Thursday, 20 December 2012

868 GAZ BROOKFIELD, Middlenamekill, Swindon The Victoria, Wednesday 19 December 2012

And just as I thought my 2012 gig year had come to an end, here’s Gaz Brookfield to prove me wrong! This one, a hastily arranged “BBC Wiltshire Introducing” Christmas Party cum farewell bash for the 2 presenters, was both a warm-up for Gaz’ high-profile – and sold-out! – Fleece “Apocalyptalooza!” show this weekend, and also one which confirmed him as my most prolific “live” act of 2012; his 6th appearance this year in my hallowed gigbook/ gigblog, drawing favourable comparisons with the likes of Seafood’s 7 showings in 2000, and The Gigolo Aunts’ 7 in 9 months between Reading Festival 1993 and their Stuffies’ Brixton support slot (Rachel’s first gig) in April 1994! Some exalted company indeed, so good on you Gaz!

However, I firstly was forced to perpetuate my current gig parking nightmare – I found one final parking spot in the second Old Town car-park I tried after a rainy drive up the hill, only to find, after wasting loads of time trying, that none of the ticket machines were working! This delayed my arrival at the Vic until 8.45, missing the opening act but catching Middlenamekill, 4 hefty blokes in truly hideous bad taste dad Christmas jumpers, playing an equally hefty brand of post-millennial Emo punk which was formulaic but actually quite listenable. So I did – and took the requisite step forward when asked to by the imposing vocalist. 4 big blokes – don’t argue! Gaz was rocking down the front as well, reliving his hardcore roots.

Checked on the motor between acts, arriving back in time for Gaz’ soundcheck. My first time of seeing him perform with his full band, although shorn of violinist Ben Wain who apparently had something better to do! Still, backed with a standard 4-piece line-up (including guitarist Jamie Trowbridge, who was a scarily authentic Gaz clone!), Gaz launched unannounced into opener “Diet Of Banality” at the conclusion of said soundcheck. And “launch” was the operative word – the thing took flight like an intercontinental ballistic missile, this galloping, breathless number being even more powerful and even more like the Stuffies’ “Don’t Let Me Down, Gently”, with the full band treatment! The “conning money out of kids” line was delivered with especial irony given his current legal tightrope-walking, and a pointed comment about musicians getting sued underlined this.

This set the tone for a superbly delivered set, the band adding many extra layers and dimensions to Gaz’ material, and Gaz responded with increased venom and conviction. “Limelight” was brilliantly ragged; Gaz commented on the conclusion that, “when you replace a rehearsal with a gig you’re going to end up with a shambles!” which was not too far wrong, given some technical hitches, but t’was a glorious shambles, a ragged and wonderful mess. "Under The Table” was a tremendous booze-soaked swaying anthem, but that was topped by the as-ever brilliant “Be The Bigger Man”, Gaz in full flight for this, delivering 100% effort and energy, a wonder to behold. The full house responded to Gaz’ exhortations to sing the “Thin” hook with gusto, prompting the man to remark, “and that’s why I love this town!” A final, fitting “West Country Song” was another rousing singalong, to end a fantastic and indecently short set.

A few words with the man afterwards; I declared, “[after that band set] I’m never coming to see you play on your own again!” Only joking of course, as we parted with mutual Christmas greetings and promises our paths will cross again in 2013. It was rather fitting that Gaz’ 6th show in 6 short months rounds off my 2012 gigging year, and there’ll be more to come next year from this splendid performer!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

867 THE DAMNED, The Dickies, Oxford O2 Academy, Tuesday 11 December 2012

One final gig to round off another entirely satisfactory, 31 gig year. Nada Surf apart, this year’s top gig highlights have been pretty much exclusively provided by vintage or “reformed” acts (Adam Ant, Simple Minds, Furs, Hooky and Bob Mould amongst them), so it’s only fitting that a retro year gets a retro send-off, with an old school punk rock double header! I was tempted to go see true punk rock originals The Damned this time last year, having been impressed by their Motorhead support slot a few years back, and t’was only lack of cash, and the fact they were concentrating on their Goth crossover “Black Album”, rather than their sprawling punk epic “Machine Gun Etiquette” to complement their debut album in a dual run-through, that stopped me. So when they announced veteran California cartoon punks The Dickies, surprise returning heroes of gig 826 last August, as tour support, I was up for it, and when a cheap weekend visit with Evan freed up some cash, I quickly invested in a ticket before the money disappeared elsewhere!

This was another solo jaunt though, so I took a careful drive along in freezing and thickening fog, once again having a trying time parking; when did Cowley Road Tesco become the busiest car park in the world? So I hit the venue just after 7.30, happily vindicating my early departure, as The Dickies were due on at 7.45! They duly arrived onstage in front of a disappointingly sparse crowd, looked around as if to play “spot the punter”, before hammering into a totally appropriate destruction of “Silent Night”. And we were away, with me rocking out down the front from note one…

For a set which relied so much on adrenalized, lightning-fast punk rock electric guitar and Leonard Graves Phillips’ signature helium-fired vocal gabble, the Dickies actually sounded great. Phillips, whom lest we forget is north of 60 these days, was already throwing body shapes and elastic hand movements, a wiry and energetic stage presence belying his advanced years, feeding off the wide-legged rock stylings and strong-armed solidity of fellow original member Stan Lee, whose Spiderman guitar sticker, I was happy to note, matched his forearm tattoo! “I’m OK, You’re OK”; saw Phillips pointing directly at me for the chorus line; I am indeed, Leonard! He then demanded the house lights on to look at the crowd, remarking, “what a sausage-fest! I mean, not wanting to offend, but do any of you guys have girlfriends?” I, unfortunately was the only one replying, “how old??!” to his “Give It Back” intro line, “this song is so old,” until he gave the crowd instructions with a patient, “we can do this all night!” The usual props were brought on for the magnificent set highlight “Waterslide”, although a garble-along “Manny Moe And Jack” with a slow (?) false ending, ran it close. Phillips, clearly a complete stranger to good taste, replied to a, “Jimmy Savile!” chant with, “I know we were on Top Of The Pops in 1947, but Jimmy Savile did not perform oral sex on me!"

By now the set had degenerated into sheer chaotic brilliance. “If Stuart Could Talk” saw the penis puppet singing, “we’re one big happy family,” before a racey “Gigantor” finally saw the crowd joining in with Phillips’ exhortations to sing along. They won them over in the end, as a fully deserved encore saw the inevitable “Banana Splits” to end a frankly amazing and thoroughly entertaining hour long, 23 song (!) support slot; worth coming just for that!

But we also had The Damned to contend with, although they faced a challenge to follow that set for me. Still, the place was close to full by the time The Captain raced across the stage incognito, just before the house lights went off at 9.15. An incongruous looking bunch these days, indeed; a ticket inspector guitarist, Captain Sensible in his full cartoon punk regalia, red beret in place, what seemed like a prog druid wizard on keyboards; and then Dave Vanian; snake hipped Vanian, the gentleman ruffian in a smart black greatcoat, black quiffed hair slicked back, and looking superb and stylish. Stately and tuneful opener “Under The Wheels” was followed by a rabid and chaotic “Noise Noise Noise”, which set the tone for this schizophrenic but fascinating set, a melting pot of the influences and phases, from street-cool original punk through wild and warped psychedelia via hooky Goth pop, of this veteran band rapidly approaching their 40th year (!).

I confess I’m not too familiar with their recent works (and by “recent” I pretty much mean anything after the early 80’s!) but the unfamiliar, power-poppy “Danger To Yourself” was an early highlight before oldie “Neat Neat Neat”, (introduced by The Captain with, “you might know this one”) featured a lengthy and creepy Doors-like keyboard interlude from Monty the keyboard Wizard, masses of curly hair tumbling over his black silken robes. “Grimly Fiendish”, a keyboard-led music hall pop Goth number, saw Vanian giving a menacing performance, his prowling stage presence dovetailing in perfectly with his deep, imperious vocals, before the stylish jacket was finally discarded for a superb “Love Song”.

“This one’s for all the scumbags,” announced The Captain before an epic, driving “Anti Pope” which was breathtaking, a set highlight for me. Then “New Rose”, the first punk rock single, still frenzied and moshpit-huge after 35 years, a growling, titanic beast of a song, before a soaring, psychedelic “Ignite” with “whoa oh” chorus, and a fast, frantic “Sanity Clause” to end the set. The encore saw “Lovely Money”, another extended psych workout, dedicated to Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band mainman Viv Stanshall, before The Captain invited a fan, old punk Johnno, onstage for his 68th birthday to play air guitar with his feather duster to inevitable finale “Smash It Up”, climaxing a Damned fine 1 ½ hour set.

A great double header to end the year. I think The Dickies shaded it for me for sheer crazy entertainment value, but The Damned were also superb tonight. Well worth the freaky journey back in thick freezing fog; a splendid punctuation point on the 2012 gig year!

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

866 MISSION OF BURMA, Future Of The Left, Bristol Fleece, Monday 3 December 2012

… and we’re back at the Fleece again! Barely a week after No. 50 at this venerable old venue, here’s number 51! My hosts this evening are also equally venerable, as well as venerated; some proper Boston Rock Royalty, in the shape of The Hub’s very own veteran noisemakers Mission Of Burma, fresh from producing another album of challenging and uncompromising noise in this year’s “Unsound” CD, and also fresh from an ATP Xmas Festival appearance the previous weekend. So, just two years after trekking up to Dingwalls on a school night to catch a remarkable show from this bunch, it’s nice to have a much closer trip to Bristol!

So I tiptoed down a clear but cold (and potentially frosty) M4 after the kids went to bed, parking round the corner and hitting the venue at 8.30, missing openers Cursor but hearing a screamy soundcheck from main support Future Of The Left. I liked their t-shirts, advertising current CD “The Plot Against Common Sense” and featuring a man walking a penguin (!), and was also intrigued by their rousing reception from an already-busy Fleece, on their entrance at 8.45. Initially they baffled and frustrated me; for every piece of dramatically thrilling and jagged rock in the style of …Trail Of Dead or an extreme Seafood, perhaps, there were 3 or 4 clumsy stabs at screamy Nu-Metal. But I liked the patter (responding to a, “yeah baby,” shout, the vocalist berated the punter with, “that’s for the 4th date; there’s other names to go through first; “Captain”, or if you’re dressed the right way, “Mr Squirrel”!”), and the crowd were going nuts for them, with an increasing and frenzied mosh, making for a great atmosphere which the band fuelled with an impressive performance. This culminated in a lengthy and utterly mental final number climaxing in the blond guitarist screaming, “I trusted you!” repeatedly whilst jamming one guitar down a punter’s shirt (!) and handing another out to the mosh, while the drummer played on as his kit was dismantled around him!

