Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The Magic Numbers Chritsmas Party - Green Note, Camden 21\12\16

Well I was kindly given guest list to this intimate shindig in glittering London with a glittery backdrop for an every changing line-up. Not to review it as some kind of incentive but because The Magic Numbers are v nice people. After a long day at work I wasn’t 100% I would be able to make it. That would have been a BIG mistake.

Romeo Stodart and Ren Harvieu set the mood perfectly with a delicate ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ before sister Michelle and Rae Husbandes previewed tunes from their recent collaborative writing adventures. The night then fell into a cover-tastic delight with tip of the hat to Len by Ren with ‘Chelsea Hotel’ , a suitably seasonable ‘River’ and the Christmas treat of ‘Cowgirl In The Sand featuring Bernard Butler pulling off a great Youngian solo.

Mr Butler’s sometime long-time musical collaborator David McAlmont was in the house (The Magic Numbers served as support and part of band on the 2016 M&B tour) and we got a belter of a set. ‘You Do’, the timeless space love song ‘Falling’, a shake ya booty ‘Bring It Back’ from their criminally ignored 2nd album and a superb “In Memoriam 2016” medley of ‘When Doves Cry’ & ‘Let’s Dance’.
There was even time for a song from that still unfinished 3rd album – c’mon chaps!! – a new one I’m calling ‘What A Year (Done & Gone) which sums up how most people feel about the past 12 months.

The Magic Numbers took us through the final victory lap which included a ferocious ‘Shot In The Dark’ with Romeo and Bernard indulging in some guitar duelling which was jamtastic stuff. David returned to sing lead on ‘Love’s a Game’ and we got some old faves like ‘Love Me Like You’. The Santa sack was passed round as the contents got aired – ‘I Don’t Care If It’s Christmas’ before he smooth sound of ‘Zoom’ from David & Bernard and, yes, ‘Yes’. A cast rendition of ‘Silent Night’ sealed a rather incredible, magic evening as we stumbled out into the cold December night.

This was like having the greatest band in the world playing in your front room, with a bar and a free Xmas 7″ vinyls wrapped up. I am one lucky S.O.B. sometimes.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

The Flying Seagull Project with Ed Harcourt & Friends - Union Chapel , Islington 02\12\16

The Flying Seagull Project bring laughter and smiles to the lives of children across the world through clowning, games, songs and silliness including the shattered lives of Syrian refugees across Europe.

Tonight’s benefit curated by Ed Harcourt had such a great atmosphere from the off. A short stand up set from Simon Munnery aka League Against Tedium was a Catherine wheel of gags, sparking, flying in all directions, too fast to catch them all and his Churchillian speech about headlice resulted in a similarly surreal heckle of a man in the audience handing him a nit comb.

The first half was a feast of talent as singing sisters Lock sweetly suggested snogging in the cinema, Kathryn Williams & Anthony Kerr bought the room to hushed standstill with a bewitching ‘I’m A Fool To Want You’ from their album of jazz standards. Tom McRae and Romeo Stodart of The Magic Numbers were similarly soft but devastating with Tom delivering an ace version of ‘The Ghost Of Tom Joad’ – an appropriate protest ditty for the night.

Jeremy Hardy was in the house but sadly did not give us his vocal stylings despite the presence of ISIHAC piano botherer Colin Sell as interval act leading us in a rendition of Where Did You Get That Hat to the tune of The Dambusters March.
The second half was augmented by Ed on johanna and all female string section ‘Dirty Pretty Strings’ which produced some of the standout moments of the evening. Romeo killed again with a heartfelt ‘The Partisan’ delivered in a Cohenian low rumble. Sophie Ellis Bextor was nervous but shone effortlessly with pop glory including a reworking of that old Groovejet hit. Carl Barat gave sleazy ‘(Just Checked In) Condition, this stalker was thrilled to hear Kathryn Williams perform ‘Heart Shaped Stone’ backed by those gorgeous string arrangements on the recorded version.

And as for Charlotte Church – wow. She took ‘Lover You Should Have Come Over’ from its untouchable heights and went further. Recast with gospel backing vocals and southern soul she inhabited the lyric and empathised the shit out of Jeff Buckley’s mood.
The evening ended with the cast and congregation standing to give thanks and Hallelujah with Lenny’s death very much in the air for those on stage.

The message of the gig was not about what happened this night but what we choose to do next. The circus of politics this year has distracted us from the plight of tens of 1000’s  of people and particularly kids living in darkness, terror and unimaginable pain. People matter and we shouldn’t let politicians and the media take their eyes off what’re help is desperately needed

As Kathryn said ‘Those in power wants us to believe that people are all selfish and horrible but people are really great – so fuck em’ . A life affirming night that bought a smile to my chops.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

PJ Harvey - Brixton Academy, London 30th October 2016

If you were in any way lukewarm on Polly Jean’s last two politically charged balls of fury then you would have been a) a little disappointed that this evening drew heavily on ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’ and ‘Let England Shake for its main section and b) a fucking idiot who needs ear drops, syringing and a sharp bang on the head.

