Tuesday, 18 December 2018

1,119 “THE 12 BANDS OF CHRISTMAS”, Swindon Victoria, Saturday 15th December 2018


It seems only apt that the final punctuation stop on a crazily packed 53-Gig Year of 2018 would be this one, the crazily packed Swindon music fraternity's "Christmas Party" that is the "12 Bands Of Christmas"... also that it should fall on a crazily packed day! Saturdays often fall into the category of "trying to fit a quart into a pint pot", but with last-minute Chrimbo shopping, picking up undelivered parcels, a cinema trip with my little man ("Aquaman"; not bad but the plot was, well, crazily packed!) and tea at my dad's, this one already felt like fitting a gallon into a thimble!

No matter, I drove up the hill early to ensure parking on a busy pre-Chrimbo Saturday, then caught up with the Raze*Rebuild boys (there it is, you've just sussed out why I'm really here, haven't you!) as the place rapidly filled. Wandered down to the back room, caught up with Andy Fenton and mate Nige, then took a watching brief for openers ABSTRACTION ENGINE at 8.30. As per previous "12 Bands" events, the format was simple; 12 local acts, all doing 2 numbers, both covers and ideally outside their usual genre, in their own style. So this indie jangle lot, seemingly led by Stephen King's younger brother, led off with an appropriately jangly "Can't Take My Eyes Off You", subsequently impressing more with their take on Wham's "Freedom", which turned into a 60's inflected TFC laze-rock strumalong. Good start! BASEMENT CLUB, who'd apparently come out of retirement for tonight, followed with a couple of growly vocalised numbers, including a C Lo Green song, then CANUTE'S PLASTIC ARMY impressed with a haunting stripped-back "Life's What You Make It" which was actually quite beautiful. By their second number "That's Not my Name", vocalist Anish was threatening to flatten the front couple of rows with her strong and strident vocal tones (as her neighbour and local impresario Ed Dyer, who'd joined me by now, had promised), particularly during the segue into "Whole Lotta Love".

Things were already getting busy in the back-room venue by now, so I sought some fresh air and space outside, chatting with Ed, and Graham from Cinnamon Smith (splendidly decked out tonight in a Nefertiti headdress!), before plunging back in for GEORGE WILDING. I'd unfortunately missed this talented young man's TC&I support slot, but I was glad I caught this, as young George encapsulated the spirit of the event by turning "Let It Go" into a funereal (albeit no less singalong!) death-dirge, before a glammed-up and more upbeat Abba medley which went down a storm with the by-now packed crowd. A quick chat with the lovely Bex, a star performer here last year, before CHENEY, who was joined by the ebullient Theo Altieri, who then led a rabble-rousing singalong to "Electric Avenue", which made up for a dull "Bittersweet Symphony"... no reflection on their bleep-bloop synth-effects led version, I just think it's a crap song!

Out again for another necessary breather; by now it was sardine city back there, the concept of "personal space" having long since disappeared, with the compere continually exhorting the crowd to, "take 2 steps forward" (mate, I was down the front; if I took 2 steps forward I'd be in the dressing room, never mind on the stage!). It just felt considerably oversold, and with up to 40 or so performers across the 12 bands as well, it was simply waaaay too full.

So, I squeezed into the back on my return, to catch the MATT BRYANT EXPERIENCE, Mr. Bryant himself sporting choirboy garb and leading his band of cavalrymen through a languid "Be My Baby" and a tinny "Sit Down" during which Bryant tried to get the crowd to sit down - no room to stand comfortably, mate, never mind sit! ATARI PILOT, featuring R*R bassist Paj pulling the first of his double shift, turned "Heaven Is A Place On Earth" into a chuntering and layered REM-alike jangle-fest, although their subsequent "Let's Dance" felt too faithful to Bowie's original.

Talking about double shifts... I grabbed a tiny spot down the front as Jamie took the drum-stool for the first of his own double-header! First THE HARLERS; initially a 2-piece, sneering and growling through a grungy and gravelly "Molly's Chambers" and a snatch of "We Will Rock You", before being joined by a bassist for a tremendous sparky and spiky rant through The Subways' "Rock'n'Roll Queen". Then, the main reason for my attendance, RAZE*REBUILD, Si leading the band on with a quip of, "playing at 20 past 11? I'm as pissed as you lot!" before inviting a singalong for a genius selection of "Nothing Compares 2U", the Raze-boys of course turning this teary ballad into a full-on punk rock rollercoaster thrill-ride, a la China Drum's "Wuthering Heights" or Husker Du's "Eight Miles High". Yup, that good. Journey's cheesy rocker "Don't Stop Believin'" ("dialling the Cheese-ometer up to 11," according to Si) was big dumb stompy fun too, but for me the boys had led off with the real winner, and the single-song Highlight of the Night.

Stayed upfront for YVES, whose "No One Knows" was again too faithful to the QOTSA original for my liking, their take on "Take On Me" also being a bit of a mess, the vocalist not even knowing the words to the verses! Still, they were lapped up by the seething mass of bodies, so what the fuck do I know, eh? Still, one thing we could all agree on was that THE MARTYRIALS' bat-shit mental set was last year's "12 Bands" highlight, so no surprise that this unorthodox band of psychedelic punk ruffians were booked to headline tonight, with an extended 5 song set. Some inspired choices again from the totally wired Sammy and his charges; "Waterloo" was an action-packed and sheet-metal synth layered dirty and dirgy delight, as far removed from Abba's original as possible, "Danger High Voltage" was sneering and snarling, and whilst I could have done without the (almost predictable?) "Sweet Transvestite" and the closing, and comparatively plodding (apart from a frenzied punk rock mid-section) "I Want To Break Free", the unmistakable synth pulse opening of "Kids In America" had earlier heralded a breathless, brilliant version, almost matching "NC2U" for song of the night. As ever, Sammy was a supreme showman, preening, pouting and thrusting like a cross between "Ziggy" Bowie and "St. Julian" Cope, the ideal frontman to conclude a bizarre and brilliant set. I could, however, also have done without the couple of dicks that climbed onstage at the end... it's not all about you, you morons!

That bumped us up to a red-eyed 12.30 so I bade my farewells, heading home reflecting on the night. Way too packed; hopefully talk outside afterwards about moving it to Level 3 next year will bear fruit. A few too many "straight" covers for me too; the bands I'll remember are those that entered into the spirit of the thing, getting into a song, moving the furniture around and offering their own warped take on it. Kudos then to Canute's, Wilding, Raze and Martyrials... and overall (despite my couple of grumbles) a fine – if crazily packed – way to see out Gig Year 2018!

Monday, 17 December 2018

1,118 CHAMELEONSVOX, Siberia, Oxford Bullingdon Arms, Tuesday 11th December 2018

So Paul wasn’t just here for The Skids, after all…!

My old 80’s friend (now a Seattle expat) Paul Crowfoot had startled me with an unexpected call on the evening of last week’s Buffalo Tom gig (gig 1,115), proclaiming an imminent visit to Swindon and a (subsequently fulfilled) intention to join us for The Skids gig at Fiddlers this Sunday past (gig 1,117!). He then mentioned he’d been unsuccessful in getting tix for The Chameleons’ hometown Christmas gig, so I suggested he join us for this one, which should prove a damn sight nearer and more available, ticket-wise! So I suddenly had welcome company in my continuing quest to make up for lost time with this superb – and oft-overlooked, not only by myself – seminal goth-tinged post-punk band. After their stellar Shiiine On performance last month, I knew they were in rare form, so hopes were high for this one!

Picked Paul up early and, after an unsuccessful diversion on the way, we slowly picked our way through Oxford city centre, but amazingly found a street parking spot almost directly opposite the venue. Is this really Oxford in the run-up to Christmas?? Still, not looking a gift space in the mouth, we dumped the motor and hit this splendidly scuzzy pub back-room, taking a bar spot for opening band Siberia, on at 8. I say “band”; it was actually a 2-piece using backing tapes, and there was my real problem with this lot – not even tape loops (which I normally bristle at), but actual recordings of the drum and bass patterns for the songs in question! Sorry boys, I thought I’d booked to see “live” music, not a Blue Peter “here’s one we made earlier” cheat session. For me, the taped stuff completely undermined the credibility of the performance, even calling into question how much the “live” guitarist was contributing. Call me an anally retentive purist snob if you will (you wouldn’t be the first to do so), but lads, play “live” or don’t – none of this fucking half-measure stuff, which just felt like goth karaoke for me. A shame, as the songs themselves were dark, moody and intriguing in an early Mission style, but the format made me too annoyed to like them.

