Saturday, 30 December 2017

1,066 THE 12 BANDS OF CHRISTMAS 2017, Swindon The Victoria, Saturday 116th December 2017

An entirely fitting way to end a splendid 50-gig year, this, in a year that Swindon has again served me well for gigs. Only the second time I’ve taken in the annual “12 Bands Of Christmas” event up the Vic (the first being Nudy Bronque’s triumphant night, waaay back in 2013), as Gaz Brookfield’s Chrimbo show at The Fleece clashed with last year’s Raze*Rebuild-featured line-up. Same thing again this year, only Gaz had stepped his Xmas “do” up to The Bierkeller, a 14+ venue which meant I couldn’t take Gaz fan Logan anyway, so that opened the way up for me to catch my local faves Raze*Rebuild at this year’s “12 Bands”!

Usually guaranteed a sell-out as well, so I snapped up my ticket early and headed off early to ensure a parking spot. Most of the bands were already in attendance on my 7.30 arrival; the promoter hadn’t given out the running times beforehand, in order to get all the bands out early to support each other! Sneaky, but nice, ensuring a good sense of community. As before, all bands are allotted 2 numbers, both “covers”, and ideally either something festive or something out of their usual comfort zone or musical style. So, some surprises expected tonight!

Young indie band SHORE kicked off at 8.15 to an already packed venue, with nice if understated versions of The Smiths’ “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” and The Clash’s “Train In Vain”, delivered well by the sparkly-headbanded blond vocalist. JIM BLAIR AND HIP ROUTE were up next, the gravel-voiced bohemian Blair delivering a delicious desert stoner stomp version of “No Diggity”, then a more upbeat cover of Elvis’ “Burning Love” sung by his guitarist. The inventive HAIL followed in short order, their 2-piece line-up restricting the spontaneity somewhat as they required some backing synth loops to augment their drum/ voice “live” performance. However, the balance of the sound was better than last time out in their cover of Carly Rae Jepson’s poppy “Call Me Maybe”, mixed in with snippets of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”, and despite stated nerves, Sophie sounded in fine fettle, a sultry and strident vocal performance the highlight of Hail’s increasingly impressive sound.

Another strident female vocal was next up too – despite knowing her/ of her since those 80’s Level 3 nights, this was the first time I’d seen Bex Harrison perform. My loss, clearly, as with her 3-piece THIRTEEN SILVER DOLLARS, she delivered smoky and strident versions of “Rocking Around The Christmas Tree” and a potent, singalong cover of AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long”. Despite the sax malfunction, this was a super vignette which will prompt me to check out their own stuff. Smashed it, Bex!

Chatted with various folks out the front and in the pub before squeezing back into the by-now completely rammed venue for MATT BRYANT, a glammed-up Steve Harley lookalike whose cover of “Teenage Kicks” was taut, wired and herky-jerky, and sounded as if Television, not the Undertones, had written it! Nice! GEORGE WILDING then impressed with a superbly well-appointed, if a little faithful, cover of Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” during his set, before I squeezed my way down the front for what, for me, was main event time… RAZE*REBUILD were next up, their opener turning Huey Lewis’ AOR cheese-fest “The Power Of Love” into a robust and potent rocker with big stomping hobnail boots and a massive chorus. However, better was to come, as Si announced, “Swindon, sing with me,” and burst into Queen’s racy singalong “Don’t Stop Me Now”! A neat trick, this, as I bloody hate Queen, but this was a superb, typically rampaging rendition and had me rocking along and singing raucously down the front.

Needed a breath after that, so chatted with Paj before catching RR’s drummer Jamie’s “other” band, THE HARLERS, turn The Zuton’s “Valleri” into a riff-heavy sludge-fest, whilst retaining its singalong quality. Jamie was in fact pulling triple shift tonight, as he remained on his drumstool afterwards for WYLDEST, who added a layer of sugary dreampop candyfloss to The Bunnymen’s classic “The Killing Moon”. As a massive Bunnyfan since my teens, I’m eminently critical of anyone mis-handling Bunnymen songs (including The Bunnymen themselves!) but Wyldest’s Zoe Mead covered this with style and reverence, a point I was happy to make to her afterwards. Nicely done!

The best was to come last for me, though, with THE MARTYRIALS, who were debuting a new line-up, with a slightly-built, green-haired lady drummer and a guitarist sporting a silk dressing gown joining utter headcase vocalist/ keyboardist Sammy, the only holdover from the line-up that startled and amazed at last year’s Swindon Shuffle. Sure enough, they were “on one” from the off, their keyboard fuelled version of The Caesar’s garage rock stomper “Jerk It Out” manic and magic, the sheer verve and energy of their performance causing the keyboard stand to collapse, prompting my fellow front-row punter Paul Carter to help hold it up for Sammy! The Bangles’ “Walk Like An Egyptian” was Sultans Of Ping FC-esque crazy, and amidst the maelstrom of madness they squeezed a third cover into their set, a quite brilliantly bat-shit mental cover of A-Ha’s “Take On Me”. “That was magic… pure magic!” announced the MC at their conclusion, and when I admitted to a magnanimous Si afterwards that Raze*Rebuild had just lost my “Band of the Night”, he completely understood.

Time was running on, so that was where I made my exit. No-one was going to come close to touching The Martyrial’s frankly astonishing showing, so I dropped RR guitarist Matt off and headed home via the kebab van. Great stuff overall, and I’ll make sure I’m back for more next year. As Paj so succinctly put it, “if the Swindon Shuffle is the Summer party [for the currently very challenging and fertile Swindon music scene], then “12 Bands” is its’ Christmas party!” No arguments there, good Sir - Merry Christmas!

