Wednesday, 5 April 2017

£10 for all this simplicity? Samantha Crain: Lexington, Angel - 4 April 2017

Is it me or am I starting to crave the simple things in life? Like doing something spontaneous and booking a gig ticket with two days to go? Like it costing £10. Like the fact that the stage times were already on the venue's website two days before showtime. Or like the burger and fries purchased downstairs before the gig. Like the small audience in an intimate setting. All of that's great but to top it off Samantha Crain was talented, side-splittingly witty, interesting, endearing and entertaining. You had to be there. Luckily I was - with gig-buddy-Steve. Samantha Crain has a bunch of songs that come to life when performed live; one (Red Sky, Blue Mountain) is sung in her native American Choctaw tongue, a language taught to her by her grandmother. And on top of that we had a bit of room around us because we weren't crushed in like you usually are. And we got home quickly. A perfect evening. And oh so simple. It was so easy to enjoy so much talent. 

Friday, 3 February 2017

Hang on - Is it 1969? Hidden Charms: Dingwalls, Camden - 2 February 2017

Yes in 1969 and Hidden Charms in 2017

I was five or six when the post-summer-of-love and pre-progressive-rock thing happened: it was called psychedelia. So I missed out, but here we were in 2017 with a bunch of twenty-somethings moshing away to a band of what I can only describe as beautiful hippies. Long hair, friendly, talented. Hidden Charms have a natural stage presence and I'm sure when they have a longer repertoire they will be a big band. That's if enough youngsters are willing to embrace the psychedelic. The first thing I did on the bus home was to watch Yes on YouTube perform 'Beyond and Before' from 1969. It was as if I'd just watched them live in Camden as well. 

Sunday, 3 July 2016

The unexpected saves the day. Cuban Brothers at the Hyde Park event - 1 July 2016

'The Cuban Brothers will make you laugh, sing along, cry with joy, wet your pants and shake your booty.'

If  you've ever been to a festival, how often did the headline miserably fail to live up to expectations, only for you to discover a real gem in a tiny tent? For me, that's happened often. But nothing like on Friday night. 

I have to say that Patti Smith was underwhelming. Sounding good, but there was no moment of magic between her and me. 

And so my brother-in-law and I nipped over to the Bacardi stage to watch the Cuban Brothers. It sounded interesting, but for quite a while, no one came on stage. There was just sound from a DJ. We nearly left. But we didn't and we lucked out. 

Onto the stage came a storm of LGBT / Los Angeles Latino insanity which I could hardly believe I was seeing. People doing spinning jumps in sparkly costumes, a man in a big white suit with a boxer's belt and acerbic gags; and another in the gayest hat you've seen this side of the Castro. 

Before long forty people were dancing, laughing, high-fiving and having a post-Brexit vote commiseration party. It went on for about forty minutes and it made us late for Massive Attack. We didn't care. Even after the Cuban Brothers left the podium, everyone danced out of the little gate that keeps the stage enclosed and we high-fived the security guard. 

Massive Attack were underwhelming. Sounded good but after what we'd seen, we knew it was time to go home early. 

Are the best things in life free? I wonder...I think the best things in life are unexpected. 

Thursday, 8 October 2015

The disappearing moshpit: Steve Hackett: Shepherd's Bush Empire - 07 October 2015




I fainted in front of Phil Collins in 1980. Did I swoon to his version of ‘A groovy kind of love’? Well, luckily no. PC was still the Genesis frontman at the time and 35 years ago, at the Brighton Centre, I lost consciousness because I got encased in a very sweaty moshpit.

It’s hard to believe now, that as a teen prog fan, I girated around to the full twenty minute version of ‘Supper’s Ready’; and last night, as Genesis’s guitarist (until 1977) Steve Hackett, played his set, it was seating room only. The seats in the stalls were pyloned in. There was even a half-time break so that the predominantly male audience could relieve that 50+ year-old bladders.

I’ve seen Steve before doing just Genesis numbers so last night I was there for his solo stuff. Look: it’s deeply proggy but it took me back to a time listening to these songs with my sister’s boyfriend’s brother in his house in Brighton. For some, ‘Shadow of the Hierophant’ is all prog nonsense. But last night, Steve Hackett’s guitar-playing was so good that this behemoth track was mesmerising.

I actually found the Genesis material disappointing because, if I’m honest, the set was for people who are even more Genesis-purists than me – there was nothing that wasn’t originally recorded before 1974. But Steve did it again with Firth of Fifth, to finish the evening. Another mesmerising performance. It was worth going just for that.

Collins and Hackett back in the day
And then the old men cheerily emptied their bladders again after the encore.

At the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, on levels one and two, you can actually stand if you want to, up against a wall. I did this and obviously used the wall for leverage, being over 50, for the whole three hours.

Because I just wish, in some small way, that I was down the front again, moshing and fainting to Steve Hackett…and Phil Collins. 

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

A bit more piss-whipping? Latitude festival, 16-19 July 2015.

I fell into conversation with brother-in-law Andrew, just as this festival was coming to an end. We'd had a 'moment'. You know, when all of the factors come together to make a perfect festival performance. 


Here comes the nice. Stornoway, 19 July 2015

The band? Stornoway. The venue? The tiny 'other voices' stage, with a few hundred inside a pulsatingly hot room, with loads outside trying to get in. All the boxes were ticked: the music, the venue, the banter, the intimacy - and - the crowd. That crowd were lovely. 

