Sunday, 22 December 2013

900 GAZ BROOKFIELD, Plus 4 Supports, Bristol Fleece, Friday 20 December 2013

Another milestone reached, and another gig year comes to a close, and to mark both occasions, I really couldn’t have picked a better host than prolific, hard-working punk/folk troubadour and recent “live” favourite of mine, Gaz Brookfield, for a new CD release party in his adopted hometown Bristol! Truth to tell, it was only the fact that the excellent Savages November Trinity show (gig 894) clashed with Gaz’ most recent show in the ‘don, which prompted me to get a ticket for this one. However, as this ultimately became a sell-out, plus with the announcement that Gaz was performing with a full band, I was anticipating a partisan “hometown” crowd hopefully feeding off Gaz’ passion, creating a superb, all inclusive atmosphere. So, despite a cold wafting around my head and reports of particularly stormy driving conditions, off I went!

The trip down wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared, however, despite some gusts, and I managed to park up in the first spot around the corner from the venue as well! So I popped in just after ¼ to 8, to see the last knockings of young motormouth opener Clayton Blizzard. One of Gaz’ recent tour companions (as were all of Gaz’ supports tonight; typical of the man that he should want to share his biggest audience with his fellow solo singer-songwriter contemporaries), Blizzard had a Chicago Cubs cap and a Benjamin Zephaniah-like rhythmic delivery, railing and raging against, well, pretty much everything really, but with a wit and humour which held the attention. And some rapier-like lines as well – “if the cod stocks are low, let them eat hake!” being my favourite.

Had a breather outside, bumping into old friend Steve Aldridge and chatting, thus missing most of Ellen Cox’s set, next up. What I heard I liked, though, in a more angsty vein, especially a fine final number “Sink Britain Sink”. Next up, in short order in front of the rapidly filling Fleece crowd, was curly mop-haired singer Joe McCorriston; from Morecambe, he had a Brookfield/ Turner-esque strident punk-folk delivery, with bags of enthusiasm which made up for some haphazard rough edges. After a cover of “Basket Case”, he took a photo of the audience – his biggest ever – for his mum! The place was uncomfortably full by now so I took another breather outside, hanging out with “Olly” and again missing most of Sean McGowan’s set. More provocative and Dashboard Confessional-like than the other supports, he ended his crowd-pleasing set with an acapella political rant. Provocative indeed!

So, 4 fine supports, but we were here for Gaz! I negotiated my way down to the front, stage left, for his entrance, again in short order at 10 to 10 after a short final set-up check. Already feeding off a rapturous reception, he led the band into galloping opener “Limelight”, the irony of this tale of support act hell not lost on the manically grinning Gaz. Newie “Land Pirate’s Life”, the lead-off track from new CD “In The Company Of Thieves”, the release of which we were here to celebrate, followed breathlessly behind, the excellent Ben Wain’s superb violin work adding an extra dimension to this tale of life on the road.

An intended early “SN1” was abandoned as Gaz had some guitar tuning problems, needing to borrow Ellen Cox’s for the remainder of the set. However, this didn’t put him off his stride, as he delivered a magnificent performance of energy, passion and commitment, his superbly observed tales of life’s pitfalls and highlights being enhanced by his fine band. Another newie, “Black Dog Day”, was brilliant, a dark and venomous number about facing one’s demons, then a raucously sung-along “Be The Bigger Man” was a mid-set highlight. In fact, most of tonight’s numbers were sung back raucously by this enthusiastic and tuned-in crowd, delivering the all-inclusive vibe I’d hoped for, and eliciting looks of pride and incredulity from Gaz throughout, a big stupid grin never far from his face.

“I can’t explain what’s happened tonight… so I won’t try,” Gaz announced before set closer “The West Country Song” shook the rafters of this venerable old venue with a mass singalong. Before the encores, Gaz remarked, “in a sense, this is my work Christmas do, so it’s only a matter of time before I photocopy my arse…” to introduce a savage, pointed “Diet Of Banality”, then a final subsequent “Thin” really raised the roof and provided the perfect punctuation to this utterly triumphant evening.