After a fiddly set-up and soundcheck (which also included putting perspex screens around drummer Peter Prescott’s kit!), the 3-piece Mission Of Burma eventually took the stage at 10.15. I suspected this would be a noisy one, which was underlined by guitarist Roger Miller handing out free earplugs beforehand (!), so I took his advice and donned my own! After a largely instrumental opener we were into “Devotion”, bearing the jagged, visceral rock and barking, submerged vocals which are Miller’s stock-in-trade, Miller also belying his age by throwing Chuck Berry shapes reminiscent of The Gravel Pit’s own Ed Valauskas! “Fell-à H20” followed, being introduced by drummer Peter Prescott with the admission, “we’re on the older side, so this one is about falling down!”

As expected, the set was noisy, dramatic, powerful and kinetic, with a notable demarcation between “hook machine” bassist Clint Conley’s more accessible, hooky, herky-jerky New Wavey material and the growling, seething noise of Miller and Prescott’s songs, where staccato, militaristic drumbeat-led rhythms melded into choruses which often concluded in tumbling chaos. “Photograph”, a prime example of the latter, was followed in short order by new CD highlight, Conley’s “Semi Pseudo Sort Of Plan” mid-paced and almost singalong, embellished by Miller’s eerie backing vocals, then a lengthy “Donna Sumeria” which featured a repeated bubbling riff building into an apocalyptic climax. However the inevitable, wonderful all time classic “Academy Fight Song”, toughened-up “live” tonight, was a strident and all-inclusive chant to end the set.

A two song encore of a Wipers cover, followed by another classic oldie in “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver”, was a perfect way to close proceedings; although, of course, as they’re a Boston lot I had to catch brief words with them afterwards, chatting to Peter Prescott about mutual friend Gary Waleik of The Big Dipper, and hearing Roger Miller’s story of seeing a young Jimi Hendrix “live”, having tried to give his ticket away first! I left with eardrums ringing (despite the earplugs) and a message for Roger to, “give my regards to Boston,” after a fine night in the company of this particular band of Boston Rock Royalty!

Monday, 26 November 2012

865 SHEARWATER, Will Samson, Bristol Fleece, Sunday 25 November 2012

An auspicious landmark reached with this gig, namely the 50th time I’ve been to my most-visited venue The Fleece! And a new band for me this year; Shearwater, one of Tim’s recommendations, but one I would likely have picked up on anyway, mainly due to their close association with last year’s US alt-rock finds Okkervil River (indeed, Shearwater mainman Jonathan Meiburg was a former Okkervil River member, and initially formed Shearwater together with OR main guy Will Sheff. Incestuous stuff, no?). Their current album “Animal Joy” is a varied and eclectic blend of US alt-rock styles, intelligent song structures and widescreen anthemic melodies, more uptempo overall than previous offerings whilst still retaining some stark, quiet moments. This gig therefore promised to be a potential revelation in the same vein as Okkervil River’s Trinity gig last Autumn. Let’s see…

A late afternoon family gathering at a carvery pub to celebrate my father-in-law’s birthday nearly turned things pear shaped for the gig, though, as our dessert took over half an hour to arrive after ordering it! Rach dropped us off at Tim’s on the way by, half an hour later than planned, and we hit the road for a nevertheless unimpeded blast down a murky M4, parking easily and hitting the quiet venue at 8.15. So we were unfortunately well in time to catch support act Will Samson, who made me wish I’d stayed later at the carvery for coffee and liqueur! And I don’t drink either… He was clearly trying to be Jeff Buckley with a high-pitched voice and weird guitar effects, but failing drastically, his moribund, morose little tunes so stripped back as to be virtually naked, and the lengthy guitar reverb to close out a dreadfully dull set was just self-indulgence of the highest order.

It seemed I wasn’t the only one with this view, as upon his departure at 9, the place filled up considerably! By no means a sell-out, there was nevertheless a respectable crowd to welcome Jonathan and his 5-piece Shearwater onstage at 9.30, the guys opening with a menacing, discordant opener, the tall Jonathan already coaxing feedback out of his guitar with evident conviction before an impressive double-drum climax. “Animal Life”, followed, the thrilling high point of their current album, Jonathan’s lilting, octave-straddling and almost operatic voice allowing the song to build, then really take flight in a thankfully elongated and exhilaratingly soaring climax. Great stuff!

“I think [the previous place we played in Bristol] wanted Texan singer-songwriters; I didn’t have a hat or three names!” commented Jonathan before promising to get “real loud” for the galloping keyboard intro to “You As You Were”. I’d heard that he and Sheff originally formed Shearwater to play quieter material than the Okkervil River oeuvre would allow; if so, he’s changed tack notably of late, as the whole set was powerful, strident and occasionally thrillingly noisy, adding dynamism to their baroque slices of haunting drama. The excellent “Immaculate” was a “Murmur” era REM-like jangle rush, and the deliciously off-kilter “Pushing The River”, next up, recalled “Photo Album” era Death Cab For Cutie (in fact, a lot of the material on show tonight, mainly drawn from their current album, featured unusual, off-beat time signatures, but everything held together impressively thanks to excellent drummer Danny Reisch). An interesting story from Jonathan of finding a sperm whale’s tooth while out cliff-walking in the Falklands (!) preceded an almost funky tribal chant-propelled “Breaking The Yearlings” and underlined Jonathan’s well-travelled approach to life, evident in his lyrics which evoke his love of nature.

After a splendid hour set, Jonathan returned alone, swigging a “dangerous amount of whisky” before embarking on a solo “Dread Sovereign”, then a slightly unnecessary 7 song (!) encore concluded with a final raucous “Rooks” before Jonathan, visibly surprised and moved at the turnout tonight, took in the deserved applause. A set which for me didn’t really need such a lengthy punctuation mark, this was nevertheless damn fine stuff from another impressive and intelligent US alt-rock band. Shame about the lack of a set-list to grab, particularly as so few numbers were actually introduced, but hey, I’m splitting hairs here. Lovely stuff, fully deserving of this landmark 50th!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

864 THE VACCINES, Diiv, Deep Valley, Pale, Cardiff University Great Hall, Friday 16 November 2012

Aah, The Vaccines, The Vaccines…. Winners of my Best New Band of 2011 by default only, after delivering an effervescent if totally unoriginal debut album in “What Did You Expect From…” which frankly sounded like a bunch of teenage boys gleefully rummaging through their parents’ record collection (“look, Justin! “The Ramones”! “C86”! “Buddy Holly’s Greatest Hits”! Now, what if we...!”), they’re back this year with a hastily-delivered follow up, “Come Of Age”, which sounds like, well, more of the same really. Hmmm. Nevertheless, Rachel remains a big fan, and this Friday night gig was an opportunity for a sleepover for the kids at Grandma’s, so tickets were duly snapped up before they quickly sold out. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting too much, but after a relative clunker from Ken the previous night, I could really do with a good gig. Could the Vaccines deliver?

Things didn’t bode well after a nightmare journey; Rach picked us up straight from work, but slow M4 traffic throughout Wales turned into a parking-mare in central Cardiff, as we realised with horror that there was a Wales Rugby International on that evening at the Millennium Stadium! I bloody hate rugby at the best of times, and this was just so ill-timed… After an increasingly frustrating drive around, we eventually lucked into a residential space just round the corner from the back of the venue! Crossed the railtracks, then entered this labyrinthine student union to get to the venue… back over the tracks again! Weird! So we wandered into the Great Hall just as duo Pale, first band on (of 4!), were completing their set, channelling the ghosts of Soft Cell with their dour synthpop.

Worse was to follow, though, as 2 girl Deep Vally, on at 8, assaulted our ears with the lowest common denominator type of primitive bluesy grunge sludge, tuneless and horrendous (The White Stripes have a lot to answer for, we agreed), so we abandoned the hall and hung out in the foyer until they stopped. Main support Diiv could only be an improvement after that, and they were; a group of scruffy oiks playing fast-paced, chiming, largely instrumental, freeform and chorus-free powerpop songs with understated shoegazey vocals, which stopped every two minutes or so then seemingly kicked into the same song again! I was actually kindly disposed towards them, but I was happy to concede to Rachel’s point that from our stage right vantage point, on the fringes of the crowd, their floppy fringes and oversized grunge t-shirts made them look like young Hurleys!

Rach and I took bets on whether The Vaccines would keep this large, young and drunkenly enthusiastic crowd waiting; she won, as the lights dimmed only a minute after the scheduled 9.45, and The Vaccines came on to the strains of ELO’s “Living Thing”. Lead rabble-rouser Justin Young bounded on to a, “what’s up? It’s Friday night!” and led the band into a chuntering, swaggering “No Hope”, followed up with a Ramones-like, big, dumb and fast “Wrecking Bar”, that really ignited the crowd into a frenzy of moshing and singing along.

This set the tone for the early part of the set; ragged, ramshackle yet joyously fun spunky rock thrills, the band getting by on theirs and the audience’s collective sweaty exuberance. However, what really made this set for me early doors was when they took their feet off the loud pedal and actually turned it down a notch. So a lovely, mid-paced and swaying “Lack Of Understanding” ventured into soda-bar doo-wop territory, and a subsequent rousing singalong to the strident Buddy Holly-esque ballad “Wetsuit” saw us party like it was 1957, before a jolly “Teenage Icon” turned the spunky punky wick up again, whilst keeping one foot in the 50’s with the Frankie Avalon namecheck. Vocalist Justin Young’s vocals thankfully sounded much better this time, more proper rock vocalist than bellowing drunken karaoke, and the band played fast and frantic to back him up. A late-set double of another rousing singalong to Aftershave Ocean”, and the mutant rockabilly of “Ghost Town” was another highlight, before set closer, the Soup Dragon-like C86 guitar and drum bombast of “If You Wanna” saw even me getting sucked into the slamdancing hordes. A 3 song encore capped with “Norgaard” rounded off a swift hour from a band who really rather raised their game tonight and started to justify their acclaim and reputation. Great gig, way better than expected, thanks – and the last time they’re playing venues this small, I bet...!

863 KEN STRINGFELLOW, The Hazey Janes, London The Lexington, Thursday 15 November 2012

Bloody Typical, this; no sooner had Tim twisted my arm and persuaded me to join him on this London jaunt to see Posies mainman Ken Stringfellow flying solo, than Ken announces a date at the (much closer) Thekla in Bristol! Bah! Nevertheless, and also despite being slightly disappointed on initial listens with his new solo effort “Danzig In The Moonlight”, I was up for this; I’m always prepared to give a fair amount of rope to a man who’s still capable of the dazzling pop found on the Posies last effort, a couple of years back, plus “live” (although it’s been seven years since I’ve seen him treading the boards) the man can either be utterly sublime, or completely bat-shit crazy (and often deshabille). So let’s see which Ken turns up tonight…

Tim picked us up for this jaunt to a new venue on the Pentonville Road, (myself still coughing loads as we reach day 20 of this fucking horrible cold), enduring horrible traffic on the M4 offset by a surprisingly easy run through London, and parking up behind the old Water Rats venue at 8.30 for a 10 minute walk up the hill to this evocative old upstairs ballroom venue which recalled the old Hammersmith Clarendon! Sat at the raised bar, which afforded a good view of the stage, for support The Hazey Janes, on as we arrived at 8.30. Led by a bearded geography teacher type vocalist, they played some upbeat numbers of chunky and melodic powerpop in a similar vein to Myracle Brah (remember them?), with some soaring choruses and beguiling country licks, but conversely some odd chord and key changes as well. Still, they’d driven down from Dundee today (!) so kudos for that effort at least! Their final number was their best, a swirling and droney noisefest which made me miss El Nino (remember them??).

