Sunday, 16 February 2014

905 EDDIE AND THE HOT RODS, Charred Hearts, Swindon Basement 73, Saturday 15 February 2014

Two consecutive gig nights out in Swindon – who’d have thunk it? Tonight it’s a return to my “spiritual home”, Level 3, now rebadged as Basement 73, to catch old 70’s rockers Eddie And The Hot Rods, one of the first “new wave” bands I’d encountered in my pre-teen formative years, thanks to the sight of shirtless vocalist Barrie Masters leaping all over my TV, rabble rousing and singing “Do Anything You Wanna Do”. They’d also played at this venue (then The Furnace) about 9 years ago, my remark at the time being, “The Rods are alright!” So, why the hell not?

A family day out saw us getting home late so I arrived at the venue at 9, having missed opening act The Hamsters From Hell. I dunno, I’ve been going to gigs for over 30 odd years now, and I’ve still yet to see the force of nature that is Ian Doeser play “live”, what’s up with me? However, I got in out of the cold in time to grab a balcony view for main support Charred Hearts. I subsequently gathered that Charred Hearts frontman Dermot Fuller had sorted this gig out as well, as he’d likewise done for last year’s XSLF gig (No. 889), so he was perfectly entitled to put himself and his 80’s local punk outfit on the support bill to pound us into submission. A noisy and strident set of edgy, occasionally shambolic yet sincere street punk, delivered with intensity, clear-eyed conviction and a fair bit of wit; “this one was written in 1981; obviously by my dad…” was one such Fuller intro. A cover of The Damned classic “New Rose (“who knows what’s going to happen?”) was a highlight, as was closer “Fucked In The Head”, which saw Fuller, not for the first time, abandon the stage and wander  through the crowd, passing the mic around for punters to bellow the song’s hook. Good stuff – again.

Bumped into some old friends before taking a position, stage right by the stairs, as Fuller introduced Eddie And The Hot Rods onstage. It’d been 9 years since I last saw them and honestly they were creaking a little then, so I wasn’t expecting too much tonight. However from the outset they were tighter, more powerful and harder rocking than I’d remembered, with the skinny Masters, years on the road of rock’n’roll etched clearly on his features, nevertheless prowling the stage and rabble rousing from the off. “I Might Be Lying” was a swaggering bluesy rock wig-out almost approaching Gentlemen territory, before an excellent early “Quit This Town”, a Jam mod-ish number featuring some fine call and response choral harmonies, proving an early highlight.

The Rods, back in those formative mid 70’s punk years, bridged the gap between street punk and it’s more radio-palatable offshoot “New Wave”, and the Canvey Island bluesy bar-room pub rock of the likes of Dr. Feelgood. All elements of this sonic template were evident tonight, with Masters an affable Cockney wideboy stage presence. “Why Should I Care Anymore” was an impressive soaring anthem with a tumbling drum climax, but this was all setting the scene for the inevitable…

“If it don’t move, paint it; if it moves, fuck it; if you don’t want to do either, well then… do anything you wanna do!” remarked Masters by way of intro to this classic punk anthem. “Do Anything You Wanna Do” was excellently delivered, with Charred Hearts’ vocalist Fuller forming a vocal duet with Masters (“sorry, I couldn’t help myself”) for this self-empowering manifesto. A hard rocking version of the old pub rock staple “Gloria” concluded a surprisingly fine set, after which I grabbed the setlist, bumped into old buddy Doug McGuire outside afterwards for a chat about comics, then wearily headed home. Not used to gig double-headers these days, local or not… However this was entirely worthwhile; I’d not expected much of this one, believing The Rods to be 9 years older and thus 9 years worse than last time out. I was wrong, they were 9 years better!

904 GAZ BROOKFIELD, Lonely Tourist, Swindon Queen’s Tap, Friday 14 February 2014

From one hard working, punk-influenced singer songwriter with a head full of forthright opinions and the wit and wherewithal to articulate them in song, to another… Gaz Brookfield’s return to Swindon as part of his 2014 Spring tour promoting his excellent “In The Company Of Thieves” CD was a Valentine’s Day must for Rach and myself. A first gig for me at my former Friday lunchtime watering hole The Queen’s Tap might be slightly different to my recent appointment with Frank Turner at the cavernous Motorpoint Arena, but I was expecting a similarly passionate and committed performance from this, my 11th Gaz Brookfield experience.

