Tuesday, 16 July 2019

1,146 THE 2019 SWINDON SHUFFLE (Friday only), Swindon The Hop and the Victoria, Friday 12th July 2019

One day later than planned, thanks to last night’s impromptu White Lies gig, I’m finally out Shuffling! This, the 13th annual celebration of all things fertile and creative in Swindon’s musical scene, represented the 5th time that I’d sampled its’ delights, yet (as per last year) due to family commitments over the weekend, also represented a Friday night only “one and done” Shuffle experience for me. If that were so, I’d picked the right night, with the Mighty Raze*Rebuild headlining events at The Victoria, this time in their full-on amped-up band mode. So, after medical considerations conspired against my dancing to their recent Regent set, tonight also represented an opportunity to rock out to da Raze once again!

Preparations were duly made, so it was a be-shorted, knee-strapped and lenses-clad Sheriff that rocked up the hill just after 8, after watching an absorbing Wimbledon men’s semi-final, to meet with the Raze boys early doors at The Vic. This wasn’t my initial musical destination, however; the band schedule at tonight’s 2 venues seemingly fell into 2 broad categories, namely jaunty indie pop at The Hop, and grunting rock piggery at The Vic! As my musical tastes arguably fall Midway (Still?) between these 2 generic categorisations, I was planning to split my time between the 2, so it was first off to The Hop, a new venue this year, to catch the last knockings of ABSTRACTION ENGINE’s early set. A droney, haunting and morose US alt-rock/ indie influenced final number, with suitably doleful lyics (“falling by the wayside” and suchlike) made me hark back to late 90’s Boston band Wheat for comparisons, and make me regret staying at home for the tennis, particularly when I ran into Beef in this amply-attended upstairs room, who informed me that this final number was a fair representation of their set. D’oh! Anyway, I was now here, and seated near the front for next band up, introduced by Shuffle co-promoter and Hop compere Ed Dyer as, “the band who change their name every 10 minutes!” – no longer Shore or Rainy Day Fund, this was now STAY LUNAR. They pretty much epitomised this stage with some, well, jaunty indie pop, falling between the Byrdsian C86 gauche yet bright and breezy jangle of the likes of The Razorcuts, and slightly blander, more anodyne Haircut 100 type fayre. Nonetheless, it drew quite a crowd, who were all prepared to groove out; “you may have noticed I’ve got a lot of family here,” commented the curtain-haired blond vocalist which was true, most of them dancing in front of our seats!

After a few numbers, I noted very little variation in Stay Lunar’s material so cried enough, and popped back to The Vic. The rather excellently-named COBALT FIRE were about to kick-off; apparently the new project of local veteran chanteuse Ells Ponting, and if so this was quite a departure from my previous viewing (back at Treefest 2012, gig 854!), Ells swapping low-key acoustica and Postal Service covers for more strident, operatic dark rock. Some dirty, grungier moments appealed to the early 80’s Goth in me, but at times it felt a little overblown, plodding and operatic, making me think of Evanescence which for me is never a good comparison. Still, I really liked her final number, a dark and dramatic manifesto number called “Fuck Pretty” with some spot-on lyrics, and kudos to Ells for challenging herself and her audience with a dramatic new direction.

Back to The Hop, for TALK IN CODE’s funky and slightly baggy indie pop last knockings in front of an appreciative and mobile crowd; then I was faced with my Shuffle clash dilemma of the night… how much of WYLDEST’s set could I catch before I needed to bail out for the Raze set? Luckily, consultations with Ed revealed The Hop had a strict 11pm curfew and The Vic was running late, and I was also buoyed by the presence of Raze drummer Jamie behind me, Jamie partaking of Wyldest’s early numbers whilst waiting for the shout from Si at The Vic. So I was able to avail myself of most of Wyldest’s set, and I was glad I did; Zoe Mead’s dreampop vehicle have developed commensurably since my last band encounter (when, as Wildest Dreams, they opened the 2014 Shuffle for me), the 3-piece plying a very beguiling blend of woozy, hazy and ethereal dreampop, some darker, atmospheric and chiming guitar driven shoegaze (second number “Rolling Waves” reminding me of 90’s indie soundscapers Kitchens Of Distinction, no less) and some shinier, poppier yet quirky material recalling Belly (viz. later number “Alive”). Zoe herself was a charming if slightly nervous frontperson, commenting on my Death Cab For Cutie t-shirt after a rambling song intro, and pointing out her parents, both rocking new album t-shirts!

