Saturday, January 31, 2009


Where did all these people come from?! Tonight's gig at Academy 1 was not sold out but if felt like it: not only was the 2000 capacity venue heaving, the atmosphere was that of a major happening where everybody inside was relieved to have a ticket and be part of something. And what a great atmosphere it was, more homecoming parade than wintry evening gig.

Half Man Half Biscuit have always instilled loyalty and affection and it was palpable tonight. Older and newer songs were greeted with recognition in equal measures; the playing was greeted with as much appreciation and warmth as the exceptional lyrics (make Nigel Blackwell Poet Laurate NOW); and even where the crowd got boisterous it was always accompanied by a genuine bonhomie. When you see a group of blokes all wearing Dukla Prague football shirts at the front what can you do but smile?
I expected the set to be mainly from the last two albums but it went right across their 23 year (count 'em) spanning back catalogue. This was actually the first time I had seen the band in over 20 years (Birkenhead 1985 since you ask). I'm not sure how or why that has happened but I'll make sure it won't be so long to the next one. Future HMHB dates here. I missed both support bands sadly but the 90 minute set (look at all those songs) from HMHB was great value in itself in every sense of the word.

The set list went something like this below but I think the running order goes awry at a few points and especially towards the end (the Guinness and Red Stripe combination not really helping). The encores included a cover of The Hollies 'The Air That I Breathe' "since we are in the fair city of Manchester". A 'credit crunch' version of Twenty Four Hour Garage People went down particularly well especially with Mrs A who was in attendance tonight despite being on medication and accompanied by a pain in the neck. And our friends from near and far.

Took Problem Chimp To Ideal Home Show
When The Evening Sun Goes Down
Turned Up Clocked On Laid Off
Bad Losers on Yahoo Chess
The Light At The End Of The Tunnel
Yipps (My Baby's Got The)
Petty Sessions
Restless Legs
Totnes Bickering Fair
We Built This Village On A Trad. Arr. Tune
Blue Badge Abuser
Gubba Look-Alikes
Them's The Vagaries
Look Dad No Tunes
Bob Wilson Anchor Man
Evening of Swing (Has Been Cancelled)
The Trumpton Riots
Everything's AOR
For What Is Chatteris
Twenty Four Hour Garage People
Joy Division Oven Gloves
Eno Collaboration
The Air That I Breathe
National Shite Day

Half Man Half Biscuit
CSI:Ambleside [BUY]

Half Man Half Biscuit
Voyage To The Bottom Of The Road [BUY]

Half Man Half Biscuit
Achtung Bono [BUY]

Meanwhile our roving reporter Ms L was in Bury at the Met for The Travelling Band. No report forthcoming yet but some photographic evidence has been supplied. Including the set list. Makes me feel proud.

The Travelling Band
Under The Pavement [BUY]

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Think all gigs are the same? If so refresh your thinking with tonight's show at Club Academy brought to you by Hey Manchester and Pineapple Folk. Here's what they say:

We’re delighted to present of Montreal’s first visit to Manchester since June 2007, when they played an unforgettable sold-out show for us at the Roadhouse! Since then, they’ve performed with a real life horse in New York, which kind of puts the step-ladder-and-hotpants spectacle we got in the shade, doesn’t it? This time round, however, we’ve got them an extra large stage to handle their musical theatrics (including dedicated dancers and two drummers, we hear).

Get a taster by watching this:

Or higher quality footage of the 2007 tour can be streamed on Fabchannel but you really should be there in person for an extraordinary collision of indie-pop-psychedelia with vaudeville and music hall. Tickets here.

Of Montreal
Skeletal Lamping [BUY]

Of Montreal
If he's protecting our nation, then who will protect big oil [BUY]

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Unboxing Nonesuch

Well look what I got in the post: a parcel of all the CDs released in 2008 by Nonesuch UK. After my lengthy tirade against major labels and the record industry, are they now trying to buy my affection?
That wasn't their motivation but a parcel of 29 CDs is easily going to sway my opinion. I've always had a soft spot for Nonesuch after their signing of Wilco. Warners dropped Wilco due to the delays and disagreements over the release of 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot'. Nonesuch, a SUBSIDUARY of Warners stepped in, signed the band and released the album. A great example of a label thinking and acting NOT like a major label. And now with this delivery their stock rises even further. So what's in the box?

