Livemusic Reviews 2006 – 2007 music community music community

A selection of reviews written for

Tom Baxter @ the Amadeus September 2006

This has got to be one of the strangest gigs I’ve ever been to … I’d ‘discovered’ Tom Baxter while I’d been living in New Zealand and found it highly ironic that he was brought to my attention while living 12,000 miles away from my old haunts in Balham (namely the Bedford Arms that had been my local when I lived in South London and where Tom Baxter cut his teeth …) Strange that – when you get to know and like an artist in another hemisphere , but you managed to miss them when you lived round the corner!

A friend of mine (who I’d introduced to Baxter’s 2006 Album Feather & Stone) had seen Tom Baxter play a stonking gig at the legendary Whelan’s in Dublin and I was mighty jealous. So the first chance I got, when back in Blighty, I trundled along to this west London mecca to catch TB live.

As is my custom I dragged along my flatmate, and it was only as I approached the doric columns of this former Welsh Presbyterian Church that I started to get the fear … oh shit there were seats and tables with table cloths, and fuck me, there were bean-bags at the front and little tea-lights on the tables!

Oh no oh no – Tom Baxter has turned into some kind of middle-class hippy, a fact that was re-enforced by the middle-class, artsy trustafarians trickling into the joint. Heading to the bar (a cloth covered table with bottles of wine and beers in a bucket of ice) I found that for licensing reasons, you had to buy beer tokens in the cloak-room. My flatmate gave me ‘the look’ … what made it worse was that three more friends were coming! Luckily one was the friend who’d seen Tom Baxter in Dublin – so was likely to be more open to the general oddity of the place … but the other two were not going to be happy about being dragged across London I thought!

The evening kicked off (mercifully with just myself and my flatmate) – a fella called the Ventriloquist, who has successfully raised the art of performance poet back from the dead. As a bunch of the West London Arts crowd relaxed back onto their bean bags, he sprung forth into the most absurd, psychedelic, rhyming couplet monologue regarding a cup of tea and an out of body experience. It was just what I needed and felt vindicated that although the evening was gonna be different it was prolly gonna be one to remember!

I missed most of Sam Semple’s set while guiding my friends to the venue via mobile telephony. Sam has co-written some of Tom’s more recent tracks (as has Judie Tzuke). Sam had the hard job of being the first musical performer to a half-empty hall where the clink of bottled beers being rattled in their buckets was in danger of drowning him out at times!

The Portico Quartet – some new age jazz/tribal musicians – were completely in tune with the surroundings and despite the oddest instrument I’ve ever seen or heard (the ‘hang’) being at the heart of most of the melodies, the music was entertaining and inclusive. It kind of felt that you’d been invited round to someone’s West London living room, handed a highly organic ethically grown spliff and a glass of non-GM vineyard sourced wine. It was a bit better than that, but I couldn’t shake the weirdness of the whole place.

During the next break the crowd swelled considerably, the bean bags were swept aside as were most of the chairs and it began to feel more like a proper gig. The Ventriloquist – now in MC mode – announced the gig was being recorded and that the little pre-printed CD pouches could be digitally filled by downloading the songs from Tom’s website and cut to CD in two weeks time. Not a bad idea.

The band appeared, and the most stereotypical of the trustafarian audience (a guy in tweeds, fishing hat and bleached blonde dreadlocks) appeared as the bass player. The strings section occupied stage left and a slow groove started up. Tom Baxter swaggered and went straight into a new number ‘On A Night Like This’ – which got the crowd swaying and behaving a bit more like people normally do at gigs.

Building on the warm reception of the opening number ( the band had played three times already that week at the Amadeus) Tom’s set consisted of mostly new numbers; some more singer-songwriter numbers similar to his earlier work and some more daring latino-rhythm pieces such as ‘Icarus Wings’ and ‘Skybound’, which had been influenced by a recent trip to South America. I have to say I preferred the Latino stuff to the slightly indulgent newer numbers, but songs such as ‘Better’ and ‘Too far Gone’ showed Tom at his vocal and song-writing best. For me the let down of the gig was that he seemed determined to play as few of his older numbers as possible, jettisoning them in favour of the newer numbers. The only tracks from Feather & Stone were ‘Almost There’ (which is not one of my faves) and the customery finale of ‘Don’t Let Go’. The finale was intense, passionate and climactic; the strings had finally warmed up and risen to the occasion, and depsite a slight tendency to sound a bit like a piece from Riverdance at one point, it was a great number to end the gig on and really shook the Welsh Chapel to it’s foundations.

Tom Baxter is undoubtedly a great live performer and one of this country’s foremost folk-acoustic singer-songwriters. It was still a fucken weird gig – but I’m glad I caught it!

Damien Rice @ electric Picnic September 2006

The first time I’d seen Damien Rice was playing a slightly bad-tempered gig at the Brixton Academy in 2004. I say bad-tempered, because although the set, the music, Rice, his muses and above all the kooky video graphics were all fantastic – Damo himself was a bit grumpy! This was mainly focused around people talking during the quiet, muso indulgent, passages of his songs and prompting the ‘Oirish fella’ to utter “well if this is what it means to play big venues I’ll go back to smaller ones” and “if youse want to talk all the way through then come up to the stage and I’ll give you yer money back … as long as you leave now!”

However two years later, a bit more established, and happier being at the forefront of the folksy-singer-songwriter genre, he’d deffo chilled out a bit … In fact he was decidedly sanguine, and accordingly had spent the afternoon in wellies, drinking red wine and having the odd toot on a herbal cigarette. Well all good I say, as Rice was warm, energetic and inclusive. The Electric Picnic ethos of being “like a group hug in a field with a mass of cheerily drunk Irish” was a very apt description of the atmosphere in the huge circus tent. ‘Canonball’, ‘Blowers Daughter’, ‘Volcano’, ‘Eskimo’ and all the mainstays of ‘O’ were delivered with an affable charm and clarity – which is what you’d always hoped a Damien Rice gig was all about.

