Sunday, 29 July 2018

1,097 PALM ROSE, Supp. Canute’s Plastic Army, Frances The Farmer, Swindon The Castle, Friday 27th July 2018

Keeping it local with this one, and carrying over a couple of themes from the Swindon Shuffle, last time out; not only a trip up the Castle to see Palm Rose, the Shuffle’s best new discovery for me, but also a free fundraiser gig, this one a “No Plastic Bands” benefit to raise awareness about the environmental impact of single-use of plastic, and subsequently headlined by the appropriately named Canute’s Plastic Army! Palm Rose were however the main attraction for me, and I was looking for a continuation of the Shuffle form from this very new young band.

Took a drive up the hill, parking up and hitting The Castle for just before 9, joining the band plus significant others out in the beer garden. Chatted to Palm Rose vocalist Adam and discovered a bit more about the origins of the band, who were apparently ¾ of former locals Well Dressed Thief, plus drummer and old school friend Rich. Looked as if the WDT split was amicable enough, though, judging by former WDT vocalist James socialising with them tonight! Enjoyed some rock chat before heading in to partake of opener’s Frances The Farmer’s singular musical vision. Two members of Flour Babies (one being recent FB friend Gavin) and a nervous but mesmerising black frontman rapping quickfire over some dour, bleak and libidinous musical backdrops (reminding this old guy of The Fall’s earlier, more stretched workouts – think “Frightened”, “Iceland”, “Tempo House”, that type of thing), this was an uneasy, oppressive and claustrophobic listen, yet very intriguing and attention-grabbing. Later numbers were a bit more bass-led and had a slightly funkier feel, with staccato guitar riffery from Gavin, but never strayed far from this mood-heavy musical template. I couldn’t make out too many of the words – the delivery was tumbling and nervous and the mix a little on the trebly side – but that didn’t really detract from this very favourable impression. First gig too? Impressive.

Had a chat with Messrs. Dyer and Franklin, happily in attendance tonight, as Palm Rose set up, then took a wander further forward as they eased, almost apologetically, into their set opener “Daydream”. Again the opening keyboard flourish initially grabbed the attention, as the song eased into its’ journey, the repetitive building hook driven by Adam’s impressive vocal range and command. “Humid”, next up, featured a more textural keyboard-led opening evoking fresh Spring rain, again building to a dissonant crescendo and ending with the layered acapella hook. A nervous plug from Adam for both his band and the cause tonight – “use less plastic!” – preceded “Goalkeeper”, which was more structured with an almost summery guitar interlude from Aaron, and “Seattle” (“home of my lovely wife – thing – er, I’m digging myself a bit of a hole here…” commented Adam) opened with some almost Pixies-ish growling bass from Chris, before its’ insistent hook lead into a big widescreen middle 8 and denouement, propelled by Aaron’s undulating and intricate fretwork, which revealed he’s probably listened to more than a bit of early U2, which for me is no bad thing…

Overall, this was another excellent set of dreampop/ shoegaze/ post-punk-influenced yet individual and unique indie rock from a splendid young band. Hard to believe this was only their 3rd ever gig as Palm Rose, as they already sound very together and well-practised, and whilst Adam may lack the onstage charisma and persona of his more overt former WDT colleague James, Palm Rose already feel more of a band, the whole being more than the sum of its’ parts. And after the dark oppressive storms of tonight’s opening act, Palm Rose’s set was the point when the clouds broke and the sun shone through!

More rock chat with Mr. Franklin outside and in, and also a discussion about influences with Adam, so I confess I didn’t really pay too much attention to the headliners until their fine reading of Pulp’s classic “Razamatazz”. Sorry guys… Headed off about 11.30 after a highly enjoyable evening. Great stuff – in fact, the highest compliment I can pay to Palm Rose is that suddenly, Raze*Rebuild aren’t the only lot to get me up The Castle on a Friday night…!

Thursday, 19 July 2018

1,096 THE 2018 SWINDON SHUFFLE (Saturday only), Various Swindon Venues, Saturday 14th July 2018

The 2018 Swindon Shuffle... now with extra added Top Table Posse reunion action!

OK, so let’s clarify here... following a 20-odd year absence, I’d re-connected with old friend Roger Herman a couple of years ago, at a London 100 Club June Brides gig (gig no. 977). Our promising to keep in touch was happily made easier by his recent addition to Facebook; so when Rog announced on his page that he’d be visiting the ‘don to partake of Saturday’s itinerary for the Swindon Shuffle, our annual showcase of the finest original music Swindon has to offer, I also saw this as a rare opportunity to get as many of our old 80’s/90’s drinking/music/footy gang, The Top Table Posse, together. So the call went out... now who would answer?

Having made family arrangements for the second music-related Saturday out in a row (this one albeit slightly different to the Cure Hyde Park gig last week!), I headed up the hill and hit afternoon venue The Tuppenny just before 2, where Si Hall and his boys were just arriving to set up for their acoustic show. Yup, you read that right...! I grabbed the front-centre table, then Rog arrived and so did Dave and Ady, and we caught up awhile before Si called his boys to arms, to open Shuffle Saturday!

