Saturday, April 18, 2015

Marc Almond / Stephen Langstaff and Satin Beige @ Town Hall Birmingham, Friday 17th April 2015



With a well received brand new album of original material under his belt (something he’d pretty much ruled out ever doing again after 2010’s Varieté) this survivor of synth and sin is back out on his own personal ‘velvet trail’, stopping off at a few select tea rooms on the way (Almond apparently has a bit of a thing for tea and cake these days, who knew?). I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him numerous times over the years (not in tea rooms), the first way back in 1988 at The Powerhouse remains one of my favourite gigs of all time but his last Brum date at The Symphony Hall, jam packed full of the hits and classics, was a bit of a triumph too. It’s safe to say that one or two shows over the years have been a little ‘mixed’ however (sometimes by Marc’s own admission it has to be said) for a variety of reasons, choice of material, sound quality, technical difficulties, the position of Mars in relation to Saturn, who knows what precisely what makes a great gig?

Singer / songwriter Stephen Langstaff opened up the night joined by a Miss Satin Beige (possibly not her real name I’m guessing). This turned out to be an inspired move, a real case of 1 + 1 equalling three...or maybe even four on the better songs like Let Forever Be. The combination of Langstaff’s mellow folky tones and Beige’s slightly edgier, more soulful vibe worked really well. Add Beige’s cello into the mix and you’ve got an embryonic duo with real potential.  

With a healthy number of true Gutter Hearts (the name that Marc’s superfans adopted way back in the day) in the audience (there were some particularly ‘Brilliant Creatures’ here this evening dahlings) he came on to wild applause before launching into a epic Minotaur, prowling the stage, flinging his arms about theatrically and singing his heart out from the very first note. Speaking of which the voice was in fine form tonight and from our position (up in the gods) it all sounded great, not always an easy trick to pull off in a venue as grand as the Town Hall.

With a 35 year career (good grief, tempus fugit) picking a representative setlist that’s going to appeal to the fan-atics, the casual admirers and those drawn by the latest album must be a bit of a ‘mare but tonight’s set was pretty much perfectly judged. The Velvet Trail’s perhaps one of Marc’s most accessible releases for a while and the glam pop stomp of Bad To Me accompanied by a dazzling pop art backdrop picked up the pace nicely before...be still my bearing heart...The Stars We Are. As the entire Hall was lit up by stars (okay so it was just clever lighting but indulge me for a mo) I regressed to my 18 year old self for a few minutes when life seemed full of potential and promise. So, er, pretty much like it does today then. Cool. 


It has to be one of Almond’s best and he did it justice tonight, giving the “whoa whoa whoa’s” plenty of welly and sustaining the longer notes without collapsing in an crumpled heap on the floor. Truly magical.

We were in for plenty more back catalogue treats though. Long time musical collaborator Neal X gave Varieté a little more twang this evening making it part Bolan, part Link Wray and part Parisien cabaret, The Dancing Marquis (something of a recent hidden gem) sprang to live once more and Darker Times was plucked from Soft Cell’s often overlooked last album (Cruelty Without Beauty). 


In these pre election bullshit caked times it’s never sounded more relevant sadly. “Blinded by lies” sang Marc to a pounding electrobeat “We’ve got to keep dancing through these darker times”...and this was pretty much the perfect track to do just that.

After an archetypal Almond track, Champagne (harking back to Marc’s earlier obsession with the seedier side of life) which flirts with the classical it was time for a proper old classic, Black Heart all the way from the Mambas days. Vocally Almond’s in a different league now compared with then, richer, more controlled and powerful but still retaining that distinctive tone, and personally I’d lose the drums on this one and just leave the keyboards and vocals. It’s a minor tweak (as opposed to a Minotaur...ha...oh alright then) but vocally tonight the performance was so strong that you just wanted everything else stripped right back to the bone.

A selection from The Velvet Trail including the poignant title track (harking back to his Southport days that so influenced his love of fading glamour) all went down well with the crowd, especially Life In My Own Way which could well become his signature song in the coming years. “Friends ask me to clubs, to parties, to bars but I’m never around, I just like a nice cup of tea or a walk on the beach” he protested. There we go, there’s that tea thing again! Sinatra had My Way, Almond has Life In My Own Way now. I look forward to seeing him sing it in the Royal Albert Hall on his 80th birthday...assuming we’re all still here that is.