Fair play to the wee fella – ’twas a deadly gig. He’s gas craic alroight…

Or something like that …


New Order at Electric Picnic September 2006

I think I’ve been listening to New order (and Joy Division before them) for something like 24 years. This makes me a) old and b) a bit of a gig agnostic since I hadn’t seen them before.

Actually to be fair, I was more of a Joy Division fan – but with Ian Curtis hanging himself 6 months before someone played ‘Still’ to me, I really never stood a chance to see them play live! And other than Blue Monday and a few class tracks ,New Order have never really been one of my major music interests.

So it was with a fairly open mind that I drifted towards the main stage at the Electric Picnic to see a band, that although I’d always listened to them, had never been a major part of my musical conscience. I had also been led to believe that they’d probably play lots of obscure New Order numbers that I’d probably never heard of, or they’d be promoting a new album and no-one would have heard any of the songs before!

But not so … seemingly in the last couple of years Bernie Sumner has mellowed somewhat and begun playing a pretty comprehensive back catalogue of New Order AND Joy Division classics – and feck me if that wasn’t what they set out to do at the Picnic. The air was a bit damp and Bernie was coming down with a cold (actually so was I but, I bet he at least had had a a good night’s sleep in a trailer rather than under canvas in a soggy field).

From the moment they opened with Regrets and moved seamlessly into a Joy Divison-esque rendition of Ceremony I realised that this was going to be a 5 star gig. (And yes pedants, I know that Ceremony was written with Ian Curtis but only ever performed as New Order – we were all told us as much!) There followed cracking renditions of Bizarre Love Triangle, Temptation and one of my all time favourite New Order songs, Love Vigilantes. On top of that Sumner, Hook and Co stepped back to a previous incarnation and played enthralling versions of Transmission and Love Will Tear us Apart. The evening finished with an anthemic encore version of Blue Monday, which I was convinced could never be performed well live. How wrong I was …

Dogs At Kings College Student Uni November 2006

Dogs, following a widlfire tour of the UK, finished up the year with a series of gigs in London, headlining at Kings College. And from the promise of their first LP – “Turn Against this Land” they didn’t disappoint in delivery of vitriolic, snarling, empassioned, punky, spiky rock.

Ably supported by the ultra-Mod influenced Bishops – Dogs strutted on stage and totally owned it from the moment Johnny Cook opened his crooked mouth. This band really do deliver high-energy, high-intensity rock performance – and the chain-smoking, spindly Cook is an able, laconic front-man always ready with a few short quips and, surprisingly a bit of warmth and humour.

The music was tight, punchy, loud and raucous – Rikki Mehta (lead guitar) and Duncan Timms (Bass) being particularly to the fore. Luciana Vargas (backing vocals, rhythm guitar) and Rich Mitchell (drums) were more in the background but held the tight rhythm and timing that is essential to this heavily Clash-Jam infused punchy punk rock. Faves from the debut album such as ‘Selfish Ways’, ‘Tuned to a Different Station’ and ‘London Bridge’ were all pumped-out of the sound system with appropriate high-octane, and the crowd quickly reverted to a sweaty, roiling mass of jumping, pogo-ing figures. The new Single ‘Soldier On’ was also particularly enthusiastically received by the crowd and it became apparent that this really was an assembly of hard-core fans, thirsty to see Dogs live and off the leash.

And that was part of the magic – you really believed that you’d got to see a band that will go on to bigger venues and become more famous very soon, but that for once, you saw them before all that, in a sweaty Student’s Union with about 200 other punters all relishing the fury and fire of Dogs. And it rarely gets better than that!

DJ Shadow – Legendary Gig at Brixton Academy December 2006

This was quite frankly an astonishing gig.

Not only was the legendary DJ Shadow in fine fettle, but he also brought along two very entertaining musos to get the crowd going. Starting off with Chris James, who he has worked with recently on The Outsider (‘Erase You’), this added a real ‘live performance’ dimension to what after all is a DJ set (no matter how accomplished Josh Davis is behind the decks!) … and then he topped this with the appearance of Lateef the Truthspeaker who, as well as doing a couple of tracks from the current album (‘Enuff’ and ‘Motorway’) also stepped back in time to get the crowd fired up for the classic Number Song. I just didn’t really expect this level of crowd engagement at a DJ Shadow gig!

However the real star of the evening was the breath-taking video-wall where the crowds were treated with some of the best motion graphics sequences any of us are likely to see – no small wonder, when you saw the credit sequence which contained the names of some of the most celebrated video artists and motion graphics exponents of this new century! This really was a treat – and when perfectly mixed with a great combination of the ‘Endtroducing …’ classic tracks such as Mutual Slump, Stem/Long Stem and some more recent material from The Outsider.

And just to re-inforce the perfect fusion of creative beats, stunning graphics, new songs and old ( and Mr Davis’s own particular energy) the final mix was a monster mash-up of Triplicate/Annihilation/Nursery Rhyme & Rabbit in Your Headlights – truly spectacular.

What made the gig even better, is that on the way out I was handed a flyer stating that the Brixton dates would be available as an edited Live CD … and sure enough, after paying 20 quid, a month later a well produced double-cd landed in my letter box which had captured some of the spirit of a great gig by one of the world’s best DJs.

Tom Baxter / Charlie Winston Live at the Arts Theatre Soho February 2007

This was the second time I’d seen Tom Baxter, post his Sony label extrication, something that seems to have given him a re-newed sense of energy and purpose.

