Archive | Live Reviews

Villagers – Nottingham Rescue Rooms (October 17, 2018)

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Villagers – Nottingham Rescue Rooms (October 17, 2018)

Posted on 21 October 2018 by John Haylock

When you do a  search on Google for Villagers more often than not those hunky chunky purveyors of ultra camp seventies disco The Village People come back at you singing YMCA. As much as I love disco classics I think I’ll stick with our Irish friends for the time being, thank you.

Since Villagers launched ten years ago, they have very quietly, very gently, rocked our world. Leader Conor O’Brien’s  melodic introspections and observations have healed and shone light into our collective hearts.

Whilst all around is going to Brexit in a handcart they are a little oasis of sparkling tunes and old fashioned musicianship. So with a new album to promote (The Fine art of Pretending to Swim),  their fifth if my calculations are correct, a tour is in order.

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The new Villagers album is an absolute joy that is chock full of many  slyly insidious tunes. I’m assured the young kids on the street today describe this as ear worms. A vulgar unpleasant phrase. I prefer to use the phrase angel cake whispers instead.

So eyes down for an evening of angel cake whispering.

Conor is given a hero’s welcome as he buoyantly takes to the stage accompanied by his superbly talented band (tonight’s Haylock award for outstanding individual achievement goes to the drummer James Byrne, a brilliant display).

Diving head first into an evening of classics and playing many of the tracks from the new opus we embark upon on an emotional rollercoaster of aural joy, the new stuff sounds absolutely brilliant, there’s some seriously catchy Villagers songs on display, especially Again, Sweet Saviour and Fool. One of the highlights was a fantastic new composition called Love Came With All That It Brings. A song from the top drawer if ever there was one.

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This was the first night of the current Villagers tour and you might have expected hesitancy or at least some  nervousness but it was flawless. Conor has such a winning way with the between song banter. He won us over easily. Both funny and modest , his demeanour is the polar opposite of most frontmen. His audience loves him for it.

Occupy Your Mind was given a new suit and tie, a wash and a shave and turned into a whizzing speeding thing of beauty. Another new song Long Time Waiting seemed so gorgeously familiar. An effortless reflection on modern living with added trumpets.

Old favourites blend with the new

The final furlong saw the welcome return of two old but genius nevertheless faves, the irrisistable sing along Hot Scary Summer and of course Courage.

These were preceded by one of the most adventurous new songs from the album, Ada,  a song Conor told us was about Ada Lovelace the mother of modern computing  (Charles Babbage being the father, see Analytical Engine for further details) . Unknown to Conor, until someone in the crowd pointed it out to him, there was a Nottingham connection here. Ada was the only legitimate daughter of local lad, romantic poet and total shag monster Lord Byron. Synchronicity or what? That blew him away.

I urge you all to check out the support artist on this tour. She calls herself Billie Martin. Originating from Ripon, she has a stunningly beautiful voice, and plays guitar with a featherlight touch, and with the aid of a solitary drummer. They created a little sensation among the crowd tonight. Very rarely does an audience just shut the fuck up and listen to a support act as intently as I witnessed tonight.

A lovely gesture was witnessed as she had left a hand written note on the merch table. It read simply,  “sorry no merchandise but I’ve baked a cake (lemon drizzle, my favourite) please help yourself”.

Yum and indeed yum.


Words by John Haylock, pictures by Arthur Hughes


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Brian Jonestown Massacre – Birmingham O2 Academy (October 16, 2018)

Brian Jonestown Massacre – Birmingham O2 Academy (October 16, 2018)

Posted on 18 October 2018 by John Haylock

Two months ago we caught Brian Jonestown Massacre at the Greenman Festival and were overwhelmed (drunk). We had to see them again.

If you’re not familiar with the Brian Jonestown Massacre just think of an old Hollywood western.

Picture the scene, the locals are in the saloon having a drink, laughing and carousing. In the ramshackle street outside ladies with bonnets stumble across the rudimentary High Street, which is little more than a  muddy track, as they make their way to the store for supplies and sundries.

Then in the distance you hear the sound of hooves and some boisterous hollering and swearing as the local gang of bearded unkempt rustlers, outlaws and general ne’r do wells ride into town on their sturdy steeds. The local sheriff ( played by Bradley Walsh) is sent for, he and his deputy (an unshaven belligerent Tom Hardy) walk toward the gang with hands on their holsters, it’s all going to kick off.  Brian Jonestown Massacre have come to town.

Photo Credit: Bradley Garner

Photo Credit: Bradley Garner

And kick off it does down in wild west Birmingham, as 600 rabid hipsters await the arrival of the most bad ass guitar toting scruffs on the planet. Led by  general all round modern day iconoclast and  psychedelic guru Anton Newcombe.

It’s a guitar orgy

The stage is full of guitars, It’s a guitar orgy. A sonic spectacle, which starts of slowly and falteringly with We Never Had a Chance and What Happened to Them.

Then slowly the pace increases and by the time the ecstatic Hold That Thought materialises it’s all systems go.

