Thursday, 31 July 2008

Launch Party August 2nd 2008 @ Burslem Park

1-8pm Entry £3, all profits go to local charities

* Listen to Simon and Steve on Subculture *
* Preview in the Evening Sentinel *

The Stoke Sounds launch party will be a fun, diverse day for the whole family, showcasing the best talent in the region and giving local people the chance to explore an interactive soundscape.

In the leafy, green surroundings of Burslem Park on a warm if a little showery August afternoon, you will be able to see Stoke’s hottest acts on the main stage, relax in the Bandstand Area with deckchairs and music from different eras and discover hidden areas with art activities, healing glades and all the best Potteries Urban sounds in the skate area.

Round up your mates on Facebook...


Main stage hosted by DJ Fresh

1:00 - 1:30 The Control

1:45 - 2:15 The Riots

2:30 - 3:00 Morning Sparks

3:15 - 3:45 HTTAB

4:00 - 4:30 Audio Mill

5:00 - 5:30 The Seconds

5:45 - 6:15 The Titles

6:30 - 7:00 The Fears

7:15 - 7:45 Nemo

Acoustic Bandstand with the Trent Vale Poet

1:20 – 1:50 Hayley Strangelove

2:05 – 2:35 William Feech

2:50 – 3:20 Doni Wrench

3:35 – 4:05 Yoz

4:30 – 5:00 MS Thomason

5:20 – 5:50 Ant Mayer

6:05 – 6:35 Giro Junkie

You're welcome to come along with your own instruments to perform acoustically in the park.

PLUS: urban music and performance in the skate park, crafts stalls, healers, giant guitar with CANS...


Stoke-on-Trent City Council Cultural Service - Midland Heart - Dudson - That's Showbizness - Academy of Sound

plus a massive thank-you to all the people who have given time and talent

Exciting News From SONS Records Ltd.

The SONS Records Showcase due to take place on 2nd August at The Victoria Hall has being postponed until 11th October due to exciting business developments in China.

Founding SONS members Seb Clarke and Neil Graham will this week be flying out to the Far East to discuss a rousing opportunity for the SONS stable in the Land of the Rising Sun. More information on which will be divulged in due course.

All tickets for 2nd August will be valid for the rescheduled date of 11th October and full line up details will be released shortly. We look forward to seeing everyone there for what promises to be a night not to be missed!

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Al Baker and the Dole Queue / Nemo / World Inferno Friendship Society @ The Rigger, Newcastle-under-Lyme. July 24th.

Review by Steve Dean

Photos by Leo

Manchester-based Al Baker comes across as a person very pleased with how life has treated him so far, and this trait could well explain the jubilant feel that permeates most of his compositions. He and his companions, the Dole Queue (great name), produce music of a ceilidh band nature, but with punk overtones and more than a slight nod to the Dexy’s ‘band of tinkers’ period, the Pogues and even the Dubliners. The piano accordion and acoustic bass made for a rarer sound than one would expect in the metal-oriented Rigger, but they went down very well with the respectable-sized crowd and generally they set the scene for a great night’s entertainment. A six-piece including a sweet-voiced female vocalist, Al and his band took us through a playlist full of lively up-tempo numbers, including one featuring a French flavoured incidental part mainly delivered by the dextrous squeezebox man. The only cover he played that I recognised was a slightly hurried version of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Atlantic City’ and an unnamed Irish folk song which he said he had failed to rewrite which sounded a lot like the ‘The Irish Rover’, but wasn’t. A likeable bloke, a creditable band and an enjoyable act.

My Stoke Sounds colleague Danny Hill reviewed Nemo just a short while back, but not having seen them myself since much earlier in the year, it was with some anticipation that I watched them take to the stage. There is something very ‘John Bull’ about Nemo; they bring to mind the great English pub-rock groups of yore; Dr Feelgood and Kilburn and the High Roads being two that spring to mind. Kicking in with the bouncy ‘Loser’, their usual opener, they then introduced a new number entitled ‘Tie Me Down’; every bit as good as the rest of their material, the jungle beat appealed to my liking for strong rhythms immediately. Their pith helmet-wearing mascot Uncle Drew was there to count in a song or two (in German) and each spirited number was rewarded with well-deserved and appreciative applause. Nemo have a wealth of good, robust material in their set and they can always be relied upon to put on an entertaining and energetic show. I’m still not sure about the melding of The Damned’s ‘New Rose’ with ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ though; still, perhaps it’ll grow on me.

From Brooklyn, New York City, The World Inferno Friendship Society insisted on crowd participation right from the start. Vocalist Jack Terricloth began pulling punters onto the dance floor even before the band had begun proper and there they remained, bopping, hopping and leaping, growing in number song by song right up until the very end. Hugely theatrical in a circus kind of way, World Inferno Friendship Society come across as an even rockier still Rocky Horror Show meets The Tubes and Roxy Music. A six-piece, although their myspace profile suggests there are occasionally more members, they have a very full sound; tenor sax combining with the keyboards to produce a solid and orchestral ‘brass’ section. Terricloth is a formidable frontman and the standard of musicianship is very high indeed. Their playlist is up-tempo practically all the way and the whole band worked very hard, some impressive tenor sax and guitar soloing to be heard throughout. A vast range of musical styles are incorporated into the act, from rock ‘n’ roll and jazz to waltz and bierkellar ‘oompah’ band music. Indeed, the sight of the wildly dancing audience suddenly partnering up to waltz was a distinctly bemusing one. An eclectic mix of musicians, they are an extremely professional outfit and considering they were in the UK for just 5 dates, the other venues apparently sell-outs, it was something to be thankful for that they were playing the Rigger for free. Great stuff.