We had some Doors over the PA which I liked, then Ken took the stage halfway through “LA Woman”, at 9.15 sharp. “I’m going to work on one demisphere; there’s nothing to hemisphere but fear itself,” he cryptically announced before his opening salvo, delivered on an acoustic guitar, and without the aid of a microphone!

Initially, this was fine, but his clear and balming voice sounded a little strained without amplification when he took to the keyboard for “Shit Talkers”, the most melodically Posies-like number from his current record. A discordant, Scott Walker-like “Drop Your Pride” finally saw him using a mic, although the set remained low-key and restrained.

This was an odd, wilful and perverse performance from Ken; in between numbers he pontificated endlessly on myriad subjects such as death (“maybe it’s the giant orgasm!”), himself (“I’m incapable of following a set-list; I’ve got many issues, cognitive and otherwise”), the end of the world (“we’ve all got a front row seat!”) and Mitt Romney (“you don’t want a guy with pent-up sexual frustration on a nuclear arsenal”). This was often diverting, but without someone to rein him in (sorely needed tonight) it inevitably ventured into dull hectoring and preaching, and without the plangent pop of some Posies material to lighten the mood (the set selection was pretty exclusively solo stuff, mainly from his – still disappointing – new album), I quickly lost attention and, well, got bored…

There were some nice moments, actually; a lovely “Find Yourself Alone” was delivered from the dancefloor, as the front rows videoed Ken with their phones; and The Hazey Janes backed him up for the final numbers (“I liked them so much I bought the company!” Ken announced in a Victor Kiam moment) and lent their melodic and upbeat air to the previously dour proceedings. But overall this was a rambling, unfocussed and incredibly variable performance, the shining moments unfortunately outweighed by tedium, and at the thick end of 2 hours, waaaaay too long as well.

Ken ended the night by thanking practically everyone involved in the gig and his album; he should have thanked the audience for their infinite patience as well. I’m sorry Ken, but this was just hard work tonight, exacerbated by a home arrival at 1 am. Yikes!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

862 ADAM ANT AND THE GOOD, THE MAD AND THE LOVELY POSSE, Poussez Posse, Oxford O2 Academy, Tuesday 6 November 2012



“See you at the Academies in November!” This was the promise I made to Adam Ant’s estimable bassist Joel on my departure from Adam’s brilliant Wyvern show in July, and, so far as a gig, particularly one of this stature, is concerned, a promise thus made is one that damn well needs to be kept! Thus it was that I secured a ticket to once again see the undisputed Comeback King of this decade (the Tennies? The Onesies?), flying solo this time despite lots of interest from… my kids! Yup, Logan and Kasey have recently been playing “Prince Charming” and “Stand And Deliver” on constant YouTube repeat, yet at 5 and 3 years old respectively, they’re a tad young for a “live” Ant experience. Hopefully we’ll change that before too long…

A touch of the man-flu and a horrible hacking cough briefly threatened to keep me from the show, but I decided on a “kill or cure” approach and went for it anyway! A slightly later than planned departure, followed by a stop for some Halls Soothers (Soothers! How fucking rock’n’roll am I?), meant the Tescos car park was full when I arrived, and I suffered an increasingly frustrating 25 minute wait for someone to give up a parking space. I therefore hit the venue at 8.15, midway through Poussez Posse’s set. Led by the statuesque and strutting Georgie Girl, and all visionary in hot red and black, they stomped and pouted through the rest of their grungy guitar sleaze set, with a punchy and powerful cover of “Don’t Dictate” once again their highlight.

Wandered round the venue and chatted with the affable merchandise man about the disappointingly poor turnout; this one was only ever about ½ full, a far cry from the quickly sold-out Wyvern a couple of months back. What the fuck, Oxford; are you just too cool and studenty cutting-edge for some old school Antmusic? Too snobby to properly appreciate a true rock’n’roll entertainer? Still, the audience was comprised mainly of old punk lags and their lasses, rather than the middle-aged stripey nose housewife “pop” brigade, so this promised to be a small but knowledgeable crowd…

I took a spot stage right near the front as the witching hour approached, noticing a “Blueblack Hussar” backdrop had replaced the usual Sexmusic one. More newies tonight, maybe? The place plunged into darkness and the usual rock’n’roll propaganda message intro set an eerie mood, heralding the band onstage. Immediately the dual drummers pounded the strident intro to an unexpected, savage and venomous “Press Darlings”; then The Star took the stage. Plumed pirate hat in place, and sporting a gold braid Hussar’s waistcoat over a billowing white shirt, Adam looked magnificent, incandescent, a King come to reclaim his throne. And his performance matched his appearance from the outset, this lyric being delivered with righteous fury. “Beat My Guest”, third number in, was breathless and breathtaking, Adam kinetic onstage, moving with an enthusiasm of a man half his age. And by this time I was gleefully rocking out down the front myself! The usual early set sequence followed; a plangent “Cartrouble” featuring Adam on guitar; a slow-burn, eerie “Ants Invasion”, the playful and provocative march of “Deutscher Girls”, then a slightly perfunctory “Stand And Deliver”, Adam deadpanning the lyric to his watershed number.

“This is the song that made things really change,” Adam announced before his manifesto number, the Burundi beat-driven and all-inclusive “Kings Of The Wild Frontier”, which he poured heart and soul into, evidenced by his primal howl introduction. The sleazy “Whip In My Valise” was introduced as, “a love story in keeping with today, “50 Shades Of Grey” and all that…” then Georgie Girl rejoined the stage in a cut-off squaw outfit for the provocative “Strip”, a new addition to the recent live canon. Another newie, a brand new newie this time, new single “Cool Zombie” was a Velvets/ T Rex-like NYC cool groove, and a subsequent “Desperate But Not Serious” once again featured that lovely pregnant pause, this (knowledgeable! Yes!) crowd filling in on the vocal line.

A brilliant “Zerox” was again a personal highlight, strobe backlit, off-kilter and impassioned, before Adam declared his intention to rock Oxford with “Vive Le Rock”. The set finale of “Lady”/ “Fall In” saw Adam embellish the, “true story,” behind the former (“I was in Notting Hill filming “Jubilee”, rifling through my managers pockets for change… then there she was, 6 feet 8 inches tall and naked. What should I do? Who should I call? Not fucking “Ghostbusters”! I thought, “if I survive this, I’ll have to write a song,” so this is it…”), and the rambunctious latter brought the house down on another thrillingly superb set, another step on Adam’s road to redemption.

A couple of curveballs for the encore; oldies “Lou” and a scattergun and scatological “Rubber People”, proving Adam’s very much still on his “play what he damn well wants” kick, before the inevitable “Prince Charming” saw everyone (yup, even me) singing along to the outro, wishing this evening would never end, before it inevitably did with a heartfelt collective bow from Adam and his Posse. Magnificent.

Another grabbed setlist, and a quick in-and-out to draw cash then buy a signed print later, I coughed and hacked my way home, nevertheless feeling all the better for the healing powers of prime post-punk Antmusic. And I’ll be back whenever time and finances allow, because right now, a 58 year old with previous mental health issues is showing everyone the way “live”. Adam Ant, I salute you.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

861 2:54, Childhood, Oxford Jericho Tavern, Friday 2 November 2012

This was another of my recent trips down to evocative old 80’s/ 90’s bolt-hole The Jericho Tavern, now thankfully restored to its’ full scuzzy rock’n’roll glory, and this time to see a new band; 2:54, whose self-titled debut CD I’ve been enjoying muchly in my more mellow, introspective moments this year. Pitching up somewhere between post-punk poppy pseudo Goth and low-key shoegaze, this female-fronted band occupy an introspective yet accessible headspace, and certainly have mood and atmosphere down pat, with lots of promise to compensate for a slight lack of immediately hooky and/or brain tugging tunes. Still, nowt wrong with stuff that surreptitiously sneaks up on you, either…

So I hit the road on a clear and appropriately inky black swirly Autumn night, for a solo drive down after the kids went to bed. Had a slight parking-mare, taking 15 minutes to eventually find a spot next to a park, just off Walton Street. Hit the venue at 9 – I initially thought there was a very good turnout, judging by the milling crowd outside as I approached, but it turned out to be for the Phoenix Picture House next door! So it was that I joined two dozen or so curious punters for support Childhood, on at 9. A young band, this, likely a student common-room bunch, and led by an impressively afro-ed tall male vocalist whose understated vocal style was at odds with his stature, they had some nice textural guitar recalling Kitchens Of Distinction, especially during their choruses, embellishing their C86 innocent indie guitar sound. Some 80’s baggy slightly-delic swirling effects as well, which propped up their as yet thin material. A looooong way to go, but they’re showing some early promise, and props to them for putting some effort into their performance, rather than just standing around like lumps!

The disappointing turnout early doors filled up some more, but I was still able to wander down the front and take a stage left spot as the band, having gathered down the front waiting for the appointed hour, decided they wanted to get on with it, and took the stage 5 minutes early! Led onstage by core members, the very striking sisters Colette (vocalist, blush, great hair) and Hannah (guitarist, paler and tousled) Thurlow, they eased into their set with “Circuitry”, immediately setting their moody, slow burn agenda with some deliciously smooth vocals and shimmering guitar. “Scarlet”, metronomic yet also wistful and dreamy, recalled my old 90’s favourites The Julie Dolphin, with Colette having abandoned her occasionally-strummed guitar for this number, instead crouching down and waving her impressive raven tresses. “Revolving”, the CD opener yet mid-set tonight, was a delicious languid mood-piece, and “Easy Undercover” – which was the first number Colette actually introduced! – featured some lovely fretwork from Hannah and was a set highlight.

“We’ve recently covered “Killer” and we’re going to do it now,” Colette announced by way of introducing their rendition of Adamski’s dark funk breakthrough number. Their stripped-back version threw new light onto this number for me, with Hannah’s restrained yet shimmering lead guitar replacing the oppressive big beats and actually adding to the song’s menace. A final “Creeping”, preceded by some complimentary words from Colette for this reverential audience, who’d been virtually silent between numbers, was a lush, absorbing set highlight, ensuring this 45 minute set finished on a high.

