Tuesday 19 December 2017

Honeyblood, Rescue Rooms, Nottingham

Supported by Super Furniture

Honeyblood are a band I’ve wanted to see for ages and who I finally saw last year at the Handmade Festival in Leicester. However that was a very short set cut even shorter due to the whole festival running behind schedule. I’m hopefully for more than just six songs tonight.

First though are Nottingham’s Super Furniture who openly confess that they don’t have any music to sell us but they are very keen for us to buy a t-shirt. They are also back in July. I think the lead singer mentioned that... several times.

They are a fairly bog standard indie four piece guitar band, pleasant enough but not of the required level to buy the t-shirt.

Honeyblood are still at that nice stage where they set up their own instruments while trying to pretend that they aren’t the band before sneaking off stage to make a grand entrance and everyone’s supposed to go ‘oh, you ARE the band’. Problem is that’s not working any more because they’re becoming too well know. As is shown by the fact that this gig, originally scheduled for the Bodega, got upgraded.

It is their second album ‘Babes Never Die’ that has got them the recognition and it is from that they open with acerbic ‘Justine, Misery Queen’. Understandably it is that album, slightly more polished that their first, that provides the majority of tonight’s set.

However, their first album ‘Honeyblood’ is arguably as good as shown by the more rift-ful ‘Choker’ which is up next and which sets the tone for a night of good noisy fun with the odd
reflective moment thrown in such as on the excellent ‘Cruel’.

The band of Stina Tweeddale on guitar and Cat Myers on drums are one of just many two-piece bands around at the moment. It must be quite a feat for two people to create the sound that is usually associated with a full band but these two manage it and think of the lower overheads that must bring. It makes you wonder why everyone isn't doing it.

There’s also less chance of your band members falling out but then if you do it's probably terminal or perhaps not because, although Honeyblood were formed in Glasgow back in 2012, Myers has only been on board since 2014.

The only misstep is when Stina says ‘Thank you Bristol’ after one track, oops, but after a bout of booing, mainly orchestrated by herself she is forgiven.

After three of their big numbers ‘Sea Hearts’, oldie ‘Killer Bangs’ and album title track ‘Babes Never Die’ end the set we find out that a band who, apparently, didn’t believe in encores now do.

They come back for two more, another oldie ‘Super Rat’ and one of their recent big singles ‘Ready for the Magic’.

Excellent stuff and, oh, Honeyblood have t-shirts on sale too.

Thursday 23 November 2017

Bananarama, NIA, Birmingham

I am a little out of my comfort zone tonight. I know this because I’m at the NIA in Birmingham, or whatever it’s called this week, and the two women in front of me are wearing flashing red devil’s horns as are a distressingly large number of other folk. I have a feeling that the car is out of it’s comfort zone too as it throws a flat tyre into the mix that I don’t notice until we pull into the NIA car park. Hopefully it’s only just gone flat.

I could do with a drink, a pint of overpriced cheap lager perhaps, but in a nod to the times the venue is full of fast food joints and merchandise stalls selling t-shirts for £30 and programmes a snip at only a tenner less. There are hardly any bars which means long queues at the ones they do have, so we don’t bother. Oh, and I have a seat. Welcome to the world of Arena concerts, this is not my usual environment.

Oh, and the support act is a DJ. Hmmm. Really? Apparently Belfast got The Adventures, who are admittedly from Belfast but I'd have contributed towards their air fare.

Tonight’s main attraction, by the way, are Bananarama on their inventively titled ‘The Original Line Up Tour’. Yes, Siobhan is back and so are we. We’d seen Sara and Keren at Splendour a few years ago but this, amazingly, is the band’s first ever tour as a threesome. However, while Splendour was more or less an up close and personal experience from where I’m sat tonight I can’t even tell who’s who let alone able get any decent photographs.

Almost all gig venues are rectangular but places where the experience matters put the stage in the middle but places where the money matters put it at the end, like tonight.

Anyway, I best stop whinging about the place because the girls are good tonight. They’re in good voice, well choreographed and with a very able four piece band backing them with no obvious signs of any backing tapes. The music, well, dubious but popular Stock, Aitken and Waterman era stuff aside, that is good too.

