Thursday, 25 January 2018

Natural stage presence. Sophie and the Giants: Shacklewell Arms, 24 January 2018

It can't be too easy playing to 25 people, most of whom are scattered around the bar at the back of the venue. There are two people dancing down the front, but there's a chance they're your friends. Being the support band can be a challenge. But none of this was a problem for the lead singer of this band. 



She has natural stage presence. I know I keep banging on about performances - and audience involvement - in these reviews, but she seemed to have something else. She looked comfortable on stage, despite the fact that the audience was minimal. It's the subtle things that separate a natural-born-performer to everyone else. Like a smile in the right place or a look of confidence, despite the conditions. I wish I was a talent scout who could propel this woman to stardom. But I'm not. Let's hope that one day she's discovered and that she always remembers how comfortable and in control she felt in front of a handful of people. 

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

At the height of their talent. Fleet Foxes: Latitude Festival, 16 July 2017

Some friends and I were lucky enough to see Fleet Foxes in Berlin in 2009. In a small venue. They had nice long beards and even longer pauses between tracks, with drummer Josh Tillman (now Father John Misty) cracking jokes. I loved it because it was perfect for a small, intimate stage with one album under their belts.

Robin Pecknold, Fleet Foxes
In 2017, they're on their third album, they have smaller beards, Tillman has gone and singer Robin Pecknold has been to college. And all of those experiences seem to have only served to send them to the stratospheric level of festival headliners. This was their territory 100%. 

They have purpose and are at the height of their talent right now. They kept a punishing schedule going, mostly segueing between songs for an hour and a half. Fleet Foxes have turned into a slick machine that sees the band completely in control and in total sync with each other, with spell-binding stage presence. Standing there watching and listening to the harmonies on Mykonos is one of the gig moments of my life. 

Wonderful. And we were lucky enough to be there.  

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