Friday, 29 October 2010



Had a good run down to Reading with weekend travelling buddies Clive and Beef, and parked unimpeded or delayed in the usual industrial estate at the back of the site. I got my wristband sorted out within 15 minutes thanks to some queue-jumping, as opposed to my polite friends, who joined an immense queue and thus waited for nearly 2 hours! Bollocks to that!

Popped into the sunny arena for the first band on in the Big Tent (sponsored by Melody Maker and thus referred to hereafter as the MM tent!), at 1pm; local chaps BENNET, who kicked up a confident Stuffies/ Superstar kind of noise, at odds with their obvious nerves and pleasure that so many early-doors punters were watching. One nonsense "Country" song about Bracknell, of all places, highlighted a good opening. Saw a couple of HEATHER NOVA's songs - she may be the Mayoress of Babe City, but her songs really aren't my cup of folky introspection - and then moved to the main arena for the early-running mainstage openers, Sunderland punks CHINA DRUM. The last couple of numbers I caught included a gleeful Mackem massacre of Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights", and the drummer/vocalist featured band doing a very hard-rocking, Leatherface-like final number.

The first highlight followed; sadly not Scarce as vocalist Chick's illness had precluded their scheduled appearance, but JULIANA HATFIELD on the main stage. She, herself now fully recovered from a bout of fatigue-related illness, wowed the crowd with a well-rocking set of her spangly pure college pop. The urgent "What A Life" and closer "Nirvana" ("for Kurt") were high spots of a set I experienced from the moshpit! I then met up with happy campers Rich and Ady on the way to the MM tent for WEKNOWWHEREYOULIVE. These purveyors of mental hygiene played a far tighter and more consistent set than recently at Bath Moles, vocalist Ange's bekilted antics working better on a bigger stage. The mesmeric frontman led the former Wonderstuff back line boys through an enjoyable groovy, taut, funky experience, taking the piss out of Oasis and Blur on the way, and suggesting on this evidence they're getting it together.

Wandered over to the tiny tent for my scheduled late-afternoon meet with Clive, only to find him chatting to Geoff, Dianne and Brett from our faves Tongue, formerly The Julie Dolphin! It turned out they were very late additions to the bill, and due to play later today! Superb! Chatted along while SOLAR RACE whipped up a Babes In Toyland confrontational storm in the tent behind us, then quickly wandered into the arena to check out some of BECK, who unfortunately was hosting a hippy dippy bore-in. The timings were all skewed by this point as well; he's 20 minutes early, the tiny tent is running 45 minutes late! D'oh! At least the sun is shining, so Reading has something right!

Saw a couple of SPEEDWAY's spunky but one-dimensional numbers in the tiny tent, then had a quick wander around the stalls. Beck finished at 5.30, and the excellent "Sparky's Dream" drifted lazily over the sun-drenched arena from the PA. A lovely, subtle Summer groove, but sadly the nearest I'd get to Teenage Fanclub, next up on the main stage, as I had an appointment in the tiny tent! Clive and I were a 2 man moshpit for the beginning of TONGUE's set, but we were quickly joined as their passionate punky rock took hold. "Birthday", the splendiferous old TJD number, had us rocking and sweating cobs, and newer, more considered but no less thrilling stuff impressed as well. A gripping "Omni" and newie "Supermodel" climaxed a great set; highlight of the weekend to date!

Met up with the boys and the band after, and had a convivial few beers. A lovely way to spend a sunny early evening, and it was a funny experience being "buzzed" at Reading, given that I normally stay sober to catch all the bands I want to see! Anyway, I popped over to the MM tent just after 7 for MARION. They put on a dynamic show, their brilliantly shiny boy-rock laying waste to a packed tent. "Time" and "I Stop Dancing" the highlight of another moshpit-bound (for me!) 40 minutes. I eventually emerged, sweaty as a big sweaty thing, for the final chapters of the HOLE tragi-comedy show on the main stage. Saw a vicious "Violet" and another final, agonising number, which ended with Courtney Love being carried off after trashing the stage. I have to say, right now it bothers me that people have the gory fascination to watch an entire Hole set; it's probably a similar mentality to slowing down on the motorway to gawp at a car crash, I suppose. However, the Sheriff verdict is; their music's painful and she's developed into a Class A Fruitloop. Period. End of story.

New story. Once upon a time, a trio of cartoon-fuelled Yankee bongheads formed a band, captured the US post-slacker "zeitgeist" by chugging out urgent but melodic speed-punk, made millions, and, suitably empowered, brought their Ramones/ Buzzcocks-like stuff to inflict upon us Friday night Reading punters. GREEN DAY blasted a hole into Reading with brilliant spunky and spiky punk pop thrills, with Dickies-style cartoon anarcho-showmanship, and no little melody and class. "Chump" rolled into "Longview" with effortless ease for an early highlight, and I spent much of their thrilling set getting the shit kicked out of me in a violent moshpit populated by be-muscled punk bruisers. Quite appropriate, really, as the Green Day set was doing the same to my ears!

Stayed in the arena for headliners SMASHING PUMPKINS, bumping in to young Tim from Level 3 in the process. Their lumpen grunge dirge bored me to tears, which was a shame as I was looking forward to them in a way - one last chance to impress me, and they blew it! Did a bit of shopping in the stalls instead, then met up with Clive and Beef at 11.30 after catching FLYING SAUCER ATTACK's very odd oboe (yes, that's oboe) led encore, finally getting home and hitting the sack at 1/4 to 1, after a white knuckle drive home!


Shed on! D'oh! Sneezes! Double D'oh! Rain forecast for this afternoon! Double-plus psycho nuclear hyper ultra D'oh! with big knobs on! Still, piled in with Clive and Beef, and hit the arena at 10.30 - no rain, yet! - for a wake up call from EMBASSY in the MM tent. Their urgent, jolly, guitar driven mod-ish set was quite enjoyable, if short, and their vocalist was an energetic presence and could also sing! Then met up with the happy campers, plus day trippers Jared and Nina, and Dave and Liz, then trotted over to meet up with Ady's Southampton mates. Enjoyed a couple of games of footy by the riverside in the midday sun, scoring a hat trick in one of the games, both won convincingly by the Swindon posse!

At 2.30, after our game, I could quite understand why some people come to Reading then stay by their tents all weekend. I was knackered from the footy, and sitting by the happy campers' tents in the warm sun was a happy and mellow (if a little sweaty) groove, aided in no small part by one of Ady's beers! I could have stayed there all day, but nevertheless we headed back into the arena to catch 60 FT DOLLS in the MM tent at 10 to 3. They kicked up a fine set of their usual acerbic Jam-ish rock, and sounded well at home in the crowded tent. Saw a couple of COAST's numbers in the tiny tent thereafter - lazy guitarry and groovy, but insubstantial - then had some scran and ventured into the arena for SHED SEVEN. This year I quite enjoyed their set, which was good old 60's-ish beat pop with some New FADs-ish taut funky grooves thrown in for good measure, and a lot less Smiths-derivative than before, I'm pleased to say. However, it clouded over a little, rather ominously...

The scene darkened and a light drizzle fell; quite an appropriate entrance for THROWING MUSES' moody little set, which, nevertheless, led us back into the light. The eccentric but wholly captivating Kristen Hersh cut an obliquely odd figure in green t-shirt, tiny pink shorts and severely cropped hair, and also sounded rather throaty. Nevertheless, she led the Muses through an attention-grabbing and varied set of harsh, discordant, touching and awesomely beautiful mood muse-ic. The, erm, manic "Mania" and the wholly unexpected yet tremendous epic oldie "Vicky's Box" were brilliant highlights of a titanic set.

Then we heard the footy results read over the PA, and cheered (soliciting some odd glances in the process) upon hearing Swindon Town's 1-0 triumph at Carlisle! A trip to the loo meant I missed about half the BLUETONES' popular and cute, but directionless wallpaper pop set in the tent. Stayed tent-bound, however, for former Bunnymen Mac and Will's new charges, ELECTRAFIXION. Their set, including the haunting (as in, hairs on your neck standing on end, seriously!) new single "Lowdown", was superb; Mac and the lads dished up a heady cocktail of magic, mystery and menace. That bloke may not be Bunny anymore, but his new charges have retained the EATB sense of suspense and intrigue, and have allied it to a hard and dynamic "in your face" sound. The climax of their brilliant set, "Burned", swooped and soared, and evoked "Do it Clean" live. Yeah, that good. Stayed in for DRUGSTORE; they premiered some new, more accessible numbers, and were also superb, sparkling and magical. Their recent jaunt across to the States has seemingly added some extra dynamism and space to their already multi-faceted sound, and apart from a few dickheads throwing cups of water, the set was very well received. Isabel, a little pissed off at the end of the set (partly by the water throwing, partly by punters piling down the front - already! - for headliners The Foo Fighters), will hopefully look back on it as a major triumph.

Had a mid-evening drink with Ady, Dave and his girlfriend Liz (who despite Reading being about a million miles removed from her type of thing, was holding up well), then popped back into the MM tent for ECHOBELLY. The tent, now stuffed to capacity, was lapping their perfectly delivered agit-pop set up. I kept a watching brief from the tent side and enjoyed Sonya Madan's perfect enunciation, and her band's magic pop thrills. However, the huge tent crowd thereafter seemed to expand even more for headliners THE FOO FIGHTERS, creating a rather disturbing crush and a number of almost-panicked bottlenecks, and prompting a couple of serious questions;
1. The stage in the MM tent was set up at right-angles to the arena - all well and good, but why then put corrugated iron screens up behind the mixing desk? This created alarming bottlenecks, and also reduced the effective capacity of the tent!
2. The obvious question - The UK debut of the Foo Fighters, a band led by Dave Grohl, an ex-Nirvana chap, was bound to be a totally humungous draw (underlined by their debut single crashing into the charts at No. 3 this week), so what the hell were they doing playing in the tent? They should have been on the main stage!!
Anyway, I kept a watching brief from my now very tightly packed side of the tent, during most of their patchy but eminently listenable Dinosaur Jr.-esque heavy guitar driven Yank rock set. Dave Grohl revealed himself to be a very nice guy, and certainly a more considerate human being than whoever saw fit to put those screens up, by showing genuine concern for the well-being of the kids at the front, and continually interrupting the set to exhort punters to move back, take it easy and generally be nice to each other.

