Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Recent gig round-up #2: Ben Folds & A Piano - Basingstoke Anvil 2018

'Take it easy,
take it slow
oh get on with the fucking show'

The first time I saw Ben Folds live I wasn't there to see him. He was doing a co-headline tour with The Divine Comedy and I was there to seem them at Shepherds Bush Empire, never heard of him. They were ok that night, between albums and a bit tired whereas Ben was extraordinary - just him and a piano. It's been a good decade and a half and maybe a dozen or shows but I finally get to see him play a complete solo set.

As a regular gig attendee I booked tickets according to his standard stage setup to ensure I would be dead level with him and able to see his furious fingers at work. Basingstoke Anvil is a very modern, bit antiseptic but great venue sound and view wise. Strolling on to Nilsson's 'One' he begins with a track from the criminally ignored last album 'So There' with the fitting couplet outlined above. The tune always muses on his life being good for music and lyrics but possibly not for him personally as is the singer songwriters lot. 

First laugh of the night comes from 'All You Can Eat' - 'Son, look at all the people in this restaurant, what do you think they weigh?' with plenty of foot movement sounding akin to tap dancing which Ben admits is probably due to the good construction of the stage. The setlist covered most bases tonight - although would have loved to hear something from 'Lonely Avenue' - with the histrionic 'Erase Me' a highlight. 'Steven's Last Night In Town' was prefaced by a long anecdote about the titular character complete with cod British accent. At the songs conclusion he wander stage right, sits and hits a single drum while the crew assemble a full kit around him which he slowly takes over. To get applause he walks back to his stool; muttering 'Well that worked, always wanted to try that'

The audience are enthusiastic but restrained throughout but as always with Ben's shows we are required to participate at key moments in the night. Those of us who know the words (about 1\3 on tonight's evidence are chomping at the bit to provide Regina Spektor's vocal lines and responses in 'You Don't Know Me', we are schooled in the three part harmony for 'Not The Same' and expected to know and take the requisite parts of our choice to recreate the horn section for the closer, 'Army'. Must be a bit baffling for first timers but I can't imagine it was any less fun.


Phone In A Pool
Annie Waits
All U Can Eat
Uncle Walter
Erase Me
Steven's Last Night In Town
Drum solo
Fred Jones Part 2
Selfless Cold & Composed
So There
You Don't Know Me
Don't Change Your Plans
Zak & Sara
The Luckiest
Not The Same
One Angry Dwarf

Recent Gig Round-up #1: Luke Haines @ Lexington Islington 5th May 2018

In print and on Twitter, Luke is a caustic and unforgiving man, letting fly with all sorts of misanthropic and scabrous comments on popular culture. However at his sole gig to support his latest fantastical  album 'I Sometimes Dream Of Glue' he is quite self effacing and generous, grinning 'what do you think?' when asked if it's a concept album.

We learn a lot about Glue Town, just off the Westway near Shepherds Bush and its inhabitants and the songs rely on his heady blend of fantasy and sardonic wit. 'I Fell In Love With a OO Scale Wife' for instance. 'She ran back to ma \ back to Twickenham in a dinky car \ She sits on a shelf staring at the stars \ by the biscuit tin \ I travel the world in a midget submarine' - musically somewhere between the coda of 'Strawberry Fields Forever and Syd Barrett's 'Dark Globe'. It is glorious English dreamlike oddness - a lost Clangers soundtrack. His love letter to the Incredible String Band is perfectly at home here. These songs full of subbuteo lads and glue sniffing mix with those from his back catalogue whether it be solo interests - wrestling, Lou Reed, the seventies, childhood dreams. The epic trawl through the 20th century '21st Century Man' is punctuated by 'Junk Shop Clothes' with Luke chiding himself, chuckling at the crimes of his lyrical past.