1,065 PETER HOOK AND THE LIGHT, Salisbury City Hall, Friday 8th December 2017

With a glorious Sunday evening Joy Division/ New Order retrospective set, Peter Hook And The Light snared my Band Of The Weekend award at the last minute, at November’s “Shiine On Festival. Pretty much a given, then, that I'd attempt to track down tix for his subsequent tour shortly thereafter, where a run-through of both of Hooky’s seminal bands' singles-plus-rarities collections (both entitled “Substance”!) was on the cards. I therefore hooked (!) tix for myself and Rach for what purported to be an extended version of the Shiiine On celebration of both of these massively influential bands - the raw, terse and morose, yet occasionally uplifting post-punk of Joy Division, and the pioneering indie/ synth dance maelstrom of New Order - also initially persuading Logan to join us. However, a tough week at school took its toll and he cried off at the last minute, making it an impromptu date night for me and the missus!

Double babysitting duties for grandma, then, so we headed off after her arrival, for a circumspect cross-country journey in the freezing cold, hitting the venue at 20 to 8. Not a huge attendance for tonight’s gig, though, with the main hall being set up with temporary tiered seating at the back. Took a good viewing spot on the floor, stage right, running into Peej, Ben and his son Kieran just before the lights dimmed at 1/4 past 8 and orchestral trumpeting backing music greeted Hooky and the band onstage. Resplendent in a bright red Brian Jones t-shirt, he grumbled a greeting to the front rows ("it's like you lot have been really naughty!") then took his usual Johnny Ramone-like low-slung, legs apart bass pose, as the band eased in with a couple of embryonic New Order numbers, all growling guitar and tumbling, militaristic drums, before the expected chronological New Order singles set run-through. An early "Ceremony" was excellent, tough and tremulous, but despite the sound being clear and well-balanced throughout (a troubled "Procession" notwithstanding, Hooky constantly urging the sound guys to actually turn it down during this number), the band rarely scaled the stratospheric heights of that Shiine Onshowing during this initial set. "Temptation", superbly guitar-heavy and singalong, came close; the extended instrumental mid-section and powerful, pulsating outro of "Perfect Kiss" came closer; otherwise it felt like a performance by rote, fine and enjoyable and all, but all a little restrained, as if Hooky was pacing himself over his long evening's work. Also, with the reliance on pre-programmed synth overlays and tracks, it also often felt as if the majority of the 6-piece band were standing around for chunks of time waiting for their individual cues, rather than playing as a band! A surprising "1963" rounded off the first 90 minute set, at which point Hooky, visibly blowing by this point, led the band off for a well-earned break. 

And back on, barely 5 minutes later, for the Joy Division set! Quick break then! Immediately, however, this felt darker and more dynamic and dramatic, relying considerably less on the synth and pre-programmed beats, and more on a conventional band line-up, so the entire band appeared engaged in the performance. "No Love Lost" was a dark, growling beast drawn from 70’s NYC proto-punk, "Passover" creepy and pseudo-goth, and "Candidate" bleak, morose and claustrophobic, recalling the edgy fear of those late 70’s/ early 80's Cold War times. "These Days", with its wobbly rhythm and one-note staccato guitar work, was tremendous, clearly the sound that launched a thousand Interpol songs, but this was topped by a fantastic and committed mid-set double-whammy of "Transmission" and the eerie, whip-crack beat of "She's Lost Control". A similarly haunting, elegiac "Atmosphere" was dedicated by Hook to, "Ian Curtis, God rest his soul," the rendition sparkling, spine-tingling and genuinely affecting, and for me the best thing on show tonight. Almost - almost - topped by the subsequent set closer, the inevitable and all-inclusive classic "Love Will Tear Us Apart", Hooky roaring the song to its conclusion before throwing the Brian Jones t-shirt into the crowd and taking a bow.

Overall then a great night - capped by a quick bit of face time with the man himself plus his drummer (who complimented my Chameleons t-shirt), both signing my hard-earned set-list! Another circumspect drive home in increasingly slippery conditions, following another episode in the Peter Hook odyssey. Long may it continue!

1,064 WOLF ALICE, Sunflower Bean, Superfood, Southampton Guildhall, Tuesday 21st November 2017

My last (currently!) scheduled out-of-town gig of the year came in the shape of by-now gig “dance card” regulars Wolf Alice, young Ellie Rowsell and her spiky boy crew continuing their inexorable upwards trajectory with a very fine, if hardly groundbreakingly different, sophomore album in this year's "Visions Of A Life", and subsequent sell-out dates on both sides of the Atlantic. Their Bristol date came too close to “Shiiine On”, but I was happy to snap up a ticket for their later Southampton Guildhall gig, and return to the scene of Logan's onstage Bowling For Soup shenanigans!

