Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Oh dear. With a post title like that I can only begin to imagine what kind of oddballs I'll get dropping by. Relax though, there's nothing in the slightest bit Stuart Hall-ish here ladies and gentlemen (seriously...is there a single male TV 'personality' who didn't spend the 60s, 70s and 80s fiddling with kids?), nope it's just the new single from Brooklyn's TEEN. Imagine the Cocteau Twins getting it on with Echo and the Bunnymen and The Inspiral Carpets and...er...it probably wouldn't sound anything like this. Still, it's ruddy good.
Monday, June 17, 2013
God Damn release their brain meltingly splendid new 6 track EP, Heavy Money today, less than a week after guitarist and vocalist Dave Copson was involved in an horrendous car crash. Happily the latest news from the hospital is encouraging and the outpouring of love and positive comments from friends, fans and the Birmingham music scene in general has been pretty bloody heart warming. If good vibes help in situations like this (and call me an old hippy but I reckon they do) Dave will hopefully soon be back where he belongs, rocking the bejesus out of the place. Get well soon dude. x
Guilty secret time. I love The Carpenters. Then again maybe it’s not such a guilty secret anymore. Didn’t they get a bit trendy a few years ago? Who cares, that combination of Karen Carpenter’s contralto voice (this is basically pretty deep for a lady) and brother Richard’s lush musical arrangements was and is one of pop’s golden moments. Sadly the delightful Ms Carpenter was haunted by anorexia for much of her short life and passed away back in 1983 aged just 32 so - short of cracking out the ouija board - this show’s as close to hearing her live as you’re going to get. Tribute shows can be painfully naff and given The Carpenters less than cool image to begin with the whole night could have easily descended into a beige nightmare of sentimentality and MOR mush. Whilst this evening skirted close to this once or twice (I’ve never been a huge fan of the whole clapping and singing along thing) the five piece band (four chaps and ‘Karen’) managed to recreate that distinctive sound remarkably well. If you’re a big Carpenters fan it takes a while to adjust your head though as, for obvious reasons, ClaireFurley looks nothing like Karen Carpenter. Of course this is a very good thing. For much of her career Karen frankly looked dangerously ill (as we now know she was), a fragile creature with a voice way out of proportion to the feeble frame that spawned it. So when that voice – and at times it’s spookily accurate – comes out of the body of someone else it’s all a little...well...unsettling. Shut your eyes for a moment though and readjust and as the night progresses you get used it. I’m guessing it wouldn’t be much of an issue if you hadn’t spent hours watching Carpenters videos. Whoops...there goes another guilty secret.
As you’d expect the setlist is a trawl through many of The Carpenters’ biggest hits, punctuated by little bits of history from jovial musical director and pianist Phil Aldridge, together with a few lesser known tracks including the painfully poignant Now, the last song Karen ever recorded. Listened to all in one evening it’s a neat reminder of just how varied their music actually was, from the jaunty pop of Top Of The World through to the Cajun influenced Jambalaya (On The Bayou), the jazzy This Masquerade and on to the weird sci-fi shout out of Calling Occupants. Richard and Karen’s willingness to embrace all sorts of genres, albeit with that distinctive Carpenters sheen very clearly audible, is perhaps sadly overlooked these days.
With a band made up of musicians who have, at various times, played with Amy Winehouse, Alfie Boe, Chris De Burgh and Westlife (come on now, everyone has to earn a living) the playing is pretty top notch. The dude who played the sax, clarinet, flute, tambourine (often seemingly all at the same time) was particularly impressive. Naturally Claire’s the star of the show though and her ability to make the delivery of these songs sound easy (I’m no singer but I can recognise just how tricky this is) is pretty incredible. Just once or twice in the whole evening there was a slight breathing issue (and I’m being ultra picky here) which kind of underlines this fact. Close To You however was the most perfect rendition you’re ever going to hear and it’s worth the price of a ticket alone. Whilst The Carpenters music is perhaps the ultimate in easy listening performing it this well is anything but. For a couple of hours it really was Yesterday Once More...
PS: For some reason I can’t find any clips of the show online, so I’ve posted the original Close To You up here. Trust me it’s pretty much identical to what you’ll hear.
