Thursday, July 28, 2011

The History of Apple Pie @ the not so Old Blue Last

From History of Apple Pie 2011
Returning to the Old Blue Last for the first time in years, since its renovation, I wasn't sure what to expect – the venue had certainly scrubbed up well – I hoped the music hadn’t also been scrubbed too clean.

Having first heard The History of Apple Pie supporting Anna Calvi at KOKO and successfully rocking a much larger venue, hearing them in the much more confined space of upstairs at the Old Blue Last was going to be interesting…

They didn’t disappoint, despite having to do their own set up after the previous set, start to end of the set they engaged a packed out venue – not bad with an audience who’d not had to pay to get in, so might not even of heard of them previously. The young take on grungy guitar based pop/rock certainly suited the venue and the fairly young audience they and the venue attracted.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tex/Mex country comes to a smaller than deserved audience

From Patricia Vonne 2011
When going to listen to an act I’ve not previously heard of, I have to guess the best time to arrive to get a good spot – for Patricia Vonne at the Borderline my estimate was opening time, aiming to be just stage left in front of the limited seating.

My early arrival wasn’t 100% necessary as the evening was far from sold out, but it did mean that I got to enjoy the polished sounds of Red Sky July. Recently formed from former members of two bands high on my play list, Texas and Alisha’s Attic, their country set was worth the price of admission on its own. Surely they’ll be playing to sold out events of their own in the very near future.

Having allowed the supporting act to set the bar high, Patricia meet the same high standard. Her engaging charm, castanets and energetic strumming filled the venue with sounds that appropriately straddled the Mexico/Texas borderline. 

Maybe it is a lack of a presence for Patricia on either of the two most powerful marketing tools of our time, Facebook and Twitter, that means she isn't getting the audience her talent deserves

Thursday, July 21, 2011

No crowd surfing–unless you are in the band of course…

From Vivian Girls 2011
Having spent a fortnight at Somerset House it was back to a subterranean venue – XOYO – where the weather was only in an issue in the queue outside!

After some initial sound problems, which in the words of the bassist from Mazes made it “sound shit”, the night got back on track. Mazes opened with young rock that needs to mature before it is ready for the big time – but I’ve heard much worse headliners…

Then Veronica Falls stepped it up a level musically with indie pop with a slightly dark twist, but they too where hindered by technical issues – we’d heard the bands sound checking while we queued outside – we’d have waited another 10 minutes to allow them to get the sound sorted!

Then the Vivian Girls made their way to stage in matching floral dresses that gave no indication of the rebellious punk pop that was about to be set free.  They where high energy thought out including over coming the crowd control barriers to play one song from amongst the audience.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Ellie Goulding - Girl next door, all grown up

From Ellie Goulding 2011
On the first couple of occasions I saw Ellie Goulding live she was very much the girl next door with a great voice, a talent for song writing, and nervous on stage. When I last saw her at the Apollo she’d developed a “style” – but it wasn’t clear where it was going… Returning to London half way through a tour of the US it was clear she had grown up and was now maturing into the role of musical diva by royal appointment – hair by Adam Reed and couture dress by Jonathan Saunders, flowers strewn across the stage….

The great news is that confidence and style hasn’t distracted from the music. Ellie quickly had the audience totally engaged – admittedly it was made up mostly of fans starved of live performances while she breaks America.  Many of whom had been queuing at Somerset House most of the day.

With a set that stretched to 17 songs – the audience got good reward for their enthusiasm – nearly every track on her only album and those on her extended version of the album too.

Expectation for the 2nd album will be high – shame none of it was ready to tease fans with live…

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Suited and booted lads from Manchester

The riot of colour that is Gaggle filled the stage to form the opening support act for Hurts. Once they'd all found the correct microphones, this all female choir tried valiantly to compete with the splendour of the courtyard at Somerset House – but they where fighting a loosing battle. There weren't helped by the fact that, unusually for the series, the audience was very sparse – maybe the very threatening skies had people waiting to see what developed before committing themselves to an evening in the open air.