Openers ‘Nathan Jones’ and ‘Robert De Niro's Waiting’ are excellent but probably chucked in too soon, ‘Cruel Summer’ also comes very early, as the pacing does go a little bit awry mid-set with material that many are unfamiliar with.

Some of these are their best songs though because ‘Rough Justice’, ‘Trick of the Night’ and their one and only ballad ‘Cheers Then’ are terrific songs, and very well done tonight. Everyone sits down for the latter, so that is why we have seats because us old folk need a mid-set siesta.

In what is a fairly daring set list they also play their début single ‘Aie a Mwana’ sung entirely in Swahili which must have took some practicing. For me the earlier stuff is indeed the best, so it’s a little annoying hearing ‘Shy Boy’ truncated and merged with the lesser known ‘Boy Trouble’ but fellow ‘Deep Sea Skiving’ tracks ‘Really Saying Something’ and the closing ‘Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye’ hit the spot.

They chuck in a cover of Shakespeare's Sister’s ‘Stay’ which is interesting with Sara and Keren becoming Marcella Detroit and (I think) they play only one track from the post-1988 post-Siobhan era, ‘Preacher Man’ which Keren, or was it Sara?, said it was one of their favourites.

There is also the bizarrely brilliant sight of seeing them dance in time with their younger selves up on the big screen on ‘I Heard a Rumour’.

The encore opens with the Fun Boy Three’s ‘It Ain't What You Do’ which they now seem to have claimed as their own. Personally I’d have got the guys to re-record their bits or take clips from the original video so they could have been ‘there’ but what do I know.

Overall though, it’s great entertainment for us and for the girls themselves, who seem to be having a whale of a time. Then it’s gig over, tyre fixed and the M42 closed. What? There’s always something.

Friday 3 November 2017

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Rock City, Nottingham

Tonight’s support band are the incredibly misspelt Restavrant and on the evidence of the last 30 seconds of their set I would have quite liked the sound of them, had I not arrived so damn late.

Then in the gap between bands the entertainment and the intrigue is presented by Rock City’s forthcoming gigs board. Just who are Arse Full Of Chips and am I missing out on something?

Then it’s time for BMRC and I’m in my element. This is how I like my music. Simple. Guitar, bass and drums. Music wi' Nowt Taken Out and nothing added either. What else do you need? And for good measure Black Rebel play it loud.

They also play it dark and smoky, and its therefore pretty dire for photography. The band seemingly disappear completely several times and we can only take their word for it that Leah Shapiro was back there on the drums at all.

Tonight they test the water with a lot of new material from their forthcoming album ‘Wrong Creatures’ although this isn’t due out until January but half a dozen tracks are featured, and they are all met with due respect, including tonight’s opener the current single ‘Little Thing Gone Wild’.

Where as ‘Bandung Hum’ is new but less so (it was also played last year) but isn’t on the album or anywhere that I can see.

Naturally the old favourites go down the best. ‘Berlin’ is as gorgeous as ever but not less impressive are the really old oldies ‘Love Burns’, ‘Stop’, ‘Six Barrel Shotgun’, ‘Spread Your Love’ etc. If there is a criticism it is that, like a lot of bands, they don’t vary the oldies enough. There is a nice outing tonight for ‘U.S. Government’ which doesn’t always feature. 

‘Howl’ is heavily featured with four songs and one does wonder whether Peter Hayes can do anything other than ‘Devil's Waitin'’ on an acoustic. Go on Pete, confuse us next time.

Sadly this traditional mid-set acoustic break which also saw Robert Levon Been perform ‘Sympathetic Noose’ wasn’t treated with the respect it deserved. Too many boozed up folk, who clearly only came to ‘rock’, talked over the top of it which is a huge shame. These people were also most likely responsible for the frequent rainstorms of lager. Something you don’t, thankfully, see much of these days. 

After ending with ‘Whatever Happened...’ and Been inevitably down the front with the crowd, they returned for a brave encore playing ‘Ninth Configuration’ off the new album. A track that is sure to become another brooding BMRC classic.

Twenty three songs and two hours from probably the finest rock three piece around.

