Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Only heard about this on Monday - a true anti-folk 'no-promotion-just-between-friends' affair?

Whilst starting to write a post about Matt Eaton, I came across a chance comment where he said that said "then opening up for Major Matt Mason USA in Cheltenham's Slak Bar on the 24th. Which means I have to miss The Sadies in Brighton. Again, you can't have it all". Quick visit to MMM's myspace page reveals not just Cheltenham but a UK TOUR including Tiger Lounge in Manchester tonight (other tour dates here).

Of course, no flyers or posters seem to exist; and I couldn't find tickets on sale ANYWHERE. After much searching managed to cobble together the following info:
- Tickets are either £4 or £5 (I think), pay on the door (I hope)
- Support is from Jam on Bread and Cookie Cutterr (both Manchester-based, both new to me, both sound highly immersed in the anti-folk aesthetic)
- Tears on the Golfcourse appear to have a hand in this - who may be musicians/DJs/promoters or all of the above
- The event has been put on (here) but at the time of writing only one person is intending to go.

At least everyone agrees the venue is Tiger Lounge, Cooper Street, Manchester M2 2FW tel 0161 236 6007 (even if they are not listing it on their Myspace page).

It sounds like a fantastic night (if you like whiny introspection - and who doesn't?) but also feels like an exclusive party I happened to overhear about and now I really, really want a proper invitation.

Major Matt Mason USA
Me Me Me [BUY]

Major Matt Mason USA
Honey Are You Ready For The Ballet? [BUY]

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I wasn't going to this gig until 4.15pm today when due to the sickly disposition of Mr D a ticket came into my possession. But there were added responsibilities rather than simply turning up...

Arrived just after 8pm to catch the end of the opening set from El Guincho. I've been listening to his Alegranza album but have not quite been won over - and so was curious to see if the live setting would add anything. Sadly it didn't. On record the first 30 seconds of songs sound excitingly exotic but then pale into dull loops and repetition. In person it's the same but not as exciting: programmed Afrobeat and latin rhythms with live keyboards and percussion all topped off chants or repeated phrases in Spanish. The repetition doesn't build - it just annoys. He got a great reception though from the small early doors crowd.

Next up my worst fears were realised when the second support was confirmed as Wild Beasts. This is the third time I've seen them (see here and here) and it doesn't get any better. This time however they have taken some of the rough edges off: there is less eccentricity, less vocal acrobatics and quite sensible attire. Then it hit me. Striped polo shirts, plain tight t-shirts, short sleeve shirts: they are trying to BE Vampire Weekend! They have become more slick not as a organic development but as a callous ploy to become more acceptable to a mainstream audience. God I dislike them even more.

Vampire Weekend came on about 9.35pm - they were neatly efficient and competent musically, but the live experience added little to the recorded version. Really you could be listening at home on shuffle - except between you and the speakers were either (depending on how close to the front) couples dancing with intertwined fingers or groups of lads swaying together with cans of Red Stripe or camera phones held aloft. They threw in three new songs and a cover for one of the encores but still struggled to fill an hour. The new songs are pretty much the exact template of those of the first album. The choice of cover ("in the spirit of Anglo-American relations" Fleetwood Mac's I Want To Be With You Everywhere) was a bit disappointing - it highlighted a coffee-table side of the band not something a bit more adventurous. But let's not forget that most people dancing here, at an indie gig, were dancing to African guitar music.

So I was a bit down on this sold out gig despite being lucky enough to get a ticket. But there were several contributory factors: I was sober. I was not at the front. Plus I was mindful of other responsibilities: for this gig I was accompanying Daughter 1.0 and her Friend 1.0. So it wasn't really MY night out. They enjoyed it hugely - despite being dwarfed and unable to see much. But dancing, singing along and spending £15 on a t-shirt was more than enough on a school night to send them hope deliriously happy. It was great to see them enjoying it so much.

Both have been to gigs before, mainly larger scale venues like MEN Arena and Apollo. It was illuminating to hear their first reaction to The Academy: "It's tiny". Ah now wait until you've been to Night and Day. And when we do go there together (if you'll still let me), you'll be 18. So you two will be able to get a round in. I'm looking forward to it already.