They have this fantastic primordial soup of a rhythm section, reminiscent of Primal Scream, Ride and absolutely definitely The Rolling Stones, circa Sticky Fingers. It’s a pervasive irresistible beast, that Anton tops off with some tasteful lead work.

By the time we get to perhaps their biggest hit, Anemone, all cylinders are firing. The lighting guy has woken up and were tripping the light fantastic.

Joel Gion on tambourine and flamboyant hand gestures is a focal point. He is the Hendrix of tambourine playing.

The numbers stretch out and enter lengthy jam territory with some great wig outs that you just don’t want to end. I start hearing influences ranging from The Velvet Underground to The Byrds via Spacemen Three. So many influences, so little time.

As we propel towards nearly two hours of this madness, The devil May Care (Mom and Dad Don’t), Drained and What Can I Say assail the senses. When they finish they do it in their trademark manner. No encores, just a version of A Word that segues into a monstrous, almost tortuous ten minute-plus hurricane of feedback and squall.

I shot the sheriff but I did not shoot the deputy.

Review by John Haylock


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Sweet Spot Festival – Inaugural Estonian event impresses

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Sweet Spot Festival – Inaugural Estonian event impresses

Posted on 23 August 2018 by Joe

It’s no secret that we have become a little fond of Estonia after visiting Tallinn Music Week for the last two years. So how could we say no to checking out the inaugural  two day Sweet Spot Festival with the likes of Tom Odell, Jose Gonzales, Roisin Murphy and London Grammar on the lineup.

Here’s a roundup of the standout acts we saw…

Tommy Cash

Despite being placed on the Sweet Spot Festival B Stage, Estonian rapper Tommy Cash attracted by far the biggest crowd of the entire weekend. We had to use a mixture of politeness, cunning and the occasional elbow to reach the front. Upon his arrival he was dressed in what could only be described as the stinky black pair of shorts and white vest, last seen by the unfortunate few who forgot their school PE kit. This look was topped off by a pencil moustache akin to Poirot and spikey hair not to dissimilar to Keith Flint in his Firestater days, although now the spikes were held in place by condoms.

Tommy Cash

Tommy Cash

Cash is by far biggest star in the Estonian music scene right now, and its well deserved. On performing his song  X-ray we couldn’t help thinking that 90% of the crowd needed X-ray eyes (or at least glasses) to see him. He also performed songs such as his latest hit Little Molly. After completing his set the crowd chanted his name for more than five minutes hoping for an encore, but of course he was too cool for that.

Tom Odell

On arriving to the Sweet Spot Festival stage to watch Tom Odell it was clear to see that the audience was comprised of at least 90% women (and that is probably an underestimate). It was therefore no surprise that when he walked out, the Dennis the Menace of Indie pop had a face like a kid in a candy store.

Tom Odell

Tom Odell

As each song progressed he slowly melted the hearts of the ladies in attendance, until a sudden thunderous downpour saw the crowd run for cover and him calling a 10 minute break. Upon resuming he played the song “Hold Me” and we couldn’t help thinking that is exactly what the sodden ladies in attendance wanted.

Other highlights included…


NOEP played on the C stage at club PADA. To say it was packed to the rafters would have been very apt had there been a roof, so instead the spectators headed in to the trees to grab a better view.

With the evening sun sinking and temperatures beginning to cool his song “San Fransisco” matched the mood of the crowd and climate perfectly. It is no surprise that his brand of electronic pop has gained international attention in recent years.

Jose Gonzales

With the mercury hitting 30C and the sun beating down, the crowd were in need of a little bit of cool. And then, outstepped Jose in a Hawaiian shirt, nonchalantly carrying a cold glass of white wine.

Jose Gonzales

Jose Gonzales

He proceeded to play a mixture of older songs such as “Teardrop” and newer ones like “The Forrest” (we certainly could have done with the shade of a few trees as we baked slowly in the sun). With as much desire from himself as the crowd, Jose played two extra songs, one of which was “Heartbeats”.

Special Mentions…


With Sweet Spot Festival first night headliners London Grammar cancelling just one day before, the upmost respect must go to the organisers for securing an equally well known headline act  –  Irish songsters Kodaline.

They didn’t disappoint either, playing a mixture of well-known hits such as “All I Want” and “High Hopes” as well as songs from their new album due later this year.

Little Dragon

LittleDragon were Jose Gonzales’s recommendation, and they certainly didn’t let him down. The Swedish electronic group were the first act to provide real energy and get the crowd going on the first day.

Little Dragon

Little Dragon

Charismatic lead singer Yukimi Nagano certainly grabbed the attention of the crowd, along with drummer Erik Bodin whose antics and spotty t-shirt likened him to a musical Mr Tumble.

Words by Mark Taylor, pictures courtesy of Sweet Spot Festival.


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Green Man Festival 2018 – Psychedelic awesomeness

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Green Man Festival 2018 – Psychedelic awesomeness

Posted on 23 August 2018 by John Haylock

Our big green friend, the Green Man Festival, never disappoints and once again provides one of the best festival weekends this side of Pluto.