Rant over, I was then looking forward to some proper “live” stuff, from one of the top half-dozen or so bands I’ve seen in the last couple of years (Skids, Hold Steady, Nada Surf, Frank Turner, Raze*Rebuild and this lot… put ‘em onstage, and they tower over the rest by some considerable distance). Grabbed some barrier as the place filled, and we didn’t have long to wait before the monolithic figure of Mark Burgess led his Chameleons line-up onstage, avowing his intention to play the “new” album (only a mere 35 years old!) “Script Of The Bridge” (“available absolutely fucking nowhere,” as he deadpanned) in its’ entirety. So the strident, potent power of “Don’t Fall” kicked it off, Mark’s murky and mysterious bass stylings providing the bedrock for the duelling guitars of Chris Oliver and Neil Dwerryhouse to weave their plangent and intoxicating magic on top, as brilliantly as ever.... I dunno, I’ve mentioned before that had I been aware of this lot back in the 80’s, they’d likely have been serious challengers to Echo And The Bunnymen for my late-teens favourite band, and there’s something about the Bunnys in their approach – the other-worldly sounding guitars, metallic yet chimingly resonant, as if they were being beamed in from another dimension; the insouciant, almost glacial cool of Mark Burgess’ onstage presence, and the voice – less pure and soaring than Mac’s, but no less commanding, and even more so with age.

“Monkeyland” saw Dwerryhouse coaxing eerie guitar effects as the sound creepily built in, before the strident release of the hook pronounced imperiously by Burgess; “Up The Down Escalator” was as soaring and balls-out a post-punk rocker as the likes of “Back Of Love” or “Mr. Jones”; and “Pleasure And Pain” sounded more chiming and resonant than ever. But it was “A Person Isn’t Safe Here Anymore” that proved tonight’s highlight; as Burgess was about to dedicate the song to the memory of Sophie Lancaster, as ever, some wag in the audience (not me, honest!) shouted out, “Pete Shelley!” which caused the otherwise taciturn vocalist to remark, “good call!”, gush about how intrinsic Shelley was to his formative years, then tell us a story of being beaten up by a gang with pickaxe handles when leaving a Buzzcocks gig… the song itself understandably took on new meaning, a blistering and venomous rendition, exorcising some ghosts and paying tribute to others. Astonishing. Some acid comments about Theresa May (“bring back Guy Fawkes, I say…”) got the audience (even more) onside as well, before a tense, atmospheric “Paper Tigers” and elegiac conclusion “View From A Hill” to end another magnificent set.

We then got a 50th birthday shout-out for an audience member (hey, Gavin!), before a savage encore of “In Shreds”, then “Singing Rule Britannia” saw a lyric check for “What Do I Get” thrown in with the usual lines from “White Riot”, “Transmission” and “Rebellious Jukebox”. “Nostalgia” closed out the encore, although somewhat thematically inappropriately – 35 years old these songs may be, and arguably playing the “nostalgia” circuit Burgess and his charges might be, but there’s nothing dated about ChameleonsVox or their material… if anything, with the likes of new bands such as Liines, Wolf Alice and even my favourites Desperate Journalist mining this dark, gothic post-punk sound, they sound positively contemporary!

Caught up with an equally enthusiastic Rich Craven afterwards before a quick chat and pic with the main man Burgess and his wingman Dwerryhouse, then Paul and I hit the kebab shop for eats before a late drive home. As I mentioned, pre-gig hopes were high, but ChameleonsVox even exceeded them tonight with an utterly stellar and imperious performance. Glad Paul got to see them in this form. A great night!

Monday, 10 December 2018

1,117 THE SKIDS, Knock Off, Borrowed Time, Bristol Fiddlers, Sunday 9th December 2018

The comeback kings of 2017 continue to cut a rampaging swathe across the 2018 musical landscape, and this time there's happily another witness to this; my old friend Paul Crowfoot! Having monitored The Skids' triumphant return from afar (let's face it, you can't really get that much further "afar" than Seattle!) and having reconciled to the fact they're not likely to come his way, Paul got in touch (ironically as I was queueing up to get in the Buffalo Tom gig!) to confirm he was combining some personal UK business and a Chrimbo visit to his folks with a Skids gig run! Stuart and I were already booked for this one, but were more than happy to be joined by another Skids devotee, for what promised to be another epic titanic night of anthemic punk rock.
So I picked Paul up early from his 'rents and we caught up at my place awhile (it seems like 5 minutes, but it's actually been 2 1/2 years since we were plane-spotting from his Heathrow hotel before that Close Lobsters 100 Club gig, no. 988!), before Stuart silently rolled up in his electric car, and we had a gig-chat fuelled drive down to Brizzle, avoiding some traffic queues and parking up around the corner from this scuzzy old venue, located in the middle of a run-down industrial park. Only been here the once before (The Wannadies, gig 433, waaaaay back in March 2000!) but it all came flooding back when we got in prompt at 7.30 and I saw the corner stage! A quick chat with our friendly merch guy Gordon, before we were assaulted by the first of 2 formulaic punk supports, Borrowed Time, on at 7.45. The spiky peroxide vocalist threw his sock into the sparse early crowd after their opener, which was more entertaining than the song! However, at least their ramalama punk was stuck in a 1978 groove, recalling a number of second-tier shouty punk acts such as Drones, Killjoys etc, rather than the 1980's homogeneous leather'n'studs dreck, and often showing some semblance of a tune here and there. One number nicked Iggy's "Lust For Life" rhythm, and I enjoyed the sincerity of a couple of numbers dedicated to local punk Sue Barnett, and The Buzzcocks' mainman Pete Shelley, both tragically lost too soon this week. So, much better than other support Knock Off, a Fred Perry-clad trio of 1,000 mph noiseniks channelling sub-Upstarts "street" Oi/ punk, the type that put me off punk back in the day. The vocalist's banter was way better than the "music", which felt like the aural equivalent of a Julian Dicks late tackle, and I escaped to the loos to avoid a chunk of the set and look up the Strictly results! (No, I'm not joking...)
We took a spot near the front, house left, as the roadies set up. Sure enough, at 9.30 the backwards loop of "Peaceful Times" kicked in and The Skids took the stage, vocalist Richard Jobson last but first to speak, announcing, "here we are, let's raise the roof!" as the band powered into the strident march of "Animation". The marvellous descending riff of "Of One Skin" followed, a boisterous yet good-natured moshpit accompanying it, prompting Jobson to warn, "pace yourselves... there's a long way to go, and a long way to Bristol A&E!"
The Skids were on top form tonight, tight, road-tested and together, and none more so than their leader; whether gleefully shadow-boxing and twirling in his usual strong-armed dervish dance, or quipping along with the relaxed demeanour of a stand-up comedian (a lengthy diatribe about what goes on in the nearby Forest Of Dean, a comment about his energetic dancing - "I started this tour 235 kilos and I'm [now] practically withering away! " - and his story of how bassist Bill Simpson started the band in 1916 after the Battle of Flanders (!) all drawing some laughter), Jobbo was the mesmeric focal point throughout. Wingman Bruce Watson, again a more than able deputy for the sadly-departed Stuart Adamson, was in fantasy band camp throughout, perma-grin fixed in place, furious riffery underpinning the seething anthemic power of the material. And a few curveballs too - following a superb, roof-raising double singalong of "Hurry On Boys" and "Woman In Winter", Jobbo announced a never-played "Sweet Suburbia", getting halfway through a messy rendition before segueing into "Albert Tatlock" (drummer Mike Baillie again playing the off-kilter Devo "Satisfaction" drum pattern!), then into an unplanned "Pretty Vacant"! "Circus Games" was as usual a stately and robust highlight, the epic thrill-ride of "Into The Valley" was earlier than usual ("we normally finish with [it] but we love you so much we want to keep going!"), and the drum-propelled gallop of "Olympian" closed out the set proper.
The voluble vocalist also hit the "Serious" button a time or two, dedicating an early "Saints Are Coming" to Stuart Adamson, then during the encore, he delivered a heartfelt tribute to Pete Shelley, conducting the audience in an impromptu singalong of the hook to "Ever Fallen In Love", either side of a full-bodied yet reverential run-through of The Buzzcocks' "What Do I Get?" Newie "One Last Chance" ended a brilliant set; the band, dripping with sweat, had given their all and so had we, being buffeted about at the edge of the mosh, but not caring a jot. And we all scored setlists, Stuart having his handed to him by Jobbo. Result!
Caught our breath, then home. Glad Paul got to see The Skids in such rare form; long may this comeback continue!