Well there are several broad groups:
> Contemporary classical: Kronos Quartet play Terry Riley; John Adams, Steve Reich.
> Elder States-men and -women of the Singer-Songwriter world: Ry Cooder, Emmylou Harris, kd lang; Stephin Merritt's The Magnetic Fields, Randy Newman, T Bone Burnett.
> Jazz types (in its broadest sense): Brad Mehldau, Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell
> Traditional and indigenous musics: koto music, Japanese flute and Geza Music from the Kabuki
> The uncategorizable/unfamiliar stuff: Punch Brothers, Fernando Otero, Edgar Meyer & Chris Thile, Isabel Bayrakdarian, Nicholas Payton.
Oh and a compilation of music from the TV series "The Wire" which brilliantly blends dialogue with hip-hop, funk grooves, Steve Earle and Tom Waits.

It's a pretty representative sample of the output of the label: classy, refined, global, genre-defining. And all coming with high-end packaging, artwork and full colour inserts. I know I'm not going to like it all but I'm really going to enjoy ploughing through all this new stuff.

Even the unpacking was fun. Mrs A spend an earlier part of the week snorting with derision at the concept of unboxing, those sad people who film themselves unpacking new technology (here and here). So it was no surprise to her to find sad old me photographing my parcel (video would just be vulgar). It's good she knows me so well.

And if any major or independent labels do want to purchase my affections, influence my opinions or just generally bribe me with product, please get in touch. It won't take much to buy me: my integrity crumbles at the merest hint of free music.

Ry Cooder
I, Flathead [BUY]

Emmylou Harris
All I Intended To Be [BUY]

Kronos Quartet
The Cusp of Magic [BUY]

The Blind Boys of Alabama
"...and all the pieces matter" Music from The Wire [BUY]

And there are two cheap price Nonesuch samplers available VOL1 and VOL2

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Richard Thompson is an enigma to me. He's one of those artists (Neil Young is another) with three decades of influential music-making under his belt; revered by musicians, fans and critics alike; and I cannot even name three songs of his I have listened to all the way through. I feel as though I should like him but knowing where to start is a problem. For me, he is wrapped in an impenetrable cloak of mystery which only those with an intimate knowledge of his extensive back-catalogue are allowed to shelter under. A bit like jazz really.

Reading about his '1000 Years of Popular Music' tour made me think this could be the way to see RT without taking on the back catalogue challenge. And then what do you know? Two hours before this nearly sold-out gig is about to start I get gifted a ticket.

Richard Thompson first performed 1000 Years of Popular Music at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and has since done multiple-night stands in Chicago, New York, London, and numerous other major U.S. cities. The set list varies from night to night, but has been known to start in the 13th century and move to medieval Italian ballads to selections from the songbooks of Gilbert & Sullivan, Stephen Foster, Ray Charles, Hank Williams, The Beatles, The Who, Squeeze, and Prince, all strung together by Richard's vocals, incomparable guitar playing and dry wit. For this tour, Richard is accompanied by vocalist/pianist Judith Owen and percussionist/ vocalist Debra Dobkin.

So the first half of the concert had Italian renaissance music, a madrigal, 19th century mining ballad, an operatic aria from Henry Purcell, a 17th century sea shanty, music hall, even Gilbert and Sullivan. Second half: Cole Porter, honky tonk country, early rock 'n' roll and into the sixties with The Kinks and The Easybeats, and then on to Abba, The Korgis and Nelly Furtado. It was a leisurely, chronological journey with anecdotes and back story to each song - but the arrangements and musicanship were excellent and projections on a large backdrop (renaissance art, American merchant navy ships, couples jiving) illustrated each era and each song.

As the set got more contemporary, it all became a bit 'so what'. The covers didn't add much to the songs from recent decades (unlike his Britney cover - see below) and it all lacked the variety, inventiveness and joy of first half. Still it was one of the most enjoyable and surprising evenings of music I have been to for a long while; and great to feel as though I was in the younger half of the audience for once.