I’d managed to catch most of the set, but time was now bumping up to 10.55, Jamie having left 10 minutes earlier, so I handed a watching Shuffle co-conspirator Dave Franklin a tenner, with strict instructions to get me the Wyldest CD – and the setlist! Hotfooting it over to The Vic, I had time to get a drink in before RAZE*REBUILD kicked off their headlining set in front of the hardy and appreciative Shuffle faithful. The initial couple of numbers felt controlled and confident, particularly a rather splendid actually yet almost laid-back “Face For Radio”, but the boys really cut loose with the rock after an epic “Kat, I’m Sorry”, the subsequent “New Leaf” powerful, potent and punk-tastic, compelling me to really rock out down the front.

As ever, Raze were an awesome rock beast tonight; less ragged and ramshackle than the recent Regent gig, tonight it all felt well-honed, well-practised and precision-delivered. Well paced too; “Sand In The Petrol” giving this whirling dervish a necessary mid-set breather, before “Jaded Heart” slowly picked up the pace, Raze again cutting loose with a brilliant anthemic double of “All The Gear” and new single “Troubled Minds” (look out for that video, folks!). The boys made light of tonight’s one slip-up (well, the only one I noticed, anyway…), Si commenting to Matt, “you’ve ruined my slickness!” after a counting-in error to final set number “Poison Air”, but made up for it for me, introducing a brilliantly swooping, soaring and rocking encore “Back To The Fall” with, “this one’s for Dave… to be honest, they’re all for Dave…!”. I didn’t even mind the punctuation point of their Queen cover of “Don’t Stop Me Now”; this was a triumphant set, the essence of Raze*Rebuild, and more than worthy headliners tonight.

An end to proceedings then, but not the end of the night, as Ed and I enjoyed a late-night Mr. Cod and chat before I wearily headed off, home for 1. One and done again, but thanks to Wyldest and particularly Raze, it was well done again, Swindon Shuffle!

Monday, 15 July 2019

1,145 WHITE LIES, Al O’Kane, Frome Cheese And Grain, Thursday 11th July 2019

This one proves, without a doubt, that if an opportunity to take my little man Logan to a gig suddenly presents itself, even the most trenchant of plans can quickly become very mutable…! This particular evening had long been pencilled in my gig “Dance Card” as “Swindon Shuffle 2019 Day 1”, and more specifically a headlining gig, to really kick the ‘Don Fest into gear, by old Swindonian Gaz Brookfield and his Company Of Thieves, a set which would see Gaz take sole possession of my “Most Seen Act” accolade with 23. However, other opportunities presented themselves when I discovered Logan would be off school on Friday thanks to a teacher training day; we initially pondered over a one-evening trip to Cheltenham’s “2000 Trees” Festival to see Frank Turner headline, but (ultimately unfounded) forecasts of inclement weather dampened my gig buddy’s enthusiasm for that. Then, on Monday morning, this gig re-appeared in my FB feed; I’d knocked it back when I’d first heard about it, but it became infinitely more attractive now I had Logan – a self-confessed big White Lies fan – in tow! We’d missed out on their early 2019 tour thanks to the lack of nearby U14 venues, so this was a chance to put that to rights for Logan’s sophomore White Lies gig!

So, a late shout, but, tix secured, we headed off down the twisty Wiltshire country roads, rocking up in a sunny early evening Frome town centre at 7.30, and parking up in the old Market Hall’s ample car park. Logan managed to squeeze into a bit of barrier, front and centre, and we chatted with fellow front-row punters (one guy who’d seen ‘da Lies over 20 times, who was apparently standing next to a lady who’d seen ‘em 100+!) while availing ourselves of support Al O’Kane and his sharkstooth-adorned bowler hat-clad sidekick Andy Hill. The duo kicked off with a couple of understated and wistful, pastoral late 60’s acoustic numbers before veering into broodier, more bluesy C&W stuff, some of the more stripped back material being entirely suited for a “Firefly” episode soundtrack! “Animals”, a call-and-response final number with an environmental message, was about the best of a diverting and decent local support set.

More chats with folks down the front – including Dave and Collette, a lovely couple who ponied up £10 for Logan’s Diabetes UK “Million Step Challenge”; thanks guys! – before White Lies took the stage promptly at 9. This, a one-off to keep their hand in, in anticipation of some upcoming Festival appearances, saw White Lies nonetheless well road-tested from their early 2019 tours in support of splendid new album “Five”, itself a further development towards a synthier-driven, smoother sonic template. Poppier and more accessible than their pseudo-gothy post-punk days of yore, yes, but as long as White Lies continue their knack of writing humungous, soaring and uplifting hooks and scattering them liberally around their material, I’m all over it like a cheap suit! Case in point; opener “Time To Give”, a slow burner harking back to those synth-propelled early 80’s new romantic days, but then building to a mesmeric looped outro belying its’ near 7-minute duration. An impressive start, lapped up by this devoted audience, and reciprocated onstage, particularly by mustard-shirted vocalist Harry McVeigh, who clearly relished his job tonight, a face-cracking smile never far from his youthful, bearded features.

