Wednesday, 30 April 2008

We Fly Spitfires/Rosalita/The Lies @ The Sugarmill, Hanley. April 28th.

Review by Steve Dean

Photo by Simon Bamford

Good to see plenty of people at popular venue the Sugarmill this evening; Hanley on Monday student nights seems to have more people around than a Saturday afternoon.

First on the bill were Alsager band We Fly Spitfires. Beginning their set with all three of them presumably impersonating the sound of a Spitfire engine, they then launched into a spirited and appropriately funky version of Jamiroquai’s ‘Runaway’. Unfortunately, lead vocals/guitar Jonny Williams snapped a string during the number, inspiring the energetic drummer to keep up a steady and rhythmic solo in order to fill in while the guitarist endeavoured to tune up a spare instrument borrowed from The Lies. Eventually giving up on it and returning to his now 5-string Marauder, he managed to play around the missing G string with admirable determination. The rest of the set comprising of their own compositions, generally being catchy with a good strong beat, their songs are a mixture of rock and choppy funk with a dash of reggae thrown in in their penultimate number, the quirkily-titled ‘Potato Bristow’, which also included a nicely misleading false ending. Finishing up with the pounding ‘Ashtray ashtray’, which took the drummer to ever more frantic new heights they went off to massive applause; while most of the audience appeared to go off somewhere other than the Sugarmill; the place seeming almost empty a few minutes later. I can only conclude that We Fly Spitfires have a seriously well-stocked fan club.

Consequently, there was not such a big crowd for the next band, Rosalita; although for this very professional pop/rock outfit, there should have been a massive one; should there be any justice. Showmen to a man, they certainly made the now sparse audience sit up and take notice and I’m pleased to say that the crowd had greatly increased by the time they had finished. Leading in the set, the keyboard player used his instrument to great effect throughout and there wasn’t a dud song in the bouncy, lively playlist; although highlights were the band performing an entertainingly odd hopping dance during ‘Manga Girl’, with its lovely twisting riff and ‘If you can’t Dance’, with an interesting tinkling one; also a great sing-along number, to boot. All the songs have a commercial flavour and with their high standard of musicianship they should do very well indeed. The 5-piece also pay attention to the endings of their compositions as well, something that is often overlooked by many bands. Hailing from Ipswich and currently on tour, Rosalita were extremely tight after weeks on the road and exhibiting formidable stage presence, they put on a show to remember. A gem of a band.

Since I last reviewed headliners The Lies a little while back they have gained a keyboard player and his added embellishments to their already full-bodied songs added a nice bit of icing to an already flavoursome cake. The Lies have a staunch following and the loud reception that greeted them in the now-refilled Sugarmill as they filed onstage heralded a great 10 song set that had the moshers pushing and shoving at the front, while more conventional dancers kept to the sides and back. Kicking in with ‘White Lie’, they set set the scene for a powerful and well-sung playlist that showcased the fine songwriting skills of this band very nicely. My particular favourite being ‘Four of the Queens’. To me it has one of the best choruses I’ve heard in many a moon. Great lyrics as well. Another new aspect to the band’s act was the introducing of an alto sax played in the last number by guitarist Richie Turvey. The effect was blunted a little by his failure to turn down his guitar’s volume before he changed instruments; his Les Paul shrieking its feedbacking head off until lead singer Donny Wrench damped the strings by standing on the neck. Still, it was just a minor hiccup in an otherwise fine performance by one of Stoke’s most popular bands. With a bit of luck, they may well see themselves playing to a far wider audience in the not-too-distant future.

Monday, 28 April 2008

CD Review: Screwloose – A Beginners Guide to Life

Review by Steve Dean

The standard of the bands of North Staffordshire never ceases to impress me and Screwloose are no exception. Like their contempories Operation Error, to whom they have a similar overall sound, the quality of the songwriting is first class and the execution of them outstanding.

Recorded at Stoke-on-Trent’s own Prism studios the production is spot-on and the arrangements well thought through to ensure the very best of the ideas that have come together to create the four songs that make up ‘A Beginners Guide to Life’.

The band boasting a very capable rhythm section, the full and resonant bass is kept to its traditional place within the structure of the songs and is felt rather than heard, leaving the treble and fancy stuff to the two guitarists; whilst the potent, tight drumming, to my mind, really shows its mettle when delivering the neatly accurate syncopated beat in the verses of ‘Out on Friday?’, but then again, I love that sort of stuff.

The band has an appealing trait of applying faultlessly coordinated crunchy chords in just the right place, lifting the composition in question, ie: ‘A Beginners Guide to Life’ from soft to dead heavy in an instant. The first song, ‘So you call this a Setback’, with its agreeably pacey chords makes a superb opening number and there are some impeccable harmonies throughout the CD. The final song ‘Eight’ has a most pleasing poignancy. I’ve yet to see Screwloose live, but going by what I’ve heard here, it should be one hell of a good gig. I understand they are at the Band Stand in Hanley on May 12th. I shall look forward to it.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Slaves to Gravity/Grand Volume/Operation Error @ The Sugarmill, Hanley. April 26th.

Review by Phil Winstanley

A 7.30pm start meant the crowd was pretty sparse as Operation Error started their set. Fortunately, the place filled up rapidly after a couple of songs and they were treated to a set full of power, passion and sheer energy. Space on stage was limited due to the fact there were two drum kits, which meant drummer Matt Steele was positioned in line with the rest of the band; although this didn’t detract from the performance, quite the reverse. It was great to see him in action as he powered the rhythm section along with Stu Blackwood on bass. The opening number “Red Rum” instantly got the crowd going and thanks to great work by the soundman, Steve Ayres' towering vocals could be heard loud and clear. Next up was the anthemic “I Am David” which had the crowd singing along, much to the delight of the exuberant Shaun “Wink” Winkle who’s song they were all singing. Having seen these boys on numerous occasions, JP’s lead work is sometimes lost in the wall of sound that is Operation Error, but tonight thanks again to the soundman his well-crafted lead solos cut through like the proverbial hot knife through butter. Two new songs, “A Vision Corrupted” & “An Unlikely Exit”, were equally well received, along with crowd favourite, “First to Pass”. Their final song, “Whisper in the Wind”, was a fitting close to their set with the band really cutting loose; a great vocal from Steve and powerful three part harmonies with Wink & Stu guaranteed a high octane finale. Much to the crowds delight the boys took it in turns to mount the podiums at either side of the stage, bringing roars of approval from a very satisfied audience.

Grand Volume

I have a confession to make; at this point I went up to the roof bar, got talking (and drinking) and didn’t see Grand Volume. Apologies.

Slaves to Gravity

I knew little or nothing about Slaves to Gravity. I had been reliably informed by my gig buddy, Dave Ayres (Dad of Steve), that these guys were the real deal. He was right!! From the first bars of their opening number you knew this was going to be good. The sound once again was superb, and we were treated to a set of no-nonsense rock that had you involuntarily tapping your feet and nodding your head. Front man Tommy Gleeson is the archetypal rock singer, strutting and snarling his way through the set giving it everything he’s got. The crowd appreciated this and the band were given a great reception. Not being familiar with the band I didn’t know any of their songs, but I knew I was enjoying myself and that was good enough for me. The standard of the musicianship was superb, and the effort and energy that the band put into their performance made you want to applaud. Like I say I didn’t know the songs, but we were treated to tracks from the bands “Scatter the Crows” album, and if their live performance is anything to go by, it would be a must for your CD collection. The band left the stage to rapturous applause and made a lot of new friends in Stoke-on-Trent.

Grindcore afternoon featuring Empty Feeling/Onanizer/Krupskaya/Wojczech @ The Band Stand, Hanley. April 26th.

Review by Steve Dean

Photo by Simon Bamford

Attracted to this gig by my total lack of knowledge as far as the true nature of ‘grindcore’ is concerned, I cast aside any preconceived notions and went along for some education in these matters.