Live versions of 'Blackleg Miner', 'Shenandoah' and 'Oops I Did It Again' can be streamed here courtesy of NPR and the tour continues. '1000 Years of Popular Music' is available as a DVD and 2 CD set here.

No Prince or Britney tonight but he did play versions of these:

Malcolm Yelvington
The Sound of Sun [BUY]

The Kinks
Ultimate Collection [BUY]

Stockard Channing Did Hold Sway

Finally got around to sorting out a version of Pick of 2008 for posting here. These are not the BEST songs of 2008 but a selection of my FAVOURITES which I think - sort of - fit together. Track-listing below and you can download it in two parts. The compilation title is from the lyrics of the last song. The titles (and therefore the songs) that didn't make it include Fat Cops Make Bigger Targets ('Happy Spirits' by Radar Bros.) and Tired of Being A Hero ('A Sad Country Ballad for A Tired Superhero' by Woodpigeon). Too many songs, too much choice, something's got to give.

Stockard Channing Held Sway: Pick of 2008

SIDE A - Download [42MB]
Frightened Rabbit - The Modern Leper [BUY]
Eugene McGuinness - Fonz [BUY]
Bowerbirds - In Our Talons [BUY]
The Shortwave Set - Glitches 'n' Bugs [BUY]
Thomas Function - Can't Say No [BUY]
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Dig! Lazarus! Dig! [BUY]
Adrian Crowley - Brother At Sea [BUY]
Okkervil River - Lost Coastlines [BUY]
Laura Marling - You're No God [BUY]
The Acorn - Flood Pt. 1 [BUY]

SIDE B - Download [46MB]
Willard Grant Conspiracy - The Great Deceiver [BUY]
The Miserable Rich - Pisshead [BUY]
Jenny Lewis - Acid Tongue [BUY]
Conor Oberst - Moab [BUY]
The Wave Pictures - Friday Night In Loughborough [BUY]
Los Campesinos! - Death to Los Campesinos! [BUY]
British Sea Power - A Trip Out [BUY]
Fujiya & Miyagi - Knickerbocker [BUY]
The Voluntary Butler Scheme - Trading Things In [BUY]
Robert Forster - Let Your Light In Babe [BUY]
Half Man Half Biscuit - National Shite Day [BUY]

My Top Ten Albums of 2008 is still here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Given the huge press attention around the release of Animal Collective's eighth album (quiet January? Domino spending their Arctic Monkeys earnings on PR?) it might appear a no-brainer that tonight's Manchester gig sold out weeks ago. But in the current economic climate and with the live music market possibly reaching saturation point, nothing is certain and all credit to Pineapple Folk and Hey! Manchester for putting on this event.

I missed support Highlife and arrived at 9.15pm to find the band taking to the stage. Tonight it was the three-man line up: Avey Tare, Panda Bear and Geologist (if you want an AC history there is a convoluted one here or a more straightforward one here). On record AC mix pulsating tribal rhythms, shimmering synths and glorious harmonies to magical, and at times euphoric, effect. The new album Merriweather Post Pavillion is no exception, if anything more blissfully transcedent than some of the earlier experimentation and pure noise. But live?

Well pretty similar really. Ambient passages introduce and link songs, snippets of older songs are spliced together and whilst not the most animated performers the spirit of the records is captured well via banks of electronics, samplers, synths etc overlaid with guitar and some live percussion. No camera with me tonight but there are some photos of the London gig here - but they make it appear much more soulless than it was on the night in Manchester.

But what stood out for me to my surprise was the vocals - what I thought was the element that relied most on the studio. Live the pulsating rhythms were not to the forefront: what gave the songs life or carried the rhythm was the higher register harmonies of Panda Bear or the more squawky mid-range of Avey Tare. So the highpoints were when the two were singing/chanting together; and when this was met with recognition or reaction from the packed crowd, that's when it all came together. When this didn't happen, things could drag a little. So overall good but not great with occasional joyous moments ('My Girls' and 'Lion in a Coma').

And despite the seemingly universal praise for Merriweather Post Pavillion it's good to find some nay-sayers: I played 'My Girls' to Daughter 2.0 before leaving home tonight, thinking surely the harmonies AND the lyrical content were a winning combination. It got an instant thumbs-down. (I'll keep working on her though - she just needs a bit more time to appreciate avant-noise-psyche-folk-pop fully).

