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Lunar Festival – Tanworth in Arden (June 5-7, 2015)

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Lunar Festival – Tanworth in Arden (June 5-7, 2015)

Posted on 08 June 2015 by John Haylock

On perhaps the warmest day of the year what better way to spend a blazing hot Sunday than enjoying a psychedelic breakfast, dinner and teatime in the unlikely environs of Solihull at the Lunar Festival.

Nestled in the West Midlands countryside, amid much greenery and posh houses, our festival’s location of  Tanworth in Arden is famous for only one thing, but it is a GREAT thing, it’s the birthplace of the late Nick Drake.

nickdrake

His shadow oversees this little festival. You’ll find a huge painted portrait of him at the top of the site and not a few performers are seen to do covers from his cruelly small catalogue of folk greatness.

A more genteel laid back gathering would be hard to imagine. Lunar Festival is like a country fete on the green but with hippy dancing instead of cricket. At various points throughout the day, time not only seemed to stand still it went backwards and at one point, during Sunspots by Julian Cope, sideways.

After a mildly vile veggie curry we sat down to enjoy Zun Zun Egui  but no sooner had we put our bikinis on  than the crowd were informed they would not be playing and would we ‘please make some noise for Follakzoid‘. Ladies and gentlemen, of all the Chilean rock bands I’ve ever seen,  these were the best, they immediately woke people up with a simple but brutal bass line over which the young guitarist riffed out with lots of delay.

Follakzoid

Follakzoid

Anyone who digs Krautrock would have turned to you and mouthed the words Can and Neu!, add in a swirling synth and some pummelling, repeated drum patterns and you had a steamroller of riffery knocking on your skull. Their long instrumental passages of groove laden simplicity enveloped a most receptive crowd, who rewarded the band with some of the best trippy dance moves I’ve seen for years.

We caught up with them afterwards in the vinyl tent where we helped them buy some albums, we recommended the second Roxy music album and Thank Christ for the Bomb by The Groundhogs  and did them a massive favour by telling them not to invest in an ELO album, the word ‘shit’ we found is a universal language and they thankfully put it back in the rack.

We specifically chose Sunday to pop by this festival, as two gifted giants of English underground loonery were playing, namely Julian Cope and Robyn Hitchcock. Julian appeared first on the main stage at 5.45pm resplendent in his now familiar military garb, it was great to actually see him play as most of the previous occasions we’ve seen him was as a guest in various literary tents ranting and raving about his new book(s) and being interviewed with great difficulty by confused looking interviewers.

Julian Cope

Julian Cope

Half an hour before he went on I asked Julian what sort of set we could expect, would it be a greatest (almost) hits set ? New stuff ? A bit of both ?…..he quickly responded with a conspiratorial glint in his eye ‘it will be a SMORGASBOARD’ ….you can’t beat a smorgasboard on a hot afternoon I replied. It was indeed a feast, armed only with a semi- acoustic guitar and some basic flanging pedals he played absolute classics to perfection despite his ramshackle appearance, his voice if anything is better now than it ever was.

He opened with I’m living in the Bunker they found Saddam in, he squeezed in the Greatness and Perfection of Love, Soul Desert and a killer version of Hard Drugs. His between song banter is priceless as he chats about lack of chart success, his former band The Teardrop Explodes, Stonehenge and being “a survivor.”

Cope tells us he’s come to terms with the Teardrops legacy, for many years he’s refused to play their songs but admits he views them now with affection, so we get Culture Bunker from Wilder (1981). After a long ramble about visiting Japan in the wake of his classic album Fried, Sunspots makes a welcome return.

Double Vegetation was superbly executed, Cope airs a new song, Let the Beer Flow Over Me, all about his new found love of beer. After 20 years of being teetotal he has rediscovered his inner brewery and wants this song played at his funeral, amid great gnashings of teeth and much shirt rendering, women throwing themselves on his funeral pyre. He then finishes his set with a brilliant version of Pristine. An absolute star.

Robyn Hitchcock

Robyn Hitchcock

With the chorus to Pristine ringing in our ears we race to the opposite side of the site to sit at the feet of the mighty Robyn Hitchcock, sporting his now trademark dotted shirt. But get this fashion fans, no white spots on black today, no it’s white spots on BLUE.

I put this down to a reflection of his relationship status, he has a new girlfriend Emma who joins him on vocals for half the set, a set which starts with Only the Stones Remain. Wow this is going to be special, indeed the second song was an absolute highlight of my day, he tackled Nick Drake’s Riverman, capturing Nick’s incredibly difficult guitar technique and delivered in  his own uniquely  breathy enunciation of the lyrics. It was so moving and emotionally loaded and he nailed it big time.

Hitchcock followed this with My Wife and my Dead Wife, which I always thought a jolly little throwaway ditty but played today I saw a deeper layer in this fantastic, sad tale of a man deluding himself to such a degree that he is unaware of the entropy enveloping his life.