The first time I’d seen Tom Baxter live, was at the end of September , when he played the Amadeus in Maida Vale. This had to be one of the strangest venues in London, what with it being a converted Welsh Presbyterian Chapel! West London trustafarian meccas aside, however, it had been an interesting evening with a horizon-broadening range of talented support – ranging from singer-songwriter Sam Semple, to offbeat new-age jazz experimentalists the Portico Quarter and London’s very own sonic sorceror and urban poet, the Ventriloquist. I have to say though that, at the Amadeus Gig, I had been a bit disappointed that Tom hadn’t played many of his Sony-era favourites (notably “This Boy” “My Declaration” and “Half a Man”) and although it was great to hear some of the new material, particularly the latino-influenced numbers, I hadn’t really had time to properly absorb the less familiar numbers. As ever though, Tom’s passionate delivery of his well-crafted music, coupled with his unbelievably powerful voice, carried the gig from start to finish and left me with that slight post-gig depression I sometimes get when I have witnessed a true musical virtuoso give it their all.

So, it was with some excitement that I had booked the London Arts Theatre tickets and hoped to get to grips with the new material – and of course secretly hoped that he would play a few more of the old favourites.

The Arts Theatre is about 2 minutes from where I work and is everything you’d expect from a theatre in Covent Garden – a decayed baroque seated venue with crushed-velvet flip-seats, boxes and balcony. Bit of a weird place for a folk-rock gig if you ask me – but then so is a converted Welsh Presbyterian church!

The evening opened with the Ventriloquist – a great warm up man, totally at home on the stage of a Victorian theatre, and if there’s one thing that both gigs have introduced me too, it is to the roguish modern-day poet-jester charm of Chris Redmond’s alter-ego – a.k.a. the Ventriloquist.

The Ventriloquist was swiftly followed by Charlie Winston – who I hadn’t heard of before. However, moments after he walked on stage I recognised him as former Tom Baxter band-member and younger brother of Tom himself. Just Charlie, a guitar, a piano and his hat! To be honest he blew me away and performed some beautifully crafted songs with verve, imagination and an awful lot of balls – don’t forget there was about 200 people sitting down quietly in their crushed-velvet seats, who’d probably never heard of him before either!

I’m always impressed when you have a lone musician playing guitar or piano and singing, as there’s no room for error; and with such a quiet audience in a strange venue, every mistake or even faltering step would have been very evident. But that was the true class of the man, a voice as powerful and emotive as his older brother’s, some excellent rhythmical acoustic guitar skills and some sublime melodies on the piano. My girlfriend was so impressed that in the break she popped out to the foyer and bought his CD. Memorable tracks would include “Boxes”, with it’s wave upon wave of piano melodies, and “Hobo” with it’s inventive rhythmical and vocal sound fx additions.

After the break some more of the Ventriloquist – one of his finer moments with a truly humourous tale of James Brown and a building demolition – and then onto Tom Baxter himself.

As at the Amadeus, Tom opened with the slow groove of “On a Night Like This” and from the outset his string section and backing band were fully to the fore, a factor that had been a bit sketchy at the start of the Amadeus gig.

Once again Tom’s passionate vocals and carefully crafted lyrical songs were music to our ears, and as well as the new numbers we were treated to an emotive rendition of “Half a Man”.

However, somewhere in the middle of the set I found myself thinking that the sound was almost TOO slick and that the Tom Baxter that I had discovered and grown to admire and love, had more in common with the nascent one-man band, whose torch was now being held by his younger brother. And I couldn’t shake that thought for the rest of the gig – despite fine renditions of “Almost There” “Better, Too Far Gone” and the grand climactic finale of old favourite “Don’t Let Go”.

Tom is clearly very happy that he has left Sony, and that his new album will be totally self-funded with his artistic integrity thus unimpaired now the corporate powers are removed from the equation … but I can’t help feeling, for myself, that the new direction he has gone in, has left me feeling some of the raw emotion and passion has been replaced with slickly performed muso-centric numbers.

That aside though, it was still a fine display of some really talented musicians and a singer-songwriter at the height of his powers – and without him I would never have been introduced to two really unique venues, and two unique performers in the shape of Charlie Winston and the Ventriloquist.

Perhaps, like the oft-compared Jeff Buckley, he just needs to do his own thing and doesn’t want to have his musical integrity compromised by anyone … maybe his new direction will make more sense on the new album, or maybe, like the unimaginative Sony corporate Execs I just want to hear the next “This Boy” or “My Declaration”.

Or perhaps it’s just my old busker soul that likes one-man and a guitar and a simple tune…

Hugh Cornwell Live at TPS March 2007
So what’s TPS?

Stands for The Petersfield School … which sounds awful but is actually quite a well appointed Arts Centre that holds about 200 people. Still a bit of a come down for the former front man of the Stranglers?

And then again … maybe not.

I’d seen Hugh about 6 months before at the Guildfest and realised that even though I myself am a late 30-something, his real hard-core fans, you know the ones that were 16 when Rattus Norveggicus came out and bought it then and there … they’re 40-something now! Guildfest is a weird festival where aging festival goers sit around in camp chairs with a pint of real ale in one hand, a spliff in the other and possibly a couple of tykes running around under their feet … and you just know they’ve parked up in their Audis and Beamers in the communal camping ground.

So, judging by the rest of the audience, their slam-dancing, pogo-ing days were well-behind them. As are Hugh Cornwell’s, no doubt.

Guildfest had been a good show though, and once again Hugh had had impeccable taste in Bass players (although this time not for purely musical reasons!) I had enjoyed the show and realised that although he was more so-called ‘lightweight’ than the Stranglers aggro-punk energy (coincidentally they played the next day), Cornwell’s lyrical genius was more to the fore and despite Stranglers having 4/5ths of the original band … I still think Hugh took ’em down!

But standing in the Arts Centre with my mates, who I’d dragged along, well I started to get very nervous about what kind of evening we were going to have.

I was even more nervous when the support was announced as a folk-singer-songwriter. Oh god, my mates are old goths and old school punks. They’re never going to go for this! I am gonna get teased for the next 6 months.

