Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Gig Centurion

To mark reaching 100 gigs this year I’ve “invested” in a page listing all of them! With hindsight it would have been far better to have built the list as I accumulated gigs – but then I wasn’t expecting to have made it to 100 before the end of August.

My 100th gig was only the hundredth because it was rescheduled from April, and because two shows got cancelled because of the acts of a couple of thousand mindless individuals… It was, drum roll…. Sister Sledge at the HMV Forum, a great trip back to the 70s/80s

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Lost in 70s and 80s Music

From Sister Sledge 2011
The HMV Forum was the venue for the Sister Sledge gig rescheduled from April to the late August Bank Holiday weekend – changing it into a pre Notting Hill Carnival warm up…

The best part of Kenny Thomas set was the introduction by Kid Jensen – from then on it turned into poor Karaoke!
The entertainment improved as Jaki Graham took to the stage – while still singing to a backing track she managed to engage the audience. By the end of her set those fortunate to have downstairs tickets were starting to disco. It is unclear if those upstairs in the seating had been given the opportunity to join those downstairs as there was easily space… 

The only time recorded music really has a place at a relatively expensive gig such as this, and in such a venue is for the DJ sets while the live acts change round…
Rose Royce, the main support act , was joined on stage by the live band and the quality of the music took a big step up. Rose was clearly struggling with her mobility limited after a fall – but she proceeded to musically own the stage – rolling out the hits from the late 70s and early 80s to an audience lapping it up…
Then the act everyone had been waiting for took to the stage - only one of the original sisters is still in the line up – Kathy Sledge is the back bone of the trio now singing under the Sister Sledge name. There were times when I wasn’t sure Kirsten, Kathy’s daughter, really wanted to be there – but the enthusiasm of the audience was infectious.

The highlight of evening was getting members of the public that thought they could dance on stage for  "He's the Greatest Dancer" – greatest ego was more like it – some of the dancing had people in tears of laughter!

The hits from the late 70s and 80s continued to flow all night…

The show ended 10 minutes after the last south bound northern line tube – remarkably it was a pleasant summer night, so it was a brisk 4 mile walk home to round of a great evening… Many stayed on to disco the night away reliving the 70s and 80s.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Large rock sound from diminutive performers

From Velvetines 2011
I tweeted a prediction that the sound tonight would be louder than the acoustic evening at the Regal Rooms the previous evening – to which I got an immediate confirmation by the headliners. It was “good” loud.

The openers were Deepseagreen, and they started the night as it would continue – with guitar based rock, in this case with a splash of blues thrown in.
I wonder, do Three Day Weekend only gig when there is a bank holiday coming up? Would be a shame if they did, as that would restrict when their rock with an element of jazz added to the mix could be enjoyed live…
Very nice touch of Balloonman to just leave copies of their new EP Aurelia for the audience to have – giving the music away and getting paid for live events is certainly a model that will defeat those that refuse to pay for recorded music… 

They continued the nights theme of guitar base rock – at just the volume level to invigorate the audience.
And then as promised the Velvetines delivered a loud set of unashamed rock. I first heard them supporting Springbok Nude Girls at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire – where the diminutive Hunt sisters had looked a little lost on the large stage – then rocked the place with a surprisingly large sound.

No such problems in the smaller surroundings of the Barfly Camden – it was only when Gina stood next to the band’s base player, Arthur Gatfield, you realised quite what a small package was producing the big sound – by far my favourite new British rock sound of the year so far.

I’m disappointed that their rescheduled gig at 93 Feet East clashes with an evening at The O2 that I’ve already paid for – very tempted to try and find a buyer for that ticket… Their current single - Without Me is definately on my current iPod playlist...

I really hope the failure to sell out the Barfly Camden was due to those that would normally be packing out a gig like this being in Reading or Leeds for the weekend…

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Didn’t need to listen to the radio for all the hits

Opening for Sharon Corr in the main room at the O2 Academy Islington was Mike Dignam. A little surprisingly, the venue wasn't sold out, with the mezzanine level not needed to accommodate the crowd.

Much of Mike’s set was inspired by his recent experiences in Kavos – his banter with the growing audience witty lyrics warmed them up nicely for the main act…

Having enjoyed Andrea Corr’s solo gig at Union Chapel – where she was joined briefly by Sharon, my expectations where high, and Sharon meet them from start to finish.