As always the depth and quality of performances was magnificent, with nary a dud in evidence. The oh-so unpredictable Welsh weather remained the right side of sub-Arctic, and on more than one occasion I spotted people applying sun tan lotion. Yes, suntan lotion! Not something I can remember ever seeing in Wales before.


Arriving with the dawn on the Friday via a breakfast at Waitrose in Abergavenny, we threw ourselves into putting up a tent badly.

This done we were lured by The Lovely Eggs up at the Far Out marquee and were greeted by some very lively punk action. Guitarist Holly was great, playing speedy tunes and throwing shapes. Despite the garish yellow tights she looked and sounded like a star. The crowd loved them.

The lovely eggs

The Lovely Eggs

An hour later The Lemon Twigs played Beatlesque slacker pop to an enthusiastic crowd. They certainly won me over but by then whiskey had been taken, so they could have been rubbish, who knows ? Nice vibes, I think.

The best at the Green Man Festival on Friday was a superb set from Joan as Policewoman. A small woman with big talent,  blessed with a multi octave voice that transports you to heaven via Bonnie Tyler’s chip shop in Crickhowell. Her band was super tight, soulful and classy, and what did she do as an encore? Only bloomin’ well Kiss by Prince. Utterly sublime and it’s not even teatime.

Joan as Policewoman

Joan as Policewoman

The  Green Man Festival layout is great. It’s not too big although there did seem to be larger numbers of people here this year, which was slightly disconcerting. You don’t expect the Walled Garden to be rammed mid-afternoon listening to obscure Australian folk singers.

In the past there was always room to collapse in a semi-catatonic heap next to a rubbish bin and not get your head trodden on.

Next up was a look at the Green Man Rising emerging talent competition, to sample the delights of fresh new blood. They don’t get any fresher (or madder) than Gentle Stranger.

Gentle Stranger

Gentle Stranger

The compere said they were like the bastard sons of Ian Curtis and Talking Heads, which is rubbish. In fact, they were more like the bastard offspring of the Mothers of Invention and a small white sliced loaf.
Among Gentle Stranger’s line up was a drummer who also played oboe and looked like he should be at a Metallica covers band audition. A skinny bassist in awful make up laying on his back holding his bass guitar with his feet whilst applying hair gel. They also featured a topless hairy bloke with braids in a blue midi skirt and hobnail boots playing guitar and blowing on things. Totally fantastic.

The Hungry Ghosts

The Hungry Ghosts

Were also impressed by the dirty, rock ‘n’ roll filth of The Hungry Ghosts from Birmingham. Then had to administer self flagellation for missing Snail Mail, which shows the depth of talent at this year’s Green Man Festival.

Back at the main stage it was time for  headliners King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. The Australian psychedelic rockers have inexplicably become hip. Their lengthy guitar work outs, nimble ensemble playing and nicely complimented vocals went down well. But I failed to achieve orgasm, unlike the other five thousand other folk in the crowd. Mind you their 2016 track Rattlesnake was groovy.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

Time to party until the late hours, 11:55pm in our case. We were knackered.


We awoke to no rain, at all, not even drizzle, remarkable.

After a dodgy dinner the Walled Garden played hosts to Goat Girl who seem more popular than The Beatles. The place was full, and quite rightly as they did their no nonsense pop-lite thang.

A duo under the name of Ider did it for me. Poppy niceness to the fore. They should be pop stars tomorrow with their nice bouncy tune and big singy choruses.

Baxter Dury

Baxter Dury

Happiness achieved but  had to curtail my enjoyment to rush over to the main stage to catch the late Ian Dury’s son (thats him on the cover of new boots and panties), Baxter Dury.  Top notch swearing and funky jams predominated the proceedings. He seemed slightly aggrieved but was all the better for it. A riveting set.

The evening then turned into a cosmic trip with a visit down memory lane with the ever dependable Teenage Fanclub.Boy Azooga, despite a hesitant start, won in extra time but then it was time for John Grant.

If you know Grant, you’ll know he was inevitably superb and if you’re unfamiliar with him then where have you been for the last few years?

It’s been heartening to witness  him graduate from touring half full pubs with Midlake five years ago to thrilling eight thousand people in a Welsh field on a nippy night.

John Grant

John Grant

Such is his charm and self-depricating wit that he can make these intimate, lyrically subversive songs work even on a grand scale.

They don’t get grander than Queen of Denmark which tonight is bombast incarnate, yet there is so much more to his music. You have the whimsy Marz. The electro incisiveness of Black Belt and Pale Green Ghosts. The beautiful Glacier and even an almost hit-single singalong GMF.

I asked Grant before he went on to sign a Barry Gibb and Barbara Streisand album. He laughed, signed it and then asked him to do a Bee Gees number. He said he’d think about it but sadly it didn’t happen [what an anecdote that wasn’t].

This Green Man Festival gig was one of the last times you’ll hear this material for a long time, he admitted. It’s new stuff from now on in , and personally I can’t wait to see where he’s going to go next. It is certain to be intriguing.

One of the absolute standouts of the entire weekend was an appearance by Simian Mobile Disco, performing with Green Man Festival regulars Deep Throat Choir.

