Livemusic Reviews 2008 Music Community Site Music Community Site

A selection of reviews written for

Long Live Long Insiders – But Don’t Give the Dog a Bone
February, 2008

The Long Insiders played a rawer, raucous loud set at Turnmills. Sarah Dodd’s sultry honey vocals were spiked with an unfamiliar untamed edge; while Nick Kenny’s surf guitar cranked up to create an atmospheric wall of sound. The later numbers of the set such as “All the Tears…” were delivered with an energy and passion, which while engaging, was bordering on the manic at times. I have to confess I felt the vocalist had to fight a bit with the tsunami of reverb by that point!

Still it was another tour-de-force from one of the Oxford music scene’s most exciting new bands … there’s a real presence and edge to this band, from the cleverly crafted vocal lines, to the emotive depth of sound from Kenny’s Stratocaster. They’re definitely worth catching while they’re still playing smaller intimate venues in London.

I wish I could say the same about the next band – Dogbones.

From what I could make out over the far less pleasing wall-of-uncomfortable-noise Dog-bones were a loud as f*ck Nirvana-esque, take no prisoners, proto-punk tribute band. The presence of two incredibly loud drummers (with no snare!) conjuring up what at first sounded like a tribal sound mixed with the harsh jangled fuzz-box guitars … just ended up reminding me of really really loud band practices that pretty much damaged my hearing!

The mute applause after each of the songs that all sounded the same was a testament to the audience’s befuddlement. Damn it Mr Sound Engineer they were just too loud for such a small space and most of us ended up with an “ice cream headache”. Personally I think the Sound Engineer had been in way too many loud band practices and was frankly deaf as a post – which accounted for the Long Insiders rawer performance earlier! I couldn’t stay for the headline band … someone told me they were worse (and louder!)

Let’s hope Turnmills get the sound system right next time so that the quality bands can shine through, rather than drowning in a sea of noise!

The Sky’s the limit … February 2008

Following the success of their second studio album Skybound , Baxter & his band once again returned to the Olympia in Dublin, a city and country that has become the band’s second home.

Baxter has a lot more presence in the Irish music scene compared to London, and subsequently receives more attention from the music press and more airplay on Irish radio … the Emerald Isle has ever been a fertile stomping ground for singer songwriters such as David Gray, Damien Rice & Declan O’Rourke (to name a few!) and Tom Baxter it seems is no exception.

Consequently, Baxter is a lot more well-known to the general gig going public, and as such there was a sizeable, slightly sozzled, audience packing into the faded fin-de-siècle opulence that is the Olympia Theatre. It is true to say that an Irish audience is always up for a bit of craic, especially if they’ve been drinking a few pints of the black stuff to keep out the damp and the chills – and they definitely weren’t to be disappointed this night!

The size of the venue was perfect and seemed a long way from the slightly bizarre Amadeus gig I had seen 18 months before in Maida Vale, London. Because Baxter, and particularly Better is all over Irish Radio, and the album Skybound is in the Top 10 of the Irish charts, this has meant that his music has reached a fair number of people in Ireland … and so instead of playing to just over a hundred or so people in London, Baxter and his band now sell out fairly large capacity Irish Victorian music halls.

To be honest I’ve always been a tiny bit disappointed with the UK gigs, mainly because Tom seems to pretty much avoid playing too much from the Sony era (i.e. the album and singles before Skybound) … but I had heard that his Irish gigs (particularly the one at Whelans in 2005) were phenomenal so I decided to have a trip to Dublin and check it out …

After a support slot from solo pianist-vocalist Max Greenwood, to warm up the audience, Baxter and his band took the stage, opening – similarly to the last two gigs I’d seen in the UK – with the jazzy-funky toe-tapping number On A Night Like This. Tom Fry’s stand-up bass thumped out the catchy bass-line and got the crowd swaying in sympathy to the cool groove of the song. On A Night … led effortlessly into a rousing anthemic version of the title track of the latest album, the eponymous Skybound, which was a lot more impressive live with it’s rousing crescendo – you could really feel that Baxter had quickly caught the full attention of the audience.

Now he had their attention Baxter didn’t let it go, and the catchy latino rhythms of Tell Her Today were unleashed onto the crowd – the “Buena Vista-esque” Cuban-jam finale, featuring a particularly impressive outburst from keyboard player Danny Keane.

An older song,Half a Man, more reminiscent of the oft compared Jeff Buckley, followed using an impressive reverb overdriven telecaster, rather than the more customary acoustic guitar. I’ve always liked this song and to be honest, as good as the new songs are, I’ve always enjoyed the rawer emotional edge of this song and some of the more bitter -than-sweet lyrics of the Sony era tracks. A Day in Verona was also from this period, and the true character of the “Dub “crowd came to the fore as Baxter tried to explain the origins of the song, but was quickly a victim of a good-natured heckle to “Get on and play it then Tom, ya bollix” … or something like that!

The stage then cleared and left the Suffolk Songwriter alone with the audience. Hot Wax to a Stone wove it’s bittersweet charm on the crowd. Apparently this song has become a favourite of the live audiences despite missing both albums and it’s easy to see why. In my mind it draws heavily, both in melody and sentiment, from Peter Sarstedt’s Where Do You Got To My Lovely? – a song Baxter has previously covered – and the comparison bears scrutiny against the depth of Baxter’s talents as songwriter.

Icarus Wings is another song with a heavy Latino influence, gained from some of Tom’s odysseys traveling through Latin America, which added to the party atmosphere … by the time the band had finished this and launched into the current single Better, the crowd was well in the mood for some sing-a-longa participation, which, due to heavy radio airplay of the single, they were able to do admirably! And it’s fair to say that pretty much everyone in Ireland can sing, so it was a pretty accomplished and pleasing harmony adding a new dimension to what Baxter and his sister, backing vocalist Vashti, had already started off on stage.