Entering after her band to military drums as they face the audience like an army staring down invading hoards, PJ is lustily blowing on a sax, melting into the band line-up. Having positioned myself up near the front it really emphasised how deliberate she is when performing these songs. Not only by giving the impression she is feeling the emotions expressed but the way she moves on stage. Often it reminds you of Kate Bush’s early promo videos with a similar wide eyed and theatrical style but with careful facial and hand movements at moments of stillness.

The audience are eating out of the palm of her hand, quietest large room of people during songs (seemingly of all nationalities if the several people round me was anything to go by) but roaring their approval in between. Wazzock count – very low.

The band are deeply impressive – including Mick Harvey on keys and the mighty Terry Edwards on sax who really lets fly at the end of ‘Dollar, Dollar’ to tumultuous applause. They have a real feral and blasting energy. The stop start of ‘Ministry Of Defence’ crackles with electricity and long time collaborator John Parrish grinds out ‘To Bring You My Love’ – one of the few 20th Century tunes we hear tonight. When they slam into ’50ft Queenie’ its so jagged and violent it could take your head clean off and Peej casts off the delicate movements to throw herself into the song with full on rock poses. 

She does so again during the encore with a timely reminder of a wonderful lyricist as ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ gets a right pasting. Throughout the set, aside from band intros we get no pronouncements on politics or the like – let the music do the talking etc – but at the end we do get a sincere thanks and a broad smile. The subject matter and delivery might not be some peoples idea of fun but by god nobody is allowed to drift off when she’s on the stage.

PJ Harvey seems to do whatever the hell she likes, writes highly political social songs that the critics and her audience love and when she tours she can assemble a group of musicians to rival any other band out there.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Divine Comedy - Cambridge Junction: 20th October 2016

Can I assume that everyone who thinks Neil Hannon is a too clever by half coconut head won’t bother reading this in order to discover the current live form of this incarnation of The Divine Comedy? OK then, hello everyone else….

The beauty of supporting one of yer fave artists these days by ordering their album or bankrolling it in some way with signed or special editions is that you get access to the resulting tour tickets first. So I was delighted to get a double for me and m’colleague Hannah to pootle up the M11 and the intimate Cambridge Junction venue for The Divine Comedy’s ‘Foreverland’ initial tour dates. At half the price of next years run of shows at the London Palladium, a more than decent spot in the crowd despite a late walk up after a 5 Guys burger bomb and crystal clear sound, well, it really was a marvellous party.

Hannah has a theory that TDC are best experienced live and something is lost on the actual records which I can certainly see as Neil Hannon is a most charming and likeable chap with his bumbling stage patter and gleefully hammy acting style. He dons a bowler for ‘The Complete Banker’ and ‘Bang Goes The Knighthood’ tonight “dedicated to Sir Phillip, I mean, Phillip Green” and uses his umbrella for emphasis.

It’s a good hour before we get any of the new stuff with glorious treats like ‘Our Mutual Friend’ and a fine cover of ‘Alfie’ which he announced with everyone expecting the hit. The long outro of the former allows him to exit stage right to reappear a minute or two late in full French Revolutionary uniform complete with tricorn hat (“This should be interesting when we get to France”) but rather than reasonably lead track on the new album ‘Napoleon Complex’ we get the stomping ‘Sweden’ in all its overblow sturm und drang majesty. First new song, ‘How Can You leave Me On My Own’ is classic TDC – witty lyrics with an infectious pop melody as Neil laments “When you leave I become a dickhead / A couch dwelling, foul smelling dickhead”.

Support artist, Lisa O’Neill joins him for ‘Funny Peculiar’ as they swap compliments and quick swigs of wine and .’Catherine The Great’ celebrates the heroic woman but also happens to be his current squeeze’s name. The new songs fit seamlessly alongside ‘The Frog Princess’ and surprises like ‘Count Grassi’s Passage Over Piedmont' – you simply don’t get songs about the pioneering days of ballooning anywhere else these days

From there is a rockier romp via ‘Weekend, the other ‘Alfie’, taking a trip on the National Express, with Songs Of Love until Tonight, We Fly off home very happy that we few, we happy few, were here this sold out night

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Museum Of Childhood / The Dresser / Luke Haines : 8th October 2016

I was suited, wearing a polka dot mod shirt beloved by Bob Dylan and Lennon in 1966 and ready for a day bombing around town making full use of freedom to do as I damned well please with a day off work.

My first stop was the Museum Of Childhood in Bethnal Green, a wing of the V&A but most importantly it was the penultimate day that lads n lasses of all ages could getup close and personal to Smallfilms creations. If that name doesn’t give you an existential shiver then baby, you already dead. or too young / old to have had your life shaped as a nipper by the work of Peter Firmin & Oliver Postgate. I was fortunate enough to see them give a long lecture on their work at the NFT a few years back but never got close to their creations. In a single glass case was Madeline The Doll, Gabriel The Toad, Professor Yaffle, The Marvellous Mechanical Mouse Organ with Charlie Mouse, Jennie Mouse and Lizzie Mouse and Bagpuss himself. I was genuinely a bit choked up to be confronted by the actual characters from my kiddie TV screen. Alongside them were the Clangers, the Iron Chicken and the Soup Dragon – and I’m sorry if none of this means anything to you. There was also an exhibition of board games through history as well as a Raleigh Chopper but the day had already reached its climax with Yaffle.