But as soon as Rosalie Deighton came on stage with her gentle humour and small, yet potent presence I knew that actually, it was gonna be alright. If you haven’t seen Rosalie before, go see her – she’s a singer-songwriter in a great British tradition of folk artists who write great music and don’t take themselves too seriously. She’s cute as a button too, and she won over what was a pretty quiet audience – all feeling a little unsure of the unfamiliar surrounds.

A break, a couple of beers and I was well up for the main man. And on he came. In a suit. Bit odd that, and I got the impression that this was his first acoustic gig for a while, which he duly admitted as he fumbled around getting his jack into the guitar socket. I started to get worried again …

But I should have had faith. It turned out to be a mesmerising performance. Yes it was a bloody odd gig in a weird venue – but then again Hugh Cornwell has always defied pigeon-holing and stereo-typing. The other thing you realise, when the songs are stripped down and this bare, is what fucken great songs the man has written – the passion and intensity of the lyrics, and the sheer song-writing artistry of his work.

From Goodbye Toulouse to Hello Cadiz, from Always the Sun to No More Heroes, from Duchess to Nice and Sleazy – he moved effortlessly between the different phases of his work from new to old classics. And then there were two real gems. How do you play Golden Brown without Dave Greenfield’s harpsichord and make it better? I dunno but he did! And then Hanging Around … I remembered one of the guys I’d brought along with me had heard it for the first time in my bedroom when we were about 16. It was quite a magic moment 20 years on.

After the gig Hugh changed out of his suit and signed a few autographs and albums. I half wanted to go up to him and then thought twice. It had been quite an incredible evening and one I shall remember for a while – I didn’t want to ruin it in any way. Sometimes your Heroes need to be – and stay – just that, and not be too accessible. Even if you did see them in an Arts Centre when a stadium felt more appropriate!

I consoled myself with buying Rosalie’s EP. Pretty good it was too.

Nine Inch Nails – Hold the Alarms! March 2007

Despite the first half an hour of the gig being ruined by a fire alarm (that was almost audible EVEN during the thrash tracks) the first of the four Brixton dates was definitely a success. Trent Reznor, the hero of the Industrial Rock music scene for the last 20 years, put in a fine performance; and considering he is now in his forties, his post-drug additcion seems to have found him in fine physical fettle … even if apparently his throat was playing him up!

The show was quite stripped down compared to some, and the awesome lighting I’d seen from the previous tour, was quite subdued (except for some atmospheric lamp shades that swung about during one number). As to the tracks themselves, there was a good smattering of With Teeth, a few from The Fragile and as one would expect a fair amount from The Downward Spiral. I have to say, old gaurd fan that I am, the albums since Spiral all blend a bit into one for me – I knew I’d heard the tracks before and they were well-executed by NiN, but I couldn’t tell you what they were 🙂

However the old faves were there – Closer, Piggy, and of course Hurt. The last was preceeded by a hush that descended as Reznor, after playing a set of self-destruction frenzy up to that point, approached the lone keyboard, bathed in sweat and picked up in a solitary spotlight. Have to say it was pretty bloody good … but I couldn’t help feeling he must be getting bored of playing it by now!

Still, maybe he likes playing the old stuff – and when NiN came on for the encore and ripped up “Head Like a Hole’ for what must be like the 1000th time, you really couldn’t tell that this was the oldest song in the set. The energy of Messrs Reznor and Co., even on the final number, was something like a sonic-thrash-bomb going off – Reznor screeching, with a croaking voice that was almost broken by now, gave it every last drop of emotion and effort. In fact it was so fucken good I downloaded from iTunes the next day, as for some reason I didn’t have it on my digital collection.

Now that’s a sign of a good gig – even if it was an old track!

The Nephilim Come back from the DeadMay 2007
After a 10 year break the Neph were back – bad, grungy, loud, coming at us through the obligatory sea of dry ice. The crowd of fans had also aged 10 years, got a few more tattoos, and re-dusted their cowboy hats and black leather jeans to come out in all their biker-goth finery.

The Astoria was packed to the gills with the semi-washed and the be-make-upped horde of old school Goth grungers. And from the first appearance of McCoy, replete with hat and demon-contact lenses, accompanied by the dirge and echo of the guitars and ambient sounds, we all knew this was going to be a re-union gig to be reckoned with.

Old favourites such as ‘Moonchild’ and ‘Dawnrazor’ were seamlessly integrated with newer numbers in the wall of grunge and echo that personify the Neph at their gothic best. An encore set failed to deliver ‘Psychonaut’, but ‘Last Exit for the Lost’ and a stirring rendition of ‘Watchmen’ were all there. The only dampener was the closing number – the title track of the new album ‘Mourning Sun’. The old skool were a bit let down … but for the most part left sweaty, dusty and happy to see the Godfathers of Goth return.

Johnny Lippiett @ Boaters InnMay, 2007
Since being a finalist at the Young Jazz Musician of the year, back in 1996, Johnny Lippiett has played with some of the world’s jazz greats – from Mornington Locket, to Bobby Wellins and Courtney Pine. His swinging, melodic, emotive tenor sax-vibe is influenced from the eminently listenable tenor sax legend Eddie Harris, through to the jazz-nuttiness of Thelonius Monk’s piano and to the fusion masterpieces of Miles Davis.

Currently Johnny has been making a big noise in the Antipodes playing Jazz festivals in New Zealand and being a resident Jazz tutor at Wellington’s Massey University – where a large number of up and coming young Kiwi musicians pass through his classes.

His annual returns to his home country are a treat for jazz-afficionados all over the UK – Lippiett has kept his finger on the pulse of the London jazz scene to ensure he can still play the odd gig with jazz legendary figures such as Wellins and Locket.

