Archive | May, 2015

Bearded Theory Festival, Catton Park, Derbyshire (May 21-24, 2015)

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Bearded Theory Festival, Catton Park, Derbyshire (May 21-24, 2015)

Posted on 29 May 2015 by John Haylock

For me the Bearded Theory marks the start of the UK music festival season. This Derbyshire based event never fails to provide anything less than fun, frolics and lashings of anarchic rock ‘n’ roll, with a large helping of pirate based costumery on the side this year.

Indeed at times the site resembled a Pirates of the Caribbean theme park, but with added jazz cigarettes and stuffed parrots.

The Beat's Rankin Roger

The Beat’s Rankin Roger

Here is a snapshot of the final day of the event to give you a flavour of what it offers, in which I saw Ranking Roger from The Beat on a battery powered monocycle, The Buzzcocks become the Steve Diggle guitar experience, and James’s Tim Booth prove he can still dance like a man possessed.

I also discovered a tremendous band called Skeewiff, who did a cover of ‘It’s Obvious’ by The Au pairs ( that doesn’t happen alot) and saw The Beat doing a fitting tribute to The Clash with a crowd pleasing Rock the Casbah.

James

James

I bought a shirt for a tenner and it still hasn’t fell apart and also met The Buzzcocks’s Pete Shelley, who told me he wrote his excellent solo single Homo Sapien in 1974, seven years  before it was released.

Also backstage we saw an ironing board, met Misty in Roots, who only have one original member left from back in the ‘Live at the Counter Eurovision’ era.

The Disco Shed disappointingly didn’t have any Quo but I did discover that Trans Global Underground are still going and that New Model Army are not really an army.

Steve Diggle of The Buzzcocks

Steve Diggle of The Buzzcocks

Neonfiller.com photographer Arthur left his car window open for the whole day and no one nicked anything.

Elsewhere, I lost my heart to ‘Angie’ from Devon, my fake beard kept falling off and I’m all fired up for the coming festivals, where Patti Smith, Public Service Broadcasting, Television, Grace Jones and The Specials will be amongst the acts I hope to see. Yep, 2015 is gonna be a good one, I can feel it in my (skull and cross) bones. Groan.

Words by John Haylock, pictures by Arthur Hughes.

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Alabama Shakes – Sound and Color

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Alabama Shakes – Sound and Color

Posted on 27 May 2015 by Sarah Robertson

There’s nothing more exciting than a band whose second album is even more brilliant than its first. What on earth will the Alabama Shakes do next?

This timeless soulful masterpiece pulses with catchy melodies, ecstatic rhythms and a range of tracks that could provide the backdrop to a cult road trip film.

alabamashakes

Skipping past the slightly more average opening track that the Shakes have puzzlingly named their magnum opus after, the album opens up with a run of tunes that could all be hits.

Brittany Howard quickly reminds anyone who has forgotten how well she can sing with the beautiful second track Don’t wanna fight, effortlessly reaching those top notes as well as being the brains behind the guitar.

The third track Dunes is the ultimate example of clever writing, showing us how powerful simple can be. The slow melodic start is transformed at the chorus with Howard’s strong guitar laying the background as she asks the listener, ‘Am I losing it?’.

The next track Future People shares first position for best tune with two others tracks, Gimmie all your love and Shoegazing and I can’t think of any other album that has done this to me since I discovered Led Zeppelin.

Future People is around three minutes of pure bliss. We’re brought into it by a light guitar riff but a heavy layer of bass takes us to a space more akin to dance music before we’re flung swiftly back into grunge. I don’t know if I want to headbang like a banshee or jump up and down.

Gimmie All Your Love is just intense drama all the way through. Great use of pauses and explosions of sound with Ms Howard belting out her lyrics in an uber cool American accent. The instrumental finale will blow you away. This is unique writing at its absolute best.

We steer into a more reflective acoustic area next before a brief trip to the world of punk in The Greatest, which sounds like it was great fun to write/sing/play. Some definite Lou Reed influences here.

The track Shoegaze is happiness personified. It makes me imagine I’m driving a huge Cadillac down the West Coast of America in the blazing sunshine with the world at my feet. If you to listen to this track without having the same vision I will eat all of my three hats.

The shakes are ultimately still the sounds of the soulful sixties crossed with rock and roll but the range of styles in this album shows how incredibly dynamic they are, how diverse their writing is. And how god damn skilled they are at it. There’s so much packed into this album, the more you listen to it the more detail you find.