Had a blustery drive down on this dark Autumn evening, and parked up dead on 7.30 around the corner from the venue. First band Superfood were already on, playing a bland rehash of 90's Britpop and 80's dull wine bar jazz funk. They'd lost me after their first album, which fulfilled approximately 0% of the initial promise displayed on their first Wolf Alice support slot back in 2014, and this insipid fayre did even less to tempt me back! Much better, however, were the main support, on at 8.25; "we're Sunflower Bean from New York City - let's have some fun!" announced petite blonde vocalist Julia Cumming, as opener "Burning To The Ground" impressed with a stompy new wave powerpop vibe recalling The Knack, and a rockier second number "Right Now" featured some racy guitar licks from curly bouffanted axeman Nick Kivlen, who at first glance appeared to be wearing lilac silk pyjamas! I enjoyed their breezy new material, which often tested Cumming's impressive vocal range, particularly the laconic NYC cool and melody of new single "I Was A Fool". Set closer "What Did You Do Today" featured an extended Doors "LA Woman"-like guitar workout, and overall this was a neat little set from a band whom I'd unfairly overlooked up to now. Pitching up midway between the CBGB’s garage growl cool of Ex Hex and the candy-stripe pop of Alvvays, it's time for a re-appraisal of Sunflower Bean, methinks...!

Took a wander around this packed venue, through the broad church that is the Wolf Alice crowd - old boys like myself, student types and loads of excited girls, one group brandishing a blow-up penis to hurl around in the mosh! The band themselves joined us at 9.30 with the minimum of fuss, tumbling into the dry ice, strobes and swirling Lush-isms of opener "Heavenward". Then it all got a bit punk rock, as the ferocious, venom-spitting double of the slightly trite "Yuk Foo" and more substantial "You're A Germ" initiated an enthusiastic young moshpit, the crowd already howling delightedly along to Rowsell's scalded banshee screams. We're off and running...

This was a consummate performance from a band quickly maturing before my very eyes. As "professional" as their current status and popularity requires, yet still with vim and venom aplenty; they're wearing the big boy/girl pants now, no messin’, and filling them out splendidly! Great to see some light and shade in the set too, with a pretty, pastoral "St. Purple And Green" segueing into the gorgeously ethereal hookline of "Don't Delete The Kisses"; and a later "Planet Hunter" possibly my set highlight, an oasis of calm amidst the frantic powerpop of the likes of "Bros" and "Lisbon", understated, haunting and recalling The Heart Throbs.

"The first place we played here [in Southampton] was The Joiners, now we're playing here which is fucking amazing!" remarked incredulous guitarist Theo Ellis before the tubthumping "Space And Time", a mid-song pregnant pause building feverish anticipation as he and bassist Joff Oddie brandished their instruments aloft. "Visions Of A Life" was an undulating, tempo changing creepy epic, the core section reminding these old ears of "Porcupine"-era Bunnymen, then the extended careering rollercoaster ride of "Fluffy" finished an  exciting and entirely fat-free 1 hour 5 set, extended by the subsequent encore of gossamer oldie "Blush" and a heavy-riffing, floor-shaking "Giant Peach" (the encore, curiously, being preceded by chants of "Oh Jeremy Corbyn" from the mosh massive!).

Great stuff again, topped by a list provided by the friendly soundman. A swift drive back got me home on the stroke of midnight, satisfied upon seeing Wolf Alice again bare their teeth impressively, and take another step towards their inevitable world domination. Well done people!

1,063 DESPERATE JOURNALIST, Supp. Slow Reader’s Club, Bristol Thekla, Friday 17th November 2017

Without a shadow of a doubt, Desperate Journalist are easily my favourite and most significant new musical discoveries of 2017, and are showing potential to be a “live” obsession of mine in the same vein as Seafood, The Julie Dolphin et al, so I'm certainly not going to pass up on any opportunity to see them "live" right now, particularly after their October mini-tour was a non-starter for me as it coincided with a family holiday in Kos! Thankfully, they then announced a short series of dates in support of gloomy types Slow Readers Club, and I gleefully snapped up a ticket for the Thekla gig, notwithstanding the fact that "The Dirty Boat" has become somewhat stranded on the wrong side of some confusing new traffic layouts in the centre of Bristol! Still, where there's rock, there's a way...

A perfect storm of not only the afore-mentioned new traffic priorities, a Friday night in November (early Chrimbo shopping around Cabot Circus! Yikes!) and a stupidly early on-stage time (7 piggin’ 30!) had me leaving pretty much as soon as I'd gotten home from work. Glad I did, as a ridiculous 1 ¾ hour journey, including immensely frustrating queues to clear the M4/M32 Junction, saw me parking up at doors, barely half an hour before they were on! Well, I was there at least, so I took my spot down the front, next to some beer-balancing SRC fans, who assured me I'd be impressed by the headliners. We'll see... but firstly, there’s the reason I’m here…!

Desperate Journalist took the stage prompt at 7.30, with a startlingly agenda-setting opener "Control", an explosion of soaring thoroughbred intensity and passion, powerful and strident. Then straight into the more flippant, Smiths-esque "Why Are You So Boring?", and that was it for me; I was jumping about like a loon, mirroring vocalist Jo Bevan's manic onstage pogo-ing. This lot don't fuck about with easing themselves in; it's the "full-on" mode straight from the outset!

Desperate Journalist were astonishing tonight, an object lesson in intensity and kinetic energy, the utterly riveting presence of vocalist Jo Bevan again at the heart of it throughout, with her marvellously powerful and yearning voice to the fore in the mix, her performance again thrillingly toeing the line between ferocious commitment and almost contemptuous detachment. The taut, eerie, Cure-like opening to "Hollow" was flesh-creepingly splendid, Simon Drowner's growling bass a feature, before Rob Hardy's haunting 80's pseudo-goth licks took over for the middle-eight. A newie ("about being sad... you'd be surprised..."       commented Jo ironically) elicited a chant of "journalist!" from the crowd, and by the building hook and emotion-soaked wall-of-noise middle-eight of "Be Kind" it was evident that this band have already risen above the sum of their influences into a unique, fully-formed and potentially very special band indeed. All too soon, the magnificent amphetamine rush of "Resolution" ended a quite brilliant set. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and it was over - holy hell, that was intense!