This was an aural massage the likes of which will live long in the memory of those who witnessed this performance. The two guys within  their jumble of leads, decks, cables , laptops and other magical devices (probably stolen from magic pixies on a night with a full moon), delivered the most deliriously sublime set. Murmerations was performed in its entirety. The choir building up tension as waves of beautiful sound crashed like waves of pure love over our collective heads. I forgot the number of people I spoke to  the next day who thought it was astonishing.

Two hours later and we’ve still not got back to the tent. There were a few distractions. Impromptu Aretha Franklin singalongs, a cocktail bar, a merman and a mermaid, an art installation that was just some lights outside the toilets and a chat with a bloke dressed as a bacofoil deep sea diver thankfully was all I can remember.


Sunday and your despicable soundchecks from War on drugs. I’d only been asleep three hours, still we are veterans after all and by 10 o’clock we were asleep again.

First band on at the Mountain Stage at dinnertime were the new project featuring Simon Raymonde from the Cocteau Twins, called Lost Horizons.

Black Angels

Black Angels

They excel at atmospheric gritty soundscapes with vocal contributions by the bassist, the keyboardist and especially their very expressive lead singer.  A very good way to start the day.

Such is the current vogue for glamping we found an area where you can sit in a hot tub and be served champagne. We were quite rightly immediately ejected.

We tried to enjoy Anna Calvi. But I appeared to be sitting next to the Abergavenny under-fives acrobatic team. It was difficult to concentrate but she was good and the version of Don’t Beat the Girl Out of My Boy was stunning. As was the encore  – a cover of Ghost Rider in the Sky from Suicides’ debut album.

An evening of dark intense brooding rock ‘n’ roll at the Green Man Festival followed. First up Chilean trio Follakzoid who put in an unbelievable performance.

They only did two songs, the first was 25 minutes long, the second 20 minutes and that was only shorter because their enigmatic guitar shaman Domingo Garcia got increasingly angry over the mixing desks inability to hit maximum volume on his monitors. He pulled over the speakers and flounced off in a Chilean huff. After five minutes he came back on due to public demand and finished off the set.

It was great to watch as he played about with his pedals and various fuzz boxes. Then he’s doing the dance of the seven veils and swinging the guitar round his neck as it squeals its protests.

This was in the Far Out tent as were the three remaining acts we saw.

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

Rolling Blackouts Coastal  Fever from Australia recalled fellow brethren The Triffids, with some great guitar interplay and punchy tunes.

But the  best was to come. The Black Angels were relentless –  a fucked up marathon boogie  kept in the air by non stop drumming from Stephanie Bailey, the likes of which I haven’t witnessed for years. The woman is a machine built of steel and unsmiling stamina. It was like the Velvet Underground but with better tunes.

The icing on the  psychedelic cake of this year’s Green Man Festival was an appearance by the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Imagine the aroma of late 1980s Primal Scream inhaled from a pipe of Exile on Main Street. Loose but tight. Rough but nice. Good cop, bad cop but mostly bad cop. Oh man, this is my rock ‘n’ roll.

Brian Jonestown Massacre

Brian Jonestown Massacre

I am unable to describe any further events of that Sunday night as I appear to have run out of superlatives.

Not one bad band or performer at Green Man Festival all weekend. No hassle and no downsides, apart from the small matter of missing the Wedding Present, Tom Wrigglesworth, War on Drugs, Public Service Broadcasting, Kelly Lee Owens, Phil Wang and Teleman.

This festival spoils you every time and you have to make choices.

I choose Greenman.

Words by John Haylock, pictures by Arthur Hughes


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Half Man Half Biscuit – 02 Forum Kentish Town (June 8, 2018)


Half Man Half Biscuit – 02 Forum Kentish Town (June 8, 2018)

Posted on 10 July 2018 by Joe

One of the few positive things to come out of Margaret Thatcher’s policy of mass unemployment, was the formation of Wirral’s finest, Half Man Half Biscuit.

Thirty-four years later, they stroll out onto the stage of the Forum to rapturous applause and launch straight into “Fuckin’ Ell it’s Fred Titmus”. Nigel Blackwell is still fronting the band and playing guitar. He is joined by Neil Crossley (also a founding member) on bass, long standing drummer Carl Henry. New boy Karl Benson completes the line up on guitar.

Half Man Half Biscuit

When this song was released, an obsession with obscure celebrities was somewhat outside the mainstream. Now, well look at Love Island (or perhaps don’t) …

After this blast from the past, Half Man Half Biscuit play a song from their latest album, “No one cares about your creative hub so get your fuckin’ hedge cut”. Appropriately enough for a band who are getting well into their fifties and presumably have half an eye on their upcoming free bus passes, “Terminus” is a song about bus journeys and getting old, while the next song, “The evening sun goes down” also alludes to getting old and the paucity of music on offer as you do so.   Sentiments that I and the majority of their forty to fifty something audience can well identify with.

Made famous by turning down a TV appearance on the Tube to watch Tranmere Rovers, Half Man Half Biscuit are the antithesis of the 80’s performers trawling the circuit.