So, as I mentioned, “acoustic”...! RAZE*REBUILD were truly living up to their name with this performance, having razed their usual titanic, earth-shaking rock to the ground and rebuilt it into a “low key” “acoustic” line-up, powered instead by Si’s irrepressible ebullience and Jamie’s sore palms pounding manfully away on his percussive beatbox (which at least meant, as he’d remarked beforehand, that his kit set-up was a lot quicker!). I’ve put those words in quotation marks because of course, even with this set-up, R*R were as powerful and intense as most bands (local or otherwise) manage to be, fully amped-up! “Back To The Fall” fairly rattled along with its usual righteous Husker Du-lite pace and potency, an early “Kat I'm Sorry” was stark and emotive, benefitting from this arrangement, and despite Si commenting, “I feel naked - mercifully I’m not!”, and occasionally quipping “how is that an acoustic song? That’s normally much louder!” before the likes of “All The Gear” and “New Leaf”, this was an utter triumph, even impressing both cynical Bevan boys! The bottom line is that in a stripped-back show, you stand or fall on the strength of the songwriting, pure and simple, and in this regard Raze*Rebuild succeed spectacularly.

A final thank-you from Si (“you're much kinder - and there’s many more of you! - than I expected!”) and a stark, emotive “Sand In The Petrol” brought an excellently judged set to a close. Congrats to all before a quick turnaround; SUMITA, next up, was a young keyboard soloist with some whimsical tunes featuring stories of ghosts and mountaintops, and songs called “Monster” (no, not that one) and “Jody’s Spaceship”. Bright, quirky and vaguely dream-like pop delivered in Sumita’s clipped and perfectly-enunciated voice, this wasn’t my usual thing but I admired her drive to do something different and off-the-wall, although it was a shame that she seemed to be losing her battle against the hubbub from the pub.

“Tough crowd,” I warned my friend Rich May as he set up for his solo THE KING IN MIRRORS set. Knowing that even with his usual band, Rich’s atonal and slightly nasal vocals can tend to be understated and low-key, I was worried that they might be submerged in the noise of the pub. No worries there, as Rich actually gave his vocals some extra oomph, in a valiant and largely successful attempt to win over the room. “Deepest Blue” set the tone, being more in-your-face than anticipated, “Rolling In The Sun” was replete with charming Teenage Fanclub/BMX Bandits-infused melody, and Rich even delved back for a Babytrain number, “Bodysnatchers”, which was unsurprisingly darker and more gothy than his usual TKIM oeuvre. A more upbeat “By Tomorrow” closed a nice acoustic vignette, Rich having projected his vocals very effectively, and rightly being happy with the outcome. Nice one, mate!

Front and centre then for Roger’s landlord for this evening; STEVE COX, apparently mainman for local veterans Mr. Love And Justice, impressed with a highly accomplished set veering between 70’s folky acoustica, baroque and pastoral countrified pop and rootsy Americana, switching seamlessly between these styles. He reminded me of this year’s Arthur Buck CD which I’m enjoying immensely, and subsequently also the stripped-back elements of REM’s breakthrough “Out Of Time” album. Steve was also sufficiently relaxed to try a new number, “Me And Jeremiah”, despite said number allegedly not being complete – “we could workshop this!” Good stuff from a clearly talented veteran.

This actually took us up to 5.30, and with a relative lull in proceedings, we decided to take the opportunity for some food! One Mela curry later, we were therefore ready for this evening’s mainly Victoria-based Shuffle shenanigans, although by now we’d lost Dave and gained both Phil and non-Posse member (but 90’s Level 3 veteran, so there!) Rich May along for the ride.

Said ride started with openers PALM ROSE, on at 8.20. Facebook friend and former Well Dressed Thief Adam had given me the heads-up on this, his new band, inviting me along to their inaugural gig (which was on my birthday, so I couldn’t make it), and reporting they were going for a dreampop/ post-punk sound. Two of my favourite musical things right there, then, so I was hoping for good things from this set. From the outset, I wasn’t to be disappointed; opener “Daydream” was a widescreen anthem with enticing keyboard flourishes, building to an almost orchestral crescendo, full of epic, slightly faded yet quintessentially English pomp and grandeur. I was suddenly very glad I’d worn my Wild Swans t-shirt, as Adam’s charges seemed their spiritual heirs; the big fella himself took vocals, revealing a hitherto unsuspected commanding and multi-octave voice, propelling the soaring and building rock. “Seattle”, next up,  was a growling slow-burner which suddenly burst into life, with Edge-like intricate guitar licks, and the stately “Humid” featured some nice 3-part acapella harmonies. Already sounding well-practised too, this was a superb set from a highly promising young band.

Young bucks RAINY DAY FUND, formerly known as Shore, were always going to struggle to follow that for me, but they manfully applied themselves to the task, delivering a spritely set of bright, sturdy sounding indie pop. I’d come across them in their former Shore incarnation, covering a Smiths number at “12 Bands Of Christmas”, which seemed apt as their sound wasn’t a million miles removed from that classic clean indie Rickenbacker jangle. “Slipping Away” had some nice choral harmonies augmenting its angular backbeat, and the almost-eponymous “Rainy Day” was punkier and more insistent. Nice work overall!

They rounded off at 9.45, and we weren’t up for the subsequent Fabien Darcy - no offence, but rap’s just not my thing - so took a wander down the hill to The Beehive, with the intention of checking out the musical fayre there. That kind of didn't really work out, the pub being stiflingly hot and busy, so our time was spent outside socialising with various folks! We eventually wandered back to the Vic for headliners WASUREMONO, due on at 10.50 but taking time getting their banks of keyboards and impressive amounts of spaghetti plugged into the right holes (and apparently this is a more streamlined stage set-up these says!). Since my one previous sighting, 2 years ago with the much-missed White Lilac, they’d gained considerable national exposure, to the point of having 2 upcoming support slots for The Flaming Lips, no less! No surprise that Shuffle mainman Ed, on introducing them, remarked, “this will be the last time I’ll be able to afford to put them on in Swindon!”