After a visit to Fopp (Blu-Rays of Invasion of The Body Snatchers & The Day The Earth Caught Fire plus some weird 1994 Eels semi legal KRCW radio session on CD) I was down St Martin’s Lane to Duke Of York’s Theatre for Ronald Harwood’s play ‘The Dresser’ with Reece Shearsmith in the title role and Ken Stott as ‘Sir’. I hadn’t seen the BBC adaptation at Christmas with Patrick Stewart & Sir Ian McKellan (who were in another play up the road) or the 1983 film but wanted to see Reece & Ken act up a storm. The film is dominated by their relationship, Reece as Norman, an over attentive dresser to ‘Sir’ an increasingly dilapidated Shakespearean actor during WWII in London as he is cajoled into a performance of King Lear. It’s funny as it is tragic and of course with parallel’s to Lear as three women compete for his attention and Norman very much plays the Fool. I would not be surprised if awards are in the offing for this production.

And so the evening wends its way to Walthamstow, a room above Ye Olde Rose & Crown pub where author, songwriter and indie misanthrope Luke Haines performed a set celebrating his new album ‘Smash The System’. Its was billed as an acoustic show but when he reached for his electric guitar halfway through the evening , shouts of ‘Judas!!’ filled the air which made Luke laugh, no doubt pleased to have such a musically literate audience. The kind that would laugh at lyrics like “The Incredible String Band were an unholy cat Sang like a couple of weasels trapped in a sack”, & would enjoy the ‘Yewtree Medley’ of ‘Bad Reputation’ (Glitter) and ‘Leeds United’ (Savile) that caused Ricky Gervais’ audience to tell him to fuck off as one voice. Mr Haines’ many projects and bands were all covered tonight with ‘New French Girlfriend’ and ‘Child Brides’ from the Auteurs, his tribute to 70’s wrestling greats, Baader Meinhof and Stanley Spencer. You want songs about using menstrual blood to make your garden grow, buying a bomber jacket, marauding gangs of Morris Men & Alphabetti Spaghetti? Then you really should been here tonight – we had a ball.

Home before midnight to avoid turning into Billy Corgan – a quite tired but very happy young pup.

I’d never want to actually live in London but at striking distance for a £15 Travelcard its hard to top for a grand day out if you are footless and fancy free. That and days off work are great and to be used for more than slumping on the sofa

Saturday, 1 October 2016

You Say You Want A Revolution?: Records & Rebels 1966-1970 (V&A Museum , London)

A free afternoon in the greatest city in the world so why not nerd out over bits of paper, film stock, soundwaves and cloth that represent a tumultuous era in popular culture and history?

A slightly unwieldy titled exhibition in the same space that the record breaking Bowie one took up with a similar large room dominated by video screens. Based mostly on popular culture of the times and how it reflected Vietnam, civil rights, gay liberation, feminism, religion, war, fashion, business, the Cold War, technology and politics.

It could be said to be fairly lightweight in trying to cover so much but it does really summon up a flavour of the times through artifacts, video and most importantly – sound. As is common these days the visitor is provided a listening device and Sennheiser headphones which relays music, speech and soundtracks to video as you move round the exhibition. This can sometimes be a bit glitchy but it really does add to the experience.

Highlights – well, handwritten Beatles lyrics, those psychedelic gig posters in all their glory, iconic images and costumes, the worlds first computer “mouse” which I basically a block of wood. Physically present items that you’ve only previously glimpsed in documentaries.

There is plenty to read and examine, vinyl covers the walls and there are even a few racks of shellac to browse like one of those old fashioned record shops you’ve heard about. I also liked the section on the European counterculture and the draft dodgers in the USA.

The last main room with the huge video screens is centred on Woodstock and the other final great gatherings of the era (although Altamont not mentioned). There were beanbags to slouch on and watch. Then it’s on to the giftshop with a lot of overpriced gear/tat but quite a few books that I made a note of to ask for from Santa.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

The Jesus & Mary Chain - Islington Academy 7th September 2016

I don’t like this venue – let’s get that straight – it’s at the arse end of a shopping mall and they tried to call it The Marquee for a year. When it’s rammed, it’s uncomfortable and for short arse buggers it’s a nightmare. BUT I always forget that it has an absolutely stonking sound system and tonight was playing pre show tunes from bands influence by and an influence on JAMC. The Velvets, BRMC, Spiritualized, Joy Division etc but the Reid Brothers chose to take the stage to Lieutenant Pigeon’s ‘Mouldy Old Dough’.

I’ve seen the band a couple of times since they reunited including their first UK show at Jarvis Cocker’s Meltdown in 2007 and a tribute night for Nick Sanderson. I’d somehow missed their Psychocandy tour but they played plenty of it during the evening anyway – put simply, they were superb. Opening with ‘April Skies’ and then a snarly ‘Head On’ they were majestic, swathed in acres of dry ice of course. Jim apologises for playing “a sort of Greatest Hits” set but no-one was complaining.