The highlight of the evening was when Sharon was joined on stage for Mna Na Hereann by the legendary Jeff Beck - at some points it was hard to tell if the wonderful sound was emanating from Sharon's fiddle or Jeff's guitar. There were certainly goose bumps caused by the wonderful music…
From Sharon Corr 2011
The night was a great mix of covers, traditional Irish tunes, Corr’s hits and tracks from Sharon’s current album Dream Of You. A blend that worked very well and had the audience engaged and in good voice.

I’ve yet to see the Corrs as a group live – having seen both Sharon and Andrea put on great shows – I can only imagine that the combined four members of Corrs put on an excellent performance.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

If you go down to the woods on a Sunday afternoon…

From Bearsuit, Dimbeley & Capper plus other
Having made a mad dash from the Badminton World Championship at Wembley I missed the first of the six act brought to The Old Blue Last by Werewolf Promotions on a warm August Sunday afternoon/evening…

The first band I managed to catch where the Racket, given the event I’d just watched a Chinese clean sweep at the name was highly appropriate… And their quirky take on punk rock was a great start – entertainment came both from the stage and the exuberant dancing of a particular member of the audience.

With titles such as “Let’s Fall In Love” and “I Don’t Like Your Friends” the topics of the songs where much more up beat than some of those singing in the same genre – I don’t think the Vivian Sisters would have had the same take on the situations that were the inspiration!
Next on stage where the Irish We Are Losers, they continued the up beat spirit – more pop than the Racket, but there guitar base sound is far from being lost. I can see why their recently release single Sunset Song/Cheerleader is getting so much good feedback.
Air Castles showed the perils of trying to put on six bands in a session – lack of a sound check left them and the sound engineer struggling to get their laptop producing the desired sound containing both treble and bass…

Once the technical issues where resolved the dependence on the laptop became apparent… Given the incredible layers of sound I’ve seen one person with a guitar and a pedal board produce “live”, with the very creation of the backing sounds an intro to the song, complete dependence on pre-recorded backing from a laptop appears to deviate from the live nature of the music…. 

Having said that, the grittier sound than the two previous acts bought balance to the session.
The highlight of the evening for me was Dimbleby & Capper, both musically and as a act to photograph – despite the challenging lack of lighting provided by the venue! The visual performance and more electronic sound where a contrast to the other acts from the evening.

I first saw Dimbleby & Capper very capably supporting Saint Saviour at XOYO and yet again they produced a polished set – this time without the distraction of a constantly possible “costume malfunction”…

Whether as Dimbleby & Capper or Dee & Cee surely their Slick Maturity EP will be followed by more releases. With a great live show they have the makings successful future.
With the final act of the evening we returned to guitar based pop/punk/rock - and pure focus on the music with Bearsuit.

The set consisted mainly of songs from their current album The Phantom Forest - anyone following the show of Dee & Cee  would have struggled visually. Clearly the most polished of the acts of the evening – but they lacked the energy of some of the preceding performers.

Putting on six acts in a session is a brave decision for any venue/promoter especially for one as small as The Old Blue Last and for free – on this occasion they and Werewolf promotions just about managed to pull it off – unfortunately the warm Sunday afternoon/evening weather was probably a distractions to spending an evening listening to live music so the audience wasn’t as large as the venue and acts deserved. 

Red Clean Sweep of Gold at Wembley

With the 2011 Badminton World Championships acting as a trail event for the 2012 Olympics we had a good indication of where most of the medals for Badminton in 2012 will be going – to Asia and in particular most of the Golds will be heading for the hosts of the last Olympics, China. The ray of hope for the rest of the world where the GB pairing of Chris Adcock and Imogen Bankier – the only Europeans to make it to the finals, the Dane Peter Hoeg Gade was the only other non-Asian to make it to the semi-finals… Being 20th seeds in the mixed doubles the team GB members did remarkably well – powering through their semi-final, but then themselves being over powered in the finals by the number one seeds – who completed a deserved clean sweep by the Chinese, for only the third time in the history of the championships.