From the new to the old and the main set ended with Bedsitter (again given a little more of a rockabilly edge by Mr X) and a truly triumphant Soul Inside. Bugger me this sounded great tonight. It might be 31 years old now but as a showstopper it really was a “wild celebration” with the few members of the audience still seated up and on their feet.

You’d expect him to bring out the big guns for the encore...and he did...but Gutter Hearts came first giving those who’d been with him since his first solo release the chance to sing their (gutter) hearts out. 


Donning a guitar, “Neal’s taught me the chords”, Almond rattled through one of the more raucous songs from his back catalogue before a sing-a-long Tainted Love and, what else could it be, Say Hello, Wave Goodbye which saw several hundred hands wave him off into the night.  

Vocally on top form and with a setlist that pretty much offered something for everyone tonight was another triumph. The muso in me still yearns for a proper backing orchestra on some of the tracks but that’s a minor quibble. 35 years on from the Mutant Moment that birthed him Almond’s latest (soft) sell out (this gig sold out months ago) was entirely justified.

Setlist: Minotaur / Bad To Me / Stars We Are / Burn Bright / Varieté / The Dancing Marquis / Darker Times / Champagne / Black Heart / The Velvet Trail / Scar / Life In My Own Way / Zipped Black Leather Jacket / Demon Lover / Meet Me In My Dreams / Brilliant Creatures / Bedsitter / Soul Inside

Encore: Gutter Hearts / Tainted Love / Say Hello, Wave Goodbye

Friday, April 17, 2015

How moon is now? Lunar Festival’s on the way!



Now that the birds and the bees are finally getting it on it's time to think about festival season once more and one of the absolute gems, Lunar Festival, is just a few short weeks away. Taking place on the beautiful Umberslade Estate (Tanworth in Arden) you could be in the middle of nowhere rather than a mere spit away from Birmingham/Kings Heath/Solihull (delete as applicable depending on how posh you are), which makes getting there and (more importantly after three days of cider, booty shaking and sleeping in a tent the size of a postage stamp in my case) getting back home a bit of a doddle. This year’s line up is another wonderfully eclectic mix too including Tinariwen, The Bootleg Beatles (putting on a ‘66-‘70 set!) and Public Service Broadcasting alongside slightly more left field but equally spiffing choices as...deep breath...The Fall (frankly worth the admission price on their own), the cancer kicking Wilko Johnson, Julian Cope, Sun Ra Arkestra, BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Robyn Hitchcock (a hugely underrated artist in my humble opinion) and Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin (quite what he's 'goblin' we'll have to wait and see). Up ‘n’ coming talent’s well represented too by Zun Zun Egui, Syd Arthur, Jane Weaver, Midnight Bonfires and...er...Mark Radcliffe, bless ‘im. There’s decent grub and booze, plenty of loos (kept remarkably clean last year...good work there toilet fairies) and a nicely chilled out family friendly atmosphere. Plus there are club nights, workshops, crafts, woodworking, Northern Soul Dance Classes (bring your own talc) and Nick Drake’s actual record player (!) which last year was set up in the woods for around 40 of us to listen to Five Leaves Left on. Despite the roaring log fires around us even our goosebumps had goosebumps, a truly memorable festival moment from a weekend that was jam packed full of ‘em. Here’s a link to last year’s review just in case you’re still not totally convinced. 

Tickets, a mere £89 for the whole ruddy weekend INCLUDING camping, right here!

And here's a trio of tracks from just three of the acts playing over the weekend to get you in the mood. 




Thursday, April 16, 2015

Somewhere over The Rainbow ...it’s the return of Goodnight Lenin!




They’ve not played live for a while so this date at The Rainbow on Friday May 1st is an all too rare chance to catch up with ‘em unless you’ve got tickets to Glasto which, let’s face it, is harder to get into than a bank vault these days (although in the case of those blokes who nicked £200million worth of jewels over the Easter holidays this seems to be a piece of piss). 