A signed set-list and a brief chat with Hannah later, I was on my way, after a dark and deliciously moody set from a charming young band learning their craft quickly and showing great potential. I get the feeling that the next time I see them, it’ll be in a much bigger venue…

Sunday, 28 October 2012

860 BOWLING FOR SOUP, The Dollyrots, Bristol O2 Academy, Friday 26 October 2012

A relatively late addition to my gig itinerary, this one, and it was thanks to my kids! Rachel was always going to go to see Texan pop-punk clown princes Bowling For Soup with her fellow Soup uber-fans Debbie and Steven, but I initially wasn’t up for it enough to justify sorting a babysitter out. However our kids then announced they wanted to go for a sleepover at Grandma’s during half term, so I persuaded Rach that this should be the night, rather than Gaz’ Wednesday date, so I could enjoy some big dumb punk rock fun, then get a lie-in the next morning!

So we set off at 6, picked up our friends then had a queue-punctuated journey down, parking up about 7.30 and consequently completely missing first support Patent Pending, who were on at the unfeasibly early time of 6.15! Main support The Dollyrots sounded clumsy and formulaic, so we stayed in the bar instead, popping into the hall and down onto our usual stage left spot about 8, just before the entrance of the Soup, to their own composed opening track.

Kicking off with the hooky “High School Never Ends”, the gig initially promised to venture seamlessly into the usual BFS formula for fun, particularly when vocalist Jaret took a phone from an audience member who was using it during the first song break, then handed it to Chris to chat up the caller! However things took a turn for the worse, as Jaret was clocked good and proper by a phone thrown by some dickhead audience member, and his reaction briefly threatened to turn the atmosphere a little nasty, as he called the guy out to either leave or come onstage and let his guitar tech kick his ass. Thankfully, he gave the guy one number to think about it – the highly appropriately titled “I Don’t Need This” – which seemed to calm him down as well. Normality restored!

An excellent early “Almost” was preceded by Jaret calling for the audience to form, “one big happy Bowling For Soup chorus,” then an incredible toughened up version of Fountains Of Wayne’s “Stacy’s Mom” (“if you’ve come here to hear our big hit “Stacy’s Mom”, that was Fountains Of Wayne, but seeing as we get the credit for it anyway, we might as well play it!”). By now the Soup were well in their stride, with the between song banter and antics as spontaneous, scatological and entertaining as their infectiously tuneful, if a little one-dimensional, harmonic US poppy punk rock. Introducing “Ohio”, Jaret announced, “this is about the great state of Texas, and I’m looking forward to returning for the Mexican food and my wife’s vagina!” “Punk Rock 101” saw a mid-song break for the band and their support acts (who’d been gathering in the corner of the stage during the set in an impromptu “bar”) to pose for photos onstage, whilst the PA played Van Halen’s “Jump”, and the line-up jumped at the appropriate points. Jaret then labelled his band, “Bowling For Soup; the band you can wave to!” before introducing, “the best song ever,” a splendid “Girl All The Bad Guys Want”, which got a frenzied reaction from this as-usual very young but knowledgeable crowd, who’d been singing along to pretty much everything. And, despite myself, I was pretty much joining in as well!

Set closer “1985” brought a thoroughly entertaining hour and 45 minutes set to a close, before “My Weiner” and a superb “The Bitch Song” saw the band once again bringing on the support acts to join in (Jaret and The Dollyrots' female vocalist banging heads while harmonising!) for an all-inclusive finale. They’re never going to pull and trees up in the creativity stakes, but they know what they do and do it very bloody well indeed. I’ve been to better gigs this year, but if you want sheer dumb fun and punk rock frolics, you know you’re going to get that from Bowling For Soup. And that’s no bad thing!

Thursday, 25 October 2012

859 GAZ BROOKFIELD, Andy Oliveri, Swindon The Running Horse, Wednesday 24 October 2012

Back to the Running Horse for another “Acoustic Wednesday” bash, and another chance to catch undoubtedly the hardest working man in rock/folk/whatever, just playing music, these days, namely Mr. Gaz “have guitar, will travel” Brookfield! This represented the 5th time in just short of 4 months that I’d seen the man “live”, although as it was the first since the Miles Hunt support slot, a massive 41 (!) days ago, I might have been getting Gaz withdrawal symptoms…!

I was also suffering from a gyppy tummy so nearly re-thought this one, but went along anyway, hoping that it would be quiet so I could grab a seat. Luckily it was, early doors, so I hopped onto the sofa just left of the performance space in the bar area, then stayed pat for the night! Andy Oliveri, a small bearded chap who later claimed his dad looked just like Danny De Vito (entirely plausible really!), came on just after my arrival at 20 to 9, and played some dour, downbeat acoustic stuff with a slightly nasal, occasionally yodelly vocal lilt which reminded me of someone, probably a US Alt-Country singer, couldn’t quite place it… He was more upbeat in between numbers than his occasionally pastoral, wistful (“I’m going for “heartbreaking”,” he announced at one point) material suggested; still, a diverting ½ hour.

Gaz popped over to say hi just before his set, then recoiled when I told him about my ropey tum. Too many gigs lined up, can’t get ill, can’t blame him… Gaz opened his set at 9.30 with “SN1”, his jolly jig extolling the virtues of our home town, and featuring some excellent percussion on the guitar! A lovely, melodic “Frank And Sam” followed; I dunno, influenced by those two he may be, but I reckon he’s already surpassed both… He then introduced a chugging “Limelight” with, “this is a half-hearted moan [about supporting other bands]; it’s a pretty decent life really, I get to play and get pissed!”

Gaz was, as ever, on top form tonight, commanding the attention of the chatty tables at the back with a few wry looks and his inescapable talent. “Be The Bigger Man” was as dynamic, impassioned and in-your-face as ever (“I’m available for children’s parties,” he announced at the end of this profanity-strewn rendition), then the subsequent “Tell It To The Beer” was a touching Pogues-like lament, “about being in a band that never got anywhere,” before “Thin” saw the whole pub singing along – as requested – to the soaring hook.

“Nearly forgot this one,” he commented toward the end of the set, to which I insightfully (!) replied, “you can’t, it’s your Christmas single!” Oh yes, a Gaz Brookfield Christmas single, a re-recorded “Diet Of Banality”, going up against the annual chart invasion of the “X Factor” wannabees with this wonderfully pointed diatribe against manufactured music. A “win-win” situation for Gaz, this; as he puts it, if it’s a total flop, it kind of proves his point, right? This, however, was the set highlight tonight; a galloping, tub-thumping rendition recalling The Wonderstuff’s “Don’t Let Me Down, Gently”, and featuring a highly appropriate middle eight steal from Ronan Keating’s “When You Say Nothing At All” (“this bit isn’t on the record… come on, they’d sue my ass off!”). A rousing, singalong “Under The Table” finished off a full hour set, by which time Gaz, as usual, totally owned the place. Great stuff.

I’d been joined on the sofa during the set by Liam and Stef, so we had a brief chat afterwards, then I congratulated Gaz and headed off home through the murk. Not too long until the next gig from this inevitable future superstar, I hope!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

858 THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM, Blood Red Shoes, Dave Hause, Birmingham O2 Academy, Saturday 20 October 2012

Another trip up to the now easy-to-find relocated Birmingham Academy, this time to see New Jersey guitar heroes The Gaslight Anthem, who have delivered yet another superb album this year in “Handwritten”. No great departure for them, this; as ever, it falls midway between the bleeding-raw emotional yet shiny post-Millennial punk rock of Jimmy Eat World, and the blue collar working man’s anthemic rock of Bruce Springsteen. However, powered by their most obvious single yet, the titanic “45”, this album is a real top-down rocker with some corking tuneage, so hearing these songs “live” should be a hot, sweaty and all-inclusive full-on “rock” experience in the large but swiftly-sold out Academy.

So I drove up under brilliant red skies, then picked through Birmingham traffic to park up at 7.20 in the Mailbox car park just up the road. Hit the already rammed full venue midway through first support Dave Hause, evidently a Noo Joisey buddy of The Gaslights, who had his own backdrop (!) and a Dashboard Confessional style angst-ridden and impassioned delivery, whether on acoustic or electric guitar. I liked his comment about the previous night’s gig (“We were in Scotland last night and I totally called it England!”) as well as his penultimate number “100K”, an in-your-face Billy Bragg “Spy Vs. Spy”-era clone song, with a Hold Steady “Constructive Summer” lyrical steal, which was the best of a fine warm-up set which got the crowd fired up and clapping. Good for you Dave!

Main support Blood Red Shoes followed in short order, a 2-piece featuring a willowy raven-haired female guitarist and a hard-hitting and wildly flailing (like Animal from the Muppets!) drummer bloke who alternated on call and response vocals, and who made a powerful noise for a 2-piece. Fourth number “This Is Not For You” featured a Nada Surf “Stalemate” strumalong opening riff, which descended into thrilling and visceral noise, typical of their set. In parts Emo/ Placebo-esque, also featuring some Pixies/Muses jagged noise and Banshees atonal vocals, this was a dramatic, edgy, noisy and cacophonous set. Set closer “I Wish I Was Someone” was a fitting and representative thrill-ride finale. Great stuff!

I kept my spot, stage left on the outskirts of the dancefloor, already cramped and sweaty, as the roadies – who with black t-shirts, tattoo sleeves and flat caps seemed interchangeable with the band! – set up. The Gaslight Anthem strode on shortly after the lights went black at the appointed hour of 9.15, easing into a low-key yet moody and atmospheric opener “Mae” which built to a crescendo, the climax of which saw their backdrop unfurl, in a pure touch of drama, as they shifted gear seamlessly upwards into “The 59 Sound”, and the place exploded. Gaslight vocalist Brian Fallon, a Jimmy Darmody lookalike if he’d found guitars instead of guns, then led the band through a raw-boned and ragged (the occasional bum note actually adding to the vibe), yet very well-paced “light and shade” set, with sozzled bar-room singalongs interspersed with the balls-out rockers. A debate about out of key songs (“Street Fighting Man” apparently being Fallon’s favourite), culminated in him shouting, “gimme a bass, I don't know how to play that [either]!” for “Cowgirls”, before the rip-roaring anthemic “45”, casually thrown in early doors, raised the roof with its’ soaring chorus.

Fallon painted pictures with his lyrics throughout, of vignettes of Jersey life, bleak, industrial and mundane yet with an underlying “common people” hope and dignity, and this knowledgeable crowd lapped it up, singing most words to most numbers. He also proved a nice guy, handing water out to the sweaty mosh crush, although “American Slang”, for me the soaring set highlight, saw him challenging us; “best crowd in England? We’ll see!” He introduced a ferocious “Sliver”, the old Nirvana number, with, “This was big for us,” then a Costello-like “Queen Of Lower Chelsea” shifted gears again and diffused the frenzied mood.