Empty Feeling are from the Czech Republic and about as heavy as doom metal, as I understand its correct title to be, gets; although it wouldn’t surprise me if there is a heavier band out there, but I’ve yet to meet it. The true grindcorers were yet to come. It struck me whilst listening to the incoherent rasping vocals that is synonymous with this type of music that it really doesn’t matter where the band hails from as nobody can understand a word of the vocals anyway. Which, I suppose, much in the way of silent movies, gives it licence to be played and understood practically anywhere; to those who want to listen to it that is – but I digress. Empty Feeling are tight, extremely powerful in a crunchingly coordinated way, and although this music is taken deadly seriously by its followers, display a welcoming sense of humour as they exchanged what appeared to be light-hearted banter between numbers. Would have a been a bit better if I could have understood it, but why pick holes? The small room filled with the pungent incense of a band that has been on the road for some time, the dreadlocked singer flung himself about all over the place as the 5-piece band thundered out their deafening wares with admirable dexterity. Whether one likes this music or not, these musos know their stuff. The twin leads – one nimbly fingering an unusual 7-stringer, offered some tasty licks and the whole band played with the devotion that purveyors of this particular sound seem to possess in spades. As a footnote, the vocalist was wearing a T-shirt that bore the inscription; ‘How’s God? – She’s Black’. I found that rather cool.

I couldn’t help but wonder if next band Onanizer, also from the Czech Republic and displaying equally little fluency in English had any real idea of what ‘onanizer’ actually means. An ‘onanist’ being a term for one who masturbates, I suppose an onanizer could be a term for one who inspires one to masturbate; which Onanizer most certainly do not; but I digress once again. Onanizer’s music is distinquishable from the last band in that they boast two lead singers; or rather one who shouts and one who screams. They also play extremely short songs, if that’s what they could be called. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, but songs are sung, and the contributions of the two frontmen here in no way could be described as singing. But then again, perhaps I’m being needlessly pedantic; as I said earlier, such vocals appear to be an essential ingredient of this genre and if they actually sung, I suppose, it wouldn’t be doom metal/grindcore - but I digress yet again. Estimating that the longest of the songs lasted about a minute and the shortest about 15 seconds, I soon lost count of the numbers actually performed. Onanizer seemed very aware of the quirkiness of what they were doing and at one point they revelled in producing perfectly coordinated single note crunchs with no apparently definable timing in between. Clever stuff presumably intended to confuse and mislead; which indeed it did. Despite the head-scratching bewilderment at times, I must admit I found myself very entertained.

The absolute grindcore in definition, as I now understand it to be, began with Krupskaya, the only English band on the bill. Not being too far removed from avant-garde jazz, the roots of this sort of music began way back in the 1950s with the likes of John Coltrane and Charlie Parker; their meandering, but mind-blowing improvisational skills taking the concept of jazz to dizzying heights. Although this form of music went up many avenues, by the time the 1970s arrived, experimentalists like Keith Tippett and Robert Wyatt had taken it even further, their music taking on an air of chaos that much reminded me of where grindcore stands at today. It would seem that the natural progression of a certain branch of what was once plain old ‘heavy metal’ has gone up the the same avenue as jazz once went, except with different instruments. Once this is understood, grindcore becomes, for the uninitiated, much easier to understand and therefore enjoy - apologies for yet more digression, but in this case I feel it necessary. Krupskaya’s music, as heavy as it gets, appears to meander wildly all over the place, but a close listener would discern that it is actually meticulously rehearsed. The drummer is technically highly skilled and his coordination with the flowing basswork is spot-on. The true chaos is in the feedback oriented guitarwork and screechingly incomprehensible vocals. Yet, if you listen closely, it musically all makes sense. If one understands avant-garde jazz, then they are capable of understanding grindcore. Once I grasped where they were at, I enjoyed Krupskaya immensely.

Headliners Wojczech, from Germany, are much of the same ilk, except they allow themselves a little occasional order in the form of some nice juicy riffing that had the mainly black T-shirted audience rocking in rhythm to the heady beat. The shouting, screaming vocals were shared by the bouncing, bounding frontman and the seated bass player, who has obviously broken something vital in the leg region. The vocal exchanges here were a bit different in that some of the noises produced were reminiscent of things as diverse as roaring beasts and wailing lost souls; indeed, some of the utterances vaguely resembled ships’ foghorns. A standard 4-piece, the musicianship was first-class and like all the bands before them, remarkably well-drilled. Unless one is very familiar with them, it is very difficult to pinpoint numbers of this nature; but one of their compositions appeared to have lifted its juddering introduction directly from television’s Dr Who theme; but what the hell; It sounded great.

A very different way to spend a Saturday afternoon and congratulations to The Band Stand for putting it on. Grindcore is as cool as it gets.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

'Off With the Octopus' presents Ant Mayer/Alfa 9/The Tall Stories/The Black Apples @ The Fat Cat Bar, Hanley. April 25th.

Review by Steve Dean

Photo by Angela Pike

Having seen acoustic guitarist and singer Ant Mayer earlier this year, I was pleased to find him on tonight’s bill at this popular Friday venue and judging by his reception, so was everybody else there. A passionate vocalist, capable performer and fine songwriter, his use of a phasing unit on his first number added yet a new dimension to his already varied repetoire. Although his set was comprised mainly of his own compositions, the addition of a White Stripes number went down very well, as did all his numbers and I especially liked ‘Waterline’ and his bluesy closing number ‘Hard to decide’ ensured he left the stage to much warm applause. I’m sure he’ll be around as a singer/songwriter for some time to come.

Alfa 9 are somewhat different to any other band I’ve encountered in Stoke so far; their sound like an amazingly accurate reproduction of mid-sixties American pop/rock; although whether that’s completely intentional or not, I’ve no idea. Although there are plenty of influences from that time in the mix, to me they sound almost exactly like an updated Byrds, the captivating harmonies of guitarist Phil Mason and Bass player Ali Heath recapturing Roger McGuinn and Dave Crosby pretty much exactly. They are not singing The Byrds songs though; the self-penned numbers I heard here tonight were every bit as melodically appealing as anything those country rockers of yore turned out. I always like to hear the odd guitar solo and Leon Jones, at times wielding an unusual 12-string Phantom Teardrop, played some very enjoyable ones. Some powerful drumming from Andy Vernon carried things along nicely and of the songs I was particulary taken by the chiming riff on the Beatle-ish ‘Castle’ and they have a great closing number in their up tempo rocker ‘Old Man's Blues’. They have a pretty unique take as far as all things musical go these days and I can see a big future for them. Music as good as this should be heard by a much wider audience.

Up from North London with local lad Liam Ward on bass, Tall Stories began with an amusing ditty about Stoke-on-Trent chirpily sung solo by likeable frontman Rob McCabe. They have an infectious sense of fun and their opening number as a group, the rock-a-billyish ‘Lie Baby Lie’ set the scene for a cracking set full of interesting and amusing songs. Although they put me in mind of a cross between Dr Feelgood and a little of the Stray Cats, their myspace profile decribes them as ‘Lonnie Donegan skipping bail at the Kinks’ house’; neat, that; and sums them up pretty well; although it must be added that their overall take on things appears a tad unique. ‘Gun ‘em Down’ has a great choppy riff and although McCabe isn’t exactly a technical guitarist, he does play some interestingly scratchy solos. Some galvinising keyboard work from Stu Maxwell and energetic drumming from Saul Eisenberg soon had a great many of the audience on their feet and judging by the amount of punters singing along with the memorable lyrics, it is pretty obvious they have a decent sized following. Their closing number containing much frivilous bounding around, Tall Stories finished their set to well-deserved uproarious applause. It would be good to see them in Stoke again in the not-too-distant future.

Headliners Black Apples played their usual set of hard rocking blues numbers and having reviewed them twice already in the past few months, it’s enough to say that they went down an absolute bomb; coming back to play no less than three encores. They have recently secured a recording contract and I see no reason why the future ahead for them should be anything less than rosy. A great night once again.