Friday 1 September 2017

Skids, Rock City, Nottingham

Supported by Angelic Upstarts

They say that old punks never die and as if to prove that statement we are at Rock City tonight to welcome back the Skids, the latest of that generation to reform. They have dabbled with minor reformation in the past but this time it’s for real, with a full UK tour to celebrate their 40th anniversary and there’s even a new album ‘Burning Cities’ in the offing.

Also still around, and from the same era, are support act Angelic Upstarts. We only catch the end of their set, so it would be unfair to comment on them really, only to say that they went down very well with the crowd.

Of course there is one old punk who sadly disproves that statement. Obviously Stuart Adamson can’t be here but original members Richard Jobson and William Simpson are, along with drummer Mike Baillie who joined the band a few albums in.

As the band opening with ‘Animation’ one thing was absolutely clear, that Jobson had certainly not lost the desire to not only throw himself into every song but around the stage too.

The question was could he last the distance. As he windmilled his way through ‘Of One Skin’ and ‘Melancholy Soldiers’ it was clear that he was certainly going to give it a damn good go.

Thereby followed an all-inclusive run through of the band’s singles and better known album tracks, with the likes of ‘Working For The Yankee Dollar’ and ‘The Saints Are Coming’ going down particularly well.

Stepping into Adamson’s very large shoes tonight was, rather appropriately, his former Big Country band mate Bruce Watson. As Jobson paid tribute to Adamson prior to ‘Scared to Dance’, Rock City erupted in a huge round of applause in his memory.

Watson had brought with him his son, Jamie, to play rhythm guitar and also to become target of a mid-set sing along of ‘Ed Sheeran is a wanker’, as he does bear a passing resemblance.

Back to the music and there was little you could think of that the band didn’t play, from début single ‘Charles’ through to the epic ‘The Olympian’ with Jobson still going strong. I was sort of worried he would collapse and I think he was too, admitting he was knackered and not quite his old younger self any more. Then he was off into motion again with another one legged scissor kick, only occasionally grabbing a sneaky rest as he delivered one of his engaging but often unfathomable anecdotes about the band.

The finale was stunning. The excellent ‘A Woman In Winter’ lead into ‘Circus Games’, then ‘Masquerade’ before they finished with ‘Into the Valley’.

They return quickly to play ‘Charade’ and then the song that Jobson threatened not to play if anyone badgered him for it. Namely ‘TV Stars’, the original flipside to ‘Into The Valley’, revamped slightly with Boris Johnson and Theresa May included in the lyrics but still (obviously) with it’s singalong ‘Albert Tatlock’ chorus.

They return for a second time and reprise 'Of One Skin' claiming they’ve run out of material. It’s perhaps slightly odd that they refrain from previewing anything from their new album but I suppose tonight is really all about the last 40 years.

Now I am no hard core Skids fan but tonight was pretty special. Welcome back to the best (and only) punk band from Scotland, so says Jobson’s mother anyway.

Skids Setlist Rock City, Nottingham, England 2017

Saturday 3 June 2017

Shriekback, Shepherd's Bush Empire

Supported by The Woodentops

If I had a Bucket List of things to do before I die, and sadly I don’t but perhaps I should, and if I had one specifically for gigs then seeing Shriekback play Nemesis live would surely be on it.

Sadly the opportunity to see them in the flesh didn’t come up back in the day and the band last played live in 1992. Since then they have only existed as a studio vehicle for main man Barry Andrews.

Now fan pressure (seemingly we still exist) has demanded a live return and Andrews responded by launching a ‘Kickstarter’ campaign, saying that if we fund it they’ll do. I pledged money for a CD and a T-Shirt, the target was reached and Andrews, true to his word, set about reforming as much of the original band as possible. Now here we are with a gig at the Shepherds Bush Empire.

Shriekback were formed in 1981 but were always way too odd for the mainstream, yet they had a string of ‘hits’ on the UK Indie Chart in the days when that was printed in the back of NME, Melody Maker, Sounds et all and was studied avidly by impressionable teenagers like me.

After hearing only one track, their single ‘All Lined Up’, I bought their early ‘hits’ album (released after only one album and an EP) called ‘The Infinite’ for 50p in the ‘dodgy’ bin at Way Ahead records. The records in this bin were usually marked ‘promotional copy only – not for resale’.