Like Copey earlier, stage banter is part and parcel of the whole deal, he goes off on one about the size of Crunchies in Australia, God being in the pointy bit of an upside down church steeple and the absence of  Goan fish stalls. Dismal City, documenting the misery loving Brits done in a Kinks style is fabulous, Trams of Old London with Emma is gorgeous, Queen Elvis from 1989 is given a polish. All in all a far too short set of lovely erudite, humourous whimsy that make Robyn a national treasure.

A sizzling day of fine wine, poor curries but absolutely wonderful music and people and as Nick Drake sang on Road from the timeless 1972 Pink moon album…

You can say the sun is shining if you really want to
I can see the moon and it seems so clear
You can take the road that takes you to the stars now
I can take a road that’ll see me through.

That’ll be the A 435 to Tanworth in Arden.

Words by John Haylock, pictures by Arthur Hughes

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Festival Number 6, Portmeirion (Sept 5-7, 2014)

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Festival Number 6, Portmeirion (Sept 5-7, 2014)

Posted on 09 September 2014 by John Haylock

Situated near Porthmadog on cliffs that tumble down to Cardigan Bay, Portmeirion started life in the 1920s as the whimsical vision of Welsh architect Clough Williams Ellis.  Since then it has provided the real life surreal backdrop to 1960s TV show The Prisoner, is one of the Wale’s oddest tourist attractions and each September is the setting for the music, arts and literature focused Festival Number 6.

Parade

Now in its third year, the festival, which is named after the hero of The Prisoner,  is getting into gear, with the previous two events marred by bad weather. Thankfully though Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, who were among the performers, brought her Heatwave with her and the event was blessed with torrential sunshine. Sunday was especially sun soaked with the location mirroring the town’s Italian Mediterranean inspiration perfectly as festival-goers took to boarding, swimming and sun bathing.

Among highlights of the Friday bill were a rockin’ teen combo called Childhood. These ex-Nottingham University chaps certainly have a classy set of self penned tunes; melodic with fits of noise. Apparently they are bemused by comparisons as they are so young and are not familiar with half of the references, but older listeners might like to think Teenage Fanclub meets The Byrds.

performers

Down by the sea, in a small marquee we cross paths with the bearded and dishevelled post punk singer/songwriter/Krautrock afficianado and now novelist, Julian Cope. He spends an entertaining hour telling us how great his new book is. You do not disagree with Julian, although toward the end of the interview a guy decides to have a go at him for not being green enough by writing paperbacks and using up trees. Sadly though this exchange was cut short by a guy from Cope’s publisher Faber and Faber and Cope’s declaration that, “I’m sorry but the trees must fall, my book must be read by everyone.”

It’s an incredible 14 years since Damon Gough, aka Badly Drawn Boy released his Mercury prize winning album Hour of the Bewilderbeast. I am happy to report that he’s still a magnificent live draw as he played to a packed crowd on a small stage in the woods. With the sun shining and the atmosphere electric he proved to be an absolute top bloke with an arsenal of fine, memorable tunes and a deadpan wit that the crowd just loved. Anyone who can deftly drop in a cover of The First Picture of You by The Lotus Eaters three numbers in, is a bloody star.

Tom Hickox

Tom Hickox

Manchester poetry mafia takeover in the afternoon with a great in-yer-face performance by Mike Garry. He swaggered, shouted, swore and even got people to dance to a poem about former Factory Records boss the late Tony Wilson.

London Grammar headline Friday night and we ask ourselves, ‘why?’You know that point in the evening when you want nothing more than a groovy, happy stupid dance; when you want to get down with your bad self and hug a complete stranger? Well, if that’s your bag don’t book London Grammar.

Fortunately Andy Weatherall and his DJ chums were on hand until 4 am and thankfully groove is in the heart people. We find a castle with a bar and watch old Welsh farmers get pissed and sing songs about sheep.

Saturday is a blur of carnival colour, intimate gigs in a quiet rooms on shiny wooden floors, in particular the great Steve Mason playing a set of his songs with arrangements by composer in residence Joe Duddell. This took place in a hushed packed room of about 50 of us, listening intently as he sang accompanied by a string section. With the sun flaring in through giant windows behind him it was a beautiful experience.

John Shuttleworth

John Shuttleworth

From the sublime to the ridiculous. Less than an hour later and barely 200 yards away John Shuttleworth, aka  Graham Fellows, blows London Grammar away with hilarious renditions of his classics Can’t go back to savoury now, Two margarines on the go and Pigeons in flight.

On the main stage a gentleman by the name of Tom Hickox is a discovery, playing piano and delivering his songs with a deep, not unpleasant voice somewhere akin to David Sylvian and Nick Cave, he captures an unsuspecting crowd and goes down a treat. He mentions a debut album produced by Richard Hawley, must investigate.