Friday, 25 July 2008

CD Single Review: Herzoga – Satanic Verses

Review by Steve Dean

Herzoga have a style pretty much all of their own and this single is an excellent example of where they are at musically right now.

Following a neatly-picked introduction, the summery chords beneath the recited verse give this song a pleasant light feel; although that isn’t to say that it lacks depth. Some powerful drumming and driving bass from the rhythm section keeping it firmly in the rock vein ensure there is plenty going on. I love the harmonies of the simple chorus and although I’m unsure how this track would sell in terms of overall commercial sound, it is the sort of song that isn’t easily forgotten, and that must count for something.

Going out on some neat semi-abstract lead work, ‘Satanic Verses’ inspired me to want to listen to it again; and then again. A good sign that, I reckon.

'Satanic Verses' can be downloaded from

The Displacements/The Sport/New Education @ The Sugarmill, Hanley. July 22nd.

Review and photo by Chloe West

First on the bill are New Education, their set compromising of jangly pop/rock, combined with clear funky bass. Formed at the beginning of the year, the quartet certainly haven’t wasted any time in creating a professional sound, at times comparable to the recently split Milburn. ‘Great Escape’ begins to work the crowd, and from this point the movement doesn’t cease. Following this, singer Ryan Dooley requests that a couple at the front are a little less affectionate as he didn’t reckon the girl involved could ‘take anymore’. Lovely. Maybe the next song, ‘Quiet Night In’ would have been more appropriate for the pair concerned! With what seems to be a busy summer for the band as they play various slots around the country, New Education were certainly an impressive start to the night.

Kicking off with ‘Freakshow’ The Sport have their usual confidence about them, commanding the stage. Nic Andrews could be easily be described as one of the best frontmen Stoke has to offer, powerful vocals bellowing from nowhere, the mic wire wrapping around his slender frame. ‘Holiday’ produces U2 similarities, generating the first of many stage invasions, while during ‘Lightweight’, the chorus is keenly chanted back at the band. They certainly have a loyal following. Churning out a series of catchy numbers, from the grungy ‘Tick Tock’ to the lyrical tale of ‘Answers’, The Sport never disappoint. ‘Morning Meltdown’ concludes the set, a story of nights out and subsequent hangovers, rounding up an immense performance.

Unfortunately for headliners The Displacements, ‘the roof top tiles’ is where many of the audience remained as they played, resulting in a clear lack of atmosphere. Having previously seen them supporting the Courteeneers a few months back, this performance was not to the same standard, although the absence of a strong crowd must be disheartening. Without their usual youthful enthusiasm, the songs slip into almost background music at times, missing the kick they are renowned for. Nevertheless they still present popular songs such as ‘AKA’, delivering their upbeat, pop sound with elements of their classic indie influences. Set-ender ‘Down and Out’, their new single, is a perfect example of how the Leicester four-piece have taken these influences to a potentially commercial level, and for an unsigned band they obviously take their music seriously.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

CD Review: Operation Error – The Prayer of an Ancestor

Review By Steve Dean

Opening with a subtly ambient intro that quickly turns to what sounds like an excerpt from some disaster movie or other, the EP begins proper with the title track, ‘The Prayer of an Ancestor’, a number that pretty much sums up ‘progressive epic’; Operation Error’s chosen genre.

Recorded at Prism studios, the production is about as heavy as it gets, although some diligent use of musical light and shade ensures frequent contrast from the crunching riffs and thundering bass lines that form an integral part of Operation Error’s overall sound. The number’s melody line frequently ascending way up the scale, vocalist Steve Ayres demonstrates once again his admirable skills as a singer; the sincerity in his voice making every word of the lyrics count.

Slightly more manic vocally, the following track ‘An Unlikely Exit’, displays just how towering an aural majesty this band is capable of creating. As does ‘A Vision Corrupted’, the third (aside from the intro) and last number on the EP. Almost starkly atmospheric, I described this track as having a ‘bulldozer’ riff when I saw the band live a few weeks back and this term applies even more on this recorded version; a great powerhouse of a song.

I must add that Prism Studios seem to get the very best out of this band and has contributed greatly to their ‘progressive epic’ sound. In some ways Operation Error put me in mind of a polished and much more harmonious Black Sabbath. A fine EP deserving of a place in any fan of the heaviest metal’s collection.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

The Black Apples/Dirk Diggler’s Blues Revue @ The Old Brown Jug, Newcastle-under-Lyme. July 20th.

Review by Danny Hill

Photos by Darren

Who needs to travel all the way to Southern USA for a decent blues fix around here, when Sunday night’s entertainment at The Old Brown Jug provided all the medication blues fans could possibly wish for?

It was the impressive Dirk Diggler’s Blues Revue that kick-started proceedings with an impressive rendition of Aint That a Lot Of Love, taken from Taj Mahal’s performance at the legendary Rock 'n' Roll Circus from 1968.

’This is how it’s supposed to be done,’ jokes Walsall-born vocalist/bassist Darroll Wheatley. Dirk Diggler’s Blues Revue have a sound so distinctively blues, so hard-edged and gritty, stripped down to its bare, whiskey-drenched bones, that if you closed your eyes you could almost feel the hot sun beating down and practically taste the air along the cotton fields of Tennessee. Warming to their act now, the band move on to other classics, Buster Brown’s Dr Brown earns great cheers, and the furious sliding and soloing and drumming of Damn Right I’ve Got the Blues and Nappy Brown’s That Man sets the crowd rocking appreciatively. They finish their set with a driving rendition of Ray Charles’ Hallelujah. With the band’s solid musicianship and Wheatley’s casual rapport with the audience between songs, I predict we’ll be hearing a lot more about Dirk Diggler’s Blues Revue in the future…

A tough act to follow, it would seem… To some, that is. The Black Apples approach the stage soon afterwards with the casual, almost nonchalant manner that proceeds most bands that have been around for as long as they have, and they dispel such notions of disquietude by launching headfirst in to fans’ favourites You Don’t Do Nothin’ and the raunchy Leave Before My Time. Each song of theirs’ are infectious, with catchy choruses and hypnotic rhythm playing, and it’s done with such snarling, adrenalised gusto it proves irresistible. The stompy Hypnotise soon follows, with its hypnotic, chugging riffery, thundering from speakers, daring people not to like it. It’s The Black Apples ability to combine blues, rock, soul and indie that separates them from others. Somehow, they don't make each song sound wildly different, but as though they all come from the same passionate source.

