Tuesday, 30 January 2018

1,068 PETE FIJ AND TERRY BICKERS, Phil Cooper, Oxford the Bullingdon, Monday 29th January 2018

The low-key acoustic start to the 2018 gig year continues, this time in the fine company of Messrs. Pete Fij and Terry Bickers, two veterans of epic early 90’s bands in thrall to the sweeping majesty of the post-punk Bunny/ Furs soundscape of my teens, in the excellent Adorable and House Of Love respectively, and who now ply a lovely trade in brittle and morose hushed acoustic melancholia in a similar vein to the towering likes of Leonard Cohen and Lou Reed. Also, in the fine company of Messrs. Owen and May, two splendid gents whom I should really hang out with more often… the obvious solution to that being that they should come to more gigs with me! Well, whaddaya say, boys?

Well, we had tonight, nonetheless, and Tim picked Rich and myself up from my place, before an entertaining drive saw us parking up remarkably easily behind Cowley Road Tescos, meeting Oxford-domiciled Mr. Craven as we walked into the quiet Bullingdon pub back room. Aficionados and hardy souls only, tonight, it seemed… we caught up, and Tim introduced me to support artist Phil Cooper, a chat about Swindon’s (lack of a) “live” music scene ensuing before Phil took the stage, and we took the front row seats! Phil played a very easy-on-the-ears, difficult to pigeonhole acoustic set; shades of the heavily Gram Parsons-influenced “Lovey” era Lemonheads in an early countrified number, some stompy late-period Beatles blues in the later “Shake It Up”, an angsty tortured vocal in “How Many Times” quite at odds with Phil’s normal self-effacing manner, and my favourite, set closer “Let It Fall”, which almost had inflections of early 90’s Boston college rock. By this time he’d borrowed a guitar from Terry Bickers, having broken a string on his own, new little acoustic, and on finding it out-of-tune for said final number, eventually realised this was because a pick was tucked into the strings just below the nut! His subsequent remark, “I’ve only been doing this for 15 years…!” typical of his demeanour, and of a neat little opening set.

We kept our spot for the main event, and Pete and Terry took their seats onstage at 9.30 prompt, Terry extensively tuning up (remarking, “you’d think we’d tune up before we come on… it’s part of that amateurish chic we’re trying to cultivate!”) before sardonic lullaby opener, “I Don’t Give A Shit About You”. The flippant “Let’s Get Lost Together” ensued, the boys riffing off each other like Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in “The Odd Couple”, before we delved into the bitter, break-up melancholy material that formed the guts of the set, with a pointed “Queen Of Stuff”. However, despite the generally sombre subject matter and hushed acoustic monochrome-wash musical backdrop, this wasn’t an evening to wallow in Eeyore-ish mock despair. Pete was an entertaining and occasionally funny raconteur, introducing “If The World Is All We Have” as his attempt to write a Eurovision/ James Bond theme and imagining, “20,000 Estonians clicking along to the chorus!” (he got 50 or so Oxonians and 4 Swindonians clicking instead, which prompted him to recall his disgust at the 1986 US rock-influenced Psychedelic Furs line-up getting the audience to clap along… “fast forward 32 years and I’m getting people to click along!”), and lifting the lid on his rock’n’roll rider – “6 bottles of mineral water and a packet of nuts – and we don’t even like nuts!”

However, my defining memory of this set will be his story of how he serenaded a resident of the care home where he works as Entertainment Manager, while she peacefully passed on. Fighting back tears as he related this to a stunned crowd, I was in awe of his raw, emotional honesty in relating a recent and clearly sensitive memory to a crowd of relative strangers. A genuinely affecting moment. 

A more robust “Parallel Girl” cleansed the air a little, before it was back to the more relaxed Pete, wisecracking that in order to lighten the mood of current album “We Are Millionaires”, Terry had suggested they write a song with the upbeat title of “I Love You”; “what could possibly go wrong…!” “Sometime Soon” rounded off the set, Pete commenting on various people having turned up tonight from various points of his past, reminding him of things such as, “crap gigs in Swindon!” (gig 967, and it wasn’t that crap…!), before an encore showcasing the excellent new album title track and my personal favourite “Berry Ford” closed out another exemplary evening in the company of a couple of genuine indie icons.

Set-list signed and quick chats with the stars of the show, before we bade Mr. Craven farewell and headed off for a red-eyed post-midnight return. A late one, sure, but I’m glad I didn’t miss a minute of this…!