White Lies were excellent tonight; “on it” from the off, they delivered a relaxed, confident and utterly accomplished performance. “Farewell To The Fairground” saw them slow the hook for greater emphasis (a neat trick they were to replicate later, to greater effect); an early “There Goes Our Love Again” galloped, swooped and soared, and saw the boys compliment a local Frome chippy at its’ conclusion (!), and “Getting Even” was an early, darker and more menacing highlight. “Take It Out On Me” was immense, Harry letting his dark, earthy baritone soar for the hook, and the robotic synth workout of “Big TV” was an absorbing beast. However, their best number, “Death” was the undisputed highlight tonight; tucked late-on into the set rather than at the end, it built to a crescendo, the band slowing the hook down to a dissonant, funereal crawl before, like a cork out of a champagne bottle, releasing the tension in an immense euphoric gush. The ridiculously hooky Tears For Fears-isms of newie “Tokyo” (which saw host town Frome get a mention!) and an angular, dark “To Lose My Life” closed out a stellar set as good as I’ve seen this increasingly impressive band, Harry happily glorying in the adulation from the crowd.

Encores of a distinctly grungy, almost Nirvana-esque “Fire And Wings” (hinting at a new direction, perhaps? Who knows?) and a superb, soaring and singalong “Bigger Than Us” brought the night to a thundering end, Harry gathering his bandmates for a deserved bow and pointing out Logan to his drummer Jack. Logan had been bouncing furiously down the front pretty much all gig (so much so, that his FitBit step counter registered an extra 6,000 steps for his challenge!) and Jack rewarded him with a well-worn set of drumsticks. Nice touch! This buoyed Logan to stick around outside while the car park cleared, and patience was rewarded ½ hour later with pics and a fully signed set-list for my gig buddy from an appreciative and very friendly band. Thanks guys!

A swift hurtle home chatting about the gig and spotting wildlife (which actually started with a bat flying around the car park!) saw us home at midnight. A superb night out – sorry Gaz, but there’ll be other opportunities to break the record. This might have been a late shout, but thanks to an exemplary performance from White Lies, it was a great shout – and the right shout!

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

1,144 INDOOR PETS, St. Agnes, London Chiswick Metropolis Studios, Monday 24th June 2019

Happy Birthday to me! And on my birthday I’m always up for a gig, particularly if it’s a) by one of my favourite new bands, the spiky, spunky spritely young powerpop bucks Indoor Pets, and b) it’s free! I didn’t know what I was signing up for tonight, however; Indoor Pets announced on their Facebook page that they’d be “recording a live session” at Metropolis Studios in Chiswick, and tickets to come and watch were free but incredibly limited… so I put my name down, thinking it might be a gig, it might be watching a recording studio sesh, who knows? Either way, it’d be a fun thing to do on my birthday!

One of the nice things my company does is to give everyone their birthday off work, so this trip plan was expanded to do some shopping oop t’Smoke! So, after a morning taking Kasey around a prospective Senior School and an impromptu trip into town to buy a new phone, to replace my old handset which took a swim in the cinema loo at the weekend (!), I set off about 1ish, parking up at Osterley and tubing it to Notting Hill, then hitting the book, comic and record exchanges. Eventually tubed it back over to Chiswick (the right side of town for a gig as well!), found the venue and loitered in the vicinity before they let us in at 7. The audience were ushered to the upstairs bar and I found a comfy sofa to sit on and work out my new phone’s inner machinations, before we were then all ushered back downstairs to a small, wood-lined and very pink-lit studio, with a stage set-up at the far end. Ah, so it is a gig, then…

I’d actually bumped into IP bassist Olly in the bar upstairs who primed me on the running order, so before da Pets were due on at 9, we had another session from St. Agnes, who kicked into gear at 8. Unfortunately, they were awful; clumsy and ham-fisted gothy hard rock straight from the Almighty school of heavy-handed rawwwwwwk riffery, with a screaming goth female vocalist who seemed to think feigning orgasm sounds is still “rock’n’roll” in 2019. And I do actually like my goth, me – I was hunting around for a Virgin Prunes 12” in Notting Hill earlier – but this was just dated, turgid, lumpen and really heavy going, with lyrical couplets such as “death or glory, I don’t really care”… I endured a couple of numbers before retreating to my comfy sofa, where unfortunately they were still audible, albeit quieter!