By the time the balladeer essence of Tom Baxter had launched into the showpiece Almost There, the crowd was completely rapt. It’s not one of my personal favourites I confess, but I know I’m in the minority as everyone else, including my girlfriend, loves the song … and even to me it more than justify’s the plaudits surrounding both Baxter’s vocal dexterity and his skill in writing vocal harmonies. For me though it’s a bit of a choice of Tom the voice against Tom the singer-songwriter; and to me Almost There is too much of a vocal showboat…

However the finale of Don’t Let Go suffers from none of this extroversion and is just a straight forward, well-written, well-crafted piece of instrumental and vocal emotion. It starts with a very Irish-jig sounding melody and weaves layer upon layer of sound, from the keyboards,to the acoustic guitar, to the stand up bass, to the cavernous sounding drums of Ché Albright and the beautiful refrains of Oli Langford’s fiddle. It’s easy to see why this is such a popular end song and to be frank it is always one of the highlights of a Tom Baxter gig – tonight was no exception.

After some loud pleading from the, by now, fairly ecstatic crowd, Baxter returned to the stage. The crowd were treated to a fine rendition of Love is not Enough, followed by the stand-out track of his first single My Declaration. This clearly also got a lot of airplay in Ireland on its release, and the crowd once again, in full Celtic voice, augmented the passion and sentiment of the original song. I’ve always felt it was a great piece of song-writing and hearing it sung with at least a hundred other voices joining Baxter’s, was quite a cathartic experience.

Once again the pleading of the crowd (including waves of applause and hoots of pleasure) prised Baxter from backstage. After some thanks he closed his set, on his own, with a contrastingly intimate song. I actually don’t know the name of the song but I remember his brother, Charlie Winston, had once before played something similar at the Tom Baxter gig in the Soho Arts Theatre. It’s a song about half-broken dreams and the pace of life, and combines humour and sadness in equal measure, finishing with a crowd sing-a-long of “row your boat, gently down the stream, merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream …”

Frankly the last was a masterpiece and really encapsulated the full song-writing talents of Baxter in one number – from his double-edged lyrics, to his warmth and humour, to his obvious abilities as a virtuoso performer to enthrall a crowd with just his voice and a guitar.

The success of Skybound has proved he doesn’t need the resources of a major label to reach an audience – like the Troubadours of the middle-ages, the prowess, passion and power of his live performances are reaching the ears of many via the refreshingly old-school method of word-of-mouth … if Baxter continues to build on this success then he will indeed maintain his momentum and continue his journey sky wards.

Emperors – Lords of the fly March, 2008

Following some Blink182-Greenday clones from South West England, Tom Mckean and his fellow potentates took to the stage with their usual self-assured, laid back composure.

I’d met Tom briefly before the gig, wrapped up in a big scarf to keep out the February chills and sniffles – which he was already suffering from! But no doubt a few whiskies from his homeland had chased away any vestiges of lingering malady, and by the time he took to the stage, all evidence of the winter blues had left his frame.

A sizeable crowd had swelled to see Mr McKean and his comrades and to be honest they took a while to settle. However, by the time the emotive opening number Hold Onto Me had reached its crescendo, the inebriated crowd was singing and swaying along to the soothing sounds of the Emperors’ frontman.

By the time he’d steered us through A Little Something and This Is The Year there was an audible hush during the more quiet passages of these emotional journeys. In fact the latter number had been touchingly dedicated to the steadfast Emperors guitarist and sometime backing vocalist, Bobby Williams, who had originally written the song.

McKean followed this up with a Johnny Cash inspired number – a song that had it’s origins from when Tom (sans Emperors) had sent JC a CD of some acoustic demos he’d done, and was hoping that he might consider it for the American Recording sessions JC was doing at the time. However it came around that the Man died the same week the CD arrived … It’s little gems like these that keep a crowd interested, and once again the rogue-ish warmth of McKean worked it’s magic on the audience. Like a Southern States whisky preacher, McKean is at his best when he takes his listeners on a roller-coaster emotional journey, from the lows to the highs, and from the dark to the light. He even has a signature hand-gesture that is reminiscent of a preacher exorcising the drab and dreary spirits from his congregation, re-invigorating us all for a few precious moments. Well it was either that or the shot of Jagermeister I’d just swigged down …

One Thing On My Mind had it’s usual smattering of the sweet-toned clarinet sounds of keyboard player Andy Simms, while Tell The Angels was, as always, one of the stand-out songs of the set. Till The Day I Die featured some great drumming from Ian Ross, who also showed his versatility later by playing the mandolin on a lesser performed acoustic ragtime-jazz number Fever.

Mckean and his lads even managed to fit in a few newer numbers such as Feels Like We Might Just Make It Out Of Here Alive which was much rockier than I remembered – and consequently a much more successful outing than the first time I’d heard it at the Borderline. This last number emphasized the fact that all the way through the set, the drummer, and no-fuss bass player Ed Miller, had given all the songs a tight platform from which Messrs Mckean and Williams could build their impassioned harmonies and melodies.

As is customary, after some pantomime, The Emperors played their only cover number as the closing song – the Jolie Holland penned Old Fashioned Morphine. After the Emperors had left the stage the crowd was once again left hungry for more … but like the final song, I still felt the lingering warm glow akin to the golden brown claws of the eastern dragon, as we stepped into the chill night air and wended our respective ways home. As I said though it was probably a couple of Jagermeisters on a “school night” that really did that …

Northern Rock March, 2008

Unlike the tabloid furore surrounding current governmental financial mismanagement, the Jones’s brand of northern rock is something to get excited about.

Despite the acoustic short-comings of Turnmills as a live music venue, the mid-week London audience was treated to a display of impassioned, potent and gutsy, classic rock.