Opener “Checking Out” came down firmly on the “dream” side of dreampop, an eerie, sleepy vibe, whilst “England's Slave”’s layered dynamics sounded much fuller “live” than on their fine if slightly understated CD. “Alligator”’s taut groove even recalled The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven”, and thereafter the set relied more on mood and atmospherics and oddball lyricism, delivered in William Southward’s occasionally high-pitched and eerie vocals. A fine accomplished set from a band with no obvious antecedents (the bleak minimalism of 70’s post-punkers Young Marble Giants was the best I could come up with!), who bring together a number of disparate elements and styles into their music, folding them into an intriguing blend of dreamy melodies and stark electronica, and clearly going places in the process. Props to them - and for getting Ed up onstage wearing a bear head during “For All The Bears”!

A fine way to close out the day’s music; bade farewells to the Posse, plus various Shuffle luminaries, before dropping Rich off and heading home for a bleary-eyed 12.30. So, “one and done” - that was my Shuffle this year, family stuff precluding any further attendance on my part. However, in my experience (and by other social media accounts) the Shuffle was once again a most successful and enjoyable event, and I’m glad I got to catch up with old friends in the process! Same again next year, boys?

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

1,095 BRITISH SUMMER TIME PRESENTS THE CURE 40TH ANNIVERSARY, Plus Supporting Undercard, London Hyde Park, Saturday 7th July 2018

The third Saturday in a row “oop the Smoke”, and this one’s the biggest of the lot; a massive all day outdoor show in London’s iconic Hyde Park, on the hottest day of the year? Woah…

Arguably, it wasn’t supposed to be like this… British Summer time (the season, not the event!) is normally unpredictable at best, mitigating against such big events on my part. But when BST (the event this time) announced this one as part of their annual programme of huge Hyde Park extravaganzas, I couldn’t resist… it wasn’t so much the chance to see post-punk goth/pop icons The Cure again after 25 years – I like them fine but can take or leave them (much more of a Bunnymen fan back in the day, when it seemed you were either one or the other) – but more so the stellar and totally apposite undercard of post-punk/ shoegaze bands, that enticed me into parting with the big ticket price, getting on the Cure fanclub presale (despite not being a member!) and locking one down before they quickly sold out. Having booked early, I was anticipating needing layers or even waterproofs to survive the day, but when it came around the country was gripped in a lengthy heatwave, so this was going to be a different proposition altogether!

The heatwave wasn’t the only thing gripping the nation; with World Cup 2018 in full swing and Gareth Southgate’s excellent young England side due to play their crucial Quarter Final game against Sweden that afternoon, clashing with a couple of the bands I’d booked specifically to see, a decision had to be made. Rock won the day over footy, though, so an early departure at 9.30 with my wingman and Cure aficionado Rich May got us to Osterley tube car park for 11, and a baking hot Hyde Park for just before midday. Sought out some shade from the unrelenting heat before joining the GA queue at 12.40 – thankfully the organisers threw us hardy early-comers a bone and opened up the gates well before the scheduled 1.30, giving us time not only to get our bearings in the large site (due to accommodate 65,000 grumpy heatstroke-affected goths today!), but, more importantly, wander down the front and get admission to the “Golden Circle” at the front of the main “Great Oak” stage! Result!

So, I divested myself of my t-shirt and slathered up, and we grabbed a respectable viewing spot midway back in the GC – I’m normally one for getting a whole chunk closer to the front, but it’s way too hot to be that close to that many other people – particularly in my shirtless and increasingly sweaty state! Still, we were in a good viewing place for openers PALE WAVES at 1.40. A promising young band I’d been meaning to check out, their set felt like an enjoyable yet indiscriminate rummage through their parents’ record collections (dad with the gothy post-punk, mum with the slightly Deacon Blue-ish soul-inflected shiny bouncy pop), also feeling like the soundtrack to some 80’s John Hughes bratpack teen romance movies, all plangent dynamics and wispy ethereal vocals. We even pinpointed one of their kick-drum-fuelled crescendos in an early “Heavenly” as the point when Molly Ringwold kisses John McCarthy at the end of the film! Nonetheless, it was fun, tuneful and I’d certainly check out their album now. A quick run out to fill my water bottle (which would be the routine for the day – regular rehydration keeping me going in this heat!) then got us back in the by-now rapidly-filling Circle for SLOWDIVE, running early at 2.40. A band I’d blanked on back in their early 90’s shoegaze heyday, finding what I’d heard wispy and insubstantial, and lacking in the pacier dynamics of fellow genre-lumpees Ride, Lush etc., I nonetheless very much enjoyed their comeback album last year so approached this set with an open mind. Early oldie “Catch The Breeze” was absorbing and stately layered dreampop and newie “Star Roving” unexpectedly and splendidly dynamic, making up for a sandwiched “Crazy For You” which I felt was a little throwaway. “Sugar For The Pill” was lovely and touching, and final number “When The Sun Hits” a growling rocker with a roaring crescendo, ending a variable but oft-times excellent vignette. They enjoyed it anyway, Rachel Goswell gushing that she could see her dad in the viewing terraces, house right, then bringing her child onstage at the end to wave at the crowd, before doubtless pissing off with the rest of the band to catch the rest of the first half of the footy!

