Friday, July 23, 2010

“The Randoms” - Awards for a musical lucky dip at Somerset House

Having been lucky enough get tickets to 10 out of the 11 gigs in that made up the 2010 Sumer Series in Somerset House, I’d like to award a few prizes:
Loudest – Soul II Soul
This one is easy – they had clearly turned the volume all the way up to 11 – not a big surprised for a collective that  had its origins as a sound system. The windows around the court yard where at significant danger at some points – not to mention my ear drums!
Youngest Audience – N-Dubz
Run away winners – and a good thing too as that meant they where also the shortest audience so I could still get a good view despite giving up my place near the front for a call of nature…
Oldest Audience – Gil Scott Heron
It would be Interesting to see if there was a correlation between the average age on and off the stage – Gil’s audience was definitely the most mature – matching those on stage providing the entertainment.
Early Arrivals – N-Dubz’s Audience
I thought I should get there a little early as it was Sunday and a very “current” headline, it was also a very pleasant walk through the city to get there on a warm Sunday evening – but I didn’t expect the entire audience to be there an hour before the doors where due to open!
Late Arrivals – Not Awarded
Possibly because of the very strict 11pm curfew, none of the acts took there time appearing on stage.
Best Opening act – Joint -
Cathy Davey (Divine Comedy) & Mayer Hawthorne (GIl Scott Heron)
Hard to separate these two – both had me buying there albums via iPad live at the event, should either headline an event themselves, I’ll be looking for tickets.
Strangest Opening act – Ólöf Arnalds (AIR)
I’m not sure what the link is between Icelandic folk and synth based electronica – but it didn't work for me or most of the audience
Biggest Surprise – Divine Comedy (Solo)
I’d not had time to do any research on what to expect from this evening – Neil Hannon’s working of and with the audience was superb entertainment.
Best Gig –
Winner – Florence + The Machine – Runner up – Divine Comedy (Solo) 
This is a close run thing – I had high expectations of Florence Welch and her extensive “machine”, which they still managed to exceeded with the most complete performance of the series. I had no expectations of Neil Hannon – but he delivered a solo performance which I defy anyone not to have been entertained by.
Honourable Mention – The weather

I can’t believe I attended 12 outdoor musical events in a few London summer weeks and there where only a few spots of rain for all of them.

If I’m in London when the 2011 series is run – I’ll definitively be trying to get tickets all the of them again – the musical lucky dip was a wonderful way to spend some glorious summer evening escaping the stress of the office… Somerset House – please offer a season ticket to the event for the musically brave so I don’t have to resort to GetMeIn or the many ticket touts that gather outside the events. And please rebook the weather.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Somerset II Soul

From Soul II Soul
Closing the Somerset House series for 2010 where Soul II Soul – and from standing in the queue I knew they where going to push the sound system all the way to 11! My place at the front of the queue would secure me a position right at the front and if the volume of the sound check was anything to go by I might have ended up using my earphones as ear plugs!

Jazzie B’s admission that they’d not played live for 4 years showed – it was a shame, individually much of the music was a great reminder of the end of the 80’s and good times at University – but they failed to flow as a group and never managed to get the audience moving as one.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

An evening of divine comical musical comments on life

Divine Comedy was one of the evening where I really didn’t know what to expect. Standing in the queue didn’t make it any clearer – a very mixed audience in terms of age and social appearance, large groups of young people, families with young children – one group with a champagne and sushi picnic to eat in the queue! Frantic chaos at work meant I’d not even used the internet to find out what to expect!

From Divine Comedy
The warm up act, Cathy Davey, was so good I bought two albums on my iPad in the break before the main act! The “Solo” added to the main act title on the event promotion, the piano and single guitar on the stage gave some more clues to the nature of the main act. The fact that person placing the artists drinks and props for the evening being “suited and booted” should have been a clue…

Then Neil Hannon made his appearance on stage – suited and booted, completed with a bowler hat and brief case! A Flanders & Swann style commentary on the current financial problems started the evening – and it was that style of clever humorous commentaries on all sort of things that fill the rest of a great evening.