This was 1984 and the same year I bought their next album ‘Jam Science’, followed the purchase of ‘Oil and Gold’ a year later, the album that most will remember them for.

Sadly, it’s not looking very busy in the impressive Empire as the support band, the Woodentops, who hail from the same era but with a very different sound, take the stage. It seems the road to reunion hasn’t been smooth, other gigs in Manchester and Glasgow were quickly pulled and only one of two warm up shows went ahead. One in Lewes sold out yet one in Whitstable was cancelled after the promoters only sold six tickets. Ouch. 

However by the time Shriekback take the stage, after a short but entertaining set from the Woodentops, the venue is actually looking almost full. As is the stage, with their eight piece ensemble. Barry Andrews is joined by Martyn Barker, Carl Marsh, Steve Halliwell and Mike Cozzi with the Partridge sisters, Wendy and Sarah, on backing vocals. Missing, original member Dave Allen is replaced on bass by Scott Firth (of PIL).

They open with a couple of tracks from 1983’s ‘Care’ album, ‘In: Amongst’ and the wonderful ‘Lines From the Library’ before playing ‘Over the Wire’ a track I wasn’t aware of from an album ‘Go Bang’ from 1988 that I hadn’t heard.

The set also included more recent material with two tracks from the 2015 album ‘Without Real String or Fish’ and one totally new song called ‘Shovelheads’.

However most of the set is turned over to the ‘Oil and Gold’ album. First its ‘Malaria’ and then ‘This Big Hush’ which was made slightly famous by being featured in the film ‘Manhunter’. Then follows ‘Faded Flowers’, ‘Everything That Rises Must Converge’ and ‘Fish Below the Ice’. All are gratefully and enthusiastically received. While 1986's ‘Big Night Music’ album contributes ‘Black Light Trap’ and ‘Underwaterboys’.

As a finale we get early single ‘My Spine Is the Bassline’ followed by the epic that is ‘Nemesis’ complete with it’s priests, cannibals, prehistoric animals etc.

The snarling almost punk rock of ‘Suck’ opens the encore, which is sadly the only track lifted from ‘Jam Science’ tonight. Then it’s that first track I ever heard, ‘All Lined Up’, and a seventh track ‘Hammerheads’ from ‘Oil and Gold’ to close.

It is very good to finally see them live and they ticked all the boxes I expected them to tick. Perhaps a little too much ‘Oil and Gold’ and not enough ‘Jam Science’ but that’s just my preference.

Shriekback Setlist O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, England 2017

Sunday 30 April 2017

Handmade Festival, Leicester Academy

Frightened Rabbit, British Sea Power, Honeyblood, Jaws, Gallops, Superfood, Get Inuit, Happyness

Tonight, I’m in Leicester and feeling a bit nostalgic. I’m feeling that way because a trip to see a band in Leicester used to be a weekly occurrence (back in the day...) such was its draw for bands but probably nowhere has been butchered of their traditional gig venues more than the Leicester.

The Granby Halls went before we entered the new millennium, The Charlotte lasted barely a decade longer as a gig venue (but at least it's still there) and the revered Magazine went before I could even get there. All big losses but for me a trip to Leicester almost always meant a trip to one of the city’s two universities.

However, it’s been sixteen long years since my last visit to a Leicester university and that was to the much loved De Montfort Uni Arena (formerly the Leicester Poly Arena of course) to see Feeder (naturally). The Arena was one of the best around for sound and atmosphere, apparently it was loved almost as much by John Peel as it was by me. Sadly, it closed its doors to bands in 2003 and then sat there for a decade or more waiting to be reborn but it never was. It’s been even longer, 1992, 25 years since I was last at Leicester University (Zodiac Mindwarp by the way). That would probably have been in the Percy Gee building, never a favourite of mine and it never got the bands that the Poly did but it was decent enough.

The Percy Gee building is where I am tonight. In 2010, it was revamped as the University got into bed with the Academy organisation that you could say had done so much over the years to put so many venues like those in Leicester out of business. Whereas once a band would climb the ‘ladder’ of venues within a city as they grew in popularity, now they can do it all under one roof. Which is probably why it has taken me so long to make my first visit as Academy visiting isn’t really one of my must-do pastimes.