I’m not sure of the events value to the Olympics as a trial run – semi-finals day didn’t appear to be sold out, and even on finals day the dominance of players from outside Europe meant not all the seats where filled…

<Rant Warning>

There was also the usual farce of inconsistent policy on cameras – the posted notices at the entrance where that as long as your lens was less that 6 inches you would be OK – and the notice displayed on the main screen clearly only asked for their to be no flash photography during play – but the venue had printed “absolutely no photography” on the tickets and hadn’t taken down venues standing notice for music events that photography in the main arena, even with camera phones, was prohibited. Many of the staff had also clearly not been told the correct policy for the event… With the large number of tourists from all over the world going to be present in 2012, the stated sensible policy that the Olympic team have communicated of any camera, as long as the lens is less than 6 inches, being allowed, needs to be consistently communicated – and the stewards properly informed of it…

From Badminton World Championship Semi-finals 2011

I’m really hoping that the policies adopted by Wimbledon, Twickenham and Wembley Stadium (at least for football) will be more widely taken up – allowing SLRs with sensible small to medium sized lenses will improve the quality of pictures of events – there are going to be pictures no matter what – these days every phone has a camera – some actually quite capable and it simply isn’t practical to ban them or prevent their use as cameras! So lets make the pictures that portray the events as well as possible…

</Rant Warning>

Anyone lucky enough to have been allocated tickets for the Badminton during the Olympics is in for a treat – it was one of the most entertaining racket sporting events I’ve spectated at. Even travelling at 290+ KPH the shuttle was always clearly visible and the skills and reflexes display incredible – continually returning a barrage of smashes at those sorts of speed was impressive. During one particularly fast rally one play managed to change out a racket with a broken string while his double partner continued defending the volley of smashes… There was also no decent at line calls, which given the speed of the shuttle, must have been difficult to get right all the time  – players even asking for permission for refreshments of the umpire – and occasionally they where declined without issue – even after a long rally…

Lets hope the performance of Adcock and Bankier boweds well for team GB and home advantage can at least see some GB medals.

Friday, August 12, 2011

I predict a great future for the performers…

From Boxettes 2011

The support act for the Boxettes was Emma Topolski, performing at a second legendary Jazz venue in as many weeks – this time on the main stage of the venue. Again her voice filled the venue – and it grew into the larger space, with an audience, unlike with the gig upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s not dominated by those specifically there to see her, Emma still managed to quieten a venue not always attentive to support acts, especially as many are enjoying a meal while they wait for the main act… By the end of the set she appeared to have overcome the nerves bought on by the larger venue – Emma is one to follow, and this was another step to greater things for her.

Then the stage was cleared to the simplicity of mics and monitors, no instruments, that belied the complexity of the sound that was about to be created. Beatbox was a genre I’d not previously seen performed live. The female quintet performing a-capella at the Jazz Cafe tonight are made up of Belle Ehresmann, “Bellatrix”, the current World Female Beatbox Champion, and Alyusha, Yvette, Neo and Kate – who all contributed to a varied performance – from Jazz to Hip hop, via Soul, Drum & Bass, and Folk….

The highlight of the evening was an improvised loose cover of the Kaiser Chiefs I predict a riot, prompted by asking the audience for a topic for an song – that might or might not work – even if the given subject was overly topical, the sentiment and structure of the improvisation engaged everyone – if it was recorded it should be made available as an example of the positive side of young Londoners – to contrast with the not exclusively young few that scarred London and other cities round the country earlier in the week.

The Boxettes are certainly unique and the range of genres they can apply their a-capella with beatbox skills to will give them a wide audience – once they have an EP out I’m sure it will soon be followed by an Album and more success….

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Music as a rain prevention device?

From Apple Cart 2011

The forecast was for every sort of weather, short of snow, but as it turned out, the thunder and lightening held off, and the showers managed to avoid all but one live act…. My only previous experience of a festival had been two days of Wireless 2010 in Hyde Park where only by splashing out on “VIP” tickets did I avoid massive queues to get in. On both days, once you’d secured a spot near the main stage the last thing you where going to do was give it up. Apple Cart in Victoria Park was a very different event – I’m not sure if it was the decline in spending on music or the clear targeting of the event at families – but the far more relaxed atmosphere was wonderful.