“How many times do I say “radio” in this set? I think I’m going to exchange it for “nonplussed” instead”, Fallon announced before set closer “Great Expectations” which was a jagged punk thrill, bookending a startlingly swift 1 hour 30 set. Then a U2-like moment as the crowd spontaneously sang the hook to “Here Comes Your Man” before the band returned for the encore, and, wide-eyed with wonder, gave the crowd their wish, deferring to the still-raucously singing crowd for the hook. “Backseat” ended a breathless and breathtaking set of pure elemental rock’n’roll from a band destined for bigger stages before too long. Hit the road for a tired journey home after grabbing a set-list and getting tour guitarist Ian Perkins to scribble his “John Hancock” on it. However, no doubt about it - The Gaslight Anthem delivered tonight, big time!

Friday, 19 October 2012

857 THE SHUDDERS, The Cadbury Sisters, Swindon The Running Horse, Wednesday 17 October 2012

Nine becomes ten as I squeeze another gig into an already crowded Autumn schedule; a chance visit to Tim over the weekend (to give Tracey a story Logan wrote for and about her!) revealed his band The Shudders were due to emerge from their recent hiatus and return to gigging action for this show, one of a series of Acoustic Wednesdays currently being run by Swindon pub The Running Horse. Given their output to date is more to Rachel’s taste than mine, I expected her to go; however, she preferred a night in, so off I went instead!

So I drove along for 9 pm, wandering in and greeting Tim at the bar just as support The Cadbury Sisters (t’uh, what is it with girls and chocolate anyway?) were approaching the end of their set. A young all-girl trio, led by a tousled lead vocalist with an Irish lilt, they displayed some nice smooth intertwining harmonies, but for me were a little twee and thin in their hushed, Sundays-like material (hmm, there I go again, snap judgements after just hearing 2 numbers!). Still, seen far worse…

Tim then gathered the troops to set up, as we interested souls and assorted hangers-on sat gathered around, giving the bar performance space a living room ambiance. The Shudders eased into their set at 9.30 sharp with folky oldie “No Man’s Land”, Tim, Liam and vocalist Danny all perched atop unfeasibly tall barstools bashing away at acoustic guitars, and new drummer Jim seated and tapping away on a percussive box, similar to the one I accompanied Phil Hurley on, on our version of “Larry”, on our LA honeymoon! Tonight’s set ranged from a plaintive “Sunflower Blues”, which nevertheless saw Danny busting out a strident harmonica solo, the quiet Americana of new number “Sunrise”, via a jolly “Words Of A Fool” through to an almost Posies-like newie, “Sorry”, which featured a big chorus I’d now like to hear fully amped up, please!

15 months inactivity, a slew of new songs, and a brand new band member led, inevitably, to some bum notes as evidence of the lack of onstage practice (Danny also throwing his harmonica away in mock frustration after a trying solo during newie “Harvest Moon”!), but that was to be expected and easily forgiven. The positives were that the new numbers sounded very promising indeed (the aforementioned “Sorry” and a melodic “New Design”, which also featured some nice West Coast harmonies and cool guitar interplay), a mature progression for this fine band, and Jim seems already in sync with his bandmates and the material.

The final, hushed sea epic of “Mary’s Grace” closed things out, Danny’s understated vocals a feature. Chatted awhile with the boys afterwards, before heading off after a fine and entertaining evening.

Monday, 15 October 2012

856 JULIAN COPE, Anton Barbeau, Oxford O2 Academy 2, Saturday 13 October 2012

The gig lull of late Summer and early Autumn now over, this one signals a heady rush of 9 gigs which I currently have scheduled between now and November! Yay! And it’s a welcome return for Julian Cope, the New-Millennial Renaissance man and acid-fried prize fruitcake of rock’n’roll, an undisputed genius who epitomises the cruel truth of those blessed with such visionary gifts, that they also never seem to stray far from the welcoming embrace of madness. Last spotted on “The Dirty Boat”, 2 summers ago, this chance to see the Arch-Drude poke his head out from behind the curtain, as usual, proved too tempting for me.

Rach however decided to save her babysitting tokens for other things, but old Level 3 buddy Jason, plus his mate “Skiddy”, accompanied me for a swift and entertaining drive over, putting the world of rock’n’roll to rights on the way. We hit the venue just as support Anton Barbeau was rounding off his last, dirge-like number, including a Ziggy Stardust reference which should have had the Thin White Duke reaching for his lawyer’s phone number…

The crowd, disrespectfully thin early doors, thankfully filled up for the entrance of the Cope, again introduced by his San Fransisco biker-clad roadie as, “from Wessex, England, Julian H Cope!” Adorned by black military leather but bereft of the trademark straggly hair of recent times, he was off and away (with the fairies?) from the outset, a commanding and riveting stage presence throughout. Initially bolshy and militant, declaring a protest theme for the evening (protest songs of some sort or other proliferated the early set selection), he mellowed into his usual captivating, entertaining and downright hilarious self in short order, again cherry-picking numbers from the totality of his extensive canon. A touching “Soul Desert” was preceded by Cope complaining his 2 daughters had banned him from talking about Chairman Mao at the breakfast table! A Scottish nationalist debate, precipitated by a punter down the front then punctuated by a “fuck Scotland!” shout from a suspiciously Scottish sounding voice at the back, preceded Cope adjourning to the mellotron and calling for a “garish amount of light”, for the old Teardrop Explodes classic “The Great Dominions”, 30 years young and still a comely, coquettish lass of a song. Then he was back on his road-weary acoustic guitar for an angry, absorbing and frankly majestic “Autogeddon Blues”, before a bare, touching “I’m Your Daddy” (“the quietest protest song I’ve ever written”) tugged the heartstrings.

A reintroduced and lasciviously rendered “Conspiracist Blues” got a chuckle, before “Psychedelic Revolution”, the title track of his new album, which was a surprisingly sumptuous and melodic treat, recalling the “World Shut Your Mouth” era “ba ba ba” Cope. A selection from “Droolian” and “Skellington” (“Island didn’t want me to put [these albums] out, but I did in any case!”) then followed, a playful “Jellypop Perky Jean” a highlight.

"Let's see how we’re doing for time, as I’ve only got 70 songs left to play!”, Cope declared as he hit the closing stages of the gig (“you’re a lot sadder about it than I am,” he then quipped). However, he saved the best for last with a superb finale quartet; a lovely mellotron powered “Head Hang Low” (“from my wilderness years,” quoth Cope), “Robert Mitchum” (Cope deciding to omit the whistling solo in protest against Axl Rose, and making quacking noises in the middle eight instead!), a buoyant, rambunctious “Sunspots”, featuring the sing-along Doppler Effect chorus, then the headlong rollercoaster road trip that is “Out Of My Mind On Dope And Speed” to finish off.

What a strange and wild ride, what a startlingly swift 1 ¾ hour set. Great stuff as ever from a thoroughly captivating performer, complete one-off, and total entertaining nutcase. Julian Cope, we salute you!

Friday, 14 September 2012

855 THE “BATTLE OF THE FIDDLES”; MILES HUNT AND ERICA NOCKALLS VS. GAZ BROOKFIELD AND BEN WAIN, Swindon Victoria, Thursday 13 September 2012



The “Battle of the Fiddles”! Yikes! Let me explain; a welcome return to Swindon town for Wonderstuff leading light and latterday travelling troubadour Miles Hunt, plus his lady fiddler Erica Nockalls, was made even more attractive by the addition of the currently ubiquitous Gaz Brookfield, increasingly becoming one of my musical delights of 2012, as support. Not only that, but thanks to Facebook chatter leading up to the event, Gaz had recruited his friend and occasional contributor Ben Wain as guest violinist for the night, to augment his acoustic guitar thuggery, setting up a real “Battle of the Fiddles”!

So Rach and I took a circuitous route up the hill, hitting the venue for 8-ish, bumping into lots of familiar faces and enjoying a chat with a buoyant and excited Gaz as the backroom venue filled up. We took a good viewing spot stage-left for Gaz’ entrance onstage at 8.45, Gaz tonight joining a select group of acts whom I’ve seen “live” for 3 consecutive gigs. He eased in with “Limelight” and the slow burn, touching “Four Chords And The Truth”, Ben’s fiddle dovetailing in nicely and adding an extra dimension to Gaz’ always committed, strident performance and acoustic tomfoolery. A flippant “Diet Of Banality” saw Gaz suggesting he release the track as a Christmas single to beat off Simon Cowell’s latest effort to No. 1 (“it just needs some jingle bells, that’s Christmassy enough, right?”), whilst the subsequent “Be The Bigger Man” was brilliantly rendered, and received a deserved ovation.

“Here’s the audience participation element; I know you dread it, especially from the warm up guy,” Gaz announced midway through “Thin”, but the rapidly-filling crowd nevertheless sang along with the rousing hook; then, after some fulsome praise for the by now fully-engaged crowd and a declaration that supporting Miles was, “a childhood dream,” “The West Country Song” rounded off a short but superb set from a man who, if there’s any justice in this world (there isn’t, I know…), should be destined for greater things, and damn soon!

The place was by now heaving, and Rach (for once) ran into some old friends for a chat between acts! Met up with the boys in the pub briefly, then wandered swiftly back down to our front stage-left spot, as Miles and Erica were already onstage tuning up. Miles announced himself in swift order, then after a typically acerbic put down of some noisy punter at the front (not me!) plus some chatty Cathys at the bar, he and Erica eased into their set with some understated solo stuff. Corky tousled hair now fully restored to Stuffies spec length, and sporting a raffish and quickly discarded neckscarf plus a chunkier build (hey, don’t we all?), Miles was clearly in no mood to mess about; by the 3rd number he was already delving into the fiddle-powered “Never Loved Elvis” phase of the Wonderstuff canon, with a double salvo of “Mission Drive” and a superb galloping “Play”, divided by a pretty solo interlude from Erica (playing the song she’d apparently played during her audition for “Treme”!) whilst Miles changed a broken string. Entertaining and familiar stories of life on the road accompanied the material, as Miles, by now a practised raconteur and storyteller, revelled in and demanded the rapt crowd’s attention. Stuffies oldies were liberally sprinkled throughout (know your audience, I guess); all familiar and fun stuff, none more so than “Size Of A Cow”, arguably the Stuffies best-known yet most polarising number. Miles actually conducted a humourous debate on its’ merits before actually playing the damn thing; I was one of the naysayers but had to admit it was fine, with Erica, clad in puffball black “Twilight” chic and sporting big boots which seemingly anchored her slight frame to the stage, sawing purposefully away at the fairgroundesque violin solo of this raucous singalong.

A few more Stuffies numbers culminated in a final, cascading and tumbling “Here Comes Everyone”, Miles declaring he’d enjoyed himself and would be happy to return, but the, “noisy cunts can stay at home next time.” An enjoyable set overall, which for me (but not the Stuffies massive, I know) would have benefitted from more than just the one new number (a nevertheless promising “Right Side Of The Turf”). A quick chat with a besieged Miles and a more relaxed satisfied Gaz afterwards, before we hit the road. So, the winner? Well, I’d probably be the only one in the place who thinks this, but for sheer passion, I’ve got to give the honours tonight to Gaz Brookfield!