Thursday, 6 December 2018

1,116 NOTHING, Suburban Living, Bristol Fleece, Wednesday 5th December 2018

Back to The Fleece for two in two nights, this one promising to be a little different, though no less raucous... after grizzled alt-rock veterans Buffalo Tom last night, here's relative pups, Philly's excellent Nothing, back in Bristol a couple of years after their ear-splitting Start The Bus gig (gig 1,002). This time sees them promoting new album "Dance On The Blacktop", apparently a lyrical catharsis for mainman and indie rock student Domenic Palermo after his (fairly) recent wrongful incarceration, but a collection which sonically sees them evolve their sound away from the harsh, wall-of-noise grungy dynamics which occasionally featured on previous effort “Tired Of Tomorrow” and almost go full-on shoegaze, with layers of shimmering guitars and submerged, mumbled vocals aplenty. Nothing on it to match the immediacy of the wonderful "Vertigo Flowers", but repeated listens have as ever been rewarded with hidden depths, so anticipation was still high!

Off at 7 for a much dryer drive down, parking up at 8 and hitting the venue, to be greeted with the odd sight of tables and stools set up midway between stage and back wall/soundman Rich Munday's mixing desk. Expecting a quiet one then, at least in terms of attendance...! No time to ponder this though, as support Suburban Living were on in short order. Another Philly lot, they immediately impressed with opener "Faded", a dark, gloomy and morose little post-punk rocker with shimmering and resonant guitar effects. Second number "Once/ Twice" saw them channelling their inner Cure-heads, with a taut and delightful gallop strongly recalling Smith’s lot’s classic "Just Like Heaven", and subsequent numbers hit a distinctly 80's vibe, the slower-burn "Lovely" seemingly soundtracking that moment in a John Hughes movie where Judd Nelson's just been dumped by some girl...! More textural moments too to supplement the 80’s Tears For Fears-esque feel, as well as a clattering jangle-fest in "Fit In", which recalled current faves Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. Overall, absolutely splendid stuff from a very promising new name indeed...

Good guys too... chatted with bassist Kyle, who'd handed me his list, and who also turned out to be the son of original Buzzcocks bassist Steve Garvey! Musical talent clearly runs in the family, then... Also chatted rock and baseball with vocalist Wesley Bunch, a knowledgeable and personable chap who was excited for his band's pending Manchester gig ("all my favourite bands come from there!"), maybe less so at the prospect of Bryce Harper signing for The Phillies...

A surreal moment as I took a quick loo break, just as all of Nothing invaded the gents, Palermo blaring, "OK where's the cocaine?!" I think it's more cider here, guys... Back on the barrier as Nothing took a murky, smoke-shrouded stage just after 9, a haunting, elegiac riff from guitarist Brendan over a taped radio announcement weaving an eerie atmosphere. "Zero Day" kicked off the set proper, answering once and for all the eternal question as to what a shuddering grunge/shoegaze Mamas And Papas would sound like...! Pale Saints-style textural guitar reverb knitted the early numbers together, swathes of heavy yet sparkling riffery submerging Domenic's vocals during the grumbling growl of "B&E" and more driving upbeat "Curse Of The Sun". Next up, "You Wind Me Up" was an early highlight, the smooth, dream-pop best number on their new CD, featuring a delicious octave jump for the final chorus.

"Our booking agent booked 11 shows in England! Fuck!" a drawling Domenic (possibly a little worse for wear too?) mock-complained, one of his (few) remarks tonight that made sense... no matter, the rock made sense for him, from the "Creep"-like murky and mournful "Us/We/Are", the thrilling psych-shoegazey rocker of a blistering "Vertigo Flowers", the brilliant high watermark of their canon,  and the stretched, elegiac "Carpenter's Son". Intriguing, inventive stuff overall, culminating in a shuddering feedback loop at the end of lengthy and melancholy final number "Hope".

No encore, but a list after a lengthy wait (and puzzling chat with the roadie), then farewells to the affable Suburban Living boys before a much easier (and earlier!) drive home. Anticipation rewarded, then, after another noisy yet intriguing Nothing gig... ignore that (splendid) name, they're actually something!

1,115 BUFFALO TOM, Sunstack Jones, Bristol Fleece, Tuesday 4th December 2018

An even dozen for enduring Boston blue-collar alt-rock legends "The Tom", but first one for me for 7 years, since a Dingwalls show in support of their previous CD “Skins” (gig 809, back in March 2011); of course Tom mainman Bill Janovitz was the opener on the Boston ACLU show I flew over to “The Hub” for, last March (gig 1,028), so I had the opportunity then to apologise in advance for missing their then-forthcoming June 2017 UK date, as it clashed with The Skids' Oxford gig. I was therefore not going to miss a Fleece Tom gig, announced as part of a short UK tour promoting "Quiet And Peace", their first album since that "Skins" CD, again 7 years ago. The Tom at The Fleece... imagine that!

Unsurprisingly, I had a car load for this one, with Tim, Paul and Stuart (amazingly, a first-time Tom-boy tonight!) joining us for a rocking haunt down the M4; sadly Rach had to drop out earlier today as she was unwell, but as this was a sell-out, we swiftly sold her ticket to a grateful punter outside The Fleece (face value, of course...). Result! It was quiet early doors so we grabbed a bit of barrier, front and centre, before support Sunstack Jones came on at 8. After easing in with a slightly-delic, sway-along opener, they picked things up with the more upbeat, driving "Always Something Up", a buoyant, guitar-propelled blast underpinned by a refrain recalling The Monkees' excellent "Pleasant Valley Sunday". Subsequent numbers veered between occasionally countrified indie rock inflections, some West Coast sunkissed melody and Teenage Fanclub-esque harmonies, and pastoral Byrds-ian atmospherics (viz. penultimate number "Sun Is Always"). Laconic vocalist Chris deadpanned, "we might not look it but we're very excited to be here," before the fuzzed-out psych groove of closer "Seams" rounded off a well-constructed and very promising set. Nice start!

As befit tonight’s sell-out status, the place then got pretty rammed down the front, as I kept my barrier spot next to a reluctant Paul, who doesn't usually do the "down the front thing". Luckily we weren't kept waiting long, Bill Janovitz leading the Tom on, spot on at 9 to a rousing reception. Let's go boys!

No messin’, Buffalo Tom were just quite brilliant tonight. Not "on it" straight from the off; the Dinosaur Jr grunge-lite of opener and debut single "Sunflower Suit" almost seemed to ease in slowly, like a lunar rocket gradually inching above its gantry, but by the soaring chorus it was gaining some potent momentum. By "Sodajerk", next up, they were well into their stride, delivering their blue-collar alt-rock with a power, passion and intensity that would have been customary in their (late) 20-something mid-90s pomp, but not necessarily expected from a trio of 50-something estate agents (that's what we call realtors, Bill!), some 3 weeks into a punishing European tour schedule. Perhaps displaying symptoms of that road-weariness, this was also by no means precise and note-perfect, but when the rock's this good, this passionately delivered, who cares? "Torch Singer" saw Bill remark, "we're a little foggy [as to] when these albums came out; it was the drug years!" before a splendid, urbane rendition, during which Bill seemed to catch my eye, a look of recognition seemingly crossing his features... I wasn't entirely sure about that, but would discover for sure later...!

"We came from Copenhagen, Berlin, and Louven to here... what language do you speak in Bristol?" deadpanned Bill (a valid question, actually... I think "pirate"...!) before an incendiary double of "Summer" and "Treehouse" ("I was in a "Big Red Letter Day" mood [when I wrote the set-list] today!"). A plaintive "Mineral" offered some respite from the intensity, but when the roadie brought on a mic-stand mounted harmonica, I knew what was coming... sure enough, "Velvet Roof", up next, was whip-crack fast, raw, ragged and titanic, and I totally lost my shit rocking out to my favourite Level 3 dance track ever, and comfortably my highlight of the night.

The intensity of "Taillights Fade" was as epic as ever, rambunctious newie "Gone" apparently received, "the best singalong all tour!" according to Bill, and a lighter "Kitchen Door", sung by bassist Chris Colbourn, saw Bill quip, "[not bad] for a bunch of guys in their 30's, like us!" Not bad indeed, "I'm Allowed" rounding off an utterly stunning set.

An amphetamine-fast "Tangerine" kicked off the encore, then, before the final "Staples", Bill complimented Bristol for selling out the gig, a debate then ensuing as to whether and when The Tom had played Brizzle before; a fellow front row punter referred to the old Anson Rooms gig (no. 308) and I followed up with, "1995," Bill then replying, "thank you David; David says 1995, we know David from his time in Boston." Guess he did recognise me, then...!

Superb stuff, the distilled essence of rock'n'roll. And after a long wait (during which we caught up with my London friend - and close friend of Bill - Lisa, plus Stephen of The Tom's current record label), just as good was to come, for me at least... under a pretext to nipping to the loo when a bouncer tried to usher us out, I ran into drummer Tom, who instead took us backstage for signed lists and a chat with Bill! I was joined shortly by Lisa, but needed to curtail my backstage fraternising as Tim phoned me, advising that the bouncers had kicked them all out and they were waiting outside in the pissing rain! D'oh! So, one quick pic later, I reluctantly bade my farewells and rescued my crew, hitting the road for an utterly sodden but elated drive home. 50-somethings now, maybe, but The Tom still know how to deliver an incendiary, bleeding-raw rock gig. And may that never change!