The Boaters is a vibrant jazz venue that has had a Sunday gig for nigh on 17 years, mostly under the auspices of the versatile jazz-funk keyboardist Simon Carter (who did a three year stint with Jamiroquai amongst other things …)

Carter & Lippiett set the tone for the evening by laying down some smooth jazz grooves, ably backed by Steve Brown on drums and Jeremy Brown on stand-up bass in the ‘jazz engine room’. There was also a guest appearance on jazz trumpet by Paul Jordanous – an astonishing young local London talent – and Tim Robertson, a friend and co-conspiritor of Lippiett’s from down under.

Lippiett’s improvisational, and sometimes cheeky, versatility led the way for an evening of great jazz standards given an original twist by the talents of his backing band and of course the vitality, passion and energy of Lippiett’s tenor saxophone mastery.

Johnny Lippiett plays Chelsea’s 606 Club on Wedsneday 27th June – if you’re a jazz hep-cat I suggest you get down there and catch this young-jazz talent while Lippiett is over in the UK for the summer!

Dogs Of War – Dogs @ Islington Marquee June, 2007

The music business is a hard grind. Touring is probably an even harder grindstone; and after a 20-odd gig lightning tour of the UK to promote their new album Tall Tales from Under the Table, the band – or more specifically Johnny Cooke – looked Dog-tired.

Last time I’d seen the Dogs, about 6 months ago at KCLSU, Johnny Cooke (enigmatic front-man and singer/songwriter) had swaggered on with an air of ‘Fuck You’ cool that had carried most of the gig. The punk-indie snarling energy and vitriol that fuel most of the band’s numbers was ever-present, but it was also delivered with some humour, warmth and humanity.

The Dogs second album hasn’t quite bedded in with the fans yet and perhaps not with the band themselves … I can’t help feeling that it is reminiscent of the second outing from one of the bands to which they’re commonly compared – the Clash. Dogs themselves are a fashionable and contemporary fusion of the Clash and Paul Weller’s punk moments in the Jam. Cooke’s vocal-style is, to my ear, pretty close to the acid snarl of Psychedelic Furs frontman Richard Butler and lyrically close to Johnny Rotten’s more thoughtful social-commentary moments with the Pistols – hell, even Cooke’s name is a punk-pastiche of two Pistols members!

After the Dogs signature Noel Coward ditty ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen …” Cooke and Co surged onto the stage accompanied by one or two obligatory plastic pints that catapulted themselves towards the stage. Cooke looked a bit put out by this, even a bit unnerved and the immediate thought going through my head was “if you’re gonna tap into that Punk energy Dogs – you gotta expect a few hits. This isn’t a Suzanne Vega gig after all fellas!”

In my mind there’s only two ways to handle an exuberant missile throwing crowd – either ignore it, duck a few and let the rest bounce off you with a smile and a “fuck-the-lot-of-you swagger” … or the patented “Lemmy” technique of stopping the song right there and then and challenging the offending crowd member to a fight on stage – something I have personally witnessed at a Mötorhead gig at Pompey Guildhall circa 1983 when a mohawked Punk made the mistake of spitting on the Kill-meister! The last takes some balls but if you’re suitably menacing it does ensure a relatively missile-free gig!

The opening numbers of “Soldier On” and “Selfish Ways” were missing something after that, and even though the stage-bouncer – a titanic black guy complete with bandana – was kept busy by the crowd surfers, you could tell that there was a bit of malaise from Cooke. The rest of the band acquitted themselves abley, as they had at KCLSU – Rikki Mehta’s spiky lead-guitar complementing the softer-fatter tone of Luke Varga’s rhythm guitar, and Duncan Timm’s signature trebley-bass guitar fusing with Rich Mitchell’s stripped-down drums. However, therein rests the double-edged bayonet of Cooke – even when the rest of the band are performing so well, Cooke commands the overall presence. At KCLSU Cooke’s laconic humour and “too-cool-for-school” attitude had really worked. Tonight he looked and sounded a bit tired and exhausted as he stumbled around the stage – or perhaps he was just plain too pissed & off his face?

“Little Pretenders”, “This Stone is A Bullet” and “Dirty Little Shop” were picked out from the new album and there then followed a reasonable acoustic middle section featuring “Chained to No-one” and “Let it Lay”. Again, although competently fronted by Cooke, it didn’t quite get the gig going … in fact not until Cooke threw the set list into the audience and belted out the punky-singalongs “Tuned to a Different Station” and “Wait” in the latter half of the set did the gig really catch fire. The encore featured a rip-roaring rendition of “London Bridge” and the lesser-performed “Red” which thankfully raised the level of the gig above average, and left most of the punters feeling satisfied that the Dogs still had some bite (and a good loud bark) left in them yet.

But there’s no doubt that over the last 6 months, their relentless self-publicity drive on MySpace, YouTube, recording a new album, releasing two singles, getting themselves regular features on iTunes and TuneTribe and a two month tour of the UK have all taken their toll. It’s a tough old business these days and you have to hit every possible publicity vehicle – including limited edition posters screen-printed by the band themselves. My advice boys, take it easy for a month or two and get your energy back over the Summer…

So if Tall Tales … is the Dogs equivalent of the Clash’s Give ‘Em Enough Rope – then where will Dogs end up next? Splitting up on the road, or chilling out to produce a Sandinista-type dub master-piece fueled by several hundred-weight of Sinsemillia? Or perhaps more chillingly, teaming up with a keyboard player with a dodgy boat ( and bad taste in baggy cardies to match) and producing some feel-good cafe culture jazz-pop… oh yes boys I noticed that piano creeping into one of the tracks!

Fucked if I know and I’m pretty sure the Dogs don’t know themselves yet.

Johnny Lippiett & Mornington Lockett – ContrafactsJune, 2007

Jazz is a load of nonsense. No seriously it is. Sometimes wonderful melodic, surprsing, uplifting, transcendental nonsense … and other times just plain nonsense

I have to say that the first set of the evening from Chris Garrick, a much-lauded Jazz violinist and sometime collaborator with acid-jazz heavyweights, The Brand New Heavies, fell into the latter category. Total jazz nonsense.