However, after "This Is A Call", their single and finest melody-packed moment, I heard a different call - from my stomach, for mushrooms and garlic bread. So, after a late night snack, off we went, glad that the anticipated rain had held off!


With more footy on our minds this morning, we hit the site early today and headed straight over to the happy campers' tent, with the TTP ball (replacing the one we knackered yesterday!), for another game against the Southampton posse. Much closer this time, thanks to Beef "bottling out", but no less enjoyable, particularly as I got the winner! Relaxed by the river awhile afterwards, then into the arena at 1 pm - or should I say, into the dustbowl! With a covering of dust being whipped around the crowded and bleary hollow-eyed arena, it evoked visions of a post-fallout X Generation theme park in Arizona!

Caught the final numbers of NILON BOMBERS' standard glam-flavoured Britpop in the tiny tent, then wandered around the arena stalls during BLIND MELON's pointless mainstage grunge dirge. Watched a bit of the Belgian Grand Prix on a telly behind one stall, then absent-mindedly happened onto the Melody Maker signing tent, five minutes before Buffalo Tom were due for a signing session at 2! Yowsers! Not wanting to miss this opportunity, I barged my way to the front of the immense queue, and got in there! Got a cool photo signed (the last one available, so Bill signed it "Lucky You!"), had a brief chat with the Tom about Boston music, and shook Chris Colbourn's hand. Right result!

Into the tiny tent for STAR 69, who sported a babe vocalist with a big pink acoustic guitar and a head full of angst, and were a tasty amalgamation of The Belltower's spooky mood and Madder Rose's sleazy, smoochy lilt. Great stuff, actually! Next up in the tent, PULLOVER, an odd collection of brightly attired individuals and a large female vocalist, made a post-C86 noise resembling early Wedding Present giving Talulah Gosh a good kicking outside a sweet shop. They would have been well at home at Subway Records in the late 80's, and had one great lyric; "your body's a temple, mine's a shed!" Overall, light-hearted but good and entertaining pop fizz.

Saw the second half of the BABES IN TOYLAND mid-afternoon arena set. I actually enjoyed their thrashy cat-screech rock this time, especially their surprisingly straight cover of Sister Sledge's disco classic "We Are Family". I then stayed arena bound, for my pre-Festival highlight faves, and picture signees from earlier today! BUFFALO TOM kicked off with "Tangerine", the raucous opener to their new, precious and damn near perfect LP "Sleepy Eyed". Thence followed 50 minutes of absolute top drawer rock, packed with emotion and drama from the finest purveyors of haunting emotion on show on this bill. Vocalist Bill Janovitz veered between being a self-effacing nice guy, exhorting the moshpit to, "get your raft back, man!" (??), and leading the Buffalo boys through a bleeding raw set of spellbinding intensity. Band Of The Weekend? It rather goes without saying...

But, this being Reading, I had little time to reflect on the plangent magnificence of The Tom's set, before buggering off to the tiny tent. NYACK confused both myself and Clive with a set of totally new material, the new numbers featured being more driving and rockier than the chunky guitar pop of their recorded output to date. The closing "Facedown" was however both spooky and groovy, and a post-set chat with tall vocalist Craig Sterns cleared things up; they fancied playing a new set as they figured no-one would be there for them! When I lamented the absence of fine single "I'm Your Star" from the set, in fact, Craig suggested I was the only one who did! Anyway, I then popped over to the MM tent for ASH's set. Their take on post-Undertones style fresh punky pop innocence was entertaining and enthralling, and attracted a huge crowd. I bumped into Andi from Level 3 at the tent side, and we bopped to pop gems such as "Petrol", and the whole tent pogoed as one to recent "hit" single, "Girl From Mars"!

The festival was winding down now, for me at least, as I had early evening scran by the MM tent, unfortunately within earshot of REEF, with their lumpen and clumsy trad rock bollocks. The whippy wind brought a real chill to the early evening; I bought a waistcoat but still felt the chill, so we headed back to the tiny tent mainly to get out of the cold! In the process, we also got to see LICK; their pretty boy amphetamine rock set was exciting, and resembled Sweet Jesus in bed with early Manic Street Preachers, entertaining accordingly. Then THURMAN, next up, were our final band of the festival. Their set was very much of the "zeitgeist", their modish guitar pop with a bit of glam was derivative but entertaining, and reminded me of Kinky Machine. Methinks despite occasionally sounding like a Michael Caine "B" movie soundtrack, they might be the best bet to emerge from the current "New Mod" scene. Good luck to them, anyway!

And that was it, for us anyway. Nobody fancied paying any real attention to the appalling SOUNDGARDEN (who sounded terrible from a distance), so off we went, missing headliners Neil Young (too old-hippy for my current tastes! Sorry!) and Carter USM (past their sell-by date for me) in the process. Reading - and Summer - is now over, but thanks to Buffalo Tom, Reading's Top Band, it had a rousing send off!


Sunday Best: 1. BUFFALO TOM, 2. NYACK, 3. ASH (of 11)


Best New Band: 1. STAR 69, 2. EMBASSY, 3. THURMAN.
Sorry I Missed: TEENAGE FANCLUB, BOO RADLEYS, VENT (in the tent). Biggest miss was of course the absent SCARCE
Stars Of The Show: 1. BUFFALO TOM (of course), 2. GEOFF HAYDEN (for getting the beers in), 3. DAVE GROHL (for being a totally nice guy onstage), 4. CRAIG STERNS (for being a totally nice guy offstage!), 5. ME (hat trick hero!

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

304 SLEEPER, 60 Ft. Dolls, THE WANNADIES, London Shepherd's Bush Empire, Friday 13 October 1995

This gig ended a near 2-month gig hiatus, and was the climax of a super day out, record shopping and spotting Alice Cooper (!), with Peej in the Smoke! We headed back over to the Bush and got seated well in time for the Wannadies set at 8. New discoveries this year, tonight they struggled vocally with the sound, but ultimately delivered a brilliant sparkling set of lovely melody, big choruses and chiming guitars. My favourite single of 1995, "The You And Me Song", was delivered brilliantly tonight and had me freaking out in the Balcony aisles. Wonderful!

Main support the 60 Ft. Dolls (again? This is getting to be a habit...) rocked, postured and did their usual Jam-ish stuff before headliners Sleeper arrived. Or rather Louise did...

Bouncing on in black vest and leopardskin micro-skirt, vocalist Louise Wener led her rather anonymous yet fine band through a tremendously dynamic set of spunky and thrilling pop, and led the performance with sheer force of personality, cocky and confident. Much better "live" than their occasionally patchy output on record, all the numbers, including some faster newies, sounded fresh and exciting. Seize your moment, Louise, you're a star!

305 PULP, Minty, London Shepherd's Bush Empire, Thursday 19 October 1995

Had a good jaunt down the M4 for this one, despite forecasts of motorway chaos on the contraflows, so we got to the Empire to see the last half of support Minty's set. Strange doesn't even begin to describe it; a collection of oddly attired individuals including a masked bassist, a keyboardist wearing a toilet seat around his neck, and a female backing singer who was butt naked apart from a polythene sheet suspended from some weird hat creation! The singer, dressed in spangly outfit and horns, shouted over a ham-fisted rock background that we were all, "King Size". Weird!

Pulp came on at 9.15 to be met by a volley of screams from the sell-out crowd of Britpop-obsessed teenage girlies. It seems old Jarvis, 6 foot 4 and 9 stone wringing wet, is now 1995's unlikeliest sex symbol! Weirder!

Anyway, we wandered around to find a good vantage point during Pulp's early numbers. Their set took a little while to get going, but a fine, elongated, doomy and spooky "Acrylic Afternoons" kick-started it beautifully. Pulp, I'm glad to say, have not let their recent success affect their quality control; their new numbers sounded as sleazy, glam, sexy and deliciously moody and melodic as the rest! "Girl 2000" (later renamed "Disco 2000" of course!) and the encore "Common People" were the highlights of an overall stunning set, delivered by a tight, taut band and a splendid showman vocalist in Jarvis the true star. An excellent night's entertainment for a packed house, from a band reaping the rewards of 15 years of hard slog. They deserve their time in the spotlight!

306 THE BOO RADLEYS, ELECTRAFIXION, Coast, Reading University, Saturday 21 October 1995

First time back at Reading Uni for awhile, but I still found it OK; it's the Courage Brewery junction off the M4! Got there in good time to catch a bit of opener Coast's routine but okay actually chunky harmonic riffery; a bit of a poor man's 18 Wheeler actually, which was ironic as the "Wheeler"'s vocalist Sean Jackson was here handing out Coast flyers at the end of the set!

I popped into the crowd for Electrafixion's set; as anticipated, they were totally brilliant, playing dynamically, spookily and with oodles of class. Former Echo And The Bunnymen vocalist and current Electrafixion mainman Ian McCulloch, the voice of my teenhood (sort of), still knows how to make the old spine really tingle with his vocals, and the young back-up (apart, that is, from fellow old Bunny Will Sergeant, who's looking thicker-set and more Ramones-ish by the day) kicked up a perfect storm of stunning, heavy-on-the-guitars mighty mood music. My one man moshpit expanded, as I gave it loads for a brilliant set!

After that, the very popular Boo Radleys were always onto a loser for me. I watched the first half-dozen numbers of their swirly pop numbers, but felt after that, that I'd become a victim of Boo-overexposure this year. Also, they seemed lightweight after the crashing brilliance of Mac's lot. So I hung back during their set, then had a drink in the quiet bar, bumping into Jools, the former Marion and current Electrafixion bassist, for a chat in the process.