By contrast Saint Saviour, whom I’d had the pleasure of listening to live before during the HMV Next Big Thing series and as a headliner at XOYO, with only two backing singers, filled the stage with energy and an amazingly expanding dress. With a voice approaching Kate Bush in quality, I’m sure we will be hearing more from her in the future. She is certainly on my list of artist to watch out for…

From Hurts 2011
Then, suited and booted Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson joined their band, an opera soloist, string section and two dancers on stage – almost as many people as Gaggle had brought to the stage. Rather different to the other group from Manchester that has been on the same stage a couple of nights before…

With the weather having miraculously not become a night of down pours, the audience had built to capacity; they where enraptured by the opening “Silver Lining” and “Wonderful Life”.

My personal highlight was a cover of "Confide In Me" from Kylie Minogue's more electronic period in the mid 90s.

Theo’s destruction of a mic stand half way through the set seamed to be without artistic justification – but that was the only blot on a well crafted show – except that it might have been too crafted and styled – without a little spontaneity – maybe that is where the destruction of the mic stand came in. 

Closing with vast amounts of red confetti would have left the staff of Somerset House with an enormous cleaning up task – it had got absolutely everywhere within the venue and even beyond the entrance!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Hacking on the mobile phone…

From Blondie 2011
Having previously seen Blondie in 2010 from a far at Kenwood House, where an under powered sound system and an audience as interested in their picnics as the music (possibly because they couldn’t hear it!) failed to inspire, I made my way to Somerset House in the hope that the tighter space would bring the best out of the iconic rock’n’roll gal.

The start was a little slow as new tracks from the current Album failed to hit the spot. True fans enjoy new material as well as the old classics – ultimately they mean new albums and more touring to promote sales – but they should be mixed with the classics to get the momentum going.

Once the classics started flowing the place started rocking – One Way or Another, Maria, Atomic, Call me and the very timely Hanging/Hacking on the Telephone had the entire audience joining in – most of whom where born long after they where penned.

With Beady Eye and Blondie on consecutive nights, the Summer Series at Somerset House is certainly delivering the rock classics, surrounded by the upcoming generation possible future pop icons.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Swagger on stage – will the other brother be there next year?

From Beady Eye 2011
It was with some trepidation I took up a position at the front of the Beady Eye gig - my previous experience of gigs involving one or more Gallaghers had included the throwing of not quite empty plastic pint glasses towards the front – what a waste of expensive beer. I needn’t have worried – in the more refined surroundings of Somerset House there was only one – and that actually made it on to the stage! Security did earn they money on the night – it the first time in 20+ gigs at Somerset House I’ve seen someone pulled from the front of the audience – at other venues for some bands there is an almost constant stream…

The event attracted more photographers than any other in the series so far, and also numerous onlookers from the side of the stage, some of whom could easily have graced the stage themselves – although probably not to the same audience.

Liam hasn’t lost any of his swagger.  He clearly felt we where privileged to have him perform for us. If the breakup of Oasis broke his heart, he is clearly getting over it. Liam has previously played to much bigger venues, but Somerset House seamed exactly the right size for his half of the outcome of the break up of Oasis – big enough to take the volume – but not so big that those at the back felt disconnected.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Rocking round the courtyard

From Imelda May 2011
Opening for Imelda May at Somerset House was Big Boy Bloater – he and his band brought 50s rock to the venue, and if the Thames had had waves we’d have been surfing them.
Imelda May swung on to stage – looking a little like a bee in her yellow and black dress. A bee hive wig would have completed the look to a tee. She and her swing band proceeded to send out a rousing rockabilly sound into the formality of the Somerset House courtyard. Highlights of the set included Gypsy and Roadrunner…

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Evening mini festival at Somerset House

From Aloe Blacc 2011

It was relatively early start at Somerset House as a number of new acts got the chance to experience playing the wonderful venue as part of the What Next programme – if Debbie Aramide, Franklin Secret and Ruby Blue are examples of what London can produce, without a formulaic TV talent show in sight, then the music industry has a great future.