Peter Hook

Peter Hook

Peter Hook, along with his band The Light, continue to uphold the Joy Division back catalogue since his acrimonious split with New Order. Despite his voice going he makes a bloody good fist of it and manages to capture some of the Ian Curtis in the songs. And what songs they are: 24 hours, Isolation, She’s Lost Control and of course Love Will Tear Us Apart. Supplemented with a smattering of early New Order and you have a gem of a set.

Beck is an elusive enigmatic individual not prone to hectic touring schedules. It is something of a coup that Festival Number Six secured him as Saturday’s headline act. His was an astonishingly good show, perhaps the best performance of the weekend, with a visually stunning light show and a six-piece band of dynamite players. He looks dapper in his little black hat and seemingly not aged in the 20 years since he burst onto the scene with the fabulous Loser.

Beck

Beck

A big guitar chord heralds the arrival of Devils Haircut, a deranged riff of epic proportions ensues, the crowd go bonkers, superb as that is, the next hour or so remains equally delirious, he gives us Black Tamborine, hell yes, New Pollution, Loser, (a version that will remain with me forever) as well as a covers of I Feel Love, Blue Monday and The Rolling Stone’s Miss You. For the encore there was Sexx Laws and the fantastic Where It’s At, mindblowing.

As for Sunday, Derry’s most famous sons The Undertones played a good set, minus Fergal Sharkey but still rocking. It was great to hear some of their early John Peel endorsed punk rock poppery, I Don’t Wanna Get Over You, Jimmy Jimmy, My Perfect Cousin and Teenage Kicks, the latter prompting hordes of people to descend to the front suddenly realizing who it was as they had been listening to.

Elsewhere on Sunday The Pet Shop Boys did a rousing version of Go West with the Brythoniaid Welsh male voice choir, ex-Fall bassist Steve Hanley talked about the writing of his new book, detailing his time in this most iconic of bands.  With the combined effects of heat exhaustion and rum at one point I nearly bought a bespoke jacket for £400, fortunately the price tag suddenly sobered me up. With aching feet we surrendered to the sun and listened to a bunch of DJs playing German techno on the seafront.
Checkmate  from The Prisoner

Festival Number 6 is all this but so, so much more. There was also comedy, street theatre, very, very hot curries, more authors, artists, the anti-pissing up fences police, real people chess and the lampshade ladies.

Clough Williams Ellis we salute you.

Words by John Haylock, pictures by Arthur Hughes.

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25 Incredible Gigs (1979 – 2013)

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25 Incredible Gigs (1979 – 2013)

Posted on 09 September 2013 by Joe

What makes a great gig? We are looking to compile a list of your best ever gigs via the comment box in this article and to get you thinking our contributors have taken a stroll down memory lane to revisit some of their favourite concerts.

Flaming Lips, Greenman 2010

The Flaming Lips’ explosive Greenman 2010 set. Pic by Arthur Hughes

For some of our writers a great gig is simply being in the right place at the right time, when a band at the peak of their powers performs at a stellar venue. For others it is one of their first tastes of live music, while for others it has been seeing musical history being made. Judging by the responses from our writers going to see the The Flaming Lips, almost anywhere and at any time, is also a sure sign of a gig’s greatness.  So stand up, get your lighter and mobile phone out and settle into a feast of great gig memories. Look forward to reading about your gigs.

Joy Division, Assembly Rooms, Derby, October 1979

Joy Division were the support for The Buzzcocks and played in semi darkness, four stark immobile Mancunian stick insects. It was loud, brutal and threatening, then Ian started doing his mad dancing during She’s Lost Control; some people laughed, we hated them for laughing as for us here was something new. As Shadowplay echoed around this architectural monstrosity we looked at each other and realized punk was over, something had eaten its corpse and was spitting out blood, Ian was dying for us and nobody had noticed. (John Haylock)

Fugazi, Zap Club, Brighton, November 1989

Back in the late 1980s the now closed down Zap Club regularly booked up and coming alternative bands from the US. The legendary and superb bands I saw at this sweaty damp venue, nestled into the old fisherman’s arches on the seafront, included Mudhoney, The Lemonheads, Rollins Band, Teenage Fanclub and Hole. But for me the best of the bunch was Fugazi. I was tucked up just to the side at the front of the packed venue, half on the stage as lead singers Ian Mackaye and Guy Piciotto, together with the precision rhythm section of Joe Lally and Brendan Canty, powered the band through a remarkable set. The timing was shortly after their first EP Margin Walker had come out and before 1990’s Repeater. Breathless, exciting and superb. (Joe Lepper)