Those initial shows I saw , the band were a bit sluggish, the edges sanded off by age and sobriety. Don’t get me wrong, Jim was on nowt stronger than Evian and William needs bi-focals whilst studying his strings but they feel more energised tonight. All Things Must Pass, Candy & Happy When It Rains was a triple treat to rival any other band playing on a stage anywhere else in the world at that moment. Ending the main set was a monstrous ‘Reverence’, Jim sneering the Too Hot For TOTP lyrics “I wanna die just like Jesus Christ I wanna die on a bed of spikes I wanna die just like JFK I wanna die in the USA” as the band wail & drone to feedback city central.
Leaving us with ‘Just Like Honey’ and ‘Never Understand’, a guitar centre stage screaming feedback and promise of the first new album in 18 years. On this form it could well be one of those rare late bloomers.

26 years on from their first album they shouldn’t really be this good, in this venue but they were, no violence or infighting bullshit to get in the way of a great Scottish / British/ Wevs band howling into the void. Righteous.

April Skies
Head On
Far Gone & Out
Between Planets
Blues From A Gun
Teenage Lust
Cracking Up
The Hardest Walk
All Things Must Pass
Some Candy Talking
Happy When It Rains
Halfway To Crazy
Just Like Honey
Never Understand
The Living End
Taste Of Cindy
It’s So Hard

Monday, 22 August 2016

Iain & Kath's Film Ring: Bill Murray pub, Islington

You may think you know who Iain Lee is from his TV appearances such as RISE or The 11 O’clock show but for my money he is producing interesting, funny and innovative radio in an area which is stagnant and lazy – speech. Rather than hitting the immigration, 70s kids TV show, legalise drugs or The Muslims subjects of 99% of his rivals he makes entertainment seemingly on the run. It can be serious, funny but never boring even if its just talking about something he watched on Netflix. Which is where tonight’s event began and who could imagine it would end up with 100 people packed into a former scuzzy pub in London laughing uproariously.

The seed of tonight is the documentary film ‘Kung Fu Elliot’ that follows Elliot ‘White Lightning’ Scott, Canada’s foremost action hero star as he, his friends and long suffering girlfriend Linda make his latest film – Blood Fight. The key to why this film caught Iain and his audiences imagination is that you flip-flop constantly from believing it’s real or a spoof. Elliot does not come over well but you have to admire his enthusiasm as he tries to do the thing he loves. Iain encouraged his Talk Radio listeners to watch and then discuss their theories about its authenticity etc plus interviewed the directors who assured us it was 100% genuine.

So, in a pub where I was once the music quiz Daddy, we gathered to watch Elliot Scott’s ‘The Hero / The Stalker’ – not the advertised ‘They Killed My Cat’ as Iain judged it to be unwatchable with surprisingly little fighting. Being a devotee of the series MST3K where a man and his robot chums watch the worst films ever made and riff jokes over them I have seen some terrible films. However this was boldly and defiantly bad on an epic scale – it’s editing, sound, acting and stolen off telly SFX in addition to glacially slow chases and driving scenes convinced me that Elliot and the documentary are genuine. You would have to be a genius to assemble something like this on purpose so it had to be the result of no budget, no plan and nothing but childish glee. The film had the room rocking with gaffaws, explosive laughter and bemusement as to whether this was for real.

However that was just the taster to the more unplanned section after a cough and a drag with Iain and his producer Katherine sparking off each other onstage leading to an interview with Blake who features in the documentary via Skype. That little thrill was then trumped by the news that Elliot himself had returned from exile in Outer Mongolia and Iain had made contact. The genuine nervous tension in the room was broken as he answered the phone and we cheered like he was an Olympic hero. Fairly nonplussed he discussed his work and the documentary, his version of events including the bombshell that it was “90% made up” and a satire of the Canadian movie industry. It’s that rare time when you actually hear a room gasp as if their world is wobbling on its axis. Iain and Kath skilfully got the best out a pair of reluctant interviewees and thrilled a room of nerds in the process.

One of the directors, Jaret Belliveau, was much amused by Elliot’s revelations (we could probably have heard his laughter from the US without the need for Skype) and had some of his own that I probably can’t repeat on a public forum. This all added up to a unique night on a hot summer night in the capital. If it had just been a night sneering and poking fun at Elliot and his dreams then it would have felt empty but deep down inside we admire his belief in what he does even if he is a overgrown manipulative and delusional man or a solid gold genius parodist. Let your freak flag fly and salute those who do the same – that was the spirit of what happened here.
This might all mean nothing to anyone who hasn’t seen the documentary but perhaps has made you curious to do so – but not The Hero The Stalker – we watched that so you don’t have to.

Like Kung Fu Elliot himself that we should take risks, do the things we love and believe that it will find an audience. I hope tonight is the first of many funny entertaining film evenings from Iain and Kath.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Elvis Costello & the Imposters : Bristol Colston Hall 17th July 2016

– Didn’t you only just see Elvis Costello?
Yeah about 2 months ago
– So why you going again – wasn’t last time a bit crap?
Yeah, bad sound and think I’d seen that Detour setup one time too often
– So why you go again, idiot? And why you telling me now – its 1am and you’ve just eaten two packs of prawn cocktail crisps. YOU’RE the one who likes those. Why should we take your taste seriously in anything?

