regularly switch instruments, and songs seem to interconnect,
Ólöf at one point choosing to go through a series
of songs which used what she claimed “my guitar nerd friends
call” the “omelette”.
As a performer, she is particularly memorable not just for charming
an entire audience of hardcore Serious Music aficionados, but
for being able to seamlessly mix songs in her native tongue,
in English and, at one point, in Japanese; for mixing covers
with her own material; for having enough nous to improvise effectively;
for mixing serious musicianship with a serious ability to have
fun, to enjoy her own performances and to play freely.
Her soft voice becomes powerful on songs especially the short,
beautiful ‘Klara’, which has been anticipated highly, it would
appear, by the audience, despite being sung entirely in Icelandic,
and despite only a handful of people in the room speaking that
tongue (one of whom she thanks for providing her with an instrument
fashioned from an armadillo – this isn’t cruel, she contends;
Ólöf herself wouldn’t mind being turned into a musical
instrument upon death). She also sings songs written at the
height of the Icelandic banking collapse, encapsulating the
angry spirit of a nation at that point; she sings to her friend,
in New York, urging her to “come home”, entitled ‘Crazy Car’,
which produces laughter from the audience, with her and Davíð
Þór imploring said friend, slowly, “Don’t go in
that cray – zy – car”, telling the audience that they will,
in fact, make a circle fit in a square.
Ólöf has said that her songs are largely spontaneous.
Her first steps on British soil show that she has a unique talent
for doing so, a wonderful partnership with Davíð
Þór Jónsson, and a charisma and determination
that is capable of winning the sternest audiences. With her
second record out later this year, her free spirit is set to
take her wherever it will go – and hopefully that’ll be back
in London again, very soon.
11.4.10 - Union Chapel
The Union Chapel is brilliantly lit, its tower supported by
scaffolding as the £1.1m restoration works go on, supporting
the exceptional talents, new and old, of the new classical and
folk movements. Danny Norbury is an altogether different proposition
on cello, looping his full bowed instrument with the accompaniment
of Nancy Elizabeth, who normally sings, but tonight adds to
the structurally delicate build of Norbury’s ambient solo work.
It is gentle, it is calming and it adds to the expectation for
A Vashti Bunyan concert is a special event, and the Chapel perhaps
the perfect venue for so tender an evening. After Norbury finishes,
the charismatic David Kitt takes the stage, admitting that he
has had next to no rest from his performance of the night before,
and noting wryly that his albums don’t get released anywhere
apart from Ireland before. The majority of his performance is
spent with his own accompaniment, two of the Magic Numbers,
who from Romeo’s recent producing work seem to be now linking
up with the modern folk world at grass roots level. Kitt’s songs
follow on well from Norbury, in that they are simple, and why,
charming. He is, especially accompanied by the voice of, well,
of the woman from the Magic Numbers, perhaps overly precious,
because the majority of the crowd isn’t here to be lulled by
man-folk, but by the slight mysticism of Vashti Bunyan.
Another short break, where tea and flapjacks are served, and
then she walks out, sitting down in the middle of the stage.
Perhaps feeling awkward at the prospect of entertaining such
an expectant crowd, Vashti explains, softly, each and every
song, taken from the back catalogue that has been resumed in
the last few years after lying dormant ever since she seemingly
vanished in the mid 1960s, to the North and to Hebrides. Her
songs are of adventure, of finding love, “naivety” she calls
it, and of being disillusioned; the fragility of her voice,
which she famously once pinned as being that of a “12 year-old
choirboy”, is still an expression of curiosity, and an object
Vashti doesn’t need to explain. She does as a mother, now; as
someone who has travelled, in search of freedom, love and shelter;
as experienced. Her soft words and lyrics focused on spring
(“Glow Worms”), simple and pure love (“If in Winter”) and nature
– her realm, a playground which is profoundly more magical than
anything else on show tonight, or to be found at any other folk
show. The highlight of the evening is the recorder quartet which
joins Vashti onstage for “Rainbow River”, faithfully rendered
as arranged by the late Robert Kirby. The showcase of new material,
which Vashti says she’s still working on, leaves the enraptured
pews hoping, wishwandering, that she may continue on her journey
for a while longer, and report back.
Marling + Allesi's Ark + Boy & Bear
16.4.10 - Birmingham Alexandra Theatre
First off the bat something has to be said for the setting
of last nights performance. Shunning the typical Birmingham
Academy route, Miss Marling instead opted for a venue more befitting
of her beatific, acoustic laments; Birmingham's gorgeous Alexandra
Theatre. The sound was phenomenally clear and powerful throughout
all 3 sets and the atmosphere of the venue really added to the
overall effect of the music. The uncomfortably tight seating
arrangement (anyone over 6 foot tall basically spent the night
in a state of contorted agony) was admittedly unfortunate but
thankfully the music was so consistently enrapturing that after
30 minutes I barely noticed my kneecaps slowly caving in (a
slight over-statement maybe but seriously Alexandra sort it
It was a packed night of quality music from the get go with
Australian quintet 'Boy & Bear' taking to the stage first
to muted applause. They launched straight into their set of
graceful acoustic soft-rock with gusto, the spare, echoing drums
and delicate guitars backed by some of the closest harmonies
this side of Fleet Foxes. It was a far from varied set and their
Bon Iver cover was perhaps a little predictable but for such
a young band they carried themselves with a humble grace and
had a handful of really stellar songs, chief amongst which was
the rumbling, upbeat single 'Mexican Mavis'. The harmonies were
tight and expertly crafted but were used perhaps a little too
heavily with almost every part of every songs backed by a wall
of subtle "ooo's" and "ahh's". Similar bands
such as Grizzly Bear and the afore-mentioned Fleet Foxes manage
to get the balance just right and as Boy & Bear have a really
charismatic and gifted lead singer in Dave Hosking it's almost
a shame he wasn't allowed to spread his wings a little more.