Sunday, 2 December 2018

1,114 BOWLING FOR SOUP, Patent Pending, Not Ur Girlfrenz, Southampton Guildhall, Saturday 30th November 2018

A return to the “Scene of the Crime” for Logan, as it were…! Having decided, a couple of years back, that heavyweight melodic Texan pop-punk jesters Bowling For Soup’s 2016 Southampton Guildhall gig would be a good way for my then-8 year old son to kickstart his gigging days, we could scarcely have anticipated the events of that night, my little man joining the Soupsters onstage in the “arm-swing” during “Ohio (Come Back To Texas)”! An unforgettable way to start what’s been a pretty decent gig-career for Logan thus far, and BFS unsurprisingly still hold a place in his musical heart, so when Jaret and co. announced an “Almost Christmas” UK tour, this was pretty much a no-doubter for us. The fact that our preferred weekend date meant a return to the venue where those events unfolded was just a delicious coinkydinky!

Logan insisted in bolting on the same “Ohio” t-shirt that got him dragged onstage for this one, despite it now resembling more of a belly-top on his now-11 year old frame, but thus attired, we picked up BFS uber-fan The Big Man, plus his daughter Jess, for a swift and early drive down the A34 beat route. Parking up in our usual spot, we hit the slowly-filling old ornate hall early doors, snagging a barrier spot for the kids, house right. Result! So we were in place for openers Not Ur Girlfrenz, on at 7.30; I immediately remarked to Rich, “goodness Big Man, they look about 12!” to be informed that they actually were, well the bass player at least, the confident ponytailed vocalist-guitarist and her hard-hitting drummer colleague being relative veterans at 14 (!)… So okay, their spritely powerpop-punk was a bit formulaic and lightweight, okay it felt a little unrehearsed and clunky at times, but taken in context that could be forgiven. They’re kids! Real kids! In a band! On a proper tour, in a different country (one which they were utterly effusive about too, “your grass is so much greener! Ours is brown!”), so huge, huge props for that, girls. I liked their slowie, “Someday”, which saw the early audience hold phones and lighters aloft to the singer’s squealy delight, and their wilful punk rock demolition of “Rocking Around The Christmas Tree”. I hear they also dole out similar treatment to U2’s “I Will Follow”…

Our space filled up with a young crew led by a talkative Pompey lass called Shannon, a couple of her friends remembering Logan from last time out. Woah! Patent Pending were next up at 8.15, bursting onstage with a riot of super-fast shiny new millennial punk rock riffery, led by vocalist Joe Ragosta who, after one number, explained that the Ritalin that he takes for his ADHD had kicked in midway through said first song. That explains the bouncing around and crowdsurfing (during the opening number!), then…! Although again, PP’s actual Green Day-lite punk rock was a little lacking in originality, Ragosta was an uber-energetic performer, bouncing around the stage as if it was the local trampoline park, urging – nay, demanding – your attention and participation, and also later issuing out Turner-esque messages of kindness and positivity. A newie “Let It Burn” appropriated the hook from The Bloodhound Gang’s “The Roof Is On Fire”, getting the crowd chanting along to the, “let the motherfucker burn!” hook, Jaret joined them onstage for one number, and I enjoyed their almost faithful version of Frankie Valli’s old crooner’s standard “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”. But Ragosta was the real star; boundless energy and a nice bloke too. Well done!

Enough time for a quick loo break, then the Soup were on in pretty short order themselves thereafter, Jaret entering last sporting a bobble hat festooned with fairy lights, quickly discarded (“this hat was a bad idea! It’s hot as shit here!”) as they eased into opener “Corner Store At Christmas”, their own take on the “12 Days” standard, which was then reprised twice more during the set. “Almost” kickstarted things proper, after which Jaret praised both Southampton (“scene of the only BFS brawl in the parking lot!”) and Patent Pending (“we take [them] on tour so they can do the jumping and we don’t have to; don’t want to risk a broken hip!”). From the off, the usual BFS scatological chat and antics were in full force and effect; plenty of pyrotechnics, a dummy Christmas lights button (the band pulling up a punter dressed in a Scooby Doo costume onstage to “switch on”, the lights then smashing to black in fake explosion fashion) and a posing “photo opportunity” midway through a frantic “Punk Rock 101” (during which Logan held up a prepared “remember me?” sign up, accompanied by suitable shouts from Shannon’s posse, Jaret squinting at it then giving Logan a thumbs-up…  nice!). Musically, the band sounded tight and relaxed, bassist Rob Felicetti filling in seamlessly for the absent Erik Chandler, and an earlier-than-scheduled cover of Fountains Of Wayne’s powerpop classic “Stacy’s Mom” (brought forward after a game of “Chinese Whispers” to decipher a mosh-bound fan’s shout resulted in a request for it; Jaret mock-complained about how that song isn’t even theirs, then they played it anyway!) and a later “Ohio” (during which Logan again lifted up his shirt to show the band the logo – sorry mate, lightning doesn’t strike twice…) were my highlights.
A fun and faithful cover of “Frosty The Snowman” and a final go-round of “Corner Store” ended the set proper, the band gathering in their corner “bar” to toast proceedings before Jaret stepped up again, asked the crowd to, “give it up for us… wasn’t that an amazing show we just played?”, then led BFS through a final singalong “1985”, after which he walked to our side of the stage and chucked a pick out for Logan. Nice, again! A friendly steward handed him a BFS set-list (an actual BFS list! Wow!) as a fine punctuation on a splendid evening, before a brisk wander back to the car and swift drive home. Overall, not the epic night last time out turned out to be – as I mentioned, lightning doesn’t strike twice and in no way were we expecting it to – but a great fun evening’s pop-punk entertainment nonetheless, in Logan’s “Crime Scene” return!

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

1,113 TC&I (TERRY CHAMBERS AND COLIN MOULDING), Swindon Arts Centre, Tuesday 20th November 2018

Okay, let me share my XTC lament with you. No, not the one where I turned down an opportunity to see them "live" at Swindon Oasis in 1980, an event which would have been my first ever gig (I thought I was too young, my 'rents wouldn't let me, I'd have a chance to see them when I was older... ha!), the other lament... This one predates that by a year or so, when I was a painfully shy early teenager, slowly coming out of my shell thanks to a burgeoning interest in the then-current punk and new wave scene. My Aunt Helen, only 10 years older than I, got wind of this and suggested I might like her friend's husband's band XTC, subsequently turning up at my folks' house with the friend, Carol Moulding, in tow, along with a signed copy of said band's latest single, "Life Begins At The Hop". I thanked her, played it sporadically, liked it fine but no more, then later sold it to a schoolmate for a fiver. Yup, I know. Shoot me now.

I came to regret that in later years, as I revisited and came to revere XTC's taut, nervous and quirky art-school punk early albums, and, to a lesser extent (and largely thanks to the enthusiasm of a slew of my Boston friends), their more cerebral, studied and Beatles-esque melodic later material. Andy Partridge's decision to stop performing "live" back in 1982 seemingly put the kibosh on ever hearing that stuff onstage, although I jumped at Dave Gregory’s fairly recent "live" involvement with Tin Spirits, putting up with their anodyne prog for a brief smattering of such as "Towers Of London". That was probably it, though, thought I, until... Scarcely believable news emerged that a recent collaboration between original XTC members, drummer Terry Chambers (returning from a 30-year Australian sojourn) and bassist and co-songwriter Colin Moulding (that'd be Carol's hubby, then...!), which had resulted in a 4-track EP under the clever pseudonym of TC&I, would then be followed up by a series of low-key gigs at Swindon Arts Centre. Incredible! However, the first set of shows coincided with our family holiday in Turkey, another one with “Shiiine On”, but a final date, the day after my return from Minehead, afforded me the chance to finally see at least half of XTC "live", and (thanks to my finding a copy of "Hop" in an Edinburgh record shop last year) maybe even right an ancient wrong...

A potentially serious spanner was thrown in the works on the day of the gig, when my wife's London meeting overran, leaving me biting my nails at home, as the band’s onstage time of 8.15 loomed ever nearer. Thankfully, she arrived home at 5 to 8, I hared it up the hill to my secret car park, hitting the venue and taking my seat at 8.11. Result! The anticipation was palpable in the small sold-out hall, with people having travelled from far and wide (I sat next to a high-heeled gent from Tintagel!), so it was to a rapturous welcome that Colin led the 5-piece band onstage, announcing his intention to, "play some songs from the Jurassic Period again", then quipping, "I've got my flask of cocoa... rock'n'roll!"