What’s also great about The Black Apples is that they’re a band of characters, a cartoonist’s day-dream: Jamie on the bass, head bowed, his face obscured with long hair, sometimes dressed in the style of an early 19th French bohemian with his cravats and pointy rock boots; Musso, the vocalist and guitarist, fidgeting and bouncing around the stage like Zebedee, a mop of curly hair and a toothy grin, skinny jeans hanging off a skinnier frame, and shaggy-haired drummer, Joe, slamming his drum skins and tossing his head ferociously like a wild caged animal being tormented by a particularly cruel zoo keeper with a pointy stick.

The Apples, incidentally, are due to release an EP later this year, and have of recently been under new management. The future is looking bright. Not only are The Black Apples a great band, a statement reinforced by the crowds they pull in every time they play, but they are getting better and better. Past criticisms I have had regarding The Apples is that, with the style of music they play, with its 12 bar rhythms, it offers little diversity from song to song, but as the night wears on they prove me wrong. With the inclusion of new song, Everybody Gets a Little Lonely, The Apples display more of their sensitive sides, and Musso explores new depths to his vocal range. Jamie soon joins in on backing vocals with my new personal favourite, Twinkle, an anthemic little stomper that reminded me of Muddy Walters. A little later on came covers of Fleetwood Mac’s Got A Mind Of My Own, and Robert Johnson’s They’re Red Hot - each earned massive applause; so much so that the band were called back for two encores. Buy Me a Ticket and 1,2,3,4 seems to do the job.

Everyone’s lookin’ for a damn good time,” wails Musso; and if this is the case, they certainly didn’t go home disappointed

Monday, 21 July 2008

Lovers, Otters, Yetis and Gone.

Article by Simon Bamford

Photo by Karen Sayle

An Evening of Lovers, Otters, Yetis and Ghosts went underway on Sat 19th July at The Leopard Hotel Burslem. A fantastic evening was had by all who attended and watched brilliant performances from the cream of Stoke's music scene; The Black Apples, Yoz, Captain Yange, Ant Mayer, The Decision and The Trent Vale Poet. Many thanks to the bands involved who performed free to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Care Nepal Trek. A big thank you to the Neils from The Leopard and their staff; Jase and Sue from The Coachmakers for the raffle prizes and Alex for the PA. I will be undertaking the trek in October. The night raised over 600 pounds! Anyone still wishing to donate to the cause can do so at

Sunday, 20 July 2008

The Shylos/The Riots/Dirty Mundays/The Fears @ The Underground, Hanley. July 18th.

Review by Steve Dean

Photo by Simon Bamford

Being the first band on the bill can often mean playing to a very sparse crowd, but The Shylos, namely bassist Matt Spence on lead vocals, Sean Barclay on guitar and second voice and drummer Elliot Timmis, still managed to extract some enthusiastic applause from the Underground’s early arrivals. Although they don’t come across as a very experienced outfit, they have some good ideas that with a little more expansion could become very good ideas indeed. I liked the raw chopping chords behind the opening number and overall the sound was great throughout their melodic, but straightforward and somewhat pedestrian set. With soloing presently kept to a minimum, the songs could do with a bit more content and some experimentation in their rehearsal time would benefit them greatly. Finishing with a cover of the Anti-Nowhere League’s cover of Ralph McTell’s ‘The Streets of London’, The Shylos, overall, showed the developing ability and potential to take things more than a little further.

The Riots, by comparison, are a tad further down the line, putting on much more of a show. Clearly enjoying themselves, they blasted through their exuberant set with an energetic confidence that well-deserved the enthusiastic response each of their numbers received. Their set is packed with catchy and danceable songs and I would say at least half of them have the potential to be chart hits. They obviously put a great deal of thought into the arrangements of their compositions; their songs being full of interesting incidental parts such as the attention-grabbing descending note sequence in ‘Prisoner’. On the negative side, it would appear that only lively bassist Mark Holdcroft dresses for the occasion, the rest of the band looking like they should be propping up the bar, rather than standing on a stage in front of a paying audience. Then again, maybe this is the trend. I’m not saying anybody should dress up like Bootsy Collins, but to my mind, if a person is aspiring to be a professional, a good way to start is to begin dressing like one. That aside though, this band has massive potential, and can only get better still.

Penultimate act Olly, Ginge, Ja, Matt and Rodders, otherwise know as the Dirty Mundays, kicked in with some good honest chunky rock and just went from strength to strength – thrashing out their thumpingly ballsy numbers until finally reaching a well-executed crescendo ending – leaving the stage one by one as a wall of grinding feedback filled the venue. Dirty Mundays have a certain onstage attitude and they also have an excellent singer in new frontman Olly, the standard of musicianship being impressively high all round. They also possess a rock solid rhythm section in Matt and Rodders, drums and bass respectively, driving the band along like a well-oiled engine while guitarists Ginge and Ja flesh out their numbers with admirable panache. The 70s and 80s influences within their compositions putting me in mind of the Cult in places, the Dirty Mundays are a gutsy band with a sturdy full-bodied sound. They have recently taken down the songs on their myspace profile which is a little unfortunate for me, as I would have liked an opportunity to recap on the songs. Still, they will no doubt be replaced with recordings with new singer Olly. I shall certainly look forward to hearing the band again.