Junkyard Orchestra

Fancy trying something new? The North Staffs Accordion Club has been added to the Junkyard Orchestra.

Meanwhile despite going to more gigs than any human ears should be able to bear (he does wear earplugs), Bamf swears he hasn't met anybody whose musical abilities differ from bass, guitars and drums. If you know differently, head over to the site to register.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Axis Festival Launch

The Axis Festival had a stylish launch at Stoke's Sugarmill last night, 25 April.

Listen live with Subculture on Radio Stoke. And see everything that's still to come on the official website.

Photos and reports to follow.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

We Like Danger presents Inside Right/Wooderson/Ox Scapula @ The Band Stand, Hanley. April 23th.

Review by Steve Dean

Photo By Simon Bamford

Steadily growing in popularity, it was pleasing to see enough punters in the Band Stand this evening to make this midweek gig from promotors ‘We Like Danger’ as worthwhile as it was.

Kicking in with the gutsy ‘Book of Crypto’, first on the bill Inside Right established a cracking pace from the outset. ‘Passionate’ is not a word I would usually employ when describing a drummer’s playing, but the bloke behind the kit here plays with an emotion rarely associated with these particular instruments. Add to this the flowing chordwork of the two guitarists plus some melodic vocals and the resulting concoction makes for a fine set of tunes played by a fine band. Their style very much in the indie rock vein, although there are some shades of U2 in there, they have some interesting ideas song-wise and I particularly liked the interjective phrasing of their third song ‘Snakes’. The tuneful ringing solos on ‘Chess’ are also a highlight, as is their great use of musical light and shade on ‘Silent Sample’, their last song. A short set, but a very good one. As a final word, I must add that the lead guitarist had the nicest Squier Telecaster I’ve ever come across.

Hailing from Sheffield, three-piece Wooderson, only together since last November, are quite simply one of most exciting bands I’ve ever seen. Their exhilarating and explosively coordinated timing and whole-hearted approach to their songs clutched the guts of every seasoned rocker in the room. Proceeding to play with refreshing confidence, their opening number began with a wall of feedback and ended with a mighty crescendo usually reserved for an ending number; but it mattered not as far as these were concerned. Drummer Josh’s inspired stickwork fired the other two up as they took their unembellished, raw rock to height after height. The stop/start arrangement of ‘Safeguard’ should be heard by all that appreciate hard rock at its meatiest. The track is available on their two track CD, but good though it is, their live performance of it was something to be beheld. When not leaping around all over the place, bassist Sam displayed a rare willingness to exchange good-humoured banter with the audience between songs and his statement that he was glad to be in the town of long-departed Slash’s birth only but warmed the room to him. Guitarist Loic isn’t what one would call a flash guitarist, but he has that rare Hendrix trait of wringing one exciting sound after another from his battered Telecaster. The word ‘brilliant’ could be heard being uttered by many mouths after their act. About right.

The rather more restrained, but still impressive Ox Scapula specialise in unusual arrangements and the use of chords more associated with the jazz world rather than rock, but still play rock rather than jazz; if you get what I mean. Their clever compositons are never less than interesting and although discordant at times, it is obvious that this is intentional. It is this very different approach that sets them apart from any other outfit I’ve seen around at the moment. Their myspace site states that they are a punk band, but they are like no punk band I’ve ever come across before; their songs being those of an ilk one could sit and chill to, rather than leap solidly up and down. There is nothing predictable about their set; one nicely crafted idea after another issues readily forth and their very capable drummer does a great job of holding it all together. Seemingly prefering to concentrate on the task in hand, they don’t display much movement onstage; indeed, their female bassist shows virtually no sign of movement at all; standing motionless with her back to the audience throughout the entire set. Interesting to see an aluminium-necked Kramer guitar being used and also a rare East German Musima Elektra. Music more for the mind than the dancing feet; Ox Scapula have a worthy place on any bill.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

CD/Album Review: The Long Dead Sevens – The White Waltz and Other Stories

Review by Steve Dean

On my initial listening to this theatrical and macabrely beautiful work, the first thing that struck me was the brooding atmosphere forming around me as the gothic, but not entirely humourless lyrics began to tell their dark and baroque tale. So powerful is the aura evoked, one finds themselves drawn into the music in much the same way as one becomes inextricably involved in watching a well-plotted play. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if this intriguing work finds itself being adapted for the stage at some time in the future.

Written mainly by vocalist Nick Cliff, guitarist and supplier of backing vocals Paul J. Rogers and violinist/pianist Jenny Hames, but with vital contributions from bassist Ian Turner and drummer Nicolas Hames - the latter four playing other instruments besides (including a boat propellor!) - the skilfully arranged songs contain nothing but excellent musicianship. The album also features guest backing vocals by Sarah Miller and the Cantemus Chamber Choir. Baritone Nick Cliff’s compelling, almost narrative voice suiting the whole collection perfectly..

The opening number ‘Pigface’ has a ensnaringly sublime slide guitar riff from Ian Turner, also responsible for the natty banjo picking on the Country & Western influenced ‘Mother’s Son’ - a song concerning the not-oft-discussed subject of filicide - while Jenny Hames’ lugubrious violin in the creepy ‘Our Lady Damned’, pulls and tugs at the most melancholy of one’s emotions. The pair can also be found executing an exquisite duet as Nick Cliff demonstrates a superbly ballsy blues voice in ‘Seven Levels’. In the very next track, the ethereal choir towards the end of the eerie ‘Church’ seem like they are seeking to conceal the sounds of something truly terrible happening in the background; while ‘The Black Waltz/The Red Waltz’ conjures up images of wraithes dancing inches off the ground within some gigantic ruined ballroom.

This album is a masterpiece and I don’t use that term lightly.

Produced and mastered in Berlin by the respected Boris Wilsdorf, who has worked with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and also The Tiger Lillies, amongst others, the album is receiving well-deserved attention from radio stations across Europe and America, including XFM in England.

The album is due for release around mid-May on Beta-Lactam Ring Records. Get a listen; you won’t experience anything like it anywhere else. Truly marvellous.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

At the Battle of the Bands with Captain Yange/Paperpushers/The Filthy Souls/Kaseno @ Walkabout, Manchester. April 20th.

Review by Steve Dean

Photo by Simon Bamford

There was an air of good humoured optimism about Captain Yange when we travelled with them to Manchester last Sunday evening for the semi-final of the Jack Daniels Soundcheck ‘Battle of the Bands’; organised by the national chain of Australia-themed Walkabout bars. This particular very extensive branch situated just off Deansgate, there were four contenders up for judgement, due to two of the original six bands failing to turn up.

The announcer/soundman insisting on calling them ‘Captain Yan’ or ‘Yang’ throughout the evening, despite drummer Paul Murfin’s unheeded efforts between numbers to correct him, the band were elected first on. Beginning with ‘Fuse’, with its grippingly crunchy riff, which is about as good an opening number as you’re likely to get, the band played a cracking four song set; following up with ‘Chemical’, the ethereal ‘Calmoceans’ and finally the more up-tempo ‘Find Myself Again’. Coming offstage to suitably big applause from a surprisingly small, but enthusiastic audience, the band settled themselves down to watch the competition.

Paperpushers come from Leeds and have a different style altogether from Captain Yange. A six-piece band, they play what could collectively be called simply dance music, but the ingredients are complex; taking in disco, funk, jazz, two-tone, honest to goodness pop and soul with added shades of indie rock and reggae. They obviously love to play and their joyfully infectious enthusiasm is reflected in their excellent songs; of which, on this single hearing, ‘Clockwatching’ struck me as the most memorable. Vocalist Sarah Wassal has the most exquisitely full-bodied silky voice and the whole band gets on down, so to speak, with a most energetic fervour. Guitarist Nick Long boings around the stage like he’s having the time of his life and it is this sort of attitude that gets the punters up and dancing and up and dancing they certainly were. Finishing their act to wild applause, we all agreed that competition, at least in this quarter, was going to be stiff.