T’was a horrible night for venturing out, though, but off we set after Rach’s mum arrived to babysit, getting picked up by Sarah and wandering into the pub, windswept, about 8.30. Gaz was fiddling with his set-up in the corner stage area but spared some time to chat, thanking us for braving the storm. Hey, if he could drive up from Bristol up a blustery M4, it’s the least we could do…! We commandeered 3 barstools at the bar corner with an unimpeded view of the performance, as opener Lonely Tourist kicked off proceedings at 9ish. A slight, dapper expat Glaswegian with a self-effacing attitude, his set was immediately beset with some technical issues (prompting Gaz to jump over and fiddle with some knobs on his mixing box to no avail, then just thump the damn thing, which seemed to do the trick!) but he admirably ploughed through them. This was an impressive set of short, sharp songs which invariably galloped along, occasionally with a feel similar to early Idlewild or Frightened Rabbit, with “The Ballad Of Paul Tierney”, a song about a journeyman footballer – his namesake, incidentally – a highlight (I liked the line about going “on loan to Crewe”!). He referred at one point to his songs as, “Scottish misery,” but they brought a smile to my face and warmed the early crowd up nicely.

We had a few more in at this point – including friends Kayte and Jason, out on a Valentine’s Day date! – but our view was still clear when Gaz kicked into his set at 10. Opening with “SN1”, always a good barometer for crowd engagement in Swindon, his impressive and unique guitar percussion powered this along, and the “arrrr”s from the crowd in response to the line, “sunny hills of Wiltshi-yerrrrr!” indicated we were in for a good, all-inclusive evening. “It’s windy out there! Everyone’s coming in with this [breathless, slightly stunned] face on!” remarked Gaz before an early “Frank And Sam”, then a galloping, rambunctious “Land Pirate’s Life” was prefaced by Gaz commenting, “I suppose I’d best play some songs from the new CD, that’s what the tour’s about…!”

Once again the man was on top form; shorn of the band backing him up this time, he was nonetheless as open, gregarious, riveting and passionate a performer as ever. “I’ve been saying [to other crowds] not to laugh at this opening line, but you’re allowed to,” he remarked before the opening line of the excellent “Towns”, “I grew up in Swindon…” elicited a huge roar. A few more infrequently played tracks followed, including “Glass Half Empty” (“the only love song I’ve written…[as you’re here] I’m guessing either you’re single, or this is your Valentine’s Day night out and your partner has brought you to see some sweaty idiot shouting… I don’t know which is sadder!”), and an excellent, pointed “Death Bed”, which was a highlight. Then a dramatic, dark “Black Dog Day”, the best number from his new CD, an as-ever stunning “Be The Bigger Man” (“I’ve done politics, I’ve done religion, now it’s bullying”) and a venomous yet singalong “Diet Of Banality” returned Gaz to familiar “live” territory. Practically the whole pub joined in for set finale, “The West Country Song”, before Gaz was persuaded for an encore of “Thin”, another singalong to close nearly 1 ½ hours of damn fine entertainment.

I picked up a Lonely Tourist CD and we bade farewell after this, Gaz’ 900th gig overall and my 11th time, with doubtless many more to come. Surely it won’t be long before Gaz’ true talents are recognised and he steps up a Level or 3 (!) to achieve something approaching Turner-esque recognition. It’s no less than the man deserves!

Friday, 7 February 2014

903 FRANK TURNER AND THE SLEEPING SOULS, Flogging Molly, Beans On Toast, Cardiff Motorpoint Arena, Thursday 6 February 2014

I’m absolutely kicking myself about Frank Turner. Really. This blokes’ been around for ages, plying his upfront, punk rock influenced yet accessible, lyrically totally incisive singer songwriter stuff in the pubs and small venues of England – he’s even played at Swindon's Vic, 12 Bar, Riffs and the bleedin’ Furnace!!! And yet, given that it was only last year that I really – really – gave him a listen and realised what a talented, visionary wordsmith he is, the first time I get to see him is at the cavernous Motorpoint Arena! Unbelievable. Kicking myself. Really.

