Saturday, 18 May 2013

Public Service Broadcasting 18 May 2013 Birmingham Institute Gig Review

Big TV, will make your eyes go square
Public Service Broadcasting Live in Birmingham: Last year for me was the year of Public Service Broadcasting, being introduced to them through the stunning Spitfire, then on through the other war room tracks, London can take it, checking out older tracks ROYGBIV then Everest and the war room remix ep (with an equally good, if not better version of Spitfire). I was gutted not to be able to see them live in my mega gig year, I think I was out the country when they toured.

As such it was with great enthusiasm I arrived at the little Temple room in the Institute, already rammed with quite an audience of older enthusiasts, I think this must be the typical 6 Music crowd, (6 Music fans keep voting PSB as rebel playlist winners) so I felt pretty much at home.

The support were on when I arrived, the unpronounceable XTXGXWXSXCX (The Grafham Water Sailing Club) a local band who made a good sound the 4 members stood round a table in the middle effectively, or that's what it looked like! But overall a good 'wall of sound type band'. Worth a listen on their sound cloud here

Then the covers came off quite literally, banks of TV's appeared looking like a scene from Max Headroom. All showing static, with a giant TV at the back, not beautiful flat screen TV's but old school wood surround. Minutes to go and on came the testcard. Then on walked the 3 members of Public Service Broadcasting, not a word was said, except a 'Hello' from the computer, and a cheery wave from the bow tie sporting Willgoose.

First track, inform, educate, entertain got us prepared for what the gig would be like, Guitar, Driving Drums, TV's showing cracking visuals plucked from Black & White movies / educational films and keyboards. The films taking centre stage, the band stepping back into the shadows, happy not to be focussed on by anyone, looking appropriately Geek Chic in their ties / bow ties and thick black rimmed specs.

It takes a little while to get used to not having any vocals, just being replaced by the narratives from the films, even between the songs there aren't any vocals, there are comments from the computer 'thanks' after the applause from the first song. It is very different to what you normally expect to hear, a sound tracked evening on National Geographic perhaps. This is though not a complaint, smile on face throughout.

The other aspect that jumps out differently to every other gig is the humour that is used by the interspersed Computer voice between tracks. For a particular favourite, we got
It's great to be here in......(press other button) ...Birmingham, then, We always wanted to play here in......Birmingham. They are definitely a band that doesn't take themselves too seriously, which is a good thing. Another example I thought of this was "Night Mail" which started with recurring pictures of train tracks and train wheels, a stirring beat, which could have continued in a serious manner being a Kraftwerkesque tune, but it wasn't to be, as the narrative from WH Auden Poem is interspersed, again bringing a wry smile as it states.

This is the Night Mail crossing the border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,
Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner and the girl next door.

Two thirds of the way through and the highlight for me, Spitfire gets a run through, for me the ideal choice for the end of the gig or encore, but it wasn't placed there. It was epic as I had hoped it would be, the audience Euphoric in their response to the song, the footage looking amazing with the Spitfires swooping all over the screen.

The computer announces the last song after an hours set, ROYGBIV another excellent tune and they walked off stage right, the computer requested the opportunity to intro the band (it shouldn't take long) and band introduced as Drums, Visuals (first time I have had a band with a Visuals person) and Everything Else.

Encore back on, and the other Epic tune Everest. Uplifting sums it up best for me. Then the end of the gig, Vinyl purchased (copy of the War room EP finally acquired) and home by 10:30.

So in overall terms, the PSB guys did not disappoint, every song is entertaining at least, not something you can say for many bands, no checking of facebook or twitter required for album filler tracks. I would recommend them to anyone, they had thought through their set, didn't take themselves too seriously and played some belters.

Reflecting on the songs though, it's interesting to consider whether they have anywhere they can go now with this mode of music as it may be that they are a one trick pony, providing an excellent artefact that people will hear in 10 years time and try to remember their names.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Eric Clapton Gig Review Birmingham13 May 2013

When I get the chance to see a legend play music, then I don't say no, that was the key reason I went to see Black Sabbath, not a huge Sabs fan, but a Midlands legend, stars on the Broad Street walk of fame and everything, which I reviewed here.