Seemingly played at at least 5000 watts for some baffling reason, the maddeningly deafening music coming from the sound system during the intervals made a flustered mime artist out of everybody present; the soundman responsible obliviously walking around with earplugs firmly and obviously inserted in his head only adding to the almost painful mystery. The veritable oasis from the racket provided by the next band on came as a welcome relief; the groups themselves playing at a far more comfortable volume.

The oasis itself coming in the form of The Filthy Souls, a quartet from Wigan. Seemingly a little self-conscious, but suitably attired and hair-styled in the very latest rock star manner, their set sounded a long, long way from the North of England; more like they had just flown in from sunny California. Boasting an unusual (for these days) Gretsch guitar and a Telecaster, they produced a very agreeable West Coast-ish guitar sound, but didn’t really do much with it; the main focus of their pedestrian performance seeming to centre on the lead vocals of frontman Dave Green. A reasonably passionate singer, his vocal powers where somewhat hindered at one point by his peculiar insistence in walking around the stage with a half-full beer bottle sticking horizontally out of his mouth while his hands were occupied with his guitar. Easily the gutsiest song of the set, their closing number featured a shrieking and yelling Green coming down off the stage and eyebrow-raisingly giving his unfortunate guitar a good bashing with the microphone before chucking the blameless instrument to the floor. Very much looking the part though, it couldn’t be said they were not without a chance.

Once more forced to endure the torturously eardrum-cracking interval music, it seemed that last act Kaseno couldn’t come on quick enough. Indeed, it was hard to tell if the applause greeting them was a genuine welcome or just sheer relief from the aural onslaught.

Hailing from Blackpool, it seemed to me that confident-to-excess frontman Lucan couldn’t possibly have come from anywhere else. A natural entertainer, he was in amongst the audience from almost the word go. Seeming to have a variety of voices, although personally I reckon he should drop the strangled metallish one he began with, he found form on the second number, the more restrained ‘Wardance’. Toothily smiling and grinning constantly, he dances, leaps, struts and generally appears to be thoroughly enjoying himself. Lively drummer Dave Dawson makes himself very much seen, while guitarist Carl Taylor seemingly does little playing-wise to attract much attention at all; the most I could I could recall of him at the end being his changing of guitar. Rubber-bodied bass player Rick Dawson bends about all over the place and very much gives the impression he believes he is in some top-notch heavy metal outfit, whilst in reality Kaseno are not too far removed from a weighty cabaret act. They have some good songs though, and the last, ‘Dreams’ is a very good song indeed.

Who won?


Taking any disappointment in their stride, Captain Yange’s Paul, Si Waite and Scott Ralph shook hands with the jubilant winners and wished them all the best at the finals in London on May 1st.

On the way home, all agreed that it had a been an enjoyable and fun night. Except for the interval music. My ears didn’t stop ringing until Tuesday.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Band Interviews: Raphaels/The Novellos/La Dies @ SONS Ltd Showcase, Victoria Hall.

Interviews by Charlotte Denis


How did you guys meet ?

Tom: We knew each other from high school really. Me and George (bass) started playing together when The Libertines started to get big. That’s our main influence. Then after a Babyshambles gig we just thought about forming a band. It’s Chris's first gig with us tonight. wish him luck!

So did Sons Ltd contact you?

Ha ha no, we kind of asked! And it worked, look at us now.

Did it help you to get bigger?

Yeah definitely. We were doing a lot of gigs around Stoke though, but we’ve got
some huge gigs coming up which we are all excited about.

What do you think of the bands tonight so far?

They’re all great. We’re all local so we kind of know each other from school. It’s fun to see what we all achieved.

What’s next?

Manchester. Then in the summer new singles and an album hopefully!


The Novellos

So when was the band formed?

Mike: A couple months ago actually! We were originally two different bands and Sons contacted us both and asked us to form a single band, so we agreed.

What are your main influences?

Loads. The Clash, Sex Pistols; you know, some jazzy old stuff as well like James Brown. Our sound is very mixed.

Any big gigs coming up?

Tonight is a big gig for us. Then Party in the park, a couple of festivals in the summer too; it will be amazing.


La Dies

You’re quite big around the Stoke area. How did it happen?

Pete: Well we’ve been playing for years now. I guess we just love what we do. Being on stage is just a laugh between good mates really. We try to stay sober as much as we can and it works, tonight was great.

How did you get signed?

Through Myspace. Sons added us as a friend and basically liked our stuff. Recently The Enemy’s manager added us after a gig at the Sugarmill. I was gutted because I think we did rubbish on that night!

Nobody can really think of a band to compare you to. Why is that?

Haha.. Well it’s probably a good thing! I’d say we are new wave/glam rock. But again it depends on the song really. We have some new songs and they are slower than the songs we used to compose. It’s not a new style but it’s hard to say what we sound like.

So what do you guys do apart from gigging?

Most of us have jobs actually. But our main interest is the band. I’d give up on everything for music.

Any plans coming up next?

No not really; new songs, new gigs, you know... Love it.

SONS Ltd Showcase @ Victoria Hall, Hanley. April 19th.

Featuring The Dilettantes/La Dies/The Title/Raphaels/The Novellos/This is Seb Clarke/Rough Charm + DJ sets by Chris Hawkins, Carl Barat & Didz.

Review by Steve Dean

Photo by Simon Bamford

With circa 1000 enthusiastic punters present, many of them heady with news of Stoke City’s important victory over Bristol City, the outlook for the evening looked very good indeed. And very good indeed it was.

Kicking off proceedings, the tight and confident Dilettantes played a sparkling and well-rehearsed set. Having a great front man in guitarist and vocalist Tom Howells and a fine set of songs in the indie rock vein, they made for an inspired opening act. Well-received by the noisy audience, The Dilettantes set a standard that was pretty much maintained throughout the entire evening.

Having seen La Dies at the SONS Ltd launch back in February, they played pretty much the same set as then. Still reminding me of the early Yardbirds, playing their good chunky numbers with fire and cool relish are what this band is all about, and as always, vocalist Pete made the very most of the occasion, demonstating his spirited showmanship as the audience clapped and screamed their clamorous appreciation.

Coming on to much crowd-hailing and screaming of females, The Title are one exciting, ballsy band and singer Guy Davies soon had the ever more rowdy gathering firmly in the palm of his hand. Nifty guitarist Hursty, with his gum-chewing cool, plays his parts with neat aplomb, whilst fellow cool gum-chewer Greg and Teecey on pounding drums and bass respectively supply a rhythm section about as gutsy as it gets. Closing their set with the great rabble-rousing number ‘Madman’, currently number 5 in the indie charts, Davies hurled his mic to the floor with true attitude as he sung the last line, “..cause I’m real”, and strode purposefully offstage as if fired up to the nines; which I suppose he was, considering the crackling atmosphere. Terrific.

Introduced by Didz, in jolly mood and displaying a fine stagger, the Raphaels, with new guitarist Chris Harrison, played with their usual stylish musicianship. They seem to specialise in unusual arrangements, sounding a little disjointed at times, although I suspect things are meant to sound that way, and in general they put on a great show; although I really couldn’t see any valid reason for the bassist kicking a microphone stand into the audience. They have some really good material and their live version of their successful single ‘Charming Man’ was even better than the recording to my mind. The band played the set out instrumentally as singer left the stage. A nice touch, I thought.

Introduced by a smiling Carl Barat, The Novellos were simply electrifying. Blowing the crowd away with their explosive opening number, they just got better and better as they went on, if that could be possible. I thought they were amazing the last time I saw them, but ‘astonishing’ would be a more suitable epiphet for what I witnessed here this evening. Phil Gillespie was his usual totally manic self, diving over the crowd barriers to join the wildly-dancing audience at one point, only this time all five of them seemed to expend more energy in half an hour than most people use up in a week. Inspired songs and impressive musicianship are a hallmark of this band and the quirky addition of what looked liked a euphonium or tuba played by the drummer (separately, of course) made for some interesting new sounds. They play like they absolutely love it, an infectious trait that rubbed off onto the audience mightily. Tremendous stuff from a tremendous band.