Earlier he had promised us a Bank Holiday treat, particularly for the wives and partners giving up a sunny Saturday evening to come along and so it was that the baroque pop combo 'Black Box Recorder' took to the stage. 'We're not back on anything" Luke  advised "its just we all live down the road". I was lucky enough to see the band when they briefly reunited a few years back with ace gigs at the much missed Luminaire in Kilburn and the Queen Elizabeth Hall.
It appeared little has changed, Sarah Nixey effortlessly radiating cool detached vibes on 'England Made Me' and 'Child Psychology' - the song that failed to get on the Radio One playlist despite its chorus "Life is unfair \ Kill yourself or get over it". Despite the icy exterior they seemed to having fun with smiles all round before Luke bade us farewell with a  spiky 'Baader Meinhof' echoing to the end.

'Don't get the band back together' has been his mantra but with a BBR box set imminent and the quality of those songs it would be a shame if they didn't emerge more often just for shits n giggles.

Songs played included

I Fell In Love With A OO Scale Wife
The Subbuteo Lads
I Sometimes Dream Of Glue
We Could Do It
Unsolved Child Murder
The Incredible String Band
How To Hate The Working Classes
Smash The System
Bomber Jacket
Saturday Afternoon
Lou Reed Lou Reed
Child Brides
Leeds United
21st Century Man \ Junk Shop Clothes
England Made Me (with John Moore & Sarah Nixey)
Child Psychology (with John Moore & Sarah Nixey)
Baader Meinhof

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Going Solo

Never has the word "troubled" been used so much about a film in recent times as the latest spin off from the Star Wars behemoth that has loomed over popular culture for more than 40 years now - the origin story of everyone's favourite wisecracking space cowboy - (Han) Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Directors have parted ways \ left by mutual consent \ fallen out over creative choices \ been fired and the film delivered by Hollywood's safest pair of hands, Ron Howard. No doubt scripts have been rejected, casting choices nixed and characters inspected for merchandise possibilities.

It seems to this old nerd that when Star Wars is done right - its when it doesn't take itself too seriously and forgets how it started. The first film has a all the wit, action and subtleness of a 1930's Errol Flynn movie just with a fresh twist. Lightsabres for swords, stormtroopers with poorly aiming blasters for archers , speeder chases rather than on horseback. A clear division of goodies and baddies, whip smart dialogue plus some love interest, twists n switcheroo and set up for further adventures.

I can't recall much about 'The Last Jedi' apart from the humour was flatfooted, the mood funereal (with the late Carrie Fisher's ghost hanging over the whole enterprise) and the characters just a bit dull. OK The Empire Strikes Back is downbeat (cue Clerks clip) but at least it had Lando flirting with Leia, a Muppet pissing about in a swamp and a post affair Ford\Fisher cracking with energy on screen plus a script from Laurence Kasdan. Flip forward 35 years and he writes a solid film with enough little asides to the past \ future for the old fans and plenty of laughs and action for the kids.

Like 'A New Hope' the central hero is possibly the least interesting, Alden Ehrenreich channelling a bit of Ford's portrayal but it's years until we get to the world weary cynical smuggler so he's just a bit ordinary. Its the surrounding cast that elevate the piece whether it be Emilia Clarke turning what is usually a 2D sci-fi trope female role into something far more nuanced or the superbly funny turn by Pheobe Waller Bridge as the voice 'robotist' L3-37 fighting against oppression and injustice to her fellow metal mates. The SFX perfectly capture her physical mannerisms and attitude - it's light years away from the stuffy butlerisms of C3PO.

Donald Glover has the swagger and charm of a young Calrissian, self aggrandising and peacocking his way round the cantinas of the galaxy. Woody Harrelson kinda phones it in as a grizzled father figure, Paul Bettany does his seething evil charm very well but Thandie Newton is woefully underused and barely more than a plot device.

The Kessel Run, meeting Chewie, how Han won the Falcon from Lando and many other little pieces of Star Wars lore that were never meant to be more than a piece of Lucas gobbledegook are bought to the screen but I hope not in a way that excludes the less hardcore fan. I heard little giggles and sounds of satisfaction when they popped up from the less socially capable members of the audience but the film works as a great family action movie in the same way 'A New Hope' did.