Well I don’t think that I’ve seen Elvis with just the core Imposter band and no “gimmicks” in quite a while and tonight was far more of a stripped back rock n roll show without the wheel, leather clad female support act, big TV, go-go cages, tales from the road etc. For some reason this was billed as part of an Americana Weekend but apart from playing ‘Brilliant Mistake’ with it’s opening line “He thought he was the King Of America” it had nowt to do with the concept.

Coming on to a Suicide track as a nod to the late Alan Vega, the band stated their intent with what would usually be a set closer – a thrashy Pump It Up as EC’s guitar slowly came up in the mix (you had one job….) followed by Big Tears which was originally the B-side of that single. I like to think that was just for us nasty little train spotters as was ‘Mood For Moderns’ returning to the live stage after 26 years reminding us of it pop fabulousness. Hardly any duplication for the set he had played just two months before – No ‘Alison’, ‘Can’t Stand Up’ and certainly no Jimmie’s standing in the rain and there was no hat either. His lengthiest speeches were reserved for new songs ‘American Mirror’ & ‘Face In The Crowd’ from a new project and very fine they are too.

Bassist Davey Faragher kept it tight but loose, Pete Thomas may have regretted his alleged dissing of EC’s slower tempo in Bruce Thomas’s latest memoir as he was given a right workout particularly on ‘No Action’ but as ever, Professor Steve Nieve, dressed like a Droog going for a job interview is the man with all the gifts via his keyboard jungle. Whether it be on organ, grand piano, Vox Continental or Theremin he adds the colour and the drama to the songs whether it be true menace to ‘Pills And Soap’, bubbly synth for ‘Green Shirt’ or deep fathoms of pathos to ‘Shipbuilding’.
Yes, he played ‘the song the band hates, that I hate but you seem to like’ with Pete Thomas clutching at his head in horror as Elvis sings about “she is the face that I can’t forget’ but we also got a nice little country interlude of ‘Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down’ & ‘Sweet Dreams’

As I said no real chat, a few asides about the state of the world – Trump, Brexit & the horror but his song choices may well have done the job for him. He has been rolling out ‘Night Rally’ Armed Forces warning against the rise of fascism in the late 70’s but tonight we got ‘Sundays Best’ and not just because it was. It’s opening salvo “Times are tough for English babies Send the army and the navy Beat up strangers who talk funny Take their greasy foreign money” was a warning from history.

I’ve been to see Elvis coming on for 30 odd times now and there were perhaps two bad nights in all those as he continues to shuffle his talent and interests in such a way that you feel that you’re seeing something fresh. Although I could do with never hearing DDTM again.
The end of the show bought us Oliver’s Army, Chelsea and PL&U but this was anything but a crowd pleasing set. Dropping in bombs like ‘Alibi’ and a rockin’ cover of ‘Polythene Pam’ made for a much edgier night than expected – long live the king!

01. Pump It Up
02. Big Tears
03. Watching The Detectives
04. Moods For Moderns
05. New Lace Sleeves - including What Kind Of Fool Am I?
06. Sunday's Best
07. Polythene Pam
08. Clubland
09. Little Triggers
10. Stations Of The Cross
11. She
12. Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down
13. Sweet Dreams
14. Deep Dark Truthful Mirror
15. A Face In The Crowd
16. American Mirror
17. Brilliant Mistake
18. No Action
19. Radio, Radio

Encore 1
20. Pills And Soap
21. Green Shirt
22. Shipbuilding
23. Alibi
24. Bedlam
25. (I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea
26. Oliver's Army
27. (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding?

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Beck - Brixton Academy, London: 28th June 2016

This post Brexit crowd had come here to get away from the mess outside but the support, Badly Drawn Boy, with his ‘Proud to be a European ‘ T shirt and regulation tea cosy wasn’t letting it lie opening with ‘What A Wonderful World’. Admitting he was nervous supporting one of his heroes, he played a snappy set without the usual drama including a pointed ‘Born In The UK’ and a cover of the main act’s ‘Putting It Down’.

Beck however was here to host his Becks-it party and the triple threat of Devil’s Haircut, Black Tambourine and sing-a-long wave your hands in the air of Loser kicked things in supremely confident style. There was no puppet show or extended lineup just a tight kick ass band with Hansen in the middle dancing, throwing shapes, showing us his showbiz chops with I Think I’m In Love sliding into the bubbly groove of ‘I Feel Love’

The slower middle section drew from Sea Change & Morning Phase – Blue Moon, Heart Like A Drum and Paper Tiger soothingly crooned Despite offering us scented candles, backrubs and booze to ease the country’s existential pain he was never gonna leave us on the downbeat. With the funky Dreams, joyous Sexxlaws and more arm waving and yelling via E-pro he encoded with a lengthy Where It’s At which took in band intros, One Foot In The Grave and snatches of 1999, China Girl, Pocket Calculator, Good Times and Michael Mcdonald impressions. This was the perfect balm to a painful week of too much news, hate and information

If there is anyone else having more fun than Beck and his band on a stage right now then that would be some feat. He bought the party tonight and boy did we appreciate the invite

Monday, 6 June 2016

David Baddiel: My Family (Not The Sitcom) @ Menier Chocolate Factory (3rd June 2016)

In some ways David Baddiel shares a trait with Richard Herring in that he mines his own life with fearsome honesty for his material for this show and his inability to lie leads to some eye opening revelations about mainly, his golf memorabilia obsessed late Mum and his faher which has a a form of dementia called Picks disease. When told by the consultant that the symptoms included irritability, lack of patience, swearing, anger etc, David asked “is that a diagnosis or have you just met him?”.