The Set List:
Mansard Roof
Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
I Stand Corrected
'Carried Away'?
The Kids Don't Stand A Chance
'Wendy Lee?'
Oxford Comma
I Want To Be With You Everywhere
El Guincho
Alegranza [BUY]

Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend [BUY]

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Now this WAS a top ten BSP gig! What a difference 24 hours makes - and how poorer the Manchester experience (crowd and sound mix) was when compared to this Leeds one. Shame it all ended for me with a guitarist calling Noble jumping on my head during the encore. No neck brace was needed but it was a long, painful journey home.

This was my first visit to Leeds Met Uni. It's a purpose built venue by the look of it, solid square box-shape room with high ceiling. Probably takes about 1000 but feels quite intimate. I did think I had been there before but it was the OTHER student union (and so this spares me having to confess to seeing Level 42 there in 1985 or 1986).

Surprised (especially given the previous night's early doors timing) to arrive in time to see the first support Rose Elinor Dougall. Since Sing Ye From The Hillsides (here) she has found a frighteningly young looking band to accompany her - tonight being their second gig. The style was much the same - 60s tinged torch-song pop- but benefited from a fuller band sound. At one point Rose swapped keyboard to stand stage-right and sing - and suddenly it felt she came a bit more alive when standing behind the microphone. She seemed more at ease and more animated. My advice: get out from behind the keyboard and be a proper front woman, it is your band after all.

Having endured Film School the night before, we gave this one a miss. BSP came on stage about 10pm. It was pretty much same the set list as Manchester (with A Wooden Horse replacing A Lovely Day Tomorrow) but in different order. At one point Yan suggested Noble had asked for requests - they were besieged, mainly I thought for Childhood Memories but it was not to be. The sound here was spot on, the crowd hugely energetic from the off and the pace and energy never dipped.

To reach the end was almost a relief in some ways - it was so hot, so frenetic that I was glad of a short respite before the encores. The usual madness ensued with the closing song: the bear appeared, Noble and Phil launched themselves from the stage and crowd-surfed and the whole place rocked with delight. So shame to then take a direct hit from Noble on this second jump whilst I was looking away. It was an almighty thwack that had me reeling and meant I had to duck out from the front for the last few minutes to rest my head and neck against a wall.

This did however mean I was first in queue at the merchandise stall at the end to pick up a British Tea Power mug for Mrs A. I strongly suspected this would be banished straight to the Archive with a disdainful wave of the hand. But I was pleasantly surprised to see the mug used by Mrs A for her morning brew. So the it might well yet become a well-used breakfast companion. Order yours here.

Despite a sound night's sleep the neck is still pretty sore. If I was a lesser person (or an American) I would be feeling litigious. But I'm surely this can be settled amicably: I can easily be bought of with a new T-shirt and some bottles of British Ale Power. My people will be waiting to hear from your people ...

The Set List:
Remember Me
Fear of Drowning
Larsen B
Waving Flags
The Great Skua
Down On The Ground
A Trip Out
The Land Beyond
Lights Out For Darker Skies
Canvey Island
Apologies To Insect Life
A Wooden Horse
No Lucifer
Spirit of St Louis/Rock

British Sea Power
The Decline of British Sea Power [BUY]

British Sea Power
Do You Like Rock Music? [BUY]

British Sea Power
KEXP Session 25 February 2004

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Damn these Sunday night curfews. I got to The Ritz at 7.25 or so convinced I would be in time to see opening act Matt Eaton - only to find him finishing the first (solo) part of his set with the song Woodburner. (I will write soon about his very fine album Finish Your Chips).

Disappointment turned to happiness though because the second part of his support slot was provided by The Modern Ovans, the Jonathan Richman tribute band Matt is part and which includes Hamilton (bass) and Noble (drums) from BSP. They played a brief four-song set (Buzz Buzz Buzz, Corner Store, Abominable Snowman In the Market, Morning of Our Lives) to a rather sparse crowd: "we're more of an after-midnight kinda band" explained Matt.

I have a soft spot for The Ritz. I do not have the long history or romantic attachment that some do but it does have a special atmosphere all of its own. Tonight though some of its faults were showing: most of the draught beers were off leaving us with the nasty fizzy Fosters and then there was the cavernous sound to compete with. Cavernous sound and British Sea Power you say. Surely they go together? Well...