The early stages were given over to more latter-day XTC material, Colin's compositions only (of course) and whilst it was all effortlessly melodic, relaxed and wistfully lovely, played with suitable reverence by Colin and the band (also featuring his drummer son Lee on percussion, plus guitarist Steve Tilling, a wide-eyed, stripey-trousered young Wilko Johnson clone), it felt, to me at least, like the warm up rather than the main event itself. "Ten Feet Tall" with an almost calypso rhythm, was a gentle early highlight, as was the McCartney-esque earworm of "Scatter Me" from the TC&I EP, and the pastoral vibe of "Wonderland". In fact, the poppier Beatle was clearly a touchstone for the late-period XTC and therefore the early stages of his set... never been a massive McCartney fan, so that's possibly why the first part of the set merely meandered pleasantly along for me, but after Colin announced a break, "so the management can fleece you in the bar," I have to say I was expecting more from part 2...

And I pretty much immediately got it; "Wardance", second number in, was much more upbeat and dynamic, whilst retaining that effortless melody and quintessentially English feel. "Big Day" saw Colin espouse on the perils of marriage ("which we know are many... but not in my case," he added with a glance to wife Carol in the wings), and "Ball And Chain" was the highlight thus far, upbeat, joyous and buoyant. However the best was well and truly saved for last; a great, racey "Generals And Majors" finally got everyone out of their seats, followed by set closer, the inevitable and superb angular backbeat of "Making Plans For Nigel". A first encore of the soaring "Statue Of Liberty" (introduced as, "for my old bandmate Andy Partridge," and the only Partridge composition on show tonight) merely set the table for the highlight of the night, a thrilling second encore of "Life Begins At The Hop", the taut metronome rhythm bring propelled along by Terry's superb tubthumping, Colin’s boisterous, bolshy vocal and that brilliantly undulating guitar hook. Brilliant way to end an overall sublime evening of melodic delights.

And, after a long wait (during which I chatted with various Mouldings, primarily Carol, who warmly remembered both my Aunt and my Nan, and Lee's wife Alexandra, a Level 3 face from those halcyon 90's days), I rather sheepishly got to tell the "Hop" story to a stern Colin and Terry, who nonetheless signed my Edinburgh copy and posed for pix. Result! Headed off home late but vindicated, after an overall splendid night's celebration of Swindon’s finest musical exports, XTC, and that ancient wrong righted!

1,112 THE 2018 “SHIIINE ON” WEEKENDER, Various Venues at Butlins Resort, Minehead, Friday 16th – Sunday 18th November 2018

Back again for “Shiiine On” Part 3, although our third visit down to Minehead’s Butlins holiday camp for this annual Festival extravaganza, primarily celebrating the UK Indie/ Dance landscape of the 80’s and 90’s, nearly didn’t happen, for me at least… Our “core four” from last year enjoyed it so much, that we planned the 2018 return visit pretty much as soon as the initial headliner was announced, that being Shed Seven, who delivered a surprisingly (for me at least, again!) excellent headlining set on Saturday in 2016. Anticipating a further slew of more guitar-based acts to follow in Witter’s mob’s wake, we immediately booked our repeat attendance, only to recoil in horror when a more comprehensive bill was announced. Packed full of crappy baggy and trancey dance acts (Stereo MCs, Orbital), dull landfill Britpop (Ocean Colour Snore, and yes, I got their name right…) and again the ubiquitous Madchester village idiot Shaun Ryder, back again to make another wasted numpty of himself albeit with Black Grape this time, I seriously considered cancelling. I mean, it doesn’t say much for a bill when my 3rd most anticipated act was the REM tribute band! However, my cohorts persuaded me otherwise, emphasising that there’s generally more to “Shiiine On” than just the acts themselves, and a bit of pre-Fest investigation revealed another, previously (criminally) ignored potential musical highlight for me, so it was all on again!
There were some late shenanigans involving us changing booking to accommodate a 5th member (which Butlins laudably did at no extra cost), then said 5th dropping out at very short notice, so Rich drove just myself and Rach down on Friday morning, hitting the ‘head just after 1. Met Matt, our 4th member, for some provision shopping then the traditional seafront chippy lunch before booking into our accommodation. Thanks to us changing bookings, we had a smart 3-bedroom silver chalet. Nice! So, stuff dumped and loins girded, we headed off to the arena about 4-ish for the start of musical festivities. SALAD were first up for us, on at 4.30, statuesque ginger former MTV VJ Marijne Van De Vlugt leading her charges through a “best of” set of their pretty decent actually girly-fronted indie pop. I was actually surprised at how much of their material I remembered (the undulating tango rhythm of “Motorbike To Heaven”, the morose grunge of “Diminished Clothes” and lilting chorus of “Granite Statue”), although not as surprised as when Marijne introduced her band, featuring on drums, Julian Cope’s former 80’s wingman Donald Ross “Donneye” Skinner! Their final, best number “Drink The Elixir” had a false start due to a guitar issue, but was a metronomic Stereolab-style groove with a discordant climax. A reasonably good start actually, which would actually stack up pretty well when compared to similar acts later this evening… Plenty of room to move about in the arena at this stage, unlike the hordes here for Jim Bob last year! MY LIFE STORY, next up, plied a trade midway between widescreen 60’s cinema soundtracks, knockabout Kinks-ish mod and throwaway Britpop, with 3rd number “Motorcade” still their finest hour by far. Jake Shillingford, resplendent in a check suit, was an ostentatious and slightly pretentious, but evidently crowd-pleasing performer, and some later numbers had the slightly faded grandeur of early Pulp, although their “All The Young Dudes” rip-off was more than a bit blatant.

I took time out to call Evan, then we bumped into Bath “Gin Window” buddies Kate and Ashley before SLEEPER, on at 7. Louise Wener sported a “Super Her” t-shirt in front of her Sleeperblokes, but despite a racy early “Pyrotechnician”, the sound was initially thin and took time to bed in. Their best number, “Delicious” was sadly lost to the poor sound, all discordant and a bit of a mess, but the singalong, breathy “What Do I Do Now” was fuller and punchier, heralding a sea change in the sound. Wener, the indie sex kitten turned soccer mom, pranced and preened onstage to the crowd’s delight as her and her band’s confidence grew, and they even chanced a new number, the glam strut of “Look At You Now” and threw in a “Satellite Of Love” lyric vignette into the subsequent “Peaky”. Set highlight by far, however, was their rendition of “Atomic” (“this one’s on “Trainspotting”, the bit where everyone’s shagging people they’re not supposed to shag,” announced a lascivious Louise), all pulsing and pulsating disco brilliance and the best sounding song of the weekend so far. By singalong closer “Sale Of The Century”, a big moshpit was bouncing along, so they’ll no doubt look back on this as a triumph; justifiably so, as it was some way better than when I last saw them (a dispirited 1998 Swindon Oasis showing, gig 368), although the numbers I’ll remember most from this set weren’t theirs…

The arena was quite busy by now, and the theme tune from “The Magnificent Seven” appropriately heralded the entrance of SHED SEVEN, prompt at 8.30. “The fun starts right here!” announced rakish, rock-star skinny vocalist Rick Witter after lugubrious opener “Room In My House”, introducing his brass section and giving them some well-natured shit-talking at the same time! “Where Have You Been Tonight” was the first real anthem of the weekend, Witter acting as mass singalong conductor with his usual swaggering confidence, and the blood-red lit “Dolphin” was a delight of slashing guitar and heads-down, no nonsense groovy rhythm with a lengthy, dramatic climax. Seahorses vocalist Chris Helme (whose solo set we’d missed earlier) joined the band on a swayalong “High Hopes”, then Witter quipped, “we’re talking about a new album… release date 2034!” before newie “People Will Talk”.