I can’t help but wonder if Jack White hadn’t publically endorsed them, would they still be famous? I can only conclude that they may not have risen so quickly but with talent like this, it would only have been a matter of time.

Sound and Color was released in April and has achieved the top spot in the American and Canadian album charts. Quite a feat for a band that came out of nowhere in 2011.

This is my album of the year so far.

by Sarah Robertson

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Robert Pollard – Faulty Superheroes

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Robert Pollard – Faulty Superheroes

Posted on 26 May 2015 by Dorian

Like Joan Jett and the Blackhearts I too love rock and roll. But sometimes the idea of putting another dime in the juke box baby fills me with horror. Then just when you’d almost given up hope an album comes along and renews your faith in rock and roll. This is that album.

Robert Pollard - Faulty Superheroes

This album has all the good stuff that you hope for in a Bob Pollard release, with none of the more frustrating elements. Catchy off-kilter alt-rock? Check. The title track and ‘Up and Up and Up’ deliver that wonderfully. You want some oblique lyrics and British Invasion classic rock? Well howsabout ‘Take Me To Yolita’ or ‘You Only Need Me’. Inclined towards a galloping bit of proper post-punk? Skip forward to ‘Mozart’s Throne’. Stick around until the end and you get to sign-of with the pretty acoustic psyche-folk of ‘Perikeet Vista’. Even better, there are none of the sludgier tracks or tuneless noise-pieces that have upset the flow of even his better solo outings in the last decade.

I always enjoy a lazy comparison with a Guided By Voices album and for this release I choose Earthquake Glue, which is an album that has been a little overlooked in the GBV discography.

Sure there are a number of songs that sound like other Bob Pollard songs. So what? He releases 10 albums a year. It is easy to reinvent yourself if you are Radiohead and can only muster one album every four years or so. Lazy he is not, and this album perfectly captures his obvious love of writing and recording music.

The other thing is that however much he sounds like himself, he doesn’t really sound like anyone else. The Who influence is there, track one has that REM vibe he loves (possibly his most REM-y track since the 1986 debut Guided By Voices EP)  and the Beatles make an appearance, but all in all it sounds like Bob Pollard in a way that nothing else does.

It is also a really well played album, the band all earning their recording fees on this one. Kevin March is reliable as ever behind the drums and this album features some of Todd Tobias’s best guitar playing on a Pollard solo effort. ‘Cafe Of Elimination’ features a proper bit of alt-rock guitar soloing and ‘Photo Enforced Human Highway’ just sounds great, faux-flute keyboards and all (and is perhaps the finest song on the whole record).

Typically I give Pollard’s albums a good review, whatever guise they might appear in, but I’m normally cautious to recommend them. They are not always easy listens, and the erratic quality can be off-putting to the uninitiated. Faulty Superheroes however I can recommend wholeheartedly. It is simply 12 excellent songs and a very easy album to enjoy. Coming off the back of the similarly excellent Ricked Wicky album this could prove to be a bit of a golden year for an artist that undoubtedly has a lot more music up his sleeve.

I love rock and roll. This is rock and roll.

9/10

By Dorian Rogers

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The Great Escape 2015

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The Great Escape 2015

Posted on 23 May 2015 by Dorian

Any festival is only as good as your viewing choices, and this is especially true of a multi-venue festival such as The Great Escape. If you choose to watch some of the not-so-great acts, missing out on better acts elsewhere, then you have nobody to blame but yourself. However, if you take random(ish) choices as an overall guide then I think it is unlikely that this 10th anniversary Great Escape will go down as one of the vintage years.

Very little stood out as being particularly new or different this year, and a lot of acts were so middle of the road that the whole thing was in danger of becoming a traffic accident. Nothing I saw hit the highs of Parquet Courts or Phosphorescent from previous years and although one of the best live acts I’d previously seen at the festival, Django Django, were playing it was their third appearance here and nothing to get excited about.

My underlying sense of ‘meh’ with the weekend was probably caused by a combination of jet lag and a reaction to a band as bad as The Vaccines being the festivals secret special announcement. I have no desire to be a killjoy, and everyone else I’ve spoken to loved the weekend, so in the spirit of positivity here are some of my personal highlights.

Happyness

Happyness

Happyness released one of the best albums of last year and are one if the most likeable live acts I’ve seen in a long time. Their catchy homage to the best bits of 90s indie rock sounds as good as ever in a cramped Sticky Mike’s and the non-album tracks they play have me itching for their next release.