This will revive my childhood listening to Flanners & Swann - “complete collection from iTunes already download” – one of my favourite quotations from them being:

“Raise the ceiling four feet, move the fireplace from that wall to that wall, you'll still only get the stereophonic effect if you sit in the bottom of that cupboard”

Sums up the modern hi-fidelity world…

One event in the Somerset House series to go – Soul II Soul will find it hard to top Cathy Davey and Divine Comedy (Solo) – for me the best so far of a very good series of very varied evenings entertainment.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Contemporary Jazz in historic surroundings

From Corinne Bailey Rae
After the traditional Jazz from Gil Scott-Heron on Wednesday it was the turn of the current generation of musicians to fill the court yard of Somerset House with Jazz. Corinne Bailey Rae filled that role with yet another rain free evening in central London, surrounded by architecture that hide the bustle of the city in an oasis of music. A very pleasant way to start the weekend.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Managed to “get me in” to this sold out event…

The ticket to see Florence + the Machine was the only one I’d had to resort to GetMeIN to get – and it was worth the extra cost. I do wish a method of ensuring tickets get to music lovers rather than the touts could be found – maybe some form of loyalty scheme you can only take advantage of if you actually attend the event! “The XX” hadn’t appealed enough to pay the price premium for their sold out appearance in the series and was the only one I missed.

From Florence and the Machine
The entertainment began with Holly Miranda – who really didn’t seam to be up to playing to an audience awaiting Florence. Of all the support acts so far she was the first not get any rapport from the crowd – even the Icelandic folk music got a better reception! It continued with the stage crew trying to get the curtain installed to ensure a smoky start to Florence’s performance would actually fall down to prevent the breeze from displacing the stage smoke…
Then with the added tension of whether the impromptu smoke retainer would manage to drop to reveal Florence the main show began… Florence represent the current generation of 20 something female British pop/rock vocalists – that include the likes of Lily Allen, Ellie Goulding and Little boots – very capably. She had the largest backing group of any of her piers – but they filled the courtyard of Somerset House with a great modern sound.
From Florence and the Machine

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

New Orleans comes to Somerset House

From Gil Scott-Heron
Mayer Hawthorne opened with the night with a great set of up beat soul. Tonight’s audience was the most relaxed so far – my place at the front obtained because most people already there where sitting on blankets enjoying yet another evening of wonderful summer weather.

After an expectation building pause, Gil Scott Heron made his appearance - Eyjafjallajökull prevented his previous one in London. So begun a evening of traditional Jazz, storey from the beginnings of Jazz and Soul. Somerset resounded to music and wit totally suited to neo classical surroundings. Combined with the weather you could easily imagine you’d been transported to New Orleans.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Australian night at Somerset House

From The Temper Trap
Opening with The Middle East, and headlining with Temper Trap meant it was an all southern hemisphere evening in the former heart of the British empires tax systems…

Both bands represented their nation well – the folk style rock opening was followed by guitar base rock with a tweak of punk. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Temper Trap playing bigger events in the future, there sound filled Somerset House with ease.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Early bird gets the good views…

From N-Dubz
I'd expected the audience for this event to show up early - but not that early - by the time I arrived over an hour before the advertised doors open time the queues where already being funnelled in to every space round Somerset House they could find... by the time 7:30 came I think the entire audience was already there!

It had to happen eventually – two days in Hyde Park and the first three days of this series and a call of nature forced me to give up my position six or seven from the front – but that wasn’t too bad – the much younger average age of N-Dubz fans meant even from half way back a carefully selected position avoiding taller parents and the gentle slope meant I could still see all of the stage…

I can’t say N-Dubz would be my first choice – but they did put on a good show – and it can’t be denied that they have talent. Some of the themes and language in there lyrics seam a little mature for their apparent target audience…

Saturday, July 10, 2010

No sign of a need for an Ark at Somerset House this year

From Noah and the Whale
The first weekend of the Somerset Summer Series began with Noah and the Whale on another fine summer’s evening - surely the weather can kept it up for the whole series... last year Noah’s ark would have been very useful during Lily Allen’s gig – this year the Ark’s creators name sake brought folk with a rocky edge to the centre of London.