Undoubtedly, the Boo Radleys have this year enhanced their reputation with a brilliant LP of Summer pop, which encapsulates 1995's Summer holidays and which has made them both massively popular and ubiquitous in the process ("Wake Up Boo!" is everywhere!), but on this showing, Electrafixion won the day!

307 THERAPY?, Vent, Newport Centre, Friday 27 October 1995

Off for some serious noise tonight, we were nevertheless delayed on the way down, so missed all of opener Understand (no great loss), and most of Vent. Former Wonderstuff Miles Hunt's new charges were angry, shouty and not a little like Rollins Band, Miles' new hero and obvious current role model (tattoos and all). Not my cup of tea at all, so after the cocky melody of the Stuffies, I found this immensely disappointing.

However, I popped down to the moshpit (which was full of 16 year olds in Metallica and Nirvana t-shirts) for Therapy?, a band I've underestimated in the past, but recently warmed to. Their set was excellent, visually energetic and dynamic, and full of meaty hard rocking anthems with chunky, sing-along choruses. Playing to huge crowds at the likes of Reading and Donington has also evidently taught Therapy? how to handle a crowd, as, despite obvious rock clich├ęs such as introducing the band, and exhorting the crowd to pump up the volume, they handled the large and enthusiastic moshpit in this cavernous venue excellently. Credibility points for attitude ("let's turn this place into a big TJs", referring to the local rock dive venue) and taste (excellent covers of Joy Division's desolate "Isolation", and an excellent, emotive reading of Husker Du's "Diane"), as well as for fine punchy versions of their own rockers "Die Laughing" and my highlight "Nowhere". A dynamic, sweaty and great night out; thanks Therapy?!

308 BUFFALO TOM, Puressence, Bristol University Anson Rooms, Wednesday 1 November 1995

Off we go for another helping of Reading Festival 1995's Top Band, Buffalo Tom, a Boston trio maturing nicely with a fabulous new LP "Sleepy Eyed", which is currently topping my 1995 fave LP poll. We drove down for 8, finding the place deserted! Have Bristolians no taste at all? (Perhaps, I mean they support Bristol City FC...)

Anyway, the place filled up for support Puressence, who despite looking like identikit Manc post-baggy types, a little out of date, actually sounded like early Pale Saints in a padded cell with Talk Talk (imagine that, if you can...). The vocalist's falsetto, if not his unnecessary sneer, impressed, but the set, nice and haunting early doors, tailed off notably.

The place filled up (finally!), but I still had elbow room down the front waiting for the entrance of The Tom, while their roadies decorated the stage in red satin, and set up multitudes of sports trophies over the speakers! Very odd!

Still, The Tom themselves were tremendous; a varied but always dynamic set, drawing from "Sleepy Eyed" and their mighty back catalogue in equal measure. Vocalist Bill Janovitz, outstanding in olive and orange, was a passionate, raw visual focus, and Chris Colbourn's more laid-back, soulful offerings provided relief from the intensity. "Velvet Roof" and the excellent "Tangerine" were two titanic amphetamine rushes of energy and power, and highlighted a splendid set which, encore and all, was 1 hour 20 minutes long, but seemed less than half that. Their self-effacing modesty and genuine delight at the crowd's enthusiasm served to enhance their reputation as well. Supreme stuff from undoubtedly one of the top rock bands currently operating today!

Friday, 22 October 2010

309 TONGUE, Supp. Mansun, Bath Moles, Thursday 23 November 1995

Found out about this gig thanks to a call from Tongue bassist Geoff on Tuesday, so a jolly carload drove down to the late Moles Club, getting in on their "paying" guest-list (bloody weird Moles door policy!).

Tongue were on at 10.30, and played a splendid hard-edged set of shimmering powerpunkpop. Old favourite "Birthday", an absorbing early highlight, was however eclipsed by newer numbers such as "Blessed", which had a raw and exciting edge, complementing their melody and expressively spooky atmosphere. A brilliant set, topped by a thrilling "Head", during which we gave it loads down the front!

Met up with Geoff and guitarist Brett at the bar, and chatted about the band and other diverse subjects, during undeserving headliners Mansun's totally anonymous post-baggy set. How...? Anyway, we cleared off at 12.30 following mutual thanks and handshakes from the real stars of the show. Another great night out, thanks to the former Julie Dolphin!

310 TINY MONROE, Dustball, Oxford Hobgoblin, Wednesday 6 December 1995

Have car, will travel! Used my work hire car to drive Beef to this new venue in chuffing cold and snow! D'oh! A very quiet turnout in this Jericho Tavern-like venue, thanks to the grotty weather.

Still, we had some spiky punk rock to warm our ears, thanks to Oxford's Dustball. 3 painfully young lads kicking up an untutored Ash/ Senseless Things groove, which is bound to sound better after more gigs perfecting their art. They also need more drumsticks, because when the drummer dropped one, the whole gig ground to a halt!

Tiny Monroe, after a considerable hibernation, are out again and starting from scratch, having lost the female-fronted guitar pop momentum to Echobelly, Sleeper, Elastica et al. Tonight's punchy performance to a largely disinterested Oxford crowd and a couple of hip-swaying Swindonians, however suggests they have the determination to catch up. They certainly have the good quality tunes (the newer material seemingly a little rockier than their 2 previous, more laid-back singles), and in NJ they have a vocalist with presence, a delicious husky voice, the type Fiona Parachute Men used to excel in purveying, and eyes like pools of ink. Good luck to them; I for one will be watching closely!

311 THE AMPS, London Astoria LA2, Thursday 7 December 1995

Another gig with old friend Paul Crowfoot, who, as with the REM gig earlier this year, arrived as if from nowhere, this time armed with 2 tickets for this gig! So off we went, ploughing through the sleet and tubing in from the usual Shepherd's Bush parking space.

Got there at 9, missing support Brainiac totally and walking in just as The Amps took the stage, so we ploughed into the middle of the melee. Former Pixies bassist and Breeders main-woman Kim Deal, resplendent in a "Cherry Poptart Loves Ya!" cartoon t-shirt, led the band through a jokey and laid-back, yet rocking and committed set of spooky, sleazy yank rock from her current "side project", which featured a couple of musicians from Dayton, Ohio, and her Breeders drummer. The sell-out crowd reacted enthusiastically as Kim, buoyant and obviously enjoying herself with huge smiles and quips to the audience (reacting to cheers after taking a long slug of beer from her tinny, she said, "yeah, like you guys NEVER do that!"), still gave it loads of choppy guitar noise. A great set, which was over by 10, so we had time to remove ourselves from this odd-shaped venue, grab some chicken in Shepherd's Bush, then plough back through the sleet and home before midnight.

Then Mr. Crowfoot departed once more, never again to be seen. If you're reading this, Paul, get in touch, willya?

312 TINY MONROE, Cellophane Aeroplanes, Bath Moles, Thursday 14 December 1995

The usual Thursday night Moles crew, including a semi-pissed Beef, who had been on a works Chrimbo "do" all afternoon and oddly enough smelled of meths (!), bopped down for the Tinies, for the final gig of 1995. Me and Beef got in on the guest list, thanks to some negotiating back at the Oxford gig earlier this month with their manager! Had an interesting chat with said gent before the support band came on. They had one interesting number and a good name, but overall were slightly predictable, cheesy and a little bit dull countrified rock.

The Tinies took the Moles stage at 11.30, and burst into a more dynamic set of their thoughtful but occasionally exciting guitar pop than the recent Oxford gig. The crowd, led by a swaying Beef and I, shook legs and limbs appreciatively, and the band responded positively, producing a fine 3/4 hour of varied tempo-wise but consistently entertaining pop. Popped backstage afterwards quickly for cheers, as vocalist NJ had recognised me from the Oxford gig. Hmm, must've been the tartan trousers...

313 ECHOBELLY, Delicatessen, Bawl, Bristol University Anson Rooms, Monday 29 January 1996

A fitting start to 1996's gig haul, really, with the band we, The Top Table Posse, voted top live act for 1995 in our end of year polls! So, a carload went down for this one, getting there 1 1/2 numbers from the end of Bawl's poppy rock sounding set. Nice and bright, really, so I was sorry I missed the rest!

Main support Delicatessen were once again not bad but not good either; late night mood music, sub Grant Lee Buffalo meets Tindersticks. A bit dull actually...

The place seemed quiet for an alleged sell-out gig, but it filled up quickly when Echobelly arrived onstage. Sonya Madan, a spritely pop pixie, teased and taunted her way through the set ("do you want to see my tits?" was one such remark), which was a spunky mix of pop fizz and darker, slightly offputting right-on PC polemic. Nevertheless, "King Of The Kerb", a bona fide soaring pop classic, and "Insomniac" were both stunning from my vantage point in the moshpit. Uneven, but overall a good enough way to start the year!

314 THE RAMONES, Sultans Of Ping, London Brixton Academy, Saturday 3 February 1996

End of an era! This was billed as the "Last Ever" gig by The Ramones, and said so on the tickets as well, so me and The Big Man had to be there, really. Drove up, then had a few problems getting over from Shepherd's Bush, so missed first band Scarfo. Unfortunately, we were well in time for the now seriously past their sell-by date Sultans Of Ping, now minus the "FC" and most of the humour, with vocalist Niall now thinking he's Iggy Pop with his antics, in front of some tuneless mulchy rock dirge. Guys, that joke isn't funny anymore...

The Ramones took the stage to the theme tune from "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly", then proceeded to blast through a breakneck-fast greatest hits selection. "Blitzkrieg Bop", "Sheena", "Rockaway Beach", "Pinhead"; they played everything you'd want them to, as befitted a final performance, but occasionally too fast and too loud. In addition, the moshpit in the sold-out Academy was quite the most bat-shit mental I'd ever seen, so midway through, I retreated to safe haven.