This was a more sprawling, slightly less focussed set than the bang-bang-hit-after-hit headlining performance 2 years ago, Witter also taking time to read out some twitter dedications (“if this bit’s boring, stop fucking tweeting me!”), but no less fun overall. Also, when Witter and the Sheds concentrate on the hits (a bolshy, shouty “Friday”, featuring the closing section of The Stone Roses’ “I Am The Resurrection”, a racey and superb “Bully Boy” and the epic closer “Chasing Rainbows”, f’rinstance), they’re the ideal headliners for an event like this, and Witter is a captivating performer with a larger than life personality – not bad for a skinny little fucker. A bit surprising that I took so long to get on board with Shed Seven, but they smashed it again, this being Friday’s best set by some considerable distance.
That was it for the main arena, so we grabbed a cuppa and a breather at the chalet before heading back into Centre Stage, the largest of the other venues, catching HELEN LOVE’s somewhat amateurish, DIY final number. THE DARLING BUDS were next up at 11.30, their first couple of numbers sounding wispy and insubstantial (and a little out of key too from singer Andrea Lewis). “I Don’t Mind” was however tighter, tougher and wah-wah infused, and Andrea greeted us with a Ruth Madoc homage of, “hi de hi campers,” before the fizzy “Hit The Ground”. Thereafter it drifted for me – a lot – with their 60’s-influenced girl pop innocuous and a whole mess of mediocre really, and I passed the time wondering whether Andrea, flapping her bingo wings furiously, might end up taking off. God, I’m such a bitch…! “It’s All Up To You” and set closer “Burst” were by far their best numbers – also the ones that sounded the most like 80’s DIY all-girl noiseniks The Shop Assistants. Odd, that…

Still, if the Buds were just mediocre, they were aural ambrosia compared to THE PRIMITIVES, on at a red-eyed 1 am. From the off they were utterly dire; a disjointed opener sounded thin, out-of-tune and very poor, and diminutive vocalist Tracey, sporting a Bacofoil dress and rather unfortunately resembling Theresa May, couldn’t hold a tune in a bucket. It actually took me at least halfway through the second number to even recognise it was “Stop Killing Me”, one of my favourite Prims tunes, shorn of all its’ dynamism and buzzsaw guitar. “Sick Of It All” was equally terribly ham-fisted so we got the hell out of dodge, and into Jaks for the last knockings of THE TRAIN SET’s passable 80’s indie rock fayre. At least they played in time and could hold a tune, which put them several steps above the Primitives! We pondered this on the walk back to the chalet – maybe The Prims were always shit, and poor 80’s “live” sound systems masked their deficiencies. Either way, they were well and truly exposed tonight!

Day 2 dawned with a late and lazy lie-in and a “Big Man Special” breakfast, prior to our first music of the day, in Reds just after lunchtime. Oddly enough for us, this was a couple of tribute acts! Even odder, it was a couple of tribute acts for US bands! First up, HEY! PIXIES, a Pixies tribute act (No. Really??!!) from Stoke, were actually great, allaying any fears I’d had about their ability to replicate Joey Santiago’s unique, savage guitar licks and Black Francis’ commanding vocals with a full, dynamic and thoroughly authentic set. The music at least… between songs, the tall, blond vocalist was a damn sight chattier than the usually non-communicative Mr. Thompson, and funny with it – quipping, “if you’ve not seen The Pixies, Frank Black doesn’t look like a cross between Myra Hindley and Paul O’Grady,” assuring us, “if you don’t know The Pixies, this is EXACTLY how they sound!” and lavishing praise on the backstage facilities (“you know you’ve made it when you’ve got towels backstage!”). And musically, they pretty much nailed every song, with “Nimrod’s Son”, a brilliantly chugalong “Head On” and the excellent, sinister segue between “Cecilia Ann” and “Allison” my personal highlights. Either way, a resounding triumph, as I remarked to the grateful vocalist afterwards. Well done folks!

After an interminable soundcheck which delayed their set by 20 minutes, STIPE were next up, an REM tribute band I’d seen and enjoyed last year at Level 3. Quite a contrast to the relaxed delivery of Hey! Pixies, Stipe were a study in authenticity, their vocalist assuming the moves and persona of idiosyncratic REM frontman Michael Stipe, including addressing the large crowd in a passable imitation of Stipe’s halting tones. Like REM, their set was constructed to please both casual punter and true fan, so I totally adored tracks such as an early “Gardening At Night” and a later “Radio Free Europe” whilst acknowledging they likely meant little to most of the audience. The likes of “Losing My Religion”, a stunning “Orange Crush” and a singalong “Imitation Of Life” (their imitation of “IOL”, according to the vocalist!) however, went down well, and closer “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” was easily the set highlight.

I left the folks to the main arena stuff at this point, and headed down to a packed Inn On The Green, where KINGMAKER (FOR A DAY) were just kicking off their set, slightly late at 4pm. Two thirds of the early 90’s Hull Indie jesters, this, they were unfortunately lacking their most important original member, vocalist Loz Hardy, and the replacement frontman was seriously bereft of Hardy’s charisma and flippant patter. A distinctly average “Two Headed Yellow Bellied Hole Digger” featured the chorus hook, “soon she’ll be inspired”, but this was far from inspiring; the upbeat dynamism of “When Lucy’s Down” was by far the best number in a workmanlike set.

The place emptied after that! Clearly a number of punters hadn’t done the pre-Fest research that I had on the next act… I’d slightly passed on DIESEL PARK WEST back in the day, remembering them as an okay-ish slightly-delic 80’s guitar band, who became quickly out of step with the likes of Madchester, shoegaze and subsequently early 90’s grunge, and had kind of ignored them since. After their addition to this bill, however, I rather absent-mindedly picked up a cheap copy of their “Best Of” CD, “Left Hand Band” and found it replete with easy melody, honey-throated harmonies and gorgeous late 60’s West Coast psychedelia inflections, similar to the likes of late Teenage Fanclub and Gigolo Aunts, even. I was well up for this one, then, taking a spot on the barriers as the band set up. Opener “Let It Melt” was however a startling opener, a new number featuring some old school R&B rhythms a la Dr. Feelgood, and surprisingly snarly vocals courtesy of trenchcoated Catweazle vocalist John Butler. “Pictures” continued this rootsy, Stones-like vein before the plangent picking of “Here I Stand” offered another dimension to the DPW sound. “Golden Mile” was optimistically introduced by Butler as, “a song about ageing – nothing you can do about it… except die…!”, but then “Like Princes Do” was fantastic, a tough-sounding galloping psych rock workout. The off-kilter growl of “When The Hoodoo Comes” ended the set proper, although time thankfully allowed for an unplanned “All The Myths On Sunday”, the tumbling harmonic hook causing me to lose my voice a little as I sang raucously along. Great stuff overall, from a band I now clearly need to make up for lost time on…

Starting now! I grabbed a list from a passing Butler then got it signed by his three bandmates; the vocalist himself had disappeared “backstage” so guitarist Rich Barton invited me back to complete the collection! Grabbed said signature, plus some pix and quick compliments with an accommodating band, after a circuitous journey through the bowels of Butlins. Nice! Thus buoyed, I wandered back in to meet the crew in the main arena at 6 for THE RIFLES’ mainstage set. They were an ok, slightly lightweight and largely forgettable Britpoppy/ 60’s influenced band who wouldn’t have sounded out of place in either the late 80’s or mid-90’s – odd then that they date from the mid-2000s! Their best number also had more than a passing resemblance to the taut rhythms of The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry”.

And that was it, for a few hours at least! No way was I going to subject myself to another Ryder car-crash, so I grabbed some tea and made good on my pre-Fest promise/ threat to go back to the chalet and watch “Strictly”! I was later joined by my dear lady wife Rachel and we popped over to Kate and Ashley’s chalet, Rach enjoying a couple of vodkas there before wandering back for the last knockings of OCEAN COLOUR SCENE. Strangely (to my ears at least), they attracted easily the biggest crowd of the weekend, with roaring singalongs to their cover of The Beatles’ “Day Tripper” and their own “The Day We Caught The Train”. A real crowd-pleaser this… can’t see it, to my ears they just sound bland and dull. Shortly afterwards, as the arena emptied, a drunkenly dancing Rach was by now showing signs of needing an early-ish night, so we all popped back to the chalet for food, and I eventually persuaded Rach to hit the hay. Stayed there to settle her down as the boys headed off for EMF, but I had other plans…

Back out into the inky blackness and freezing cold at 20 to 1, and off to Reds, catching the last number of THE GODFATHERS set, “Birth School Work Death”. Still don’t like them, but hey, I wasn’t here for them… Grabbed some barrier, front and centre, as my short-odds pre-Festival favourites hooked up for their 1 am. set. And gladly, CHAMELEONSVOX completely and utterly lived up to their billing and my hopes; from the off they sounded superb, opener “Don’t Fall” all seethingly dark and dramatic, “A Person Isn’t Safe Here Anymore” (dedicated, as ever, to the memory of Sophie Lancaster by mainman Mark Burgess, after he’d greeted us with an ironic, “good morning”) poignant and heart-wrenching (“what kind of times are these,” indeed…) and featuring some beautifully textural guitar work, and “Looking Inwardly” tense and taut, with the guitars here chiming and ringing out resonantly. The set was perfectly chosen – I’d probably liked to have squeezed in “Up The Down Escalator” but that aside, all my favourites were in – and punctuated with a number of lyrical nods to the likes of The Doors (“all our leaders are insane”), The Beatles and even The Fall, and the meandering brilliance of “Swamp Thing” was quite magnificent, the best song of the weekend. In fact, as the chiming opening to this number eased in, the bloke next to me put his head down on the barrier as his wife meaningfully rested her hand on his shoulder – when he rose, his eyes were misted over… that’s the effect this band have on its’ devotees, right there.