The line up at Turnmills had included the Buddha Pests, who’d opened with a set of jangly country-indie rock, and Sub-Pop Sunday, a standard indie-pop outfit that raised themselves above mediocre with some inventive inclusions of Samba and Brazilian drumming-rhythms.

The Jones however set the standard of what the other bands should aim for, with an assured performance of cleverly constructed anthemic rock. Kris Jones, front-man of the eponymous Jones, has all the qualities you need to front a rock band. Tall, charismatic, engaging, with a good vocal range and a cheeky rogue-ish charm that he uses to good effect between numbers. Unlike the rest of the band, who hail from their native Leeds, Kris Jones is a Welshmen … and as such has a good deal of the rock-star qualities you’d associate with either Kelly Jones or James Bradfield.

The rest of the band fill their roles with a great deal of verve and vigour and are all accomplished musicians in their own right. Kev Jones weaves rock harmonies and melodies around Adam Jones more spiky, grungy guitar riffs; while Jono Jones on his 5-string bass, and Mike Jones on drums, keep things as tight as a vice. Stand out songs such as Shotgun and Wide Awake really throw down the glove to the London Rock scene, and mark the Jones’ ascent and coming of age, from adolescent nascent indie rockers, to a fully mature classic rock outfit.

As I’d pointed out the last time I reviewed a gig at Turnmills, the sound isn’t great. And the presence of a cameraman shooting some footage for an upcoming “rockumentary” meant that there were occasionally some distractions. However the Jones rose above these and thumped out some great numbers and a real performance: something that is sometimes lacking in these smaller venues.

Following the Jones, in the “graveyard slot” the Last Details closed the evening with a good humoured set made up of rough-shod indy numbers reminiscent of the Walkmen or Kings of Leon. However, in my mind (and a few other punters) they were pulled out of the ordinary by a quite exceptional drummer who would have given Dave Grohl in his heyday a good run for his money! They showed an inventiveness, passion and appetite for song-writing and playing live that will hopefully propel them onwards and upwards…

For my money though (which is luckily not anyway near any ailing northern financial institutions!) the high point of the gig had been the Jones brand of potent, emotionally-charged northern rock. Nice one lads … I’ll see you next time you venture to the South!

Raison D’Etre Pour La Couer et Pour La Tete March 2008

Koko is a really impressive venue – from the Dante’s Inferno-like deep hues of red splashed over the baroque friezes of the former Edwardian Theatre, to the truly immense glitter-ball that hangs, like a kind of ballroom version of the “Sword of Damocles”, over the heads of the punters on the dance-floor. It was a fantastic venue to showcase all that is new and different and unusual … and it certainly was all three.

Raison D’Etre is the lovechild of Promoter-musician Yvan Serrano (aka DJ Healer Selecta) and like-minded compère Crystal, who believe in independent and underdog music rather than just big-names. (Just like the crew!) The whole night had a ‘mini-festival’ feel, and by the time I arrived at 8-ish the party was already in full swing.

After a brief intro from Crystal, dressed up in true kitsch-Parisian faux-FiFi fashion, the Ventriloquist, an urban beat poet I have had the pleasure of seeing several times before, neatly summarised the whole errr … raison d’etre in his inimitable rhyming couplets style!

Let me tell you about a place, you might have already heard:
You can see belly dancers and hear spoken word.
You’ll hear black man, white man, yellow blues
Broken beats bashed out by feet in crazy tap shoes.
There are spanish senoritas playing gypsy jazz
And a dreadlocked dread I Knight playing roots style – whereas
In some clubs, you might expect just one or two flavours,
Here cuban congaleros hang out with spaced out ravers.
We’ve got chinese, japanese, israelis and portugese
Seize the moment, carpe diem, sieze the day.
We’ve got rock and rollers, sunday strollers
Stray cats in pork pie hats, sing your troubles away..

Mr Healer he’s the dealer in soul reviving funk
You can get so happy dancing – you don’t even have to get drunk.
There are nutty noisy africans with percussive pedigrees
Soul divas and boogaloo bands to bring you to your knees.
Its the only place in london I can feel this free
we’re all free to be ourselves you be you and I’ll be me.

But the thing I find strange is the place it changes
The venue rearranges, but the vibe remains the same.
I know there’s no chance, i won’t do a little dance
Adopt a laughing stance, you see its all the name
The name of this bash is Raison d’Etre
“Il y a une grande soirée pour le cÅ“ur et pour la tête”
and for those of you, who don’t know what it is I just said
I said its “Reason To Be for the heart and for the head”

courtesy and © The Ventriloquist 2008

Now that I had the idea what I was in for (and having knocked back some shots of Jagermeister à la Camden-style!) I relaxed into the laid-back Blue Note inspired grooves of soul-jazz septet Jezebel 6. Referencing some of the finer moments of the early sixties, and artists such as Lonnie Liston Smith, they certainly got the crowd’s toes tapping and hips swaying to their infectious beats.

After another brief intro from Crystal, reminding us that this was the 6th Anniversary Birthday of Raison D’Etre … and the crowd were given their “birthday present” through the medium of burlesque. Miss Bijou Noir treated the crowd to a fine performance of subtle titillation, through layers of French Revolutionary fin-de-siècle finery – accompanied by wolf-whistles and much general hubbub and excitement from the crowd.