So the opportunity with work to see Eric Clapton was too good to miss. I had heard really interesting stories in the documentary about George Harrison Living in the Material World not least because of the stealing of George Harrisons wife the subject of the song Wonderful Tonight.

Settling in to my seat for the 2 hour set, I was hopeful of a real show, this was Eric's final tour (possibly) and he was celebrating 50 years since a young Eric kicked off his career in the Yardbirds. He had promised a selection of his more commercial hits, where could he go wrong.

Kicking off with some a couple of acoustic numbers, big screens focussed on the perfection of Eric's fingers flying around the fretboard making the guitar sing and squeal. Onto a few electric numbers and I found my mind wandering, the end of each song coming, I appreciated the perfection of the playing, the interaction of the band, but was left cold by the lack of atmosphere. Not sure which of the factors left me cold, the seated reverent audience, you could hear a pin drop in between songs. in between songs it was quiet because there was not a word from Eric, just into the next song. I think this was a shame, the opportunity to give a little bit to the audience about what the songs meant to him, where they came from, anything really the audience would have lapped up. Also for the songs that I didn't know, I didn't feel anything more than listening a song on the radio, it felt like there was no passion, energy, vitality or emotion. 

The audience though enjoyed the show (reverentially), with the focus of big screens sticking on hands, but it picked up massively for me when the songs I knew appeared. I can't believe how much The cod reggae of I shot the sheriff changed my enjoyment, as I was able to anticipate hum, clap and feel a bit more. This was felt even more so by Lay Down Sally. Best bit - the opening riff of layla, worst bit of the gig the realisation that Layla would be played out in a slow hand clap manner.

Wonderful tonight was my highlight, an incredibly beautiful song and knowing the background to it brought it to life. The Blues tracks were great but just made me think of the passion that jumped out of the Memphis Blues players I had seen when I did the driving tour a few years ago, and the need to watch the Blues Brothers with my kids.

So in overview, glad I was there to see it, can appreciate the excellent skills of a Guitar Genius, but give me a small venue where you can see the rawness and passion of the band playing the music. Compare the beauty of these songs to John Grant from Thursday - and I'm heading to the institute every time.

Non music related though - the Amplify food at the NEC was SUPERB

Setlist from the ever excellent Setlist website:

  1. Acoustic
  2. Electric
  3. (Albert Collins cover)
  4. (Harold Arlen cover) (Paul Carrack on lead vocals)
  5. (Taj Mahal cover)
  6. Acoustic
  7. (Robert Johnson cover)
  8. (Paul Carrack cover) (Paul Carrack on lead vocals)
  9. Electric
  10. (Cream song)
  11. (Robert Johnson cover)
  12. (Robert Johnson cover)
  13. (Robert Johnson cover)
  14. (J.J. Cale cover)
  15. Encore:
  16. (Joe Cocker cover) (Paul Carrack on lead vocals)

Monday, 13 May 2013

John Grant - Gig Review Birmingham Institute 9 May 2013

John Grant at Digbeth Institute Gig Review. 9 May 2013.

John Grant is unique. Articulating in words the music he plays is incredibly difficult, but the background to this incredibly warm man is quite amazing, which led me to seeing him at Nottingham Glee club touring his first album, and an easy choice to see him in the Library Room in the Institute. It's good that his show is so brilliant, as following the day I had had at work I was in a reasonable grump when I arrived minutes before he came on stage, chuffed to find Budweiser now on tap.

So why is John Grant unique? Well in a world of pretend pop stars, rich kids in bands going to Brit school and churning out tunes, he's definitely been through the ringer, as an artist, he had been in the Czars in the late 90's, early 2000's, not a band I had heard, but he would have beenin his 30's then. Rumour has it he then dropped out, was homeless and was plucked from obscurity by Midlake (thanks Iain!), who knowing his earlier work encouraged and supported him to record his first solo album, the critically acclaimed Queen of Denmark. Another year or maybe 2 and the follow up album, preceded by the single Pale Green Ghosts was dropped, to rapturous applause from in particular both Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie, and listening to their 3 hour show daily, you got to hear them enthuse a lot.