Fugazi

Fugazi

Faith No More, Reading Festival, August 1990

In many ways this wasn’t an ideal gig. Sat between Nick Cave and The Cramps on the bill Faith No More were a bit of an oddity. The 1990s were also the decade when Reading was at it’s least “Rock”, it was the most “indie” of all the festivals during this period. The sound quality was also terrible, something that Reading was often guilty of, and a bootleg cassette I picked up some years later sounded pretty terrible. But it was my first real full-on festival rock experience and it seemed pretty wonderful at the time. The band arrived on stage to billowing smoke and an orchestral soundtrack (2001 perhaps?) before launching into a breakneck version of ‘From Out of Nowhere’. They rocked, they sneered (a snatch of New Kids on the Block in the middle of ‘We Care A Lot’) and front-man Mike Patton (replete in a kilt) scaled the stage scaffold. That was how to do it, something that The Pixies failed to emulate with a phoned in headline slot on The Sunday. They clearly already wanted to call it a day. (Dorian Rogers)

Nirvana, Astoria, London, October 1990

Friends at university told me that Nirvana were the next big thing. They played me Bleach, their only album at the time, and I was quite impressed even if it did sound like a Mudhoney rip off act. Turns out my friends were right, live they were sensational and across the 19-strong set Bleach’s tracks and Cobain’s vocals were filled with a passion I hadn’t grasped before. We were also treated to two new songs, Lithium and In Bloom, both destined for their forthcoming album, 1991’s Nevermind, which catapulted them to legend status. This was one of those great, ‘I was there’ moments in music history. (Joe Lepper)

Nirvana

Nirvana

Julian Cope, The Event, Brighton, September 1995

This gig happened at a point where Cope’s popularity (he had a top 40 hit with ‘Try,Try’Try’ from his then latest album 20 Mothers)  was slightly out of kilter with his overall trajectory, having been dropped by Island a few years earlier. It may have been at the beginning of the end for Cope as a popular recording artist, but it was an exemplary live performance. Three sets were played that night involving 39 songs in total, the first being heavily drawn from his most recent albums and including a host of excellent cuts from Peggy Suicide. After this the band left the stage and Cope treated us to a set of solo acoustic numbers, chatting jovially and taking requests from the audience. And as is this wasn’t enough the band returned to the stage and treated us to a full greatest hits set featuring his best known songs both solo and with the Teardrop Explodes. Everything sounded great and at that moment he seemed like the best live performer in the world. (Dorian Rogers)

Neil Young, Phoenix Festival, Warwickshire, July 1997

After an eternity of soundchecking and with a minimum of fuss Young tore into Hey, Hey, My My. It was akin to being in the eye of a screaming tornado of sound and unbelievably it got better with Sedan Delivery, Why Do I Keep Fucking Up, Cinnamon Girl and Down by the River all having their entrails ripped open and fed through sixty thousand watts of amplification. It was guitarmageddon in a cowboy hat as he carried on, nailing acoustic versions of Sugar Mountain, Heart of Gold and Needle and the Damage Done. Forty six  bottles of Evian water later I remember encores consisting of Like a Hurricane, Dangerbird, Rockin’ in the Free World and of course Cortez the Killer. My review in a word – legend. In another – goosebumps. (John Haylock)

Oasis, Cardiff International Arena, December 1997

My first ever gig – this is where it all began. The excitement, anticipation and the immortal feeling of being 15 years old and experiencing your musical idols for the very first time. I remember hearing ‘The Boys are Back in Town’ over the loudspeaker before the large curtain at the front of the stage suddenly opened and the band launched into ‘Be Here Now.’ The volume of those guitars hit me in the chest like a sledgehammer (in the best way possible) and, with that, I was born as an Oasis fan, gig goer and music fan for life. (Scott Hammond)

The Flaming Lips – Various, 1999-2012

Bowlie Weekender, Camber Sands, April 1999 – On the main stage were Divine Comedy, on the smaller stage were The Flaming Lips. Their album Soft Bulletin had just come out and I’d only heard the name not the music before. But as soon as lead singer Wayne Coyne took to the stage, bashing away at a giant gong with his giant personality and tiny, passionate voice, I knew this was no ordinary live band and the Divine Comedy could do one. The Flaming Lips didn’t even need animal costumes and giant space balls back then to be great. (Joe Lepper)

The Flaming Lips, Greenman 2010, pic by Arthur Hughes

The Flaming Lips, Greenman 2010, pic by Arthur Hughes

Bristol Academy, January 2003 – My 18th Birthday night saw a busload of mates journey to see The Flaming Lips at the peak of their powers. Peerless pop conducted by Wayne Coyne’s all-engrossing showmanship. (Matthew Nicholson)

Greenman Festival, Wales, August 2010 -They were totally mindmeltingly awesomeballs. The grandiose epicness of the music married to the everything but the kitchen sink pyrotechnics of a stage show was so out there it would have put the big bang to shame. The power of live music to make you love this beautiful world, this, ladies and gentlemen is what it’s all about. (John Haylock)

Primavera Sound, Porto, June 2012 -I was excited when they were announced as part of the Primavera Sound festival lineup in Porto, but wasn’t prepared for the utter elation I felt seeing them live for the first time. They’re one of the best live acts ever – the colours, the spectacle, the songs – it all makes for a surreal, psychedelic explosion of music, complete with dancing girls and glitter cannons. I defy anyone to come away from a Lips gig feeling anything but on top of the world. (Patrica Turk)