 The mood of the increasing crowd was buoyed by England going 1-0 up shortly afterwards, so were in party spirits to welcome EDITORS, on just after 3.45 (half-time, coincidentally…!). Ten years or so ago, I’d bullishly declared Editors the Best Of British and potential headliners in any age, but since then they’ve delivered 3 albums of diminishing quality, their most recent, this year’s “Violence” a morose and plodding, and frankly dull, little beast. I was therefore hoping they’d just go full-on festival mode and concentrate on the bangers for this 45-minute set, rather than focus too much on this newer stuff. The truth is, as always, somewhere in between; blustering opener “Hallelujah (So Low)” dragged, but a subsequent “Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors” was soaring and epic as ever, albeit with the final chorus losing some of its’ oomph after the operatically building late crescendo, and an itchy, claustrophobic rhythmic post-punk double of “Blood” and “Munich” were both excellent, the angular and kinetic Tom Smith getting the crowd onside with a, “what a day… should we mention the football?” comment. “Racing Rats” was ace, anthemic and insistent, making up for an overlong couple of mid-set newies, then the robotic synth of “Papillon” was lengthy and epic, getting the crowd jumping. Shame they didn’t end it there, as final number “Magazine” was smooth stadium pomp, but an odd one to finish on. As with Slowdive, some excellent moments “live”, but in all honesty they’re sadly a couple of albums past their recorded best…

A quick departure from the Golden Circle then, and a dash to the back of the open and exposed arena to the smaller Barclaycard Stage; Scotland’s THE TWILIGHT SAD, protegees of both Editors and Robert Smith of The Cure, were well into their set, heavily-accented vocalist James Graham quipping, “this is Summer time music for you to cool down to!” as they embarked on another morose little bedsit ditty. A band totally fitting their name, “There’s A Girl In The Corner” was gloomy and doomy, initially recalling Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control”, and “And She Would Darken The Memory” was a bleak and bare exposition of lost love. Before their final number, a Frightened Rabbit cover in tribute to Scott Hutchison, so sadly lost recently, Graham announced, “it means everything that you’re standing there, so thank you so fucking much!” to a roar of approval. A fine set, well worth crossing the park for, and well-received too by the ebullient crowd, their mood being lifted further as news filtered through that England had won 2-0 and were in the World Cup Semi Final!

This brought us to just after 5, the place started to really fill up with the footy-watching latecomers and there was a lull in proceedings, for me at least… tempting though the chicken curry may have been, I decided against that because the parched arena, if anything, was getting even hotter in the relentless late afternoon sun! Sufficed with an £8 (!) burger, munching it as we wandered back towards the Great Oak stage, meeting up with Rich’s brother Colin, his lady Jane and friends to catch some of GOLDFRAPP. The one outlier on the bill for me, the blue jumpsuited Alison led her band through some smooth commercial techno glam synth, very Bowie-esque (an early number even appropriating the rhythm from “The Jean Genie”) and therefore really not all that bad, actually, albeit somewhat unmemorable and short of real hooks. However, I did recognise one number from a TV ad (!), and her final number reminded me of 70’s oldie “The Crunch” by The Rah Band!

Rich and I filled up with fluid (me water, Rich beer!) and took a walk back into the by-now very pungently sweet-smelling GC (I’d forgotten how much these big outdoor shows positively reek of cannabis at times!) for INTERPOL, on at 6.30. Fourteen years ago, following their outstanding sophomore effort “Antics”, I’d declared them an important and influential band for the new millennium, and since then they’d made every effort to prove me wrong, with a couple of subsequent albums which were so forgettable they never really touched the sides. Probably the one band I was least looking forward to on this stacked bill, then, so I shouldn’t have been surprised as they again set out to prove me wrong, delivering from the outset a dynamic and electrifying set of superbly building and dramatic doomy post-punk. Opener “Not Even Jail” was typical, ominously building to a seethingly huge crescendo with Paul Banks’ commanding baritone a feature, possibly the best sounding number of the night, and “All The Rage Back Home” was cranked up, amped up and galloping. “A great honour to play here – and on a great day too… go England!” announced Banks, currying the enthusiastic crowd’s favour before the elegiac opening to a deliciously dark “Obstacle No. 1”, then new single “The Rover” was a frenzied B movie car chase soundtrack, and might just have put Interpol back on my “Best Of” CD for this year! (Very) oldie “Roland” was an embryonic NYC punk rock blast straight out of Max’s Kansas City in the 70’s, and overall Interpol were totally smashing it, so it was a damn shame that their set overlapped slightly with my potential highlights of the day and I had to leave a couple of numbers short of the end, hearing the excellent “Evil” only as a distant echo, as I arrived back over by a silent, packed and anticipatory Barclaycard Stage.

Suddenly the silence was broken… by the bright synth pop tones and Kenneth Wolstenholme commentary intro to New Order’s “World In Motion”! As entrance music tracks go, this was a stroke of genius, capturing the mood of the day and the crowd perfectly, Mark Gardener then leading the band on, singing along to the backing track. RIDE are winning the day, I thought, and they’ve not even started playing yet! Without further ado, “Lannoy Point” kicked off, the smooth dual harmonies of Gardener and Andy Bell overlapping splendidly for an excellent rendition of their 2017 album opening track, and the angular and pulsating wah-wah of oldie “Seagull” was pounding and magnificent, the crowd going nuts as the track sped up to a noisy conclusion. “I’ve got a massive semi!” Bell quipped before asking if anyone knew the score of the other Quarter Final (being played at the time), then a libidinous, lugubrious “Leave Them All Behind” was stretched, loose-limbed and groovy as all get out. “Vapour Trail” however even topped that, this ordinarily lazy, hazy and introspective moody dreamlike shoegaze number taking serious flight, feeling like a celebration as the crowd filled in with a terrace chant of the riff, prompting Gardener to comment, “what a fucking day… incredible!” All too soon, “Drive Blind” capped my Set Of The Day with a tremendous and thunderous feedback mid-section, Gardener blowing kisses and initiating “England!” chants whilst coaxing feedback noise from his effects pedals. Superb stuff!