Sunday, 21 January 2018

1,067 FRANK TURNER, Swindon RPM Records, Saturday 20th January 2018

The 2018 gigging year started with a Frank Turner gig, but not the one I was anticipating… scarcely believable news broke at the end of last November, that Frank Turner, as part of a (very) low-key series of solo shows as a “thank you” to promoters who helped him on the way up, was going to play Swindon’s Level 3, my 80’s and 90’s “spiritual home”! Given that Lev holds 350 at a squeeze, and the first time I saw Frank was at the 8,000 capacity Cardiff Motorpoint, demand was going to seriously outstrip supply, no messin’… I sought permission from my boss to try nonetheless, and had 4 web pages open for the ticket agency 5 minutes before the appointed hour of 10 a.m.; one went into the “Buy Tickets” page, then I got the spinning circle of death for a couple of minutes, followed by a message saying insufficient tickets were available, thence being unceremoniously turfed out to the front page, now bearing a “sold out” legend. At 3 minutes past 10… Fuckity fuck fuck fuckington!

Salt was rubbed into the wound by news that Level 3 was closing down after the show, thereby depriving me of a chance to say one final farewell to the old place; however a small glimmer of hope for some Frank face time came with the news that he was planning to make a signing appearance at recently-opened Old Town vinyl emporium RPM Records that afternoon. Hotfoot it up there instead, methought… however, a hiccup to that came with the announcement that he was going to play a short set (yay!) but it would only be open to people who’d already bought Frank’s current “Songbook” compilation record from RPM (boo!). I’d not done that, intending to do so on the day, but a phone call to immensely accommodating RPM proprietor Gregg at least got me the record bought and a “queue jump” promise, which might develop into more if there was room…

Fingers crossed, Rach dropped Logan and I off at 2.30, an hour before Frank was due to play his set. Quiet early doors, but we whiled away the time with a nose through the racks, unearthing some gems which I’ll definitely go back for when I get a record deck again – hopefully soon! Queued up outside thereafter as Frank turned up to set up, then, after the lucky few were allowed in, RPM co-owner Karrie checked the capacity and luckily there was room to squeeze a few more into the shop – so we were in! Double yay!

“Good afternoon Swindon… c’mon, a town that can cope with The Magic Roundabout can make more noise than that!” announced Frank at the appointed 3.30 hour, kicking his performance off with a melancholy yet pointedly observational newie “Don’t Worry”, boding well for some barbed and acerbic lyrics about the currently crappy state of the world on his new album, mayhap? A raucous “Recovery” followed, and from my front row, stage left spot leaning against the racks (to keep an eye on Logan, who joined the other kids sitting on the floor right at the front) I was struck by just how loud Frank sang – a real full-on, lung-bursting, neck-bulging, lionesque yet completely tuneful roar, and the packed audience responded in kind, everyone swept up in the all-inclusive mood. Frank then regaled us with a story of his old hardcore band Million Dead supporting Pitchshifter at Level 3 (then The Furnace), a disastrous stagedive during said gig taking a chunk out of his face and prompting him to grow the beard which he sports to this day! “Love Forty Down” and a brilliantly hushed and poignant “I Am Disappeared” followed, before Frank then offered to “hang out” afterwards after playing one more number to ensure this performance met his two criteria for counting as an official show; one – the audience outnumbers the performers (“which hasn’t always happened!”) and two – at least 5 numbers are played. So, this was “show 2129!” the qualifying fifth number being a request from the RPM Records owners’ daughter, also happily Logan’s favourite “Photosynthesis” which he sang along lustily to! This was a wonderful way to end a superb strident set, everyone taking a seat then leaping up at the, “I won’t sit down…!” final hook. Brilliant!

That wasn’t it, though, as Frank then made good on his promise to hang out. And I’m pleased to report that rumours about Frank Turner being one of the nicest guys in rock were proven to be totally true. After a wait, we got to chat and get pix with the great man, Frank greeting Logan with a high five and commenting that his singing along down the front was, “one of the best things about the gig”! A chat about Gaz Brookfield and Logan’s nascent gigging days ensued, Frank also commenting in wonder about my gigbook Volume XIV that I’d taken along for him to sing a couple of set-lists, “wow, I wish I’d done [something like] that!” Our turn reluctantly ended and we bade farewell, then ran into my friend (and Frank uber-fan) Rich Carter in The Tuppenny next door for further confirmation of Frank’s general niceness; after receiving a message, Frank had earlier popped into the Hospital to hang out with on-call paramedic Rich before this show. Wow!

Home, then on the sofa with the missus and a couple of episodes of “Peaky Blinders” for me tonight while Frank wowed the capacity crowd at Level 3. However, thanks to the wonderful people at RPM Records, my shining little man and Frank himself, I wouldn’t have swapped my Frank Turner experience earlier for a Level 3 front row spot!