Saycet

Saycet

Slightly sombre European electronica is something that you are always guaranteed at the Great Escape, and this year was no exception. The Unitarian Church is one of the more reserved venues on the circuit, but it was a good match for French duo Saycet. This wasn’t a hugely upbeat affair, but it sounded pretty good to an attentive audience.

Son of Bill

Sons of Bill

A listing error meant that a trip to check out Popstrangers, in the recently branded Hub, actually meant a set by Sons of Bill. This was the cause of some confusion to those expecting antipodean pop and getting some guitar heavy US country rock. For those that were there by mistake it turned out to be a happy accident as quality playing and appealing tunes made this a very satisfying way to spend the afternoon.

C Duncan

C Duncan

C Duncan may sport some unwise facial hair, but his likeable tunes and genial performance more than make up for it. His performance is a little low-key, and it is hard to tell exactly where his career will go from this show, but he is definitely somebody to put on the “ones to watch” list. Brighton’s own Fatcat records saw enough in the classically trained Scot to sign him up and I’ll personally be keeping an eye on his progress.

Get Inuit

Get Inuit

I’m not somebody who cares hugely about originality, borrowing is an essential part of pop music, but I do wonder why you’d wear the Weezer glasses if you sound this much like Weezer. And when Get Innuit don’t sound like Weezer they sound like Cloud Nothings, another band with a singer that sports Buddy Holly specs. Eyewear decisions aside they sound pretty good and it is a really fun set of songs, and if you are going to have obvious influences I can think or worse places to start.

SLUG

SLUG

SLUG are the work of Field Music bass player Ian Black and their debut album was good enough to lift them above the side-project category and establish them on the festival list for 2015. The songs are great and Ian Black is a surprisingly gifted front-man with a great voice and some proper axe-an skills. The backing band are uniformly great, featuring both Brewis brothers, and the whole set sounds wonderful. I’m already looking forward to seeing them play again at the Green Man festival in August.

Ralegh Long

Ralegh Long

The Independent Label Market held in the Open Market was not as huge success, and footfall for the labels who set up stalls was disappointing. I hope that this feature of the festival is repeated next year, but some thought from festival organisers on how to get crowds down this end of town is needed if it is repeated. It was also disappointing for the acts that played on the market stage throughout the afternoon, with only a handful of passers-by stopping to watch some quality sets. However, for me it was great to see the guys from Gare Du Nord on their stand and Ralegh Long’s songs (accompanied by Jack Hayter) sound great even if there isn’t the biggest audience to hear them.

Low Pines

Low Pines

One great feature of the festival is getting to hear live music in a wide range of venues, some that I don’t visit at any other time of year. Something new for me in 2015 was getting to see the Brighton Museum used as a setting for a range of acoustic acts. I was largely bemused by the popularity of openers, the Dunwells, who got the biggest applause of the evening. They clearly had some talent, but they looked and sounded just like a group you’d see getting voted out in the later rounds of the X-Factor and they left me pretty cold. Much better was the soft folk of Low Pines and the endearingly cute Japanese pop duo Moumoon who provided one of the most charming sets of the weekend.

The risk of a multi-venue event like this, with so many acts and so many styles, is that you’ll not always see the best it has to offer. This year I don’t think I saw the best of the festival, but I still saw enough great music to make the time worthwhile. The Great Escape is still one of the best value musical events in the country and I’ll be back again next year searching the venues for something extra special.

By Dorian Rogers

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Open Mic Night – Hawthorns, Glastonbury (May 19, 2015)

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Open Mic Night – Hawthorns, Glastonbury (May 19, 2015)

Posted on 20 May 2015 by Joe

For Minor Works Unit, one of the acts appearing at Glastonbury’s long established weekly open mic night at pub venue Hawthorns, the evening had an extra special meaning.

Hawthorns family atmosphere

Hawthorns’ youngest attendee

The central Somerset based act was left devastated earlier this year when their frontman and songwriter Dan Bradford died suddenly.

As the local paper The Central Somerset Gazette reported in February he was a hugely popular local singer and actor, with Minor Works Unit proving an excellent vehicle for his witty and often surreal lyrics. A Somerset based version of 1960s pop surrealists Bonzo Dog Doo Dah band would not be far from the mark.

A Minor Works Unit

A Minor Works Unit

Since Dan’s  tragic death the band have kept rehearsing and  brought in new vocalist Matt Crisp, with the aim of keeping Dan’s songs going.