Although he clearly loves his parents he aims to tackle the idea that when we die, suddenly all the mad, unusual and annoying oddness about us is superseded by a notion that we are all wonderful. It’s an examination of how when the person leaves, whether through death or via the slow death of self via dementia our own memories of that person dismiss the imperfections. That the people at his mothers funeral telling him she was a wonderful person, knew little about her life and indeed why she was so special via her personal quirks and adventures.

He indicates how even the way dementia is portrayed is often twisted with his own father being literally the poster boy for a local dementia day centre which he was banned from a week later for punching a bloke cos he had a big nose – as David points out, his was a centre for Jewish people so…..

The revelations about his mothers attitude to sex and relationships are eye opening and all this is told with great wit and to show that these dark subjects and situation do have room for laughter. They are sometimes only bearable with the presence of humour.

Through photographs, film clips and letters and emails he shows us what his family was like, we learn about his mother’s incorrect use of speech marks and too many exclamation marks, his dad’s inappropriate outburst at his mothers funeral that while a result of his illness broke through the conventions of the situation and spoke of who he really was. This was a pretty special show – chock fill of laugh out loud moments but also saying something about how we all live, age and die.

Sunday, 15 May 2016


The current tabloid hounding of actress Sheridan Smith has made me very uncomfortable. This year the British documentary 'Amy' won an Oscar and brutally showed how a talented young woman was celebrated and then eviscerated by the press, media and public. Graham Norton in that film is seen mocking Amy Winehouse on TV calling her "a mad person" - admittedly in a sequence of chat show hosts and comedians that the director, Asif Kapadia has said could have lasted 30 minutes. I'm sure Graham is aware of the sequence in the film, I wonder if he has seen it and what he thinks now. Of course hindsight is 20\20 but its not as if Amy Winehouse was a person coping well with fame , her relationships and her career who could just 'take it'. Her end when it came was tragic but hardly unexpected.

So I do wonder if he thought for a moment before he (and his scriptwriters) made a quip about Sheridan's recent well publicised problems whilst starring in 'Funny Girl' in the West End. Particularly as she was in the room at the time, which of course brings out the old cliché "well if you're in the public eye like that you have to expect these things" but do we? Would you say that to a normal member of the public, would you be so cruel to their face poking fun at their inability to cope in their workplace?

I would recommend listening to the Parish Counsel podcast hosted by Terrance Dackombe and Juliet Harris  in which they echo some of the same thoughts that I have on mental illness, the press etc. but put it far more eloquently than I ever could

Juliet discusses her own struggles with similar pressures in her life to succeed and plough on despite it damaging her well being and health. "(Wo)man up, knuckle down, pull yourself together etc". In the celebrity culture there are so many examples of people who just didn't know how to stop or thought that they couldn't.

Juliet also mentioned the actions she made to cope or deal with the pressure she as under and its this that I would like to throw around here.

Unless you have had to deal with anxiety conditions and depression you have no idea how tiring it all is, how many barriers you put up and different coping mechanisms you put in place to just get through a day.

While at University I often found it hard to walk the 500 yards from our student house to the local pub on my own. I used to take the back way so people couldn't see me taking forever to get there, turning around to walk back, hyperventilating then turning round again to get a bit further down the road. Looking back I am amazed that I didn't have a full mental breakdown at University. I did it all without the support and medication that keep me fairly level these days.

These are just a few of the coping mechanisms I have used over the years

- carrying plastic bags in case I was violently sick
- sitting on ends of aisles in cinemas, gigs for ease of escape
- sitting near the door in rooms/ meetings / lectures for the same reason.
- looking up location of local hospitals on satnav near to where I am working / staying or the event I am attending
- making excuses to avoid eating out and going without food all day before a stressful situation

But most of all lying, lying, lying - to my family, my friends, my employers and of course myself. Not maliciously or in way that they would notice or even care about but just in order to cope with life.
It becomes routine and "normal" after a while and once it's in place that habit is hard to break. It works, it feels safe, the endorphins are released when you run from a situation and the adrenaline tides you over. However your life becomes smaller and smaller until it is a single room with the TV as your window to life.

For me it came to a point where I couldn't use those well worn techniques anymore, they didn't work in the real world of work, responsibility and relationships like they had in the more lax and carefree student days. So therapy and residential care beckoned. I managed to stop before it got too far - I'm lucky I had both the money and support to do that.

You have to wonder sometimes what would have happened if people like Kurt Cobain and Ian Curtis felt that they could just stop for a while, take a break and decide how to make things better for themselves. Yet the press and public appear to see those in apparently privileged careers as stronger and more able to cope with pressure and personal tragedies that bring the rest of us to our knees. Sheridan is apparently taking a break and I hope she gains strength from it and perhaps a way of living that is better for her and perhaps let the bizness not dictate to her anymore.