 The headliners had already started at this point, but I stuck around to grab a Ride list, then some eats on the wander back into the Golden Circle. By then THE CURE had already delivered a plaintive “Pictures Of You”, mainman Robert Smith’s distinctive and curiously pleading vocal style already the main feature, dominating the mix, particularly over the very quiet guitars… As I mentioned, I like The Cure fine, but they’re one of those bands (Simple Minds and Adam And The Ants being obvious others) who have a “watershed” song, before which I’m happy with any of their stuff, and after which I don’t really care much for… Said number, the funky “The Walk”, marking the point where their early, frantic, stripped and tinny new wave morphed into a mixture of bleak bedsit goth and trite toytown pop, was early in the set and actually sounded quite good, recalling those mid 80’s Level 3 days a little. “Just Like Heaven” prompted much happy twirling from the devotees, and the haunting opening to a deliciously ominous “A Forest” led to a beefy bass outro, but, those apart, the set drifted for me somewhat in the middle and I was distracted by a rather convincing Robert Smith lookalike wandering around the enclosure, being stopped by impressed random punters for selfie pics!

After a well-delivered and crowd-pleasing 1 ½ hour set replete with hits, they were off briefly at 9.45; however the subsequent 10 song (!) encore was largely great and way much more to my Cure era. “Friday I’m In Love” was sturdy, joyful and singalong, “Why Can’t I Be You” a soaring and brassy Motown stomp, then, after profuse thanks from an otherwise taciturn Smith, the stark, pleading break-up jangle of “Boys Don’t Cry” led to my set highlight, a thrillingly jagged, tense and taut “Jumping Someone Else’s Train”. Inevitable finale “Killing An Arab” sounded superb, a rampant, full-on punkish blast through their debut single, tough and growling, a great way to finish the day, and a performance which, on reflection, was about as good as I’d hoped and way better than I’d feared. “It’s been a good first 4 decades, here’s to the next ones!” deadpanned Smith as he left the stage to rapturous applause from the devoted, and we headed off to Green Park tube, finding egress remarkably easy, catching a quick tube back to Osterley and the car, at which point I finally – finally! – put my t-shirt back on!

 So, back home for 12.30, having survived the relentless heat, and having thoroughly enjoyed our day. All the bands I wanted to see delivered at least some excellent highlights, Ride for me capturing the euphoric mood of the day with a perfectly judged set to win my Band Of The Day. But overall a great day in excellent company and a great way to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of an enduring and iconic band in The Cure. In all ways, then, this was a hot one!

Sunday, 1 July 2018

1,094 THE SKIDS, Theatre Of Hate, London Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Saturday 30th June 2018

And now, back to our usual scheduled programme…!
Following last weekend’s Taylor Swift pop extravaganza at Wembley with Kasey, today’s mid-point of 5 weekend gigs on the bounce (and 2nd of 3 in a row “oop the Smoke”) saw a semblance of normality restored, with a punk rock boys night out! Said night out being hosted once again by The Skids, continuing their recent reunion renaissance with a first London gig since the release of their first album in 37 years, the fire-breathing, anger-fuelled and reactionary “Burning Cities”, and the boys in question being myself and Logan! Having loved the full-on Skids “meet and greet” experience in Oxford last June (gig 1,040), Logan was up for seeing these vintage anthemic punks (and his dad’s real first musical loves) again, so a Saturday gig at the favourable Empire (the right side of London for us!) afforded us the chance for Logan’s first London gig, the first of many no doubt…!

The girls were in Bristol seeing “Flashdance”, so Logan and I set off at 4, listening to Argentina’s extraordinary World Cup exit on the journey. We parked in The Bush at 6.15, waiting by the car for 15 minutes until we were legal (! Again…) before heading around the corner; doors were at 7, so we were one of the first in, securing a barrier spot, house right. The place filled up early doors, a number of early punters seeming to primarily be here for the support! Old stagers Theatre Of Hate (for t’was they), joined us at 7.45, the pairing of Kirk Brandon and faithful wingman, bassist Stan Stammers, leading the charge into “Original Sin”, Brandon’s familiar and unique operatic tones and the saxophone blare competing for attention throughout. “We’re your fun-loving Theatre Of Hate!” quipped the vulgar-shirted Brandon, in relaxed and effusive mood tonight, making light of playing the wrong song early doors with, “OK, you sometimes get things fucking wrong!” This was a solid set of their dark, dramatic and occasionally politically-tinged dense post-punk rock, with occasional swipes at Trump (“that guy with the small hands”) and, in the still-strident “Propaganda”, tonight’s first full-on mosh-fest. At a full hour, their set wore on me a little, but as ever, the pointed and still-relevant cowboy gallop of “Do You Believe In The Westworld?” was splendid and ended the set well, at which point Stammers handed Logan a pick. Nice!

A chat with a fellow punter, a veteran fan who’d seen The Skids a bunch of times first time round, passed the time until The Skids took the stage at an early 9.10 to the chiming intro of “This Is Our World”, delivering a pulsating rendition of the new album’s opening track. The metallic staccato riff opening to “Charade” followed, Jobson’s voice a little down in the mix and sounding (if I’m being harsh) slightly ragged, maybe bearing the weight of their current hectic touring schedule somewhat, but the frontman was as usual nothing less than mesmeric, whirling away in his trademarked dervish dance and with a constantly beaming grin on his face the width of the Forth Bridge. In good fooling too; “being in our band is “Spinal Tap” every day – so fucking funny! [Backstage, it’s all] cups of tea and Kit-Kats, apart from Bill – he’s on the Tunnocks Teacakes!” was an early comment, then, after a fist-pumping “Melancholy Soldiers” he admitted, “you start full of euphoria and effusiveness and just go for it – then you look at the set-list and think, shit, there’s 42 numbers to go!”

