Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Interview: Trent Vale Poet

Interview by Steve Dean

Photo by Simon Bamford

Having seen Mark Anthony Bailey a.k.a. the Trent Vale Poet out and about performing all over Stoke-on-Trent, including our own launch party, Stoke Sounds invited him round for a chat.

So how long have you been writing poems?

Oh, a long time - since the age of about sixteen and I’m forty-eight now.

So you’ve got quite a backlog then?

I’ve got suitcases full of stuff I’ve written over the years.

Have you ever been published in any form?

I’m hopeful of one day being so, but I mainly do CDs. I’ve built myself up more as a performing poet and most of my impact is in my performance. I’ve done six or seven CDs over the years, which I sell myself at gigs or wherever.

‘Blind Date’ is a great humorous poem. Is it one of your most popular works?

It is. As far as I understand, that poem got a play on Dandelion radio, which is a John Peel-inspired radio station in Bristol. A fellow got in touch saying he wanted to put it on his playlist, which was nice.

Do you play any musical instruments at all?

No, but I used to be half-decent on the bodhran. I’ve got a good sense of rhythm in my poetry and voice, but I don’t play a musical instrument; in fact, I marvel at somebody who can play an instrument and sing at the same time.

I know that you are good friends with Andy of ‘Nemo’, have you worked with them often?

They’ve put music to five or six of my poems over the years. We used to go out as the Trent Vale Poet Band. We’d do five or six of my poems and then I’d shuffle off the stage and they’d then come on as Nemo.

From what I’ve seen, you go down very well with audiences – is this always the case?

Nine times out of ten, yes. Sometimes it goes a bit haywire, like. You know? Tits-up.

Yes - every performer, no matter how talented, has a bum gig from time to time

No matter how you try, you’ll never entertain everybody that you perform for. That’s a fact of life.

You quote John Cooper-Clarke as an influence. Have you actually seen him perform?

I’ve seen him twice, when he came to the Wheatsheaf before it was Wetherspoons in Stoke. He was absolutely brilliant. I have his CDs and tapes. When people compare me to him, I take it as a compliment, I really do. So, yes; I also like Ivor Cutler, John Betjeman, and also people like the late Hovis Presley.

Hovis Presley?

Yes, he died mid-forties of heart attack. Big lad from Bolton. Brilliant poet and really funny poems.

You appear to get to compere lots of events, you did a great job at the Stoke Sounds launch…

Yes, I compere various events and shows; charities and the like. It’s another string to my bow. I do a poems and pints night at the White Star in Stoke the last Thursday of every month. I get some poet friends from out of the area and they come down and read their poems and we get one or two local musicians who make a break from the poetry.

Do you ever actually write songs with musicians; where the songs are actually sung instead of spoken?

No, I just write poems, but they can be adapted to songs. The Clay Faces do a song called ‘Black Heart’, which was adapted from a poem called ‘In the Dank Quarter of my Soul’. They used the words, but they sing them. It was on a compilation CD which was released in America called ‘Shite and Onions’; which is American-based Irish bands and stuff. It’s been released all over the world; Japan, Australia, everywhere.

Have you earned any royalties from it at all?

Not as yet, no. (Laughs)

A lot of your stuff is funny. You must have a well-developed sense of humour…

I just look at the absurdities of life. We all know the world’s got its mithers and stuff, but in pubs and clubs, you want a bit of a laugh sometimes as a contrast to some of the singer/songwriters who get up and do their thing. Some can get a bit down at times, so I come on messing around and supply just a bit of a contrast.

Have you ever thought about writing comedy scripts or anything like that?

I have written a few short stories, although I’ve had nothing published. I wrote a couple of bits for a magazine that only lasted two copies. I forget what it was called now.

You’ve never attempted a novel or anything like that?

No. I don’t think I’d have the patience to write a novel to be honest with you. I consider myself first and foremost, a poet.

Well, I must say that your stuff is of a quality. It is certainly work that will be remembered…

Well, the other week, there was a poetry evening at Sheffield and I went there… you know, Northern poets and that… and I blew them away – they absolutely loved it.

How many gigs do you think you’ve done in your time and what kind of acts have you supported?

God, loads and loads. Sometimes, I go out seven days a week. In my time, I’ve supported John Otway, Mark Radcliffe’s Family Mahone, Jem Finer from the Pogues, Roy Wood of Wizard, and bands from all over the place. I like doing acoustic nights and of cause, the more people who see you, the more gigs you are likely to get offered. Nobody’s going to see me stopping in the house. I just love it. I love writing things people can identify with. People come up to me and ask if I can write poems for them and I’ve even been asked for framed copies of poems I’ve written for wedding anniversaries and further asked to put ‘Trent Vale Poet’ at the bottom. It’s great and I enjoy it.