“Singing Rule Britannia”, featuring snippets of “White Riot”, “Transmission” and even “Rebellious Jukebox” (Burgess was confidently throwing the kitchen sink at this one, no messin’) rounded off the Set Of The Weekend for me, the one worth braving the chill midnight air to witness. I grabbed a list then headed wearily back to my chalet, vindicated by ChameleonsVox, and counting the days until I see them again, next month in Oxford!

Rachel had had a great night’s sleep (you’re welcome, honey!) so was up earlier Sunday than us boys, making us breakfast. Only a light one, though, as we had lunch plans! First, a quick trip over to Inn On The Green for some midday ukulele shenanigans from UKE2, this busking trio again playing Britpop and indie anthems on intertwining ukuleles as a wake-up call for the final day. In all honesty, not so much fun as last year (not so great a song selection either), so we were happy to leave them to it after half an hour, and wander off-site and into town for a big and very tasty carvery Sunday lunch at The Hairy Dog! Excellent!

Back onsite and Rach went off to see the mainstage SENSER. I joined her for a while before being put off by this disjointed, shouty and woefully dated rap/ metal mess, Senser setting a precedent for the final day of sounding like poor imitations of bands I either never liked or lost interest in. I never liked Rage Against The Machine. Luckily Hotshots were showing the second half of the International footy, so I watched that instead, before going back into the arena and enduring STEREO MC’s equally dated crap rap. Didn’t think much of the Beastie Boys, never needed a Sarf London version of them. Still, salvation was at hand…

“‘Avin’ a good time? I’m freezing my tits off [up here]!” the inimitable growl of the greater crested legend that is PETER HOOK with his band, THE LIGHT, today featuring old Wonky Alice sparring partner and erstwhile ChameleonsVox drummist Yves Altana! The equally inimitable growl of a clutch of Joy Division numbers kicked off their 6pm set, all dour, dark, menacing and monochrome, with “Transmission” an early highlight. “Anyone lost control this weekend?” Hooky glibly intoned before the synth snap of “She’s Lost Control” which was also pretty ace, but the overall tone at this stage was generally bleak and introspective. However, the coruscating synth pulse of “Blue Monday” altered all that, heralding a sea change in the set, the dancier, more upbeat and (dare I even say it) joyous New Order material igniting the crowd. “Regret” (“I’ve had a few,” deadpanned Hooky) and the scalding Ibiza disco beat of “Round And Round” were welcome additions to the Light’s canon this year, but once again a brilliant, haunting “Ceremony”, the tremendous pulsating “Temptation”, and the inevitable and lengthy celebratory “Love Will Tear Us Apart” won the day. Hooky knocked it out of the park in some style again, most people going for this brilliant 1 hour and 20 minutes as their Set Of The Weekend (I stuck my neck out and stayed with the Chameleons, but I’ve always been a contrary bugger, me…).

The place actually notably thinned out for the headliners therafter! Trance dance act ORBITAL plied their bleeps and bloops onstage, as we decamped to Costa around the corner for a sit down and chat with Kate and Ashley. The onstage fayre sounded to me like sci-fi film soundtracks – I kind of lost interest in Jean-Michel Jarre in my teens – but according to Matt and Rach, who popped down for a watch, it made more sense with the accompanying visuals of film and slides. Not my stuff though…

Back to the chalet one final time for a cuppa (phew, rock’n’roll festival life, eh?) before girding our loins for the last lap. Into a sparsely populated Centre Stage, where only the truly dedicated and hardy (and utterly pissed) were toughing it out to the bitter end. That meant firstly dealing with former Senseless Thing Mark Keds’ new charges DEADCUTS, on at 11.30. Somewhat of a departure from the brisk indie pop of da Things, this was more slightly proto/goth with stompy bluesy rock inflections, like maybe Piano Wire crossed with The Bolshoi, though nowhere near as good as I just made that sound. Some chunky driving beats propelled some of their numbers, but they were well short on memorable tuneage. Thereafter, old Carter USM back-up guy (if it’s possible to be the back-up guy in a duo!) Les “Fruitbat” Carter joined us with his band ABDOUJAPAROV, who then subjected us to largely tune-free thrashy workouts, featuring lyrics which were seemingly formed by throwing random things together that just happen to rhyme, the less sense they subsequently make the better… I lost interest rather quickly in Half Man Half Biscuit, and this lot seemed a parody of them, or Sultans Of Ping. Their best number was a C&W style Wreckless Eric like ditty featuring a lyric that actually seemed coherent, about monsters in the garden.

But finally we reached the endgame, the reward for our persistence being a solo set from Wonder Stuff mainman MILES HUNT at 12.45. “Good people of “Shiiine On” Weekender! Why the fuck are you still up?!” he quite rightly queried, then gave us a brief synopsis of his premise for his current “Custodian” tour, which we thoroughly enjoyed in Swindon the other week (gig 1,110) and which this date was ostensibly still part of, before announcing to general approval, “but I’m going to skip [the last] 20 years and just do Wonder Stuff material!” Know your audience. Sensible boy!

So, once again we had a chronological acoustic run-through of the career and canon of one of indie rock’s most enduring bands, The Wonder Stuff, delivered by Milo in a relaxed, inclusive and entirely fun manner. We’d heard the accompanying stories a couple of weeks ago but were entertained again all the same, and we and the remaining “Shiiine On” stragglers involved ourselves heartily in the “audience participation” elements of the likes of “Unbearable” and “Ruby Horse”, determined to squeeze the last ounce of enjoyment out of Miles’ set and the weekend in general, and prompting a compliment of, “you people are in fine voice!” from the great man. Miles concentrated on a set of nailed-on crowd-pleasers (the likes of “Piece Of Sky”, “Golden Green” and “Can’t Shape Up” all received warm singalongs and receptions), and I particularly enjoyed “Caught In My Shadow” after its’ omission from the Vic set, as well as his shout out for Peter Hook’s set earlier (“I’ve seen him 3 times in the last 2 years – best gigs I’ve seen in my life!”).

“We’re nearly done now,” Miles eventually announced to a chorus of boos, prompting a rejoinder of, “I thought you’d be like, “we’ve only just turned up [here] out of respect, we’ve been at this for 3 days and we’re fucked!””. A debate about “Size Of A Cow” preceded a fun, knockabout and singalong rendition of the Stuffies’ maybe-millstone number, then I gave a shout out for “Disco King” when Miles asked for what he’d missed, my wish being granted with a superb version. An almost-perfect way to finish off the “Shiiine On” musical festivities – of course the perfect way would’ve been a full on Stuffies band set, a point not lost on Miles as he said his farewells.

Game over! Time to be handed the list by the great man, then off to bed and off home the following morning after a rousing final breakfast. The worst bill of the 3 so far, maybe, but sparkling performances from the likes of Hooky, Milo, The Sheds, Sleeper, the Diesels and particularly ChameleonsVox made it well worthwhile musically for me. Furthermore, my cohorts in crime were utterly right in their assertion that there’s much more to it than the music; a great relaxed vibe, (mainly) spot-on organisation, good friends, good times, a chance to unwind for a kiddie-free weekend by the seaside, and (this year) a bloody good Sunday carvery nosh! I think we’ll check the bill next year before booking, but I’d lay pretty short odds that we’ll be back for another “Shiiine On” in 2019!

Monday, 26 November 2018

1,111 RAZE*REBUILD, Leon Daye, Swindon The Tuppenny, Thursday 15th November 2018

Out for a gig the night before Shiiine On; I must be barking mad! Still, it's a local one, just up the Tuppenny, and promises to be relatively sedate too... Raze*Rebuild offering an acoustic set in the Tup's compact and cozy settings, so one I can leave my kneestraps at home for, for once with this band!

A slightly late departure from home, as Rach was at a governor's meeting, so I parked up behind the Roaring Donkey and made my way in for 8.45, as support Leon Daye was working through his early numbers. Quite an appropriate support selection, this guy, as his material was generally quite upbeat; "Beautiful Day" was his best number, a jolly Britpop walk along a sunny Summer riverbank, and a couple of others were even slightly emo-ish, albeit with a more yearning, high-pitched vocal rather than an inarticulate howl. A couple of folkier, more introspective numbers finished a decent opening set.