Seb Clarke and his band had no trouble following them though. The whole 12-piece outfit laid down the boogie, so to speak, from the first 1, 2, 3, 4 and simply carried on where The Novellos left off. They really do rock and they sure know how to party. As band leader, Seb worked very hard, as did all its members; leaping around with arm-flailing abandon almost throughout the entire set. Enthralling brass arrangements and adroit stickwork from the man behind the kit form the backbone of Dylanish-voiced Seb’s big production numbers and a dexterous exchange between the two keyboard players towards the end was a joy to listen to. If there were such a thing as musical calling cards, then ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Alamo’, a highlight of his playlist, would be Seb’s. An ‘offshoot’, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Alamo part 7’, also featured, was recently a number one in the BBC indie charts. Leaving the stage to riotous applause, Seb announced that The Rough Charm would be on next; a remark lost on many, I think, as a great deal of people left after his set, probably thinking that, as headliner, This is Seb Clarke were the last act.

It must be said that BBC radio 6’s Chris Hawkins did a great job of DJ-ing and presenting while ex-Libertine Carl Barat showed an impressively friendly respect for his ecstatic fans; spending a good 15 minutes leaning over the barriers to shake hands and chat with them after Seb had left the stage.

The Rough Charm unfortunately came on to a vastly depleted audience, but undauntedly played their set with style and a certain attitude. They have some very good songs, including a spirited version of Elvis Presley's 'Hound Dog' and have a fine, gritty frontman in singer and guitarist Will. They received a warm welcome from those still left and the set ended after lead guitarist Laim threw his instrument to the floor and stalked off after giving the finger to nobody in particular, leaving Will, bassist Nixon and drummer Lofty to wrap the show up. I suspect they would have fared much better if they had come on second in the evening’s billing as I should imagine was the original intention. It would be nice to see them perform again at some stage.

A long, long evening; but a very enjoyable one. SONS Ltd continue to go from strength to strength. It can only be but good for all musicians in Stoke-on-Trent.

Good times indeed.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

The Goon Squad

By Stephen Harvey

Hip hop is alive and well, and blowing the cobwebs off the Stoke on Trent music scene. A small number of local artists have formed their own cooperative, and are taking their own brand of rap, complete with a Stoke accent to the national airwaves.

It all began less than two years ago at the Cheshire Cheese in Hanley. The lads were going down to the open mic night, and rapping freestyle. This was so popular it was gaining interest from all over the city, and the night was soon reaching saturation point, and even employing additional bar staff just to cope with the popularity of the monthly night.

It was becoming clear that the venue needed to be changed, and at this point DJ Fresh approached the Fat Cats Café Bar in Trinity Street, Hanley. The management and venue was more than ready to transfer the night to their basement, and it has proved to be one of their most popular nights, with the Goon Squad selling all 150 tickets on a Monday night.

Their popularity is being fuelled by their constant airplay on local and National Radio, and much of this hype is mostly to the superb work by Matt and Dave at Radio Stoke.

Live sessions from DJ Fresh, Parradox, Kermeo and Vacant & Guti raising the profile of hip hop in the area. This led Matt and Dave to include the Goon Squad along with the Wrongpop night on their pick of the best from Stoke, to be aired on national Radio courtesy of Huw Stephens on BBC Radio One.

The inclusion of interview material from Guti &Vacant, DJ Fresh and Parradox on the show, in addition to playing the Parradox track ‘Gift Of The Gab’ which came as a massive boost to their already growing egos.

The members are keeping there feet firmly on the ground however, and its back to business as normal.

The group has come a long way in just 18 months are just keen to continue their mission to make “Stoke Stand Up” in the words of DJ fresh.

For more info visit:

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Chris Difford/Boo Hewerdine @ Biddulph Town Hall. 18th April

Review by Steve Dean

Photo by Simon Bamford

Although cold and very blustery outside, it was a warm and welcoming crowd gathered in Biddulph’s main civic building for to see singer/songwriter Boo Hewerdine, formerly of rock band The Bible and one-time guitarist with Eddie Reader; and Chris Difford, one half of Squeeze’s formidable Difford/Tilbrook songwriting team. Organised by The Biddulph ‘Up in Arms’ concerts, there was a heady air of high expectation in the packed auditorium.

Beginning the evening, Boo proved himself to be a personable entertainer and excellent guitarist. A ready wit, he interspersed his act with humorous stories, including a very funny tale involving American artiste Steve Earle which I had considered relating, but not really thinking it apt to possibly give the punchline away at this stage in his tour. Taking us through a string of songs from his career and his new album, he began with ‘Graceland’ (not the Paul Simon one) from his Bible days and gave a fine rendition of ‘Patience of Angels’ from his time with Eddie Reader, the audience joining in with a ready enthusiasm. Breaking a string during one number, he carried on by borrowing Chris Difford’s guitar, but returned to his now 5-stringed instrument for an up-tempo number about the coming of death that earned him resounding applause. His act full of quality self-penned compositions, he was most definitely a more than worthy contributor to the night’s proceedings.

Boo also featured in the second half when he played second guitar to Chris Difford and able accompanying singer Dorrie Jackson. Himself just as likeable as Boo, Difford also sprinkled his act with funny stories, mostly involving his contemporary, the somewhat vain Simon Le Bon, a person it would seem he good-humouredly does not hold in very high regard. Kicking off with Squeeze’s ‘Black Coffee in Bed’, his excellent lyrics were very much to the fore throughout his set and his newer songs proved that his skills as a wordsmith have far from diminished. ‘Fat as a Fiddle’ and ‘Battersea Boys’ from his new solo album were some of the highlights and a charming composition rather quirkily regarding the smell of his mother’s handbag was also received very well. It was the more familiar Squeeze songs that of course went down the best though and ‘Take Me I’m Yours’ brought a wave of nostalgic atmosphere that washed over everybody present. Chris himself observedly remarking that the hall was full of ‘people of a certain age’. Appearing to finish with ‘Up the Junction’, the three of them responded to the thunderous demand to return with another four songs, including ‘Cool for Cats’; rounding a satisfying evening off very nicely.

Before he left the stage, the Squeezeman remarked that it was very gratifying to see small communities such as Biddulph still putting themselves out to stage live music whenever they can. How right he is. Congratulations to all concerned and especially promotors The Biddulph Arms for a very fine night indeed.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara @ Djanogly Theatre, Nottingham. April 16th.

Review by John West

Photos by Simon

The Djanogly Theatre is situated within the Lakeside complex of
Nottingham University. A nicely intimate venue and all-seated, the
theatre hosts a variety of performing arts as well as musicians.
Tonight, Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara are here to perform tracks
from their critically acclaimed album ‘Soul Science’, which won an
award at the BBC3 World music awards 2008. Justin Adams is a
talented guitarist who shares a love of both the blues and world music.
He may be more familiar to some as a regular guitarist with Robert
Plant's band Strange Sensation; forming an integral part of the overall
guitar sound therein. However, he is here tonight to perform in his own
right with a master Gambian musician and griot (poet), namely Juldeh
Camara. Together they have fused a love of the blues and just a hint of
rockabilly with the sounds of African music. It works extremely well as
these two are masters of their craft; playing with an obvious sense of
joy and respect for each other. Its wonderful to watch and totally
inspiring for me as a guitarist and as a fan of honest musicianship.
Adams plays several guitars tonight, as well as a Tamashek lute
called a ‘tehardant’, whilst Juldeh sings and plays some wonderful
traditional African instruments; namely a one string violin - a ‘ritti’, and
a superb banjo-like instrument called a ‘gologo’. The fusion of western
and African music created is held together by the percussionist Salah
Dawson Miller; a longtime collaborator of Justin Adams. A colourful
character, he keeps the whole thing together as he plays his various
percussive instruments and drums. To hear and see the interplay
between these musicians is a joy, and when you hear echoes of the
blues and a Bo Diddley riff set against an African fiddle or banjo it is
a joy to behold and is simply magnificent. It is real musicianship; very
rootsy and totally inspiring to the observer and listener. This is what is
special about seeing musicians honing their craft and thoroughly
enjoying themselves in front of their audience.
They are next on tour with the Mali desert blues band Tinariwen in May;
another inspirational group and well worth checking out. Two for the
price of one eh? Go check ‘em out. You will not be disappointed.