As for Da Brudders; well, they kept rocking, but looked (recent recruit CJ excepted) a little old and tired, with Joey in particular having trouble keeping his vocals up in time with the superfast crash bang wallop rock. Nevertheless, they gave themselves a superb and fitting send-off, with surf punk classics aplenty. Only one thing left to say; Adios, Amigos!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

315, FRANK BLACK, THE WANNADIES, Bristol University Anson Rooms, Wednesday 7 February 1996

"Neither snow nor rain, nor gloom of light..." a happy carload set off early to account for all the snow, and also because we didn't want to miss any of this potentially explosive double-header!

We arrived at 8, 15 minutes before The Wannadies took the stage to a pitifully sparsely-attended hall. Nevertheless, they took this as a challenge to win us all over, and stormed through a sensational pure pop set. Loud guitars, huge choruses, hooks to land whales with; this band of Scandinavian moppets are developing into really something special, and tonight they took full flight. A brilliant set, superbly sounding, played with passion and fire. The only problem was that, inevitable as a support act, the set was too short at only 1/2 hour, but then for me they could have played for a month, and on this form that'd still be too short!

Frank Black however didn't have such problems; as his set was being recorded for future CD extra tracks ("B" sides, we used to call 'em), it clocked in overall at 1 1/2 hours and 27 songs - including encores! Former Pixies main-man Frank, a striking figure of immense girth, gave it loads in a splendid sleazy rock fest, 15 minutes or so of which Rich and I missed, as we were talking to Wannadies vocalist Par in the bar, and getting set-lists signed! Still, Frank's set was well rocking, powerful and gutsy, and Frank himself is a genuine guy. I'm afraid tonight The Wannadies pipped him, though. But this was as brilliant a double-header as anticipated; Gig Of the Year? Is it too early to say that?

316 THE WANNADIES, Ruth Ruth, London Highbury Garage, Thursday 22 February 1996

Had various misadventures on the way to this one, involving the tyres on Rich's car, and a mysterious detour. For future reference, turn left before The Angel Centre! So, we got there at 9.30, just as Ruth Ruth were taking the stage. A punked-up power trio laying down some groovy and immediately memorable tunes, not unlike a slightly less frantic Green Day. Good stuff! Had a quick chat with their guitarist, a chunky and amiable New Yorker with a - surprise, surprise - Ramones fixation, between bands.

The Wannadies burst onstage in a riot of light and smoke at 10.30, and played a superb hour of their highly individual and memory-hugging magic pop thrill-type songs. An enthusiastic moshpit ensued, and I joined in for "Cherry Man", my favourite Wannadies number and (somewhat inevitably) my personal fave of this set. A brilliant encore of "Blister In The Sun" ("this song is ours now!", said vocalist Par - I'm not arguing, although the Violent Femmes' Gordon Gano might!) superbly capped off a stunning show from a very special band!

317 MEGA CITY FOUR, Pillbox, Reading Alleycat "Live", Thursday 9 March 1996

Tim's enthusiasm for the 1996 version of Mega City Four persuaded me to go to this one with him and his crew. However, we had problems locating the venue, then somewhere to park; suffered from "Can't Get There From Here" syndrome! We also got stopped by police for being in a bus lane! D'oh!

Anyway, we finally arrived well in time for Pillbox, on at 10. A confident American female vocalist led a couple of blokes through a harsh guitarry set, which for me got better after a samey, Veruca Salt-ish start. A cover of Blondie's "Rip Her To Shreds" was the splendid sleazy highlight of an overall cool and sassy set. Worth checking out again!

The Big Man also turned up at the gig, which was at a new venue for me, and, despite location problems, one I'll happily come back to again. Despite a "shop-front" type of look from the outside, it was a super dingy rock venue, and it quickly filled up.

MC4 joined us at 11.15, and dashed through an hour or so of chiming guitar pop. I've never been a big fan of them (actually, I've actively disliked them in the past!), and a lot of this set was once again dull and samey, but "Iron Sky", the encore, was brilliant, and overall they were okay. Credit to them for putting on an energetic show, which went down well with an enthusiastic crowd, and also for still playing on, when so many of their contemporaries (Stuffies, Neds, Senseless Things, even - sad to say - Midway Still) have given up the ghost.

318 TINY MONROE, The Supernaturals, Bath Moles Club, Thursday 4 April 1996

Back to Moles on a Thursday night for the Tinies; found a queue when we got there, but it was misleading, as the venue was only half full!

First band on, The Supernaturals, were a young Scottish band with more 60's sensibilities than Teenage Fanclub pretensions. When they were good they came across as a less pretentious standard Britpop band, say Dodgy, but when they were bad they were clumsy and rigid. Give 'em time, maybe...

Talked to old Swindonian Pete Smart, who apparently went to college with Tiny Monroe's guitarist (hmm, small world...) before vocalist NJ led the boys onstage at 11.30. A fine but disappointingly short (only 1/2 hour!) set of their studied guitar pop followed, with new songs becoming more familiar with every airing. "Love Of The Bottle" and the closer "Cream Bun" were the highlights of the set, during which I even had a conversation with the onstage NJ! Got to chat again afterwards, and we left looking forward to their forthcoming album. Less dynamic than yer Sleeper or Echobelly, and less quality than the excellent Tongue, the Tinies are nevertheless a worthwhile pop band with hidden depths. Hopefully, should be a good LP...

319 CORDELIA'S DAD, Regicide, Edwiner, Bath The White Hart, Thursday 5 April 1996

I got a bit of a shock when Clive pointed this one out to me, from the pages of the NME gig guide. Cordelia's Dad, playing in the UK? At last!

So, we bopped down to Bath's White Hart, a dilapidated pub back-room on the Twerton Road, with a clientele that made us all feel positively ancient. Sat in the equally run-down beer garden (hey, some call it, "character filled!") while dusk fell. We then had to put up with a couple of local supports; Edwiner, a bunch of student muppets playing an occasionally tolerable but overlong (40 minutes!) set of grungy funk, then Regicide, a dodgy-suited band with LA whisky bar Goth sleaze fixations, who nevertheless were a couple of bats short of a (Nick) Cave.

I'd been a fan of Cordelia's Dad since the early 90's, when Peej - who unfortunately couldn't make this gig - turned me on to their unique blend of traditional folk numbers played in an edgy and sinister, Pixies-ish rock style. Tonight was my first live experience of "The Dad", however, and hopes were high. Thankfully they didn't disappoint; the Massachusetts (just what is it with the Boston area and great bands, anyway? Is it something in the water?) 3-piece - guitarist/vocalist Tim, shaven headed, imposing presence, all army fatigues and mad, staring, haunting eyes; Cath, diminutive bassist, traveller chic and floppy fringe; and drummer Peter, short, chunky, bespectacled, quite "normal" in comparison to the very striking guitarists - kicked off the set proper, after an acapella introduction, with "Jersey City", a new number to my ears, with an almost Gigolo Aunts-ish chunky surf guitar riff.

A superb set of loud, dynamic rock ensued - are these really old folk songs? I joined the melee 4th number in, and immediately requested "Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still", which Tim immediately kicked in to. There's service for you! I gave it loads to the rest of the set, which culminated in an excellent encore of "Will The Circle Be Unbroken", then had brief words with the band afterwards. Great set! Great gig!

320 CORDELIA'S DAD, Mother Nature, Bristol The Full Moon, Saturday 6 April 1996

I talked Clive into coming along tonight by playing him some Cordelia's Dad stuff, and we headed off, finding the place easily (first roundabout off the M32). However, when we gained entry we found out it was a heavy metal bar, so Clive in particular felt conspicuous in his flowery shirt! Quite a contrast from the indie student populated gig the previous night!

The first band on was consequently a horrendous HM band of the lowest common denominator; lumpen, noisy and really crap. The opener "Rocking In The Free World" would have had Neil Young reaching for the lawsuits. Clive and I retired to the quiet end of the pub for this set.

Cordelia's Dad were on at 10, and were introduced by a fat screaming compere, who vocalist Tim immediately deflated with a laconic, "yeah, rock'n'roll," put-down. With a less dynamic, more low-key start, tonight's set took until 4th number "Brother Johnson" ("not Magic Johnson, we don't do songs about sports stars!" said Tim) to really burst into life. Then "Jersey City" and "Bright Smile", following in quick succession, turned me and Clive into whirling dervishes, and with their aggressive guitar attack, these two even had a nearby leather-clad HM dude declaring they were pretty good!

So, a difficult gig on the face of it turned into a minor triumph, as Cordelia's Dad even got an encore, the moody and edgy noise-fest of "My Pretty Little Pink", which I've never really liked much on record, but which was great "live", taking flight. Quick congrats afterwards, after another fine set!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

321 LETTERS TO CLEO, Jaguar, London Finsbury Park Powerhaus, Wednesday 1 May 1996

After missing them at the Water Rats during their last UK jaunt from Boston (a real rock hot-bed of brilliance throughout the years), I was on the lookout for more Letters To Cleo gigs on these shores. So after spotting a "live" ad in the NME for this one, I was well and truly up for it! Talked Clive into going (which didn't take much), and we got to the Powerhaus - located on the site of the old Sir George Robey, scene of my seminal Parachute Men gig (no. 106) back in 1988 - after crawling along Seven Sisters Road for positively ages, only to find on arrival that, thanks to some duff phone info gleaned earlier from the venue, we'd arrived over 1 1/2 hours before even the first band was due on! D'oh! The old place had changed a lot too, with pipes and steel bars all over the ceiling. How very modern!

Clive and I got chatting to an amiable Bostonian called Bill, a old mate of LTC vocalist Kay as it turned out, which was evident from the big hug she gave him when she arrived! I got to chat with LTC guitarist Michael, a splendidly affable and laid-back chap, before and after good psychedelic support Jaguar, about the state of Boston rock past and present, and also gave him a "Wilson" t-shirt I'd bought for Gigolo Aunts vocalist Dave Gibbs. Found out my good friend, fellow Aunt Phil Hurley, has left said band and was playing guitar for Tracy Bonham! Best look out for some gigs from her...