Chatted with promoter Ed and other passing folks (hi Liam!) before taking a seat near the front with the other R*R ever-present, Mr. Paul Carter, for Raze's set at 9.30. Si (whom I'd seen earlier sitting with his old folks, then commented to a passing Matt that he, Matt, looked the image of his old man, only to be told that was his step-dad!) introduced the band on with, "we're Raze*Rebuild from...here!" which promoted some audience discussion as to whether the band were actually from the Tuppenny ("Paj is here so often he's on the contents insurance!")... Opener "Face For Radio" then featured some nice electric reverb from Matt (acoustic, shmacoustic...!) and some understated vocals from Si. I think he'd left the stentorian howl at home along with my kneestraps!

This was a relaxed and chilled performance - a couple of words you wouldn't normally associate with Raze*Rebuild, I know - and again was slightly different to their Shuffle gig, when drummer Jamie just used a beatbox for percussion. With a drum kit, - albeit a skeleton kit of hi-hat, snare and bass alone - their usual gravelly, growling blue-collar alt-rock all got a little bit alt-country, as if they were channelling their inner Wilco or Cake, even... A couple of muffed lines and notes (Si commenting, "you get what you don't pay for," then later remarking he'd been put off by thinking whether his cat was going to dig his plant up - phew, rock and roll!), which would doubtless been bludgeoned over by the full-on electric band line-up, were nonetheless largely ignored by the audience, and slowies "You're The Chalk" and "Kat I'm Sorry" (which saw Si cut a bit loose with the roaring vocal) unsurprisingly benefited best from this arrangement. Even "Burden Of Youth", which Si had admitted he was concerned for, actually worked well, galloping along at an insistent, countrified pace.

Us front row punters then got a bit confused when, contrary to the set-list running order, Si skipped “Back To The Fall” and introduced "Sand In The Petrol" as the last number, but then went back to "Fall" as an encore (the band not bothering to leave the small stage, Si quipping, "there's nowhere to go [offstage] to, just round in circles... metaphor for my life really..."), this ending a somewhat different Raze*Rebuild set, offering a different flavour to their work.

I grabbed the list - my 800th! - before curtailing my socialising in favour of a (relatively) early one. A big weekend planned, but glad I made it out to check out a surprising alt-country side to Raze*Rebuild!

Sunday, 11 November 2018

1,110 THE HOUSE OF LOVE, Thousand Yard Stare, Martin Carr, London The Roundhouse, Saturday 10th November 2018

A day (and evening) out in London that didn’t go exactly as planned, but was entertaining and fun nonetheless…

I’d jumped on this right away; after 80’s Indie guitar legends The House Of Love had announced a showcase date at London’s prestigious Roundhouse to play a 30th Anniversary show celebrating their debut album, a ubiquitous effort that saw them arrive, fully-formed, with a collection of erudite, well-constructed songs melding their evident sonic influences (60’s classics The Byrds and Velvet Underground, 80’s post-punkers Echo And The Bunnymen and Jesus And Mary Chain) into a cohesive whole, I’d put the shout-out on Facebook, and was quickly joined by Messrs. Moore, May and Craven. Sorted tix; however Mr. Craven dropped out due to family issues, but Jason recruited his pal and my old BT colleague Alan to join us. As the gig fell on a Saturday, this was a no-brainer; record and comic shopping day in Camden – yay!

I’d sorted a parking spot on parkonmydrive.com, so I picked Alan and Jason up at 11 under rainy, foreboding skies, outpacing the weather on the drive oop the Smoke, finding our parking spot after a couple of wrong turns, and taking a walk into Camden, getting into the shops just as the rains arrived. The boys headed off for Soho and I ducked into a record shop to get out of the rain; however, after 10 minutes in said dank and depressing record shop looking through crappy old Beggars & Co and Carmel vinyl, 10 minutes more in Mega City Comics (where the nearest I got to buying something was some 1973 UK Avengers comics, just for nostalgia's sake), and a desultory tramp up the High Street in the increasingly pissing rain, I'd had enough and come to an inescapable conclusion. Today was not going to turn out as planned, and not just because of the weather; simply put, Camden is an utter shithole! Maybe it always was, maybe it's my age, but I can't believe I'd romanticised the place sufficiently to want to waste a day here. The fact that the queue to get on the tube and get the hell out of Dodge spread all around the corner, entire pavement-wide, said it all for me. Fuck waiting in that, I thought; I trudged down to Mornington Crescent, headed over to Forbidden Planet and promptly spent the thick end of £70 on (mainly sale price) graphic novels! Yay!

Back over to dump my purchases in the car, then headed over to the venue in the drizzle, meeting up with Rich May, who’d caught the train up, in the adjacent bar at 6. We had our tickets scanned, so we were in! Rich pointed out unexpected support act Martin Carr, and I popped over for a chat about our mutual friend, my Boston buddy Corin Ashley, including the story of when I visited Corin in Cardiff for an evening drink after he'd been recording with Martin - I'd taken along a gigbook containing a Boo Radleys setlist, and Martin's wife had texted a pic of it back to the babysitting Martin, eliciting a text reply of "a litany of tunelessness"!!

So Rich and I, now joined by Rich's brother Colin, wandered in to see Martin's set at 7.20, in the hope of something tuneful...! Accompanied by 2 gents on synth and bass, the lengthy opener featured some cultured, intricate and haunting guitar over some atmospheric synth backbeats, before he finally took the mic, revealing himself as a lilting vocalist of no little note. Nice! The second number ("Enemies Of The People"?) was a more straightforward psych-pop 60's workout, before his vignette ended with an unexpected "Lazarus", a stripped-back reading of the Boo Radleys classic ending in an extended funky break. A real curveball from Mr. Carr!
The old engine shed was filling up nicely, as the main support took the stage at 8. "The Roundhouse, eh? Flippin' eck, it's full... We're Thousand Yard Stare from the 80's!" quipped rakish vocalist Stephen as the band, who looked like they'd been giving their singer their allotted portions of the elixir of youth, nonetheless burst into a frantic "Version Of Me". As per their 2016 "Shiine On" set, their libidinous baggy dance-pop was delivered at a furious, Lauda-esque pace, and Stephen was again a vaguely unsettling onstage presence, prowling around, speaking in tongues and making odd hand gestures. An early "Buttermouth" was great fun, "Seasonstream" ("this wasn't on the EP [of the same name] as I was trying to be a clever fucker when I was 20!") was creepy and moody, and whilst the mid-set meandered along pleasantly enough, the penultimate "0-0 AET", featuring the original drummer, still recovering from illness, was a loose-limbed set highlight. Good set again from the self-deprecating Thousand Yard Who?
We kept our spot near the front, but it got seriously crammed down there; also, we seemed to be in the vicinity of some folks who clearly don't get out much, and don't really know how to comport themselves properly when out in a busy place. Bah! Still, we had a band to concentrate on, and the lights dimmed at 9.15, guitarist Terry Bickers taking the stage first, ever the virtuoso perfectionist, making final checks before his bandmates joined him. "30 years ago we released our debut album under the watchful eye of Alan McGhee" (the Creation Records boss, who'd acted as between-band DJ tonight, looking unfortunately like Uncle Albert from "Only Fools And Horses"), announced vocalist Guy Chadwick, before they eased into opening track "Christine", its wall-of-guitar building from a surprisingly understated opening to a more powerful "ba-ba ba-ba-ba" looped climax.
This pretty much set the tone; the sound was perfect, the band delivering this classic album with respect and hallowed devotion, but, aside from the odd snatch of crunchy riffery from Sir Bickers, the undoubted star of the show(the guitar breaks in "Hope", which also saw some high kicks from the still-youthful guitarist, and the thunderous building climax of "Love In A Car") it all felt a little understated, introspective, low-key even, the sparse, almost hushed "Man To Child" encapsulating their approach. My mood probably wasn't helped by the guy in front of me remaining stock still throughout, but I, rather churlishly, felt like the artillery guy from "Good Morning Vietnam"; “can we play anything for you?" "Anything! Just play it loud! Okay?!!”
Album dispensed with, they did actually crank it up at last; "Marble" was dynamic, underpinned by a creepy bassline, "A Baby Got Back" was punchy and undulating, and the underrated "I Don't Know Why I Love You" just rocked with pleading intensity. But they saved their best for the set closer; after fulsome thanks from Mr. Bickers ("we're so happy you could join us for this celebration"), "Destroy The Heart" was powerful, epic and totally worth the admission price on its own. Great way to end the set!
After the inevitable encore of the plangent "Shine On", a friendly roadie handed me a list at the second attempt (!), and I was deluged by folks wanting to get a pic! Ran into old Lev friends Kate and Rachel on the way out for a chat, before a thankfully dry hike back to the car for midnight and a quick exit out of London, home at a bleary-eyed 2am after dropping the guys (including Rich, who joined us on the drive back) home. On reflection, I was probably being harsh with my "louder!" views, as much of that first album material is more delicate and introspective. On the whole, they did excellent justice to it; a gig worthy of such a notable celebration, after a fun, if different than anticipated, day up the Smoke!