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

854 TREEFEST 2012, Westonbirt Arboretum, Sunday 26 August 2012



“Treefest”! The “Festival of The Trees”, a big outdoor extravaganza at Westonbirt Arboretum, resembling a Country Fayre albeit with a decidedly (deciduously?) tree-related theme, gets an entry in the gigbook! To be honest, Rach had suggested taking the kids along for the day anyway, but my personal interest(and this event being subsequently added into my gig annals) was piqued due to the presence of the fittingly named “Royal Oak” tent, which featured an itinerary of local acoustic musicians, chief amongst them being Gaz Brookfield, a man fast becoming one of my favourite new musical discoveries of 2012, not least because he’s local and I’m getting to see him play quite regularly right now!

So, we drove down on a promising sunny Bank Holiday Sunday, picking our way through picturesque villages and parking up at the event site just after lunchtime. I was immediately surprised at the scale of the event – loads of cars in the car parking fields, and quite a walk to the main events site itself. Wandered into the “Royal Oak”, a medium sized event tent with rows of hay bales for punters to sit on, just as “lunchtime headliners” The Bateleurs were rounding off a fiddle-powered folky set. In truth, we only popped our heads in as they were playing a cute version of The Wonderstuff’s “Golden Green”, but the band, featuring an ex-boyfriend of an ex-girlfriend (pretty local, then…), closed things out with some more easy listening folky stuff.

We then spent the afternoon checking out the rest of the attractions, ranging from Archery and Falconry displays, stalls selling woodcraft of all descript, traditional fairground attractions (helter skelters and merry go round at 2 quid a pop – yikes!) to a Camera Obscura tent and Heavy Horse rides. The kids liked it!

This then brought us up to 5 pm, so we picnicked under a large overhanging pine, had a final wander around a slightly muddy and rapidly emptying site, then popped back into the “Royal Oak” tent, where Ells Ponting was midway through a very quiet little acoustic set. Thrown in with her own pleasant, introspective material was a pleasant, introspective cover of a Postal Service number, and a more surprising “festival cheesy 80’s number” to close things out, namely A-Ha’s “Take on Me”, which ensured a fine reception from the audience.

I plonked myself down on a hay bale with Logan while Rach took Kasey for a walk, then Gaz Brookfield was introduced onstage as being “a musician from Swindon”, fittingly kicking off his set with “SN1”, a celebration of his, and our, home town. Appropriate enough start, as on display today was the celebratory Gaz, the happy festival Gaz for family consumption, shorn mainly of the glorious anger and bile of his more confrontational material, yet no less enjoyable, passionate and riveting for it. A lovely “Frank And Sam” followed, then after “Limelight” he took time to praise his “mini-moshpit”, the gang of children dashing around and jigging down the front, of which by now both my kids were part!

Despite keeping things relatively polite, we still got a forceful, committed “Be The Bigger Man” (which Gaz introduced as being, “by no means autobiographical” then complimented himself afterwards for getting through it without swearing!) and a pointed “Diet Of Banality” (Gaz informing us parents of our “duty” to stop our kids watching the likes of X Factor!), revealing to all his punk sensibilities. A rousing “West Country Song” finished this Gaz vignette superbly, the crowd again clapping along, swept up in Gaz’ obvious enthusiasm and talent. Great stuff.

Time for a quick chat with the man afterwards, introducing him to my wife and daughter (the son having gone a bit shy at this point), before we headed off after a nice family day out, topped by another splendid Gaz Brookfield performance. We’re already looking forward to his Miles Hunt support slot in September!

Monday, 30 July 2012

853 GAZ BROOKFIELD, Swindon Rolleston, Sunday 29 July 2012



Another gig in “The ‘Don”, and yet another new venue, namely The Rolleston pub, perched invitingly atop my 1980’s and 90’s “spiritual home”, Level 3 nightclub, and consequently scene of many a drinky evening in preparation of bopping down at Lev, but never of a gig before. Until this, the return to the Shire for Swindon native Gaz Brookfield, the forthright and articulate singer-songwriter who impressively turned my head in support of The Psychedelic Furs at the Fleece earlier this month. Since then, I’d sent off a contribution for his video project for his “Be The Bigger Man” number, soliciting a nice e-mail response from the man, so was looking forward to catching up and seeing him play again!

Took a drive up after the kids went to bed, parking up and wandering into the very quiet early doors pub about ¼ to 8, meeting up with Gaz at the bar and having a nice chat with a very personable and open chap, before he set up in the raised area by the front entrance, and I plonked myself on a barstool for his first set at 8.

Gaz has been compared to the likes of Frank Turner (who I confess I’m largely unfamiliar with) and Sam Duckworth of Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly (star of gig 721 and a band whose first album I thoroughly enjoyed), and tagged with a “Nu-Folk troubadour” label. I dunno, if “Nu-Folk” means bashing the living Bejeezus out of a road-weary acoustic and baring your soul, voice and opinions in a witty, well-considered and enjoyably articulate way, then I’m all for it. Particularly when this is coupled with self-effacing honesty (Gaz concluded an early Loudon Wainwright cover by admitting he, “totally fucked up that last bit, but that’s OK, it’s folk music – you’re allowed to!”) and neck-vein bulging effort. Another cover (“anyone remember a [early 2000’s melodic hardcore] band called Movielife? No? Just me? OK, this is a song that I wrote…!”)revealed Gaz’ pop-punk roots, and his own “Tell It To The Beer” was a touching, aptly named tears-in-the-beers ballad of male camaraderie on a journey through the lower rungs of rock’n’roll. Arousing “Thin” got the crowd singing along with the, “It’s not oh-ver,” hook to round off set one very nicely thank you, by which time I’d been joined by DJ Darren Dust.

After a pause in proceedings and another brief chat with the man whilst he flogged a few CDs, Gaz kicked off set two with a slightly taken aback, “where did you all come from?” at the larger numbers now in attendance! However the increased crowd and attention served to spur Gaz to step up the performance and intensity levels a notch. Indeed, this was the angrier set of the two, Gaz commenting about the crowd “just [having] come out for a quiet Sunday night and there’s this bloke shouting at you,” with “Death Bed” a bilious, galloping anti-religion rant recalling The Men They Couldn’t Hang, setting the tone. Billy Bragg’s “Waiting For The Great Leap Forward” followed, and then the anti manufactured pop rant of “Diet Of Banality” was venomous yet very funny at the same time. In full flow by now, Gaz then delivered a searing rendition of “Be The Bigger Man”, an angry, passionate and perfectly delivered version of his best number, soliciting a large roar of approval. A slightly inappropriate run-through of “It Must Be Love” followed, before we were back on the metaphorical soapbox with a fine, pointed “It Doesn’t Matter Who You Vote For, The Bastards Always Win”.

Closer “The West Country Song” was a fitting finale, the whole pub by now seemingly singing along and totally engaged in Gaz’ performance, the man totally on form and on fire. A splendid way to spend a Sunday evening, in the company of a talented, articulate and committed wordsmith surely destined for a wider audience than tonight’s. Hit the road after a lengthy chat with Mr. Dust and farewells from Mr. Brookfield. He’s supporting Miles Hunt at the Vic in September – that’ll be a good one!

Friday, 27 July 2012

852 ADAM ANT AND THE GOOD, THE MAD AND THE LOVELY POSSE, Poussez Posse, Swindon Wyvern Theatre, Thursday 26 July 2012



Swindon is really coming up trumps for me gig-wise at the moment, with this one following hot on the heels of the recent Biffy Clyro gig, and due to be followed by another local one this weekend… This, amazingly, was my first gig at the Wyvern, a well-established local Theatre which rarely puts bands on, less a band - or name - of the stature of Adam Ant, 2011’s Comeback King after a couple of stellar performances centring thankfully on his vintage pre-pop hit “Sexmusic”. This one promised to be interesting, particularly given the Wyvern’s seated venue status!

I persuaded Rach to join me for this local one, then my brother Paul came into possession of a last minute ticket for this long sold-out show, and bravely accompanied us for a drive into town on a scorching hot night. I eschewed the shorts, anticipating an air-conditioned and cool theatre, which would prove to be a mistake… Bumped into a couple of old Level 3 faces, Robynne and Andrea (hi guys!) before wandering in to check out support Poussez Posse. Comprising Ants backing singer, “Sachsgate” girl and possessor of a fair set of, erm, lungs, Georgina “Georgie Girl” Baillie, leading an all girl troupe, they were better than I’d feared. They featured 3 covers in their 6-song set – Ants oldie “It Doesn’t Matter”, 70’s girl-power ballad “Only Women Bleed” and a fine, toughened up version of Penetration’s punk classic “Don’t Dictate” – interspersed with their stomping, grunge sleaze originals which, Rach remarked, “made me miss Heavy Stud”!

We wandered back outside, bumping into various folks and chatting away, before the very helpful 3 minute warning saw us scurrying back into the auditorium, again taking our splendid stage left seats, 3 rows from the front, for Adam’s entrance at 8.30. The palpable anticipation erupted as Adam took the stage last, to huge squeals of delight from the audience which made me wonder if I’d stumbled into a girls Hockey International! He raced through punked-up opener “Plastic Surgery” with a verve and venom beyond his years, a riveting stage presence already delivering a proper “performance”. That said, the audience, despite the initial reception, didn’t reciprocate until “Beat My Guest”, at which point I stood up, started rocking out, then promptly sideswiped the head of the still-sitting bloke in front of me! Profuse apologies later, I revelled in the vintage Ants segment of the strident “Kick”, a sublime “Cartrouble” and an unexpected, creepy “Ants Invasion” before Georgie Girl joined Adam onstage for a swaggering march through “Deutscher Girls”. Then, an unannounced “Stand And Deliver” which finally got the “pop” Ants crowd up and rocking, soliciting a huge reception at its’ climax.

“This always feels like the first time I play this,” the hitherto taciturn Adam announced before a brilliant “Kings Of The Wild Frontier”, the interweaving double drums and strident chanting embellishing a set highlight as Adam, fully committed and really meaning it, maaaan, gave his all, receiving a deserved and lengthy ovation (even bigger than for “SAD”, I was pleased to see!) for his efforts. “Wonderful” diffused the mood before Adam announced a song about, “a different kind of love story,” the menacing oldie “Whip In My Valise”, Adam again delving into his old Sexmusic back catalogue with the grinning zeal of a teenager eagerly burrowing into his porno mag collection under the bed. “Desperate But Not Serious”, the only other song, along with “Ants Invasion”, which was “new” into the set (despite rumours to the contrary, Adam remained faithful to his recent set lists, pandering only to himself and rewarding the long-time Ants connoisseurs; good man!), featured a lengthy pregnant pause, which was nice. I like those.