A great many people disregard poetry and quite blatantly dislike it, what are your thoughts on that?

I think poetry gets a bad name from when you’re at school. You’ve got to do it, and when you leave school, you tend to leave poetry behind with it. Sometimes people in pubs will say “poetry? That’s about clouds and green fields and stuff isn’t it?” But, when I get up there and do my stuff, they see it differently and think “great”. I had a lovely experience a few weeks ago: I was on my way to the bus stop to go to Stafford, when I passed a bunch of fifteen or sixteen-year-olds outside a house who recognised me and started going “give us a poem then, give us a poem…” So I did and they said they thought it was fantastic and could they have a copy? So I popped the poem through the door later. That really made my night, that did.

Appreciation is all the reward you need sometimes, I think…

I’d like to be discovered, I really would. I’d like to have a book out; a big book of all my words and stuff. But most of all, I’d like to be remembered as the poet who brought a smile to people’s faces. I really would.


Footnote from Paul of Nemo:

Just a note on the interview. You asked if there were any TVP poems that had been set to music where the words were sung instead of just spoken and TVP said no.

Well this is not entirely true, the song "Hanley Town" that the TVP band did (it's up on the MySpace) has spoken verses, but the chorus is sung.

The words were written by the TVP and the chords were written by me, but I don't know who came up with the little melody in the chorus. It certainly wasn't me. But originally it was all spoken/chanted. I know it started off as having no melody in the chorus coz there is a very early recording of this song knocking around somewhere where the chorus is just spoken, but then I have later recordings of it where a little melody has evolved in the chorus. I guess it must have evolved out of what Andy (NEMO) and the TVP were doing when they both joined in for the chorus.

One thing's for sure, it's the only example of the TVP singing that I know of.


Sunday, 28 September 2008

Grace @ The White Star, Stoke. September 26th.

Review by Danny Hill

Photos by Christopher Shenton

Picture the scene: a pub, noisy, almost chaotic with drunken laughter and conversation, cigarette smoke hanging from the sides of an oval-shaped room, punters impatiently scrambling for the bartender’s attention; and a young lad, probably twelve or thirteen, bored-looking, stuffing crisps and coke into his pudgy face, most probably to stifle the irritation at having been unwillingly dragged along to his parents‘ favourite night-time haunt to see their new favourite band. The pudgy kid’s parents have desperately been trying to project (impose?) excitement into him, telling him this band was a definite “one to see”.

Then, after seemingly ages to the kid’s perspective, the lights dim and the stage lights up in a warped strobe effect, and the band take their positions. The fracas has slowed to an almost immediate halt, as if by magic. Most of the crowd know what to expect, the latter part - dragged along by friends or family or both - don’t, have only the excitable impression indented on their senses by those that have seen the band before. Expectation is almost tangible in the smoke-filled pub. The band begin: rhythmically, beautifully, the captivating sound of flutes melding perfectly with a deftly-picked electric guitar, the haunting, relentless synth melodies accentuated with engaging, urgent vocals. Soon into the gig, a man removes his shirt and beats his bare chest with a rubber chicken, and one is playing dustbin lids. The pudgy kid isn’t bored anymore. This isn’t just about music, it’s entertainment. And entertainment on this level is hard to find. For those in the know, they know - simply because anyone who has ever seen this band are rarely likely to forget.

For those who don’t, the pub in question was once known as The Wheatsheaf, situated in the centre of Stoke town, closed down after much effort to rescue it from live music fans in the late-nineties. The year is probably 1990/1991, and the pudgy kid is myself, attending my first ever live-music gig, sold forever. The band call themselves Grace, and after hearing and seeing them live it’s not hard to understand why.