The four rooms under the Academy roof tonight host the 5th Handmade festival of which it is also my first visit. As I walk in at around 6.30pm, God Damn are playing loudly on the main stage. Apologies to them but they are so not my thing and especially not when my head is still a little tender from the night before.

Happyness upstairs in Academy 2 are better. Yes they’re a bit jangly 90’s indie but still very pleasant to listen to.

Moving back into Academy 1, I have to confess that musically it's a nice venue and ticks most of the required boxes. Unfortunately it has the standard appalling Academy range of drinks. I had hoped they'd have a beer tent as it's a festival and there are plenty of decent food tents outside but no. There's also no access to the Uni's own bar which used to do a decent pint or two but that may no longer the case of course.

One of the reasons I’m here is to see Honeyblood, who are a real favourite of mine at the moment and they are up next. 

Consisting of just singer/guitarist Stina Tweeddale and drummer Cat Myers with a sound reminiscent of the Belly era but they pack more girl power per pound than many bands with twice as many members. Sadly, they cram just six songs into their half an hour slot but still leave a big favourable impression.

A lot of bands seem to be struggling to set up and sound check in the required window. Superfood back upstairs in Academy 2 really struggle and come on well late but then it probably serves them right for being so arty and technical.

I would have really liked to have seen them again but I give up on them and head back downstairs to the more stripped back Scholar Bar where Superfood’s loss is Get Intuit's gain. They seem to have no such problems getting straight 'into it' and they turn out to be the find of the night.

Their songs are all played with a manic intensity and singer Jamie Glass is a joy to behold. They play a set full of wit and humour along with some pretty decent guitar playing which backs up some really catchy tunes. One of which, their recent single ‘Barbiturates’, is an absolute pop classic.

British Sea Power don't seem to struggle getting their foliage set up with time to spare but getting the necessary wires in the right places seems to take a lot long and they too come on late.

Their new album contributes a large portion of the set and in fact the opening five songs which, from a record that is still only a few weeks old, seems to subdue even their hardcore support. A pulsating combo of 'No Lucifer' and 'Remember Me' eventually restores disorder, then the bears are in the crowd... and everyone's trying to grab them for a selfie, meaning everything is again all right with the world.

British Sea Power Setlist Handmade Festival 2017 2017, Let the Dancers Inherit the Party

As BSP close with their epic instrumental ‘The Great Skua’ I move onto a band with a set full of them. There's been quite a bit of talk about Gallops over the years although mainly because they did the rock 'n' roll thing of making one well received album and then splitting up. Now they’re back and, well, perhaps need to be viewed from afar with the aid of some substance to be appreciated fully. 

Upstairs Jaws are much sweeter on the plate, perhaps too much so. They remind me a little of Haircut 100 or perhaps it’s the Foals sound they’re after. Not my thing either but as they’re already well on their way to stardom they don’t really need my approval anyway.

I haven't seen Frightened Rabbit for a while and I have always been a bit disillusioned by the way they ultimately turned out. For a band build on the misery that Scott Hutchinson spread across their first two albums they have gone on to make that despair quite upbeat and now the band are very much rock stars that have embraced a sound that is bordering on stadium rock. I never thought that would be how they'd go. I’m not sure how you can rewind that and presumably the band don't want to.

That said, classics like ‘Heads Roll Off, ‘Fast Blood’ and real oldie ‘Square 9’ still sound great but whether they need three guitars to pull these off I’m not sure. FR entertain but it still doesn't feel right hearing them rock out so much.

The hardcore fans here continually call for the cult track ‘Snake’ which Hutchinson maintains is just to piss him off (as it's rather naff) but it’s probably more of a call for a more stripped back sound and maybe he should consider embracing the project.  

Hutchinson does further stoke my nostalgia trip when he alludes back to their performance at the much missed Summer Sundae Festival. I was at that one too and while that probably won’t come back either Handmade is certainly a nice additional to be going on with for now.