Then; “Zerox”. Shunted later into the set this time, the familiar staccato guitar intro and off-kilter rhythm saw me “giving it loads” as this, Adam’s finest hour, swooped and soared, and built to another all-too-short climax. Brilliant, brilliant stuff, but almost eclipsed by set closer, the rambunctious, cheeky “Lady” (“true story!” claimed Adam by way of introduction) which again segued into a thumpingly powerful “Fall In”, the “bop shoo-bop”s resonating around the hall.

Time was with us, so we got “Red Scab” in the encore tonight (yay!), the slow, riff heavy mutant sleazoid number actually getting slower, then speeding up for a manic finale with Adam whirling like a dervish onstage. The sadly inevitable “Prince Charming” got the crowd throwing shapes before a T Rex homage, then “Physical”, to end another sweaty, breathless and swift, but utterly brilliant evening in the company of a born performer, playing what the hell he likes from his dusty back catalogue and fuck anyone who doesn’t like it. Running into my cousin Sharon and her be-striped friends, then getting hastily-grabbed set-list signed by Adam’s bass player Joel, were nice punctuation points on the night. And to paraphrase my equally elated brother, “the man is living proof that, even if life takes you to hell and back, class is permanent”. Nuff said. See you at the O2 Academies in November!

Thursday, 5 July 2012

851 THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS, Gaz Brookfield, Bristol Fleece, Wednesday 4 July 2012



They’re back,and this time it’s like they’ve not even been away….It’s The Psychedelic Furs, titanic 80’s rockist purveyors of delicious late night glam sleaze rock’n’roll with a New Wave sensibility and a Bowie/ Velvet Underground twist, who celebrated their classic 1981 “Talk Talk Talk” album barely 20 months ago with a superb Frome show, and were this time announcing some dates because… well, just because, really! And at the relatively tiny confines and inevitable close quarters of the Fleece; this one was not to be missed. I pounced on a ticket immediately, and so, it appeared, did everyone else, as by the time I’d managed to get in touch with fellow Furs devotee “Mad” Doug about joining me, they’d sold the damn thing out!

So it was a solo jaunt down to Brizzle, thankfully in decent weather this time, hitting this, my most visited venue, for my 49th gig here, just after 8. Didn’t have long to wait for support, which turned out to be a revelation; Gaz Brookfield ,a chap who I’d seen feature on a few Swindon Vic gig listings, but had never got off my arse to go check him out before. My mistake. Armed only with a battered, road-weary acoustic, a head full of opinions and, more importantly, the wit and wherewithal to articulate them, he set about winning over the early doors punters with some forthright and highly entertaining diatribes, targeting politicians, Simon Cowell and the like, and clearly relished and fully exploited this opportunity. Using mundane yet familiar reference points (the hard shoulder of the M4 corridor got a couple of mentions!) in his wordy numbers (that’s OK by me, I’ve always been partial to some excess verbiage in my songs, hence my love for The Hold Steady!), he nevertheless made his points with a venomous yet considered and splendid set. I wished I could have taken his essay about bullying, “Be The Bigger Man”, back 35 years or so and played it to my 12 year old self, and I certainly won’t make the mistake of missing him in “The Don” again, a point I made afterwards to the former Swindon native Mr. Brookfield!

Bumped up at the front between acts, stage right in this packed and anticipatory crowd, leaning on a pillar right up against the Fleece’s raised stage. Butler’s going to look about 9 feet tall from here… At the witching hour, the intro white noise track kicked in and the Furs, dressed in obligatory rock’n’roll black and sporting sunglasses, took the stage. No messing about or easing in for this lot, which might have been excusable in deference to their vintage, they were straight into the tumbling, ramshackle rollercoaster ride of “Into You Like A Train”, Richard Butler’s trademark nasal London drawl already a standout feature. Indeed Butler, a dapper be-waistcoated rake in Bowie Berlin chic and heavy-framed glasses, was a riveting stage presence from the outset, throwing angular shapes with the verve and audacity of a man half his age, and giving a proper performance, a consummate lesson in the art of the frontman. A rambunctious “Mr Jones” segued into the sleazy late night NYC groove of “Heartbeat”, Mars Williams’ enthusiastic virtuoso sax playing already dominating the sound. “Pretty In Pink” was thrown in early and got a huge ovation which took Butler aback somewhat, replying with a surprised, “thank you!”

A few lesser known Furs tracks took centre stage thereafter; a menacing “Only You And I” was an early highlight, and following a wonderful “Heaven”, which featured the kinetic Butler doing skits from the video and shaking punters hands down the front (including mine!), a gorgeous and melancholy “My Time” was also a late set highlight. A massive, seething “India”, featuring towering and somewhat intimidating bassist Tim Butler leaning into the crowd so closely I could have picked his pockets, rounded off a powerful, sweaty set perfectly, before the encore brought my highlight of the night; a soaring, anthemic “Forever Now”, Butler the glacially cool superstar finally disappearing with a heartfelt, “thanks,” after the perfect climax to another superb Furs performance. Grabbed a set-list and got it signed by Williams and guitarist Rich Good afterwards, just to round off a great night. The Psychedelic Furs; colossal, yet again!

Monday, 11 June 2012

850 BIFFY CLYRO, Pure Love, Swindon Oasis Leisure Centre, Friday 8 June 2012



Given the extent to which Biffy Clyro have risen in my estimation over the last couple of years – from mostly ignored metallic noiseniks to hooky, anthemic hard rockers, inviting favourable comparisons to the likes of Seafood, Foo Fighters and even (dare I say it) Husker Du – it was inevitable that we’d be up for any future Biffy tomfoolery. So when I casually browsed the NME website and found out the Biffsters were planning a one-off show to bed in some new material from their forthcoming CDs, I thought, hmmm, where do Rach and myself have to travel to now? London? Birmingham? My jaw then dropped with a clunk onto my desk when I found out they were playing the frickin’ Oasis! The Biff! 20 minutes walk from our front door! AND on a Friday at half term, when we could get Evan down for the gig as well! Scrivens!

However, securing tickets wasn’t as simple as all that. Despite our O2 priority codes, we could only get 2 of our required 3, before the presale sold out. General sale was a joke – all websites either crashed or froze for half an hour, so I, forlornly, gave up, texting Evan that he’d unfortunately be missing out. However, a chance lunchtime call to the Oasis itself later that day revealed they, amazingly, still had a handful on sale, so I gleefully snapped one up and made a fledgling 14 year old rocker a happy boy again.

So it was that we three took a wander down the cycle path, leaving the kids with grandma and hitting the sold out but quiet early doors Oasis bar at 7.30; Rach in a state of high excitement at the prospect of seeing her current (and ongoing) band crush at such (relatively) close quarters, Evan a little bemused, not really knowing what to expect from his first rock gig proper, and me just glad I got to take him to one at last. We wandered in the busy sports hall for 8, for opening act Pure Love. Led by former Gallows frontman, the tattooed but dapper suit-jacketed Frank Carter, they thankfully eschewed the full-on punkish yet incoherent hardcore sonic assault that was the Gallows template, in favour of some much more palatable anthemic bluesy rockers, in a swaggering Clash/Smiths vein. “Quite a different direction for me, as you might have noticed,” announced an affable Frank, and all the better for it, in my view! “Handsome Devils Club” had a chuntering Urge Overkill Californian bluesy sleaze stomp to it, then Frank abandoned the stage to sing a few numbers in the belly of the mosh, pitching up at one point a couple of yards from us! The final number, which Frank pushed as a “Summer Festival anthem,” featured the no doubt bastardised line, “there’s a riot on the streets of Swindon,” nevertheless capping an impressive set from a band – and man – who tonight made me sit up and take notice.

Had a wander over to the crowd fringes, stage left, in search of a decent eyeline, before the lights dimmed and the Biff took the stage at 9 pm sharp, to, rather cutely, the refrains of “Feeling Groovy”, and against a stage set-up of shards of suspended triangular mirrored glass, and a huge tree backdrop. No messing; straight into “Mountains”, a titanic opener with the frenzied crowd already singing along, and the communal vibe resonating around this large sports hall. “Golden Rule” followed, a superb double gut-punch to kick things off, before a frantic newie “Modern Magic Formula” proved they’re really not mellowing with all their current success. A singalong, 50’s ballad style “God And Satan” slowed things down a tad, before a savage “Get Fucked Stud” raised the temperature once again. So this was the Biffy plan tonight; lull the crowd int oa false sense of harmonic security, then smash them into submission with some savage but thrilling modern rock’n’roll. And it was executed to perfection, a case in point being the silly clip-clop rhythm of “Born On A Horse”, being followed directly by the determined groove of a thrilling “Boooom Blast And Ruin”, a set highlight, as the Biff repeatedly delved into their 2009 breakthrough “Only Revolutions” CD (for a warm-up gig to bed in new material, there was a marked paucity of such, with only 4 or 5 newies scattered throughout the set).

“This place is hot in the way only a place with a swimming pool next door can be,” remarked white boiler-suited vocalist Simon Neil, who despite regretting his choice of attire didn’t hold back, with an energetic and kinetic performance throughout. “Folding Stars”, a mid-paced anthem with a Biffy trademark huge chorus, was followed by another all-inclusive singalong for a jagged, ragged “Who’s Got A Match?”, providing a perfect metaphor for the performance; “I’m a fire and I burn, burn, burn tonight…” indeed! Then, the 3,000 capacity sang as one to the imperious ballad “Many Of Horror”, providing a soaring, spine-tingling mid-song moment. Set closer, the Seafood-esque ”Bubbles” was another communal singalong, the thunderous guitar hook climaxing a superb set perfectly.

The Biff boys were fulsome with their compliments for Swindon (nice to hear!) during a 3 song encore, which was capped by a final “Captain”, oddly the set opener the last couple of times we’d seen them! However this worked as a closer, with the terrace chant “whoa-oh”s once again resonating around the sports hall and sending everyone home elated. A well timed run down the front and some politeness secured me a set-list (yay!) and we ran into our friend Penny, which was a happy exclamation point on a superb night. A fine first proper rock gig for Evan – who’d been singing and clapping along throughout – and another damn fine set from a band rapidly proving worthy of the prefix, “The Mighty…” Yup, The Mighty Biff well and truly rocked Swindon tonight, no messing!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

848 & 849 “COPPER BLUE” VS “UNKNOWN PLEASURES”



Bob Mould, London Shepherd's Bush Empire, Friday 1 June 2012; Peter Hook And The Light, Oxford O2 Academy, Saturday 2 June 2012

A good old fashioned double-header, and what made this one even more notable was that both gigs were start-to-finish interpretations of classic albums from seminal artists in the rock pantheon, by key figures within both bands in question. Sugar’s agenda-setting 1992 release “Copper Blue”, the template for pop-core post-grunge hard-edged yet irresistibly melodic US rock, influencing such notables as Foo Fighters, and delivered by Sugar vocalist and inspiration Bob Mould; then “Unknown Pleasures”, Joy Division’s 1979 debut, a visceral rock experience widely recognised as one of the greatest albums ever, spawning a thousand dark-overcoated and deep-voiced imitators, and played by original Joy Division (and subsequent New Order) bassist Peter Hook and his new band The Light. A mouth-watering double; which album would wear their age most gracefully and come out on top?

