Friday, 29 February 2008

The Flight/Idle Silver/The Blind Riots @ The Queens, Basford. 28th Feb.

Review by Steve Dean

Photo by Simon Bamford

Despite early sound problems and minus their drummer due to unavoidable work commitments, two-thirds of The Flight, in the shape of Tom Moreton forgoing his bass for an acoustic while Josh Barlow stuck to his Fender, nevertheless declared the show must go on. First of all stating that a number of their songs didn’t sit too well with an acoustic arrangement, they nonetheless played them with passionate enthusiasm and received a great reception despite their being a man short. Their self-penned pop/punk songs are good and strong and the recordings on their myspace site demonstrate the fire and drive they conjure up in their normal incarnation. Josh throwing in a accomplished solo version of Oasis’ ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’, the depleted Flight played a fine gig in the circumstances and I shall endeavour to see them again in their full glory at the next opportunity.

Coming to the Queens from Warwickshire, Idle Silver, recently transforming from quartet to trio due to former bass player Flo leaving to concentrate on her studies, are exciting, ballsy and play heavy rock with memorable grit. Drummer Laura, notably playing a host of interesting beats throughout the show, laid down some solid foundation while gutsy guitarist K@ and now bass-wielding vocalist Beka, displayed much passionate energy as they powered through their lively playlist. An all-girl act, they have a kind of wild beauty that complements their set perfectly. Although occasionally bringing 70s female rockers Girlschool to mind, their sound is up-to-date, fresh and packed with raw vitality. As an observation, I have to say that, in an age where so many metal bassists play with plectrums, it was refreshing to see Beka’s jazzy right-hand fingerwork, and the thundering bassline she produced on changing to a 5-string for a particularly heavy number had the whole room throbbing while K@’s deft guitar made the most of it. In conclusion, Idle Silver are a fine band and it’ll be a definite pleasure to see them again next time they’re up. I look forward to it.

It is always a pleasure to watch a band thoroughly enjoying themselves and headliners The Blind Riots do just that. A fairly young band, although with their musical prowess you’d never guess it on listening to them, they sing and play their robust tunes with a style and panache far beyond their years. Vocalist Tom Bevan airs his melodies with infectious elan and lead guitarist Steve Pye puts me in mind of Clapton in his Bluesbreaker days. Although this band carries strong 60s and 70s overtones, they have an uplifting freshness and sparkle that makes them very modern indeed. Aside from Steve and Tom, the remaining band members are Joe Walsh on Drums plus Luke Medlock and Mark Holdcroft on rhythm and bass guitar respectively. Influenced by the Arctic Monkeys and The Stone Roses amongst others, they seem to have a knack of turning out great catchy songs and the riff from ‘Party Girl’ was still playing in my head the morning after the gig, as was ‘Fight Temptation’, which saw Tom singing amongst the dancing audience as they joyfully joined in with the chorus. If you’re looking for a fun time you could do a lot worse than seeing The Blind Riots; I’ve a good idea you’ll enjoy yourself immensely.

Monday, 25 February 2008

The Dirty Mundays/The Seconds/The its/The Blue Collars, in aid of The Ben Howard Appeal @ the Gardeners Retreat, Stoke. 22nd Feb.

Review and photo by guest reviewer Chloe West

Soon after nine o' clock, first act the Dirty Mundays kicked off the night’s proceedings. With the accompaniment of a powerful lead vocalist, a raucous display of high energy rock ensued, even including the odd political lyric; they proved a very tough act to follow.

Ironically, the next slot in the line-up was occupied by The Seconds, a four-piece band full of the enthusiasm that Stoke's music scene is brimming with at present. Demonstrating elements of the early Arctics and The Rifles, they provided a set of loud, guitar-heavy numbers, which, teamed along with singer Matt Walker's fiery lyrics, created a brilliant result.