And tonight, sixteen years on and still as pudgy, I pay Grace another visit. This time at The White Star in Stoke, a pub that offers live music from a long, narrow room on its second floor, with a small bar placed suitably at one end and the band wedged tightly together at the far end. And I stress that they are wedged in, as Grace have seven members to their team, playing eight instruments. Having formed in the 1978 Grace have undergone some changes to their line-up since their formation, but of the original act remains Mac Austin on vocals, Harry Davies on saxophone and flute, Dave Rushton on bass and Dave Edge on acoustic guitar. The latest additions are Dave Markham on keyboard, Adam Rushton on lead-guitar and Tony Hall on drums. They start their set with ‘A Voice From Above’, a heavy drum and bass loop, before the brilliant fusion of sax playing and lead guitar begins; and the vocals are just as engaging in their simplicity.’Fire of London’ is next, the staccato vocals in the middle-8 reminiscent of early Genesis, leading towards a mesmerising keyboard solo. ‘Overdose’ and ‘Every Day’ come along next, with their immediate hooks and rockier, sing-along choruses, completely infectious, and proving, with distinction, that not one Grace song - as good as they are - sounds even remotely similar to the last…

The evocative flute playing in ‘Hanging Rock’ calls Jethro Tull to mind, the atmospheric chorus my favourite of the evening so far. With its Celtic style and haunting vocal, the Hanging Rock, a lengthy ballad, epitomises Grace: their musicianship, multiplicity and eclectic styles. What’s more, the songs of Grace are so systematically engaging, they are impossible not to like. As testament to this, the crowd - young and old - are bobbing their heads appreciatively, some singing back every word in receptive harmony. Grace’s songs throughout the evening dip and swell in their relentless charging melodies, constantly changing course, and the band later offer slices of their more acoustic, folkier offerings. It’s always refreshing (albeit frustrating) to write about a band that have such a unique sound that defies familiarity. One simply can’t pin Grace down into a single genre.

Grace were once signed to MCA Records and have headlined various festivals around Europe. Once tipped for mainstream success, it was the rise of punk during the late-70s that sounded the death-knell for Grace as a mainstream-recording entity. One of the main reasons for their local success, however - other than their musicianship and array of great songs, was their unusual act. People had not seen two performers wrestling for the front man position before, as singer Mac and sax-player Harry do. As a child I found their positioning confusing yet slightly distinctive, like two members of a relay team, handing the baton over to the other to take prominence. In the tight space of The White Star, however, this particular act didn’t resurface with the wider scope a larger stage has to offer. And the rubber chicken and dustbin lids gimmick may be out, but Grace introduce new mascots to their performance with a hilarious train-spotter character dancing along in song ‘Anorak of Fire’, and a masked burglar in the aptly titled ‘Burglars’.

In the second set, Grace capture more refrains from their back catalogue: ‘Success’, ‘The Piper’ and ‘Rain Dance’ - all taken from their synthesiser-inspired album Poet, Piper and the Fool - still sound as brilliant today as they’ve ever done, perhaps more so, as do ‘Architects of War’ and ‘Sing Something Simple’.

Looking relaxed and evidently still performing after all these years, it was yet again a pleasure to witness one of Stoke’s finest bands in performance; and as with any Grace gig you’re guaranteed an evening of good company, good cheer and excellent music.

Visit Grace website.

Footnote received from former bassist Gary Hurlstone:

The original line up for Grace was in fact myself [bass] Mac Austin [vocals] Marshall Berrisford [Guitar] Dave Edge [Guitar] Harry Davies [flute/sax] Maz [Drums] Pre-dating Grace by some 5 or 6 years was Jim Crow [also included Michael Noddy Ellis on synthesisers] the forerunner of the current band.

In many respects the direction, both thematically and musically, was set by the original line up, particularly through the work of Marshall Berrrisford. Theatricallity the band started to develop when still performing as Jim Crow [an article appeared in the Sentinel written by then drummer Avron White around '77 ] but continued to blossom during the band's early residency at Bridge Street Arts Centre, [largely as a result of Harry and Mac]. I left in 1979 after a performance for the Year of the Child and wrote several songs which subsequently appeared on their next album.

Prog rock was effectively dead by 1979 and Grace's quirky oddball eccentricity seemed a little out of place in the nihilistic culture of punk. Despite this they have somehow managed to continue, a testimony to their musical tenacity and the warmth and support they receive from their local audience, many of whom have grown up with their sound.

Maz, a great powerhouse of a drummer and a great guy as well, sadly died recently. I now play in China and have a new album Dignity, ready to release- I play the Xiamen Music Beach Festival on Thursday www.xiamenwave.com for details. As for Michael and Marshall - they appear to have gone off the radar.

Gary Hurlstone

Friday, 26 September 2008

Iglu & Hartly/Nick Harrison/Two Door Cinema Club @ The Sugarmill, Hanley. September 24th.

Review By Steve Dean

Photo by Simon Bamford

Having not been out and about to many gigs of late due to other pressures, it was a great pleasure to see three very different, but equally entertaining bands at the Sugarmill last Wednesday evening.