Another word here about Jaguar, actually, as they were really quite fine in a Five Thirty stylee; all swirly and upfront on the guitars. Good stuff!

Michael said LTC would play for an hour, and he was right on the nose. They certainly didn't disappoint with a brilliantly dynamic set of energetic and sparkling pop. Shades of Juliana Hatfield's college pop, Blondie's spunky new wave pop, and old Boston band The Cavedogs, all mixed into a simmering and bubbling hot-pot of pop noise which turned Clive and myself into mad dervishes, throwing ourselves around this spacious venue. I was as sweaty as I'd ever been without the aid of a moshpit, (my t-shirt sweat tidemark stretched down to below the "Calvin And Hobbes" design, causing me to christen said happenstance, now and forevermore, a "Full Cleo"!) and high on adrenalin for ages afterwards. Thanked Michael afterwards, after a quite, quite brilliant set from a(nother!) new Boston Rock find!

322 THE WANNADIES, Tiger, Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms, Sunday 5 May 1996

For this, another helping of our Scandinavian pure pop favourites The Wannadies, we decided to make a day of it, by bundling down to Southampton to visit Ady's Uni mates Martin and Stuart to watch the last weekend of The Premiership on telly, the result of which being I was crowned Clive's Fantasy Footy League Champion of 1995/96!

Popped over to Portsmouth to the Wedgewood Rooms, an excellent wide dancehall-type venue with a proper foyer, afterwards, and found it full of 15 year old girlies, shorter even than Ady! Good viewing tonight then... Met up with Tim, who'd popped down separately for the gig, before support Tiger (hmm, Jaguar last time out, Tiger this. I'm spotting a pattern...), who were unfortunately an awful, Stereolabbish monotone mess, with a discordant vocalist who couldn't carry a tune in a skip.

Piled down the front with Clive and Tim for the Wannadies early (9.30ish) set. This is the 3rd time this year I've had the pleasure, but I'm nowhere near getting tired of them. This was another great set of effervescent pop thrills, with sing-along new number "Someone Somewhere" a highlight, and becoming increasingly familiar. The huge chorus of "Cherry Man" also highlighted the set again, and I came out of the moshpit, after their 3 song encore which was topped by another brilliant rendition of "Blister In The Sun", drenched but smiling ear to ear. Great gig! I know I'm writing that a lot this year, but it's true - 1996 is becoming a real quality "live" year!

323 KITCHENS OF DISTINCTION, Flow, Reading Alleycat "Live", Thursday 13 May 1996

Surprisingly, gig buddy Clive needed some arm twisting to come along to this one, but I managed to persuade him! Got there late - missing first band Choke - just as main support, local heroes Flow, took the stage. An intelligent female-fronted band, their expansive, slightly folk-tinged pop sounded in parts like a more upbeat St. Etienne, and in others like a mid period Simple Minds or Waterboys. Overall impressive, with some good tunes.

The Kitchens, currently trading under the abbreviated "Kitchens OD" moniker, and apparently "between record deals", as it were, ambled on at 10.45 and played a sparkling and shimmering guitar pop set, kicking off with the excellent "Quick As Rainbows". Far from sounding like a band down on their uppers, they peddled their plaintive, emotion laden and pristine atmospheric pop with an unexpected confidence and gusto, and vocalist Patrick Fitzgerald proved a humorous orator between numbers, with a nice line in ironic self-deprecation (particularly his "stalker" story).

Highlights? The more in-your-face new number "Feel My Genie", and the classic "The 3rd Time We Opened The Capsule", still brain-achingly haunting after all these years. Great stuff overall from a band I've latterly come to appreciate, and wish I'd done so earlier; I do hope the Kitchens are actually between contracts, rather than scaling down operations to knock it on the head in the near future. We can't really afford to lose bands as precious and emotive as these - they've still got it!

324 LETTERS TO CLEO, Sense Field, London WC2 Borderline, Tuesday 21 May 1996

So, splendid Boston popsters Letters To Cleo return to London for a final show to bookend their European jaunt, and off "oop the Smoke" trotted an enthusiastic foursome from Swindon, parking in Shepherd's Bush, tubing in and getting to the wonderfully ambient and evocative Borderline just before it opened! There's keen for you...

The old downstairs Tex Mex bar itself filled up quickly for this one! We met up with LTC guitarist Michael for a quick chat, and a handing over of pix I took at their Powerhaus gig earlier this month, before Sense Field's set. 13 songs long, in a rip-roaring 40 minutes flat, this bunch of raucous Californians were at times awesome in their driving rock noise, and sometimes awful in their sub-Rage ATM/ Dog Eat Dog rap posturing. Overall? Not sure...

Anyway, Clive and I took front and centre for the arrival of Letters To Cleo. Despite minimal space, quite a difference indeed from the spacious Powerhaus, last time out, we nevertheless transformed into our whirling dervish alter-egos for LTC's dynamic and cool US alternative College pop agenda. A slightly rejigged and actually far louder set than last time out, vocalist Kay was nevertheless a gleeful, jumpy and bouncy focus for an effervescent and lively performance from a band "giving it loads" on their last European date. "Little Rosa" and the awesome drive of "Pizza Cutter" were my favourites of a great Boston rock set which flew by. Quick congrats from Michael and bassist Scott afterwards, after another brilliant 1996 concert from Letters To Cleo!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

325 COWBOY JUNKIES, Hayden, London Shepherd's Bush Empire, Friday 24 May 1996

Took the now time-honoured route to the supermarket-top car park in Shepherd's Bush Green, getting into good viewing seats (Level 1 Circle) just as support Hayden was finishing his last, abrasive and acoustic number.

Alternative Country pioneers The Cowboy Junkies came on at 9.10 to a rapturous welcome from this varied but generally older crowd (making this 30 year old feel positively young!), playing a set drawn primarily from their new, slightly darker LP "Lay It Down", which conversely gave it a more upbeat feel, tempo-wise, than my previous hushed "live" experience. Margot Timmin's voice, a velvety yet soaring resonant thing, filled the room and put the finishing touch on the CJ's plaintive yet majestic haunting mood music. A 1 hour 45 minute (wow!) set studded with jewels, and covers from sources as varied as Hank Williams, Springsteen and The Velvet Underground, but my favourite was nevertheless their own gorgeous encore of "'Cause Cheap Is How I Feel". Back home at break-neck pace by 12.30, after a shimmering and wondrous performance!

326 SLEEPER, The Longpigs, Octopus, Lancaster Sugarhouse, Thursday 30 May 1996

My Northern-most gig wasn't as convoluted as it may sound, as I'd interrupted a dull Lake District sojourn to go. Got in after a bit of a ticket-mare, in time for opening band Octopus. A good and interesting set, with 2 loud and fast rockers book-ending a big strum-along and heart-felt pop set which was not unlike A House on first listen. Certainly a band I'd pay to see again!

Longpigs were next up, by which time the student union bar venue had filled up quite considerably. They played a committed set of moody angst-ridden numbers not unlike (in fact, very like indeed!) Radiohead. Their best, the plaintive "On And On", made the old neck-hairs perk up. Despite being derivative, this was another fine set.

After all that moodiness, Sleeper's energetic pop fizz was a perfect antidote. I abandoned my splendid vantage point (centre stage raised, on the mixing desk) to join the mosh during second number "Swallow". Sleeper's vocalist Louise Wener, an outspoken frontperson who has been getting a lot of press stick recently (backlash time?), tonight let the music do the talking, proving herself a fine girly pop star, and the band formidable and enjoyable "live". I even liked the knockabout but mundane "Sale Of The Century" "live"; that's a good trick! "Delicious" and the sizzling "Pyrotechnician" were my 2 faves of a sweaty and enjoyable pop gig!

327 JOYRIDER, Supp. Blameless, The Nicotines, Gloucester Guildhall Arts Centre, Thursday 6 June 1996

Scorchio! All in shorts for the hottest day of the year so far (touching 80 degrees!), we bopped over to the splendid Arts Centre for their Thursday "Spacehopper Club" band night in time for first band, The Nicotines, at 8.45. They received a rapturous welcome from the very young crowd, and despite playing no more than a passable set of 70's powerpop updated with a few baggy type musical swirls, they had a large moshpit throughout. The joint was jumping; quite literally, as the moshpit propelled the wooden floorboards up and down most vigorously!

I joined in with the youngsters during Joyrider's set. The spiky young Irish foursome played a stormer, with strobe-lit, dynamic, fast-paced spunky punk rock, similar to Compulsion and Therapy? having a bloody good argument. Choice cuts from their storming "Be Special" album were joined by a totally unexpected bludgeoning of the Jane Weidlin pop classic "Rush Hour". Little wonder that the floor, scene of a ferocious water fight during the Nicotines set, was bone dry when the Joyrider mosh subsided - it had evaporated due to the moshpit heat!

Blameless came on to another rapturous reception at 10.15, and kicked off with their best number, the noisefest of "Town Clowns". Clive, rocking beside me tonight, is a big fan but they've passed me by somewhat; still, tonight I enjoyed their dynamic if basic poppy rock set. They're at their best when noisier and moodier, and like Eat (who they remind me of, a lot), I'll probably warm to them in the end.

Overall a sweaty and enjoyable one, culminating in late chip shop chip suppers all round!

328, 329 TRACY BONHAM, Supp. Deus (328), London Camden Dingwalls and Birmingham Foundry, Wednesday 12 and Friday 14 June 1996

This double-header needs a slight preamble. Back at the Letters To Cleo gigs earlier this year, LTC's splendid guitarist Michael Eisenstein told me my friend Phil Hurley had left the Gigolo Aunts and was playing in Tracy Bonham's band, so when I saw an ad advising Tracy's support slot with Deus at Dingwalls, I was determined to be there! However, calls to various agencies and outlets failed to pony up a ticket for this sell-out, but a call to Deborah in the Island Records Press Office, and some gushing about Tracy, secured me one on the door! So, I took the afternoon off and a train to London, hitting the venue at 8.45 and getting in for free! Result!