Sometimes just coping isn't enough as the fork in the road leads to bad or good outcomes and it's hard to know which is best to take.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

That crazy avenue of trees I'm living there still

I understand that amongst Belle and Sebastian fans - the fey stripey topped guys n gals - that 'The Life Pursuit' LP is generally not well liked. Too rockist and mainstream etc with its glam rock leanings: Chicory Tip for 'White Collar Boy'/ Queen's 'Death On Two Legs: for the non-hit single 'Funny Little Frog' and T-Rex in general for 'The Blues Are Still Blue'.

'Another Sunny Day ' however remains one of my favourite pop songs from its jingle jangly 60s guitar intro to its name checking of The Shangri-Las 'Past, Present, Future'. Covering the arc of a love affair from steamy windows to crumbling in the dark it has so much to recommend. The liberal use of the 'F-word' is a feature of the album and in the case of ASD the phrase 'the referee gives us fuck all' is e hoed sweetly. A less contentious word - herbaceous makes a rare appearance in popular song as does 'peninsula'. 

I love the richness of the language in B&S songs - 'your dark mascara bids me to historical deeds' 'There's something in my eye, a little midge so beguiling / Sacrificed his life to bring us both eye to eye' that you don't get outside the average Morrissey lyric sheet. The dreams of romantic love during those first hot flushes of a relationship "babies, rings and fools kneeling \ And words of pledging trust and lifetimes stretching forever" fade away. Its a reflective and sad little gem this song. When I last saw them live they played it and my heart leapt

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

My heart still turns over when I look in your eyes

I was lucky enough to attend Kathryn Williams (yes, her again) International Songdriting Retreat down in Stroud recently. Guests included Marry Waterston,  Tom McRae, David Ford, Romeo Stodart, Graham Fellows aka John Shuttleworth aka Jilted John (yes, I did take my copy of the JJ True Love Stories LP complete with snakes and ladders board with me to get signed, No, I didn't have the bottle to ask him), Michele Stodart, Teddy Thompson, Sam Parton of the Be Good Tanyas and others including Kath's support for the tour and piano wrangler for her set, Astrid Williamson.

Over the years I've seen Kathryn play she has consistently had opening acts and collaborators that impress and make me want to see them play full sets - in the past this has included Clayhill with the much missed Gavin Clarke and Michele Stodart whose new album 'Pieces' promises to be a belter as evidenced in one of the songs she played at the retreats end of week concert.

You know you always hear those stories of someone going to a small club , a singer getting up to play a new song and it being something that will go on to be a world shagging standard? Well, Astrid sang 'Scattered' and I thought it already was. I remember thinking "is this a Joni Mitchell track that's not on 'Blue'?" as that's about all the Joni I feel I need not being too much of a beatnik jazzer. It's also reminiscent of Carole King but I'm pretty down with her oeuvre. 

It was, I suppose, quite rude of me to think that Astrid was playing a cover on a night dedicated to fresh writing but I hope she doesn't hold it against me. Yet in a night of great performances and tunes, 'Scattered' just floored me and made me weep.

From the opening "I wish I was braver" which is a constant prayer in my head I was mesmerised by the way the song ebbed and flowed like the protagonists will to break free from a bad relationship. Lyrics so insightful and cutting to the heart, soaring in the chorus 'when your heart shatters and scatters like glass / it spreads into the future as well as the past" - it hits something deep inside, the truths we dare not tell. 

There is such a mixture of longing, strength and vulnerability in Astrid voice,  yes I know that doesn't make sense but let me try and verbalise these feelings. She inhabits the song, as if it were a dramatic piece. That's how she draws you in, by convincing you that what up ate hearing is honest and "real". No not "authentic" or "genuine" but a simple beauty.

Astrid hopes to tour later in the year with a band to showcase other songs from 'We Go To Dream' which have varied and inventive electronic and edgy arrangements. But I hope she keeps 'Scattered' as a solo piano number as it packs a hell of an emotional punch to the senses.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

It beats....I am I am I am I am

On her recent tour, Kathryn Williams described the song 'Beating Heart' as the "underdog of the album - which is why I like it so much" encapsulating the British cliché of supporting the less lauded participant - in this case of her 2015 album 'Hypoxia' based on characters in Sylvia Plath's novel 'The Bell Jar.

Personally I don't see the song as the weakest or less important on the record - it is perhaps the quiet, eye of the hurricane that is the main protagonist Esther's mental state. Ed Harcourt's inspired production of the album contains subtle and effective atmospheric touches which frame the songs perfectly and 'Beating Heart' is no exception. Kathryn's own ghostly backing vocals and the echoes at the song's coda along with the eerie childlike piano is delightfully dreamy. It's stealth and stillness is it's steely strength. Kathryn's central vocal is perfectly judged in it's loving understatement as if the lyric is a shameful secret or admittance of weakness and brings to mind Kurt Cobain's spine-chilling performance on 'Something In The Way'.

'Beating Heart' deals with two of Esther's suicide attempts in the novel - one by drowning, one by sleeping pills and how despite her best efforts that her body, her spirit and her heart endure. The reverbing repeating "I Am I Am I Am, I Can, I Can I Can I Can" are flipped into self doubt "Am I? Am I? Am I? Can I? Can I? Can I? Can I?" as her heart and mind battles over her sense of reality.