Two Door Cinema Club, hailing from Bangor in Northern Ireland, apart from other musical factors, are a little different in that they have no drummer; the percussion provided via a Macintosh computer. It certainly sounds adequate, although personally I don’t think you can beat a real drummer, but the times, I suppose, are a’changing. Their music is lively and heartfelt, with some passionate vocals from main vox Alex (no surnames on myspace profile) and in places they put me vaguely in mind of an updated U2, except with a different guitar sound; albeit still an echoing one. They have some good strong material and I particularly liked ‘Undercover Martyn’ with its neat guitar line. In fact, I couldn’t fault the musicianship throughout their set and the noisy reception from the Sugarmill crowd confirmed their appeal. A currently unsigned band, they show very great promise.

Recently signed to A&M records, Nick Harrison and his companions; a constantly smiling Naz on bass and Toby Couling on drums, look like they have a big future. He makes a fair list of influences on his myspace profile, but the biggest one by far has to be the reggae-ish, chopping ideals of The Police, a band his overall sound has been borrowed heavily from; but that’s not saying it’s a bad thing. In fact, Toby Couling’s drumming style is so close to Stewart Copeland’s, he could have been tutored by the man himself. Singer and guitarist Nick comes across as a likeable, confident character and his talent as a songwriter is undoubted. His current single ‘Oi, Rude Boy’ has instant appeal and I liked the summery harmonies in ‘Honey’, although I have to say that the track that had the most immediate appeal for me was the jazzy ‘Everything’s alright’; although ‘Something Special’ stood out as well. Tight and well-rehearsed, they play like they are having the time of their lives; a fact well-appreciated by the loudly clamouring audience.

Talking of clamouring audiences, Hollywood band Iglu & Hartly had the audience screaming, yelling, bouncing and crowd-surfing from the very first note. In fact, the screaming began when Jarvis Anderson, one of two frontmen, the other being fellow keysman Sam Martin, carried on his keyboard stand about 10 minutes before the band actually started. Opening with the pounding ‘Violent and Young’, this outfit knows where its appeal lies and there was a faint aura of the Chippendales as the two singers strutted around the stage, reaching out enthusiastically to the eager audience to clasp as many of the sea of hands as they could before pulling away to leap onto the speakers or generally just leap. Bassist Michael Boucher’s massive grin never once left his face, while guitarist Simon Katz and drummer Luis R., whilst concentrating on their instruments, still added as much to the physical bumpings and grindings as they could. Unashamedly pop with a rapping edge, they have some great commercial material and their new single ‘In This City’ had practically everybody singing along. ‘Pop’ they may be, but they have the musical punch of a heavy rock band and the crowd’s frantic dancing bore joy-filled testimony to that. Playing two encores, the crowd, at Jarvis’s invitation, invaded the stage for the last song and the venue filled with an immense vibe of sheer unadulterated fun as band and crowd melded in wholesale celebration. In fact, ‘fun’ and ‘celebration’ sum up the whole evening.

I enjoyed myself immensely. A great night.

Two Doors Cinema Club  
Nick Harrison        
Iglu and Hartly     

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Obituary: Rick Wright

By Steve Dean

Richard William Wright, founder member of Pink Floyd, died yesterday after a short cancer-related illness. He was 65. Although not so much to the forefront as his colleagues Roger Waters, David Gilmour, and in the early days, Syd Barrett, he was an integral and vital part of the Pink Floyd sound. Only occasionally contributing to the songwriting, he was, however, responsible for the classics ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’ and 'Us and Them', amongst others. The son of a biochemist, he was educated at Haberdashers’ Aske’s school and Regent Street polytechnic, where he met bassist Roger Waters and drummer Nick Mason. Contributing mostly to backing vocals, he did take lead vocals occasionally and most notably on Barrett’s ‘Astronomy Domine’.

Temporarily leaving the band for six years after a big-time bust-up with Roger Waters during the making of ‘The Wall’, he played as a paid session man on the promotional tour for the album. Remarkably, he ended up being the only member, or rather ex-member, who made any money; the others having to bear the huge costs of the extravagant shows. He rejoined after Water’s departure in 1987. In the course of his career, he released the results of three solo projects: ‘Wet Dream’ in 1978; ‘Identity’ (with Dave Harris) in 1984 and ‘Broken China’ in 1996. He also played keyboards and sung background vocals on David Gilmour's most recent solo album, ‘On an Island’, and also performed with Gilmour's band for over two dozen shows in Europe and the United States in 2006. As a cornerstone of a unique band and a talented musician, he will be remembered for a very long time to come.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Exhibition: Tales From a Changing City – Danny Hill & Darren Washington @ Airspace Gallery, Hanley. September 5th – 12th.