Listed as the first “main” support act Yasmin continued the great live music. Her confident performance of Finish Line was the highlight of the set.
Dionne Bromfield, at 16, could easily have been one of the acts performing as part of What Next – but she easily justified her position as top support act. Filling the venue with a sound that belied her young age – she didn’t need the support of her four dancers to put on a good show – the sound alone did that – but if they helped added to her confidence they didn’t distract from the quality of  the set. She will surely emerge from the shadow of her god mother, Amy Winehouse, and become a star in her own right…
The smooth Aloe Blacc then took to the stage – his polished mix of Soul, Jazz and R&B with a little rap/hip hop mixed in filled the Somerset House court yard on what had become a warm summer evening.
The addition of 3 sets from What Next extended the evening in to almost a mini festival – the wonderful Summers Sunday afternoon weather contributed – would be nice if Somerset House decided to extend this to all their weekend gigs in the Summer Series. 

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Outer Hebrides to the centre of London?

The first of my “lucky dips” of the Somerset House Summer series was Stonoway – the audience waiting for them varied from the very young to middle aged, and was a good indicator of the middle of the road performance they would give. The warm summer evening had a mellow expectant audience awaiting the musicians.

Starting slowly – apparently a little overwhelmed by the venue it took time for the quartet to engage the audience.
Adding the North Sea Radio Orchestra to the sound was an interesting experiment to add texture and breadth to their sound – but the introduction simply disrupted the little momentum the band had managed to build. They did succeed in building to a crescendo with their with Long Distance Lullaby and Zorbing.  

I’d suggest that the open air grandeur didn’t do their sound any favours and they’ll restrict themselves to smaller indoor venues like the one in Eastleigh they referred to playing the previous night – a Georgian courtyard being one step towards the big time for the time being…

An enjoyable random way to spend a summer evening in the centre of London – but not quite up to the high level previously attained by performers on this stage… 
From Stornoway 2011

Friday, July 08, 2011

Green within the Courtyard

From Professor Green 2011
The first Friday of the Summer Series at Somerset House and I made sure I was there as early as I could. I wasn't expecting a N-Dubz style turn out, most of the audience queuing many hours before the doors opened – but even so the queue was substantial, over an hour before the doors where due to open.

Ed Drewett warmed up an already packed courtyard, by the time Professor Green’s set began the audience where already energized and ready to dance for the rest of the night. The sound could have done with a little more vocal to be able to hear the clever use of words and rhythm that have brought me round to rap as an art form.  

Covers of tracks by artists including Beyonce Kowles and Jay-Z, interleaved between material from his upcoming album and well know hits, where the highlights of evening. Professor Green was clearly enjoying himself as much as the audience and defying the Evening Standards description of him as a “cartoon rapper” or Lily Allen collaborator.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

No conga in sight as Summer Series returns

Having enjoyed all but one night of the musical lucky dip that is the Summer Series at Somerset House in 2010, I'd secured tickets for every night in 2011 without having to depend on re-sales sites.
The headline act for the first night was eels - but it was some of the supporting acts that had been equally good discoveries in 2010 and sometimes strange oddities... The first support act feel in to the latter category - hula hop to DJ.

Jesca Hoop was a more traditional, if still experimental, jazz/pop set – her song about talking her dying Mormon mother thought smoking a joint stood out! 
From eels 2011
It is a shame Somerset House couldn't have opened their series with a British act - I'm sure there are many that would have jumped at the chance of playing such a wonderful venue – having said that eels has certainly attracted a enthusiastic sold out crowd.

Beards, preferably full, appeared to be required to be on stage. It took a little while for the audience to warm up – but once we’d got to the very appropriate Hot Fun in the Summertime and then Novocaine for the Soul the gig was in full swing – Mark Everett agreed it was “marvellous”.

I don’t think the second encore of the night was planned – and if not it’s refreshing for the band to have been free to respond to the applause from the audience spontaneously. But, it might have just been they needed two breaks to get to the end of their mammoth 26-song set! A good start to the run of live music.