After a cursory look around the venue (which had changed beyond recognition since my last visit - the legendary Big Dipper gig in 1989!), I found the backstage door and asked my presence be announced to Phil. The incredulous boy rushed out; handshakes, backstage access and introductions to Tracy and the rest of the band ensued in a whirl. Spent an hour or so catching up with one of the nicest and most enthusiastic chaps I've met during my gigging days, a bloke I'd be honoured to call a friend even if he weren't in a band. Great to see him again!

However I was also here for a gig - and so was Phil! Made my way to the front as the classically-trained Tracy took the stage for a bit of solo violin "wankity wank". A slim, diminutive figure, she nevertheless possessed a powerful, emotive voice, and her musical style, a headlong clash of Alannis Morrissette angry US alt-rock femme, pre-grunge Babes and a large slab of good old tune-filled Boston college pop, was amply and ably delivered by the band. A thunderous "Mother Mother" was the set highlight, as I became a one-man whirling dervish for a nevertheless well-received support set.

Popped backstage afterwards, then we repaired to the upstairs bar for drinks and chat with Phil and the band. Spent another hour and a half - missing Deus completely! - chatting with Phil, bassist Drew and drummer, the impressively haired Shayne (Shayne the mane!), as the Island people paraded their new find Tracy. Eventually left with hugs and best wishes from the man, missing my 11.20 train but so what? A tremendous evening!

Then a couple of days later, I did it all again!

Well, not quite true, actually, I took a late trip to B'rum to this gig, a free show in a splendidly sleazy black punk rock club, and loitered around for an hour or so before Phil, Tracy et al returned from their pre-gig scran, Tracy getting searched on the way in - to her own gig, yet! Got sorted with a pass for the after-show party from Drew (again, this gig was an Island "showcase", showing Tracy off to biz VIPs etc.), and Phil also introduced me to his friend Russ, a friendly and talkative chap who I later found out was The Wonderstuff's Miles Hunt's brother (and he said he was just their guitar tech!) before the set at 10.

I took front centre again as Tracy took the stage, spot on 10. This time I was joined as I moshed to the edgy, angular and moody set, made edgier by a brainless heckler abusing Tracy verbally. She and Phil dealt with him, though (Phil particularly so, grabbing him by the collar and getting him thrown out - hooray!), and the air of tension resulting from that incident gave the already agitated set a more menacing feel.

Popped up to the Island party awhile afterwards, but came back down as the band were having a post-set conflab, Phil being particularly pissed off about the heckler. Nevertheless, I got to chat and exchange warm greetings with Phil before I left. Good luck to Tracy - and to Phil!

330 THE WEDDING PRESENT, plus support, Swindon Level 3, Wednesday 19 June 1996

A night for meeting up with a few people I'd not seen for awhile, and catching up with gossip. She's seeing a married man? Really??? That type of thing.

The Weddoes came on, played for an hour or so, then went off. I know that sounds a bit glib, but a band I lost touch with, a few years back (following their "single a month" thing which not only got irritating trying to collect, but also suffered with poor and repetitive quality) gave me no reason whatsoever to get back in touch with them. Their previously exciting and thrilling choppy guitar attack was muted (even rabid Weddoes fans called this one, "low-key") and the songs, a good run-through old single "Brassneck" excepted, were pretty dull. Sorry Gedge. Still, I saw them on their way up, at the top of their popularity, and now on the way down! And let's face it, there's not much more "down" than a Wednesday night at Level 3!

Friday, 15 October 2010

331 TINY MONROE, TONGUE, Bath Moles Club, Thursday 20 June 1996

Had a "Quid To Get In!" flyer through the post from our good friends Tongue, formerly The Julie Dolphin, so off we did trot, meeting up with bassist Geoff at the bar. Geoff's sporting a new Michael Caine image, so we caught up with him and gorgeous vocalist Dianne as well!

Tongue went on at 10.45, looking to make a good impression to watching Arista record company people with a good short, sharp and spiky set. Worry ye not, they were stupendous; Clive and I were again the Dervish Brothers to their raucous yet startlingly tuneful powerful pop set. A mesmeric "Head" again the climax and the highlight, but the "in the can" next single ran it close. Tongue, here's to you, here's to you, and the things you do! Getting better all the time!

The party, however, wasn't over yet! Chatted to Geoff at the bar (again!) before heading back upfront to see The Tinies. Despite being an obvious 2nd best to the superb Tongue tonight, and despite this being their 3rd Moles gig in the last 6 months, they still put on a rattling good set, with the strident pop of their new single "Open invitation" (what is it with Tiny Monroe and their "-ation" rhymes anyway?) their best number. They're getting better, too!

A quick chat with Tongue at the bar before we left - including our persuading them to play at Clive's 40th birthday party next January. If that comes off, that'd be amazing...

And it did/was!



Mud! Mud! More fucking mud! It was raining on the journey down, and when I hit the campsite at 10.30, the desolate sight of rivers of mud, drenched punters and grey drizzly skies greeted me. This had all the makings of a weekend from hippo heaven; okay for wallowing, not so good for watching bands. D'oh! However, after a couple of hours waiting in intermittent drizzle for the arena to open at 12, as soon as it did, the sun came out! Amazing!

SEAWEED opened up the proceedings in the arena, at 1pm. Their urgent but standard US post-grunge rock started off well, but tailed off into Rage-ish dirge, and I could have done without the vocalist's exhortations to, "dance you English fuckers." Hmmm. Popped into the Tiny Tent (sponsored by Doc Martens this weekend) for CHEST, who offered something a little more challenging. Good choral vocals and nice, if rambling, muse-music from the odd duo of singer-guitarist girlies.

The skies were considerably bluer now, so my coat went in the "left luggage" tent. Watch it rain now! (although it didn't!) Meandered awhile and caught a bit of NEW KINGDOM's horribly messy rap set in the Big Tent (NME tent!). Moved quickly back to the Tiny Tent for a bit of FEEDER; resplendent in silly orange boiler suits, they were like Smashing Pumpkins' reserve XI, all lumpen beats, heavy riffs and howls. Hmmm, better change that to Green Apple Quick Step's reserve XI...Saw a Keith from Prodigy clone on my way out of the tent, right down to the hair, missing eyebrows and panda bear eye make up. Sad twat!

Back to the Big Tent, meeting up with Ady and the Southampton posse, then joining them in the mosh for URUSEI YATSURA, who were pretty much the Jesus And Mary Chain reserve XI, all droney guitars and feedback, with Undertones-like lyrics about chocolate and girls. I then pushed further forward into the melee for the first real Festival highlight, from SPARKLEHORSE. Led by wheelchair-bound Mark Linkous (a long story - basically he fell over!), they played a terrific set of their dusty, parched rock with a C&W twist. Linkous, obviously a very tall man indeed even sitting down, was the focus of attention throughout. Another highlight followed; PLACEBO, who were stunning in a Marion-esque driving and thrilling fast pop-rock way, with a sexy glam lilt. Diminutive soon-to-be-star Brian Molko led this young trio through a set of dynamic 90's Sexmusic. Great stuff!

Took a wander over to the Southampton posse's riverside campsite for a cuppa, then wandered back, hearing WEEZER kicking off their good-sounding mainstage set. They, however, were casualties of the first upsetting band clash of the weekend, as I headed out of the slight drizzle and under the cover of the Big Tent, for the late-running DRUGSTORE. Their set, allegedly billed as an acoustic set but with just Damon playing a 12-string acoustic and e-bow as concession to this, was slower paced, and highlighted four almost jolly new numbers, vocalist Isabel singing about eating bears and planning her own funeral, wherein she envisages her ex-lovers reminiscing about her, "cunt made of gold!" Mad, pristine, velvety, absorbing, and the Set Of The Day by some distance!

Popped into the little tent for SENSE FIELD's shouty loud and fast set; again, as per their recent Cleo's support slot, they were good and bad in equal measure. Into the arena for early evening now; the sun is out and TERRORVISION are getting the dweebs at the front dancing with their pop-punk-metal set. "Oblivion", with the doo-wops, is an obvious crowd favourite. After they finished, I wandered around as the breeze picked up, completely ignoring the background growl from the Jam's reserve XI, or 60 FT DOLLS as they're better known as. Got garlic bread instead.

Back into the arena for OFFSPRING, kicking off a 7.30. They had 2 speeds - jolly sing-along pop-grunge (mainly their singles), and hardcore thrash (the rest). I quite enjoyed bits of their set, particularly newie "It's Cool To Hate" (which I thought was "It's Cool To Eat"!), and the vocalist urging the large crowd to throw trash onstage when their set was cut short. Better than I expected, and certainly better than BIS, whose big tent set I then caught the residue of. Bloody awful screamy shouty beatbox mess; Carter USM meets Shonen Knife, but without the tunes. Worst band of the festival!

Then finally, for me at least today, were SEBADOH. Amazingly, despite my largely US rock-orientated musical taste, this was my first experience of Lou Barlow's US low-fi alt-rock pioneers and troubadours. They had a nice line in self-deprecation (the intro tape making reference to Lou's last Reading Festival appearance, when he stormed off in a huff) and silly humour (one song which went, "walking down the street, you want something to eat, you need a... CHIP BUTTY!!" Surely some Smudge influence there!). The serious stuff was pretty good as well, veering between sweet melancholic strum-alongs a la Luna, and driving yet melodic college rock. My first Sebadoh experience won't be my last, I hope! They were done at 10 past 10, so I was on the half past 10 train home!


Mud! Mud! No fucking mud! The shower I had this morning was at home, and involved soap and shampoo, and after a brisk drive down the M4, I hit the Festival site to blue skies and ground more solid than yesterday. Things were looking good for a bright and dry day; little did I know...