Apparently they’ve been working on some new stuff too which might well make it onto the setlist. Ragga? Speed garage? Death metal? Could be. Although I’m guessing it’ll have the same wonderful blend of Folk and Americana that made their debut album, In The Fullness Of Time, one of my favourite releases of 2014. Lovely stuff. Support comes from hotly tipped new Mersybeaters John (Lennon) McCullagh and the Escorts too! 

Tickets right here, get 'em while they're 'ot.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Halliwell hits the road!



All the way to Stourbridge this time...and if you’ve ever been there on the number 9 bus you’ll know what an epic journey that can be. Yep, the good ship Miss Halliwell is spreading the gospel according to, well, them as support band to the equally epic noisemeisters Clinic at the Scary Canary on Friday April 29th. Speaking of scary check out this darn fine poster (drawn by Happy As Aimeefor Miss Halliwell’s gig the following week at The Bristol Pear too!



The vinyl countdown...



I pretty much stopped buying CDs a few years ago now and I just can’t get my head around the idea of paying to download music so the fact that vinyl’s popularity keeps on growing is a very, very good thing indeed. To back this up there’s even a new ‘vinyl chart’ now and, of course this Saturday sees Record Store Day, the annual chance for vinyl junkies to spend obscene amounts of dosh on some limited edition that they’ll probably never play or...even worse...for some loathsome creatures to buy and then stick on eBay to make a fast buck. Soulless motherfuckers. Still, whatever the reason, for an increasing number of people vinyl’s becoming the go to medium despite the fact that the format was read it’s last rites back in the 80s when we were all being flogged the shiny new world of the CD. Ahhhh, CDs eh, remember them? The same CDs that charity shops now can’t give away? I’m guessing some poor sods fell for this and flogged off or, quelle horreur, THREW AWAY their vinyl. Many’s the time I saw piles of records at car boot sales being sold for peanuts because they were ‘cluttering up the house’. It’s true, records are hardly the most convenient way to store or listen to music but if you take that logic to its conclusion we’d probably all live off vitamin pills, wear onesies and imac off all our hair. Since when did 'convenience' become the be all and end all of existence? Part of the appeal of vinyl is that it DOES take an effort to buy, store and play, making the process of listening to it something a little more special. Music ain’t a commodity like gas, electricity and water. It’s the result of hours, days, weeks, years and in some cases decades of effort and yet now you can just click a button and it pours out in an endless stream, all of which often means that the music becomes more of a background soundtrack to other activities (walking, exercising, travelling to work, work itself, making lurve/whacking off) rather than the main focus. Come on now, admit it, when was the last time you REALLY REALLY listened to something? Anyway, here...or indeed 'hear'...endeth the sermon (for a more in depth and convincing argument than mine...with actual science and stuff...check out this neat little video from Gigwise.com)

If you’re in Brum most of the remaining record shops seem to be putting on some kind of event, the pick of the bunch (for me at least) being the good people at Swordfish Records who have none other than Mr Miles Hunt and Miss Erica Nockalls from The Wonderstuff playing.  In my humble opinion The Stuffies are ripe for reappraisal. Their run of singles in the late 80s and early 90s, combining a little rock, a little punk, a little folk and something called ‘grebo’ at the time, are as good as any bands’ prime output. That’s a bold claim but cop a listen to some of these beauties.







Miles and Erica should be playing around about 5pm but ‘needles’ to say (needles...needless...get it...oh never mind) the good folk of Swordfish Records will be dishing up the vinyl all day long.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Pete Williams @ The REP, Friday 10th April 2015



SOUL. Looking back at my hastily scribbled notes (quite frankly I was enjoying the show too much to take many) that’s the one word that sums up both this evening and the man himself. From the gentle almost whispered delivery of opening number Breathe through to the slow burning then explosive Roughnecks and Roustabouts (title track of Pete’s essential new album) and on to the moving father and son confessional of Are You Listening? there’s a rawness and passion to much of the material and its performance that’s like looking right into the man’s very heart and soul. Trust Me saw this heart ripped right open tonight “Trust me to fuck it up again” sang Pete with a brutal honesty that’s all too rare in the bullshitty world of showbiz. Take First Real Job too (one of the many standout tracks from the new album and tonight’s gig) a movingly poetic look at life as a 15 year old working in a factory in Oldbury. Faced with the reality of his future seemingly mapped out before him (“So this is it then? Work. Retire. Expire.”), young Pete dreamt of better things (“Fly like and eagle soar like a falcon, high over rooftops above the factory floor”) before eventually ending up as part of one of 1980’s biggest bands of course, Dexys Midnight Runners.