Being the first live act, when there hasn’t been a queue at the gates inevitably leads to a smallish audience – but those listening to the Balearic Folk Orchestra had a gentle introduction to the day – possibly very appropriate for anyone nursing a hang overs from the previous Field Day event at the same location the day before… Unfortunately a constantly changing line up of performers lead to a disjointed set – there was clearly a lot of talent available – but they needed to be more organised not to detract from it.
Steve Mason formed a good bridge between the folk that opened the main stage and the more up beat acts to follow. Despite the shelter of the stage he maintained unity with the audience – not all prepared for the variable weather by keeping his rain coat on through out his set.

The Magic Numbers raised the pace of the day - between the showers their infectious rock/pop warmed up an audience equally effectively as the sunshine. Encouragement of frequent clapping along to their hits helped warm everyone up even more… By the end of their set the audience at the main stage was building nicely…

Patrick Wolf joined the multitude of multi talented musicians in his band cloaked and playing a wonderful wind instrument – the quiet entrance belied the full energy act, with multiple visits from the stage to the audience, that followed. He clearly felt at home on the stage – close to places he’d spent time writing some of the songs he performed.

I’ve never seen an act berate the photographers before, stopping mid song to asking them to leave, they where distracting him, then being blatantly ignored. It turned out Badly Drawn Boy’s “act” was based on messing up or maybe, as he warned at the beginning of the set, he was simply in a bad mood and the audience would have to live with it… That might have worked with his own audience – but it went over the heads of the most of the mixed audience, and he’d lost most of them well before he over ran his slot  – a shame because the songs he managed to perform had something about them.

The contrast between the disorganised melancholy of  Badly Drawn Boy and tightly organised humour of Tim Minchin was amazing… Tim’s take on life might not have been completely appropriate for an event sold as suitable for all of the family – but as he pointed out – if your parents where bringing you along to a music/comedy festival, there was a low chance that you’d be joining the mindless individuals currently disrupting London (and now the UK) just because of some close to the bone observations of hypocrisy in the world.

The set reminded me of Flanders & Swan and
Divine Comedy – only with lots, lots, more attitude and a large amount of rock and roll…

Many had clearly come to the day to simply enjoy Tim’s act as between the end of his set and the beginning of the headliners the entire front of the audience appear to change…

Then, with the sun having well and truly set, we came to the headliners - the best of the DJ "interval" sets with Sean Rowley and the amazing Marawa and her hoops, and the refreshed audience - with a slightly older average age that those that had enjoyed Tim, already well and truly warmed up and in the mood for a good dance… Saint Etienne didn’t fail to disappoint – Burnt Out Car might not have been the most appropriate track given the events going on around us, outside the protection of the perimeter fence – the mix of new and old songs was good. Feedback for Sarah (and other bands) – true fans don’t mind new songs in sets – they mean new albums and gigs promoting those albums… The lack of an encore was disappointed – probably falling victim to a tightly managed schedule and a strict curfew.

Saint Etienne brought to a close a day of contrasting but well received live music - with the possible exception of Badly Drawn Boy – whose attitude was uncalled for…

All in all it was a very pleasant way to spend a summer Sunday – if only everyone else in London had has similar entertainment for the day, things would have been very different in the larger world. One thought, had the event been sold out would it have had the same relax atmosphere – and ultimately filled its aim of being a family friendly day?


This continues my recent run of out door musical events where the forecast would indicate that rain coats and inappropriate umbrellas would be needed – but turn out to be held in wonderful weather – not sure if that supports the theory that good music has the ability to divert rain clouds – but the evidence is growing.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Different Brothers from Slough rather than Manchester

If you give away tickets to a gig to those pre-ordering an album, and guest list places via Facebook, you are guaranteed an enthusiastic audience – but the one at Camden Barfly must have exceeded the band, and record labels best possible expectations – I can only encourage other bands and record labels to follow suit - reward the people actually for pay for music rather than downloading it for free… A great way is to offer them either gig tickets or early access to by them – before the resellers get their hands on them an inflate the prices!

From Viva Brother 2011
With the Barfly full to capacity and livelier than I’ve seen it before, even for some fairly big names playing the relatively small venue as warm ups for bigger events, it was clear everyone was going to have a good night – and then Viva Brother took to the stage…

With so many guitars on stage, the sound is not surprise – their take on Brit Pop pays a little more homage to Oasis than from their commentary they’d like.