Headed for the Southampton posse campsite, thence indulging in the traditional footy marathon by the riverside in the midday sun. Got some goals, sweated some and kept putting the damn thing in the river. D'oh! Eventually remembered I was at Reading to see a band or two as well, and wandered into a now-overcast and packed arena at 2.30, bumping into Tim on the way. So SUPER FURRY ANIMALS, on at 2.45, were my first band of the day! However, they were disappointingly 60's derivative, blandish pseudo Britpop, with one or two examples of a more enjoyable thrashy riffery to their music, such as closer "God! Show Me Magic". Few and far between, however, from Blur's reserve XI. By contrast, MARION, next up, were magnificent, prompting a re-appraisal of their initially disappointing debut album. Storming, moody, high-octane sinewy pop from the top drawer, with a clutch of impressive, if slower-paced (i.e. 5th gear instead of 6th!) new numbers. Marion, with pretty boy superstar Jamie Harding confirming his stadium credentials with a top performance (and hey, the boy can sing, too!) were great.

And it's totally their fault that I suffered from a horrible cold as a result! Two-thirds of the way through their set, I faced upsetting clash of the weekend number two; stay for the rest of their set, or catch the start of Big Tent-bound CHINA DRUM? I stayed, despite increasingly-threatening rainclouds, and, sure enough, virtually at the dramatic opening bars of the wonderful "Toys For Boys", the heavens opened. But 'twas so good, I thought, who cares? So I stayed and got thoroughly soaked dancing, forging an indelible Festival memory in the process.

Then, after their set, the heavens really opened and went biblical on us, so I finally scurried to the Big Tent for the Drum. I actually caught most of their impressive hard-rocking set; some numbers seemed to merge into each other, as sneezes echoed around my head, but they played with energy, integrity and rolled out their great cover of "Wuthering Heights". Great stuff!

Hung around on the fringes of the tent for the start of MY LIFE STORY's cinematic big band Burt Bacharach pop, then wandered into the still-drizzly arena for BILLY BRAGG's final number. True to his status as "new dad", rather than "new lad", it was "New England" with slightly revised lyrics; "I'm not looking for a New England, I'm just looking for a decent babysitter!" Deadpan as ever, old Bill. This took me to 5.45; the rain stopped and I'm wet and cold. Grabbed lots of garlic things for tea and found out the footy scores, Swindon Town only mustering a 1-1 home draw with Port Vale. D'oh! Still, t-shirt slogan of the weekend just made me smile; front says, "Ask Me If I'm An Orange", back says, "No"!

Still, into the big tent for SALAD. The very tall vocalist Marijne (height accentuated by very short skirt perched atop extremely long legs!) and her band of anonymous back-up boys (even more so than Louise Wener's Sleeperblokes!) played a nice enough set of girly pop rock, some of which seemed a little half formed, but with a great closing "Drink The Elixir", which shows what they can do if they put their minds to it.

Then out into the sopping wet arena; with a pale evening sun faintly mocking us bedraggled punters ("ha ha, you're wet, I'm not, I'm the sun, aaah!"), I wandered absent-mindedly up to see JULIAN COPE. Expecting the unexpected, as ever from the prize fruitcake of pop, we weren't disappointed. Firstly, Cope took the stage in a clingy white fronted dress with fluorescent accessories and similarly glowing backing band, and kicked off a set of his more accessible pop-tastic recent moments. My total and undivided attention was grabbed from the outset, as the self-confessed drude-dude gave a riveting performance of the art of the frontman, bristling with showmanship and stardom, and demonstrated that the menacing madness is actually a real advantage "live". Then, with 3 to go, the unbelievable; a strident singalong "World Shut Your Mouth", followed by a rampant "Trampoline" and a monumentally huge, jaw-dropping "Reward", rounded off the most captivating and exhilarating performance of the weekend.

As darkness fell, could GARBAGE top that? Well, no, actually, but they gave it a bloody good go. Shirley Manson was an energetic and dynamic frontperson, bouncing over the stage to Garbage's sleazy new wave pop, with post-grunge and Goth overtones, all seething synths and scuzzy guitars. Like Curve if they'd been bothered to write other songs really, Garbage were eminently impressive "live", and showed that, despite their indecently speedy rise to mega-stardom, they may well have the stadium credentials to carry it off.

Then, into the motor for me, and home by 20 past 10 for Match Of The Day!


I had Dave and Ady accompany me today as I drove down the M4, getting to the Southampton posse campsite just after 11. Got a quick game of footy in by the riverside, with Southampton beating Swindon by the odd goal (for a change!). Then into the slightly muddy but brightening arena for the day's early highlights. Caught the death throes of AUDIOWEB's mainstage set, a dubby shouty mess really. The closer, a cover of the Clash's "Bankrobber", was however a bit good, I have to admit.

Headed front-centre - pitching up leaning right against the barrier, noticing all the straw that had been laid down to soak up the naturally-drying-anyway ground - for TRACY BONHAM. I was so front-centre, in fact, that drummer Shayne later remarked that when the band took the stage, he noticed me before he noticed he was even carrying his sticks! Drew, Phil and Tracy also followed suit, and I had the wonderful feeling that they were playing their set just for me. The set was one of outstanding jagged beauty, with Tracy leading off with such frightening nonchalance it was hard to believe she was playing in front of a huge field who had never heard of her. Great stuff again from a humongously talented lady and a superb rocking backing band. My highlight was "Bulldog", a track so jolly it made me grin from ear to ear!

Phil and the boys popped into the arena from backstage just as THE POSIES took the main stage, so I exchanged quick greetings before heading into the mosh. I've been ambivalent about The Posies before, their shimmering pop sometimes being too perfect and lacking in feeling for my liking, on the whole, but with their best ever LP "Amazing Disgrace", which adds mood and passion to their shine, punctuating their set, I loved them today. A mighty harmonic pop beast, I rocked out in the straw-showered moshpit to Seattle's finest, bumping into Tim in the process. Got covered in straw, but who cares?

Came back out of the mosh during COMPULSION. All bedecked in black with uniform-esque bleached blond crops, they whacked out a well rocking, very high octane set of growling and loud punk rock. Blow the cobwebs away stuff for sure, with "Mall Monarchy" a highlight. Stayed arena-bound for MOBY's subsequent surprisingly hardcore set, the former techno guru having changed his musical spots - with gusto! A vicious cover of Mission Of Burma's seminal "That's When I Reach For My Revolver" was the highlight and was actually rather splendid!

Went into the Big Tent for Tim's tip GIRLS AGAINST BOYS, who disappointed with a clumsy pseudo Goth growl, like a Catherine Wheel reserve XI (not done one of those for awhile...). Bumped into Phil and Drew during VENT, next up. Phil was well into them, and I must confess I enjoyed their set much more than before; a bit punchier and poppier than the Rollins Band-like behemoth of yore. However, that might have had something to do with the cries of, "Right on! Yeah, Miles!" coming from the enthusiastic American to my right!

This took us to just before 5 pm, so we had a scheduled pit-stop back to the motor for snacks and layers. It tried to drizzle on the way back, but failed; luckily this was the only rain today! Back into the Big Tent for a pointless xylophone instrumental set from TORTOISE. Stuart from Southampton enjoyed this jazzy meandering, but I thought his mate, the entertainingly pissed up Martin, put it best; "Difficult? Difficult bollocks!" Dave and I then had a wander into the dusty early evening arena, as GENE were on. I caught their early numbers, which were even more Smiths-derivative than usual (I swore one was a cover of "London"!) then left the Smiths reserve XI to it and nipped to the tiny tent. LAXTON'S SUPERB - a lovely name! - attracted me over, but the name revealed a pleasant but innocuous band of young Brummies who played unassuming, polite guitar pop which went in one ear and out the other. The Bluetones reserve XI?

While over there, I ran into Miles Hunt's brother Russ, who I had met at Tracy Bonham's Birmingham gig. Exchanged pleasantries with a nice guy, before he popped off a couple of numbers into Laxton's set, saying it wasn't doing it for him. I only lasted a couple of numbers more!

Caught ASH on the mainstage after some chicken tea; they were actually disappointingly thrashy, and messier than their usual enthusiastic buzzsaw pop. A case of not quite being ready for the main stage yet? I didn't stay until the end, disappearing to the Big Tent for the arse end of BABY BIRD. They're hot tips, but played a curiously mid-80's influenced pleasant strumalong pop set. The Bodines reserve XI?

Heard the mainstage fireworks after Ash's set whilst waiting for THE FLAMING LIPS. The real musical pyrotechnics, however, were all from Wayne Coyne's band of Oklahoma troubadours. A great set of crazy, lazy, blissed out trippery, with a gorgeous "(She Don't Use) Jelly" the obvious highlight. Absorbing, fascinating, wigged out and totally wired!

Okay, the mainstage then beckoned for THE STONE ROSES' headlining set. Met up with Dave and Ady, as darkness fell into inky night, anticipation growing. Then on they came, and kicked off the haunting intro to "I Wanna Be Adored". Then... Ian Brown opened his mouth, and out came a flat, droning, out of tune total mess of a voice, trampling all over the musical splendour. Oh God oh God oh God, please shut up!!! I don't know what Ian Brown had been on prior to taking the stage, but tonight he was utterly wasted, and also wasted this potential highlight. The band were ace, the music absorbing psychedelia, but Ian Brown embellished it with a flat, drunken bricklayer's karaoke drone. The fact he was singing numbers such as "I Wanna Be Adored" and "I Am The Resurrection" only made it sadly more incongruous. The only saving grace was that the set was short, as I'd never seen a Sunday mainstage headliner at Reading Festival playing to such a sparse and rapidly thinning crowd.

So, a flat end (in more ways than one!) to a good but not superb festival. Glad the weather held off, and well pleased I'd seen a musical resurrection of my own - from Julian Cope! Summer is now officially over, but Cope, Phil, Tracy and Marion gave it a good send-off!