So what makes the songs unique, well taking the first album, the songs are beautiful, piano laced, heart felt but really accessible as the lyrics are very much everyday language, so a particular favourite will be Sigourney Weaver, with the lyrics

And I feel just like Sigourney Weaver
When she had to kill those aliens
And one guy tried to get them back to earth
And she couldn't believe her ears

This was the first song I think that grabbed me by JG, such an odd juxtaposition of words and music, then Mars, about a sweet shop from being a kid I believe. The other thing hat jumps out from both albums is the regular littering of profanities, F bombs galore, but said matter of factly rather than gangster rappy.

So to the gig, and a cracking 2 hours of John which must have covered most of the 2 albums, great banter in between songs although covering some of the darkest subjects, the suicide (shotgun) of a friend, being HiV positive, homophobia, but all of them delivered in a manner than caused a laugh and allowed you to think about them.

The band were all exotically named Icelandic chaps (with caps) except really for the chap from Coventry, but he got a rapturous welcome. Iceland ring John's adoptive home now.

Got to 10:30 and I was expecting that to be it, what with modern curfews but no, we got a half hour encore. Great value for money, or VFM as the kids would say. Definitely one to get me out of the funk I was in, that and the Budweiser anyway.

So you probably don't know John Grant but I will heartily recommend either album, the second with warm electronics replacing those pianos. Just don't play the tunes with Children round!

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Dodgy Gig Review in Cannock

When a band complements the audience on beating Hull to the crown of Dogging Capital of the world, it's going to be an interesting gig, and so a Friday night in Cannock watching Dodgy turned out to be. 

It was a journey back out to that neck of the woods following the brilliant gig at Woodys watching Tom Hingley from the Inspiral Carpets (Blogged here) a few weeks ago. The original poster publicising the gig was a little odd given it gave the wrong venue, and missed the fact that it was a run through of the current and first albums in their entirety but it gave us a clue.

It was reasonably challenging to find out about the gig, resorting to tweeting the band and we were off. With Bob driving we took the interesting approach of him looking at a map on line then driving hoping to remember the location or the venue name when we hit Cannock, and it worked with only one misplacing and asking of passers by for directions.

Walking through the streets of cannock we were first hit with the sounds of Agado do do by Black Lace wafting over us from a venue above Boots the chemist, I was mildly perturbed hat this may be the warm up tunes, but luckily this seemed to be a disco going on.

Walking in, an apologetic front deskier noted the ticket machine had broken, and had to be hand written, to which quick as a flash I thanked her for the 'Dodgy ticket' to which she sighed, obviously having had the same comment from everyone prior in the queue.

Dodgy ticket - Boom Boom
Passing a decent merchandise stall, including sew on Dogging badges in the shape of Northern Soul ones, we entered the venue, (which Bobs little daughter had performed Ballet at recently) and I can hand on heart say I have never been to a venue like it. Nice stage, standing area and then a bank of cinema seats at the back with a DJ booth, with Northern Soul songs filling the venue.

Looking round though the most bizarre thing was the randomness of the audience, usually at a gig you will get a tribe there, indie kids, rockers, etc and some theme but here it looked like the audience was just a sample of people plucked at random from Cannock shopping centre, lots of interesting people, a veritable giant, luckily seated at the back, line dancers, old bloke in shirt tie and red braces, rumours of a member of the Charlatans in attendance, massive bouncers, I was just waiting for Peter Kaye and the cast of Phoenix Nights to wander round when...

From the sound desk the Paul Weller barneted promoter announced the ability for us to purchase raffle tickets, one prize of a Dodgy signed guitar (cue second Dodgy joke) and to buy merchandise, Dodgy gear on sale in the foyer....boom and indeed boom.

Support act Sam Forrest playing acoustic shit (by his own admission) was prior Nine Black Alps front man, dressed in lumberjack shirt, cartoon mop hair, but good banter, nice tunes, probably a bit narked to have Driven for 3 hours to get there and everyone was chatting loudly over his acoustic songs. Good stuff and got warm applause.