Grabbed a list, grabbed my breath and grabbed some merch, then headed out to dump it in the car, happily running into the band unloading outside. Enjoyed a chat with this young and enthusiastic band of clear 80's post-punk aficionados, with Simon remarking on my Chameleons t-shirt and also namechecking the overlooked yet excellent Scars, and Jo effusively praising XTC and relating a recent fan encounter with Dave Gregory!

Broke off the chat to check out headliners The Slow Readers Club, playing to a sold-out and fanatical crowd. They featured a solid synth base to their gloomy post-punk material, a purposeful opener recalling Editors' more electronic work, particularly in the vocalist's deep and resonant Tom Smith-like inflections. The next number was a bit more discordant (also a bit out of tune, to these ears) but overall suffered badly in comparison to the dynamism of their openers, and I gave them a couple more numbers before heading off for a considerably easier drive home. On another day I may have enjoyed them, but tonight was definitely not their night. Tonight belonged squarely to a band who are rapidly becoming a very great one indeed;     tonight belonged to Desperate Journalist!

1,062 THE 2017 “SHIIINE ON” WEEKENDER, Various Venues at Butlins Resort, Minehead, Friday 10th – Sunday 12th November 2017

Well, we liked it so much last year, we were back for more… back to Minehead for the third (and our second) “Shiiine On” Weekender! And this time, it was also, for me, a case of, “careful what you wish for…” as joining returnees “The Big Man”, Matt and myself at this now-annual celebration of 80’s/ 90’s Indie and Dance music and culture, as our 4th chalet member, was my dear lady wife Rachel! Well, I did say about last year that I couldn’t think of 2 better people than Rich and Matt to share the weekend with, “Rachel notwithstanding…”! Plus, her presence removes any doubt and awkwardness as to whom would be sharing the double bed in the chalet!

Leading up to the big weekend itself, my missus also entered into some drink-related text banter with the boys, which I guess at least took her mind off the late withdrawal of her potential highlights Sultans Of Ping FC, weakening an already nowhere-near-as-good-as-last-year bill (I mean, Embrace as headliners? Landfill indie of the first water!). Still, nonetheless, it was an excited and anticipatory trio that headed down from Swindon on a bruisingly cold but sunny Friday, hitting the resort for 1.30 then having to queue in the longest and slowest-moving queue to get our wristbands and intro packs. Next year, I’m booking under the name of Xerxes, no messin’… Anyway, we then met Matt on the seafront for the now-traditional opening day fish and chips, before heading into our Silver Apartment, on the far side of the site this year, to get squared away before the festivities started.

So, into the arena for 4 pm, where a large and expectant crowd heralded the first significant entrance of the weekend - that of JIM BOB of Carter USM, bounding onstage suited and booted to the "One Foot In The Grave" soundtrack intro and jauntily declaring, "Butlins! Never thought I'd ever say that..." then adding ironically, "anyone here come straight from work? I'm still at work, you cunts!" Despite initial set-up problems with his acoustic guitar, my former Jamie Wednesday correspondent then played a fun, pun-laced set of Carter's various hits and misses, the knockabout, Cockernee music hall nature of the material standing up well to this acoustic treatment. "Prince In A Paupers Grave" morphed into a maudlin drinking song, and "Every Time A Church Bell Rings" became a bitter and acerbic social commentary, introduced with, "Jarvis Cocker was right, cunts are still running the world!" The erstwhile Mr. Morrison turned a chant of, "you fat bastard!" into a tribute to Carter’s former manager, the late Jon Beast, with a touching, "RIP you beautiful wonderful man," the subsequent huge singalong to the splendid-sounding "Only Living Boy In New Cross" the set highlight. "This Is How It Feels", the old Inspiral Carpets number, was dedicated to Clint Boon's pool party, and the double of a singalong "Sheriff Fatman" and a stark "Impossible Dream" featuring snatches of Bowie's "Rock And Roll Suicide" finished an entertaining opening set. You're wonderful, Jim, gimme your hands!

A quick drink break at the bar at the back of the venue, running into both Kate Hayden for a quick chat about diabetic offspring, then Russ Hunt and his charming wife Deb, before hanging back whilst the rest of the crew went in for POP WILL EAT ITSELF. Never been a fan, finding their rap/indie dance mash-up a bit grubby and laddish, although I confess I'm more kindly disposed to them these days than I was for, say, their horrendous Reading 1991 set. Plus, at least they're not The Levellers...! So I almost enjoyed the likes of "Can U Dig It" and "Dance Of The Mad", both of which got the joint jumping, and were played by this 2017 PWEI iteration (only Graham Crabb and Richard March remaining from the original line-up, along with recent recruit Mary Byker from Gaye Bykers On Acid!) with energy and enthusiasm. Not my bag, but my crew loved it, so what the fuck do I know?