Friday Best: 1. DRUGSTORE, 2. PLACEBO, 3. SPARKLEHORSE (of 14)
Saturday Best: 1. JULIAN COPE, 2. MARION, 3. GARBAGE (of 8)
Sunday Best: 1. TRACY BONHAM, 2. THE POSIES, 3. THE FLAMING LIPS (of 14)


Best New Band: 1. PLACEBO, 2. SEBADOH (well, they're new to me...), 3. Erm...
Crap! 1. BIS (comfortably the worst!), 2. TORTOISE, 3. IAN BROWN'S voice!
Sorry I Missed: TRIPPING DAISY (pulled out at the last minute!), WEEZER, OCTOPUS

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

333 TRACY BONHAM, London Borderline, Wednesday 28 August 1996

I totally failed to bump into my old Gigolo Aunts friend and current Bonham gun-for-hire Phil Hurley later on at Reading Festival on Sunday (3 days ago now!), so I couldn't ask about getting on the guest list for this one. So I sorted out a ticket instead, and parked up in Shepherd's Bush after the normal London beat route! Bumped into Tracy as soon as I'd got into the venue, and she fetched Phil from backstage for a good old pre-set chinwag about music, American rock, American rock bands and, erm, music!

Tracy took the stage at 8.45 - an early, unsupported set due to the Borderline's "Midweeker" club night after 11 - and, alone to start with, kicked off into the now all-too-familiar violin doodling and haunting opener "Brain Crack". Joined by the boys onstage, thereafter followed an ear-skeweringly loud hours worth of solid, top drawer angsty US alt rock. The thrilling "Navy Bean", the moody, Nirvana-esque "Sharks", the big happy-go-lucky pop of "The One", all so familiar now, but still thundering with freshness, power and energy. The highlight was a manic, breathless encore of "I'm Not A Waif", with Phil, Tracy and the rock solid rhythm base of Drew and Shayne on top form. This band are destined to take over the planet, very soon!

As good an experience was to follow, as I got to hang backstage with the stars of the show for an hour or so. Tracy, hiding backstage from British adulation, was nevertheless very friendly, and amazed by my recent letter to her ("I'm not worthy!" etc.). Drew said that Tracy's album ("The Burdens Of Being Upright", my favourite album of 1996) had already gone gold in the US, so congratulations were exchanged, along with suggestions as to where they could hang their gold discs! I finally left at 20 past 11 and got home at 1/4 to 2; a late one in midweek, but 'twas worth it to catch up with Phil Hurley, a true friend, and the rest of Tracy's band, including Tracy herself, a true star!

334 JOYRIDER, THE SLINGBACKS, Reading Alleycat Live, Wednesday 25 September 1996

Had a quick jaunt down the M4 in a jam-packed car, hitting the venue at 8.15. We were anticipating a big early-doors crowd for this one, but got it woefully wrong, so ended up hanging around for 1 1/4 hours for some rock, as the venue oh-so slowly filled up! D'oh!

First band on, The Slingbacks; led by cerise-haired and vivacious vocalist Shireen, they kick-started their set with a vengeance, with effervescent, rip-roaringly stonking new single "No Way Down". I became a one-man moshpit for that one, no mistake! Despite fears to the contrary after such a terrific start, quality control was maintained with a thrilling but all-too-short 7 song set, full of chunky riffs, harmony and fizzing pop tunes. The Ramones-esque surf pop of The Muffs, and the Blondie-esque melody of Eve's Plum were obvious reference points from this rather stupendous set, so no surprise to find out, during a post-set discussion with Shireen, that Eve's Plum and The Muffs are high on the list of The Slingbacks' faves!

After that start, Joyrider were on a bit of a sticky wicket, but put together a rather storming set of compulsive guitar rock themselves, during which I piled into the mosh on occasions. I really enjoyed their set, actually, particularly the vicious "Said She To me", with shades of Therapy?, Husker Du and even Thin Lizzy in their guitar-driven hard rock. However, I felt that their "hit" single, their nevertheless brilliant cover of Jane Wiedlin's "Rush Hour" (which was delivered with some power and pace tonight) is already proving a bit of a millstone around their necks. "Some people think (it) was our first single," lamented their vocalist.

It'll be interesting to see how Joyrider follow this up. In the meantime, The Slingbacks shaded this nevertheless superb double-header for me tonight!

335 THE LEMONHEADS, Cottonmouth, London Astoria, Thursday 3 October 1996

A slight landmark, given this was my first gig since owning Jack, a currently 8 week old Border Collie pup. So we set off at 5.30, agonising about leaving him on his own for the first time! Hit the Astoria at 7.30, only to find that eagerly-awaited (by me) support You Am I had a collective sore throat and couldn't play. D'oh! So instead we took a balcony seat and were entertained by Cottonmouth, on at 8.15. They played an entertaining set of driving, melodic and resonant rock, in a "cruising along the freeway with the radio belting out" kind of way. I also detected a slight Wonderstuff influence, maybe due to the singer's vocal inflections being similar to Miles. Incidentally, he took the stage wearing a huge and hastily discarded fur coat, one of the less advisable articles of stage-wear I've see in my gig going time.

The venue filled up rapidly during the enforced longish wait for The Lemonheads, and the sellout crowd was heaving as Evan and the boys took the stage at 9.30, 15 minutes earlier than scheduled. Nevertheless, a splendid hour's entertainment ensued; kicking off with a couple of groovy numbers from fine new CD "Car Button Cloth", the set really took flight with third number in, "It's A Shame About Ray". Evan was in fine fettle, and a new band, including Velo Deluxe mainman and all-round Boston axe hero John Strohm, did his cool, laid-back, melodic and heart-tugging strumalong rock proud. A brilliant "Rudderless" was the highlight of the set, much of which I enjoyed from an enthusiastic moshpit.

The encore was pretty damn hot socks too; Evan performing solo renditions of 4 faves, the best of which, "Big Gay Heart", was accompanied by a reverently hushed audience sing-along! "Into Your Arms" (before which I caught John Strohm's eye from the mosh, and he assured me, from the stage, that Velo Deluxe were, "still going" - good news!) and a bit of acapella mucking around by a now-exuberant Evan, brilliantly climaxed a superb evening's entertainment from a shining talent, and a band who never disappoint!

Oh yeh, and after KFC and a white knuckle ride home, Jack was in fine fettle too!

336 THE SWEENEY, Cinnamon Smith, Swindon Level 3, Thursday 10 October 1996

A late decision to go to this one; I'd intended to head oop the Smoke for a Joyrider/ Slingbacks double-header, but cash (lack thereof) and ennui conspired to send me to Level 3 instead, thence to meet up with Tim and Roy to chat before and during locals Cinnamon Smith and their messy and unfortunately none too impressive heavy funk/ rhythm set.

"Hello, we're the Sweeney, get your trousers on, you're nicked!" was the intro from this cocky Essex powerpop trio. A hardly original but fairly enjoyable and dynamic set of low budget 60s/70s pop with 90's dynamics followed. Toes were duly tapped! Then that was it, as I didn't bother to stay for Small Faces copyists Bennet. Went home... should really have gone to London instead!

337 SEBADOH, Bis, Bristol Bierkeller, Tuesday 29 October 1996

First time at old 80's haunt the Bierkeller for a good long while, and first time ever for my gig buddy, young Tim! Had a couple of games of pool, as is traditional here, before our peace was broken rudely by Bis, who were energetic but a mulchy mess of sub-Shonen Knife and Subway Records shouty DIY crap!

Lou Barlow's Sebadoh sauntered on at 10.15, and played an intriguing set of introspective guitar stuff, slightly left field from Luna, interspersed with some shouty Nirvana-esque head trips led by the young bassist. Lou, a mythical figure in US Alt-rock circles, was a downbeat and introverted little soul onstage, which conversely held the audience's attention well! He dealt with hecklers who kept calling out names of people he resembled ("Woody Allen!" "Rick Moranis!") very politely and matter-of-factly indeed, and overall came across as a nice and genuine caring bloke, a view further underlined by his occasionally brilliantly emotional paeans of love lost and found... and sometimes lost again.

And the band played on... and on! An expected hour-long set became 1 hour 25 minutes, which after a 7 song encore (!) became 1 hour 50! Sebadoh proved tonight, unfortunately, that it is possible to have too much of a good thing; a 1 hour 15 minute gig would have been excellent!

338 SPARKLEHORSE, Supp. Mazzy Star, London Islington Union Chapel, Monday 4 November 1996

A chapel? Oh yes indeed; Praise Be and all that! Tonight's was one of the more unusual venues of my gigging career, but easy to find - directly opposite our usual parking spot for the Highbury Garage! So we got there at 8.15 after a bad traffic-blighted journey, and took our pews (quite literally) toward the end of an unnamed Alaskan female vocalists' set, which reminded me of Cocteau Twins' Liz Frazer, with a similarly mournful rounded vowel vocal sound.

The sold-out gig was packed in the front pews, and we were lucky to get a good balcony viewing spot, overlooking the stage, which was set up underneath the pulpit! Sparklehorse - on at 8.45, with mainman Mark Linkous walking onstage with a stick following his recent accident, but being sensibly seated through their set - suited the surroundings perfectly with an eerie, dusty collection of songs. Country music, maybe, but this is Marlboro Country, all cracked earth, tumbleweed, cacti, Jack Daniels, truck-stops and telegraph poles stretching out into the distance. Haunting, absorbing and evocative stuff, with the shockingly quiet "Spirit Ditch" a spooky highlight. Brilliant stuff!

By slight contrast, headliners Mazzy Star, a band I'd overlooked before, came on at 10 and evoked a different mood. Sombre, gothic, dark, depressive rather than depressing, they recalled elements as diverse as Madder Rose, Cowboy Junkies (especially new single "Flowers In December", which was very "Caution Horses") and The Doors (their encore take on "The End"). Hope Sandoval's vocals added a striking touch of individuality, though. A bit one-dimensional and relentless mood-wise, but still attention-grabbing. Music to paint your windows black to. Verdict? Not sure...

Totally sure about the splendid Sparklehorse though!