First was second support Film School a Los Angeles psych-drone five piece (drums, two guitars, bass and keyboards). They were a bit My Bloody Valentine, a bit Black Mountain - with some programmed beats too I think to give a slight industrial edge - but mainly a bit dull. A constant wailing wall of sound was neither entertaining nor subtle (adding handclaps to one of their songs I found laughably pointless). I couldn't tell any of their six song set apart.

The summary of the BSP set was good but not great , marred by the iffy sound. There was little atmosphere for the most part I felt on stage or in the crowd - despite some enthusiastic flag-waving (crowd) and the re-appearance of swathes of foliage and heron and owl as stage decoration.

The first five songs should have been a joyous opening salvo but were defeated by the really poor sound mix (where were the drums?! where were most other instruments other than a prominent bass line? Or had our ears been shredded by Film School?) and a mixed ages crowd that gave those songs a bit of a lukewarm reception. The moment were it did come right was The Great Skua, a soaring instrumental accompanied by video footage of, well, sea-birds. And some fish. It sounds terrible but the wisest words of the evening were spoken at this point: "there's not many bands who could drop that in mid-set and not just get away with it but make it a high point".

Things did pick up with a furious closing Apologies For Insect Life and then the two encores (but the 'easy, easy' chant of No Lucifer really is the least interesting part of the song) but all a bit too late. The usual chaos the closing song featured a reappearance of Ursine Ultra the giant bear (if you have to ask, you won't get it) and some impressive stage-diving from guitarist Noble. At the Ritz there is a deep channel between the (high) stage and the crowd. Probably a gap of seven feet - with a solid chest-height metal barrier in front of the crowd. Noble donned flying helmet and made as though he as going to run up. Surely he wouldn't? Yes he did - not once but twice.

Mr P took a different view of the evening - "definitely a top ten BSP gig" - but his view was swayed by some enthusiastic, early doors, alfresco drinking. Sorry to report more soberly: it was "bottom ten" on my scorecard.

The Set List:
Remember Me
Larsen B
Fear Of Drowning
Down on the Ground
A Trip Out
The Land Beyond
A Lovely Day Tomorrow
Lights Out For Darker Skies
Waving Flags
The Great Skua
Canvey Island
Apologies For Insect Life
No Lucifer
Spirit Of St Louis/Rock in A

Matt Eaton
Finish Your Chips [BUY]

Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers
Roadrunner, Roadrunner[BUY]

British Sea Power
The Decline of British Sea Power [BUY]

British Sea Power
Do You Like Rock Music? [BUY]

Friday, October 10, 2008

Of all the bedrooms in this town, you walked into mine ...

"For Smog Fans" the sticker in the record shop said. That was enough to draw my interest. Then there is the artwork (courtesy of Iker Spozio) which is equally attention-grabbing - some where between Aubrey Beardsley and Art Deco. So with attention grabbed I gave this album, Long Distance Swimmer by Adrian Crowley a listen on (the whole album can be streamed here). I was hooked before the first song (Bless Our Tiny Hearts) had even finished. This is a beautiful and beguiling record that is one of this year's very best.

On Long Distance Swimmer there are plenty of references to the sea (with song titles like These Icy Waters, Star of the Harbour, Brother at Sea) but rather than a chilly early morning dip this album is a cosy night in front of an open fire. The Smog comparison is right in some ways but another key reference point is James Yorkston - who also guests on the album. Adrian's songs move between a uptempo but restrained bluesy chug (like These Icy Waters) and then more sparse, intimate, folksy acoustic numbers (Temporary Residence). In either mode, Adrian's lyrics and rich, sonorous voice is softer and warmer than some of the distance and alienation you feel with Bill Callahan (although I would take bets you could put Leaving The Party on any recent Smog album and fans wouldn't bat an eyelid).

Adrian (Galway native, sometime Dublin resident, well-travelled - see his own biog here) recorded this album during 2006, released it in Ireland last year and then this January it came out in the UK. I recently met Mr MM in London and keen to impress each other with recent musical discoveries we both saved one album as our trump card. Yup, for both of us it was Long Distance Swimmer - he came across it as a 'can't fail' recommendation from a record shop in Paris.