Still producing great albums, it seems unlikely that Jo Cox will be playing them at her 80’s night at the same venue the following week. Next up comes “Running Order Squabble Fest”, one of a number of songs this evening that lampoon the absurdities and hypocrisies of every music scene ever. “Look Dad No Tunes” is perhaps the highlight tonight of this vein with its skewering of the middle-class angst that powered grunge.

Over the course of the evening, Half Man Half Biscuit run through a sizeable portion of their not inconsiderable back catalogue and about half of their latest offering. Resolutely anti-commercial, they have produced thirteen albums in their thirty-year career (they took a few years off in the late 80’s to avoid fame and success), not bad going for a bunch of dole bludgers from Birkenhead. Talking of which, one of tonight’s highlights is “A Lilac Harry Quinn” containing the immortal line “if God had meant for us to work, then I’m sure he would have given us jobs.”

One of the original C86 bands, Half Man Half Biscuit’s set is dominated by songs that peel back the fancy wrapping of modern life to reveal the shoddy goods beneath their façade.   Indeed they make cynicism something of a virtue as they contemplate the vagaries of modern life in songs such as “National Shite Day” and “Every Time A Bell Rings”, railing against the axis of evil that is “Primark FM”, Bus replacement services and TV movies.

Half Man Half Biscuit 02

Although a band of the 80’s their roots are still in the punk of the 70’s. There is something reminiscent of the Ramones in the succession of acerbic three minute tunes they play.

Additionally, their subversion of folk music, on songs such as “Paintball’s Coming Home”, gives their music a traditional feel that jars pleasantly with the modernity of their lyrics. Indeed, despite their seventies roots, the playlist they pluck tonight’s songs from is like a cultural guide to the British Isles over the last thirty years. The irony of the couple ridiculed in “Paintball’s coming home” for knowing “where things are in B and Q”, and naming their Dog “Prince” (“The one called Sheba died”, is reminiscent of the intro to Trainspotting, and what  Half Man Half Biscuit do so well is tap into the great groundswell of scepticism lurking beneath the surface of this rather cynical sceptered isle.

The irony inherent in their songs and their pop culture references, make them easy to dismiss as a novelty band. But songs such as “Fix it so she dreams of me” are tinged with both sadness and a beauty that prevents them being mixed up with Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine or Weird Al Yankovic.

But  let’s not spend too long in Pseud’s Corner.

At their heart Half Man Half Biscuit is a great rock ’n’ roll band. This is something not lost on me as I spend the last ten songs po-go-ing away like it’s 1991 again. They leave to last one of my favourites, “Everything’s AOR”. With its off beat guitars and its lyrics berating swivel chairs and business acumen, it just goes to show that not too much has changed in the intervening years.

Words and pictures – Gavin McGarvey


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Superchunk – London ULU (29th May 2018)


Superchunk – London ULU (29th May 2018)

Posted on 31 May 2018 by Dorian

Back in 1992 I sat in a friends bedroom listening to his vinyl copy of Superchunk’s second album No Pocky For Kitty and being blown away by how they mixed punk and fuzz and melody. Jump forward 26 years and I’m standing in a packed ULU with the same friend thinking the same thing about Superchunk live.


The same(ish) band (drummer Jon Wurster joined in 1993 and bassist Laura Ballance is replaced for live duties by Jason Narducy) certainly don’t act their age on stage. From the outset, an excellent ‘What A Time To Be Alive’ from the new album of the same name, they play at full throttle. No ballads here. Front-man Mac McCaughan in particular bounces like a teenager, more energy than you’d typically expect from a 50 year old record executive.


The set is well chosen, a mix of new songs, requests and fan favourites from across the band’s career. The new songs sound just as good as the old, but there is a particular nostalgic joy when old tracks like ‘Skip Steps 1 and 3’  are belted out.

The band wisely eschew the on-off stage encore routine to maximise playing time and with minimal between song chatter they rattle off a good length set. Not all of my favourites got an airing, ‘Learned To Surf’ and ‘Seed Toss’ would have been on my list, but I can hardly complain when the band have so many firm favourites to choose from.

The closing couplet of an anthemic ‘Slack Motherfucker’ and a pedal-to-the-metal ‘Hyper Enough’ round things off perfectly. The crowd (complete with crowd surfers) clearly loved every minute and I’ll be back down the front if the band make it to this side of the Atlantic again.

Words and pictures Dorian Rogers


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Echo and the Bunnymen – Birmingham Symphony Hall (May 26, 2018)


Echo and the Bunnymen – Birmingham Symphony Hall (May 26, 2018)

Posted on 29 May 2018 by John Haylock

Echo and the Bunnymen are responsible for one of the greatest albums to come out of the UK post punk scene and equal to anything The Smiths, The Cure or Joy Division ever recorded.

The band’s second album Heaven Up Here remains a grandiose musical statement, a remarkably ambitious confection of envelope pushing songs that to this day remains a great big wonky wok of creativity, drugs and bravado.


Ian McCulloch and strings.

The big hits came late on Ocean Rain, Echo and the Bunnymen‘s next album which gave them singles and fame but it is Heaven Up Here that reserves them a special place in our hearts. With this in mind we popped over to Birmingham to see if this legendary act are still any good.