Having reviewed headliners The Fears some months ago, I knew they were going to be good; but on this night The Fears were little short of sublime. The gritty sincerity of Oliver Davies’ passionate vocals permeates every well-arranged composition and the band’s pounding rhythms are of the most exhilarating quality. Set high from the very start, the energy levels remained constant from start to finish. Diligent drummer Daniel Finn worked very hard throughout as did Andrew Redfern on bass and Alex Coleman and Craig Parr on guitars and occasional synth. The gradual build-up within a number called ‘Circus’ demonstrated some well-focused coordination between the band members and I loved the Nirvana-like intro to ‘Surface’, one of the band’s slower tracks. There is also some fine songwriting talent within this tight and well-disciplined outfit and emotion-charged tracks like ‘Victim’ and ‘Impact’ speak for themselves. I also much appreciated a virtual extravaganza of a song called ‘Patrick’; a title apparently suggested by someone in the audience calling out at a prior gig. Their act over seemingly all too soon, they rounded off the night to much enthusiastic applause. The Fears are yet another Stoke band with the content and style to make it big. Music at this level deserves a wider audience.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Hasta La Vista. The Rebounds @ The Sugarmill, Hanley. July 11th.

Review by Danny Hill

Photo by Gig

When good bands go away, a question I almost always find myself asking is: Where is the ‘good’ in goodbye? These days, in the manic, heady world of a burgeoning music scene in Stoke, bands come and go almost every single week. Most of these bands, however, had hardly made any sort of impact in the first place, and their passing merely serves as a silent sigh, a statistical figure for music writers to muse upon. But when a good band passes, a band like The Rebounds - a band that has been together for five years - it raises questions - reservations, if you like, into the future of our current scene.

It was a spur-of-the moment decision that propelled me to The Sugarmill last Friday night (I had a last-minute cancellation from somebody I was about to be meeting) so unfortunately I missed the first two bands, La Dies and The Flying Colours. Many apologies for that. I shall serve myself several lashings as punishment.

The Rebounds are Cappy on vocals, Lee and Ian on guitar, Carl provides the basslines and backing vocals, while Matt handles the drums. The lads were already in full swing as I arrived, ejecting their own style of power-pop/punk with their trademark lack of inhibition. There was a lot of hustle-and-bustle in the packed-out Sugarmill, and the stage area was no-go zone, packed as it was with over-zealous fans keen to mark this gig with a front-stage vantage point.

I have seen The Rebounds perform on a few occasions. I know some of them quite well as friends and consider them very amiable lads to talk to. This amiability comes across onstage as well. The Rebounds are very comfortable with each other; very much in rapport; a sign that not only comes from being best friends, but also translates superbly well to their vast audience. Lead singer Cappy characteristically swaggers confidently across the stage, climbing amplifiers and swinging his mic, improvising superbly with the audience. The street-chant vocal choruses of The Rebounds are infectious, and the crowd sang back every word with strident aplomb.

As the night stretched on, The Rebounds belted out number after number from their repertoire; ‘Dealer’s Dealer’, ‘The Start’ and ‘Mr Zed Lister’, to name a few. With their angsty, urgent vocals and swirling Clash-esque rhythmic guitars, they earn massive cheers. The Rebounds’ sound evoke memories of Buzzcocks and Stooges records. And like their punk predecessors, they are a band whose lyrics provide political and cultural statements, particularly with the catchy ‘Opportunity’:

“I’ve been told a thousand times to get a job.

I have a chance to be myself,

I don’t wanna follow no-one else.

There’s so much more, can’t you see?

There’s so much more that I can be.”

As the performance drew to a close, the band started taking requests from the audience. For many, The Rebounds last ever gig was an emotional farewell, and the lads reserved one of their finest ever performances for last.

It’s a shame to see a band like The Rebounds, with their social and political expression, decide to call it a day. Nemo and The Vicious Toys may still be around, as well as The New Subterraneans - all great bands - but as one passes one tends only to focus on the negatives…

As for The Rebounds, all that is left is to say thank you for the last five years. It’s been one hell of a ride.

Live @ The Castle, Stafford. July 13th.

Article by Steve Dean

Photo by Simon Bamford

Although we were unable to stay long at the Live @ the Castle day-long festival at Stafford Castle last Sunday, it was obvious that the day was a great success. Impressively situated amongst stunning views, there was a large crowd turnout and everywhere folk were relaxing, enjoying the bands and generally taking in the intermittent, but glorious sunshine. Soulful Big Silver Fish were playing when we arrived and it was good to see Dave and Matt from the BBC Subculture show hosting proceedings. With an impressive bill featuring, among others, Dead Like Heroes, Herzoga and Mauskramp on the main stage and plenty of acoustic acts playing a fair-sized marquee, it was pretty much guaranteed to be a fabulous day out.

Along with Stoke Sounds own launch on August 2nd in Burslem Park, which is now going to be filmed, there are all sorts of good things going on in Staffordshire this summer and some great days out to be looked forward to. We hope to attend as many as we can. See you there.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Ambience/The Control/Operation Error/Bad Sandwich @ The Underground, Hanley. July 11th.

Review by Steve Dean

Photos by Giglou

Some time since I’ve visited the Underground and it was great to see a fair-sized crowd in. With a line-up this strong, it promised to be a cracking night…

Having intended to review Ambience for a little while now, it is a little unfortunate that I should catch them on the night of the last-ever performance, the band having decided to split up.

The band having just begun their set, I picked up on the strong party atmosphere present amongst those leaping around at the front the moment I arrived. With the knowledge that this was their last gig together, the band were obviously determined to give a show to remember.