The opening use of the orchestral version of Bohemian Rhapsody had my hopes up for a great evening – but reality was this was a folk band trying to rock it out – with mixed success.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Love, Imagination, Dream – AIR and a Icelandic Folk duo…

From Air
Part II of ten certainly started with music at one extreme of my listening range – I didn’t mind Nena and her 99 red balloons in German – because at least I new the tune – but not very melodic Icelandic folk seamed an odd pairing with AIR – electronic synth with a 70s influence. The variety of chordophones used by Olof Arnalds was interesting.
The synthesizer based AIR – (backronym for Amour Imagination Reve in case you where wondering) – was different to my usual taste for guitar based music – but in the surroundings of Somerset House seamed very fitting and on a warm summer evening smoothed away the memories of a day in the office…

The frequent visits to stage of a technician to tweak setting on the various devices being used was a throw back to the pre-computer days. There didn’t appear to be a laptop on stage – which these days is highly unusual – most other groups make these changes at the click of a mouse – or move of a the finger on an apple tracker pad!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Musical Mystery Tour

From Mystery Jets
My mystery tour of headline acts and their support groups by way of 10 out of the 11 summer gigs at Somerset House began with Connan Mockasin and Mystery Jets. The weather was co-operating – with no repeat of the down pour that greeted Lily Allen last year – in fact it was a very pleasant summer evening… The still weather allow the stage smoke to build up and provide an ethereal background to some of the more moody songs..

9 more concerts to go – only failed to get tickets to “The XX” and Florence + the Machine – I was only prepared to pay the “getmein” premium for Florence…

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Jay-Z worship in Hyde Park

From Wireless 2010 - Sunday - Jay-Z

I chose to miss day 2 of Wireless 2010 – even for me, with my policy of going to events if I’d at least heard of the headliners, none of the line up of sound systems and DJs really appealed – and as it turned out it was a good choice as I managed to get tickets to Wimbledon on the Saturday for Centre Court and the women’s final.

So Sunday on what looked like it would be another baking day I headed for Hyde Park. A “VIP ticket” meant no queuing for me – and there wasn’t even a short queue at the queue jumpers entrance – Jay-Z’s fans can’t be early risers – on Friday there had been 40 or so people at the entrance for P!nk’s day in the park. Despite the queue jumping on my part, some of those that queued all morning made it to the front of the main stage before me – I didn’t begrudge them – I was closer than I’d been on Friday…

The music started with three acts I’d never heard of – Bluey Robinson, Mr Hudson and Roll Deep. None of the made any real impression and I won’t be looking for any of them headlining their own event!

I Am Chipmunk was the first act I’d heard of before the event – and while Dizzee Rascal had brought me round to rap, when he co-headlined at the O2 with Lily Allen, with the skill that went into making a stream of words musical, this was no where near as polished.

Next came Slash – he was one of the two acts I was particularly looking forward to, along with Lily Allen. It had been surprising to see his name on the line up, as it didn’t fit with the general Rap/R&B  theme of the day, or on the undercard of a Jay-Z headliner…

In fact, Slash’s set was the most impressive on the undercard. Despite it definitely not being “his” audience, he worked the crowd – used the full extend of the stage – even some parts that I’m fairly sure the promoter hadn’t intended him to… Hyde park was rocking hard.

Then came Friendly Fires – they really shouldn’t have bothered! They may have been Mercury Prize nominated – but their stage act appear to consist of their lead singer “dad dancing”. The introduction of a number of carnival dancers at the end of the set significantly improved the eye candy on the stage – but I’m not sure why they where there!

Unfortunately as a reaction to Friendly Fires failure to engage the crowd, some of them chose to entertain themselves by throwing bottles. It wasn’t too bad when they where empty, but when they started throwing half full ones, which usually failed to empty their contents as indented on to people before they landed, they left number of people with rather nasty bumps on the backs of their heads… I’d seen this sort of self entertainment at Wembley for Oasis – then it was plastic glasses – which, while it wasn’t pleasant to be covered in beer – at least where always empty by the time the returned to crowd level!

The final act before the headliner was Lilly Allen. A name that hadn’t seamed to fitted in the theme of the day – but was the main reason I’d come. This would probably be her last London gig for quite a time – at least if her statements about giving up music where to be believed.

Many of those around me where making comments about going to other stages, if that hadn’t meant giving up there hard earned place at the front.