Thanks to Liverpool getting through to the final of the European Championships this gig nearly didn’t happen. As soon as lead singer Ian McCulloch spotted the date clash he promptly cancelled the band’s appearance. There followed a rather large fan backlash on social media, which duly prompted him to stop being an arse and get his priorities right.

Indeed his first words as he strode onto the stage was a mumbled “sorry about all the shite”. What’s this? A humble and seemingly contrite McCulloch? Wonders will never cease.

For a frontman who is famed for his petulance and vaulting arrogance this is a first. Also plain to see is a man who is clearly enjoying himself, despite the fact that his beloved Reds side were losing one nil at half time.

We thought he would be slightly aggrieved and in one of his moods at this dramatic turn of events for the Reds. Far from it. Perhaps the road crew had told him Liverpool were four up within 15 minutes to keep him placated. Whatever the reason, it was good to see him looking (relatively) healthy and, for a veteran performer, sounding rather good too.

Birmingham Symphony Hall is an amazing building, large, spacious and with wonderful acoustics. Its size was needed for this sold out gig, no mean feat for a band who haven’t troubled the singles chart for nigh on 30 years.

Whilst not quite the orchestra as advertised, the band were supplemented by a string quartet comprising three violinists and a cellist, which added a welcome extra dimension to the songs.

Together with his trusty sidekick guitar hero Will Sergeant, a propulsive drummer, an unremarkable rhythm guitarist and a bassist who at first sight I mistook for Tony the mechanic from my local garage, they tore into a cracking set.

Opening with a storming triumvirate of Rescue, Villiers Terrace and All that Jazz, this was a good start of oldies but goldies, which saw McCulloch dropping in lyrics from various  eras. I heard Bowie’s Jean Genie, On the Road Again by Canned Heat and Roadhouse Blues by The Doors – it was just like the old days but with more wrinkles.

The fiery tempo abated as we entered calmer waters. Nothing Lasts Forever was rendered perfectly, the quartet supplying added poignancy.

All My Colours Tonight performed stripped back, no drums as per usual, just guitar and vocals. Surprisingly it still works.

Bedbugs and Ballyhoo instigated the arrival of swaying women of a certain age, who know a good psychedelic singalong when they hear one. They love Ian and try to prove it with some middle aged gyratory action and pointing at him whilst singing Lips like Sugar, which looked more scary than sexy.

From that point on madness ensued. Two Japanese women behind me burst into tears as Bring on the Dancing Horses galloped across our ears.

And as for Seven Seas, it is such an iconic Echo and the Bunnymen tune it can do no wrong. With its not very ambivalent sex lyrics and cracking tune, the audience is theirs.

The Cutter keeps up the pace, then it’s all over apart from probably everyone’s favourite song Killing Moon, performed almost solo. Backed by just a debonair gent on piano, Ian valiantly muddles through. It’s a tough one for him though, as this track does expose his inevitable age related vocal wear and tear, but we forgive him especially as they reprise Never Stop as the very final number – a rocker in all but name. Then, ironically, they stop.

Minus one point for not doing Over the Wall.



Support for Echo and the Bunnymen tonight came from Nashville trio Enation. But don’t go screaming “yee-haw” at their gigs – these gents are more like a cross between Sigur Ros, U2 and with a bit of Nirvana in the mix.

Some jolly good rock action ensued – very intense and persuasive. Three numbers in they had sound problems, something feeding back, prompting mild panic among the sound guys. It took them quite a while to sort it, but to the band’s credit they soldiered on and were thanked for it by an appreciative audience.

Most of the tracks tonight were off their 2017 album Anthems for the Apocalypse.

Certainly not the end of the world for these chaps.

Words by John Haylock, pictures by Arthur Hughes.


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Tallinn Music Week 2018 Review


Tallinn Music Week 2018 Review

Posted on 21 May 2018 by Joe

Neon Filler could not resist returning to the Baltics this year for our second consecutive Tallinn Music Week. We unearthed some real musical gems last April so we didn’t hesitate when organisers invited us back for 2018. This year things were bigger and better with TMW celebrating it’s tenth birthday, with a whopping 262 artists hailing from 31 different countries.

Here’s a roundup of the standout acts we saw…

Lexsoul Dancemachine

Lexsoul Dancemachine are fast becoming a party highlight of Tallinn Music Week with their contagious funk capable of forcing dance moves from even the most stubbornly reluctant of Estonia observers.

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Playing this year as Saturday night headliners in one of Tallinn’s more salubrious venues, Erinevate Tubade Klubi (fitted out to look and feel like an authentic 1970’s Brooklyn Discoteque), they put in a sensational performance of raw smoking hot funk. If you need a second invitation to check them out look up the track ‘Beef Grinder’ on YouTube for a sample flavour of Estonian Funk at it’s finest.


In his native Iceland Högni Egilsson is one of the most respected singers and songwriters, having been a member of both GusGus and Hjaltalín.

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At TMW he showcased his solo work. Songs such as the hauntingly beautifil Paradísarmissir took us and the rest of the mesmerised audience on a journey of serenity and moving contemplation.