Specialising in raunchy powerful rock, the four band members, Jheryl Hall on drums, bassist James Darlington and Roy Thatcher and Wayne Bayley on guitar and vocals respectively, played a powerful set full of raunchy self-penned songs that bore fine testimony to the hard work they had put in since their conception in 2006. Although they put me in mind of Blur in places, especially in ‘Head Candy’, Wayne’s distinctive voice gave them pretty much a sound of their own. Good punchy riffs and a gutsy delivery are a hallmark of this band and it’s really quite a shame they’re calling it a day. Joined onstage by friends assisting with the vocals towards the end of their set, the band closed their career with an impressive track called ‘Should I Stare’ which featured some classy drumming from Jheryl. As a final gig, I would say it was a great success. Whatever they individually decide to do next, I wish them the very best of good fortune.

This is the fourth time I have seen The Control in action and they just get better and better all the time. Making their entrances one by one as Rich Bratt coaxed some cool Hendrixy ambience from his stratocaster, the band let rip and let up not for one second until they left the stage half an hour later. Taking the audience through a playlist chockful of strong material, the resounding applause after each number bore irrefutable testimony to this band’s inherent ability to entertain. Their collective talent spread pretty evenly across the board, drummer Greg Butler and lively bassist John Burgess lay solid foundation while singer Joe Brennan Hulme and Guitarist Rich, who is destined to become one of the greats, fanfare their melodies and tricky licks in a seemingly endless variation of fresh ideas and heartfelt expression. These are one of the most exciting bands I’ve seen in years. One can only guess what heights they will eventually reach.

Describing themselves as ‘progressive epic’ on their myspace profile, Operation Error have a big, big sound. Opening their set with what I believe to be ‘The Prayer of an Ancestor’ from their new CD of the same title, The band showed a little more restraint after the manic antics of the previous act and concentrated on delivering the maximum in intense and harmonious heavy rock. This memorable new offering has a corking melody line and made an ideal introduction to a set full of such numbers; solid chunky riffs being a speciality of this band. Following on with the anthemic ‘I am David’, vocalist Steve Ayers, in good strong voice as usual, held the mic out to the crowd as they enthusiastically sung along to the gripping chorus of this uniquely powerful song. I have a liking for the harmonies used liberally throughout the set and loved the bulldozer riff in the Sabbath-ish ‘A Vision Corrupted’, another track from the new CD and their last song of the night. It seems to me that Operation Error have ‘progessive epic’ pretty much sewn up.

Up from the South Coast, Brighton-based Bad Sandwich looked very pleased to be here and performed their songs accordingly. There is an exuberant sense of fun about this band and their lively playlist stayed at up-tempo practically throughout their energetic and blithely cheerful set. The Chilli Peppers well at the head of any list of influences here, Laurie Harriot (Daddy Cool)’s bass technique is superb, whilst Pete Newing (Brother Funk)’s crisp guitar complements him perfectly. Drummer Matt Lenihan (Many Hands) keeps the beat as danceable as possible at all times, while singer, rhythm guitarist and frontman Tommie Millington (Quirky Brown) continually exudes a non-stop vibrant energy that suggests that were it not for the need to sing in front of a static microphone occasionally, he would not stand still at all.

Changing places at one point, Quirky Brown took over admirably on bass while Daddy Cool put on some goggles(?) and gave us a few rapping numbers, including one about the frustration of hearing “time gentlemen please”. Their musicianship is impressive and the music itself is executed with deft precision, despite the loose feel of their stage act. Taking out a kazoo for the last frantically upbeat number, local lad Tommie lead the band in a manic tribute to James Brown-type supercharged funk.

A great act to round off an excellent night.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp & Sculptress @ The Band Stand, Hanley. July 6th.

Review by Steve Dean

Photos by Simon Bamford

Having met the multi-talented Mika before when visiting the Capoeira Art Brasil company in Tunstall, I was only half-surprised to see her taking the stage as part of the support act Sculptress at the Band Stand last Sunday evening. Playing no less than four instruments; cello, flute, clarinet and a Japanese koto, she was accompanied by three other members bearing two electric guitars and a bass; only they didn’t actually play them - not in the conventional sense anyway. Sitting on the floor with their guitars while Mika sat on a stool in front of her koto, an instrument rather like a zither, the three electric musicians, their instruments’ pick-ups suitably close to their respective loudspeakers, set up a three-part harmonised and droning feedback that peaked and troughed throughout the 45 minute or so instrumental set.

Comprising of a single composition, the set began with a continuous plucking from Mika as the distorted guitar behind her very gradually built into an atmospheric ambience; hanging hauntingly in the air as Mika gradually phased the koto out and took up her clarinet. The EBow-assisted backing frequencies turning to a metallic grinding, a series of long notes were maintained by the clarinet as the incessant heavy whine once more gathered body. The sustained harmonies eventually back at full ambience, Mika then changed to the flute, briefly giving the music the kind of Bohemian feel so beloved of the beatnik movement in the early 60s, before the venue filled with an intense, almost Indian-sounding drone. With Mika now on cello, the overall sound became almost harrowing as it persistently grew to a crackling and fiery intensity; putting me vaguely in mind of some of Brian Eno’s more impassioned endeavours. It was at this point that the first sign of a recognisable melody appeared as Mika took bow to string while the drone died away to nothing. Returning as a kind of radio static, the effect eventually turned to a vaguely unsettling sound almost as if some kind of electronic baby was crying somewere. Fading into silence, Mika was left soloing until she finally rested her bow. The audience, delivering the loudest of applause, knew it was at an end. Different; and really quite brilliant.