Hung out for brief congrats from an elated and predictably besieged Gaz, getting some stuff signed after a sweaty bearhug, before hitting the road for a stormy but safe journey home. If Gaz couldn’t explain what happened tonight, let me try; tonight, a marvellously talented but thus-far overlooked performer might, just might, have started to get the recognition due to him. And no-one deserves it more.

Monday, 16 December 2013

899 THE 12 BANDS OF CHRISTMAS! Swindon The Victoria, Friday 13 December 2013

A regular event on the local music calendar, apparently, this one, although it’s my first time of attending... Basically, the format is simple; 12 local bands each get 2 songs, both cover versions, either to evoke the Christmas spirit, try out something new, or play a favourite or even unfamiliar number in their own style. All well and good, but what attracted me up to it was Tim's band The Shudders being present on tonight’s bill and promising a couple of intriguing covers…

So I was up for that, heading off up The Vic after Rich got back from swimming, and hitting the venue at 9, thereby unfortunately missing Shudders vocalist Danny’s girlfriend Ellen’s band The Rumour Shed, on first at 8.30 tonight. I’d been meaning to catch them “live” for a while - maybe in 2014? Bumped into Tim and Trace in the bar for a chat, thereby missing young band THE DEBUTS, on in the already very busy back room. I could make out their second number - a rambunctious “Three Lions”, but missed their opener, which was apparently a good reading of The Smiths’ “Bigmouth Strikes Again”! D’oh! I eventually wandered in at the end of DEAD ROYALTIES’ noisy finale, but was in place for THE BLOWBACKS, on at 10. Featuring Tim’s former 101 colleague Matt on drums, they turned their opener, Taylor Swift’s girl pop agenda-setter and one of Kasey’s favourite songs “We Are Never Never Never Getting Back Together” into a drawn-out alt.slacker laze-fest a la Promise Ring, then followed with an immense, stomping version of “Addicted To Love” which was more akin to Ciccone Youth than Robert Palmer. Impressive.

THE SHUDDERS were next up; by now I’d bumped into Stuart Gould, Ben Warr and entourage, and was happy to fill Ben in on what was next up, although Stuart didn’t want to know! Sure enough, Tim and crew opened with a beefy, grunge-tastic version of Smashing Pumpkins’ finest hour, “Cherub Rock”, apparently a rehearsal favourite of theirs and featuring some uncharacteristic strident vocals from Danny, which they totally nailed. Tremendous stuff. Follow-up, Phil Oakey And Georgio Moroder's 80’s synth-pop anthem “Together In Electric Dreams” was less rehearsed, a little haphazard and understated, yet ironically more akin to The Shudders’ own more thoughtful, introverted material. I suggested to Tim afterwards that they should crank up the noise more often, given how well they delivered “Cherub Rock”; he promised their new material is more upfront. I’ll hold you to that, Tim!

Next up were BRITISH HARLEM, another young band who evidently had been rifling through their grandparents’ record collections, let alone their parents’ stuff, as they delivered crowd-pleasing, modish, push’n’shove versions of “Suspicious Minds” and “Can't Take My Eyes Off You” which went down very well, the young vocalist igniting the crowd with a performance full of nervous tension and energy. However I was much more impressed with the subsequent NUDY BRONQUE; a young trio featuring a vocalist who reminded both Stuart and myself (at the same time!) of a young Brett Anderson, their covers of Cornershop’s “Brimful Of Asha” and an excellent reading of Gomez’ “Whipping Piccadilly” (for me the best thing on the menu tonight) were thrilling, glammy, riff-tastic noisefests, and made me want to check out their original material. Which I suppose is the whole point of this, really!

Took a wander to the back end of the venue as I wasn’t really impressed with SUPER SQUARECLOUD and their sparse, saucepan-bashing r’n’b numbers; then closers THE COSTELLOS took an absolute age to tune up (which was totally not the point: with the backline set up beforehand, bands literally were supposed to just bring their guitars, plug in and play...) then started up some unimpressive reggae ska stuff, which made me realise it was 1/4 to 12 and waaaay past this old chap’s bedtime. So off I went, giving Tim and Trace, plus fellow Shudder Liam, a lift home first. A very fine night, showcasing some impressive local bands, and hopefully not the last time I check out this annual local event. As for Band Of The Day; sorry Tim, but much as I loved “Cherub Rock”, I'm going to give that to Nudy Bronque!