Friday, June 14, 2013
Okay, let’s begin this with a little disclaimer. No one paid for their tickets for last night’s Willy Moon gig on a barge so the amount of ire that can be heaped upon Ray-Ban and the hapless PR company that 'organised' this is limited. BUT if you’re going to hold an event to promote a brand in a positive way don’t, whatever you do, cock things up as badly as this.
Here’s the brief background story (life’s too short to spend hours on this). Ray-Ban decided to run a series of gigs across the UK to promote their eyewear and gave out free tickets to lucky competition winners or people who simply tweeted their details. So far so good. Great in fact. What a simply smashing idea eh chums? I’m sure the other gigs were a huge success and everyone had a super time. In Birmingham though there was clearly a bit of a cock up (insert your own Willy/cock/penis jokes here). For some ruddy silly reason the organisers had given out at least twice as many tickets as they had spaces on the barge. Despite turning up nearly an hour before the gig was due to start we were a good 10 or so places away from standing a chance of getting on. Why do this? Why get people to traipse along, raise their hopes and get them to queue up for an hour then happily chug off into the sunset leaving at least 50% of the ‘winners’ behind? You don’t need to be a PR genius to see that this isn’t the way to make a good impression. Having made the cock up though why not use your brain and do something about it? Here are a few ideas for starters. Instead of sailing the boat along the canal leave it moored and let Willy play outside. Far more people would see this (more people...brand awareness...get it?) and everyone would go home happy. Or, at the very least, allow Willy to play a few numbers outside for those who weren’t able to get on the boat. Or have two sailings with shorter performances. See? It ain’t rocket science. It’s just BASIC PR.
Having missed out on the barge gig we were asked to wait around so that we could design our own t-shirts. Okay. I’ll play along. We were ushered into a small tent and given a cheap t-shirt and some marker pens that had seen better days. The spray cans of paint had run out and the metal studs in pots had started to go rusty. Tetanus anyone? It was a remarkably shabby affair, more suited to an inner city playgroup that had fallen on hard times rather than a $multi-million global brand. We were then asked to pose in our creations. You’d expect the PR bods to take pictures to use but again they failed to make anything of what could have been a bit of fun. If you had a camera (I didn’t) they’d snap a picture of you but what the hell was the point of that? Why not take their own shots and stick them online? To...you know...raise the profile of the whole campaign. Er...isn’t that the point of PR? I have no idea who was responsible for this fiasco but they should start looking for another job. There are plenty of interesting larger venues across Birmingham that would have been better suited to this kind of event or, as already suggested, they could just have had two sailings. For what it’s worth I’ve tweeted Ray-Ban and I’ll post any response I get up here too but I’m not holding my breath.
EDIT: I swiftly received a very nice response from Ray-Ban and the kind offer of a goodie bag. I wasn't expecting this and, as I said at the beginning of this piece, no one had paid for a ticket so there was really no need for them to offer me anything. Good to see a global business listening to a local voice.
Thursday, June 13, 2013
Good grief, you can tell it's festival season again. Lord...or Lordi even...help the poor sods at Download/Downpour this weekend. Still, it's what we do well here in the UK, trudging around in the mud...or a least what we choose to believe is mud but which is actually far more likely to consist of at least two forms of human waste. Anyway, despite the fact that Sabbath ain't playing Download this gives me as good an excuse as any to stick up their suitably ominous God Is Dead? Given the fact that god was 'invented' by man in a vague attempt to give life some sort of meaning and purpose this is a darn silly question, but it's Ozzy and he can be forgiven pretty much anything.
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
This Saturday. The Wagon and 'orses, Digbeth. Al Hutchins presents another fine Curate's Egg evening with post punk Peel favourite Inca Babies headlining and support from Brum's own The Courtesy Group and Horse Feathers. Entry just a fiver. Here's a taster...
As the grinding noise enters its fifth minute an old couple gingerly descend the stairs on their way out of the venue, hearing aids shot to pieces and the last blobs of Poligrip shaken free from their dentures. It’s just the fourth number of tonight’s gig and Neil Young and Crazy Horse seem determined to weed out/annihilate anyone who was expecting a gentle evening of folk tinged loveliness...