The Geneva-based Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp were something else again. I haven’t seen anything quite like them before, and after what I saw on Sunday, I’d certainly like to see them play again. Infused with a lively sense of fun, this talented six-piece band took us through an immensely entertaining set made up of all sorts of influences - although the resulting sound is essentially their own. They boast an exemplary standard of musicianship and an equally excellent playlist. My initial reaction to the chaotic opening number, with vocalist Liz’s shriekings and yellings over a cacophony of seemingly random notes and erratic bangings and crashings, was one of eyebrow-raised bewilderment. However, the point of it all became very clear when the precisely-timed nature of the band’s second number smoothed out the vibe completely. The show henceforth was so engrossing, it is hard to think of a highlight; but I loved the bass intro to the captivating ‘Afrogarage’ and the drum soloing in the same number was sensational. The band’s instrumental line-up of trombone, marimba, electric guitar, double bass, violin, drums and various percussion made for a musical concoction pulsating with Latin, tropical and African rhythms. Tastily coating them with jazz, punk, pop and myriad snippets of exotic music from around the world, Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp have developed a kind of avant-garde cabaret act that should enchant lovers of good music everywhere. Wonderful stuff.

After such a fine performance, I was truly saddened to hear that it would be the final one to be heard at the Band Stand in its present form, the venue’s doors closing for the last time that evening. John and Jane have been marvellous hosts and I’d like to thank them on behalf of Stoke Sounds for some truly great times. The venue will be sorely missed.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Wrongpop 16 Presents: Here’s to the Atom Bomb/Sunset Cinema club/Sabotage Left/Morning Sparks @ The Glebe, Stoke. July 5th. 2008

Review and photo by Charlotte Lunt

Returning to the Glebe for its monthly soiree and boasting a very strong line up, Wrongpop again trundled into town last night. It was great to see the Glebe so full for this evening’s performances, especially with quite a few local bands being represented amongst the audience too.

The evening was opened by Here’s To The Atom Bomb, who proved to be real crowd pleasers. Melding various genres together and providing a slick set the five-piece raised the bar high from the outset. Lead by Phil Jones’s commanding vocals they race through their songs with a cracking pace, with an enthusiastic guitarist stumbling into the audience at one point. With such a strong performance it is difficult to isolate any one outstanding feature, suffice to say that the overall energy and ability of the band make them one not to miss, and a fantastic start to the evening.

Sunset Cinema Club took the venue by storm being powered along at speed by their drummer John whose purposeful playing steered them through the set. Delivering a rawer sound than their predecessors, with strong melodic hooks and funky bass lines, or as they describe them “vibes, styles and grooves”. The trio shared vocal duties and interchanged the front man responsibilities with ease providing contrast and an interesting dynamic to their music. At times there were clear jazz influences in their music especially through the driving bass lines and quirky vocals, as well as a much harder edge which provided a curious yet compelling contrast.

The venue filled again when Sabotage Left took to the stage, and presented a static charged half-hour. They have a more commercial edge than Sunset Cinema Club, and their instant appeal saw the audience bounding along to familiar songs like ‘Seventy Five Quid’ and ‘Walking on knives’. Driven by the solid drumming of Damon Cocko, and with the passionate vocals of Oliver Craddock their music evolved through out the evening making the most of the venue and truly bringing it to life. The amount of effort and passion that went into their performance was clearly appreciated by the audience and evidenced by the many camera flashes and nodding heads.

The final set of the night belonged to Morning Sparks. Having seen them play before I was not disappointed. Playing complex pieces that appeared to draw the band into a trance like state, they enticed the audience to do the closest thing to dancing that I’d seen all night. The first strains of ‘Mother Said’ drew the few remaining stragglers in from the damp evening to see a band thoroughly enjoying themselves judging by the grins. With such a slick performance by these musicians it was surprising to hear singer Chris Russell commenting that they “we’re just having a laugh tonight”. If this is their idea of a laugh then we should take this as a warning as their parting shot was an amazing soundscape fed by distortion and feedback hitting frequencies that should have razed the building.

Yet again, another superb night by Steve Clarke and Wrongpop.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Hollow Victory/Wire Spider/Hollywood Tease/Mod Life Crisis /Green Eyes Red /Last Scene Falling @ Rock on the Rocks Festival, Biddulph Moor. July 5th.

Review by Steve Dean

Photo by Simon Bamford

Although we had turned up specifically to review the talents of Last Scene Falling, there were a fair few names on the bill. Two stages were set up, one inside and one out; so each band played more or less as the other stage was set up for the next group to come on.

The first band we found in action when we arrived was five-piece Hollow Victory, performing on the inside stage. Although we only caught the last couple of tunes, I heard enough to decide that they were a very capable outfit with two good strong songs at least. Lively pop/rock being their chosen medium, this bunch of 17-year-olds played their well-arranged compositions with confidence and verve. They certainly deserved the enthusiastic applause.

Very shortly afterwards and outside beneath the ominously darkening sky, Wire Spider kicked in their cover number set with the Cult’s ‘She Sells Sanctuary’. It is a little difficult to review ‘covers' bands as it is not dissimilar to reviewing a juke box really; all you can really discuss is how good the players were at interpreting the numbers. In Wire Spider’s case, they were very good at it; playing a hard driving set made up of classic rock songs such as ‘Tush’ and ‘White Wedding’. Retitled ‘Steak Pudding’ and sung as such by vocalist Richard Mason, who displayed a fine line in humorous chat throughout their set. I found his claim that ‘Hard to Handle’ was about fighting with overweight women in Chell Heath particularly diverting.

A walk back to the inside stage found Hollywood Tease halfway through their first song. Image-wise looking somewhere between Guns ‘n’ Roses and the New York Dolls, this elaborately coiffured band has a clear idea of how it wants to be perceived and they play their parts very well. In fact, the influences of Stateside bands of the calibre of Motley Crue and the aforementioned Guns ‘n’ Roses feature very strongly in the overall mix; both in stage attitude and material. They have two excellent guitarists and their twin-lead work at the end of their final number, ‘Good Times’ was very impressive indeed. A good show confidently played and well-presented all round.