Monday, 9 December 2013

898 WHITE LIES, Frankie Rose, Bristol O2 Academy, Sunday 8 December 2013

Down to Brizzle on an appropriately evocative dark and clear Sunday night, to see young London band White Lies, the young London trio whose debut “To Lose My Life” had really captured my imagination with some strident, dark and gothy post-punk rock which landed squarely in my Bunnymen-sound wheelhouse, but whom since then had released a couple of follow-ups including this year’s “Big TV”, becoming shinier, synthier and more commercial sounding with each release whilst still retaining an 80’s feel and throwing in the odd devastating tune in the process. Moving away from a Joy Division sound to a darker (dare I say it) Tears For Fears, perhaps? Still, they were good value “live” last time out, albeit a little hesitatingly, so let’s go!

I managed to persuade Rach to join me this time, having gotten into trouble for booking a ticket on my own last time out, only this time to discover she, like myself, wasn’t as keen on their newer material... Still, off we went, parking up in an oddly deserted Trenchard Street car park and hitting the relatively quiet venue at 7.30 (no sell-out, this, unlike last time out), waiting half an hour for support, NYC’s Frankie Rose, on at 8. Backed up by a 4-piece band including a female guitarist who looked like her daughter (!), Frankie played some edgy, fast-paced and occasionally jangly pop, with smooth female harmonies recalling Fuzzy or early Lush, and a taut beat evoking early Cure (exemplified by Frankies Robert Smith t-shirt). A few good tracks there, although one of the less good numbers sounded uncomfortably like an 80’s John Hughes film soundtrack number! Unoriginal, but a diverting start.

So with half an hour between sets, the roadies decided to choke us with quite the largest outpouring of dry ice I’d been subjected to for ages, excessive even by Bunnymen standards! We took a good viewing spot on the lip of the floor, stage left, but were concerned we might not see anything through the fog! Finally White Lies took the stage promptly at 9, kicking into sombre gloom-fest opener “To Lose My Life”, and the place, which had filled up rapidly between sets, went utterly nuts. “There Goes Our Love”, the excellent galloping best number from their current CD, followed in short order, a huge and brilliant lighting rig throwing a blood red pall across the stage, contrasting with the green backlit laser show. Stunning, yet complementary to the sound. The Bunnyesque open space of “A Place To Hide” followed, young bearded vocalist Harry McVeigh’s pleading vocals propelling the immense chorus around the venue, the startlingly engaged and devoted crowd echoing back every word. This was seriously good, atmospheric stuff for openers!

Inevitably, things sagged a little  for me mid-set, although the Ultravox-lite “Street Lights” and a potent, seething  “EST” were mid-set highlights. Harry then introduced a, “special song, the first song we wrote as White Lies and the reason we’re here today,” the melancholy, brooding “Unfinished Business”, which built to a soaring, yearning chorus line. I could have done without the cover of Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U”, Prince never one of my favourite artistes, but the set then finished strongly with a lovely, melodic “First Time Caller”, then a perfectly judged rendition of their best number, “Death”. I was concerned last time out that this one was carried by the audience – not so tonight, as the hook line “this fear’s got a hold of me” was deliberately slowed for added mood and menace, before being released like a cork from a bottle, sending the whole floor into a dervish frenzy.

The Visage-like synth refrain of “Big TV” kicked off the encore, with Harry praising this unusually enthusiastic Bristol crowd (“so good so see a crowd move as much as you!”) before closer “Bigger Than Us”, the robotic beat plunging into the immense, soaring and roaring chorus. This was a perfect end to a set which, despite some mid-set quality drops, was easily the best I’ve seen this nicely maturing young band play. The rose above their occasionally patchy material tonight and delivered a splendid evening of dark, anthemic rock. Well done boys!