Following Miss Bijou,a tap-dancing performance from resident Reason2Be hoofer Joe … and then DJ Healer Selecta himself took to the decks. DJ Healer Selecta has been described by Mojo magazine as “the DJ who has made London swing again” … Well they weren’t wrong, and while his decks mixed up a great combination of break-beats, the audience were treated to some fine ragga-rap from Asher Storm, some reggae-soul from Reason2Be diva Elsa Chapman, and some great dancing and powerful singing from soul compatriot Aina – who reminded me greatly of Neneh Cherry in her heyday! I have to say I’m usually not a fan of DJs, but when the DJ can mix like Healer Selecta andplay some fantastic guitar riffs to his own mixes and dance away to himself at the same time …. then he has my vote. Anyway, any man that uses his forehead to head-butt the tubes of his valve amp and punctuate his already impressive guitar work, is obviously a man to watch! I’ve also rarely seen one of those smug dance DJs hold one record in his mouth while he selects another rare groove track, all the while mixing and scratching like a mad-jazz monkey on amphetamines. I take my hat off to you DJ Healer Selecta sir!

Following the DJ and dub set were Size 9, supposedly London’s finest Soul-Funk-Latin-Hip Hop Orchestra. To be honest it wasn’t my thing and ended up sounding to me a bit like a wedding-singer band doing Jamiroquai numbers … however the lead trumpet player and keyboard player was someone worth watching with his frankly mad antics and clearly stacks of talent. Just shame the rest of the band weren’t up too much in my opinion … I was clearly in a minority though as the rest of the audience, as diverse as they were in music and fashion tastes, seem to unite and cheer and dance along to everything. Maybe that Jagermeister was stronger than I thought …

Charlie Winston rounded off the night, this time with a full band and a 5 piece brass section – very different to the last time I saw him, when he did a solo performance at the Soho Theatre. To be honest Charlie Winston was the main reason I’d come along, as I’d caught him supporting his brother Tom Baxter a year before, and had liked his more quirky and surreal approach to the singer-songwriter genre. Now he had a full-band, numbers such as “My Life as A Duck” and “Hobo” had a real tidal wave of energy and joie de vivre.
Personally I thought some of the subtleties of his solo performance were absent and the sound was a bit ropey all through the night but there was no doubting that his confidence and song-writing ability remain on an upward track. Like-spirited muse, harmonica player Benjamin Edwards added a new dimension to his live act and Charlie’s unique performance got a deservedly warm reception from the Raison D’Etre crowd (even if they had thinned out somewhat to catch the last tube home by the end)

This cabaret of the sometimes absurd, celebrating the joie de vivre of the performance scene in London from music, to poetry to dance, was certainly enjoyable and I hope to pitch up again next year … As Crystal the compère said “there is no quality without love” and there was plenty of both on offer this year.

The Long Insiders @ The 12 Bar Club April 2008
The classic 12-Bar Venue – a positively grungy, Bohemian bear-pit of a venue – played host to an explosive performance by one of Oxford’s most exciting new bands.

The warm-up act had been a refreshing acoustic Country-Rockabilly set from J.D. Smith, who had, apparently, obligingly come off the street that afternoon to play the opening slot as the support band had cried off! The tone for the gig had thus been set by this energetic one-man-band who filled the stage from the floors to the vaulted rafters with his jangly wall-of-noise slide-guitar. The Long Insiders continued in the same manner with a rough-edged performance, spilling over with intensity, emotion and raw power.

Sarah Dodd’s sexy presence had an immediate impact with the audience, a sultry siren bouyed aloft by the waves of Nick Kenny’s Americana-riffs, her powerful emotive voice becoming the centre-piece for the opening number Changeling.

While Nick Kenny looked at the fancy footwear (which was all he could see off the punters up in the gallery!) the rest of the audience was dazzled by his fancy footwork with his bank of fx. In fact the audience were treated to an all round pretty fancy display of his lead guitar work too and this was particularly to the fore as the Long Insiders settled into their set with fantastically powerful renditions of No Class, Shades, Sinner and You take the Summer.

Simon Kenny, bass, and drummer Dan Goddard, set up a solid foundation for the numbers on the precariously high stage, while the sexual tension and emotional angst developed between singer and lead guitarist. The taut love-hate
friction between the two is what is at the heart of both the songwriting and indeed the performance. Dodds switches from a honey-voiced seductive temptress to a sneering antagonist in a heart-beat – and the audience is left somewhat bewildered as to whether she wants to tear the clothes from his back or the flesh from his bones! Couple that with some fantastically powerful vocals from both singer and guitarist, some highly stylised and individual riffs from Nick Kenny, and solid pounding rhythms from brother Simon and stalwart sticksman Dan Goddard, and you have a powerful and mesmeric performance.

Between numbers Sarah Dodds coolly sips at her white wine while Nick develops a rapport with the audience. Cocaine and Gin were quickly downed and the toe-tapping rockabilly-esque No Baby No evoked some of the antics and raw sex appeal of old-skool stylised surf-guitar bands such as the Cramps.

However, it was the finale song All the Tears that will probably stay in the audience’s minds as the stand-out number of the evening. This really showcases the Long Insiders very individual sound and displays to good effect the conflict of emotions that Kenny and Dodds weave onstage.

The 12 Bar Club performance was definitely rawer and less-refined than the previous times I’d seen the Insiders – but they certainly let rip and there was a kind of pristine, sharpened steel quality to their raw edges. As one punter remarked, making a comparison to the Rodrigues masterpiece “Dusk ’til Dawn”: ‘all we needed to top the evening off was a semi-clad dancer, a snake and a whole bunch of vampires on the lash!’

The Long Insiders definitely had a dangerous quality about them this night, and the performance was all the better for it … hopefully they will maintain this rawness and passion for their next trip down to London. See you there.

Troubadors of Americana April, 2008

The only thing that was really missing from my last review of the Long Insiders when they played at Denmark Street’s 12-Bar Club was a five star rating. However, this time at the Troubador which has become their London home-from-home, the performance was near perfection and the five star rating was very much deserved.