You did good, kid. Just don't get cocky

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Review: The Beatles at Live Aid

It is just before 9pm at Wembley Stadium in London 13th July 1985 when Elton John, moments after revisiting his 1975 chart topper, Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds, walks to the centre of the now pitch black stage behind him

'I introduced a member of this band on a stage in New York on Thanksgiving' he beams ' and guess we have to thank Geldof for making this happen as its my and your pleasure to see and hear....The Beatles'

The crowd erupts, the sheer force surprising even an artist like Elton who is used to such wild adulation. He quickly exits stage right as the world waits just a little longer for something that has been absent for almost 20 years - John, Paul, George & Ringo on a stage.

It's in no way been easy to get to this point and few were sure even as the sun rose on The Global Jukebox that a last minute disagreement wouldn't blow the whole reunion apart. Apart from the highly anticipated but poorly reviewed 'Starting Over' tour with Yoko, John was no more comfortable with playing live than George who had virtually sworn off being a live performer outside jam sessions at local Henley pubs. Paul's 'World Peace' tour had culminated in West Berlin by the Brandenburg Gate as nearly a million East Berliners stood mirroring their comrades in the West -all singing along lustily to Back In the USSR. The East Berlin authorities had prepared for the day with tanks, soldiers and teargas but miraculously the day passed with little incident. Ringo is now more famous for narrating the Thomas The Tank Engine cartoon series in the UK than for his musical exploits of late.

John's fractious relationship with Paul still entertains the weekly music papers as they snipe at each other like the Waldorf & Stadler of pop. Lennon was particularly scathing of Paul's recent #Broad Street' film and album project "He's still trying to make out that The Beatles was all him and that he can do the old songs without us. He's fooling no one but himself. Gilmour's playing was good but apart from that was all about Macka's ego" Macca shot back that John was jealous of the press the film got whereas Yoko's films were ignored by everyone, particularly the public.

Geldof admitted that he thought he  had more chance of getting Buddy Holly to play than the Fab Four when he began contacting managers and artists for the Live Aid shows. A call to Neil Aspinall at Apple had received a sardonic "The Beatles are not currently taking bookings" which seemed to dash any hopes. However the spark of the reunion seemed to have come from nine year old Sean Ono Lennon who along with his private schoolmates in England were all well informed about the Ethiopian famine. He had asked his father if he was going to perform and when John replied that he hadn't been asked, Sean said that John could probably get Bob Geldof's number if he wanted to.

John made the call, Geldof seized the brief glimmer of hope and played his luck. Phoning Paul McCartney he informed him that John was in and would be open to doing something with the other Beatles if they were available. John had said no such thing even insisting he could go on early and do a couple of rock n roll numbers with a scratch band. Paul was apprehensive and asked if Yoko had been mentioned which Bob truthfully replied that she hadn't. The derision and mass exodus to toilets and bar during her songs on the 1981 tour was probably best avoided. Easy going Ringo was a shoe-in but as ever the Quiet One grumbled loudest. Memories of Kampuchea and Bangladesh benefit snubs crossed with his involvement in Handmade Films made it the last thing on his mind. For whatever reason he threw his hand in with the others

Four silhouetted figures emerge as the crowd's roar reaches its zenith, cameras picking out the Beatle families in the royal box - Dhani, Julian, Sean & the McCartney clan with little James shielding his ears.

Clearly nervous, John and Paul exchange glances and there is much coughing and exhalations as the sound of the crowd changes from hysteria to expectancy. Gritting his teeth, Lennon steps to the mic and merely says 'Ok' 

The tumbling bass and drums of  'Come Together' is almost drowned out by the crowd but as soon as John starts his tale of old Flat Top there is a kind of hush as if no one wants to miss a note or word. John, feet wide apart, fair snarls and spits the lyrics, Harrison's guitar brittle and sinister - this version smokes. The final chord is held until "beep beep yeah!" kicks us into the rock n roll section. In rehearsals the band had decided to hit the audience with upbeat numbers to answer critics sneering and the forty something 'Flab Four'. For original fans of the band the years must have slid back as they pulled off better than expected versions of classic tracks. Naturally their sound was boosted by additional players including (inevitably) Ray Cooper but when it came to tracks like I Saw Her Standing There they needed no other. Paul still able to count on his best Little Richard scream for a quick visit to Kansas City.