Happily the late set from Lockett & Lippiett fell into the wonderful nonsense bracket. Lockett and Lippiett played off one another’s differing vibe and styles to give us a new take on some old jazz numbers- the eponymous Contrafact*. Standards such as “Sweet Georgia Brown” were dismantled and lovingly re-constructed with a fresh clarity, drive and fluency from two of the UK’s best Tenor Saxophonists. Lockett’s lugubrious and fastidious style was contrasted with the exuberant energy, fire and passion of the jazz-youngster Lippiett – who never fails to ooze that “jazz-cool” that is missing from a lot of jazz proponents these days.

Backing these two jazzmeisters was Dave Ohm on the drums, who was simply the best jazz skinsman I’ve ever seen – a mad break-beat, swinging ‘Animal’ of a drummer reminiscent of the jazz-greats such as Buddy Rich. The stand-up bass player was none too shabby either!

All in all a gig for jazz enthusiasts and lovers of the wandering improvisations that are inherent in jazz ideology. It just seemed a shame that even though the 606 has such an established name in the jazz world, that by the end of the Wednesday evening we were down to a few dozen punters. Well all I can say is that the rest of you missed out!

* Note: A contrafact is a composition based ‘in significant and interesting ways’ on another work. In medieval music church themes were often given secular lyrics, ‘Sumer is I cumin in’ or Charlie Parker’s ‘Donna Lee’ (‘Back Home In Indiana’), being famous examples.

The Emperors – Sovereigns of the SublimeOctober, 2007

I have to admit that I didn’t catch all of this gig but by the time I entered the underground caverns at the Borderline the confines were packed to the gills with fellow punters who were all
engaged by the performance of Tom McKean and his Emperors. I’m pleased I made the effort to get to see this star of the alternative wave – and I wasn’t the only one.

I first met Tom in North London a couple of weeks ago (funnily enough I liked his jacket and asked him where he got it … New York as it turned out unfortunately!) Anyway we got talking and he very humbly mentioned he was a musician in a band and if I wasn’t doing anything to come along to the Borderline. So, after some tussle with the missus over double-bookings for a friends’ birthday, I managed to extricate myself for half an hour and catch the Emperors.

The Borderline is another one of those “would-have-been-smoky-before-the-ban” dens of iniquity that are the lifeblood of the ‘real’ live music scene in London. It holds about 100 or so people, has a decent stage where the band can perform (and punters can get right up close) – and a pretty decent sound system and bar to boot.

I’d downloaded a few of The Emperors songs from their website and had been impressed. I have to say that although the downloads didn’t do their live performance justice, the MP3s were original and provoking. Although I hate pigeon-holing a band it would perhaps help if I described their sound, original though it is – as something along the lines of Nick Cave jamming with Tom Waits playing in a Jazz Bar during a Tarantino movie. In fact the Borderline definitely fits in with a kind of Rodriguez/Tarantino-esque vibe too, so was a perfect setting one might say.

Anyway – to the live performance. I was late as I mentioned but managed to catch the final 4 songs of the the 40 minute or so set … Which meant I caught fine renditions of “Tell the Angels” “One Thing on My Mind” “A Little Something” and the crowd-pleasing encore, a cover of “Old fashioned Morphine”.

The Emperors were breaking in a new bass player, Ed Miller, but to be honest you wouldn’t have known if Tom hadn’t told you as the numbers were tight and full of the evocative power that underlines each and every one of the Emperor’s songs.

Tom McKean’s voice has many qualities – smoky, gravelly velvet with a good range from bass register up to the higher notes; and toe-curlingly good in pretty much every number.
The rest of the Emperors also acquitted themselves well – from Bobby Williams punk’d country and western guitar, to Iain Ross’s well-measured drums and Andy Simms imaginative keyboards (and sublime clarinet on “Morphine”)

Above all though McKean’s gentle style, warm personality and laconic sense of humour shone through during the set – to which the punters responded in-kind and cheered and whistled to the rafters when the Emperors finished the last number. Quite rightly too – I’d recommend getting to see the Emperors before they get themselves booked into the Empire …and see them while they’re still playing intimate gigs like the Borderline!

Kenny Clayton & Paul Ryan @ Black GardeniaNovember, 2007

Kenny Clayton plays Soho’s last non-corporate-expense-account jazz venue … with verve, humour, talent and a death-rattling cough of a life well lived.

Frankly I’m gonna save the real review of this “would-have-been-smoky-before-the-ban” den of iniquity in the heart of London’s jazz-saturated Dean Street, til next week. But this is what Ronnie Scott’s must have been like before it was taken over by be-suited city boys on corporate expense accounts. As for Kenny – well to me that’s what live music gems are about (and the point of this site if you ask me) A little Soho dive you’d pass by or think was a bar for trannies and lady-boys – you go in for a quick drink anyway, end up listening to the soulful, lyrical, witty and wicked song-mastery of Messr Clayton and leave 5 beers and a couple of cocktails later, having had your music batteries and your jazz soul fully re-charged. These guys are the real legacy of the fifties and sixties jazz era and we’re lucky to see them in their natural habitat before it’s all too late … you have been warned!


What happens to those that have lived full-lives in the Jazz lounges and smoky dens of iniquity once they pass 60 years on this planet? Do they just fade and die in obscurity in some anodyne hell-hole suburban two-up-two down before retiring to an old people’s home?

Do they bollocks!

They continue to bang out the songs that remind them and others that living life to the full is what it’s about – they sing, they play, they drink and they still smoke the same high-tar cigarettes between sets (even if current legislation means they have to do it in the cold of an autumnal Soho!)