After the excitement of a lucky lad winning a bottle of JD on the raffle, The its were handed the stage; their infectious pop/rock and catchy riffs an antidote to the fast paced bands beforehand. Fuelled by 15 years experience, The its deliver a fusion of rock and indie with a hint of blues; much appreciated by their eager audience

Last but not least, The Blue Collars took to the stage; oozing confidence as singer Rob Morris held the mike in one hand, his Magners in the other. From the upbeat ‘Girls & Tambourines’, to the heavy Oasis-esque overtones of ‘Eye of the Mind' - even showing snippets of 'The Music' in ‘The Dance One’ - a wide spectrum of styles are touched by The Blue Collars. With girls, boys, beer and even the odd stool flirting around the room, it was certainly a performance to remember, least not forgetting its true cause to raise funds for the Ben Howard Appeal.

Best of luck to all other events in aid of the Appeal, and to Ben’s mum Carol in organising them, particularly if they are as successful as this evening has been.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Sleepwalker Magazine

Friend and neighbour of Stoke Sounds, Sleepwalker Magazine, has issued its first newsletter to go alongside its glossy and sexy February issue.

The online magazine is aimed at Stoke's alternative scene and features a range of material both local and global - "anything happening after dark is in our domain". It has built up a good readership after some tireless promotion round the gigs and darker hang-outs of Stoke.

It's even got Phil Jupitus with 'rock' devil eyes.

So if you like your music loud and your ladies exotic and near-nude, check it out.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Garry Abbott/Everything On Red/The Beehives/The Lies @ The Underground, Hanley. Feb 22nd.

Review by Steve Dean

Photo by Simon Bamford

This being my first outing to the Underground in Hanley, I was once again truly astounded by the sheer talent Stoke-on-Trent has to offer. The Underground itself, although somewhat stark, has a tremendous sound system, ensuring that the four acts on the evening’s bill are heard at their best. It’s good to see music taken this seriously.

Singer/songwriter Garry Abbott begun the evening; his opening number ‘Hello Me’ immediately grabbing the attention of the steadily building audience. A strong singer and an excellent guitarist, the intricate and well thought out chordwork behind his tuneful and interesting melodies made for an inspired and enjoyably varied set. ‘Never Ending Tango’ had the tiniest hint of flamenco; ‘Something’s Coming’ boasted an extraordinarily gymnastic melody line; while ‘Gutter for an Ashtray’ was just a bloody good song. His influences are many; putting me in mind of performers as diverse as Paul McCartney and Richie Havens at times, but his tunes are all his own. Singing his lyrics with gutsy conviction, he radiated true pleasure at the well-deserved applause he received. He tells me he has a CD available from his Gaz Abbott Myspace site. Get a listen, you’ll see what I mean.

I haven’t seen anything quite like Everything On Red since the David Coverdale period of Deep Purple back in the 1970s. XTC came to mind as well, as did the vaguest hint of Madness (as in Suggs etc, I must add). That isn’t saying that they sound dated; in fact, far from it. This band have taken it all a few steps further. Generally, it seems to me that although the influences of the great bands of that era are heavily permeating the current scene; these influences are being utilised with compelling freshness and restored vitality. Everything On Red specialise in incredibly tight, complex arrangements played with bags of energy, admirable flair and astounding timing. I heard not one bum note or missed beat as their solid songs dodged, dived and weaved here, there and everywhere. To see them is to experience a musical fairground ride of the type that turns your knuckles snow white. Exhilarating, crunchy, and displaying some fine musicianship, it can only be a matter of time before these are a big name - either that, or something very rotten in the state.

The Beehives are something else again. Hailing from Liverpool, they are in a decidedly lighter vein than the previous band, but by no means are they any the lesser. This band perform their stylish songs with bright panache and songwriting is obviously one of their strongpoints. Singer Tom Speight striking up any easy rapport with the appreciative audience from the start, their melodic compositions were given an enthusiastic reception throughout the set. Having taken three months away from performing, this gig is their first since last October and this evening was presented as a showcase for the work written over that period. Commercial and pop-oriented, I particularly liked a new number called ‘See you in July’, which featured at the very end of their playlist. They have a very wide potential audience and we’ll undoubtedly see a lot more of them in time to come, if the fervent applause at the end of their set this night is anything to go by.