Tonight at Hawthorns, amongst the mainly acoustic guitar based acts, they got back on the horse, took a deep breathe and began a new era for the band.

For some attending they would have known Dan and how emotional performing without him for the first time is for the band. For others they wouldn’t have known the back story. For all attending though the band proved a hit, with Matt doing a great job of belting out Dan’s lyrics ably backed by the band, of double bass, percussion, ukele and guitar.

Andy Badman

Andy Badman

Organisers Steve Henderson and Brad Lister clearly realised this act was a little different and allowed them an encore.

Seeing the return of Minor Works Unit also gave me a chance to experience this popular open mic evening for the first time. I was left impressed by the breadth of talent amongst the seasoned musicians and new recruits to performing alike. For some like Andy Badman, who usually plays in a 50s rock n roll band it gives him a chance to hone his folk blues skills. He’s an accomplished guitarist with more than a few nods to the likes of Bert Jansch in his style of play.

Rainbow Tony

Rainbow Tony

Then there was the friendly Rainbow Tony, who invites the audience into a singalong and is full of chat afterwards about his guitar heroes.

Another more seasoned pro appearing on the night was Nick Parker, who tours Europe regularly as a solo artist and with his band The False Alarms. Tonight he was accompanied on vocals by his daughter Flo, with their version of The Decemberists The Engine Driver proving a highlight.

Nick and Flo Parker

Nick and Flo Parker

I sadly missed the final part of the evening, what with it being a school night, but amongst others that impressed were the guitar and slide playing duo of Spencer Cox and Nick Balura and the strong vocal performance of Tolly Snell. Nick Balura’s solo instrumental set was also excellent.

Spencer Cox and Nick Balura

Spencer Cox and Nick Balura

Open mic nights offer so much in an era where venues are shrinking in number but what impressed me most was the strong sense of community amongst the acts tonight, which made it a perfect occasion to mark the return of Minor Works Unit.

by Joe Lepper

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Close Lobsters – Firestation Towers (1986-1989)

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Close Lobsters – Firestation Towers (1986-1989)

Posted on 18 May 2015 by Joe

In some ways it’s easy to see why Close Lobsters didn’t match the success or acclaim of their contemporaries in the 1980s UK indie scene

The Scottish Indie pop band were among those to appear on NME’s classic cassette compilation C86 but while their track Firestation Towers was among the best, it was not an elite track of the kind that propelled others featured such as  Primal Scream to success.

While Firestation Towers’ guitars were certainly jangly, they didn’t have the intensity of The Wedding Present’s version of This Boy Can Wait on C86. And while there was a quirkiness to the lyrics and style, that sense of originality was already being triumphed on C86 by Half Man Half Biscuit’s I Hate Nerys Hughes.

This comparison with others was to typify their short career. Despite being a good indie pop band they could never quite push themselves beyond the indie charts as others managed to, although for a brief period they did enjoy some small success in the American College Radio scene.

Close-Lobsters-1-resize

Lloyd Cole, who Close Lobsters singer Andrew Burnett bares a close vocal resemblance to, is another contemporary who enjoyed far greater success. While Cole too had a similar focus on quality guitar pop, his far greater awareness of mainstream appeal carried his heard above the parapet in ways the Close Lobsters couldn’t.

Nearly 30 years on its reappraisal time for the band, which reformed in 2012 to settle into the indie heritage circuit, through this huge 39 collection featuring their two albums Foxheads Stalk This Land’ and Headache Rhetoric’ as well as ‘Forever, Until Victory! The Singles Collection’.

Listening to many of these tracks for the first time I feel a little guilty for letting them pass me by at the time. While I was busying myself collecting the latest by Half Man Half Biscuit album I simply failed to notice The Close Lobsters. That was a shame as here they were a quality act, with some great tracks that arguably deserved more acclaim outside their indie charts home.

Nature Thing, on Foxheads Stalk This Land and also released as a single ,would have been just about my favourite song of 1987 had I heard it back then. And on Got Apprehension, from the same album, there are some fantastic guitar arrangements that deserved a wider audience.

As the collection progresses I was pleased to finally here their original version of Let’s Make Some Plans, which thanks to the Wedding Present covering it for the B-side to their Top 20 single California, was their highest charting song.

Astonishingly across its 39 songs there is not a single duff track, even their cover of Neil Young’s Hey Hey My My has merit.

Given the fierce competition for attention amongst the UK’s 1980s indie scene it is a shame Close Lobsters were missed by many, which is why this latest chance to hear them again is so important.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

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