Next came the surprise, Paul said later than John was keen to play something from his post Beatles career but actually suggested that they do 'Maybe I'm Amazed' as it was one of his favourites. So each Beatle got a chance to take centre stage, perhaps to soothe egos and make things easy. As we know before 'All Things Must Pass' George sardonically told the crowd 'When I first played this to the others they didn't like it but I guess they must have come around to my way of thinking' which elicited smiles and laughs from Lennon and McCartney. 'Imagine' bought Wembley Stadium to a serene silence as footage from the Ethiopian famine as well as that of aid workers bringing in Band Aid food and water played out on the big screens.

For 'Get Back' the band invited two keyboard players up - Billy Preston and a beaming Elton John who had a little electric piano duel in a more funky rendition than usual. Paul announced the next song as "our version of a pub sing-a-long" and the climax of Hey Jude saw many of that day's performers taking the stage to surround the Beatles by hastily placed mics. 

"I suppose this is what it is all about" John exclaimed as the massed throng gathered around him for the last song of the night "Thanks to Bob, love to our families and yours, keep sending the money and thanks from all of us"

Humphrey Lyttelton steps forward from the throng, trumpet raised and gives us his best Marseilles and love fills the air. Its a little ragged, a bit out of time and tune but it barely matters. The crowd and musicians alike are united in that moment of celebration, nostalgia and hope. As the tune reaches its umpteenth chorus Lennon is heard to shout "how do we end the fucking thing?" and they all come to a rattling chaotic conclusion. The crowd continue to sing the refrain as The Beatles take a bow centre stage before waving goodbye, leaving us asking 'Did that really happen' and hope it isn't some crazy dream  


The Beatles 
9.03-10.00pm 13th July 1985
Wembley Stadium, London
Come Together
Drive My Car
A Hard Days Night
I Wanna Hold Your Hand
I Saw Her Standing There \ Kansas City
Back Off Boogaloo
Maybe I'm Amazed
All Things Must Pass
Get Back
Hey Jude
All You Need Is Love

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

PODCAST! GLK London Calling The World #6 : Fighting Alligators In Heavy Armour

The sixth edition of my occasional music mix podcast

    • 1Godzilla Theme 
    • 2The New Pollution by Mansfield
    • 3Twiggy Twiggy v James Bond by Pizzicato 5
    • 4You Must Fight To Live On The Planet Of The Apes by Peter Buck
    • 5Safety Pin Stuck In My Heart by Patrik Fitzgerald
    • 6I Can't look At Your Skin by Graham Coxon
    • 7Wined & Dined by Syd Barrett
    • 8Trimm Trabb by Blur
    • 9Theme From 'The Detectorists' by Johnny Flynn
    • 10All The Way Home by Spinal Tap
    • 11Tryin' To Get To Heaven by Robyn Hitchcock & Gillian Welch
  • 12Damned Old Dog by The Roches
  • 13Wandering Boy by Randy Newman
  • 14Less Than Zero \ Radio Radio (live) by Elvis Costello & The Attractions
  • 15Turn On Your Radio (live) by Eels
  • 16All The Records On The Radio Are Shite by Ballboy
  • 17Sabotage \ Radio Radio (live) by Elvis Costello & The Beastie Boys
  • 18You Can Count On Me by Sammy Davis Jr
  • 19Mr Bojangles by John Holt
  • 20Last Train To Liverpool by The Plommons
  • 21He Fought The Law by She Trinity
  • 22F'oldin' Money by The Fall
  • 23City Hobgoblins by The Fall
  • 24Hey Student! by The Fall
  • 25We Are Ninja (Not Geisha) (Extended Version) by Frank Chickens
  • 26Gandhara by Godiego