After admonishing those in the audience still throwing bottles, she dedicated “Fuck You” to them, rather than a more political target – which went down very well with those in the landing areas for the bottles!

The appearance of Professor Green for “just be Good to Green” did fit with the theme of the day and when down well. By the end of the set she’d definitely won round most of the doubters. 

For the first time  when I’ve seen Lily play, she wasn’t chain smoking or supping a glass of wine – and this time smoking on stage wouldn’t have been breaking the no-smoking indoors laws. Maybe the rumours of her pregnancy or attempts to get pregnant are true.

Then the wait for Jay-Z began, and it became clear that the audience for P!nk was much more respectful of others than this one. It started with a small group of lads claiming to be “joining friend”, but they soon started to take liberties as 20+ large black guys force their way to the front. They weren't satisfied with being just close to the front – they clearly believed they had the right to be at the very front – and in the crush it was hard to stop them. It was a real shame security, who had been giving drinks to those at the front all day, so knew who had been there all day, didn’t appear to want to do anything about it. While it was good that there was no golden circle so those at the front of the mass queue stood an equal chance of a front row view as those that had paid a little more to avoid queuing – promoters of these sort of events need to come up with a system to prevent people muscling their way to the fount. A few of the younger girls at the front gave up their well earned positions because they couldn’t take the crush, needing to be extracted over the barriers…

After a long await – which included a crowd surge when people thought they’d seen Beyoncé making her way to the two storey construction in the middle of the crowd that housed the control desks, and a 5 minute count down clock – Jay-Z  made his appearance and the reason most of the crowd where there began.

Jay-Z certainly had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. I’ve not been in the presence of celebrity worship before – but I think this certainly qualified.

The combination of the fanatical atmosphere and a great show from Jay-Z was an uplifting experience. Jay-Z renewed my appreciation of the skill that goes into this musical form.

A couple of great days in the sunshine immersed in great atmosphere and music..

So I’ve ticked off “attend a festival” from the list of thing to do before my 40th – with a concession to my aversion to long queues and a soft bed at night rather than a tent. I’m not entirely sure if I’ll do it again – it was a very long time standing in the same place – I’m not sure my knees will be fully recovered for a while.

Friday, July 02, 2010

P!nk Hurricane in Hyde Park

On a steamy Friday I ticked something off the list of “things to do before you are 40” – or any other rapidly approaching age based mile stone – attend a festival… I have to admit to cheating a little – this was an inner city festival – so I could return home to my comfortable bed at the end of the day, skip the “dance music” day which really didn’t appeal, and best of all jump the queue for a place at the front by paying for a “VIP” ticket…

From Wireless 2010 - Friday - P!nk
With a place at the front of the main stage that I didn’t want to give up I forwent the other stages for the main stage’s Friday line up – not a bad line up kicked off by BFS – Bowling for Soup – who like their name suggest did anything but take themselves seriously while producing great music to start the day off…
Next up was Taylor Hawkins and the Coattail Riders – who didn’t do as well as BFS in getting the audience rocking – the highlight of their set was a rather bizarre cameo  appearance on backing vocals and tambourine by Roger Taylor
Gossip raised the quality again with a great short set - the show was really warming up along with the weather - I was actually grateful when one of the few clouds in the sky cooled the effect of the Sun.
The crowd was now building as people returned from other stages and a few late arrivals pushed their luck by trying to fill the small spaces left...

The Ting Tings could have headlined a smaller event themselves and made a great under card to P!nk.

There closing number reminded me that I’d escaped the office for a Friday of dance rather than work! A great set to prelude the main attraction…
P!nk made a stunning arrival via a box below a crane and a cannon - abseiling onto the stage, the audience had well and truly got the party started – and to paraphrase P!nk the unusually warm and humid London weather felt like a summer hurricane could kick off any time – and P!nk certainly sung up a storm…
An afternoon standing in the sun “defending” my position was well worth it – being so close to the front meant a short arse like myself had a great view, add holding a camera at arms length above me meant I could have been on stage! P!nk brought the day to a spectacular end, after a little hamster style crowd surfing, it was time for P!nk’s amazing signature - singing while suspended above her audience!