However, next up were the nearest to a nailed-on Sure Thing all weekend, something we could all agree on. THE WONDER STUFF were Band Of The Festival last year, and tonight laid down a serious marker for this year, with a stunning set of their virus-level catchy, fiddle-inflected strident indie-power pop. From Miles' "Oi! Oi!" introductory rallying cry and the opening bars of superb lead-off track "Red Berry Joy Town", through the powerful, four-to-the-floor yet totally joyous singalong "On The Ropes", via the flippant, chugging "Unbearable" and the more fiddle-based mid-set, to the "Groove Machine"-oriented final barrage culminating in a thunderous "Ten Trenches Deep", this was again a great, rabble-rousing, all-inclusive Festival set. "We're going to attempt to cool it down a bit as there's not enough defibrillators in the room to go round!" quipped the sartorially elegant Miles, resplendent this time in check tablecloth shirt and grey kilt, however the crowd were having none of it and were there to party. Ourselves included, as we were in the mosh from the off, although Rach had to withdraw as some dickhead (in all honesty, the only one we encountered all weekend) was throwing his weight around near her (this also got the vigilant Russ' attention from his stage-tight guitar tech position). The only dampener on an otherwise great Stuffies set.

Whilst the rest of my crew stayed in for Arena headliners The Levellers, I had other plans, as I can't stand them! Luckily, neither can Russ, so I met up with him and Deb for a drink and some convivial rock conversation in Hotshots for an hour or so. Nice to catch up with this splendid and knowledgeable gent. 

Returned to the main arena after the Levellers’ set, as the crowd dispersed into various after-hours stages; we wandered off into Jaks, the small pub-like venue at the back of the arena, for THE ORCHIDS, kicking off at 10.30 with some pleasant if somewhat innocuous drippy C86 jangle pop. Wallpaper music really, so we popped back into the arena, sat in deckchairs and got some late night snacks! THE TRAIN SET, next up in Jaks, were more substantial fayre, with some robust sounding shouty post-baggy rock, underpinned by the ubiquitous (at the time!) funky drummer beat. "She's Gone", a rattling-good tune in the vein of The Coral (only better!), and a darker newie, "That's My World" were my highlights of a decent set. I stayed in with Rich then, enjoying some choice DJ selections (XTC, Bunnymen and Orange Juice amongst them) before THE WOODENTOPS eventually joined us after a fiddly soundcheck, vocalist Rolo announcing, "let's take the tempo up a bit!" as they kicked into their set 15 minutes late at 12.45 am. The band from the 80's whose "live" performances always transcended their studio output, they'd disappointed with a patchy “slight return” a decade ago, but tonight seemed in better nick, the taut, wired rockabilly rhythm of opener "Get It On" evidencing this, galloping along at a ferocious pace. Inevitably, they couldn't keep up this frenetic velocity, although they did manage to do so in snatches (e.g the chaotic denouement to an otherwise French 60's B-movie type new number, and the frantic pulsing beat of "Well Well Well"), yet it was the lighter touches which shone through - the calypso sway of "Good Thing", creepyunderpinning  bass of "Last Time" and libidinous groove of "Give It Time", f’rinstance. The echoey-sounding Rolo was also in an odd and somewhat bolshy mood, namechecking a steward who had threatened to throw him out earlier during one number, and launching into an extended and perplexing, almost free-form jam for their penultimate number, as the set wore on considerably past its scheduled finish time. A final, excellent "Plenty" capped a curate’s egg of a set as the time bumped on until 2 and the clearly pissed-off DJ launched into his own, half-hour-late, set. Nevertheless, I ruminated as I wearily headed back to the chalet, at least it sounded waaaay better than that 100 Club "Slight Return"!

Day two promised very few musical highlights; a very good thing, as it subsequently transpired! A "Big Man Special" fried brekky after a lazy morning set me and Rach up for Clint Boon's lunchtime pool party, which we popped along to via Kate's "gin window"! The pool party itself was fun, but Boon inexplicably pissed off after an hour, leaving some stranded and flailing Butlins attendant to backfill with some odd musical choices. Back to the chalet afterwards, then off into the mid-afternoon arena, ignoring SPACE on the main stage 'cos they're rubbish, and eventually wandering into the Inn On The Green for BMX BANDITS. With their classy, bouncy indie pop with C86 and melodic Big Star/ Teenage Fanclub inflections, and led by vocalist Duglas Stewart, who with his tweed jacket, scarf and gregarious, easy-going manner, reminded me of my chiropractor (!), they were an absolute delight and easily the best thing on, on an admittedly-thin middle day. "Serious Drugs", made famous by my mid-90s Boston buddies Gigolo Aunts, was an obvious set highlight, as was Duglas phoning up TFC's Norman Blake and leaving him a message on his answerphone! Unfortunately, by this time Rach, who'd hit the gin window and the breakfast vodka pretty hard, was a little the worse for wear, so I missed the end of their set getting her back to the chalet to sleep it off!

And that was basically it, music-wise for a few hours! Thankfully, the likes of Starsailor, Fun Loving Criminals and Embrace held little to no attraction for me, so I was happy to sit in the chalet for the evening hours watching TV until Rach, amazingly, revived and declared herself fit for some late-night musical shenanigans! So off we went, via a trip to the La's photo exhibition and a fun chat about Liverpool music with the proprietor (an acquaintance of The Wild Swans' Paul Simpson!). Then into Reds for WOLFGANG FLUR, due on at 10.30. The former Kraftwerk man joined us at 10.45, DJing some teutonic synth music underpinned by a heavy, pounding dance beat and accompanied by a slideshow which mainly depicted portraits of the artist as a young man, with his former bandmates. "The following is suitable for dancing - you are invited to" read one early slide, and whilst that may have been so, the relentless beat made it difficult listening, so we decamped to Jaks for the last knockings of MY DRUG HELL''s very mod-ish, 60's Brit-beat pop set. Final number, "Gypsy's Soul" was typical of their oeuvre, having possibly walked straight out of The Kinks' songbook. Stayed for THE WENDYS, who mined a seam of groovy baggy dance, with a more acerbic, almost Fall-like in-your-face vocal overload. Okay, I guess, with "Plastic Jesus" a highlight.