Took a wander back down as St. Agnes finished their crushingly loud final number, and the “rock” half of the crowd filed out. This left the tiny room happily less crowded but still stiflingly hot, as Indoor Pets set up. Just after 9 we were good to go, though, and the boys took the stage, crashing into a noisy instrumental opener before helium-voiced gabbling motormouth vocalist Jamie Glass kicked in with the opening lines to the bouncy, buoyant “Cutie Pie, I’m Bloated”, kicking off a soaring rambunctious rendition and eliciting lots of jumping about – both onstage and off!

Indoor Pets were once again in rare form tonight, an onstage whirl of energy, angular shapes, rubber-kneed bounce and swirling hair, particularly from Olly and guitarist Rob. Jamie was his usual effervescent self, quipping, “thanks for coming down! We’re worth every penny of the ticket price!” before the flippant slow grunge of “Couch”, which for me recalled the sardonic sparkle of Glitterbox (remember them?). “Teriyaki” was terrific, off-kilter, fast and frantic, before the sweaty vocalist (suffering with his glasses steaming up throughout) asked, “who’s on the water?” prompting the roadies to hand out bottles to the melting front rows. Once again the new album material showed up well, the likes of “Heavy Thoughts” in particular soaring, anthemic and hooky, yet my highlights were the final 2 numbers; “Barbiturates”, as bitter, biting and yet bouncy as ever, and a frenzied, moshpit-inducing “Pro Procrastinator”, which closed out this 40 minute vignette. “You’re so kind!” remarked Jamie, “I think you’d have paid for a ticket!” Maybe, just maybe, we would have…!

A quick chat with Rob before I wished him and the boys well on their Weezer Brixton Academy support slot this weekend, and headed off, unfortunately having a 20 minute wait for my tube before getting back to the motor, a swift rant down the M4 getting me home at 12.30 before I nodded off! Nonetheless, a fine way to spend my 27th (twice!) birthday, with a band who (finally) seem to be going places – Indoor Pets!

1,142 GAZ BROOKFIELD, Simon Hall; 1143 RAZE*REBUILD, Swindon Beehive; Swindon Regent, Friday 21st June 2019

What had threatened to be a rather unfortunate gig clash – and indeed, earlier in the evening, a medical emergency-induced double blowout – turned into a quite splendid raucous 2 gig night out in the ‘don! I’d long penned local blue-collar rock faves Raze*Rebuild’s 2019 debut into my Spring Dance Card, tonight’s show at The Regent serving as both Shuffle warm-up and a celebratory performance for Regent (and former Castle) landlady Audrey’s birthday; however, acoustic folk/punk guitar basher and gig regular Gaz Brookfield then announced an impromptu solo performance at The Beehive – for the same night! To make matters worse, said gig was going to be part-recorded for a mob singalong to feature on his new album! Bugger! Heavy of heart, I decided to stick to my initial plan and go see Raze, but call at The Beehive first – where Raze frontman Si Hall was pulling a double shift of his own tonight, doing an acoustic solo support slot for Gaz – and tender my apologies to the man, maybe catch some of his set before legging it up the hill to The Regent if timings were favourable. You never know…!

But then the medical emergency; earlier in the week I’d been prescribed Beta-blockers to start to address a long-standing (and hereditary) atrial fibrillation issue, but I’d reacted badly to them, suffering with shortness of breath. In fact, after my leisurely cycle commute home Friday evening, I was gasping like a guppy fish on dry land, and in need of medical advice. Thus, I was frustratingly sat in an out-of-hours Doc’s surgery at 8.15, calming my breathing down but increasing my blood pressure at possibly missing out on tonight’s shenanigans! An all-clear (and chuck the damn Beta-blockers away!) from the doc later, I drove swiftly up the hill, hitting a well-attended Beehive to catch the last 3 numbers of Si’s set. “Kat I’m Sorry” sounded as impassioned as ever, Si warming up his larynx for later, an acoustic “Back To The Fall” nonetheless went well (“I wasn’t sure how that would go!” confessed Si), and “Sand In The Petrol” (“a sad slow one to end on a high note!”) rounded off a fine and well observed, if slightly reined-in set, Si thanking all and sundry for being so attentive!