But...we discussed whether the whole festival was a bit, well...too lovely. How can that be? Well, on the Saturday night, a young man brushed past me on a bridge crossing the lake, and then came back to fully apologise in the most grovelling way. The teens camping near us confirmed that they preferred the Latitude vibe (man) to say Reading or the V Festival. It was fantastic. 

But, we're veterans of those other festivals. From 2005-2012, our group went to the V. We went because the bands were good and some of us hadn't yet entered our sixth decade alive. We've since retired from the V...But, in 2013 and 2014, various members of our group had to chaperone teens at Reading. 

Those festivals have an edge. A few years ago, during MGMT, a cardboard pint of urine struck me on the neck and drenched two nearby-standers. So, to put it bluntly, we've been pissed-whipped and exposed to a feral end-of-the-world young people's hades. After that, seeing a good performance was all-the-more deserved and earned. 

At Latitude, perhaps the way to look at it is to say that the reason our group loved Ezra Furman, the Vaccines, the Charlatans, and many other bands, is because we've done our time in hell. We bloody deserved this. 

And, if it's any consolation, we got told off for building a fire far too high. Naturally, the security guards were apologetic in asking us to put it out. So, we were the worst behaved at the whole Latitude festival. Practically feral.

Below is my list of bands I saw in order of how much I enjoyed them. 

But forget what I said when I started this blog. Latitude was amazing. I'll take nice, polite people any day. Just like Stornoway. A fantastic memory. 

Stornaway 
Ezra furman 
Charlatans 
Vaccines
Two Bears 
Femi Kuti
Rob Delaney (comedy)
Margaret Thatcher quiz show (cabaret)
King Creosote 
Django Django
Speak Galactic 
Boomtown Rats
Manic Street Preachers
Alt j 
Ivo Graham (comedy)
Liane La Havas
Laura Marling
Black rivers

Friday, 10 April 2015

And talking about bollocks......Courtney Barnett: Electric Ballroom, Camden - 10 Apr 2015


"Give us an anecdote", this guy next to me shouted as Courtney Barnett addressed the audience after her second song. Painfully shy, it seemed that her clever lyrics were in direct disproportion to what she had to say to the crowd. But then a strange thing happened. 

She visibly relaxed and started talking bollocks. Just anything that came into her head, and somehow it worked. And, somehow, it also improved the music. Courtney Barnett and her band became progressively intimate with the audience, at one point saying they loved us and at other times telling us to bugger off. 

And when she gets going and gets the confidence up, she's fantastic. So, to the lyrics. They remind me of early Elvis Costello, who sang: "The chairman of this boredom is a compliment collector. I'd like to be his funeral director." (Opportunity, 1979). Courtney: "I'm having an existential time crisis. Want bliss, daylight savings won't fix this mess. Under-worked and over-sexed, I must express my disinterest." (Pedestrian at Best, 2015) 

Very clever. And all supplemented with a great show....after about four songs. It was all uphill from there; and not an uphill struggle. At times, she was practically shouting and as the evening went on, this mingled with the bollocks chat to make it really special.  

Which is a shame, because the next time she comes over from Australia, she'll play a much bigger venue than this. The only advice I'd give Courtney, when she does start filling stadia, is to remember what made her so good tonight; that is, to bash out the songs, ignore the anecdotes and to keep talking bollocks.

Friday, 9 January 2015

J Mascis and my curly fingertips: Scala - 8 Jan 2015


My fingertips are trying to creak themselves back towards my knuckles, as instinctively I don’t want to write what I’m about to type. Last night I saw someone with zero personality, no stage presence and nothing to say to the audience between songs; no one apart from the front row could see him properly as he sat down to do his acousticy set.

And I loved every minute.

I’ve always lived by the mantra that there are only two bands that don’t need to talk to the audience and interact. One is the Rolling Stones. The other is the Stone Roses. Both are as cool as a stone. Everyone else must, you know, get involved. Whip em up into a storm. You see too many bands who look like rabbits in the headlights between songs as if it’s a massive shock that they now have to talk to the audience.  

But J Mascis doesn’t embrace any of that. Like a curmudgeonly friend who deigns to grace you with his presence on curry night, he mumbled his way through the talky bits and practically stormed off – and on again for the encore. He’s not a people-person.

I’d been warned. Earlier in the day he was on Lauren Laverne’s Six Music show and Lauren had done sterling work trying to get something out of the mono-syllabic Mascis. She did well, keeping Six Music from becoming ‘Dead Air Live’. It was embarrassing.

But all my prejudices were thrown asunder and now my fingertips are starting to relax because boy can he play guitar. My gig-buddy Steve wondered whether he overdid the fuzzbox on tracks such as Heal the Star, but I loved the distorted sound he put into it. It was loud and raw and not actually that acousticy.

J played for about 75 minutes, which would have taken much concentration given it was totally solo. Nice for the sound tech guys who didn't even have to say: "One/two"; more like "One" - it was easy to set up but complicated to perform. 

A guitar virtuoso session. After the gig, three women excitedly exclaimed that there wasn't a queue for the loo. That's because this gig was an unashamably male, stroke chin (probably with ironic beard affixed) event. 

Bloody brilliant. I'll never look down my nose at a non-chatty artist again. Promise (Fingertips; behave yourselves now)