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Bowlie Weekender, Camber Sands, April 1999

This is my second entry from this excellent festival, which was curated by Belle and Sebastian and kick started the All Tomorrow’s Parties events. Watching Jon Spencer’s trio for the first time  made me feel like a 1950s, Tennessee teenager at an early  Elvis gig.  I’d heard of Spencer’s band, I heard the odd track on CD, but nothing could prepare me for the incredible performance of dirty rock ‘n’ roll from this incredible front man, Judah Bauer and Russell Simins. To this day the most exciting live act I’ve ever seen.  (Joe Lepper)

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

Radiohead, South Park, Oxford, July 2001

A wet homecoming night in which my favourite band headed a stupendous line-up (Humphrey Littleton, Sigur Ros, Supergrass, Beck) and delivered a heavyweight set of alt-rock anthems. (Matthew Nicholson)

Guided By Voices, ULU London, September 2003

This was the last time that Guided By Voices played in England, and possibly the only time that I’ll ever get to see them play. Bob Pollard’s famous hatred of travelling and their aborted ATP show in 2012 give little hope of a UK gig any time soon. Many people are stuck on the “classic” line-up of the band, but this gig featured the twin guitars of Doug Gillard and Nate Farley and they sounded pretty amazing to me. Blasting through a set that drew heavily from the then-current Earthquake Glue album we were treated to dozens of oddities and classics with fan favourites ‘Game of Pricks’, ‘I Am A Scientist’ and ‘Echos Myron’ getting a  particularly enthusiastic reception. This is a band that works hard playing a huge set (around 45 songs on this occassion) with an encore that lasted longer than some acts entire back catalogue. Legendary. (Dorian Rogers)

Guided By Voices

Guided By Voices

Roger Waters, Hyde Park, London, July 2007

As with many 16 year old teenage boys, desperate for intellectual stimulation and strange sensations, I was drawn to the minimalist soundscapes and sixth form philosophy of Pink Floyd. Listening to Dark Side of the Moon while staring at the ceiling and broodily muttering about the evils of Money was heaven to a tubby pubescent teenager with few social skills and no girlfriend. Seeing Roger Waters make a rare performance of the entirety of Dark Side of the Moon at this central London park, arms wrapped around fellow Floyd Fanatics, was made all the more luscious as the moon came out and he sang the final refrains. (Conal Dougan)

Monsters of Folk, Cardiff Coal Exchange, November 2009

An intimate gig in front of a seated audience, the supergroup played for a whopping 2 hours and 45 minutes. Playing the MOF album in its entirety along with a panoply of Bright Eyes, M Ward and My Morning Jacket tunes, I couldn’t quite believe I was bearing witness to two of my all-time musical heroes (Conor Oberst and Ward) on stage in this tiny space in Cardiff Bay. Costing less than £15 a ticket and with only 300 people in attendance, I truly blessed the world for its lack of taste. (Scott Hammond)

Blur, Glastonbury Festival, July  2009

Watching a reformed band  on the heritage rock scene can offer be a sad experience. Not so when Blur decided to reform for a run of gigs that included a show stopping set at Glastonbury. They played everything you hoped they would but it was Tender that provided the real spine tingling moment and, indeed, the mass singalong. (Matthew Nicholson)

 

Pulp Brixton Academy, London, September 2011

Growing up in Australia, Pulp were a band that I thought I’d never get to see live. But then, as so many do, they reformed and toured. They’re the songs from my teenage years and seeing Jarvis up close and personal was a girlhood dream come true. Nothing compares to hearing and seeing your old-time favourites performed live and it was a terrific moment of past-and-present excitement all rolled into one. Jarvis is still my hero. I even have his face on my tea mug. I’m 30. (Patricia Turk)

Pulp

Pulp, Brixton Academy, 2011. Pic by Patricia Turk

Field Music and Stealing Sheep, The Fleece, Bristol, February 2012

Sometimes gigs are just perfect in every way from venue to support to crowd to stage banter. Field Music’s musical talent is well known on record, but live their mixture of King Crimson prog rock with the jerky pop of XTC is even more incredible. Here they were on top form, rattling out 23 tracks, from their back catalogue and to promote their then latest album Plumb.  They were funny  as well in between songs and just about the most engaging band you’ll ever see. To top it all the support act, Liverpool’s Stealing Sheep, left the packed crowd at this legendary venue in awe with their blend of folk, hippy chic and surf rock. The best support act I have ever and probably will ever see. (Joe Lepper)