Outside in the steadily increasing downpour, the intriquingly-named Mod Life Crisis, another band in the ‘covers’ mould, were running through their set. Their style firmly rooted in the early to middle 60s, they played some good stuff, but appeared to have no clear idea of how to end a song; mostly just stopping dead somewhere near the end or petering/fizzling out. I can only think that most of their old 45rpm vinyls had fade-out endings.

Next on the indoor stage, Green Eyes Red, in roughly equal diametrical opposition, appeared to have spent as little time and effort on their image as Hollywood Tease had spent developing theirs. There is a lot to be said for the old adage that if you look the part, you’ll feel the part. Green Eyes Red wouldn’t have looked out of place playing shove a’penny in the working man’s club on a Wednesday night. Considering they are supposed to be a rock band, is that really the image they want to put across? If we are talking ‘let the music speak for itself’, I have to say that the guitarwork throughout the first, long, long song sounded excruciatingly like someone dragging their nails along a seemingly endless blackboard – and I mean, with the aid of some sort of phasing unit, really sounding like that. On the whole though, their performance did put out a good beat and extracted a reasonable response from the audience. Coming across generally as a bit like U2, only more noisy and repetitive, Green Eyes Red are also a bit of an enigma, in that I cannot find any references to them at all on the internet; no myspace profile, nothing. Most unusual.

As a footnote, the guitarist had a really nice Fender Jaguar, an instrument that seems to be far more popular now than it ever was. As a guitar that was largely ignored by the majority of guitarists for many years, I wonder how it has since come to enjoy this new popularity?

Emerging into the heavy rain and a veritable sea of umbrellas, we made our way to the front of the main stage to watch Last Scene Falling.

A six-piece, Last Scene Falling have a wealth of good songs and a fine singer in Tim Robins. The rest of the band; the aptly-named Matt Pounder on drums, Jimmy Webster on keyboards, bassist Bill Atkins and Jim Miller and Si Pounder on lead and rhythm guitars respectively offer a more than capable backing to his strong and full-bodied vocals. The first two numbers getting the audience firmly on their side, despite the foul weather, they showed themselves to be a tight and well-rehearsed outfit. The slower paced third number, ‘Self Support’, with its atmospheric introduction, further demonstrated a solid songwriting ability in whoever it is that writes their numbers; and in all fairness that could be said about every one of the compositions in their set. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch the titles of any of the other tunes they played on Saturday, but I have a particular liking for a track called ‘One To Thirteen’, currently on their myspace profile. Last Scene Falling are a fine band, and with the right breaks, could go far.

Congratulations to the Rock on the Rocks organisers for putting it all on. It’s a pity that here in the UK it is all so hit-or-miss with our maddeningly unpredictable weather. An enjoyable evening out nonetheless.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

The Music @ Manchester Academy. July 1st.

Review by Chloe West

Having waited nearly three years to see The Music perform again, expectations were running high. Dropped by their label following second album 'Welcome to the North', the four lads from Leeds have come back from the brink of addiction and depression to claim the crown they were tipped to have back in 2002, but never grasped.

Starter ‘Take The Long Road And Walk It’ literally sends shivers down the spine; the jagged guitar of Adam Nutter echoing across the Academy. Second number ‘The Spike’ is a fine example of how their new material has the potential to achieve the same success as the opener. On latest album ‘Strength In Numbers’, the band worked with Orbital’s Paul Hartnall, but rather than succumbing to the same category as ‘indie-ravers’ The Klaxons and such like, The Music stick with what they know best; the original dance/rock hybrid, without an inch of neon in sight.

‘Freedom Fighters’ delivers the feisty beats they’re renowned for; while ‘Fire’ is the rawest track off the new album. ‘Drugs’ takes a different direction, beginning almost with elements of Blondie's ‘Heart Of Glass’. Rob Harvey sings at a near whisper before erupting to his full vocal range. The capability of his voice is undeniable. Slowing down proceedings for ‘Human’, recent single ‘Strength In Numbers’ brings the pace back to a new height. It is certainly a song which never loses its energy, a comparison to Harvey who seems to dance on every inch of the stage, yet still seemingly older than his 25 years. ‘Everybody get down to the beat’, he calls during ‘The Truth Is No Words’ and indeed they do. It would be hard to suppress any movement to the rhythm and riffs being belted out. More new material is seen in the form of ‘Get Through It’, ‘No Weapon Sharper Than Will’ and ‘Idle’, to which bassist Stuart Coleman changes tack to play on synth. The anthemic ‘Getaway’ starts to bring the set to a close, before ending with ‘Bleed From Within’. At one point all four members are interestingly seen on percussion before taking back their usual roles for the climatic end.

After four years absence and a severe haircut on Rob’s behalf, The Music have turned around their differences to produce an epic third album and a tight, well performed live set. Lets hope this time round they achieve the recognition they deserve.

Jason Mraz / Gideon Conn @ Manchester Ritz July 1st 2008

Review and Photo by Charlotte Lunt

Jason Mraz is a surprisingly little-known artist hailing from San Diego. Currently embarking on a world tour, only a handful of nights in the UK were all that could be afforded, fortunately one of these was local.

Joining him as support was Manchester based Gideon Conn, who bore such a resemblance to the Mraz himself that many in the audience were wondering exactly who they were watching. Conn, a singer songwriter, delivers simple yet compelling melodies, touching on observations of life, love and politics. With a naive manner and what appeared to be genuine surprise at the reception he was receiving from the appreciative crowd, Conn provided a strong quirky set as a superb entrée to the night.