I then left the crew to Hurricane #1's render mercies and wandered over to Centre Stage for my only such visit of the whole weekend! Running into Steve Lamacq on the staircase for a pic and an extremely quick few words on my late 80's darlings The Parachute Men (of whom Lamacq was also a fan), I then took a spot on the barriers at the front, for the entrance of CUD at 1 am to a considerably bigger and more enthusiastic (or drunk!) crowd than last year. "Good evening and well done! I've been in my dressing room for 7 ½ hours!" quipped pliable vocalist Carl Puttnam, before wiggling and gyrating his way through the frantic jangle of opener "Get Us Out". A propos to their recent UK tour, this was a singles-orientated set, the taut, funky "Hey! Wire", a racey, hooky "One Giant Love" and the libidinous, almost smutty "Strange Kind Of Love" tumbling thereafter in quick succession. "I was pleased to hear that the adjective most used to describe my band is "legendary"!" boasted Puttnam; a slight exaggeration, sure, and not entirely justified on tonight’s evidence as for me, there was a fair amount of fat in the set. However, the likes of "Hey Boots" and "Robinson Crusoe" were little belters, and the cover of The Kinks' "Lola" was an orgiastic delight, with a drippingly lecherous vocal performance from Puttnam. Overall, a fine way to end an odd but memorable day two!

A day three littered with potential highlights kicked off again with a Big Man fry up! Everyone set off before me to catch UKE2 at The Inn On The Green at midday, and I caught up with them in this rammed little pub venue after a shower. An odd proposition, this lot; 3 baggy-haired gents playing Britpop and indie staples on ukuleles! Nonetheless, this was an all-inclusive, check-your-cynicism/cool-at-the-door, good time singalong performance, with the likes of "Disco 2000", "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" and "Sit Down" raising the roof, and "I Am The Resurrection" a suitable punctuation point on a fun set.

Wandered into the main arena with Rach, bumping into the Make A Wish puppets Walter and Eustace for a pic on the way down the front, for somewhat of a revelation! IAN PROWSE, former frontman of Pele (for whom my only previous experience had been a short set on Reading 1992 Sunday, when the Big Tent re-opened following repairs due to the high winds, and which in all honesty I paid scant attention to, as I was lamenting the cancellation of Power Of Dreams and Captain America!) and recommended by Russ, was playing a largely fiddle-driven upbeat and eminently tuneful folky pop set, with an extensive backing band, and doing so rather splendidly, actually! A rambunctious "Raid The Palace", which Prowse dedicated, "to the government of a J Corbyn... which is coming!" then segued seamlessly into a frankly amazing cover of The Clash’s classic "London's Calling"; then, before a poignant and affecting closer "Does This Train Stop At Merseyside?", a buoyed Prowse announced, "be kind to each other, in your heart and soul, and the best way to do that is to never ever read "The Sun" newspaper!" Great stuff, prompting me to dash over to the merch stand afterwards and buy his CD, stopping the man on the way back to sign my set-list!

A nice appetiser to a promised and pre-established highlight, as up next were THE ICICLE WORKS, with unkempt and raffish mainman Ian McNabb leading his gang of ruffians onstage at 3 and kicking into sweeping, heroic opener "When It All Comes Down", which he then, perversely, stretched into a Neil Young-like 8 minute guitar workout! Thereafter, though, and despite struggling with the vocal mix (asking on numerous occasions to turn it down), McNabb delivered exactly the performance we'd hoped for; a sharp and snappy, virtually "Greatest Hits" run-through, replete with widescreen, windswept choruses suitable for some raucous arms-aloft singing along, driving guitar riffs, epic brain-hugging hooks and just enough prog styling to keep on the right side of overblown self-indulgence.

"Evangeline" was a keyboard-driven delight, "Starry Blue Eyed Wonder"'s elegiac opening broke like a greyhound from the traps into a big riff-heavy rocker, and "Understanding Jane" was thunderous, the audience backfilling the huge hooks before a cacophonous false finish. McNabb himself just concentrated on the rock, rather than demonstrating any of his mad-as-a-box-of-frogs tendencies, as per his Facebook postings, and the set was the better for it. An anthemic "Hollow Horse" finished a slightly raggedly delivered but overall splendidly chosen set, totally living up to the pre-fest billing. Great stuff!

THE WEDDING PRESENT were next up in short order, amazingly starting with an incendiary version of debut single "Once More", David Gedge's elastic wrist strumming away at light-speed. "Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah" followed, breathless and full-sounding – a hell of a start, they can't keep this up, surely?!

Inevitably, the answer was no. "This Is an album called "George Best"," deadpanned Gedge as they strummed their way into "Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft", the opener from that “classic” 1986 debut album. The subsequent run-through was intriguing but uneven, with numbers such as the melancholic "A Million Miles" and a savage, punky "All This And More" holding up well, but others not really standing the test of time for me. I dunno, their tongue-in-cheek slogan of "all the songs sound the same" seemed quite appropriate tonight, and I found myself more entertained by the young drummer's facial expressions than by their subsequent set! Not bad overall, but they'd opened with their best 2 numbers (by a million miles!) and thereafter all seemed a little samey.

Better than THE FARM, though, whose echoey baggy styling provided the backdrop for tea, the crew wandering into the arena late-on to check out their set closer, the ubiquitous baggy anthem "All Together Now". But we knew there were some real classic indie anthems, just around the corner...!