“Working For The Yankee Dollar” was an early set highlight, and the dramatic slashing riffery of “The Saints Are Coming” saw an early mosh develop, as I formed a human shield around my little man. The new numbers stacked up well once more, “Desert Dust” again heart-rending and bleak, and “Into The Void” (reflecting “the fragile scary world of today”) galloping and ominous. After a reverentially received shout out for Stuart Adamson, “Hurry On Boys” was again an epic, stately singalong (this one never ceases to amaze me “live”, always a step up from the recorded version), then a singalong “Circus Games”, which got my little man really animated, immediately segued into an unannounced “Albert Tatlock”, which oddly ended with some Devo “Satisfaction” drumbeats from Mike Baillie. As ever, “Into The Valley” was a raucous, anthemic and brilliant punctuation on another superb Skids set – as I mentioned, slightly road worn but never less than enthusiastic.

A galloping “Olympian” (featuring some frantic fretwork from the splendid Bruce Watson) rounded off the encores, at which point Bill (onstage in front of us) handed Logan his list, this being followed by one of Jamie’s picks as the guitarist crossed the stage in front of us. Nice! A brief chat and signature from Mike Baillie afterwards was the icing on the cake for my “wee man”, who excitedly burbled all the way home for a 12.30 arrival. Another successful London gig with one of my offspring then – this one much more to my tastes!

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

1,093 TAYLOR SWIFT, Camila Cabello, Charlie XCX, London Wembley Stadium, Saturday 23rd June 2018

You only get once chance for your daughter’s first gig, so let’s go big…!

Regular readers of this blog will appreciate that mine host for this one, Country ingenue turned multi-million selling mainstream pop sensation Taylor Swift, is so far outside my usual listening sphere as to be in a completely different time zone. Indeed, some friends have questioned whether I’d even intended to include this in my gigbook and blog at all (it’s a gig, of course I am!)… But here’s the thing; my 9 year old daughter Kasey, very much the outlier in our family as regards musical taste, loves “La Swift”, playing her poppy “1989” album to death in the car; so much so, in fact, that I bought her 2 more Swift albums, the preceding “Red” and her most recent effort, 2017’s allegedly “controversial” album “Reputation”, just for some variation! It was actually on buying those for her, on a recent shopping trip in town, that Kasey announced she’d love to see Swift “live”, so I figured this would be the perfect opportunity for some daddy/ daughter quality time (possibly the one dynamic in our family that’s a little lacking, I’m sorry to admit). Plenty of availability remained for her 2 Wembley Stadium shows, so I easily sorted 2 tix for the Saturday, albeit up in the “gods” in the upper circle – happy to go £67 per ticket for that, not so sure about pitch-level seating at nearly £200!

Kasey was thrilled at the prospect either way, so I picked her up after her Stagecoach session on Saturday lunchtime for a baking drive down to our planned parking spot at Ickenham tube, hitting Wembley Park and the iconic Wembley Way walk just after 3. Whiled away a couple of hours in the adjacent Brent Library and Outlet Centre, Kasey also having a play in the play park, before we met up with Steven, Freya and Halle, who’d driven from Bridgend on freebies for this one! Decided against joining the humungous merch queues, so Kasey and I went in, taking escalators to take our seats, up in the gods, house left, with a splendid view of the stage; two massive screens (already showing continuous Taylor Swift videos) met diagonally in a “V” shape, with 2 runways also pointing out diagonally. A bit different from Raze*Rebuild at The Shooting Star, this…!

Opener Charlie XCX, an enthusiastic girl seemingly wrapped in white polythene, bounded onstage at ¼ to 7; I recognised her second number, the sassy-gobbed girly chant “I Don’t Care”, and appreciated some of the tribal drumming on the luminous green pop-art tom toms, although the rest of the set was more standard pounding europop. Charlie was pretty energetic, however, working the whole of the stage and both runways, and getting the early-comers singing along and cheering to her comment on, “3 badass women standing on one stage – that’s some girl power!” Kasey then demonstrated some admirable gig timing, wanting a toilet and hot-dog run just before the end of Charlie’s set, so we avoided the inevitable massive queues. Nice work! Main support Camila Cabello was greeted by a fuller stadium and a cooling breeze in our vantage point; her stuff had a more Latin feel (especially an early, flamenco-flavoured “She Loves Control”), no surprise I guess given she’s from Miami and was doubtless weaned on Gloria Estefan… One number, “Never Be The Same”, was an old fashioned power ballad right out of the Jennifer Rush songbook, complete with wanky guitar solo, and a snippet of “(I Can’t Help) Falling In Love With You” made my mind wander back to Joey Costello’s set last Friday!

As witching hour approached, a welcome bit of rock in shape of The Runaways’ “Bad Reputation” played over the PA; then, the video intro to “Reputation”’s opener “Ready For It” saw the huge screens part, and La Swift take the stage, first propelled forward on a runway, then striding purposefully onwards, alone yet enveloped in dry ice, to the track’s dramatic sheet metal synth opening. From the off, this audience was in the palm of her hand and she knew it, striding the stage like she owned it, basking in the focus and spotlight. Impressive.