Overall however it was a great set from an exciting new band
who effortlessly won over a fair share of the audience.
Next up was Hammersmith native 19 year old Alessi's Ark who
spent the first half of her set backed only by her good friend
'Marcus' on heavily effected lead guitar. His dense delays and
swirls backed a nervous Alessi's delicate strums and vocals
which came across as a cross between the quirkiness of Bjork
or Joanna Newsom and the country-tinged purity of Emmylou Harris.
Her plaintive croon and delicate balladry was enchanting at
first but as time wore on and the tone, tempo and instrumentation
locked into a steady pattern I noticed myself watching the clocks.
Thankfully the pair were eventually joined onstage by Laura
Marling's keyboard played Ben Roe who added another dimension
to Alessi's whisper-thin melodies. Marcus also switched to double
bass for a couple of numbers which really added weight to the
mix. Alessi was obviously nervous at first but opened up a little
as the set progressed even sharing a few light hearted anecdotes
regarding the international origins of a major high-street grocery
store. The songs were all uniformly lovely but also quite interchangeable
with no obvious stand-out tracks and Alessi and her Ark (your
guess is as good as mine as to what the 'Ark' specifically represents)
left the stage to polite applause.
Everyone was here for the headliner though and when Laura Marling
and her band (consisting of drums, guitar, bass and cello) opened
with 'Devil's Spoke' from the Reading songstress's recent critically
acclaimed album 'I Speak Because I Can' almost without warning,
the audience fell into a hushed, almost religious reverence.
It's incredible for a woman of such tender years (she turned
20 in February) to have mastered her craft with such assurance,
but after only one song I was simply floored by that calm, emotional
voice, her commanding stage presence and the tight, focused
sound of the band. 'Devils Spoke' and 'Hope In The Air' are
two of the choicest cuts from 'I Speak Because I Can' and provided
the set with a powerful opening salvo which rolled on through
the next 5 songs. By far the most impressive songs of the night
were the ones from the recently released album but the more
light-hearted, low-key 'Ghosts' sounded right at home amidst
it's more recent, accomplished brethren. The mere announcements
of songs from her first album (2008's 'Alas I Cannot Swim')
were treated with a rapturous reception by the audience but
they all felt inferior to the more recent songs. We were even
treated to 2 'brand new' songs when Laura's band departed mid-set
to allow her to fill the stage with just her voice and guitar.
The subtle lighting was incredibly effective here as her slight
frame was echoed by a commanding shadow which surely reflects
the towering talent housed inside such an unassuming young woman.
She was utterly charming with the 2 new songs, her unique take
on Neil Young's 'The Needle and the Damage Done' (preceded by
a lovely little story which belies the cripplingly stage-shy
persona she was once famed for inhabiting) and songs from both
albums actually improved by the immediacy and intimacy of a
solo performance. It was a clever move as it broke up the set
nicely and reminded us all that Laura is indeed the star of
the show. However that's not to belittle the talents of her
band, without whom stirring songs such as 'Devils Spoke' and
the almost middle eastern sounding darkness of 'Alpha Shadows'
would not be a feasible or effective proposition.
The sole cover of the evening is an apt choice considering
the heavy Youngisms present on 'Rambling Man' and 'Alpha Shadows'
both of which could fir quite comfortably on Young's seminal
'Harvest' album but Laura Marling is very much a one-off performer.
She might posses the delicate hands of Nick Drake and the soft,
soulful pipes of Carol King but her voice and her talent are
very much her own. If she impresses her other sold out audiences
as easily as she did last night there's no telling just how
far those talents will take her.
1. Devil's Spoke
2. Hope In The Air
3. Rambling Man
5. Blackberry Stone
6. "New Song"
7. The Needle and the Damage Done (Neil Young Cover)
9. Night Terror
10. "New Song"
11. Made By Maid
12. Goodbye England (Covered in Snow)
13. What He Wrote
14. Alpha Shadows
15. Alas I Cannot Swim
16. My Manic and I
17. I Speak Because I Can
& Oaklander + Led Er Est
13.4.10 - Bardens Boudoir
You wouldn’t have guessed it was a Tuesday night in this much
loved basement venue. A Grave With No Name opened the night
to a decent sized East London crowd. Having done some myspace
research beforehand I was looking forward to hearing some melodic
tunes to drift away too. Instead the soft, feather-light vocals
were drowned by the rest of the band. Things then went from
second rate to awkward. A couple of songs were out of time and
one even had to be restarted. After making their apologies,
the band didn’t regain composure; instead the crowd had to watch
some disheartened faces looking for an exit. Not a great start
to my first Tasty assignment.