"I've just seen Bez in the car park, do check your cars later!" quipped PETER HOOK as he led his band THE LIGHT onstage for their early evening set. Then the synth beat of New Order’s game-changing dance crossover classic "Blue Monday" kicked into gear, Hooky already imperiously conducting both his band and the enthusiastic and engaged crowd, his low-slung bass stance unmistakable. "True Faith" followed, big, bold and puffed out, Hooky remarking, "I used to work at Butlins... I poisoned all your mothers and fathers!" "Temptation" was quite brilliant, the pulsating synth and multi-layered hook driving the song, before Hook diverted away from the synth-fuelled New Order material and into rockier, darker Joy Division territory via a snarling, seething "Digital". The brooding, morose "She's Lost Control" was powered by a harsh, synth-snap rhythm, but the subsequent, roaring "Transmission" and stately, widescreen "Ceremony" were all about Hooky, his growling vocals and distinctive bass chord patterns both standout features. All too soon, Hooky heralded the end of this wonderful hour-long set with a tongue-in-cheek, "this is what it's like when you're over 60 - something to look forward to - well, [for] some of you!" (ironic too, given his own gigs are known to stretch to up to 3 hours!), then the inevitable "Love Will Tear Us Apart" turned into a communal singalong, the band paring the music back for the audience, before bringing it thunderously back to fittingly cap the Set Of The Weekend in some considerable style. 

I didn't plan on going in for the list, but took a glance down the front and ended up getting one anyway! That was that for me, although the crew went back in for the plodding morass of laddish baggy dance that was THE HAPPY MONDAYS. Headlining the whole Festival, reports suggested vocalist Shaun Ryder was off his box on something (pick your own substance!), not recognising when the set was finished! Oh dear…

Rach and Rich decided to stay out for some late-night drinking at Jaks, but Matt (who was pooped, plus had a work meeting the next day!) and I (who was just pooped!) headed off back to the chalet for a reasonable night’s sleep, bumping into Ian Prowse along the way for a nice chat (during which he replied to my not having that familiar with Pele back in the day with the immortal phrase of, “that, sir, makes you a cunt!”). One last Big Man brekky the next morning, before we all bade our farewells and headed off, elated but all a little broken. I don’t recall it being so hard on my body last year – and I was so glad I wasn’t partaking in the weekend’s copious drinkies! Still, another great weekend in brilliant company – the bill may not have been a patch on the previous year’s, but there were a couple of great performances from Hooky and his crew, and Milo and his, plus some other highlights (Icicle Works, BMX Bandits) and some nice surprises (notably Mr. Prowse). Who’s to say we won’t be back next year for three in a row?

1,061 RIDE, Ulrika Spacek, Bristol SWX, Thursday 9th November 2017

A quick warm-up to the forthcoming weekend's “Shiiine On” shenanigans came in this short-notice gig; I'd been eyeing up another Ride gig since their splendid return at Field Day 2 years ago but hadn't made it happen, however the late cancellation of Rachel's governor's meeting freed me up for this one. So, 2 years on from sell-out reunion gigs and festival headline slots, and with a new album in tow in the shape of "Weather Diaries", pitching somewhere between the post-shoegaze sonics of "Going Blank Again" and the troubled embryonic Britpop of "Tarantula" but still a fine listen, what shape would Ride be in "live"?

A swift drive down an inky M4 saw me parking up and hitting the venue partway through support Ulrika Spacek, a young 5-piece who were hammering through a sludgy blues riff for all it was worth... to the extent that the same riff kicked off the next number! Subsequent songs were of a more laze-rock/ slacker persuasion, giving the impression that they wouldn't have been out of place on an early 90's Dinosaur Jr. support slot! Alright, I suppose, but some way short of fellow 90's post-grunge acolytes Yuck or Pity Sex (not to mention the excellent Nothing) in terms of tuneage.

As they concluded, I took a look around... it certainly seems as though the dust has now settled on the initial furore of the Ride reunion and its’ now back to “business as usual”. This was definitely not the sold-out in 30 minutes Roundhouse of 2 years ago; there was plenty of room to swing an average sized anaconda in here, and although it filled up by showtime, I was still able to hit the loo shortly before lights and return to my exact same spot, 2 rows back from the dry-ice saturated stage!

Ride themselves kept us waiting until 9, before coming on to their own instrumental "Integration Tape" track as intro music. Main vocalist Mark Gardener pressed a floor switch on one of two impressive banks of effects pedals either size of his mic set-up, then led the band into "Lannoy Point", the opener and most undulatingly melodic track on the new album. "A better sense to start again..." prophetic lyrics indeed! The slashing Britpop riff of "Charm Assault" followed, sounding superb, particularly the discordant middle 8 break, before the soaring psych-guitar and impressive barrage of tumbling drums heralded tonight’s first oldie "Seagull", Gardener and Andy Bell's smooth intertwining choral harmonies also a feature here. "Loz is running on Duracells, definitely!" remarked a wide-eyed Gardener in tribute to his hard-working drummer.