Field Music, The Fleece, Bristol, 2012

Field Music, The Fleece, Bristol, 2012

Django Django, Bestival, Isle of Wight, September 2012

The highlight of an astounding festival, featuring knock-out gigs by De La Soul, Stevie Wonder and The XX, was a small tent performance by Django Django. With the speaker volume tempered to make later headline acts more of a spectacle, the crowd was pulled ever closer to the stage to be immersed in their folktronica rhythms. The crowd joined to become a single amorphous beast, embracing each other to shift body weight and crouch for the peak of Default. Jazz fags and rum punches were merrily shared with trucker women and inebriated Glaswegians as the best weekend of my life got off to the perfect start. (Conal Dougan)

First Aid Kit, Moles, Bath, September 2012

Enjoying a pre-gig pint in a quiet pub adjacent to Moles, I suddenly saw the young Swedish sisters emerge from a neighbouring building and casually walk towards the venue completely without regard from anyone passing by. It was almost like they weren’t brilliantly talented, precocious songwriting prodigies or something. I got to the door, handed over my £10 ticket and was astonished to find that the 220 capacity venue hadn’t yet sold out. I then found my standing space just 10 feet away from  Klara, Johanna and those gorgeous vocal harmonies. (Scott Hammond)

First Aid Kit, 2012

First Aid Kit, circa 2012. Pic by Joe Lepper

Tame Impala, Primavera Festival, Barcelona, May 2013

Primavera Festival is renowned for its outstanding sound quality above its atmosphere, with main stage headline sets sounding intimate and personal. Upon arriving early on the first day, however, we really were treated to an intimate gig, with Tame Impala rehearsing their full set to only a handful of us. Frontman Kevin Parker’s remark that “we thought there would be more of you here” came just before we were escorted out by a security team, embarrassed from mistakenly letting us in early. The brilliant set they played later that night to a huge crowd, the balmy sea breeze flowing through Parker’s hair as the band waded through their psychedelic back catalogue, was made all the more magical by having seen them rehearse for our sole pleasure. (Conal Dougan)

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Glastonbury Festival, June 2013

Nestled about 20 people back from the main Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2013 on a Sunday evening I was expecting to be impressed by Nick Cave but not completely blown away by his brilliance. Across his hour long set he provided a masterclass in live performance. The whole experience was made even better by his scheduling just before the Folk-lite of Mumford and Sons. Their eager young fans being beaten back verbally by Cave’s middle aged hardcore fans was great to see. The poor Mumford dears that sneaked through were left open mouthed as Cave showed them how live music should be played. And as if that wasn’t enough,  during Stagger Lee  Cave moved into the crowd and serenaded a female fan dressed entirely in white, who appeared atop a pair of shoulders like Kylie’s ghost rising out of the swamp. (Joe Lepper)

Nick Cave, crowd schmoozing at Glastonbury, 2013.

Nick Cave crowd schmoozing at Glastonbury, 2013. Pic by Joe Lepper

The National, Roundhouse, London, June 2013

When a snap show at the Roundhouse was announced I was more than prepared to spend an hour and half in an online queue to see one of my most favourite bands in one my most favourite venues. It was everything I wanted it to be. The National are a special band of super talented musicians, led by an extraordinary voice in Matt Berninger. The songs are emotional, intelligent and epic, and the gig was intense, driven, amazing. There’s nothing like being part of an audience that adores the band they’re seeing. Spectacular. (Patricia Turk)

Melody’s Echo Chamber, Greenman Festival, August 2013

Propelled by Melody Prochet’s ethereal floaty vocals, the band add crunch and added freak out, I stood there entranced like a good looking deer in the headlights of a pop car, that is until I got so carried away during Crystallized that I became a danger to passing aircraft. They swept me up in a whirling vortex of sound that I keep playing back in my mind like some antiquated reel to reel tape recorder. A week after this gig and I wanted to see them again and again, I want to go to every gig, become an uber fan, have Melody’s poster on my wall. (John Haylock)

Remember to tell us about your favourite gigs in the comment box below.

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Julian Cope – Saint Julian (deluxe edition)

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Julian Cope – Saint Julian (deluxe edition)

Posted on 04 February 2013 by Joe

I’m not going to lie to you. I have to admit to Julian Cope largely passing by off my musical radar. Forgive me, I appear to have been ignoring one of the holiest figures of indie music. Unfortunately, this lost religion seemingly manifests through a self-proclaiming David Icke character.

The Saint Julian collection feels bloated. The original material, and Cope’s vocal delivery, is insufferably bland to my ear. These tracks merge into one and I have trouble telling them apart. Even the more electronic flavoured pieces aren’t distinguishable enough from each other, or from music by other more familiar artists. There’s no denying that World Shut Your Mouth remains a great track. But to my mind this alone that isn’t enough to keep this collection of songs together.