Another break, Raffle drawn, and Dodgy came on to premier their latest album, Stand Upright In A Cool Place,  first in 14 years played start to finish. It's an anomaly amongst recent bands coming back from the Britpop era as it is definitely written from a grown up perspective, the Autumn of the career, and all the better for it. They were very tight at that point, Nigel Clark lead singer looking in rude health, chatting throughout, Drummer and bvs Matthew Priest now sporting an excellent white beard, he always was a larger than life character in the Britpop wars. Bassist wearing well..., guitarist looking like he had had a tough life and not over the moon to be in Cannock.

Highlight for me for the first album of the night was track 2 'What became of you', coupled with lead singer getting told off for swearing to the crowd (you came her to hear the hits, where's f****ng Staying out for the Summer, where's f*****ng in a room, and wheres f*****ng staying out for the summer ) as his cousins lad was in the crowd. I must admit I was thinking the same a little.

Band off, with the promise of taking us time travelling back to 1993 on their return, a specific request for April 11th was made, more tunes, back on, having partaken of a bit of the rider, and launching into a run through of the Dodgy album, their debut. This was typical Britpop, thoroughly enjoyable, and an album I never bought, but will seek out. You got a sense of melancholy from lead singer going through this, a few barbed comments and the tunes becoming a little less tight as the gig went on. Finishing off with We're Not Going to Take This Anymore they merged into back to life back to reality then went off waving to the crowd.

Promoter leapt back into life, encouraging the audience to be cheering on Indie Legends Dodgy, and to stamp our feet. And we were rewarded with a returning band, half full bottle of scotch in hand to do a Ragged if your thinking of me and good enough, both good tunes, receiving decent sing alongs, from the crowd and including in a long intro for Good Enough a jumping into the audience, pushing people forward to dance and launching of water bottle from one side of the gig to the other, danger danger.

That Bottle of Scotch - the Rider!

Great experience, Dodgy great value for money for the 2 albums and wrapping up at 11:45 was a long old gig, we could have stayed for the disco but were probably right to leave rather than cut a rug with the chap in tie and braces. Final announcements from the promoter promised loads more gigs in Cannock bringing more legends, I would hope he promotes them in the future more widely than flyers in Cannock chip shops as this has potential.

Crowd full of pent up excitement for gig (braces dead centre)

Monday, 6 May 2013

The Wall Of Sound A-Z: The Flaming Lips: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

The flaming lips are one of a kind, a band who seem just to make music based around the things they came up with on a drunken night out, those exciting no holds barred ideas, and as a result they are one of my favourite bands.

Picking up Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, it's an interesting record, good first couple of tracks, particularly the strings at the end of the second, the sound of feeling in love, then comes Yoshimi, parts 1&2, and what a difference the 2 parts are, first is a beautiful song about these robots - Perfection. The second, effectively a playing of scales up and down, squishy sounds and not really up to much (it's more interesting live with the full experience as I will expand on below).

In the morning of the magicians, is back to a wistful, beautiful song Wayne Coyne crooning in his ravaged voice with beautiful tunes around. Then spacey sounds and it sounds like what flying in a spaceship would sound like universe rushing past, then back to the gentler element again.

Ego tripping at the gates of hell, is an average pleasant canter through 4 minutes, no short tunes on this album. Similarly are you a hypnotist? And it's summertime, these three songs have all been building up to one of the greatest songs ever written.

Do you realise?? Not only is it a beautiful, beautiful song, every line makes you think about something, Do you realise that everyone will someday die being the one that really gets me every time, probably because I have been relatively sheltered to this in my life. It's a song I could stick on repeat, lie back and close my eyes to.

The last couple of tracks basically rattle through basking in the glow of Do you realise.