In their capacity as headliners The Lies did not disappoint. Since I started reviewing the bands of Stoke-on-Trent, I’ve been particularly astounded by the quality of the drummers there are around these days and Adam Price is no exception. He also contributes to the songwriting, as singer and guitarist Donny Wrench gleefully informed us, and his ‘Watcher’ is an impressive addition to their set. Able lead guitarist Richie Turvey and Bassist Jim Seymour making up the rest of the band, Donny is a performer in his own right when not gigging with The Lies and tonight they put on an energy-packed show to remember. Possessing strutting confidence in abundance, they have some great songs and the Hendrix-like ‘Ballad of Alfie Dale’ had me hooked from the from the first four bars; while ‘Fences’ with its racing guitar line, rattles along at a cracking rate. I loved the poignant ‘White Lie’ too. In fact, there isn’t a dud song in the set. As with every other act on the bill, fortune smiling, I can see no reason why they shouldn’t go from strength to strength. Pleased to report a great night in Stoke-on-Trent yet again.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Wavelength/Nemo/The Black Apples @ The Old Brown Jug. 20th Feb.

Review by Steve Dean

Photo by Simon Bamford

The Old Brown Jug continues to supply first class entertainment and Wednesday evening's treble bill featuring Wavelength, Nemo and The Black Apples was no exception. This being only their third gig, Newcastle-based Wavelength played with real depth and plenty of raw power. I would guess that they found the face-to-face nature of the Brown Jug audience a little unnerving to begin with, but they soon got into their stride and despite appearing to get a little lost now and again, they played a cracking bunch of songs that put me in mind of a U2 crossed with Joy Division, although unfortunately lead singer and bassist Jon Mycock's vocals were barely audible throughout most of the set. Drummer Calum Forrester O'Neill worked very hard and played some exciting stuff; his hard rolling style driving the band along with real oomph on the more uptempo numbers, while Guitarists Chris Malkin and Jake McIntosh gelled well, bringing the set to a close with a crescendo that had the audience loudly proclaiming their approval. The fourth song on their playlist, 'October 6th', is available on their Myspace profile and gives a fair indication of this promising band's overall style. Another confidence-giving 3 or 4 gigs under their belt, and I'd say it'll be no time before they are a musical force to be reckoned with.

Having seen Nemo and the Black Apples only but a month ago, it was good to see them again with a little more familiarity with their songs lodged in the old cranium. Nemo are great fun to watch and have enough strong material in their repertoire to ensure that their act contains not one dull moment; although frontman Andy Harrison works very hard to that end anyway. Kicking off with 'Used', a great opening number conjuring up shades of legendary 70s rockers Dr Feelgood, they held the audience captive from the very first crotchet. Their neatly arranged pop/rock songs are well written and the punchy 'Desmond Says' has become a particular favourite of mine. Playing with consistent and sweat-laden dexterity, drummer Kramer Caldwell, guitarist Paul Hancock and bassist Lee Goodfellows' infectious enthusiasm rubs off very easily and the punters jostling to shake Andy's hand at the end bore good-natured testimony to that. Great stuff.

The Black Apples play authentic hard-edged blues with refreshing vitality. Some of these songs were written over 70 years ago, but the Apples make them sound just as fresh as if they were composed only yesterday. There are no flash guitar solos, or indeed any real intricacies of any kind, but this band play their simple, but dynamic arrangements with such grit there is really no need for such embellishments. In the main, pure blues bands can become a little monotonous due to the limitations of the standard blues 12 and 16 bar structures, but the shrewd inclusion of songs such as 'Hypnotise' with its jazzy 9th chords, breaks the set up enough to banish any such issues. The Kings of Leon floated into my head in places. Such was their reception, they returned to play two well-deserved encores. An appropriate end to a fine night.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

DJ School Association; Music Saved My Life Project.