The rawer edge that had been present in both venue and sound-systems of the last couple of performances was gone; but in its place was an assured, more refined edge, and a perfect sound reproduction that allowed the audience an intimate glimpse into every nuance of the Long Insider’s stage-craft and song-writing.

Although the rawness had gone, there was still a dangerous edge to the conflict, tension, lust and passion that Sarah Dodds and Nick Kenny weave together on stage …

The opening number was a new song Liar, and at once Sarah Dodd’s powerful, emotive vocals had asserted her intentions for the night. Once again her sultry looks, coupled with the everpresent glass of white wine which she coolly sips between numbers, captured the hearts and minds of most of the male members of the audience. The contrasting facets of her performance from demure coquette to raging siren are
reminiscent of a femme fatale, wearing long black velvet gloves, innocently holding a silvered revolver.

Nick Kenny, the foil to her flirtations and seductions, played his Stratocaster with a precision and power that perfectly matched the highly stylised sound which best represents the soul of the Long Insiders. In fact due to the crystal clear PA I was able to really hear the subtleties of this virtuoso troubadour of the Americana sound… and I have to say I was hellish impressed. On numbers such as Shades and Sinner he played for all he was worth – like a man who was entering into a contract with a sultry Succubus who would be sucking out his soul in the not too distant future.

Simon Kenny, bass, and drummer Dan Goddard, were very much in the background. That being said, as a solid rhythm section, they provided the perfect platform for singer and lead guitarist to give it their all, as the sexual tension and emotional angst developed on stage, reaching its peak with No Baby No and another new song To The End.

As usual the finale song All the Tears was probably the pinnacle of the performance (although opening number Liar was a strong contender too!) but All the Tears does really showcase the Long Insiders very individual sound and displays to good effect the conflict of emotions being played out onstage.

The Troubador really feels like the natural home of the Long Insiders and the audience were indeed treated to a five star tour-de-force by Oxford’s most individual and exciting four-piece.

Follow The Holloway Road May, 2008

Nambucca is fast developing a reputation as a North London mecca for unsigned and lesser known bands. This former Irish pub drinking den has been transformed into a Camdenesque Casbah of Indie Cool … and, as such, is luring the bohemian types further north, up the Holloway Road, to catch a possle of young, hungry acts – all for not much more than a fiver entry fee.

Now I used to live on the Holloway Road, mind you that was in New Zealand rather than N7 – and it was as dead as dodo by 9pm on a Friday night. Fortunately in North London at 9pm, the Nambucca was bursting at the seams with Indie Rockers, Nu Ravers and Emos all getting ready for a big weekend. The Friday night slot is usually a showcase for 3 or 4 bands of new talent from mostly London and its sprawling environs; but tonight’s headliners The Jones had had an arduous journey down the M1 from the true North – namely Leeds.

The evening kicked off with a band that I missed unfortunately, so the first act I caught was the intriguingly named Untitled 1961s.

Unfortunately that turned out to be the only really intriguing thing about what amounted to, for the most part, rather formulaic “bedroom indie rock”. Yeah there were shades of the Wedding Present and Nirvana, and the bass player gave it 110% in posing around like Peter Hook-on-amphetamine sulphate… but his slightly excitable indie rich-kid banter between songs had him quickly marked down by myself, and some of the audience, as a bit of a wannabe. However the singer/guitarist was quite competent and I have to admit that one or two songs (that curiously both had a nautical angle to them) did stand out. Overboard was the first and had a good pumping end chorus “Where has our Captain gone …” The second had a sort of Russian boatman sound and a chorus of “shoreline” accompanied by some truly hectic drumming (didn’t catch the name of the song tho!). So after writing them off as common or garden North London Indie kids I think I’d actually enjoyed them by the end of their set … and maybe if the bass player had stuck to posing and not spoken between tracks I might have been less prejudiced against them to start with. Sheesh, he really had over-subscribed to the school of low-slung bass-playing though!

Second up were The Bikinis – a jiggy, slightly camp, indie-prog rock garage band. To be honest they were trying a bit too hard in my opinion to be the crazy Camden-esque rockers but, in my mind, ended up sounding like a pub-band version of the Strokes … I know that probably sounds a bit cruel, and it was enjoyable watching self-confessed Jagger-wannabe Drew Raven striking poses in his skinny black jeans – but I have to say the songs didn’t engage me much. I was surprised, as the Captain Sensible inspired red beret the lead guitarist wore should have endeared them a bit more to me … and the crunchy guitar riffs and swirling organ should have greatly contributed to an individual sound. But unfortunately, once I got it into my head that Raven sounded like a screetchy Kevin Rowland I couldn’t shift it … and it all ended up sounding to me like a sort of Post-Mod/Post-Garage Dexys Midnight Runners tribute band. Now that really is cruel and they were better than that … but the whole set seemed to be some sort of Shoreditch/Hoxton in-joke that was a bit tedious after one or two numbers.

Anyway on to the headliners, and what was after all – for me and my mates – the highlight of the evening.

The Jones brand of classic gutsy rock at once filled out the sound system in a much more pleasing and ‘fuller’ way than either of the preceding bands; and to me, frontman Kris Jones’ charismatic swagger and emotive voice, immediately trivialised the Bikinis’ front man’s rather comic capering (unless that’s your thing!) The Jones sound is an accomplished and appealing fusion of indie rock bands, and as they are fronted by a powerfully-voiced Welshman it’s difficult not to make flattering comparisons with bands such as the Stereophonics and the Manic Street Preachers. The powerful hooks, soaring vocals and sheer musicianship of the boys from up North does bear scrutiny with these Celtic indie-rock heavy-weights, and the majority of the set list consists of well crafted, passionately played classic rock anthems.

