Monday, April 28, 2008

"All of our songs sound the same"

Well you could have treated yourselves to the new albums from Portishead, Tindersticks or The Fall today but surely there's only one album release today that matters (to those of a certain age....)

Probe 61 is "CSI: Ambleside" by Half Man Half Biscuit.

"Half Man Half Biscuit's 'nth album offers no departure whatsoever from their rather formulaic brand of tuneless caterwaul and whilst this 'mostly filler no killer' approach might appease the already committed fan, it is unlikely to attract any new friends. Somewhat inevitably, there is no myspace page to 'check out'".

On first listen, not as 'rocking' as Achtung Bono but all is relative. Every trademark HMHB component is present correct - if it ain't broke etc. And the last track - 'National Shite Day' - is one of their best. Even, if as they say on this track below, all their songs sound the same..

Half Man Half Biscuit
CSI Ambleside [BUY] or [BUY]

Thursday, April 17, 2008


You wait years for your favourite Californian slo-core band to turn up. Then they announce they are playing your home town on their UK tour. And then minutes before you leave on the night of the gig you get this message:

We're really sorry to have to tell you at such short notice but we're afraid that the Radar Bros. gig at the Music Box tonight has been cancelled. We're raging about the whole thing to be honest and the band are really disappointed - it's the promoter that's decided to pull the gig and there's nothing we've been able to do to convince him to change his mind. The band are coming to Manchester anyway, in order to do a live Marc Riley session this evening on 6 Music but we're afraid that the gig won't be going ahead as planned.

What a pisser. Not only really looking forward to this gig, I was downright intrigued what Radar Bros would be like live. I haven't followed them closely since The Singing Hatchet in 1999 until this year's album Auditorium - but have always enjoyed their dreamy almost soporific melodic songs. And that's part of the problem - sometimes listening to an album I lost track of the music and couldn't recall the last three songs at all. But Auditorium has proved different so far. Ah well just will have to imagine what it would have been like - and hang on for another five years.

Radar Bros
The Singing Hatchet [BUY]

Radar Bros
Auditorium [BUY]

Monday, April 14, 2008


Well how did this happen? I often go to gigs and don't come back with any photographs (and the size of the Bridgewater Hall - 2000 seat concert hall - means a camera phone from the first circle just ain't gonna do the job) but I somehow managed to come back without my ticket stub. Despite the still-missing-box of from the 80s and early 90s I have managed to 'archive' all of my ticket stubs. Except this one. Damn.

Memory, as faulty as it is, will have to do. This was a fine concert. I was blown away by last year's We'll Never Turn Back album, but what would Mavis be like live? In the end, the style was close to that of the album but the selection of songs was much broader.

Mavis had a six piece band - guitar, bass and drums plus three backing singers. They stayed closer to the spare, gritty, almost bluesy sound of WNTB rather than a slick or more soulful take. This worked less well for the Staple Singers songs towards the end of the set but for songs from the album like Down in Mississippi or Eyes on The Prize or even some of the covers like Wade in the Water or the Buffalo Springfield cover, it worked just a treat. There was also a great instrumental section were the band were let loose on a medley of tunes including a raucous instrumental of Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues.

However what really made this concert was two things. The first Mavis's voice - deep, throaty and guttural rather than as soulful as in earlier years but still with a soaring range. The second was Mavis herself. In addition to the songs she told stories on the civil rights struggle, of MLK (Why Am I Treated So Bad was his favourite song), of her father and family's fight against injustice that reinforced that Mavis not only sung it she had lived it. Her presence and her stature as a campaigner shone out along side her singing. It was a privilege to be in the company of such a woman. Long may she continue to sing and to campaign.

For What It's Worth
Eyes on The Prize
Down in Mississippi
Wade in the Water
The Weight
Why Am I Treated So Bad?
I'm So Lonely I Could Cry opening bars/instrumental slide guitar blues/Folsom Prison Blues
Marching on Freedom's Highway
Respect Yourself
I'll Take You There
We Shall Not Be Moved
Turn Me Around

Mavis Staples
We'll Never Turn Back [BUY]

Sunday, April 06, 2008


After seeing Malcolm before (here and here) knew what to expect but forgot just how good this would be. Malcolm claimed that the evening would be "indifferent" but he was just plain wrong.

Performing seated with acoustic guitar accompanied by Stevie on double bass and Jenny on violin/backing vocals (no fancy equipment changes here), he played songs from all four albums, a B-side or two plus several new ones. Including "Red Travelling Socks" (Bright-Eyes-meets-Billy-Bragg?) that he claims "should mark a new turn in my career"

I much prefer this setting for Malcolm's songs that the polished full-band production on parts of A Brighter Beat and Into The Woods. And the final songs played solo - especially Choir and Devil and The Angel were just heart-breakingly good. For someone so self-deprecating and almost at unease with the notion of performing, he puts on a bloody good show.

And managed to pick up a copy of the web/gig only release Live At The Bush Hall and get it signed too.
All in all an excellent evening - suitably aided by Night and Day's new Polish beer of choice Tyskie

The set-list (with a couple of omissions and guesses at titles for new songs):
A Brighter Beat
Fuck It I Love You
Week Off
Follow Robin Down
Blue Plastic Bags
We're All Going To Die
Pick Me Up
The Loneliest Night Of My Life Came Calling
Point of Life
Toasting The Bad Times?
Red Travelling Socks
Somebody Loves You
Total Belief
(another one here?)
The Devil and The Angel

Several acoustic demos available to download from Malcolm's website here - you're life will be better for it.

Malcolm Middleton
Into The Woods [BUY]

Malcolm Middleton
Live At The Bush Hall [BUY]

Support was from De Rosa who performed as a two-piece (guitar/vocals plus electric piano) - definitely worth investigating.

De Rosa
Mend [BUY]

Saturday, April 05, 2008


I'm not a sentimental type but recent events amongst family and friends (involving family pets, turning 40 and themed cakes) have caused grown men and women to start blubbing publicly. And it's difficult not to be moved.

And the bloggers seem to be joining in too. First DominoRally posts Jim Reeves' "Old Tige" and then Moistworks posts "See The Big Man Cry" by Charlie Louvin. Spoken word personal histories, death and family pets: all great topics to bring a lump to the throat.

So here are my contributions to songs sentimental and teary - all guaranteed to start me claiming "I've just got something in the corner of my eye..."

The emotional damage this wreaked on a nine year child listening to the charts in 1974 still lingers.
Terry Jacks [BUY]

As uplifting as it is moving and sentimental - nothing short of genius (and don't even mention the fact that Clarence was blind)
Clarence Carter [BUY]

First heard this recently on St Etienne's Songs For Mario's Cafe . A children's choir AND a woman crying. Thank god I didn't hear it when I was nine....
Ruth Copeland [BUY]