I passed on my apologies to a magnanimous and understanding Gaz, also informing him of Logan’s mention of him on our recent “Dinosaur To Junior” appearance on Steve Lamacq’s Radio 6 show. Si advised Raze were due on about 10, which happily gave me about ½ hour of the Brookfield, so I stuck around, chilling outside with Ady then popping in for Gaz’ set at 9.30. A fun newie to start, featuring some wordy interplay about writing new songs, ironically enough, then we were straight into the likes of “Diabetes Blues”, “Gunner Haines” and “Under The Table”, to a loud reception from the raucous crowd, who to Gaz’ obvious delight, sang along to pretty much everything. No fool Gaz; he’d clearly thought this through and picked a set of well-known, roof-raising singalong bangers to really warm the crowd’s collective larynx in advance of the mob singalong. In good fooling too, the man; “Haines” was introduced with a quip of, “a song about a dead soldier – keeping it light!”, “So Very Rock And Roll” was, in Gaz’ words, “what its’ really like to be a professional musician – “professional musician”, hah! Both of those words are a lie!”, and a punky “I’ve Paid My Money” allegedly had it’s first 2 verses, “written by pricks!”
“Maps”, oddly enough, was a stand-out, things getting weird as the audience kept calling out the title, so by the later “Be The Bigger Man”, the audience were in clear party spirits.

(Me too – by this time I’d excused myself at 10, but a swift wander up The Regent revealed things running very late, openers Flour Babies having just started their set! Thus buoyed, I popped back down The Beehive for the rest of Gaz!)

So I was happily there for the recording; a couple of runs through “Great Minds Drink Alike”, Gaz performing it off-mic in the middle of the crowd, with everyone giving it their roof-raising lustiest best voices. So it seems that, along with a few dozen other loud punters, I’m on the next Gaz Brookfield album. Great stuff! Gaz broke out the Whitney Houston cover after that, which was a fortuitous time to head up the hill, where Raze*Rebuild were plugging in and getting ready for launch at 11. Good timing!

Due to my medical issues earlier, I was strictly instructed not to dance, but I nonetheless took my usual front row spot for Raze’s opener “Burden Of Youth”, being joined by Ady and also old mates Avril and Ingrid, out on a girly night and clearly, erm, well-refreshed…! “Burden” was a rampaging opener setting the stall out for the set, Si clearly saving his roar for this one, and an almost jolly “Face For Radio” followed, a few folks dancing along and myself obeying doctors orders, contenting myself with a gentle sway… Damn shame, as this was pretty much a totally incendiary set – in fact, I’m sure that if you looked up the word “incendiary” in the Oxford English Dictionary of Rock, there’d be a pic of Si in full flow, lionesque roar and bulging neck veins, backed up by Matt intricately picking the riffery, Paj head bobbing in time to the bass, and Jamie pounding furiously away at the back. Another clear masterclass in what makes “live” rock’n’roll such an inclusive, visceral experience; again, by no means note-perfect or technically spot-on, but raw-boned, raggedy-arsed, sweaty and hellishly awesome. The rampant “New Leaf” got me a namecheck, “Sand In The Petrol” was honest and impassioned (for the second time tonight!) and “Troubled Minds” was a brilliant punky blast.

“This has gone way better than I thought!” gasped Si at the encore; “set the bar low and you can’t fail to be impressed!” as they launched into closer “Back To The Fall”. Another great, rocking set from the Raze; they’re well warmed up for The Shuffle, I’d say, and hopefully I’ll have my dancing shorts back on then and will be able to do them justice…

Chats with friends and the Raze boys afterwards – I think they appreciated my mentioning them on Lamacq’s show, which was nice – then a wander back to the car via The Beehive for a quick word with Gaz; and an almost London-late 12.45 home time… good thing it’s Friday night! So, another slap in the face for anyone who says nothing happens in Swindon; this was a great double-header out in the ‘don!

Sunday, 9 June 2019

1,141 THE PETE WYLIE SHOW, Birmingham O2 Academy 3, Friday 7th June 2019

Ridiculously, given that his debut Wah! Heat… album “Nah=Poo; The Art Of Bluff” was part of my teenage voyage of post-punk discovery in the early 80’s, tonight marked the first time I’d ever seen Pete Wylie “live” in his own right… Wylie was the self-confessed maverick motormouth and self-publicist from that amazingly fertile Eric’s/ Liverpool post-punk scene, the least prolific of the “Crucial Three” triumvirate which included Julian Cope and the Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch yet arguably the most commercially successful, with the anthemic earworm likes of “Come Back”, “Sinful” and particularly “The Story Of The Blues” bothering the upper reaches of the singles charts in the 80’s. Seemingly also the most gig-shy as well; I’d only seen him once before, with Dead Men Walking at Swindon Arts Centre in 2001 (gig 535), an Oxford gig on a recent tour having been cancelled after I’d gotten tix (bah!), so when facebook friend Russ advertised a spare ticket for this Birmingham show, I quickly took it up, relishing the chance to right both an ancient and recent wrong!