To be honest the sound system at Nambucca wasn’t that great, and that, coupled with the fact that the Jones’s late arrival meant they didn’t have time for a sound check, meant some of the earlier numbers were less than perfect. However, Mike Jones on drums and Jono Jones on his 5-string jazz bass stuck with it and provided thumping good rhythms to the songs, which soon allowed Adam Jones’ & Kev Jones’ guitar work to shine through and get the audience’s feet tapping. By the time the band got to their signature numbers Wideawake and Shotgun the sound and energy was in full flood – with Adam Jones’s crunchy, spikey guitar work being particularly impressive as he really pulled out all the stops (and all the FX pedals!)

Overall the evening was a bit of a mixed bag – the Jones had been the highlight of the evening, but the lack of soundcheck meant I had heard them sound better. There was definitely something to look out for in the song-writing (if not the performance) of Untitled 1961; and if The Bikinis were not my thing, I can imagine for the right crowd they might be just the ticket to get a party going … I just wish the sound system hadn’t been as ropey, for all the acts. Still I’ll be back, as a regular visit up the Holloway Road, is one way of getting to see a good swathe of the new and exciting in North London.

Party Like it’s 1969 … May 2008

The Pigalle Club situated in the heart of Picadilly has a pretty unique vibe for a Central London venue. Somewhere between gentleman’s club, review bar and swish West End cocktail bar.
Raison D’Etre – brainchild of party-minded Yvanne Serrano a.k.a. DJ Healer Selecta – had interested me greatly when I went to their 6th Birthday Event @ Koko’s last month. One thing I had felt though was that a slightly smaller venue and a more intimate setting would better suite the eclectic mix of bands and acts and so I went along to the Pigalle Club hoping that that would be the case.

And luckily it was.

The only place I’ve been before which had such an electric mix of talent, bonhomie and just downright determination to party it’s arse off was Café Wah in New York (where Jimi Hendirx amongst others cut his teeth before he was discovered by Animals bass-player Chas Chandler). The Pigalle Club shared some similarities being set underground and decked out somewhat eccentrically in fin-de-siécle décor – but the main thing it shared was the party vibe. The bands and acts seemed to be having just as much fun as the audience themselves – and to be honest after a few mojitos I got into the unique groove that Healer Selecta seems to be able to conjure up time and time again.

The opening act Hinda Hicks, set the tone of the Bohemian with her silken dress and her satin soul vocals, reminiscent of soul-singers of bygone years such as the late great Ella Fitzgerald. To complete the tableau of a 1920s jazz age speakeasy a large, sedentary BB King-esque guitar player accompanied her vocals with intricate riffs and lifts.

The odd mix of bohemian party crowd at a Raison D’Etre event – which spans ages, social demographics, ethnicity and neo-tribes – is always reflected in the diversity of the music. So it was no surprise that after some great retro Nu Yorica Roots sounds from the Selecta, the tables were cleared from the laid back vibe of the intial Cotton Club-esque set and the tempo cranked up for Hip Hop Diva Aina Kaya. Reminiscent of 80s icon Neneh Cherry, I had been previously impressed with Aina and how she worked with Healer Selecta’s mixing and brought a unique energy and edge to some rare ol’ grooves. Her act at the Pigalle was a bit curtailed, but nonetheless she had rallied everyone onto the dancefloor ready for the next bohemian to step onto the stage.

Charlie Winston is one of the most original singer-songwriters on the London music scene and is quite literally undefinable in terms of style and sound – which means he is a perfect match for a Raison D’Etre bash as they embrace the joie de vivre of all live music and the breadth of talent from their artists & performers. Charlie opened with the good-time reggae inspired beat of Allo Allo, Allo, Allo then seamlessly switched into to the bizarre but cool singalonga My Life as A Duck through to the radio-friendly new single (and TV adland favourite) I’m a Man. After some newer numbers he closed with the impressive standout track Like a Hobo which featured his trademark accapella percussive sounds and the copious harmonica talents of fellow muse Ben Edwards. Winston’s band, the Oxymorons, also featured the Afro hairstyles and 70s-styley talents of French bass & drums pair. Once again I had been impressed with the energy and enthusiasm of Charlie and his band, and it was great to see him and the rest of his band just jump into the crowd after the gig and join in the party with everyone else.

Final act “Back to the Rhythm” – a soul, jazz, hip hop orchestra – were less my thing but nonetheless the crowd were now fairly merry and up for partying into the wee hours … so it was well after 2am when most people had left the floor and the infectious brass section had helped everyone party away the night.

Of course one act that has hardly been mentioned is DJ Healer Selecta himself; the arch-daemon DJ mastablasta filling in the gaps with his unique old skool upbeat party pleasers – like Nu Yorica roots classics such as Horsin’ Up – which nicely linked back, in my mind, to that underground New York early sixties party vibe. Healer Selecta has been variously described by Timeout as “the DJ that has made London Swing again” and to be honest they’re not wrong!

The Birds of Avalon Descend On Albion June 2008

Following a slightly truncated set from Borderline stalwarts, Tom McKean and the Emperors – who were their usual accomplished selves and nicely warmed up the crowd with their unique fusion of acoustic folk, jazz and rock – the Birds descended on the stage.

The Birds, actually hail from Northern Carolina, but to be honest I missed that, and after a few numbers I had concluded that they were a West End version of early Iron Maiden with a Chelsea-based crew playing prog rock anthems to a crowd of Kensington trustafarians. I couldn’t have been more wrong as it turned out … but the music was definitely reminiscent of some of the finer moments of British Heavy metal from the early eighties. The only thing that was a bit off-kilter was the figure of a youthful-ish Gordon Brown thumping away on the bass, and the weird, nay pointless, keyboards.