OK, enough self-flagellation. Having finally been clued in to Frank’s talents via last year’s splendid “Tape Deck Heart” album (and having gotten 3 of his previous albums off my kids for Father’s Day!), I was just too late for his sellout Bristol date last Summer, but jumped all over this one as soon as the pre-sale occurred. I had a new gig buddy for this one too – my musically like-minded work “big boss” Matt. Left the office at 4.30 and drove up in horrible weather to Gordano, meeting Matt there and leaving my car there after an attack of paranoia about it giving off steam! Drove onward in Matt’s motor, parking up in St. Davids’ car park and hitting the venue just as Beans On Toast was bringing his acoustic strumalong set to a close. So we were firmly ensconced, halfway in, stage left, for main support Flogging Molly at 8. They played a relentless attack of Oirish punked-up fiddly diddly stuff’n’nonsense, which mainly felt like everyone onstage was having a “who can play their instruments the fastest?” competition –penny whistle and all! Nevertheless, they warmed the place up nicely.

Chatted comics before the lights darkened, dead on 9, and, after the intro music faded, the black “F T H C” curtain fell to reveal the uniformly white-shirted band already onstage, immediately bursting into busker-strumalong opener “Photosynthesis”. Nice touch! Franks’ modus operandi was evident from the outset – all-inclusive singalong agenda-setters which sum up exactly how everyone present feels about life. “I won’t shut up, and most of all I WILL NOT grow up!” “Plain Sailing Weather” followed in short order, this darker amped-up anthem perhaps lacking a little oomph from the band, but certainly not lacking in Dashboard Confessional-like bleeding raw passion from Frank himself.

“I was counting earlier – there’s fucking loads of you!” announced an incredulous Frank before bursting into “Losing Days”, a jaunty mandolin-led rocker again containing truisms which speak volumes, “I’ve been losing days which used to last a lifetime, in the blinking of an eye…” This one, announced by a voluble Frank as being, “about being old and fucked up but not really caring,” was an early highlight, as was the subsequent “Try This At Home”; the line “there’s no such thing as rock stars, there’s just people who play music, and some of them are just like us, and some of them are DICKS!” again totally nailing it, Frank expressing exactly what he thinks and capturing the mood and views of his audience as a consequence.

The set liberally scattered old and new material from his considerable canon of work; the medieval tubthumper of “To Take You Home” was preceded by his backstory of writing this song for a Parisian girl, travelling to Paris to play it for her, finding he’d been dumped, then getting the Eurostar straight home! That “seize the day” attitude nevertheless came through in many of his proclamations tonight (“it’s not about wallowing in nostalgia, it’s about making new memories”), as did his drive for full inclusiveness (“we have to discuss the room that we’re standing in… [I’m playing arenas because] no-one is excluded; every single person is welcome!”). A soaring, anthemic singalong of “I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous” preceded a punked-up “Long Live The Queen”, the stripped back slow singalong finale nevertheless proving an emotional highlight, as I thought of old Level 3 friend Jane, recently lost to cancer.

Some “A Level audience participation” was called for, for “Recovery” and its’ fairgroundesque middle 8 and strident chorus, Frank by this time having divested himself of his battered acoustic, and leaping about the stage like a dervish. Then encores “I Still Believe”, a folky call-to-arms for the disenfranchised, and an almost hardcore “Four Simple Words” brought a near 2 hour show to a ragged, dramatic close. Breathless, excellent, all-inclusive stuff; the slight early thinness of the band’s sound the only slight blemish on a superb performance. “Who’d have thought that after all, something as simple as rock’n’roll would save us all?” Who, indeed?

I grabbed a surprisingly easy set-list (Frank’s own!) before a quick run out of the city and back to Gordano, and an onward aquaplane along an utterly awash M4, home by 1. So, Frank Turner; spokesperson for a generation who’ve not only been failed by the system, but also their so-called idols and by the conventional means of rebellion and protest. An excellent performer, mass-communicator and perhaps the most important lyricist of our time, because he tells the truth and damn the consequences. Self-flagellation and kicking over, I’m glad I’m finally on board with Frank!