Põhja Konn

Põhja Konn (translated directly from Estonian means Northern Frog) can be described as many things; but to listen to their eponymous album you’d think old school prog rock. Witnessing and listening live at a festival like Tallinn Music Week  is an altogether different experience – one that gives real insight into their masterful understanding of all things jazz, classical, rock, funk and pop.

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There’s few live acts we’ve seen at places like Glastonbury, Green Man etc on the biggest stages, that can enchant an audience as much as Põhja Konn. We’d hazard a guess that if lyrically they would turn their backs on their loyal Estonian heritage, and write some material for a wider audience, they’d be filling festival stages across Europe and beyond.

Other highlights included…

Cari Cari

Cari Cari want to have their music featured in a Quentin Tarantino movie. So says their charismatic guitarist Alexander Kock. We managed to catch them perform twice at Tallinn Music Week this year and on both occasions it seemed a pity that the legendary American movie Director was not there to take heed.

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A two-piece act from Austria, the male / female duo played two very different sets albeit with the same set list. The first, a juxtapositioned short gig set in a shopping mall storefront, was a grungey, tribal, foot-stomping affair accompanied by Jew’s Harp and a Didgeridoo. The second was a evening slot in Tallinn Old Town, at a venue more appropriate for their whiskey soaked, bluesy anthems. Comparisons with The White Stripes, The XX and The Kills are inevitable. If they continue on their current upward trajectory it would seem a soundtrack berth on the next Tarantino flick will also become inevitable.


Having to follow arguably the most exhilarating act of the weekend Lexsoul Dancemachine, it seemed D/troit had their work cut out. The electricity in the crowd was tangible and people were in the mood to party. D/troit were able to keep the party swinging with their timeless soul style, that brought Saturday night’s live music to a close.

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Once upon a time an obscure Garage band, the Danish group have today found their calling as one of Scandinavia’s finest soul music acts. Craig Charles recently labelled D/troit his favourite new band, playing their music on both his radio 2 and 6 shows. From where we are sitting, D/troit come across as the most under rated and effortlessly cool soul band since The Heavy.

Special Mentions…


Kalàscima hail from Salento in Italy. In their local dialect their name is a combination of the words for good and evil.

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And, just like the battle between good and evil in all our favourite books and movies, their music is a tussle between the traditional folk of the region and modern electronic sounds. These collide, thankfully harmoniously, into an unforgettable music experience.

Púr Múdd

If you wanted to encapsulate the look and feel of Estonia’s youth today Tallinn Music Week, you would have had need to look no further than Púr Múdd.

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Their modern and almost gritty electronic pop sound echoes a nation at the cutting edge of modern technology (Estonia refers to itself as e-Estonia), and a determined start up culture that sees its youth striding towards a bright future.

Trad Attack!

If someone were to say to you “We are going to see an Estonian folk band, there will be bagpipes, a jewish harp and such like” you have an immediate expectation. A nice pleasant sound, perhaps traditional costumes and dancing, lovely!!

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What you get is folk that slaps you across the face with its vibrancy and currentness. It’s no wonder that Trad Attack! are playing at festivals around the world.

The Toasters

Ska pioneers The Toasters are a well-known act to many. The seasoned performers first came together in 1981, and despite performing over 6000 shows in their career, it was their very first time in Estonia.

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Luckily, the Tallinn Music Week crowd weren’t disappointed by the wait and thoroughly enjoyed the feast of musical enthusiasm that was served up.

Words by Marc Argent and Mark Taylor.

Pictures by Marc Argent and Tallinn Music Week.

For more information about Tallinn Music Week visit their website here.


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Green Man Festival 2018 Preview

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Green Man Festival 2018 Preview

Posted on 03 May 2018 by John Haylock

We’ve been regular visitors to the Green Man Festival over the years. Nestled in the Brecon Beacons it’s line up is always one of the best in the festival calendar and this time around is no exception.

Among the many highlights are Australian psychedelic rockers King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. After seeing them twice at Glastonbury we can confirm their live shows are not to be missed.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard

John Grant, another we have seen live on a number of occasions, is also an essential act to catch, as are Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors and Fleet Foxes.

Further down the bill Teenage Fanclub are a welcome addition to any festival line up. We have being watching them at venues across the UK for nearly 30 years and they always delight us.

John Grant

John Grant

New bands also feature strongly, with Atlanta act Omni’s jerky pop and Amber Arcades among our top picks.

Big Jeff is there too DJing! Jeff has been a regular gig-goer in Bristol for the last 15 years and will be drawing on that vast array of experience to delight you. If Jeff’s there you know it’s the best gig in town.


For more information about Green Man, which takes place August 16-19, visit their website here.

by John Haylock


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Dinosaur Jr – Roundhouse, London (March 23, 2018)


Dinosaur Jr – Roundhouse, London (March 23, 2018)

Posted on 28 March 2018 by Joe

Thirty years have passed since Dinosaur Jr got together. Since then they have split up, reformed and are still selling out venues, with this London gig no exception.

Having seen them at the Reading Festival back in the early nineties, it was an interesting contrast, and a reminder of why I had mixed feelings about them last time.