The original material on this repackaged and expanded version is supplemented with a couple of note-perfect live versions, and that’s fair enough (but not why I go to gigs). The B-sides are actually quite good, but it’s the remixes I have a problem with. I can’t see what the “Trouble Funk Mix” adds to World Shut Your Mouth. Trampoline is certainly bouncy, with fragrances of A-ha, Bruce Springsteen and a hint even of New Order (admittedly these are the kinds of music I’ve always shied away from). My main problem is with “The Long Mix” of this track – nearly six minutes of my life I won’t get back. It’s just silly. On the plus side, the original version of Eve’s Volcano has a wonderfully Wonderstuffy organ wave and its remix is actually the freshest and most listenable of the lot.

Despite the remixes, CD 2 is better – pleasurable even. It at least shows diversity and I think that it really does go someway to making this release deserve the “deluxe” soubriquet. My favourite track here has to be the hymnal, Disaster, which is an uplifting escape-from-chaos. Maybe it’s the mandolin feel: I do love a bit of electric mandolin. Warwick the Kingmaker is also unique in that it’s spikily ego-rap dirge that hits you square between the eyes largely because it eschews the pop-rock feel of much of the rest of the album. I like its quirkiness. It’s what, say, Jamie T might have been doing if he’d been born 20 years earlier. Finally, the clanging and wailing sound of Non-Alignment Pact (how 80s is that name?), is poppy and punky and sufficiently stand-out to make it a quality tune.

At 24 tracks, there is something in this new version of Saint Julian for a zealous completist Copeite, and perhaps it’s a value-for-money starting place for impressionable initiates in the Copecult. But I am still no convert. It’s certainly rock n’ roll, but I’m not sure I like it. And I’m not alone. According to Wikipedia, Cope has described Saint Julian as ‘not being one of his favourite albums, although he acknowledges that “it has its moments”.’

5/10

by Rob Finch

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Top 100 Albums (30-21)

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Top 100 Albums (30-21)

Posted on 29 March 2011 by Joe

We have been releasing this list ten at a time every Friday. Hope you enjoy this latest instalment. The rest of the Top 100 can be found here.

30. Sonic Youth – Sister

Most critics site Daydream Nation as the best Sonic Youth album but Sister is just as good and marks the point where the band made the shift from being a cult act to being alt-rock superstars. ‘Scizophrenia’ opens the album in dour claustrophobic style and perfectly sets the mood. Second track ‘Catholic Block’ is full throttle thumping drums and full-on guitar riffing. One of the real strengths of the album is the way that it moves between slow, noisy, catchy, formless and rocky with such natural ease. This is the sound of a great band at the height of their powers and represents the best set of songs that they’ve (as yet) put on record. Sonic Youth are such a part of the alternative rock furniture now that it is sometimes easy to forget how influential and significant they were, listening to Sister is a perfect way to remember.

29.  Cotton Mather – Kon Tiki


Austin, Texas, band Cotton Mather sounded like Squeeze, wrote songs like The Beatles and in front-man Robert Harrison had a lead singer who sounded like John Lennon. It’s little wonder the bulk of their critical acclaim came from the UK. Kon Tiki, from 1997, is our pick of their albums. You’d never know it was largely recorded on a four track as it takes in lush psychedelic rock, Beatles-esque harmonies and some of the best power pop of the day. Among our favourite tracks are ‘Vegetable Row’, ‘Spin My Wheels’ and ‘My Before and After’. So what became of the band that the NME once said was the best “guitar pop band since Supergrass” and Noel Gallagher invited to tour with Oasis in 1998? After failing to convert their critical success into commercial appeal they drifted apart and finally split in 2003. Thankfully Harrison continues to write and record with Future Clouds and Radar. Like Cotton Mather  his new band has achieved similar critical success, but has so far failed to garner the commercial appeal Harrison’s talents so richly deserve.

28. Lambchop – Nixon

Nashville country-soul ensemble Lambchop had released six albums over a six year period when Nixon came out in 2000, but it was the first album that sold well enough (and got enough attention) to justify main-man Kurt Wagner giving up his day job. Through the albums ten tracks we are treated to Wagner’s best songwriting, lyrics that make sense but sound oblique all at once and a unique ear for melody.The instrumental arrangements and the playing are superb throughout with strings and horns supplementing the standard country rock instrumentation. The slightly odd production style and the use of atmospheric noise and textures also lift the album above standard alt-country fare. ‘Up With People’ is the best known song on the album, and it is a brilliant slice of pop perfection that builds beautifully and is genuinely uplifting. The other songs may be quieter in the most part, but they are subtle and brooding and brilliant.

27. Dead Kennedys – Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables


California punks Dead Kennedys weren’t just great musicians with a message, they were funny too.   With his tongue firmly in his punk cheek charismatic lead singer Jello Biafra sets out to expose injustice and hypocrisy wherever he saw it on this the band’s 1980 debut. Whether it was the increasingly right wing policies in California (California Uber Alles) or US foreign police in Asia (Holiday in Cambodia) political song writing has rarely sounded better.  They even find time to power out a storming version of the Elvis hit ‘Viva Las Vegas’.