The album and this song in particular have been a foothold in life for me recently which I guess is why I am sticking up for the underdog, the quiet moment, the silent prayer and the less trumpeted. I will explain why but must say two things (1) it's taken me about a dozen goes at writing this and it still might not be how I want it but I have to get this out of me and 2) this is to let you know where I have been NOT where I am heading.

So I had spent about a week just coasting zombielike through work, barely talking to anyone, just existing, driving miles without the radio or CDs to interrupt the constant negative self talk in my head. The antiseptic nature of social media had separated me from my friends where a "like" or "retweet" covers for any genuine effort at contact.

In my time off and because sleeping was becoming harder by the day I wrote letters to people. Full of things I wanted to say, things I wanted them to know that I couldn't say because people aren't open to such sentiments until a person dies. I always find it unfortunate that people only stand up to say good things about their friends at their funerals, rarely to them when they have the chance. There was a lot of regret but also love and thankfulness in those letters. Plus of course suggestions of how to deal with all the records - let's face it.

So I was pretty much set to go.

I'd decided just to act like it was a normal day, although a bit abnormal for me as I was commuting into London for work, not something I usually do or dread like those who have to do it 5 days a week, like, forever. I left home with notes and letters laid out where they could be easily found.

Standing on the station platform I had chosen the time when a non stopping Paddington bound train was due. I can't recall hearing or feeling anything as I stood near the edge, not close enough to arouse suspicion but ready. I was just numb.

It was still dark so I saw the lights of the train as it rounded the bend. The "this train does not stop here" announcement must have been made but all I could hear was my own blood pumping in my ears. It really was the oddest feeling. But there was something else as I looked down at my feet on the yellow line. I was scared.

All week I had felt a sense of relief and longing when I thought about not being here anymore - wanted to be free of the pain and agony in my head. Yet at this last moment I knew that I couldn't and wouldn't do it. Maybe I was caught up in a self pitying drama of my own making, I don't know. I did think of some of my friends and this added to my doubts.

So I stepped back and the train whizzed past.

The rest of the day was a bit of an autopilot daze but when I returned home I shredded the letters. Over the next week my depression withdrew and I started to look back in horror at what had nearly happened. The self doubt that had pushed me towards that end now punished me for thinking of it in the first place.

I've done some thinking and writing (both personal and to medical professionals) since then and have a much firmer grasp on what I should do if I feel myself sliding to dark places again. It's an on-going process but I need to get the balance right. I still have the same feelings of loneliness, lack of self worth and rejection but am trying to do what I can about the things I can change.

I'm sure any of my friends reading this will scold me for not reaching out to them for help but it's not a thing I can do easily. I'm naturally shy, inward looking and self isolating i.e. my own worst enemy. This is why the suicide rate is so high amongst men of my age because we can't say "help" without it sounding like failure. We only break when it all gets too much and often no-one can stop us taking a fatal step.

But that's not where I'm heading.

And I promise to all that have offered me support that I will get in touch if I feel I am unable to cope on my own. I won't feel good about doing so but I won't let it get that bad again

So although 'Hypoxia' isn't an album about metal health, it and particularly the song 'Beating Heart', for me, is a rallying call to you sense of self. That whatever life throws at you, your body, your spirit, your chi, your mojo, your life force will not let you throw away this improbably amazing gift that is your life.

Because a heart beats on its own
Plotting out the times to come
It knows it can
It beats
I Am, I Am, I Am, I Am, I Am

Sunday, 20 March 2016

The Unthanks -Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool 19th March 2016

They were damn nervous. Even halfway through when asked if he wanted to talk about the song ‘Foundling’ from their most recent album that was getting its premiere tonight, Adrian McNally blurts “No, too nervous”. The ends were showing as the opening songs were tentative and even the orchestration a little too polite and understated. It took Rachel Unthank grabbing the vengeful ‘Blue Bleezing Blind Drunk’ by the short and curlies, giving it a full blooded performance to kick the show into the right gear. She threw out those lyrics like she had a a bottle of Bacardi Breezer in one hand and a B&H in the other. From the moment she literally punched out the last line “I’ll go and I’ll drown all my sorrows / But I wish I could drown Mickey too” it was onwards and upwards.

The interplay between the sisters on the aforementioned ‘Foundling’ playing the roles of abandoned child and desperate mother is deeply moving as the track unfurls slowly, the orchestra only increasing the melancholy and pathos. This wasn’t just some extra fiddles as a novelty, these were great arrangements and musical ideas being expressed in ways not possible in a live Unthanks show before. Robert Wyatt’s ‘Out Of The Blue’ again bristles with energy and passion as Rachel repeats the “You’ve planted all your everlasting hatred in my heart” refrain.

Becky Uthnaks shining moment is on ‘Starless’ , I’d never dream of going near a King Crimson record but this as pure magic on which they unleash their secret weapon in trumpeter Lizzie Jones. Her playing is so sensual, thoughtful, excitingly aliveand there is a point when she is really letting go when Becky & Rachel exchange a look of “wow, isn’t this great?”. Despite the tension at the beginning they are enjoying the music as much as us. The final song, a euphoric ‘Mount The Air’ complete with clog dancing, bring the hall to their feet and three curtain calls bring a triumphant night to a noisy close