So overall the album has 2 of the greatest tracks on it, and takes you on a trip for the rest of the album, brilliant stuff. The music mags loved it too, as the sticker on the front of my cd states:

"...even by their standards, Yoshimi is astonishing. The greatest album released in uncuts lifetime" *****

"The bands most delicate and sophisticated work yet" ***** the times

"The Flaming Lips are out there on their own : there is no one quite like them" Daily Telegraph 

"Outstanding" Sunday Times
It's not the songs though that make the Flaming Lips a phenomenal band but the live experience, I've seen them 3 times and each time it's been a draw dropping performance, whether it's the big plastic ball that Wayne walks over the crowd in, or the numerous green balloons into the crowd bouncing them around, or the big hands, random cam, dancing Santas or Aliens, streamers and confetti guns - it's a party not a gig!

The final word for me would probably be linked to the robots, as around this time me and Mrs P had come into the possession of 2 big black wind up robots, which we would then hide around the house, behind the curtains, in the fridge, in the bed etc to surprise each other whenever we could. They are in the loft now, so may be time to bring them out of retirement.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Ash - the end of an Era

Ash was tiny
Returning home on Friday, after roughly 8 hours driving I got the news that our cat had been to the vets for the last time. Now the Internet is full of pictures of cute cats, and I am not going to add to that number, but I will miss Ash (for that was her name) as we had got her when we got our first house together, and she was a day shy of 17 years old on Friday.

Ash was named primarily after the band Ash who burst onto the Britpop scene as precocious 16 year olds, touring in school holidays etc. it did help that Ash was a cute name for a cat too.

Ash have been a cracking band over the years, being able to throw off golden pop singles willy nilly. Starting with Kung Fu where my love of their tunes began, a blistering pop tune, guitars whirling at the beginning, "Chill, Chill" dang dagga dang....Kung fu do what you do to me....

I've had loads of fun following Ash over the years, they remain the only band I've ever heard of to play a gig in Redditch, at the social club, when they asked the fans on the website where they should play. That was a hot and sweaty gig, topped off by my mate wearing the same T shirt as Rick the drummer.

They were also the object of a vinyl obsession of mine, a red vinyl 7 inch limited edition single, with Drew Barrymore on the front. The single was a limited edition cover, doing get ready, given that's a cracking cover version done by one of my favourite bands it was an object of desire, it was gone quickly from the shops and so I remember thinking seriously about buying the single for £35! You can see this was the time before kids, but also a time where getting a song was hard, not like now where you can get it by jumping on iTunes or tapping on google. If I want the single now it's £7 on discogs, cheaper than most things on record store day.

The song 'Girl from Mars' was always special, having been singing under my breathe for a week or song, Mrs P was disappointed to find out I wasn't singing "I still love you the girl from Marske" the town she's from. It's a special song as a result.

I also got a great sampler album of there mini album Trailer, from Reddingtons Rare Records (long gone) but it looked cool, with the gold writing on the front "FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY. SALE OR OTHER TRANSFER IS PROHIBITED. MUST BE RETURNED ON DEMAND OF RECORD COMPANY" all I can say is I hope they don't ask for it back.

They are still going strong too, no doubt because they are innovative (as seen by the above tour), such as coming up with the A-Z singles releases (a release of a single every fortnight for a year) and accompanying uk tour, visiting a town starting with every letter of the alphabet (Queens Park, London, Ventnor, Zennor, Exmouth were the tricky ones they got)

So to my Ash, she was the runt of the litter, we got her from a Squat in Walsall through a friend of a friend, her tail was broke at the end so it never grew properly and she would never get too friendly with anyone, even if purring you needed to watch out for the swipe of viscous claws. But I am sad now she's gone, she's been a huge part of my life always pottering around, never being any trouble, and the 2 other cats we have, big boy cats, we're clearly scared of little Ash, as they have now started getting on the sofa, they obviously didn't dare before.

My favourite Ash songs, top 5

5. Orpheus - love that Mexican kick off

4. Jack names the planets - played at every gig, on the Trailer album no one else had, good stuff

3. Shining light - interesting fact, covered by Annie Lennox

2. Girl from Mars - for Mrs P

1. Kung Fu - never bettered in my eyes, especially for having the picture of Cantona launched into the crowd as the single cover, classic.