Saturday, 1 February 2014

902 LLOYD COLE AND THE LEOPARDS, Mike Marlin, London Shepherd's Bush Empire, Friday 31 January 2014

Tonight marked a couple of welcome returns; first, a return to gigging with old friends Ben and Peej, the first in a while with both of these chaps; and second, a return to my gig itinerary – after a very lengthy absence – of Mr. Lloyd Cole, a “live” staple in the mid 80’s with his excellent band The Commotions. Cole, a highly literate and well-read individual with an understated wry, laconic and laid-back delivery over his band’s blend of often slow-burn Lou Reed street cool and Country-tinged Byrds-ian jangle, injected a dose of style and bookish idiosyncrasy into the 80’s musical landscape, before the Commotions ran their course and my musical tastes drifted away from his more US radio rock oriented early solo material. Nevertheless, Ben’s enthusiasm for this one, plus news that he was reprising some of that Commotions stuff along with better recent solo work, persuaded me along, so me and Peej gathered up at Bens, before a rainy yet entertaining drive up the Smoke.

We therefore hit the half-full venue at 8-ish, just as support Mike Marlin took the stage. A singer-songwriter of evident similar vintage to the headliner, Marlin (who with glasses, beard and sensible jacket reminded me of my old history teacher Mr. Leach!) had a flat, unassuming stage presence and a line in dark, morose little numbers heavily recalling The National. Seen worse openers, but seen a lot more original ones too…

The place filled up considerably afterwards, but we kept a watching brief near the front, stage left, for Lloyd’s prompt entrance at 9. T’was the old boy’s 53rd birthday today, prompting a bubbling chorus of “happy birthday” from the audience, before he eased his 6-piece band into the opening “Rattlesnakes”. Despite this rendition sounding a little rushed and lacking in that excellent virtuoso guitar riffery from the Commotions Neil Clark, it was nonetheless fine to just hear this, the title track from that splendid Commotions debut album. “So you came for a nice mellow night, yeah?” Cole enquired before a very fine Countrified “Weeping Wine”, followed by a deliciously darker, almost menacing “Sweetheart”.

“This ones’ only 28 years old,” Cole announced by way of introduction to the deliciously yearning “Perfect Blue”, before a subsequent, languid “Another Lover”. Thus far, Lloyd’s solo stuff was at least holding its’ own with the Commotions’ more storied material, something I’d not exactly expected. “The disappointing years are gone – so much promise, then so much disappointment,” Cole remarked (references to “wilderness years” of solo recordings being a recurring theme in his between-song banter) before the classic “Perfect Skin”, brilliantly rendered with an understated opening giving way to a startlingly strident middle eight, eliciting the best response of the night. Lloyd then mined his more recent seam of songs once more, it again being a pleasant surprise how good they were, particularly those culled from last year’s “Standards” album, before the jaunty, fairgroundesque “Lost Weekend” jumped back to Commotions days. “This is when I normally talk about babysitters – don’t worry, we’re almost finished… I’ve been almost finished for years!” Cole self-deprecatingly announced before a fine “No Blue Skies” (the line, “baby, you’re too well read; baby, you’re too well spoken” almost serving as a metaphor for Cole’s career!) led into a singalong “Jennifer She Said” to close a surprisingly fine, carefully delivered set. Low key, sure, but this material demands careful handling, and tonight it was treated just right.

After first encore, his mid-90’s hit “Like Lovers Do”, the auditorium was bathed in red light for the inevitable “Forest Fire”. This, still the high watermark in Cole’s canon, was the best thing on the menu tonight, this drum-driven number building to a soaring crescendo which Lloyd and the band stretched, before abruptly, yet fittingly, bringing it – and the night – to a close. Not quite though, as I grabbed a set-list and got this, plus a hastily purchased copy of the new album, signed by the man himself, putting in an appearance on the merch stand. Shook his hand and had a quick word about those 80’s Marquee days too. A nice end to a splendid retro evening, in good company – both offstage and on!