Animal Collective
Feels [BUY]

Animal Collective
Merriweather Post Pavillion [BUY]

Thursday, January 08, 2009


Arrived late at this Red Deer Club evening so sadly missed Carl Woodford. Not sure if this evening was a sell-out but the small upstairs room at Dulcimer was PACKED. Although it may have been difficult to get a drink, it certainly kept the crowd warm on this chilly January night.

The Random Family are a band-cum-promoters who appear to own/play/promote (?) at St Brides Church in Liverpool - and all of tonight's line up will be playing there 9 Jan. They are a four piece - two guitars (with occasional banjo, mandolin etc), stand-up bass and flute/recorder - with three of the band taking lead or dual-lead vocals and all four on harmonies at times. They started with a minimum of tuning up and preparation but became a bit more serious about 'getting it right' as the set went on. They play gentle acoustic folk-pop, the relaxed approach underpinned by highly accomplished playing. All three vocalists and the sound in general were never so distinctive that you could point to obvious comparisons or say that is was unique - so overall gently uplifting without knocking you over. The strongest moments were the three part harmonies or in the interplay between male and female lead vocals. More of this please. They had copies of their second EP on sale.

The Random Family
Caught In A Lullaby EP [BUY]

After writing about The Miserable Rich earlier this week it was good to see them live in Manchester. Tonight they appeared as a five piece: vocals, acoustic guitar, stand-up bass (again), cello and violin. The mellow chamber-pop on record was a bit more (relatively) intense live. The lead singer was by no means Ian Curtis but for the first two songs there was some intense glaring and grave looks. However once he started talking between talks the mood and the expressions lightened.

It was a short set - six songs in the main set ("this is 'technically' the end") and two for the encore ("this is 'properly' the end"). The set list included five songs from the Twelve Ways To Count album (Monkey, Pisshead, Boat Song, The Time That's Mine, Muswell and Merry Go Round) plus their version of Hot Chip's Over and Over. Merry Go Round featured some fine audience accompaniment for the clapping section. The two songs for the encore were new to me - new songs or covers? Further information welcomed.

Amongst the crowd in the packed room was (local resident) Badly Drawn Boy. It's a long time since I've listened to any of his music and I wouldn't have made the connection without seeing him on this night but I'm struck by the similarity between the finest (i.e. my favourite) of his songs 'The Shining' and the sound of The Miserable Rich. That's where the similarity ends - unless The Miserable Rich are soon to be scoring the next film adaptation of a Nick Hornby book?

The Miserable Rich are back in Manchester (and touring) with Woodpigeon in February (details here)

The Miserable Rich
Twelve Ways To Count [BUY]

Badly Drawn Boy
The Hour of Bewilderbeast [BUY]

Monday, January 05, 2009

There's more love in this head than these eyes can show

In the first weeks of 2009 you'll find most bloggers looking forward to the new releases and new bands of the year (see here for Sweeping The Nation's picks for 2009). Me? I'm still catching up with records from 2008 and 2007 (and watch out for a future post on an album from 1990 soon).
The two records from late last year that have been lodged on repeat in my head recently share other similarities: both are on small independent labels, both feature large('ish) collectives of players, both just about fit into the umbrella description of 'orchestral-pop' and both feature the kind of fey, fragile male vocals that I can't get enough of - but which drive Mrs A to distraction. She prefers her male singers a bit more throaty, more rawk 'n' roll.The Miserable Rich released Twelve Ways To Count at the end of November on Humble Soul. They are a four- (or is it six-?) piece from Brighton who combine the tender vocals of James De Malplaquet with gentle acoustic guitar, cello and violin to beautiful and - on this their debut -very accomplished effect. When I first heard 'Pisshead' last month I kicked myself because I had just finished my compilation of songs of the year. And this song should be on it. It is funny, poetic, moving and euphoric all at the same time; and in addition to the strings there's whistling and possibly even spoons. A winner on all counts. Intelligent and moving chamber-pop of the highest order - buy now.