Once on stage and in his trademark headgear, Mraz delivered his unique fusion of jazz, hip hop, folk, country, and pop with a pared down version of his usual band. He kicked off with some older songs such as ‘The Remedy’ which was merged seamlessly into a sing-a-long cover of ‘Wonderwall’ and then into ‘Live High’ from the new album, before (literally in some cases) the audience were hit by the brass section that was hiding amongst the crowd.

The following hour and a half provided the opportunity for the audience to be acquainted with a wide range of back catalogue songs, as well as hearing compositions from the new album ‘We sing, we dance, we steal things’. Moving effortlessly through a set which offered re-interpretations of older songs, adding a reggae vibe to some, and rapping in others, Jason switched between stripped down and acapella versions of songs to plush ear-ringing performances with his 7-strong band the ‘Take It Easy Buddies’.

Throughout the evening Mraz used the opportunity to showcase his talents as a superb wordsmith and master of metaphor, being able to sing about serious issues with a dash of frivolity, or blatantly with tongue in cheek. His singing styles are as diverse as the obvious influences within his music, whether agile freestyle rap or soulful tenor, betraying his classical training. Marrying these skills with the rapport and familiarity between the musicians on stage gave the performance a voyeuristic quality, and at times there was the feeling that we were watching a group of friends jamming in the comfort of their rehearsal rooms rather than watching a performance.

Winding up the evening with a second encore including ‘Geek in the Pink’ and ‘No Stopping us’, the final song saw the singer take to the stage alone to play ‘You and I Both’ taken from his debut album, a song about friendship reminiscing and moving on, providing a suitably optimistic end note, reminding the audience that he is not only a talented writer and musician but also a gifted performer.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Academy of Sound Returns.

Article by Steve Dean

Photo by Simon Bamford

Having vanished for a few years now, Hanley’s Academy of Sound is about to rise again, thanks to the efforts of determined new proprietor Rob Mulliner.

Rob, having just spent twelve years at Salop Music Centre, Shrewsbury, has taken over the premises from last owners Sound Control, who have recently gone into receivership and is restoring the shop to its former title. He is also confidently applying a multitude of good ideas to boost business.

He believes that Sound Control’s downfall was mainly due to their poor business practices and aims to turn the shop’s fortunes around by offering a service that is second to none. Stocking the best of equipment and establishing an efficient ordering service are certainly high on his list of priorities. He also plans to work alongside schools and set up an equipment hire service as well as an improved outlook in dealing with second-hand instruments and amplification, etc.

Opening on July 12th with an official launch party a week later on the 19th, Rob intends to make regular special offers on all top makes, including Marshall, Line 6 and Fender gear, plus the new Academy will be one of only a few shops in the country allowed to call itself a Gibson Superstore. He will also be stocking stage lighting and is introducing new woodwind and keyboards sections. Big value ‘starter packs’ for budding guitarists will also be available. In fact, Mr Mulliner seems to have thought of everything. Not bad at all.

With the onus on independence, Rob is determined to make a great success of things and with his vibrant enthusiasm, I’m sure he will do just that.

The Academy of Sound, 16-22 Hillchurch Street, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, ST1 2EX

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Brian Jonestown Massacre/The Blakes @ The Sugarmill, Hanley. June 30th.

Review by Steve Dean

Photos by Simon Bamford

All the way from Seattle, Washington, The Blakes bring a rich and well-respected rock heritage with them. A trio in the shape of Garnet Keim on guitar and lead vocals, with bassist Snow Keim also adding a voice and Bob Husak on drums, they pack a pretty ballsy punch. Husak drives the band along with some thundering beats and his impeccable timing is never less than spot-on. In certain ways, they reminded me of Franz Ferdinand, only more discordantly raw; their nine-song set liberally peppered with some hard and dirty riffing. Their songs are gutsy, gritty and the sheer power of the beat behind a track called ‘Two Times’ is really something to witness. They are in the UK as part of a fairly extensive tour of Europe and going by their very warm reception this evening, they should leave a very good impression indeed. Incidently, while looking for information, I discovered that Garnet dreamt he met 18th century artist, poet and visionary William Blake in a metalshop and when he awoke, he decided to call the band The Blakes, as brother Snow said the name reminded him of The Smiths; and why not?

Before we attended this gig, I was told to expect fireworks as frontman Anton Newcombe was liable to create all sorts of havoc. Shambling onto the stage 20 minutes late, he appeared dead beat, shagged out and generally like he’d just woken up, which in fact, as he subsequently told the packed audience, he just had. It turns out that they had played Glastonbury the previous evening and it would appear that possible celebrations had left the band a little worse for wear. It didn’t stop them playing a cracking opening number though; the song sung by some bloke who I can find no details of, but apparently from Iceland if I’ve got my facts right, who looked totally and utterly out of it. Hanging onto the microphone stand for support throughout the number, he left the stage after that one song, to be replaced by the non-singing, but enthusiastically tambourine-banging Joel Gion. Friendly jibes from the audience spurred reaction from Anton as they got into their stride and the 7 to 8-piece band, although obviously tired, summoned up the energy to play an interesting, gutsy set full of jangling tunes which brought to mind Hawkwind and even Little Feat in places, amongst other influences such as the Byrds and other 60s pop/rock; but in the main, they pretty much have a sound of their own. There aren’t many bands with four guitarists after all. Going by the audience reaction, Anton Newcombe is a well-respected man in his particular scene and there was a tangible feeling of disappointment when he unexpectedly announced that that was that and offstage they went. With no encore forthcoming, the clamouring audience eventually quietened when they realised he wasn’t coming back. No fireworks. No havoc. But a good show, nonetheless. Maybe next time, he’ll have had a good night’s sleep before he takes the stage.