I have to admit that after THREE very similar sounding, long-winded numbers I’d had enough – even though the unusual twin guitar combo sound featured the very watchable Cheetie Kumar, and the fact that I am personally an afficionado of early Iron Maiden, I couldn’t help feel that I’d heard it all before and that I’d prefer to listen to some early 80s British Heavy Metal on my stereo system back at home (like Sabbath, Maiden and even some early Saxon!) … rather than watch some young americans butcher it on-stage.

Not very Live Music of me I know, but at least the evening had been saved, in my mind, by another fine performance from Mr McKean!

Made in Sheffield – Made to Last Tony Christie @ Cadogan Hall 19.11.2008

So here I am again … going to a gig in another very ‘non-giglike’ venue, going to see an artist that I’d be surprised even my parents generation would be interested in seeing these days. As usual I’d kind of convinced myself (and the missus) to go an see the support band – Tom McKean and the Emperors – and see what they would sound like given a decent sized venue and a crystal-sharp PA. Tony Christie was frankly a bonus – and all the more so since one of the missus’ mates is a local Sheffield lass and misty-eyed nostalgic about the days of the ‘working mans’ club … not that she probably went to them, but that’s good old nostalgia for you, the rosy tinted specs are even rosier if you were never there in the first place.

The venue quite frankly is pretty darn impressive – from the looped widescreen visuals in the champagne bar, through to the oak benched galleries and high-vaulted ceilings. It’s no wonder that this place is home to the Royal London Philarmonic Orchestra and it honestly wouldn’t look out of place as the Hogwarts School Recital Hall. – And ye gods it was clean!?However I did have a few reservations – these hallowed acoustic vaulted venues never seem to cope very well with amplification – I remember going to see Paul Weller at the Royal Albert Hall, abley supported by OCS guitarist Steve Cradock, and to be honest the sound was what can only be described as ‘mushy’. I guess the reason is something to do with the hall’s being designed to amplify the non-amplified instruments and in the end the acoustics sort of get confused.

So as we took our cinema-like plush velvet seats in the stalls for Tom McKean I was a bit worried – not least because I don’t really like sitting down for gigs!
In all honesty I was mistaken about the acoustics of Cadogan – it was stunningly sharp. If anything it was almost ‘too sharp’ for TMK and I suspect they hadn’t had a full sound-check or got to grips with the very stripped-back sound that the hall produced. Opening with their now signature accapella opening chorus from Old Fashioned Morphine they launched into the powerful A Little Something and the half-full hall warmly received their efforts. One thing that was pleasantly apparent was that McKean’s acoustic guitar, which often gets lost in the mix of a smaller gig, was very much to the fore and served to illustrate the pleasing harmony of the songwriting and some of the subtleties of the TMK sound. McKean’s voice was also allowed to explore it’s range from warm, mellow growl to powerful emotive wail … in fact you usually feel McKean gets a little riled by ambient noise between songs (or even during the numbers) at the rowdier venues, and some of the finesse of the songs is lost.

Well, as they say, be careful what you wish for … the sound was clear as a bell and the three hundred or so punters (since we were all seated) were pretty quiet between songs. It did mean that the songs sounded in some places a little ‘bare’ but generally numbers such as Hold Onto me and their newly released single This is the Year gained a new dimensions for the listener. Indeed songs such as’Til The Day That I Die with the plaintive, almost pleading emotional vocals were the best I’d heard – and the song is not usually a fave of mine. This Old Heart of Mine gave way to the book-end Old Fashioned Morphine – the Jolie Holland penned classic that customarily serves as both acapella opener and crowd-pleasing finale for the Emperors. The crowd had been convincingly won over by the end of the set – McKean’s rich throaty vocals, the deft lyrics and the able backing of Ed Miller, Ian Ross and Bobby Williams, along with the certain je ne sais quoi that the idiosyncratic jazz clarinet of Andy Simms adds, had all worked their magic in the Cadogan Hall.

Legendary sixties crooner Tony Christie was promoting the recent Made In Sheffield album – a sort of musical palimpsest of the indelible signatures that Sheffield musicians have left on the British music scene over the last 30 years. Joining forces with one of Sheffield’s in vogue musicians, Richard Hawley, Christie has managed to craft something which at once both acknowledges the roots of the original song-writers, while adding a “gentlemanly” dimension of his own.
Produced by Richard Hawley (and bass player Colin Elloitt) the tracks have all been written by Sheffield artists including Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner, Jarvis Cocker, Phil Oakey and of course Christie himself, as well as a lesser known song-writing heavyweight Martin Bragger (who had previously collaborated with Hawley on Coles Corner)

The Cadogan Hall gig was the first complete live showcase of Made In Sheffield and although a little faltering at times (Christie still had to read the lyrics to some songs on a musician’s stand) the overall was a warm and emotive performance. Following How Can I Entertain You with a stunning rendition of Born To Cry – a lesser known Hawley and Cocker collaboration from the Pulp years – Christie created a presence and bonhomie on stage that was mesmeric and engaging. The Alex Turner penned The Only Ones Who Know was perhaps less successful, but emotive classic Human League track Louise was quite frankly tear-jerkingly good. In a plaintive, emotionally driven, stripped down version of the hit song, Christie himself looked genuinely moved and one could almost see his band of Sheffield’s own musicians (including both co-producer Colin Elliot on Bass and singer/songwriter Mark Sheridan on Guitar) becoming misty eyed by the song’s climax. Ironic that this song was almost not included on the album and it took the considerable efforts of Colin Elliot to convince Christie to lay down the vocal track.

The Martin Bragger crafted Danger Is A Woman In Love and Paradise Square are equally emotive but for me the stand out song of the performance was the climactic rendition of Hawley and Bragger’s Coles Corner … In a way this?song had been the cornerstone of Christie’s renaissance, and it was fitting that it should also be the cornerstone of this performance. Christie’s own anecdotal references (which he delivered with gentle warmth between pretty much each number) gave the audience an insight into how synchronicity and chance had had a significant part to play in the collaboration:
“On the drive back home after a recording session I heard Coles Corner on the radio. I said to my son, ‘That’s the sort of production i should be getting,’ to which he replied, ‘Richard sent you that song four years ago’.”