First, it’s Bob. Amazingly, this was the first gig in 2012 I’d been to with Rachel; I’d clocked up 13 other gigs since she last accompanied me, to the Vaccines in December 2011. We ruminated on this sorry state of affairs on a swift drive oop the Smoke, after dropping the kids off at grandmas for a sleepover, enduring a slight parking mare but dumping the motor along the Uxbridge Road about ¼ to 8. Hit the venue and got stung for Rach’s pint (£4.30! Ouch!), then found a good spot on the floor, stage left, immediately running into old colleague Shaun Pisavadia and his brother! Caught up before and during openers Cloud Nothings, who initially kicked up a good punky fuss, but then degenerated into tuneless and tedious instrumental thrash, as aimless in its’ way as that horrible Sunburned Hand Of The Man set, supporting Copey at the Lyric those many moons ago! Someone should have told them they’re onstage rather than in their rehearsal space; either that or to write more than 3 songs if they’re performing onstage!

This was my first Bob gig in over 6 ½ years, and nearly 20 years since I’d first been subjected to the incandescent brilliance of Sugar, having seen their UK debut in September 1992, when “Copper Blue” was shiny and new. He and his 3-piece band were clearly in no mood to fuck around, taking the stage promptly at 9 to a rapturous welcome from this packed and predominantly male crowd, and plunging immediately into the thunderous opening riff to “The Act We Act”, an earth-shattering opener. Bob looked mean, muscular and magnificent, bespectacled and with a dusting of white adorning his goatee, resembling a gym-rat Santa on his Summer vacations. Only he’d brought the presents tonight; with nary a pause for breath, he tore into “Copper Blue” with an elemental ferocity, prowling the stage like a manic lion in his cage. I revelled in the glorious cacophony of noise, the perfect storm of rage and melody, a controlled collision of hardcore and irresistible, euphoric tunefulness that this classic album delivered, over and over. “Changes” was a raw, emotional highlight, delivered in Bob’s deliciously dark, deep growl, then a HHH-style water-spout from Bob preceded “If I Can’t Change Your Mind”, brilliantly robust and the best thing on offer tonight, although almost topped by a wide-eyed and rampant “Fortune Teller”, as Bob really warmed to his task.

The climax of “Copper Blue”’s closer, “Man On The Moon” saw a lengthy, reverential ovation, before Bob announced, “that was the past, here’s the future,” introducing, “a bunch of new stuff,” notable amongst being a raw, bluesy “Star Machine” and a raucous, hard rocking “The Dissent”. Them new apples don’t fall far from the Bob Mould tree, but hey, he’s too old to be really diversifying now, right? A clutch of Husker Du numbers closed out the set, fast and hard and unfortunately hindered by the sound, which after a good start had been a bit iffy and indistinctly trebly throughout, a thrashy “Celebrated Summer” finishing things off.

I didn’t quite catch the Robin Zander reference from Bob at the start of first encore, “Needle Hits E”, but wandered down the front for the finale, the brilliant, breathtaking “Makes No Sense At All” (let’s face it, you could be dead and still not resist singing along to that one), before Bob, effusive and clearly having a complete ball all night, stood awhile taking in the applause before leaving. Wow. Poor sound couldn’t detract from the fact he’d given his all, and did this timeless album more than justice tonight.

Follow that, Hooky! After a relaxing day without the kids (still at grandmas) I set off whilst listening to the England footy on the radio, parking up behind Tescos and hitting the downstairs Academy room at 7.45, unfortunately in time to catch some of support, Da London Undaground. They were terrible; a white boy gangsta funk rap act, coming across for me like they’d been rummaging through Stereo MC’s reject pile. The Al Pacino/ Chuck Norris/ Bruce lee slideshow showed their aspirations, and was considerably more entertaining than their performance, although as an old punk, I enjoyed the vocalist’s sentiments on his anti-Jubilee and Olympics t-shirt.

The place, dead early doors, filled up considerably but was still only about 2/3 full when Hooky and his band of young charges took the stage at 8.20, to the refrain of the Pogues’ “Dirty Old Town” mashed, oddly, into Kraftwerk’s “Trans-Europe Express”. I found a place front centre, a couple of rows back, quite easily, as Hooky introduced the opener, the embryonic growl of “At A Later Date” as being, “for a very determined young man, Tony”. Hmmm...

Joy Division, for me, were part of the heady rush of bands I embraced during the rush of my post-punk mid-teen discovery in the early 80’s, along with the likes of early Simple Minds, Psychedelic Furs and my favourites, Echo And The Bunnymen. While I totally enjoyed Joy Division’s dour, primal and bleak vision, and of course took the likes of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and “Atmosphere” to my heart, I couldn’t help thinking (almost heretical thought coming up here) that had vocalist and original tortured soul Ian Curtis not been lost to us in such an untimely way, would they have been anything more than an interesting footnote in 80’s post-punk, a cult concern in the same vein as The Wild Swans, Scars and Comsat Angels, all bands I’d loved equally to, or more than, Joy Division?

Be that as it may, I was not here to pay homage to the legend, but more to enjoy the musical legacy. And this came thick and fast; “No Love Lost”, staccato post punk, was an early highlight, before the metronomic hook of “Digital”, played fast and edgily by the Light, with Hooky’s vocals by now coming to the fore. Ah yes, Peter Hook, the epitome of taciturn non-communicativeness, took lead vocals, and while initially limited, as if feeling his way into this unfamiliar mode of expression, by this and the subsequent, brilliant “Disorder”, he was deep and resonant, imperiously intoning his lines as if it was his absolute divine right to do so. “Disorder”, featuring the original low-slung descending bassline, heralded the start of the “Unknown Pleasures” run-through, but this was topped a few numbers later by the widescreen drama of “New Dawn Fades”, moody, creepy and prescient. “A loaded gun won’t set you free…”.

This merged into the whip-lash rhythm of “She’s Lost Control” and the punkier growl of “Shadowplay”, before a lengthy, desolate “I Remember Nothing” closed out the set. However we had encores aplenty; the first featured the tumbling, almost tribal drumbeat of “Dead Souls” and the startling synth snap of “Isolation”, before the sombre, symphonic elegy of “Decades” built to a final dramatic crescendo and the band took another breather (necessary by this point – Hooky, who’d put a lot of himself into the performance, was blowing hard by now). This however preceded the inevitable, and fantastic, singalong “Transmission”, and of course the all-time classic “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, dedicated by an effusive Hooky to, “everybody here, God bless us all”. Simply awe-inspiring. A final “Ceremony” drew a redemptive evening to a close, at which point Hooky took a deserved lengthy ovation. Fuck the “legend”; Joy Division were ultimately a great band with many great songs and a few utterly astonishing ones, and those, as per Bob’s performance last night, were done full justice by Peter Hook tonight.

So, overall, which album came out on top? You know, thanks to Bob and Hooky, it’s too close to call…

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

847 GIRLS, Weird Dreams, London Kentish Town The Forum, Monday 28 May 2012



Having previously declared my choosiness for London gigs these days – especially on a school night – its’ odd that I’m now in the midst of 3 gigs in the Big Smoke in a row, and all in 8 days! This one was the only UK date for US alt rock newbies Girls, another recommendation from Tim, and whose “Father, Son, Holy Ghost” album was a late grower in 2011, pitching between the textural, monotone yet absorbing style of Boston’s Wheat, a bit of seemingly de rigueur Buddy Holly style 50’s soda bar doo-wop balladry, and some clean, understated vocal harmonies which for me recalled Gigolo Aunts. High praise indeed, so off we go!

Tim and Trace picked me up early and unprepared at 5.30, and we scooted off to old stamping grounds Kentish Town, getting lost twice north of Camden (!) but still parking up the road from the Forum just after 8. The old place had clearly had some TLC since my last trip here, looking re-floored, opened out and spruced up somewhat. We took more notice of support Weird Dreams this time, but after a good opening number, with some harmonic jangle recalling Attic Lights, they tailed off into pleasant but unremarkable wallpaper pop. Again.

The place was packed and uncomfortably warm (no air-con on; bah!), with an unusual high proportion of, erm, girls, amongst this very young crowd. Is Girls mainman Christopher Owens this generation’s opiate-fuelled slacker sex symbol, I wondered; an Evan Dando for the new millennium? Anyway, the lights dimmed at 20 to 10 and the 8 piece band, led on by Owens, a diminutive floppy haired blond, dapper in white blazer and spotty tie, took the flower-bouquet festooned stage to a frenzied welcome, and eased into plaintive, slow burn opener “My Ma”.

The set initially passed in a haze of blissful sun-kissed Californian psych-pop, warm and redolent of both 50s and 60s; all very lovely, but I couldn’t help feeling it needed a kick-start. A strident middle eight to the comparatively rockier “Ghost Mouth”, half a dozen numbers in, nearly provided it, but then the impressively larynxed main female backing vocalist exhorted the crowd to, “make some noise!” and handclap the intro to “Alex”. This, easily their best number anyway, was magnificent, a slice of tempo-changing and absorbing lushness reminiscent of The Drop Nineteen’s classic “Winona”. “Vomit” followed, the moody, claustrophobic “Creep”-like first part descending into Husker Du wig-out guitar noise (unsurprising, given Owens’ hardcore roots) then clearing into almost Motown-like soul confessional, with a thunderous climax greeted by an equally thunderous – and lengthy – ovation. “Hellhole Ratrace” took a similar route, with a stark refrain, “I don’t wanna cry, my whole life through…” looping over and over, as the musical backdrop changed from plaintive balladry to a stormy Seafood-like feedback squall. A wonderful mid-set triad!

As if needing to clear the air, Owens steered the set into calmer, more Summery waters again, with a stripped back “Forgiveness”, before “Lust For Life” closed it out with a moshpit receiving this upbeat and surprisingly conventional pop number. A 3 song encore, the best number of which was the opener, the galloping, chuntering “Honey Bunny”, preceded the otherwise taciturn Owens thanking the enthusiastic crowd profusely for coming, and the band hurling the flowers into the audience. A fitting and inclusive end to a very fine set.

I grabbed a set-list, thanks to a friendly bouncer, before a few diversions and an unscheduled trip along the A40M to pick up the M25, thus avoiding M4 junction closures, saw us arrive home about ¼ to 1. A heavy going journey home, but Girls made it worth the effort!