Before the sonic carnage, Los Lobos, a band forever associated with that big hit, La Bamba, treated the early arrivers (mainly those who’d given up on the queues for the bar or toilets) to a fine set of country rock and blues. Man mountain (seriously, this dude looks huge) and lead singer David Hildago led an extended rattle through the bluesy Chains of Love and drawled his way through Lobos classic Will The Wolf Survive. It was probably the shout out and dedication of one of the band’s Spanish language numbers to Black Sabbath that got the biggest cheer of the set though. The sheer number of people traipsing in and out of the venue during support bands’ sets in arenas like this does little to help create an atmosphere and frankly a band celebrating its 40th anniversary deserved better than this. An ear opening experience for anyone who’d had them pigeonholed as just one thing.
Looking round at some of the faces in the audience this evening Neil Young is clearly nothing short of a god. They’ve grown up with him, grown old with him and bought the t-shirts. As both he and they approach their own personal ‘harvest’ these songs are perhaps now taking on new meanings. That’s not to say that Young’s ready to burn out or fade away just yet. On the contrary, clearly there’s still plenty of fire in his belly (or environmentally friendly fuel in his tank if you prefer) judging by tonight’s crowd dividing set. On the one side you’ve got those who appreciate the, let’s say, more experimental side of Young’s oeuvre, on the other you’ve got those who quite like Harvest and After The Gold Rush. Never the twain shall meet.
The signs were all there from the start. Men in white coats bustled around the stage, overacting terribly and gesticulating wildly at a set of giant flight cases which were eventually raised up into the roof to reveal giant oversized amps. An enormous mic was hoisted on stage too. Read the signs people. This was going to get LOUD. Young and the Horse came on stage, standing with their hands on their hearts as the national anthem plays and a giant union jack flag’s unfurled at the back of the stage. It’s an odd way to start a gig to say the least but things would get a lot weirder for a sizable portion of the crowd.
Ragged Glory’s Love To Burn kicked things off pleasantly enough, with Surfer Joe and Moe The Sleaze’s garage rock upping the tempo and Psychedelic Pill’s psymple rock riffs giving the head nodders and toe tappers something to get stuck into. Then came Walk Like A Giant. Like three granite rock statues Young, Talbot and Sampedro gathered in a circle to grrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnnnnddddddd out minute after minute of noise, driving a small number of the audience out...never to return. Anyone with a reasonable knowledge of Young’s work with Crazy Horse wouldn’t have been surprised by this sonic assault (who can forget the 35 minute album of feedback they released back in the early 90s) but I’m guessing a few people weren’t aware that these dudes can get loud and, hell, let’s say it, wilfully obtuse. After the barmy comes the balm though and as the flag at the back of the stage changed to the Woodstock logo the crowd’s stretched patience was rewarded with the appearance of folk Neil courtesy of Hole In The Sky and Blowin’ In The Wind, sandwiching arguably his greatest moment...Heart of Gold. Now he is indeed “growing old” (unlike when he wrote the song in his twenties) the song’s quiet desperation and fragility is even more moving and tonight’s rendition, just Neil and his harmonica (thankfully we were spared a grunge version), was one of those magical musical moments that any gig goer lives for. Withdrawing to a piano that looked every bit as beaten up as its player the unreleased track Singer Without a Song was perhaps tonight’s best platform for Shakey’s equally tremulous vocal which somehow simultaneously sounds like the voice of someone who’s 16 and 65. It’s almost as moving as Heart Of Gold, although the addition of a young lady wandering across the stage carrying a guitar case did little to enhance the song’s glorious 3am bar at the end of the road mood. Speaking of the demon drink (by the way surely Satan had a hand in the £4 a bottle prices in here tonight...scandalous) new album Psychedelic Pill’s Ramada Inn’s tale of love on the rocks (literally) is rapidly becoming a fan favourite. Deservedly so. Although it clocks in at 15 minutes or so this is one case where length and song gel, the agonising guitar and Young’s pleading “He loves her so” providing a musical kick in the guts that’s all too rare these days. Impressive guitar solos for a dude in his late 60s with an ominously bandaged wrist too.