Made arrangements to meet up with Russ and hit the road straight from work at 4, only to get a call from the man to advise that a family emergency would preclude his attendance. Russ kindly pdf’ed me over the tickets and I parked up in my pre-booked Horsefair car park slot after a difficult Friday night traffic-affected drive up, thence needing a run into New Street station to find a loo! Wandered into the Academy 3; the smallest of this complex of venues, this was a tiny 250-capacity ground floor room, deserted early doors whilst a couple of blokes were feverishly working on a fairly elaborate stage set-up – a gazebo frame with banners, twinkling lights and “Pete Sounds” t-shirts suspended from it! The man himself emerged to briefly oversee events, evoking memories of that time Wayne Coyne got handy with a spanner to set up The Flaming Lips’ gong in Oxford on that Mercury Rev support tour (gig 405). Sat and watched the place (very) slowly fill up until a loo trip predictably saw me lose my seat, so took a wander down the front instead.

At 8.30 prompt, Wylie’ young sidekick Anders took the stage and switched on a rocking rhythm on a PC, then Wylie emerged, rounded and resplendent in black, topped with a red scarf, quipping immediately about his wingman; “I booked a tour and he booked a holiday! We’re lucky to have him [tonight] – next week I’ll be pushing my own buttons!”, then, in response to some good-natured heckling, Wylie evoked Liverpool’s recent Champion’s League win and laid into his host city’s football clubs, “we’ve only got one shit team in our town!”

It became immediately apparent that I’d need to quickly remove the stick from my ass about “taped” performances; I have a real problem with that, dating back to that execrable PWEI Reading 1991 performance (gig 191), and even recently laid into a support act who used pre-recordings, dismissing them as “goth karaoke”. Yet here was one of my post-punk icons only playing guitar “live”, and using bass and drum pre-recordings… Wylie however made the point that this would be the only way he could perform “live” (“I don’t know any Liverpool musicians anymore, and I can’t afford musicians not from Liverpool!”), confirmed that he’d played all the recordings himself, then announced; “hope you enjoy it – and if you don’t – fuck off!” Fair enough then! He kicked off with newie “I Still Believe”, a big heroic flag waver and almost a companion piece to Frank Turner’s song of the same name, equally as impassioned and topical, and featuring a lyric “it makes no difference if you disagree, ‘cos I’m taking ‘bout me, yeah, I’m talking ‘bout me” which may as well have been a metaphor for the whole night!

Tonight was indeed an astonishing insight into Wylie the musician and Wylie the man; musically this was a supreme performance, the likes of “Fourelevenfortyfour” and “Sinful” anthemic singalong highlights of the opening set, standing proud next to an acerbic yet utterly joyful “The Day That Margaret Thatcher Died”. The between song banter was equally as memorable, veering from disarmingly honest (“I’ve had a brilliant 20 year career – over 40 years” and “I’ve had mental health battles – they’re mostly skirmishes now”) to side-achingly funny (commenting on the rainy journey down, “at one point we saw a dolphin get run over,” and elaborating on his early 90’s health issues with, “I broke my back in 1991 and was gutted as I couldn’t die like a Rockstar! I’d have been rich – dead but rich…!”) yet the love of music ran through his core like a stick of rock (“music saved my life – and nearly killed me too – it’s a trade-off!”). Plenty of time too, to celebrate those who walked alongside him on the journey, including a couple of numbers poignantly dedicated to old partner Josie Jones, lost 3 years ago.

A short pause followed a 1 hour 10 opening set, the second set opening fittingly with “Come Back”, probably my highlight of a night of so many – epic, widescreen and soaring doesn’t start to do it justice… newie “People (The Rise Of Dunning-Kruger)” had an explanatory preamble (Dunning-Kruger apparently being a theory about stupid people being too stupid to realise how stupid they’re being – plenty of them in the world right now!) before Wylie introduced the song itself as his take on an anti-racist song in the style of the Beach Boys! He bolted on a fat acoustic for a genuinely affecting “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory” before ranting through a dark, dramatic and punky “Seven Minutes To Midnight”, sideswiping the idiot Number 45 in the process. Ultimately, the inevitable “Story Of The Blues” finished off an amazing 2 hour+ performance, Wylie leaving us with fulsome compliments – “I fucking love it here; it’s not true what they say!” before returning for the “Blues Reprise” after the lights had come on, leaving us with the salient comments of, “there’s no fake news, there’s just lies!” and “we’re gonna win – because we’ve gotta win – for the future!”. The man cares. Deeply. Still. Just… wow.