Will be interesting to see if they can develop a more unique sound of their own as they mature – not entirely sure they are ready for a stadium gig to 60,000 – included on their upcoming Japanese tour. The sound will certainly filling a stadium  – but will it fill it with originality too?

Having said that, the audience knew what to expect – most had bought the album – so had a great evening of live music – given Oasis is no more – there is a gap in the market… But they are going to have to develop a more resentful attitude to fill those shoes!

I commend Viva Brother and their record label Geffen for rewarding album buyers – they may have to do it again to repeat the atmosphere in Barfly.

World Cup warm up at Twickenham

From England v Wales 2011

England v Wales is normally a great game – but would it be without the six nations at stake, and with both sides fielding many players not certain to be in the final line ups when they travel to New Zealand…

The final score correctly reflected a close, but scrappy game in which England always had the upper hand – but only just. There where a few moments of flair from England that showed promise – but indiscipline at crucial moments let Wales stay in the match. On this performance I don’t think any of the southern hemi-sphere teams will be in the least bit worried that the world cup will be going north of the equator any time soon.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Alice rocks Lexington (London)

From Alice Gold 2011
I first heard Alice Gold headlining at the Borderline as part of the HMV Next Big Thing Series in February - now with a tour of her own, her music has matured and become more rocky - boardering on metal.

The choice of support acts often amuses me – the contrast between Alice and Charlene Soraia was wide – Charlene’s interactive folk amused and entertained the gathering audience at the Lexington – then more “on theme” for the main act was Web Paint

The best music of the night was when Alice allowed her voice to be heard and depended less on her guitar – the final two songs with just Alice bought the evening to a crescendo – Alice unplugged would be a interesting experiment… Will be seeking out her solo set at the Apple Cart Festival on Sunday.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s

Hottest day of the summer yet, and I find myself in Soho and heading upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s – a name that sets the expectations high.

From TV Nights @ Ronnie Scott’s
While it was still light outside and the skylights in the venue providing perfect lighting Bec Sandridge kicked off the evening with a solo antependia folk set – wearing a red jumper wouldn’t have been appropriate for the evening but made a great melody… Those yet to arrive missed a treat to kick the evening off.
Next up was Emily and the Woods - seated and encouraging the growing crowd to move forward... With the support of a band the sound was fuller - but struggled at times to over come what was becoming a "dinner jazz" audience - seemingly more intent on talking than listening to the music. Emily professed to the night being more intimate than would have been the case had she had her full band including drummer with her – and it certainly was – would love to hear the “rocked out versions” – but won’t be in the west country for that – those attending the Knee Deep Festival are in for a treat
By the third act the venue was operating a one out, one in policy, Emma Topolski was clearly, and deservedly, one of the main draws of the evening - and the earlier "jazz dinners" where now paying attention to the music.

Her multilingual sound filled a club that has seen many greats perform, she had the audience – admittedly most of them there specifically there for her set – eating out of her hand. Even with two new band members, not total familiar with the set, Emma’s voice and melodies would have filled the main room at Ronnie Scott’s, and not been out of place – a great modern, mature Jazz/Pop sound that we’ll surely be hearing more of in the future.
Following Emma was Natalie McCool - rapidly moving to become an established musician with radio play for her latest track Black Sun – which sounded great performed stripped down with minimal percussion and two guitars.

After the upbeat sound of Ms Topolski, Natalie’s darker lyrics and quieter sound cooled a venue that had become over heated due to the summer heat being packed out.
The fifth act of the night was Twin Falls - they filled the stage with lots of instruments and people, but with the other bands setting such a high standard their sound wasn't as polished as those that had preceded them - it seamed to lack the cohesion that others had shown.
The night was brought to a rousing close by Halflight - is that "Hal Flight" or "Half Light"? - either way the vocal and other musical talents of Chris Cookson and a very enthusiastic audience raised the temperature of an already over heating upstairs at Ronnie Scott's by another notch, if that was possible. Chris’s voice and the maturity of the sound the band produced rounded off a great evening
Any three of the act together would have made an evening worth much more than the £6 admission fee - I'll be back for more TV nights upstairs at Ronnie Scott's. My only request of upstairs at Ronnie Scott's is to upgrade the air-conditioning or get some opening windows - can't imagine what the atmosphere would have been like as a Jazz club prior to the indoor smoking ban at a similar gig years ago....