26. Camper Van Beethoven – Key Lime Pie

To some people this would seem an odd choice to pick from the Camper Van Beethoven discography; it is their most conventional album, and doesn’t feature founding member Jonathan Segal. However, it marks the greatest point of evolution in the bands songs and is their most satisfying album. With four albums behind them the band is a remarkably slick unit (especially considering their slacker origins) and David Lowery has never sounded more confident a vocalist than he does here. The songwriting is consistently strong, a set of vignettes showcasing a very literary, amusing and frequently touching lyrical style. ‘Sweethearts’ and ‘All Her Favorite Fruit’ stand up as among the best songs of their career and a cover of Status Quo’s ‘Pictures Of Matchstick Men’ was a surprise MTV hit. Read more about Camper Van Beethoven here.

25. The Hold Steady – Boys and Girls in America


Listening to this 2006 album from The Hold Steady is exhausting stuff as the self proclaimed Number one bar band in America, lead by wordy lead singer Craig Finn, take you on their travels through gigs and parties across America. It’s a world of drugs and booze, some sadness, some madness and a whole bunch of  interesting characters on an album that deservedly brought them to mainstream attention.  From the killer opening guitar riff on ‘Stuck Between Stations’ through to final tracks ‘Chillout Tent’ and ‘Southtown Girls’ this is a fine example of how a band can really relate to the listener; it’s as if they are enjoying the album with you.  For us this remains their best album, especially now as multi-instrumentalist and cheesy keyboard supremo Franz Nicolay has sadly left the band.

24. Julian Cope – Peggy Suicide

Julian Cope deserves better than to be remembered as a drug-addled crazy, sat atop a microphone stand spouting on about standing stones. He is one of pop music’s true eccentrics and his legend is fueled by his own stories and his musical retreat from popular songwriting. However, it would be a real shame to forget what a fantastic songwriter and performer he is, and Peggy Suicide is the best realised album in his back catalogue. Following on from his over-polished late 80s albums and the eccentric  Skellington and Droolian it serves up a double album of tracks that combine the best of both eras. The 18 tracks flow perfectly from one to the next, managing to cover a breadth of musical ground without losing a coherent feel. Cope is in superb voice, his voice a much stronger instrument than he has been given credit for, and his band play the songs with a real verve. It is hard to pick out highlights from such a consistent set, but anyone who can hear ‘Beautiful Love’ and not feel happier for it must be in a pretty bad place.

23. The Sundays -Reading Writing Arithmetic


One of the most striking aspects of this 1990 debut from English band The Sundays is its simplicity. Just simple bass and drums allowing Harriet Wheeler’s wondrous vocals and the guitar work of her future husband David Gavurin to shine. You can almost tell they are a couple even on here as the vocals and guitars blend perfectly. This is guitar based indie pop music as it should be played and features some fine, typically English lyrics too. “England my country the home of the free…such miserable weather,” is among our favourites. The album’s singles ‘Here’s Where the Story Ends’  and ‘Can’t Be Sure’ are among many highlights, but as with many of the albums in our Top 100 it is as a complete product that make this a stand out slice of indie pop. The band went on to further success with their next two albums Blind and Static and Silence but decided to call it a day in 1997. Wheeler and Gavurin, as far as we know did not continue in the music business. A sad loss.

22. The Pixies – Doolittle

The Pixies stand as one of the most important bands of the late 1980s, their sound helping to define the alternative music scene through the early 1990s. Doolittle is an album where everything just works perfectly, adding a pop perfection to the abrasive sonic elements that they had already displayed on their previous album Surfer Rosa. It kicks off with ‘Debaser’ which, along with the timeless pop of ‘Here Comes Your Man’, would be the soundtrack to many an indie disco for years to come. The album showcases just how many styles of music that lead singer Black Francis and co. were comfortable with, and it never becomes predictable or formulaic. ‘Dead’ is all evil sounds and erratic guitar, ‘Hey’ is the closest thing that the band released to a standard love song, and lyrically it strays far from any romantic formula. ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’ may well be the best single of the band’s career, and shows what an interesting lyricist Black had become. Two albums later it was all over (until the inevitable reunion), but in 1989 this remarkable album was the sound of a band at the peak of their powers.

21. New Order – Power Corruption Lies


1981’s Movement may have been New Order’s first album, but it wasn’t until 1983 with the release of the single Blue Monday and their second album Power Corruption Lies that they successfully stepped out of the shadow of Joy Division. With Power Corruption Lies there were still nods to the downbeat electronic direction that Joy Division was heading in before the death of enigmatic front man Ian Curtis and they became New Order.  ‘We All Stand’ and ‘586’ certainly follow this path. But the bulk of the album is upbeat and pop savvy, showing the dance influences that would shape the band’s music for much of the decade to come. ‘Age of Consent’ and ‘The Village’ are among the most beautiful guitar and synth pop tracks you will ever hear and among our highlights on this great introduction to the Manchester band.

by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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