And an exemplary evening was capped by a pic and quick words with the great man, before an equally difficult squally rain-affected run home. Despite the tapes, this was stunning stuff from a captivating singer, raconteur and performer with charisma and chutzpah to throw away. Tonight it was a privilege to see him finally perform, after so many years, and hopefully this first time won’t be the last time!

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

1,140 EX HEX, Rattle, Bristol Exchange, Monday 27th May 2019

There seems to be quite a lot of all-female, or female fronted, bands or acts popping up on my Spring Dance Card this year… maybe I’m turning into my occasional gigging buddy “Beef” on the quiet! Anyway, here’s another distaff ensemble, namely Washington DC’s punky power trio ex Hex, who burst into my sightline with their splendid 2015 debut “Rips”, a collection of proto-punky riffery and New Wave harmonies that sounded as if it stepped out of Max’s Kansas City circa 1977. A couple of fine upbeat gigs around that time cemented Mary Timony’s latest project as a “live” staple for me, so I picked up a ticket for this Bank Holiday Monday gig when announced, following it up with new album “It’s Real”, which honestly lacks the immediacy of its’ predecessor, the tracks in general slower-burn, longer, and veering a little uncomfortably towards a more 80’s hair metal and occasionally AOR vibe. Not yet great then, so I was hoping that some of the effervescent buoyancy and fun of the live Ex Hex experience might elevate these numbers somewhat. Here’s hoping…

So I set off at 7.15 for a swift blast down a quiet Bank Holiday M4 (I wouldn’t say “reluctantly”, but certainly I felt less of the stomach-knotting excitement and anticipation that normally accompanies me along to gigs), parking up usual spot and hitting the very quiet-early-doors venue just after 8. Whiled away some time on my phone, in FB correspondence with my brother – earlier today I’d unearthed a copy on Flickr of a letter I wrote to “Smash Hits” as an indignant 15-year old, vehemently defending my then favourite band The Skids against accusations of poseurism! Said banter was certainly more fun than the support Rattle, a female drum duo – yup, that’s right… drum duo… They pounded out 3 numbers over their ½ hour slot, caterwauling over the 15-minute first, ooh-oohing over the thankfully shorter second, but when they announced their third number as, “one last one, but it’s long, so brace yourselves…” I got the hell out of dodge, continuing my FB chat from the safety of the bar, away from the efforts of Rattle… And Drum! (Groan…)

Hopefully from the ridiculous to the sublime – or at least musical… I grabbed a second row spot, house right, as the place filled up to a respectable level and the girls, in matching New Wave chic and spray-on jeans, set up. They took the stage at 9.15 to little fuss or fanfare, Mary Timony announcing, “what’s up? We’re Ex Hex from Washington DC!” and leading her charges into oldie opener “You Fell Apart”, all snappy, sassy, snazzy and singalong.

Sonically, the set unfolded as I expected; the girls interspersed new material in with old, the older proving generally more melodic, shorter, snappier, faster, punkier, more immediate and singalong than the newer stuff. “How You Got That Girl” oozed with Mink DeVille late 70’s insouciant NYC cool, “Beast” was superbly energetic, guitarist Betsy joyfully high-kicking her way through its’ denouement, and “Don’t Wanna Lose” was probably my set highlight, all slashing riffery and groovy, flippant chorus. By contrast, some of the newer numbers felt overlong and a little drab in comparison, “Another Dimension” in particular skirting uncomfortably close to that 80’s hair metal sound with some over-fussy middle-8 licks. However, the girls’ energetic and kinetic performance made up for the lesser quality of the new songs, Betsy and Mary swapping rock poses and often interlocking legs whilst riffing off each other, the addition of a “live” bassist freeing Betsy up to throw rock riff shapes and revisit “the leg”, our favourite Betsy pose from their last “live” go-around. They were clearly enjoying themselves, and honestly, so was I!

A swift 45 minute set was topped by the groovy “Radio On” and a splendid, Velvet Underground-esque “Hot And Cold”, the latter also borrowing elements of that classic Knack “My Sharona” middle-8 riff. At a shade under an hour, this was short but sweet, the band overall rising above their not-so-great recent material to deliver a fine showing overall. No list for me tonight though, as the devoted front rows beat me to it. Nonetheless, a quick chat with the sound guy – none other than Tim from The Woahnows! – on the way out was a nice way to end a fun night with the Ex Hex girls. I was looking for effervescence and energy – girls, you delivered!