Kenny Clayton resplendent in standard jazz issue uniform – black trilby, black shirt, black scarf, black jacket, black gloves and the most outrageous pair of sparkly-diamond black jazz shoes – plays a regular slot at the Black Gardenia. The Gardenia has been around about 6 months or so … but apparently the joint has been pumping out jazz and witty american songbook ditties since 1922 – right slap bang in the middle of the original ‘Jazz Age’. It’s a place with history oozing out of the mortar – it feels like a speakeasy during the prohibition and the collection of 50s revivalists only add to this atmosphere. Expect to see rockabillys, people in trilbys and long coats and women dressed in 40s – 50s americana fashion (complete with seamed stockings and hairdoes to match) But the real character of this place doesn’t really become apparent until Kenny clears his throat with a death-rattle cough of a 30-a-day man and starts stroking the ivories …

From ragtime, to blues, to jazz, bohemian classical and lounge favourites Kenny is a veritable juke-box of old classics. From “When I Fall In Love” to “These Foolish Things” to “Gymnopodies” you’ll have heard almost all of Kenny’s repertoire and it is crafted together with wit, passion and verve of a life well-lived.

Sometime around 9.30 – his partner in crime arrives, the slightly Noel Coward-esque meets Perry Como figure of Paul Ryan. His gravelly yet melodious voice adds a new dimension to the numbers – now well and truly grounded in the numbers from “The Great American Songbook”

It’s a funny trip down memory lane really, but these two lovable old rogues are definitely worth a visit. If you’re not so bothered about hearing some of the best piano playing this side of the corporate jazz havens of Ronnie Scott’s and the Pizza Express Jazz club then get there after 9pm to catch the both of them. But having said that entry before 9pm is free – which is a scandal really when this place is so much more authentic and real than the aforementioned establishments on the same Dean Street.

Tom Mckean/James Apollo @ The Fly

OK I admit it, I really went along to see Tom Mckean and the other two bands were a bonus … The Fly is one of Central london’s newer venues, run by the same geezers that run the Barfly up in Camden Town. It hasn’t quite got the Camden vibe but it is still nonetheless a good-sized small venue with a decent stage and sound system, enabling some of London’s lesser known bands to cut their teeth.

So – I am Not Left Handed. Clearly playing some of their first gigs together and still a little awkward on stage – but, that said, the songs were interesting and the female lead-singer had an individual voice – kind of Karen Carpenter meets Tori Amos at a Frank Black gig. The value of a good front-person is not to be underestimated when you’re playing to less than 30 people and still a little uncomfortable on stage – but luckily the bass player, once he’d warmed up, fulfilled that role with some soft-spoken Irish verve. Overall an interesting start – I like girls playing guitar but they are sometimes hampered by a lack of natural wrist movements and can be a bit ‘clunky’, however her voice was emotive and original and the quality of the song-writing meant you felt this band had something to offer… They will have no doubt felt good cheered on by their friends and playing to a room full of new people. All good experience and it will be interesting to see how they develop.

Afterwards Tom McKean & The Emperors appeared, in their customary snappy suits, following a quick change-over, as band members moved their kit on and off stage… which took me right back to my own days of playing live music and remembering what an arse it was after you’d just played a set!

Now I’d seen Tom & the Emperors before and been impressed by their unique sound, song-writing and overall presence. I wasn’t to be disappointed. By 9pm the room had filled with over 100 people and there was an air of expectation as Tom started the set in hushed tones.

Songs such as “Til The Day I Die” & “Hold On To Me” and “This’ll be the Year” highlighted the bands song-writing skills and Tom’s mellifluous vocals carried each number – including a rather cheeky Johnny Cash inspired ditty. Tom is a dry laconic Scotsman with an engaging presence on stage – and quite a lot of humour. Songs such as “Tell the Angels” and “Little Something” and “This Will be the Year” also display a real talent in songwriting. This coupled with timing tighter than a “nun’s chuff” and little touches of clarinet really give the Emperors a unique sound and personality. The closing cover number “Old Fashioned Morphine” featured some free jazz crowd-pleasing antics from clarinet player Andy Simms and the Emperors finished their set with applomb. In spite of the size of the venue, you really get a sense that the Emperors are seasoned veterans of the London music scene and I can’t believe they won’t be playing much larger venues very soon. They play the Borderline on 21st December and I for one will be going along and taking some mates! Find out more here:

So, finally the headliners… James Apollo, who swaggered onto stage at 10.30pm. They were confident and accomplished, but perhaps lacking in mystique and James tended to hide behind the slick band and some vocal fx. I also felt they were slightly unegaging compared to Tom Mckean & perhaps overly influenced by the whole “David Lynch” style considering we were in the West Central rather than the MidWest!

Having said that a few numbers stood out and the guy had an uncanny resemblance to James Thirlwell (an underground music icon who has worked with many artists in his time – as well as his many incarnations of “Foetus”) Songs such as “I Got it Easy” stood out and Apollo clearly had some presence and style that perhaps on a different night might have shone out some more.

If you’re into that whole 50’s Chris Isaak/David Lynch sound then you should go and see the “Long Insiders” who, in my opinion, are much more entertaining and original –

Tom Mckean @ The Borderline December, 2007

So … Tom Mckean had invited me along to their Xmas bash, and based on the two previous gigs, I knew we were going to be in for a treat. This time I’d managed to convince a few other punters to come along and, neatly coinciding with the last real working day before Xmas and the New Year, there was a real party atmosphere to Central London.

In the early support slot we were presented by a kind of Damien Rice-accompanied-by-a-fiddle-player acoustic set which was interesting … but maybe not quite the party vibe we’d all been hoping for.