In all fairness, the same could be said for them all tonight; the Ride boys all put in a pretty fair shift, and as a consequence sounded superb; well practised, tough, tight and road-tested. Also, the bonhomie and camaraderie evidenced by Gardener's comment to his drummer was evident throughout; none of the petty acrimony that led to their original split here tonight, thankfully. This looked and sounded like a band starting again... oldies notwithstanding! A well-planned set too, with new material interspersed with old, and given equal emphasis as a result. Old Level 3 dancefloor fave "Taste" provided the first singalong of the night to the triumphant hook, and new single "Pulsar" featured Bell's growling bass underpinning an almost jolly marching beat. "Like A Daydream" was a huge highlight, with its driving beat and descending verse, and whilst I'd have liked more wall-of-noise to flesh out "Dreams Burn Down", the clarity of the chiming guitar and death-march drumbeat was a delight.

The penultimate "Vapour Trail" was stately and majestic, prompting another singalong, and set closer "Drive Blind" gave us a lengthy mid-song Bob Mould-esque feedback fest, with Gardener, clearly having a ball up there, conducting the crowd playfully before its denouement. Great stuff, and encores of the excellent, lengthy and libidinous groove of "Leave Them All Behind" and the inevitable yet gloriously headlong rush of "Chelsea Girl" concluded a 2 hour set demonstrating Ride are in great form!

Look mum, there I am! Bottom left corner, glasses, arms aloft...

Chatted with fellow punters before hitting the road after a splendid evening, a great warm-up for “Shiiine On” thanks to a rejuvenated Ride. Note to the organisers; on this form Ride would slay “Shiiine On” - get them as 2018 headliners!

Monday, 30 October 2017

1,060 MANCHESTER ORCHESTRA, Bristol SWX, Saturday 28th October 2017

Rachel and I, happily, have many bands where our tastes overlap, and about whom we’re equally keen to catch “live” whenever possible (Nada Surf, The Sheila Divine and The New Pornographers leap to mind here). Similarly, there are also “David bands” and “Rachel bands”, where we acknowledge one of us is just that bit more keen than the other. Noted “Rachel bands” include the likes of Idlewild, Biffy Clyro, James, Ash… and, oddly, this lot, Manchester Orchestra, Alabama’s finest purveyors of riff-overloaded, alt-Americana tinged anthems for hairy chainsaw-wielding Appalachian backwoodsmen. I get why I like them, less sure about why my dear lady wife is such an avid fan. But hey, if it means that when they announce a new tour cycle promoting a new album (as they did earlier this year, including a Bristol date on their tour cycle in support of new album “A Black Mile To The Surface”), Rach is all over it like a rash, booking tix for us on the pre-sale, then hey, I’m game! It didn’t hurt either, that said new album (widely lauded as their finest yet) is an eminently listenable affair, a juxtaposition of the bleak and anthemic elements of their work, often recalling equally hairy Scottish mob Frightened Rabbit in the process. A bit weird about most tracks being titled “The [something or other]”, but there you go…

After making robust plans for our departure, we found out at the last-minute that this was an early one. However parental responsibility trumped rock’n’roll tonight, so we left directly after watching Logan’s final race in his swim club championships! Still, we parked up in the Rupert Street car park for 7.30, too late to catch the curiously named support Slothrust, but in ample time to brave the crowded bar for Rach’s vino collapso, and find a splendid viewing spot near the front, on the (slightly) raised walkway stage right. Sure enough, the lights dimmed and bearded behemoth vocalist Andy Hull led Manchester Orchestra on prompt at 8, his unorthodox high choirboy/ operatic lilt embellishing the elegiac opening to “The Maze”, before the song layered and built to a thudding, ball-crushing denouement under an avalanche of riffery. “The Gold”, next up, was a sinister lupine howl of a song with a pounding backbeat, and “The Moth” was all juddering heavy riffery again, the aural equivalent to being pulverised to a fine powder. Cripes!

Then, oldie “Shake It Out” actually brought some tuneage amidst all the sonic assault, and suddenly the scales fell from my eyes and I realised why Rach likes this lot so much – “Shake It Out”, all seething power, screaming hookline and undulating, tempo changing structure, could easily have walked off Biffy Clyro’s “Puzzle” album. Colour me stupid, but hey, got it now! Similar oldie “I’ve Got Friends” provided a respite from the sonic attack, almost pretty in comparison, with a deft keyboard hook accompaniment, and “The Alien”, one of 3 mid-set numbers which segued into each other (the 70’s soft rock feel of “The Sunshine” and the predictably heavier “The Grocery” being the other 2) was underpinned by a creepy bassline.

“Simple Math” thereafter returned to the usual Manchester Orchestra modus operandi – slow, eerie intro into mid-paced number, big ball-crushing crescendo – and I confess that by set closer “The River”, which felt like an ordeal in pounding repetitive noise, I would have liked a lot more light and shade respite during the set. I know that’s not normally like me to complain about the noise, but it all seemed a little… incoherent at times, just pounding riff after pounding riff for the sake of it. However, “Shake It Out” notwithstanding, the 2 encores were probably my favourite numbers of the night; “I Can Feel A Hot One” retaining its’ touching, tender mood throughout, and closer “The Silence” (ironically named, given the set thus far!) was also slow, quiet and almost 60’s film score-esque, at which point the taciturn Hull (not a word to the audience throughout!) gave a wave and led the troops offstage.

A remarkably easy list later, we were then stuck in an utterly stupid semi-crush to get out, as the crowd funnelled out to the single staircase exit at the back, then onto the street – where the pre-gig barriers were still up, cutting egress down to single file. Utterly stupid, and dangerously thoughtless, particularly for such a new venue. Note to self – don’t be in a rush to leave next time! So overall, a variable performance by Manchester Orchestra for me – splendid at times, hard work at others. They’re a “Rachel band”, though, and she loved it, so there!