Here's what the record label says:

Recorded at Crowley’s sister’s house in Dublin in just one week, whilst he was house sitting and looking after Rosy, her Dalmatian. Crowley removed most of the furniture and built a soundproof fortress of mattresses. Adrian – “The album was produced by the ever diligent Stephen Shannon. Steve set up microphones all over the house and we moved in for the week! We only had until my sister came back from holiday to put all the furniture back in its place and the mattresses back on the beds.” Over a period of one week Crowley was joined by friends and collaborators including Marja Tuhkanen (violin), James Yorkston (vocals, clarinet, concertina, guitar), Sinead Nic Gearailt (harp), Kate Ellis (cello) and Thomas Haugh aka 'Hulk' (drums). “All the vocals on the album were done in one or two takes at the house. Two more songs were recorded elsewhere and the whole album was finished off in Stephen Shannon's studio which he had just built in his back garden in Dublin.”

This is an absolute gem of an album which I would encourage you to spend some time with and get lost in its fragile charms. It was a shock to find out it is Adrian's FOURTH album. The earlier three were re-released by Fence Records but all appear to be sold out (check here).

And if you are in London this weekend Adrian is playing the Roundhouse on Saturday supported by Chris Garneau - tickets here. I look forward to hearing your reports.

Adrian Crowley
Long Distance Swimmer [BUY]

Friday, October 03, 2008

Oh My Blood Relations The Revolutionary Spirit Is Here ...

Occasionally, just occasionally mind, I do go and see live events that aren't gigs. Unplanned, this week I found myself at Eric's, the musical celebrating the legendary Liverpool club at the Everyman Theatre. The subject matter itself would merit a mention here - but it was so good the production deserves more.

Musicals based on band's band catalogue are two-a-penny at the moment (Queen, Take That and Madness all recently 'celebrated' in the West End) spawned by the global dominance of Mamma Mia. So Eric's could be a venture to be approached with trepidation. But I am hugely relieved to report that not only does it capture the spirit of the club and the era, it manages to incorporate the music of bands associated with Eric's into an original story without cliche and without cringe.

The story is largely autobiographical based on the experiences of writer Mark Davies Markham: "Eric's is based on the two occasions in my life when I felt most alive ... When I was 17 and thought I was going to live forever, and when I was fighting for my life on a cancer ward". So the story focuses on Joe, diagnosed in his late 30s with leukaemia and facing a 30% survival rate following a bone marrow transplant, and interweaves this present day story with Joe's coming-of-age at Eric's in its heyday. Here he encounters the punk spirit, sense of liberation and creative inspiration that takes him out a dead-end job and on the path to be a writer.

Yes but the music you ask? I had assumed from the flyer that this was all original music written for this production. Instead songs of the period (not mentioned on the flyer for copyright reasons? Or for fear of offending a theatre-going audience?) are played live by a four piece band whilst the acting company (ten of them or so?) play all the characters who inhabit Eric's including key musical figures of the day.

Myth plays a large part in music and in particular in Liverpool (see the Pete Frame family tree in the programme). But what this show proves is that the myth of Eric's has real substance and legacy. So there are snatches of songs by the visting bands that played the club (The Damned, The Clash, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello) as well as the local heroes. So you don't get a live performance of an Echo and the Bunnymen song by actors playing the band - instead you get The Cutter sung by Joe's wife as she contemplates losing her husband; and then you get to see Mac as an inhabitant of Eric's in the late 70s. Now a 90 minute play is always going to reduce everything to caricature but the self-styled Crucial Three of Pete Wylie, Julian Cope, and Ian McCulloch are captured very well: Wylie the walking ego, Cope the public school oddball, and Mac the cool poseur. Somehow it combines homage and bringing-down-to-earth piss-take in one.
And there was some great music in the show. It was a shock to hear The Wild Swans without warning. Revolutionary Spirit was a firm compilation tape favourite of mine in the 80s. And then to hear two of the lesser known songs from The Teardrop Explodes second album Wilder was a joy. I remember when first listening to this album not being able to decide which song was better or the more moving. I still can't decide so here they both are.

Eric's is only on until 11 October - more info here.

The Wild Swans
Incandescent [BUY]

The Teardrop Explodes
Wilder [BUY]