Recommended listening too!

Capoeira ART BRASIL. Music, dance & much much more…

Photo by Julie Newbold

When I was first told of the existence of this particular community group, I was informed they were a ‘Brazilian martial arts drum school’. Seeking enlightenment, I sallied forth to their regular Wednesday meeting at Summerbank House in Tunstall to see just what it was all about. What I found was something somewhat different to anything I’ve ever come across before.

Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian art form combining cultural music; dance; yoga; fight, although no contact is actually made; and very importantly, play; the term actually used to describe a ‘bout’.

The art of capoeira began in 16th Century Brazil, created and developed by both the native slave Indians in Brazil and slaves brought from Africa. Participants form a roda (circle) and take turns playing instruments, singing, and sparring in pairs in the center of the circle. Traditional instruments employed are the berimbau, a bow made from Brazilian beriba wood strung with a single tyre wire, to which is a attached a resonant gourd (acabaca)and played with a simple thin stick; a conga-like drum called an atabaque and a tambourine, known as a pandiero. A small basket-like shaker called a caxixi is also used; usually by the berimbau player.

The dance, or ‘play’, itself is performed by pairs facing each other and involves fluid movements similar to those practised by martial artists, although in no way do they suggest any aggression. Movements include sweeping kicks; dodges and weaves, and even the odd handstand. The music and chant-like songs are almost hypnotic and to listen and watch the group as they perform is witness something of a great spiritual beauty. I left there very impressed.

Friendly and relaxed capoeira community classes are open to all, whatever experience, or lack of it, you may have and they can be found every Wednesday from 19.00 – 21.00 at Summerbank House, Tunstall or every Saturday at The Wallace Sports and Education Centre in Abbots Road, Abbey Hulton between 11.00 – 13.00. A small contribution of £5 for non-members (£4 for members) is asked for to maintain the classes. In additon to this, there are also regular music workshops led by the group’s Professor Leandro.

If you would like a preview, Capeira ART BRASIL can be seen at the Burslem arts festival on May 10th and also at the carnival parade in the city centre on Saturday 14th June.

Details are available from Mika on 07821-713431 and also on their website on:

Or alternatively email:

Steve Dean

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Bands Wanted for compilation CD

Sleepwalker Magazine has sent us the following request for bands who might like to feature on a forthcoming compilation CD.


We are putting together a printed version of Sleepwalker magazine with a cover cd.

We want our local bands to get their stuff out there, so here's the offer:

For the new low price of £50 your band gets a track on the CD (which will be given with the magazine).

You also get a mention in the magazine and more importantly:

You ALSO get 35 of the CDs, to sell on for whatever you like. We recommend £3 which means that you only need to sell 17 and you have your money back! Sell all 35 and you get £100!

In other words it's free promotion for your band as you and the others promote each other.

Get your music heard, show everyone what we have to offer.

Let them know when you see them?


Bret Allen

Editor - Sleepwalkers Magazine

tel -01782822750

So there you go...

Contact Bret direct if interested!

Steve Dean

Humphrey Lyttelton Axis Gig Cancelled


Headline act of the 2008 Axis Festival, jazz legend Humphrey Lyttelton, has been forced to cancel his concert scheduled for Saturday 3rd May due to ill health.

Humph, 87, was admitted to hospital yesterday (Wednesday) with an aorta aneurysm and required an immediate operation.

Organisers were informed today he would not be able to perform for a at least two months but hopes to return to the stage when he has recovered.

Mike Lloyd, Axis organiser, said: "This is obviously terrible news and we all wish Humph the very best. We were all looking forward to the event but it is important that his health comes first so we are forced to cancel the event . We wish him a speedy recovery."

For people with tickets, a full refund is available by by visiting Music Mania in Piccadilly Arcade, Hanley or calling 01782 206 000.

Further details about the Axis Festival can be found at

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

The Sumo Kings/The Seconds @ The Band Stand, Hanley. April 14th.

Review by Steve Dean

Photo by Simon Bamford

I’ve seen some frenetic drummers in my time, but I’ve seen few as frantic as the man behind the kit for The Sumo Kings. The sticks but a blur in his hands at times, he must have used up more energy last night than the rest of the band put together. He certainly puts fuel in the old engine though, the band seemingly determined to fit as many songs as possible in their designated time slot; the opening number ‘Moon Boots’ running straight into the second so smoothly it was difficult to hear the join. Formerly known as Dugas Bugas, The Sumo Kings filled their pounding set with some great danceable compositions and interesting arrangements. Songs I particularly liked were ‘Space Monkey’ with its memorable "I don’t know why.. " chorus and ‘Oh Rebecca’ with its lively backbeat and crunchy chords. With three voices, amazingly including the seemingly inexhaustible drummers, they also put across some strong vocals. It was also nice to hear a few guitar solos. I understand that the band in this incarnation has only formed recently and going by last night’s performance they show a great deal of promise. They have an interview on the BBC Subculture show this Thursday; obviously they have made people sit up and take notice.

Having heard plenty of good things about The Seconds, I’ve been looking forward to seeing them for some time. They certainly did not disappoint. With a cracking bassist in brooding Jon Bowman and an exceptionally fine drummer in Adam Taylor, I have to say they have the strongest two-man rhythm section I’ve heard in a while. That isn’t to say that guitarists Matt Walker and Mark Steeden didn’t shape up though; far from it. With overtones of the Arctic Monkeys and Oasis, this pop/rock band has a very strong stage presence and an obviously loyal following. Exuding confidence, they know how to please their audience and the mass moshing jump-around by a good percentage of the crowd during the last number reflected the exuberance with which they put their songs across. Indeed, so exuberant was one spirited member of the audience he almost knocked Matt Walker flying as he bounded perilously into the performing area. The Band Stand is a very small venue and its capacity for mass leapings around is rather a perilous one. That said though, the overall atmosphere was one of fun and good humour. Like the band before them, they have some great songs and there is every evidence that they could go very far indeed. A great night.

The Band Stand continues to go from strength to strength. It may be limited in its capacity, but it has great atmosphere. Long may it remain.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

The Brit Awards, January 2008

A personal view by Phil Winstanley (a music fan).
Illustration: Famous When Dead

I have just had the misfortune to sit through the train crash that is the Brits. The first act on was some bloke called Mika who is the best Leo Sayer tribute act I've ever seen, doing a duet with an inflatable version of wee Jimmy Krankie. By now I was wondering if I was still asleep, and experiencing a nightmare brought on by eating too many Guatemalan insanity peppers.

Then we were introduced to the Osbornes, Jesus Christ! I was just pleased for Ozzy that he was so far out of it; he doesn't realize what a complete twat his wife is. After some other nondescript was introduced I decided to go for a long soak in the bath. Not long enough, I came down to see Take That receive the best live act award. They seem a nice enough bunch of lads, but come on!?! I kept watching, hoping to see a red dot appear on Sharon's forehead, as some enraged sniper was about to exact revenge on behalf of the British viewing public.

We were then treated to Amy Winehouse, twitching like a character from Team America whilst making a series of noises that I believe at some point, could have been lyrics. She was joined on stage by some bloke with a twin necked guitar, who had won an award for taking some well known tracks and putting trumpets on them. Then Sir Paul, I'm a big fan. The man has written some of the best songs I've ever heard, but if I hear "Hey Jude" once more, I'm going to join the enraged sniper on the balcony and waste a few of the arm waving, Nah Nah Nah singing morons in the crowd.