The crowd stayed patient as they were really there to see two
of Brooklyns’ minimal synth/coldwave offerings. Watching the
lead singer of Led Er Est roll up his sleeves, I knew he meant
business. An enjoyable contradiction of friendly synthpop induced
with harsh abstract sounds, cleverly balanced with desolate
vocals. With influences from the disco and post punk era, you
got caught in a 70’s/early 80’s time warp. With an engaging
stage presence, Led Er Est leave you fascinated and wanting
Xeno and Oaklander carried on the vibe with a more industrial
approach. Liz took us to romantic foreign lands with her French
lyrics and fragile vocals, on tracks like Rendezvous d’Or and
Celeste. Sean on the other hand had a more sinister style on
songs like Shadow World and The Shot, The Fall, only to be described
as wonderfully eerie. Generally quite moody and haunting, while
still keeping a dancefloor element. Overall a great night for
celebrating organic electronic music with analogue synthesisers
and drum machines. A really live experience with not a laptops
13.4.10 - Tabernacle, London
Just when fans had almost given up hope after Liam’s first
album ‘Show Me How The Spectres Dance’ had become all but a
distant memory, he returned with a collection of beautiful new
songs ‘Ain’t Got No Money…’ a love letter to Manchester, heartbreak
and tragedy. And finally, these songs are given the proper live,
full band outing they deserve in Notting Hill’s Tabernacle.
The venue is around half-full, but as Liam notes, he’s seemingly
neither lsot or gained fans between the first and second album,.
With a full band – guitar, bass, drums and keys, Liam’s songs
are given the full instrumentation sound from the album, and
sound all the better for it, filling the space with a pure,
‘We Ain’t Got No Money…’ picks up where the first album left
off, delving deeper into Liam’s fragile state of mind, plummet
to rock bottom, and rise back up, as a new, slimmer and happier
The emotion in his performance is palable, as one would expect
with such personal songs. And whilst Liam has grown up, he’s
still only young, barley into is twenties, and his stage presence
confirms this. From his confessions of babbling nervous nonsense
the night before, to referring to the audience (no doubt affectionately),
as ‘fuckers’, there’s clearly still room for improvement in
his stage banter.
His set is both uplifting and heartbreaking in equal measures,
from the glorious ‘Your Hand in Mine’ and ‘Held Tightly in Your
Fist’ to the huge ballads of ‘Skylark Avenue’ and ‘Try, Try,
Try’, and both at once in ‘The Mourners of St Pauls’.
Liam Frost is back, and better than ever.
31.3.10 - ULU, London
As my friend Michael said after we lost in the final of the
2010 Great Shakespeare Debate to some grammar school near Leeds,
"You just gotta be yourself, because haters gonna hate."
Yeah, Alexander Tucker! Play your crazy instrument with strings
(a guitar) and the other instrument with strings, and the other
instrument with strings...
The ULU crowd, some of whom May Have been to shows where ATP-R
artist Alexander Tucker has supported at before, may be wondering
why in the name of cosmic rock he is supporting the oh-so-Domino
Archie Bronson Outfit. As ex-UKIP leader Nigel Farrage asked
the EU President "Who are you?", and the same questions
are still being asked of a slightly wonderful doom-folk guitarist
who frankly must have a better sense of humour than Mr Farrage
to get him through nights like these. Either that, or he just
likes playing music, for some strange reason.
But forget boneheads who hate stuff. Forget the dicky guy on
the door refusing to acknowledge that I should get free entry
to things because I write for some webzine. Forget even that
a restrictor being added in at the last minute means the sound
is worse than the band thought it would be and that it sounded
fine during soundcheck so they play the gig effectively behind
glass. Forget that I'm meant to be writing a letter to my girlfriend's
parents explaining my intentions for our relationship. Forget
Archie Bronson Outfit mix the dirt and the heaviness of 'Derdang
Derdang' with the grooves and humour of 'Coconut' to put on
a show. That show stands separate from the new album, from the
sound set-up at ULU. It consists of 'grooves and humour', 'dirt
and heaviness'. Those are the core tenets of ABO.
ABO later apologise for the sound. (The internet maligns Tucker
and noone will ever apologise.) ABO did seem more sure of themselves
when roaring through the well-loved 'Dart for my Sweetheart'
and 'Cherry Lips'. And 'Hoola' did seem less vivid live. Maybe
it was a slightly subdued performance, especially considering
the brilliant sound of the album which somehow managed to infuse
a new, more disco-related off-beat fuzz that turned songs like
'Harp for my Sweetheart' into 'Magnetic Warrior'. Maybe the
infusion was slightly impotent tonight.
Maybe ABO's live 'reputation' will suffer due to sound issues,
apparently beyond their control. Maybe. But when a band puts
everything into a performance after spending 4 years making
a sublime record, then maybe you can forgive them. After all,
haters gonna hate.