The set largely drew from last year’s “Reputation”; in comparison with her lighter, poppier previous albums, this one is edgier, darker and swathed in occasionally Kraftwerkian synth (I shit you not), seemingly reflecting a harder attitude on La Swift’s part. However, she was still nonetheless a welcoming host, commenting fulsomely on her “13th show in London! I love the number 13…” and demonstrating some stadium showmanship during the almost Bon Jovi hair metal-esque flag-waving anthemic early double of “Love Story” and “You Belong With Me”, which seemed to indicate that she could successfully apply to be Waltham’s lead singer, if this pop malarkey doesn’t pan out…!

And as for “the show”… well, she pretty much threw the kitchen sink at that too: pre-arranged routines with backing dancers; rapid-fire costume changes, pyrotechnics and fireworks galore; a hundred-foot tall inflatable cobra unfurling onstage during the edgy “Look What You Made Me Do” (the underlying rhythm of this song’s chorus totally recalling Kraftwerk’s “Tour De France”); a glowing ball which propelled her above the crowd to a smaller stage, midway along the seated pitch floor, during the aptly named ballad “Delicate”; another snake during the groove-led “Shake It Off”… she even trotted out ultimate “prop” Robbie Williams towards the end, for an unexpected duet run-through of his Britpop-lite anthem “Angels”, to squeals of delight from all and sundry. Old Rob’s sounding more and more like Elton John these days, but the crowd lapped it up…

And you know what? So did I. I loved it, loved the big preposterous “show”, which I have to confess surprised me a little… I’ve been critical of the likes of U2 for turning stadium gigs into overblown prop-fests and detracting from the music in the past. But here, I guess because I was more emotionally invested in making sure my daughter had a great time than in the music itself, I could detach myself and appreciate the show. The important thing was that Kasey was in heaven, dancing furiously and singing and screaming along to almost every song, including her highlight, the stately and soaring “Blank Space”, tonight’s highlight – for both of us (although for me, “Fifteen”, a hushed solo acoustic coming-of-age countrified ballad, ran it close)…

After the Robbie interlude, a singalong “Getaway Car” bumped us up close to the end, at which point Kasey decided on an early departure to beat the crowds heading back to the tube. We therefore heard the sassy finale medley of “We Are Never Getting Back Together”/ “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” whilst traversing Wembley’s bulk, and managed to avoid the rush, back to Ickenham for 11 and home just after 12.15 after a swift run, an exhausted but elated little girl tucked up on the back seat. Overall, a great day out and one which hopefully Kasey won’t forget in a hurry. If this is the type of music she’s going to be into, then there’s no better proponent of it right now than Taylor Swift, a consummate performer who (as a wise man once said) at least writes her own songs. A great first gig for Kasey, and in all honesty, a worthy 1,093rd one for me!


Sunday, 17 June 2018

1,092 GAZ BROOKFIELD, Joey Costello, Stroud Marsall Rooms, Friday 15th June 2018

My first time back in Stroud, amazingly, since my first ever gig (the mighty Killing Joke, nearly 37 years ago!), but the 20th time for one of my most enduring “live” favourites of late, folk/punk travelling troubadour and confessional poet-ruffian Gaz Brookfield. Only the 2nd artiste to hit the 20s in my “times seen” chart after late 90’s faves Seafood; my last few Gaz live experiences have been with his excellent Company Of Thieves band as back-up, but this early Summer run of shows sees him doing his Solo Acoustic Guy thing. This one not only was close by, but all-ages too, so Logan was able to join me for a boys night out!

Hammered through the leafy Gloucestershire backroads, finding the adjacent car park easily but getting a little turned around trying to find the venue itself! Doors were still officially “shut” as we queued up a shade before 8, but they let a grateful Logan in for a quick loo-trip, then we headed in, first in at doors to be greeted by Gaz. Logan filled the impressed singer in with his recent Swim22 exploits, then we got drinks as locals filed in before opener Joey Costello, on at 20 to 9. A couple of numbers in, we’d had 2 quite contrasting tunes; a slow-burning, wistful and melancholic wallow about being absent from loved ones, followed with an eerie yet more upbeat number in the subsequent “Undertow”. Turned out “Undertow” was the outlier, the set returning to a hushed, sparsely embellished body of songs, occasionally Drake-like pastoral, occasionally touching on parched Americana and balladry reminiscent of a Janovitz, but always underpinned by Costello’s impressive Buckley-esque multi-octave vocals. The boy can sing, no doubt... Charmingly self-effacing too (“this is a song I wrote about nobody really liking me...”), this was a lovely little set, bookended by a suitably quiet singalong for the old standard “(I Can't Help) Falling In Love With You”; shame so few of the crowd availed themselves of it, Costello sometimes fighting to be heard over the hubbub from the bar...

No such problems for Gaz, however; following a quick car dash to dump a mini-poster Gaz signed for Logan, we took a spot right down the front as Gaz urged the crowd to, “come on, come on,” and gather closer to fill “the semi-circle of doubt” down the front. “Solo Acoustic Guy” kicked things off, before Gaz challenged the Stroud crowd (!) with, “you guys up for a singalong?”, the audience responding in the affirmative for “Diabetes Blues”.

Thence followed an object lesson in the art of the solo performance, a masterclass in winning an initially reticent crowd over. Gaz, relaxed and urbane, trotted out his repertoire of stories illustrating his songs; the full explanation behind a superb “Tale Of Gunner Haines”, a barbed, “this song is about how boring I am!” comment before “All So Very Rock And Roll”, a comment about Ozzy the van being so named, “because it's always fucked!” before a touching “Ode To Ozzy”, and introducing an acerbic, confrontational “I've Paid My Money” with, “I'm not directing this at anyone in particular...!” As ever, the man worked up an impressive sweat delivering his usual full-on in your face acoustic fayre, robust, rabble-rousing and rambunctious.