The Miserable Rich
Twelve Ways To Count [BUY]

Woodpigeon played End of the Road Festival in 2007 two if not three times. And I missed them on both/all occasions. Their first album 'Songbook' was released on End of the Road Records (the same people as the festival - they liked them so much etc. etc.) in September last year; it was originally released in N America in 2006. Built around main man Mark Hamilton this Canadian collective are closer in sound and mood to Sufjan Stevens. Whereas The Miserable Rich keep it simple and sparse with string section/acoustic guitar/vocals, Woodpigeon play with a bigger box of musical toys and the songs flirt with different musical styles: 'A Sad Country Ballad for a Tired Superhero' is a march, 'Ms Stacey Watson, Stepney Green' pays homage to Belle & Sebastian for instance (they also like long song titles). If The Miserable Rich are 'chamber', then Woodpigeon are definitely 'orchestra'. This is a great record, deserving all the accolade found here. And - even better - both Woodpigeon and The Miserable Rich are touring the UK together in February for six dates only -more here.

Songbook [BUY]

And squeezing in another of last year's albums....

Now some people's whose musical opinions I trust greatly have recommended The Hold Steady to me over their last couple of albums. I keep hearing stories of epic, life-changing gigs and of rock 'n' roll with attitude harking back to The Replacements and The Grifters. But my brief dalliances have left me unconverted. Odd snippets of music has sounded more like sub-Springsteen bluster to me. But I have been giving last year's album Stay Positive more of a chance.
I still remain unconvinced. But then, but then... I hear last track 'Slapped Actress' and I think I may be starting to see what people mean. There's something about the edgy tension conveyed musically and in Craig Finn's gruff, bar-room vocals that lift this above the humdrum. Hang on - gruff, throaty rawk 'n' roll vocals?? I should be playing this to Mrs A. Immediately. And maybe I should just stick with fey and whimsical. It's worked for me so far. More from past years soon.

The Hold Steady
Stay Positive [BUY]

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Manchester Gigs in Music: January 2009 Pt. 1

Thank God that's over. An orgy of indulgence that now lacks all purpose culminating in an evening of forced celebration a.k.a the 'biggest' party night of the year. It used to be the only thing to look forward to at the start of the New Year was the January Sales. But they now happen in December. So what DO we have to look forward to this month?

Well, fairly sparse on the gig front but take your pick from US psychedelicists (Animal Collective, Of Montreal), various shades of folk (David Thomas Broughton through to Richard Thompson), dependable old punks (Buzzcocks, Half Man Half Biscuit), garage-country noir (The Brute Chorus, The Bookhouse Boys), French chanson (Francoiz Breut) and indie-tropicalia (Little Joy). For such a quiet month that's quite a spread.

Casiokids Togens Rule (29 Jan Club Academy w/ Of Montreal BUY TICKETS)
The Miserable Rich The Knife-Thrower's Hand (8 Jan Dulcimer BUY TICKETS)
Animal Collective Peacebone (14 Jan Club Academy BUY TICKETS)
Little Joy The Next Time Around (20 Jan Academy 3 BUY TICKETS)
The Brute Chorus The Cuckoo & The Stolen Heart (20 Jan Night & Day BUY TICKETS)
Francoiz Breut Si Tu Disais (21 Jan Ruby Lounge BUY TICKETS)
Of Montreal An Eluardian Instance (29 Jan Club Academy BUY TICKETS)
Zombie Zombie What's Happening In The City? (26 Jan Ruby Lounge BUY TICKETS)
The Bookhouse Boys Dead (19 Jan Night & Day BUY TICKETS)
Half Man Half Biscuit Totnes Bickering Fair (30 Jan Academy 1 BUY TICKETS)
David Thomas Broughton One Day (24 Jan St Margaret's Church BUY TICKETS)

Link in post below this one.

And not forgetting:
16 Jan Buzzcocks Academy / 18 Jan Richard Thompson The Lowry / 23 Jan Seasick Steve Apollo / 24 Jan The Only Ones Academy 3 / 24 Jan Grace Jones Apollo / 27 Jan Sky Larkin Night & Day / 30 Jan Allez Allez Naive Melody @ Charlies

And Allez Allez have a Xmas mix available here if you are still feeling festive.

Manchester Gigs in Music: January 2009 Pt. 2

The link here [48MB]