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Dinosaur Jr’s lead singer and chief guitar noodler J Mascis is, if possible, even more static that he was back then. He seems an isolated figure onstage, and not helped by the contrast between him and the more exuberant performance of bass player Lou Barlow.

This juxtaposition makes this seem like a solo act with the drums and bass as back up musicians. This is not to underplay the contributions of drummer Murph and Lou to the band’s sound, but the rather odd impression created by the onstage dynamics.

I’m guessing this is unintended rather than planned. J is clearly friends with both support acts and presumably the other guys in the band. His is undeniably, however, a somewhat awkward stage presence.

Ironically, he seemed much more relaxed when strolling on to play guitar on the last song of opening band Easy Action’s set.

Their frontman, hard-faced, angular veteran punk rocker John Brannon, cups the microphone in his hand whilst spitting lyrics at the crowd, mixing hardcore, punk and metal with an industrial edge; they are enthusiastically received by those who arrive in time to catch them.

I catch five of their songs, their final song on which J plays guitar, is the shortest of an excellent, rather intense set and like all of tonight’s bands they are great.

Easy Action are there to remind us of the hardcore punk influence inherent in Dinosaur Jr. Meanwhile, next on the bill,  Stephen McBean from Black Mountain, gives us a taste of J Mascis and co’s  West Coast Country psychedelic roots.

When McBean first came onstage his rather shambolic appearance and lack of introduction made me think he was the roadie tuning up for him. He proved be a far more engaging performer than J and played a solo set using a mixture of backing tapes and looping delay effects to build psychedelic country soundscapes that belie his mild-mannered appearance.

His voice, crystal clear, is youthful, like a garage band from the 1960’s, and some of his songs are stunning. I particularly liked his second number with its Byrds-esque guitars crashing in like broken glass onto the sun-kissed vocal melody.

Dinosaur Jr arrive onstage with the classic Thumb, reassuring their fans that there will be plenty more good songs to come. It’s mid pace melancholy wrought through the band’s virtuoso musicianship, and only held back in my opinion by the venue’s rather indifferent sound (this was something of a bugbear for me).

The vocals weren’t clear enough for any of tonight’s acts, and I would be reluctant to come here to see a band again. Next time I’ll see Dinosaur Jr in a venue with a low ceiling and a solid sound system. That being said, they are still fantastic.

There’s an amusing interview with J on YouTube where a seven-year-old child asks him if he is a “guitar god”. J says, “No”, but based on tonight’s performance it would be pretty difficult to disagree.

J plays guitar like few others, intricate and effortless, it really is something to see. I can’t think of a better guitarist I’ve seen.

Lou Barlow is all hair and beard, the two merging into one shaggy head. Lou wins the Dorian Gray award for looking at least ten years younger than J or Murph. Maybe that’s why they kicked him out back in the 90’s?

Murph, the ever present with J throughout Dinosaur Jr’s history must be the hardest working drummer in show business, rock solid all night without missing a beat. His lack of hair perhaps a sign that there is some stress in slackerdom.

Dinosaur Jr play three of four songs from the new album (all very good), before misfiring the start to “Feel the Pain”, and then going into “Out There”. The crowd go nuts.

And, there is an odd contrast between the Droopy inspired stage persona of J and the hundreds of middle aged men going ape-shit for his music.

As one of those middle-aged men, hearing “Out There” played live makes me feel thirty years younger and want to cry simultaneously. It is a masterpiece and the only song to beat it is the next song, the previously teased, “Feel the Pain”.

It’s wonderfully crafted, with its jarring opening allied to its heartfelt lyrics and swinging bassline and the sheer abandon of the chorus make this song a masterpiece. I glance bemused at the crowd surfing and moshing to my left.

From there the band revisit their back catalogue, with songs from Green Mind, Bug and You’re Living All Over Me, with the latter dominating the selection, particularly the encores.

This, the band’s first album is a little unfamiliar to me, and perhaps a number of their fans, certainly the tracks from Green Mind and Bug, get a better reception from the audience.

Perhaps the band like playing these tracks as they remind them of more innocent times, or perhaps they still have a few copies of it they’d like to shift taking up scant storage space in their houses, and they figure playing tracks off it at their shows may stir their fans to seek out these unsold copies.

If the Greeks have taught us one thing, it is that Guitar Gods are likely to be capricious tricksters toying with mere mortals, so either could be true.

The crowd at the show are an interesting one, there seemingly aren’t that many lively bands going about any more, and whilst I am not tempted to join in, it’s great to see the crowd respond to the band with the heady release of a stag weekend.

Just before the encore, I saw a guy staggering about looking for his mates with four pints of beer in his hands. Thus, tracks like Freak Scene and The Wagon get rapturous receptions.

Before the final encore, Lou Barlow, tongue in cheek presumably asks for requests.

If you shouted out for “Raisans” then you got your wish. I heard a lot of people shouting for “Get Me”, and on that note there weren’t many slow songs, I was rooting for “Not You Again”, but at times you just have to take what the Gods give you.

By Gavin McGarvey


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