I enjoyed the expanded lyric during “A Buskers Song”, “if you ask he'’ ll play your favourite song... unless it's “Wonderwall” in which case fuck off!” and the story of being threatened by Simon Cowell’s lawyer (bastard!) before a pointed “Diet Of Banality”; then, as the set rocked sweatily and noisily along, Gaz noted that he had a backstage at this venue... “and I'm fucking using it; it makes me feel cool!” So, after the usual singalong set-closing “Thin” Gaz took a bow and left the stage...

to return moments later, to the clamour of a by now fully engaged crowd. And a lovely moment during the encore; finale “The West Country Song” saw the crowd form a “hokey cokey” circle which morphed into an impromptu and well-natured dance pit, Logan and myself included, prompting Gaz to unplug his guitar and join us in the middle of the melee! Great stuff, a lovely way to end a great and inclusive performance.

After catching our breath, we bade farewells to the artistes, stopping off at a kebab van on the outskirts of Stroud for sustenance before a midnight return home. So glad I got to take Logan to see Gaz in this form; and proud that this talented yet unsung hero is now up to the twenties for me. Seafood, you have worthy company!


Tuesday, 12 June 2018

1,091 BELLY, Bristol SWX, Sunday 10th June 2018

Set 2 list only, above...

Another band scratching that reunion itch, 90’s Boston dreampop/ college rock combo Belly reunited after a near 20-year absence in 2016, delivering a fine if technically-beset Bristol gig (gig 997) and a tough, road-tested slot at Boston’s Paradise Club for the ACLU show last March (gig 1,028). Laudably, and like recent hosts The Skids, they decided not to stop there, avoiding becoming another “nostalgia circuit” cliché (not that there’s anything wrong with that, if you’re into the music!) by recording a PledgeMusic-backed new album, “Dove”. I pledged, of course, and my signed copy duly arrive in the post a couple of months back; it’s fine, I guess, a bit Belly-by-numbers and, well, drippy, more akin to the more ephemeral and insubstantial pop of main Belly-person Tanya Donelly’s sophomore solo album “Beautysleep” than the more strident and hooky college pop of her solo debut “Lovesongs For Underdogs” or indeed Belly’s own early 90’s canon. Still, remembering how fulsome newie “Shiny One” sounded at the Paradise last March, I was hoping that the new material would stand pat “live”, along with the older stuff, so I was happy to book for another Belly experience!

Booked 2 tickets, but Rach bowed out late due to babysitting issues; Ady was happy to take up the offer of a free ticket, and “Beef”, Si and his friend Mel were going anyway, so a full carload drove down a sunny M4 early doors. Belly were threatening to be on straight away and play 2 hours+ with an interval, hence the haste! In reality, we were there for doors at 7, then got drinks in and took a spot down the front, house right, chatting with the boys and a passing Jeff to while away the time until Belly’s actual scheduled 8.15 start.

At the appointed hour, a cutesy little film of dogs on skateboards (!) projected onto the digital backdrop; then Belly took the stage, bassist Gail already happily filming the audience, before kicking into the distinctive bass growl of a dark, dramatic “Dusted”. Good start, but unfortunately not maintained, the subsequent “Seal My Fate” sounding distorted and disjointed, guitarist Tom Gorman sounding as if he were playing a different tune to the rest of the band.

Such was the way of things tonight; despite their best efforts (particularly from Gail, the snake hipped, Ramones-like low-slung self-confessed “old lady” of the crew, who with her urgent bass prompting and kinetic rock poses was nonetheless clearly the band’s MVP tonight), and a whole lot of band and audience interaction (particularly - again - from Gail, who regularly urged us to, “party like it's 1992! Or 3...” and never missed an opportunity to take pics or videos of the crowd), this wasn’t Belly at their best. Maybe a little unfamiliarity with the dynamics of the new material “live”, maybe just too early in the tour, but either way they rarely hit the heights of that Boston set last year. “Now They'll Sleep” exemplified this, sounding problematic and messy. Also, Tanya seemed to struggle with the higher-octave numbers, often not even bothering to push her voice that high. Newies “Army Of Clay” and a groovy, bouncy “Stars Align” emerged most unscathed and were highlights of the early set, before the nonetheless ebullient bassist “Gail-splained” to us about the mid-set break.

Happily, things picked up a little better for set 2; “Low Red Moon” was a strange and sinister funeral March, and “Shiny One” dreamy and strident in equal measure. “Slow Dog” galloped along with its trademark angular verse riff, but again Tanya’s vocals for the chorus were in a different key and sounded a little jarring. After another messy “Feed The Tree”, we however had an excellent “SuperConnected”, a dynamically delivered growling behemoth, and by some considerable distance the best number in the set tonight.

A couple of quieter encores, featuring our MVP’s only real slip tonight, praising, “the lovely people of Portsmouth!” (that was last night, love!), ended a veritable see-saw of a set - some splendid moments, plenty of effort and chat from the band, but a set littered with flaws. Our carload were all pretty much in consensus with this view, so reflected on this on a swift dash home (which got me back in in time to flick through tonight’s Canadian Grand Prix before hitting the hay). Don’t get me wrong; this was by no means a Brian Fallon-level utter car crash of a gig (gig 1,074, back in Feb this year), I had a good time, I was largely entertained by the band and by my mad-as-a-balloon MVP Gail. I’ve just seen them way better, way tougher, way more together... and all that quite recently too. Hopefully tonight was a one-off; I’ll certainly be back for more, hoping again for the Paradise version of Belly from last year!