Sunday, 26 May 2019

1,139 CHAMELEONSVOX, Gloucester Guildhall Arts Centre, Thursday 23rd May 2019

The second of two in two nights for me, and whilst last night’s Juliana Hatfield gig may have been full of doubts (both before and after!), tonight’s hosts were pretty much the nearest you can get to a nailed-on Sure Thing “live” these days; the one and only Chameleons Vox! Barely 3 years since my post-redundancy voyage of 80’s musical discovery unearthed for me this ruffian band of epic goth-tinged post-punker Mancunians, but this would be my 5th time seeing them “live” since then; making up for lost time indeed! An added bonus this time however was that this Gloucester gig would be a run-through of their third album “Strange Times”; their third and arguably most epic, sweeping and-anthemic sounding collection. Released in 1986 to a divided UK, with the South bathing in yuppie affluence yet the North still reeling from the after-effects of the bitter Miner’s Strike (strange times, indeed), it reflected the fear and doubt of those times, all moody melody and bleak intensity, yet also managed to sound joyful and euphoric at the same time. A great, great body of work, and (again) one that I should have held dear for 33 years, rather than just 3!

Ok, enough of the self-flagellation; another benefit of this Gloucester gig was that I finally get to hang out with a kindred spirit and likely my blog’s biggest fan; I’d been receiving favourable comments from a certain Cerebus660 pretty much since I set up my gig blog, finally getting to meet him at the Skids Guildhall gig earlier this year (gig 1,124)!. Simon (his real non-comic aardvark-related name) and I arranged to meet up for this one; he, like me, had allowed The Chameleons to pass him by somewhat back in the day, but some revisiting on my recommendation was enough to sway the man into joining me tonight! A quick drive up and parking in my usual free spot saw me hit the venue at 7.30; Simon joined me shortly after and we enjoyed a lengthy chat, discovering much common ground – comics as well as music, and even a difficult illness in our medical pasts; almost lives lived in parallel, 40 miles apart…! Kate and neighbour George joined us briefly as well, before we headed into this old school hall venue. Another fairly quiet one tonight, with the hall probably only 2/3rds full of the devoted church of the Chameleons, but hey, I’d go for knowledge over numbers any day of the week…!

With very little fanfare, the trenchcoated and monolithic Mark Burgess led his charges onstage dead on 9, announcing the run-through of “Strange Times” then remarking that in “honour” of the idiot incumbent in the White House, the opener would be re-christened “Mad Trump”! Of course, this found favour with this crowd, as did the rendition; as ever with this band the version was faithful yet epic, again a little slower than the breathless gallop on record, setting the tone for the performance. “Caution”, next up, was eerie, undulating and superbly widescreen, with guitarist Neil Dwerryhouse’s virtuoso picking a feature, the band already weaving the kind of taut, moody atmospherics that gained them such a devoted following (and, conversely, catapulted U2 to stadium status at the same time…!). The slow-burn “Tears” featured Korg synth embellishments from a mystery 5th member, replacing the shimmering acoustic strum-along base of the recorded version, but an elongated “Soul In Isolation” was the first real skyscraping highlight from a set full of them; the complex drum pattern lurching the song into staggering life, before the clouds broke and the song really took flight, Burgess using its’ rhythmic middle 8 section to deliver some serious messages (“60% of the species on this planet have become extinct in the last 20 years!”) as well as throwing in the likes of “The End” (“all our leaders are insane!”), Bowie’s “Be My Wife” and various Beatles numbers for added emphasis. Utterly magnificent.

Photo courtesy of Cerebus660. Nice one Simon!

Burgess was again in rare form, the voice authoritative and commanding, and his band backed him up with another display of haunting, shimmering and plangent brilliance. “Time” and “In Answer” were both serious rockers, surprisingly hard-edged, yet the intervening “Seriocity” was simply gorgeous, proving this band have a lightness and deftness of touch when required. All too soon the almost angelic instrumental coda of “I’ll Remember” ended the “Strange Times” run-through, Burgess leading the band off after a quite magnificent hour. After a short interval, Burgess returned, canvassing the crowd for requests before a galloping “Paradiso” and an elongated “Second Skin”, which almost matched “Soul” for its epic scope, the crowd lustily providing “woah-oh” backing vocals from the off; then “Nostalgia” closed out another superb Chameleons set.

I thought I’d lucked out on a set-list when the roadie collected them all up during the brief interval; however, we stopped for merch on the way out and I was happily offered the one just lying there on the merch table! Had a quick drink with Simon to compare notes on the gig before taking my leave and blasting home down a pitch-black A419. Great company and one hell of a gig from as good a band as there is “live” right now. I’m still making up for lost time, but on this form I won’t ever miss a chance to see ChameleonsVox!