Mister McKean and his Emperical allies however soon took to the stage and the crowd swelled to hear Tom’s mellifluous vocals and the individual sound of the band. Interestingly Tom was breaking in a few new numbers – which he joked we wouldn’t know if he got them wrong – and they seamlessly segued into the usually slick set. “Little Something” and “This Will be The Year” were both executed with aplomb and the crowd had now warmed up into a full raucous festive spirit. Bobby Williams did a fine job on backing vocals and guitar, Andy Simms did his usual high jinx on clarinet as well as keyboards – while Ian Ross and Ed Miller kept the whole rhythm section as tight as Scrooge’s purse-strings.

However, all too soon Tom announced their last number – the crowd-pleasing Old Fashioned Morphine – which again got rousing cheers and applause and then that was it. Tom and his Emperors were off. No encore and very little banter with the crowd.

I sensed that there was some pressure on timings that night as the headliner – William D Drake – had a herd of harmoniums (if that’s the right collective noun) to load up onto the stage. This was a shame as it seemed to bring Tom’s performance to an early close and there was a rushed feel to most of the set – one of Tom’s gift’s, as well as his crooning vocals, is his warmth and his laconic humour, which tonight was not as evident as it had been before – mainly I imagine as the band had been given a very definite time-slot with little room for manoeuvre.

Still it was a good warm up to both the headline band and the festive period as a whole – the Emperor’s go down like a fine brandy, warming the heart and tingling the toes. But in this case it was all a bit fleeting and I could have done with a bit more time to savour the warmth of the fine liquor, before I headed back out to brave the cold north winds blowing down from Camden.

Keeping Up with the Jones’s December, 2007

Let’s face it Leeds has had it rough for the last couple of years – premier league relegation and just general “grim up North-ness!”

The Jones, however, showed us that life is not all bad once you get North of the M25. In fact the M25 (and no doubt the M1) had contributed to their 7 hour odyssey to get to the gig at the Dublin Castle in North Camden – and this made their sharp, balls-out, rocky performance all the more impressive.

Kris Jones is a consummate front-man: tall, eye-catching and with a powerful rock-voice that can do both an intimate melody, as well as thundering out a chorus to the rafters.
He looks right, he sounds right, and he gives a real presence and credibility to the whole Jones crew. I was just a bit surprised he was Welsh (since they all come from Leeds!)_ … but then I suppose with a name like Jones I should have guessed! Anyway that probably explains the richness of his voice – not quite Tom Jones, but way, way better than Aled Jones!

The rest of the Jones acquitted themselves ably – some interesting riffs and textures from the two guitarists, Kev Jones and Adam Jones, a solid bass player in Jono Jones and a crashingly tight sticksman, Mike Jones. You see they are all called Jones … The Jones.

Anyway, names aside the whole ensemble give the numbers a good solid rock foundation. If someone could just give a few members pf the band an “I’m a Rockstar Extreme Make-Over” then they’d be perfect … But perhaps, actually, this might have made Kris stand out all the more – and since rock is mostly about the front-man maybe it’s not that necessary. Perhaps I’m just too used to seeing London-based bands work on their image rather than their songwriting …

The Jones song-writing did fortunately stand-out, and “Shotgun” was particularly noticeable. There were one or two other pretty darn good rock anthems in there too, and Kris even dedicated one of the newer numbers to Ricky Hatton … “you fucken legend” … there was definitely an affinity in the songs with the pugnacious welterweight. Potent and Northern.

I’d enjoyed the support StarChamber – a gutsy, almost folksy, indie band; I even appreciated the slightly clichéd Camden punk sound of the Telegraphs; who headlined the gig after the Jones. But really there was only one band of the night for me – the Jones blew my socks off!

Leeds United may still be struggling and giving fans little to be happy about – but at least the West Yorkshire city still has something to be proud of – the Jones. If they play near you already, then you’re a lucky bastard!

If not and you, like me, have to wait for the next time they brave a 7 hour journey down South – then make sure you keep up with the Jones’s and get to see them live!

The Drake’s Progress
December 2007
William D Drake, operatic, even hymnal, former keyboard player of cult-band the Cardiacs played the headline at the Borderline. I’d seen the Cardiacs once before in 1999 and been interested in their very off-beat alternative, uncategorizable sound … but I have to fess up and say that i found myself at the gig by accident!

This is always a rare treat, you’re at a venue and suddenly you realise you know a band and think – “bloody hell if I had known this was on I’d definitely have come and seen these guys”. And then I’d have probably forgotten or got double-booked or something … Anyway everyone else, of course, was well aware who was playing! The abundance of Cardiacs, Sea Nymphs and Alphabet t-shirts should have tipped me off earlier.

So THREE keyboard players – which is excessive in my mind even for an alternative jazz-rock-progressive-indie band – including the eponymous Mister Drake. On drums was current Cardiacs drummer Bill Leith, on Trumpet and additional vocals (and generally staring strangely at the crowd) Terry Pitt.

To be honest the gig felt more like being at a family wedding than a gig, and the sound was more like jazz than prog rock … I’ve always felt about the Cardiacs (and spin offs) that I just don’t get IT – but that doesn’t mean I don’t like IT and I watched transfixed for most of the show.

The rest of the crowd, naturally, loved it and were very much involved in the whole family wedding thing – I felt a bit outside it, but the warmth and general bonhomie of William D Drake and the whole oddity of the experience kept me glued to the performance. Personally I’ve always felt the Cardiacs sound like the sort of surreal, jovial, insanity I associate with a benevolent hallucinogenic experience … and Bill Drake was no exception.

The music definitely makes people
happy in a kind of medicated but “who gives a fuck” smiley way and there just seems to be a whole depth of good-feeling and happiness that you’d normally associate with the cult-following. If I didn’t know any better I’d swear it was a religion …

I have to confess that the gig left even me with a warm glow … and also a desire to dig out those old Cardiacs CDs and see if I understood it any better now, almost 10 years after I first stumbled across them. Who knows I might even get hold of the Earthy Shrine EP William D Drake was launching at the gig!

Words R M Lippiett ©2008

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Monday, October 6th, 2008 livemusic