The rest, as they say, is history, albeit an occasionally troubled history as Black (inspired by Pete’s days in Santa Monica) hints at. Subsequent bands The Bureau and These Tender Virtues failed to achieve the great things they deserved (mystifyingly so in the case of the latter band in particular). It’s staggering to think that Pete then didn’t release his first solo album (SEE) until 2012 but I guess that life, love and everything in between just got in the way. Never mind all that though, if making up for lost time was an Olympic event Williams would be a double gold medal winner. 


In SEE and Roughnecks and Roustabouts he’s produced a brace of modern classics and as a live performer he’s the perfect combination of confidence and humility, seemingly genuinely humbled by the response this evening as he moved seamlessly from gentle ballads perched on a speaker to testifying rock ‘n’ soul belters. A great vocalist deserves an equally great band of course and Williams has picked some crackers here with Clive Miller (lurking in the shadows in between spots) getting some particularly well deserved whoops of applause for his harmonica solos.


After a thoroughly well deserved standing ovation Pete returned for an emotionally charged Suddenly Shattered before ending on a high with Cincinnati Kid, part Sinatra, part Mack The Knife, it was a truly swaggering show stopper of a performance that spontaneously roused the entire audience as one to their feet once more.

Williams may have been a key contributor to the most recent incarnation of Dexys responsible for the critically acclaimed One Day I’m Going To Soar album but as a solo artist, well, clearly that day’s already here.


PS: You can buy both albums right here, right now. Roughnecks is coming out on vinyl too! Vinyl, trust me, it's the future...

Friday, April 10, 2015

Larkin around



One of the best live acts I had the pleasure of seeing last year, Larkin Poe, return to the Hare and Hounds next Wednesday for another steamy night of swampy bluegrass, folk and country. Counting none other than Elvis (Costello that is...everyone know Presley’s more of a Justin Bieber fan) as one of their celebrity admirers and heralded by The Observer as “Best discovery of Glastonbury 2014” last year also saw an appearance at the London O2 Arena...all of which makes this chance to catch ‘em in the intimate surroundings of the Hare and Hounds frankly too Poe-fect to miss. 

PS: Here’s a link to last year’s review just in case you’re still not convinced. Tickets available right here y'all. 



Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Pete Williams! Live! This Friday! At The REP!




Exclamation marks, dontcha just love 'em eh? In this case they're well deserved though. I've been banging on about Pete Williams for a few years now and his critically acclaimed latest album, Roughnecks and Roustabouts, more than lives up to the hype. Having played a key role in Dexys Midnight Runners (the early and later years), form a follow up group called The Bureau and his own criminally underrated band These Tender Virtues he's now on the form of his life with his solo releases and this Friday's hometown gig at The REP promises to be an extra, extra (with lashings of extra on top) special one. Tickets here! And here's a few more vids/tracks to whet the old appetite too...










Gigs! Gigs! Gigs!



After a quiet-ish start to the year the gig calendar's filling up nicely with Birmingham Promoters continuing to put on an ear meltingly diverse selection of bands. Highlights include a show from legendary 90s Alt Metal heroes Therapy? at The Rainbow on April 16th  and fabulous folksters The Leisure Society on April 17th, again at The Rainbow (wonder if Bungle will be there?).


There's also a gig from hotly tipped electropoppers GIRL FRIEND at The Sunflower Lounge on April 20th...  


....and tomorrow night (April 9th) Retox well and truly bring da noise to The Sunflower Lounge. 


That’s just the tip of the metaphorical musical iceberg though, Birmingham Promoters have got a gig on pretty much every night (sometimes two or three) from now right up until the end of time. Well, almost. Full listings right here!