Article by Steve Dean

Photo by Julie Gould

Project; ‘Music Saved My Life’. My imagination stirred by this promising title, I found myself attending the launch of said enterprise in Victoria Hall last Friday afternoon. Made very welcome by Sarah Armitt and Gary Oliver of The DJ School association, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that via Shelton’s Unit 7 Urban Arts Centre, where they are based, there were now all sorts of confidence-building entertainments courses available for young people, including acting, songwriting and pretty much everything else an aspiring entertainer could want. Training pro DJs for the club industry is the association’s aim and several young DJs ably demonstrated their skills throughout the launch; an air of ‘cool’ already very evident. Amiable Gary, a veteran DJ himself, explained that the project takes on complete beginners and offers support and guidance over an annual period of three twelve week terms; encouraging greater self-esteem, confidence and ongoing development of their personal skills. Those who gain the higher levels are provided with opportunities to perform in public and in events within the professional community. The Music Saved My Life project itself, initially involving the tracing of the history of music through deftly organised BBC and library archive resources, will eventually lead to the making of a unique film and accompanying CD based on their research. Training will be given by local film makers Junction 15, and local musicians such as Si Waite will be on hand to assist with the CD and wherever else needed. The budding DJs are encouraged to create their own signature tune and the later end of the project will involve touring schools before reaching completion with an extravaganza held in a ‘big stately home somewhere’. Sounds like fun. If you would like to get involved in any way, contact Sarah and Gary on 01782 205675.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

SOUL MONKEY Red Carpet Launch Party 9th Feb @ LRV, Staffs University: Rachel Rimmer/From the Captain/Twem

Review by Steve Dean

Photo by Julie Gould

If organiser Melodie Forrester suffered any first night nerves yesterday evening, I'm pleased to tell her they were very much misplaced. This was a first class extravaganza, working in coalition with the Airspace gallery; featuring interactive arts of all kinds, including animation and collective drawing, market stalls, exceptionally skilful face painting by Kat Durber and much, much more. All this and three excellent bands too - it all goes to show what a lot of hard work can achieve, and was certainly reflected in the bonhomie that permeated every inch of this sizeable venue.

Rachel Rimmer and her band began the evening and was in her usual fine voice. Outside of her singing engagements, she is very much involved in the dance world; in particular with Amsterdam-based improvisational choreographer Vincent Cacalano; this being admirably reflected in her fluid movements onstage. I particularly liked her scat singing along to Harry Davies’ adept sax and flute work, her elastic vocals being ideal for a practice normally associated with Ella Fitzgerald and Cleo Laine; who tends to spring to mind every time I see her.

I’ve always liked power trios, and it strikes me that they don’t come much more powerful than ‘From the Captain’ - brothers Joe, James and Pete on lead, bass and drums respectively. Gutsy, well-rehearsed and tight, Pete’s frantic, but accurate drumming lays down the driving force behind a vital set of constantly interesting, thoughtful songs played with uplifting attack and manic flair. Guitarist Joe handles most of the vocals, but they are often shared to great effect by Pete; no mean feat considering his frenetic style. As far as influences go, a good comparison would be 90s band Braid; as would now-reformed Spy versus Spy; but there is also an appealing individuality here that has inspired me to listen to their Myspace recordings over and over. A great band. I’ll looking forward to catching them again sometime.