The treats weren’t over yet though and Cinnamon Girl’s killer riffs (surely a big influence of some of REM’s stuff) and hippy-ish chorus pleased the hairier members of the audience. Clearly Young’s short of material though (joke) given the tiresome extended version of Fuckin’ Up. Getting the crowd to shout “You’re just a fuck up” over and over again (yawn) is the kind of juvenile nonsense you’d expect from N-Dubz. Stop it. Cortez the Killer received an appreciative whoop from the hardcore fans before an impressively meaty Rolling Stones-ish take on Buffolo Springfield’s Mr Soul. Satisfaction pretty much guaranteed. The grunge lovers anthem and Cobain suicide note inspiring Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black) capped off the show with another extended freak out, perhaps justifying some audience members’ grumbles about “too much filler and not enough killer”. But I guess that’s just Neil Young and Crazy Horse being Neil Young and Crazy Horse. You want 3 minute pop songs go see Little Mix (ask your grandchildren). Encore Powderfinger sent both the folkies and the rockers on their way happy, capping off a nearly three hour set that ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous (and all points in between). Young and Crazy Horse certainly don’t play it safe but 45 years into their partnership surely that’s something to be admired? Keep on shocking in the free world dudes...
PS: The vid at the top of this piece is obviously from a previous show but it gives you a decent idea of how things went down last night.
Monday, June 10, 2013
Bearwood Shuffle V featuring Moselele, Amelia Wallace. Tempting Rosie, Paul Murphy, Gucci Pimp (& DJ Craig) with compere Gavin Young
Appropriately enough the fifth Bearwood Shuffle saw five great acts take to the Lightwoods’ Park bandstand on a freakily bright and sunny Sunday...you’d almost think it was summertime eh? Moselele kicked things off, an ever growing collective of ukulele players they put their own unique spin on everything from The Killers’ Mr Brightside to The Violent Femmes’ Blister in the Sun. Great fun. Amelia Wallace (does anyone have a link to her website?!) stunned the gently roasting crowd with her own songs and covers including a ‘better than the original’ versh of Alt J’s Matilda (so much lovelier than that bloke with the silly voice...I’m sure he’s a terrific fellow but damn it, he sounds like he’s trapped his nuts in a car door). Tempting Rosie served up another delicious portion of reggae‘n’ska ending their set with the classic Monkey Man which even got me dancing. Not something you’re likely to see very often these days. Expect an essential new EP from them very soon. How do you follow that? In line with the Shuffle’s philosophy of mixing things up the legendary Paul Murphy (possibly one of the nicest and most interesting chaps you’d ever hope to meet) kept me pretty much entranced with a mix of songs and poems including my all time personal favourite Shoplifters Talking Blues. Today’s fascinating fact...did you know that Murph hung around with Lemmy from Motorhead back in the 60s? Nope, me neither. Happily he’s in the process of writing his autobiography (along with several other fascinating projects). Trust me, that’s one book you’re going to want to read. All too soon (tempus fugit) Gucci Pimp rocked things to a close delivering some impressive speaker shredding riffs as the crowd polished off the remains of their picnics. Compere for the day the irrepressible Gavin Young did a top notch job of introducing the bands and DJ Craig (in da park) somehow resisted the temptation of hardcore techno to deliver some suitably summery tunes in between the sets.
Huge thanks to the stallholders, Musoplex for the loan of the sound equipment, all who came along and threw some money in the buckets (including a distinctly chilled out Stuart Maconie from 6 Music’s Radcliffe and Maconie show) and our chums at the best Fish and Chip restaurant in the universe, Chamberlains, who sponsored the event. Without the generous support of all of the above and, of course, then bands themselves these events simply wouldn’t exist. We’ll be back...
Friday, June 07, 2013
Friday again and remarkably the sun seems set to shine pretty much for the whole weekend, which is as good enough a reason as I need to stick up this little beauty from The Violent Femmes. In you're in Brum on Saturday I believe both Tom Peel and Cannon Street are playing at the Custard Factory during the day sometime and, of course, on Sunday there's the Bearwood Shuffle. Whatever you're doing eat, drink and be messy x