The highlight for me were Dave Grohl and The Arctic Monkeys treating this fiasco with the contempt it deserved, and Vic Reeves for forgetting why he was there (I know how he felt). Can't wait for next year. Steven Hawking is presenting, and Chris De Burgh is up for best Irish Hip Hop artist. I might win the award for best sniper!

Godless Magazine Launch Featuring Everything On Red and Bad Coma @ The Band Stand, Hanley. April 11th.

Review and photo by Simon Bamford

Godless magazine is a new publication from Godless Festival promoter Dan Peach. Describing itself as rock, alternative, horror and sci-fi, the mag comes with a cover-mounted compilation CD; issue one now on sale priced at £2. The content is a mixture of interviews, features, reviews and definitely has a metal/gothic theme. The rock as announced on the front cover is the kind that will make your ears (and possibly eyes) bleed. Anthrax, 69 Eyes, Burnt, Razorwire and The Wildhearts are amongst the blackly -clad bands that grace its black and white pages. Vampiress and Hellraiser film stills continue the theme. It all makes me wonder just how long the graveyard gates were left unlocked. I’m dusting off my old crucifix as we speak! That said, if you’re into this stuff, it provides a good read and excellent value for money.

Onto the gig. There seems to be a formula that applies to any performance that I attend these days; the smaller the venue, the better the gig. I like to feel that I’m attending a rehearsal. Although this effect can be obtained by standing as close to the stage as possible in a larger venue, inside the Bandstand’s live room, there’s really no need. To call this place intimate seems inadequate; a 40-strong crowd should more or less fill the place. Not so much like watching a band practice but more like having them practice in your living room. It’s a great room to watch a band in and my favourite in the area so far. First onstage, Everything on Red played a great set full of energy and commitment. I recently remarked to a local promoter that there were loads of good bands in the area. The sniffy reply swiftly came back that they weren’t professional enough. Rubbish! Take a look at these lads and tell me how they could possibly polish up their act any further. How do you get so good so young? Raw talent, I suspect. Their vibe reminds me of New York punk bands of the late seventies. The songs bounce around the room as do the members of band, aside from the drummer and we can’t hold that against him. After all, his backing vocals provide adequate compensation.

Next on are Bad Coma. Their sound is quite different to the opening act’s, but the contrast seems to work. They have a rapport with the audience and certainly didn’t take the occasion too seriously; having fun with the crowd and each other whilst coming across as very natural. I have to say I was relieved that there was only the tiniest amount of screaming voice-wise. Chris M was certainly enjoying himself up there on vocal duties and did a great job of fronting BC’s heavy, tight, rhythmic songs - 'I’m fine', 'She’s Not There', 'Dillusion' and Tool’s 'Stinkfist'. The impressive rhythm section of Sy and Swampi (yes, Swampi) pushed the songs forward and provide a solid backdrop for Big Dan’s distorted guitar; riffing away so fiercely that his glasses steamed up.

This young band gave a good account of themselves and I look forward to seeing them again and to watching them develop.

Godless is on at The George Hotel, Burslem May 17th. – an event featuring no less than 30 bands.

Everything on Red play The Glebe April 18th. with The 4ft Fingers

Bad Coma play The Glebe on April 29th.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Anni Rossi/The Ting Tings @ The Sugarmill, Hanley. April 10th.

Anni Rossi / The Ting Tings @ The Sugarmill 10th April 2008

Review by Steve Dean

Photo by Simon Bamford

It is not often one comes across a viola player in clubs such as the Sugarmill, but Minnesota girl Anni Rossi showed us just what we had all been missing. Appearing a little troubled as she stalked purposefully onto the stage, she began her solo act with no announcement; strumming, plucking and rapping at the strings of her viola as if it were a kind of bow-struck, yet percussive guitar; although still supported at the neck in the manner of the violin. Appearing to relax after the very cordial reception of her opening number Miss Rossi went on to demonstrate a fascinating mastery of her chosen approach to her instrument. Stamping her feet to a strong and constant rhythm, her attractively lilting voice lifted every pain of love and life she sung of to a new level of sensitivity. Linda Perry sprung to mind at moments, but in no way can Anni Rossi really be compared to anybody; she is very much in a class of her own. Different; and very, very good.

Coming onstage to the strains of Talking Heads’ ‘Once in a Lifetime’, The Ting Tings were given the type of reception only the much-anticipated could receive. Apart from the obvious, ie; Katie’s stunning good looks, the first thing that hit me once they kicked in was the fantastic drumming and overall percussion offered by Jules, the other half of The Ting Tings’ sparse ranks. In fact, the relentlessly thumping beats attached to most of their material is a major part of their overall live sound; at one point Katie joining him on a mallet-struck bass drum and cowbell for one almighty beat session; leaving possibly only the totally insensitive failing to rhythmically move one part of their body or another. An accomplished musician, Jules also does a great job of vocal accompaniment and even took over from Katie on guitar for one more intricately-chorded number. For producing sheer, unshamedly commercial pop music, this act would be hard to better. Opening with ‘Great DJ’, with its oddly gripping ‘ah-ah ah ah’ hookline, they dazzled with one strong, catchy number after another. Playing an assortment of classic electric guitars to Jules’ incessant rhythms, Katie, adequately backed up by his equally strong voice, sings with all the energy and projected emotion of soul voices of the early sixties; bringing Ronnie Spector and Little Eva to mind in places. Finishing with the can’t-help-but-sing-along ‘That’s Not My Name’, they returned for a well-deserved encore, for which they played the title track of their new album ‘We Started Nothing’. Sounded just as good as all the others to me. I reckon this pair are going to be as big as it gets.

Friday, 11 April 2008

The Gutter Twins @ The Glee Club, Birmingham. April 9th.

Review by John West

Photo by Simon Bamford

So here we are at the Glee Club, Birmingham; a small intimate venue housed within the Arcadian complex, situated close to the Birmingham Hippodrome. The Gutter Twins are Greg Dulli, the former leader of the Afghan Wigs, and Mark Lanegan, ex-Screaming Trees and occasional Queens of the Stone Age member.

This collaboration has been five years in the making and one which the music press are dubbing the 'Satanic Everley Brothers'. I guess this rings true tonight as their performance here is one of a brooding musical intensity. Music for these two rips to the core, it's not about entertainment, it is about revealing your inner soul, your demons and taking your audience with you; if that's where they wish to go. It's purely music. Let's face it, these two have been through so much and they're here to tell you and share their experiences of darker days. It's a meeting of two minds, put together to create dark, dramatic musical landscapes.

They are here to promote their debut album 'Saturnalia' on a brief tour. The album itself is worthy of being one of the albums of the year. Mark Lanegan holds onto his microphone and remains motionless, his eyes barely open.

There is no dialogue here. He simply lets his voice do the talking via his own brand of gothic desert soul music and his familiar bluesy growl. Dulli, on the other hand, is left to take the lead, playing his guitar while his partner simply gazes on. The other musicians help to populate their dark musical landscape which is intense and stark, played within their own brand of rock, soul, dance and desert blues. Particular highlights included 'Idle Hands', 'All Misery/Flowers' and 'God's Children'.

This wasn't music of the gutter; it had a brooding presence which hit straight to the soul.

I strongly recommend you check them out on their next tour.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Musicians Union Seminar @ Burslem School of Art 16th April

Musicians in Stoke-on-Trent will be given the chance to find out about the complicated world of copyright and royalties in a special seminar to be held in Burslem School of Art next week. Featuring celebrated guest speaker and international online music guru, Andrew Dubber of and a panel of Musicians’ Union experts, this is a great opportunity for singer-songwriters, composers and performers to understand how the system works and other ways of getting money for their work.