A band called Twem. The name has a curious echoing quality in that whenever you say it, somebody echoes it back, except with a question mark attached. Tom Twemlow is the singer, guitarist and songwriter of the band and he and they obviously enjoy themselves immensely. Drummer ‘Bash’ opened the set with a beat John Bonham would have been proud of, maintaining an impressive standard of stickwork throughout the entire performance, whilst Joe on bass and Rich on second guitar supplied some fine accompaniment to Twem’s strong melodies, although I must say I personally preferred the chunkier songs in the playlist. Their sound in some ways hearkens back to that of America’s West Coast circa late 60s/early 70s, with elements of Dire Straits and Al Stewart detectable in places as well. An entertaining band to watch, not to mention Twem (the man)’s crazy-legged dancing, it should not take them long to build up a substantial following.

An excellent first night for Melodie and all who work alongside her at Soul Monkey promotions. I can see much their endeavours can add to North Staffordshire’s burgeoning music scene, and added with style.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

SONS Ltd presents Raphaels/This is Seb Clarke/La Dies/The Title/The Novellos plus DJs Steve Lamacq and Phil Jupitus @ Victoria Hall, Hanley.

Review by Steve Dean

Photo by Julie Gould

First of all, I have to say that I anticipated good things on attending this gig last Saturday night, but I didn’t quite expect a programme of this calibre. Seriously, there is so much talent in Stoke-on-Trent’s fair city at the moment, it seems to be everywhere you look. These days are witnessing a musical renaissance; the like of which has not been seen since the heady days of the punk rebellion thirty years ago. It is only just beginning, and with acts like these, Stoke-on-Trent, not to mention SONS Ltd, will be very much at the forefront.

Raphaels came on to a loud welcome and kicked in with a concentrated energy that never let up until they hit the chiming last note of their very well-rehearsed set. Playing their catchy and deftly-arranged pop/rock with verve and plenty of attack, they were as tight as a clenched fist. The interesting introduction of a bow-tie wearing trumpet player to their normal 5-piece, two-guitar line-up a little way into the act only added to the content. From a wealth of good songs, ‘Charming Man’ is released as a single on February 11th. Going by what I heard on this night, it should take them a long way.

Affable Phil Jupitus, who turned up in place of the advertised Mark Lamaar, manned the record decks during the rather lengthy first break until Radio One’s Steve Lamacq took the stage to announce This is Seb Clarke, a highly-professional 12-piece band led by the eponymous Seb on an old and battered Hofner semi-acoustic, the like of which I haven’t seen used onstage in many, many years. Wearing identical suits and boasting 6 men on assorted brass, including an uncommon baritone sax, they launched into an act which Seb has accurately described as ‘The Clash with brass’. A mixture of frenetic punk and heartfelt soul, Seb and his talented band whipped up a storm as each member, boogieing hard to the relentless beat, played as if his life depended on it. In fact, anybody who could sit through this act without at least tapping a foot is either dead or stone deaf. They finished to thunderous and well-deserved applause. A great act that I suspect will find its own niche in the very near future.

La Dies, announced by Phil Jupitus wearing his “Fuck art, let’s dance” t-shirt, looked as if they’d stepped out of the mid-60s, but somehow they also brought with them the freshness and energy of those halcyon days, putting me in mind of an updated Yardbirds in places. Their confident vocalist quickly establishing a noisy rapport with the audience, La Dies played their strong pop/rock compositions with cool panache as frontman Pete made sure not a square inch of stage was left uncovered as he strutted, leapt and danced for all he was worth. No wallflower, he; and this is one hell of a good band. The crowd thought so too, judging by the applause accompanying what seemed like an all-too-soon departure.

The Title also have 60s overtones, but are a tad less manic in their presentation. This doesn’t mean they are any lessened by it though - far from it, in fact. Vocalist Beef, resplendent in a blue rainmac buttoned to the neck throughout the show (doesn’t he get hot?), putting me in mind of a fairground barker for some reason, constantly promenaded around the stage singing with depth and honest conviction as his able bandmates backed him to the hilt with some fine musicianship. An added string to their proverbial bow surely lies in the quality of their songs - ‘Slippin’ and Slidin’ for instance, a recent hit in the indie charts, has one of those riffs that stays in your head for days. As with everybody else on the bill tonight, I can see no reason why The Title shouldn’t do very well indeed; they certainly have the talent.