Thankfully Christie’s pride didn’t get in the way of him ‘phoning up Hawley there and then and collaborating on these beautifully crafted songs and producing an “unexpected delight and genuinely great record” (NME)

For some in the audience (probably the older generation) there was perhaps not enough reference to his back catalogue. One obvious omission was the song popularized by Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights – and for some not hearing Amarillo at a Christie gig might come as a shock. Only his 1971 hit I Did What I Did For Maria had a few ‘older ladies’ screaming in the aisles like they no doubt did when they were teenagers! But I for one was glad that the evening had dwelt on a breadth of song-writing and well-crafted songs from England’s beating heart – rather than an opus of pot-boiler pop songs from years gone by.

The Ultimate Pub Gig The Pogues @ Brixton Academy, 19.12.2008

Providing your pub can seat or stand over 4,900 punters then this is exactly what you get … a kind of irish-folk based Chas & Dave singalonga feel good pre-xmas knees up.

Once you’ve waded through the platoons of ticket touts & negotiated through the draconian security frisk-squads, scrummed down through the 5-deep-at-the-bar, got your pint of the black stuff and headed out into the sweating masses … you’re ready for the ultimate Irish Pub gig.
Last time I went along to the Pogues Xmas Bash at Brixton you could still smoke almost everywhere – this had the handy side-affect of masking the smells of a couple of thousand of sweating, beer-soaked Plastic Paddies and Pogue fans? Not any more unfortunately.

However, once the opening number Streams of Whisky kicked off the proceedings and dove-tailed into the equally frenetic folk jam of If I Should Fall from the Grace of God, the crowd had become a mass of arm-in-arm revellers, singing along at the top of their semi-sozzled voices.

The Broad Majestic Shannon set a more calm and rhythmic pace, but Spider Stacey’s penny-whistle and James Fearnley’s accordion soon pumped up the pace with Turkish Song of the Damned; before bringing it own again to one of my own personal favourites from the Pogues cannon, A Pair of Brown Eyes. By this time it had become quite obvious that Shane’s timing was a little off, and as he stumbled off the stage, fag on the go and a wine bottle in hand, Spider Stacey led a few instrumentals and sang a few lesser known Pogues numbers.

Shane reappeared (minus wine bottle), stumbling on in his black trench-coat and made a valiant attempt at Sayonara; the booze has definitely caught up with him by then and his 900-cigarettes-a-day death-rattle vocals stumbled vaguely around the song … but it was kinda cool the way the rest of the band look out for him, catching his mike stand and dodging most of his stumbles and weavings.

Quite frankly it’s amazing yer man can “sing” at all, especially on the very fast version of Sunnyside of the Street he attempted next; but by the time he hit the slower Body of an American he was back in his stride … and of course the whole crowd know the words and back him in a rowdy singalong anyway. And at the end of the day despite all the years of abuse Shane’s got all his own hair – even if he’s not got all his own teeth!

I’m also reminded during Lullaby of London of the quality of MacGowan’s lyrics (heavily influenced by Irish writer Brendan Behan) – it epitomises the sentimentality and fatalism that underlies a large part of both the Pogues poetry and no doubt the inebriated majority of exiles and like-minds in the audience.
“May they all sleep well down in hell tonight or wherever they may be”

Dirty Old Town stirs up the sentiment even further and precipitated the most accomplished singalong of the night; and the crowd roared approval when Spider and Co launch into the first frenetic finale of the night – The Sick Bed of Cuchullain.

Of course this is the first of many finales and it’s not long before Shane and Co totter back onto the stage and give the crowd another classic Sally MacLennane – although by now Spider at least is looking a little fed up when good ol’ Shane inserts an extra verse 😉

This turns to silent embarrassment when Shane goes off on a solo of IRA sabre-rattling songs – not least since nearly all the band members (including MacGowan) are London born and bred and frankly these days, it really sums up the phrase “politically incorrect” …

Rainy Night in Soho has become a bit of a signature tune at these gigs, and was as accomplished as ever, and represented one of the few “showy” elements of the gig with a very festive fairy-lights & starlight backdrop. Irish Rover was perhaps not quite as accomplished but was full of Celtic sentiment – perhaps even more so as it was dedicated to the memory of Ronnie Drew (former leader of the original Irish folk troupe the Dubliners – who died earlier in the year).

Unfortunately the third and finale encore was not the Fairy Tale end it should have been as by now Shane was thoroughly spent – despite a fine attempt at saving the song by Ella Finer (singing the part of Kirsty MacColl) and the flurries of fake snow falling from the Academy rafters, it was all a bit shambolic!
By now Spider was shaking his head in bleary disbelief at what had descended into no-better than a drunken karaoke session … and despite Fearnley’s athletic antics with his accordion Fiesta was also a bit of a fiasco (complete with MacGowan and Stacey bashing their heads with tin trays!?). In the end Shane was pretty much led off stage by his fellow band members, stumbling along, still waving his swinging mike…

Shane’s best days are a long way behind him and while it’s all part of the party for Shane to be unpredictable, by the end it had descended into farce. An enjoyable farce, nonetheless, with some great singalongs – but after the gig I was left wondering whether I really need to spend a festive 30 quid, when any Irish pub singalong would be equally full of sentiment, passion and probably feature some more coherent singing …

Still it sets you up pretty well for the Xmas season of excess – and no doubt the majority of the crowd headed home with a bleary eye, a bellyful of whiskey and porter, and a warm glow in their hearts.

Rick Lippiett © 2008

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Tuesday, October 7th, 2008 livemusic