Frightened Rabbit Setlist Handmade Festival 2017 2017, Painting of a Panic Attack Tour

Friday 31 March 2017

Feeder, Sheffield Leadmill

Supported by The Jacques

Is it just my age or are lead singers getting ever younger? Once singer\guitarist Fin O’Brien announces that The Jacques are from Bristol I find myself wondering what time he had to bunk off school in order to make it to Sheffield in good time. A bit unfair really, The Jacques are not new and have being going since early 2014.

They play a Strokes-ish indie pop that they may well have discovered at school... The fact that they've been around a while now and, despite some critical acclaim, haven't broken through is perhaps because there isn't really anything about them that stands out. They're pleasant enough but struggle to command the attention of a Feeder focused audience tonight.

At the end of their set, I mishear and I think they're about to play a cover of 'Eleanor Rigby' but it's actually one of their singles called 'Eleanor Ring Me'. Yes, it must be my age.

Age is at least something I have in common with Feeder and none of us are getting any younger. This year it's twenty years since their début album 'Polythene' and therefore roughly twenty years since I discovered them. They've aged well, probably better than me.

Despite their longevity they have always maintained that they are not a band for the nostalgia circuit but sometimes I have wondered. Yes, when they come out on tour it is always to promote a new album. So it's never just the hits but the stuff that is not new really is 'just the hits' and the post-2001 Buck Rogers breakthrough hits at that.

As someone who has invested a lot of years in the band this is frustrating and from the feedback they get on social media it's not just me tearing hair out that I can't afford to lose. So this time we hoped things might be a little, shall we say, more varied from a band who have a back catalogue of nine albums, an early EP that has acquired cult status and literally dozens of classy b-sides. Promises have been made and set list votes put up, so excitement builds.

Then the tour starts in Liverpool with the set list almost exactly the same and in exactly the same order as on the tour they did before Christmas. So excitement declines...

But then Feeder do often get more daring as they find their feet on a tour and tonight we are at Sheffield's Leadmill. My second favourite venue of all time after Nottingham’s Rock City. The Leadmill has a generous curfew for bands and tonight Feeder are about to make good use of it.

The first cause for excitement is the reinstatement of 'Shatter', last sighted in 2008 on the Silent Cry tour. It's sounding very different tonight, less meaty perhaps with a quiet build up rather than them smashing straight into it but it’s slightly more elegant I would say. Very nice.

Next surprise, the inclusion of 'Sentimental' off the Renegades album. I have nothing against 'Sentimental' but this really must be a Grant Nicholas favourite as it does crop up more often than you would expect. It wouldn't have been my choice as a surprise but any surprises are very welcome.

Then I sort of settle in and enjoy the rest of the set, not really expecting anything else to surprise me until the encore, if at all. Of the usual suspects the back to back trio of 'Come Back Around', 'Insomnia' and 'Borders' all sound rather fine tonight. The epic newbie 'Eskimo' is particularly epic and there is a surprisingly strong 'Lost and Found', it's not usually one of my favourites.

Then we're half way through the closing double of 'Just the Way I'm Feeling' and 'Buck Rogers' when there is suspicious whispering amongst the band. Nicholas announces that there has been a lot of requests for the next track on Facebook, it's an oldie off 'Echo Park', we haven't played it for ages etc, etc... and I'm think stop being a f****** tease, we all know you're just going to play 'Buck Rogers' and then leg it... but then suddenly it isn't. It's 'Turn' which they have occasionally, shall I say rarely, been playing in the encore. Now it's in the set and the evening has suddenly got rather wonderful.

Well after that, he can do what he likes with the encore. He can even play 'Tumble and Fall' if he wants but the entertainment isn’t done yet, not by a long way. I’m obviously just expecting the excellent but incredibly populous finale of 'Seven Days in the Sun' and 'Just a Day' but first the band play the rather gorgeous 'Infrared-Ultraviolet' off the new album.

So value for money then but still we aren’t done. That intro he’s playing doesn’t sound much like 'Seven Days' to me, it sounds very like 'Sweet 16'. You crafty bastard Mr Nicholas, awesome stuff. You now have one very happy punter who’ll still be smiling about this next week.

Feeder Setlist The Leadmill, Sheffield, England 2017