Andy Derrick, MU Midlands Regional Officer, says: “The Musicians’ Union is at the heart of the British music industry, and we are here to provide advice and support both to our members and to the next generation of musicians. This seminar is just one of many we put on throughout the West and East Midlands helping musicians to be more competitive in the 21st Century music business.”

The event is open to all musicians, tickets are £5 (free for MU members) and can be booked in advance by calling the MU on 0121 622 3870 or by emailing

The seminar starts at 2pm at the Burslem School of Art, Queen Street, Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent on Wednesday 16th April and finishes at 5.30pm. Each attendee will get a comprehensive information pack on the issues discussed as well as a free copy of Andrew Dubber “20 Things you must know about music online”.

The Musicians’ Union was formed in 1893 and represents nearly 35,000 performers, composers and teachers. As well as negotiating on behalf of its members with major employers, the MU offers a range of services tailored to working in the modern music industry.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

The Underground, Hanley - correction

Having mentioned in my Captain Yange/Cats in the Alley review that the Underground club is going to be turned into a Tesco carpark, I have received this message from manager Keir Goldsmith.

"...The Underground is NOT going to be turned into a car park or anything else. At no point has it EVER been earmarked by Tesco, the council or anyone else for demolition and we have no plans of our own to go anywhere for the forseeable future."

This'll teach me not to listen too hard to rumours and I'm very pleased that the Underground is staying where it is.

Apologies to all concerned,

Steve Dean

Monday, 7 April 2008

We Fly Spitfires(one song anyway)/4 or 5 Magicians/Sabotage Left/Cove @ WelikedangerousWrongpop 10 band all-dayer, The Glebe, Stoke. April 5th.

Review by Steve Dean

Photo by Simon Bamford

Unfortunately, we were only able to afford the time to see the first four acts on this impressive WelikedangerousWrongpop bill, missing most of Alsager band We Fly Spitfires’ set to boot. Still, I saw enough to say that the three-piece power pop men played ‘Ashtray’, the one song we did hear, with adequate fired-up enthusiasm and energy to arouse interest and we’ll see if we can catch them again soon.

4 or 5 Magicians, currently on tour and hailing from Brighton on the South coast, play with a certain bouncy joie de vivre; despite singer and band songwriter Dan Ormsby’s anouncement that they would normally still be in their beds at that hour of the afternoon. Kicking in with the memorable ‘I’m in the Band’ this outfit plays with a loud and easy charm which lingered pretty much throughout the band’s entire playlist. Like 90s band Blur before them, to whom they bear more than a passing musical resemblance, and David Bowie’s 60s pop period before that, their songs have a very ‘English’ appeal and possess an almost homely atmosphere all of their own. Some powerful drumming and natty twin-leadwork stood out in particular and Dan’s songwriting being as commercially strong as it is, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they do very well indeed. They have a single ‘Change the Record’ out on the 21st of this month, get a listen for yourself.

When it comes to fire, grit and raw pulsating energy, I’ve seen few bands constantly hit the level attained by Birmingham rockers Sabotage Left here at the Glebe this afternoon. Playing as if seething with a barely-suppressed inner rage, drummer Damon Cocko drove the band along at a furious pace as singer and guitarist Oliver Craddock vented his spleen via some melodic, impassioned vocals and ripping guitarwork. With his workmanlike right–hand technique, able bassist Joshua Craddock’s pounding runs ensured maximum delivery as this band’s half-hour slot afforded some great tunes put across with an almost brutal sincerity and sense of angry purpose. Throwing their instruments to the floor at the conclusion of the set, they seemed to be truly moved and drained by their efforts. Not too many bands finish their act feeling like that. Then again, not many bands play with this sort of passion. Impressive stuff.

Cove is something else again. Purely instrumental apart from the odd muttered word and barely audible verse, Cove specialise in hard-hitting and somewhat discordant heavy metal; although not overly-well presented; the gaps between tunes being so lengthy, it almost seemed as if the guitarist and occasional singer was not aware he was actually on a stage. All that aside though, he certainly gets into his music, most of the songs appearing to be lengthy jams interspersed with set pieces. Having not heard a stage-jamming band for many years, I was quite pleased to be informed that they were back in fashion, so to speak. Due to lack of info on relevant sites, I could only identify Tony Mountford anchoring things down on bass, having seen him playing here a short while back with the Notorious Hi-Fi Killers, and I would also like to compliment the drummer on his good ‘n’ heavy stickwork. To me, the set itself had rather little content, considering the sparse vocals, but they were given a fantastic reception by the audience; and really, that’s what it’s all about.

The Glebe buzzing with good vibes all day, I’m assured that the rest of the evening, despite hiccups with bands’ transport breaking down on route etc, went really well; the celebrated Andy Robbins stepping in at the last moment to cover for one band unable to make it. Well done to Steve Clarke and Welikedanger for yet another successful Wrongpop venture. Here’s to many more.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Captain Yange/Cats in the Alley @ The Band Stand, Hanley. 31st March.

Review by Steve Dean

Photo by Simon Bamford

Our first visit to The Band Stand, a relatively new addition to Hanley’s venues. Situated in a cellar bar, the venue itself isn’t overly large, but it has an authentically intimate club feel that many top-flight bands would now give their proverbial eyeteeth to play in. Talking of top-flight bands, Captain Yange, I’m pretty sure, are well on their way to joining such hallowed ranks. Nothing surprises me about Stoke’s astonishingly talented music scene any more, but musically Captain Yange are something else yet again. The band’s all-singing three members, Paul Murfin on drums with Scott Ralph and Si Waite sharing guitar and bass duties pretty much equally, are a little older than the average band on the scene at the moment, and these extra years of experience are very evident in the impressive maturity of this band’s writing and talented execution of their compositions. The influences are many, from the Beatles to U2, although none are over-apparent. Their gutsy opening number, ‘Fuse’, has the most gloriously Zeppelinesque chunky riff whilst ‘Chemical’, with its Bach-like interludes has a quasi-classical arrangement that somehow managed to remind me of Dave Brubeck’s quirkier exploits; so peripheral are some of the influences here. ‘Calmoceans’, with its beautifully melancholic chord structures, syncopated rhythms and haunting melody and harmonies, is quite unlike anything else I’ve heard before. All I can say is that it sounds like something Led Zeppelin would have turned out if they had been at their peak in this day and age. Yes, as good as that. Other numbers included in the set were ‘Purple Laxatives’ (I think), with a nice strummed bassline and ‘Repeat’, which they played with relish as a well-deserved encore. Fascinating material, great musicianship and a promising future, I reckon. Having just won the local Walkabout Battle-of-the-Bands heats; they will be going to Manchester for the next round later this month. Myself and Simon will accompany them. Looks like it’ll be a lot of fun.

Keyboards-fired trio Cats in the Alley play a form of lively good-time jazzy-funk-soul-disco. Foregoing a real drummer for an electronic one leaves their sound almost unavoidably rooted in the 70s/80s dance scenes, although that isn’t a bad thing; if that’s the sound you’re looking for. It once was very, very popular. With the influences of decades coming together as they are at present, there is no reason it will not be as popular again. Sounding like a whole host of people, from the Jacksons to Ultravox, Cats in the Alley offer a relentlessly entertaining set, although at one point they feared they would have to carry on without one of the keyboards on the large bank in front of Tom ‘The Tomcat’ Shave, due to some mishap or other, but they were soon back in business. Ol ‘The AristoCat’ Masters plays some interestingly nimble bass lines, while Dan ‘The WildCat’ Tierney strums up a storm behind his clean, but passionate vocals. Everything they do is very danceable, as one would expect, and their last number, an absolutely huge production, was brought to a close with some fantastic Earth, Wind and Fire-like electronic scat singing by Tom. Although the enthusiastic audience demanded an encore, they were denied one due to the simple fact that the band didn’t know any more. I suggest they write a new song pretty sharpish. Great stuff.

Simon Bamford