After such a feast of promising acts, it occurred to me that the final band of the night would have a lot to match up to. I needn’t have worried. The Novellos are something else again. Playing with a new line-up, joined by an occasional trombonist/keyboards/percussionist, they unleashed a chaotic vivacity that was almost tangible. Indeed, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Phil Gillespie was so manic, it appeared at times that his frame could barely contain the seething energy within him. The other members hardly stood around either. Their imaginative songs are strong and in some ways their catchy tunes remind me of the style of 80s band Haircut 100. They come across as a likeable, not to mention extremely talented bunch and if these don’t make it, and make it big, it would be an injustice.

In fact, that could be said of every band that played at Victoria Hall on Saturday night. Neil Graham and SONS Ltd put on a fantastic show, and I, along with everybody else there, thoroughly enjoyed it. Absolutely superb. A great, great night.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

UPSTART LAUNCH @ THE SUGARMILL: Spectrum Fires/Rachel Rimmer/MS Thomason/The Chapter/Coda/Laredo

review by Steve Dean

7.45pm and it was good to see a fair crowd ready and waiting when first act Spectrum Fires took to the stage at the Sugarmill on Wednesday evening to begin Upstart's Red Carpet Launch party. The band normally featuring a somewhat larger line-up, guitarist Tom Harley played and sung solo before being joined by Heather Carsile on violin and accompanying vocals. Playing his acoustic with fire and passion, Tom sings his songs of life like he means every word and Heather's plaintive violin and restrained vocals complemented the compositions very satisfactorily. Their first time out in this incarnation, they delivered much promise.

Rachel Rimmer, backed by Harry Davies on sax/flute and Mick Rimmer on guitar, but lacking her percussionist, looked great as she sung with her usual sultry dynamics. Bringing to mind celebrated divas such as Nina Simone and Sade, such vocal maturity is rare in one not too long out of her teens. I suspect she has a great career ahead of her. She has just released an EP, 'Look What the Kat's Brought In', which I must confess I have not had a chance to hear, but going by Wednesday evening's performance, I'm pretty confident it'll be very, very good.

Altering the mood of the event after Rachel's jazzy offerings, Singer/songwriter MS Thomason sung his melancholy songs of love and death with a certain dark panache. A competent guitarist, his songs are well-crafted and his unusual chord structures compliment the moody nature of his songs perfectly. A new song,'The Bastard Who Stole my Love', defines his style rather well. His CD, 'Under the Birch Tree', is available to order from his Myspace site. After what I heard last night, it will be well worth a listen.

Hip-Hop artists The Chapter, onstage for around 15 minutes, along with fellow Goon Squad member Kermeo, brought an air of knockabout hilarity to the proceedings as they bowled around the stage enthusiastically chanting their lyrics of the streets. One offering, a ditty concerning the catching of rabies from a girl met in Primark, had the audience singing along with gusto. Fun.

Having reviewed Coda a few weeks ago, they played pretty much the same set as at the Old Brown Jug, but it was nonetheless interesting to see them at this venue, the audience giving them a hearty reception as they played their ballsy instrumentals with style. Switching mood constantly as they build their powerful crescendos, they are always a pleasure to watch and listen to.

Headliners Laredo came on with a terrific energy. Playing with white-knuckled drive, they blasted the crowd with their punchy songs from the outset. Specialising in hard, feedback-squealing dirty rock, they exude a rare Hendrix-like raw sexuality, which, in this game, can only do them good. Vocalist/guitarist Rush, along with fellow-guitarist Kreg, bassist Alx (sic) and drummer Jose offered an unrelentingly exciting show, displaying a fine understanding of their chosen genre. Rock as it should be, in fact.

Upstart's Lotti and Jim laid on a great show at the Sugarmill. If this what we can expect from them, then I don't see how they can go too far wrong.