Review by Steve Dean

Pics by Julie Gould (click on pics to enlarge)

“The bulldozers came last wayk; thee didna waste any tarme…
Now owl aw ar can see from mar back yard is a sea of debris; red, black ‘n’ grey; and th’ tide stretches back as far as thayse tired owd eyes of marne can see. Pretty soon, I suppose, ar’ll bay the eonly one arahnd ‘ere that’s left…”

Having lived in Stoke for twenty years now, I myself have seen much change since I first arrived and Stoke Sounds contributors Danny Hill and photographer Darren Washingtons’ tribute to the changing face of Stoke-on-Trent brought home just how drastic these changes have been.

Darren’s photography captures well the starkness of the devastation wrought on great areas of the city as street after street is flattened in the dubious name of progress and Danny’s acute observations are richly detailed and written with an obvious love for the city of his birth.

I was going to write at some length of the work presented here, but after pondering on the matter for a spell, I though it more apt to leave it to Danny himself.

Much of it written in the old Potteries dialect, here are some of my favourite quotes gleaned from the exhibition walls…

…on relationships and football:

“Shay’s taken everythin way’ve ever had. The bloody lot. The telly, the fridge-frayzer, the microwave, the furniture, washing machayne, even the laight-fittings for God’s sake. Ah should ave sayn it comin. It inna larke shay never warned may. Shay’s been sayin it fer years. Ow thay’st bloody cares abite is thee footbeowl. Repeatin larke a bloody mantra ‘er did. Thee conna ave the best of both worlds. Tak yer pick…

…what am ar supposed ta deow nah?Ah’ve got absolutely nothin’. Shay’s even taken may most prized possession, just ite of spite; an ‘istoric piece of rubble from the owd Victoria ground – thee owd Boothen end thee kneowst? Ar spent two wayks wages biddin’ fer that!”

…on characters:

“Many wondered if Raymond went more than a minute or two with out saying anything at all! Some customers, caught up in his camaraderie, would prompt him playfully from time to time.
Leaning forward. “What about Stanley Matthews? Ever meet him?”

Snorting derisively. “Knew him?We were practically known as blood brothers, my boy.”

“Bruno Brookes? Nick Hancock?”

“There is not one local disc jockey, past or present, that has not met the end of my scissors.”
“Robbie Williams?”
“It is quite well-known around Tunstall and Burslem parts that I inspired at least 3 or 4 of the boy’s records!”

...and on society (this one really has to be written in its entirety):

“That couple next doewer raylly git on mar bloody wick, thee deow. Thee think theer so high n mighty, teowkin' ow posh, larkes - why conna thee teowk normal larke may n our Trev' deow? Professionals, that's what thee call 'emselves, or to give it the full title, young professionals, ow bloody "la-de-da," thee are, thee act as if theer farts dunna stink larke every-bugger elses deow. 'E leowkes larke thee's summat wrong with 'im! N 'er, dunna git me bloody started on 'er; weolkin' dine th' road as bold-as-bloody-brass, larke er's trayin to balance a payle o' beowks on 'er pretty blonde 'ead. Ooh, ah conna bloody stand 'em, ah conna. Ah oewnly went rind theer to say "Ay up, welcome to th' neighbour'ood," but 'er leowked at may larke ah wis bloody-well daft! Well, ah've trayed showin' um 'ospitality - eet's obvious thee onna from rahnd 'ere, ah wis doewin' mar neighbourly bit, thee kneowst, larke eet says in th' Bible - but ah wunna deow eet again! Ah wunna bother! Nah, that's eet as far as ah'm concerned, thee've burned theer bloody bridges!”

“That couple next door seem terribly nice, very welcoming, although me and Richard have only met them just the once, as we were unpacking when we first arrived. Quite frankly, it's been dreadfully arduous adjusting to our new surroundings. My darling Richard, I know, has been under considerable strain adapting to his new job over here; I can see the anxiety in his eyes. He seldom complains. Bless him. Richard is Richard, and during the preciously short few years of our marriage I've tended to notice his behavioural traits, his eccentricities, if you like, and when under pressure, his burdens do serve to force him into his shell, making him appear, to outsiders, anxious and maladroit. Given time, however, I'm sure he will adjust to our new status quo. There is a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, I'm sure we'll settle here, eventually.
The new house is a dream, I love it, and the area is very agreeable; with lots of amenities and culture around the local area for Richard and I to enjoy. Yes, the more I think of it I'm positively sure we will make a home for ourselves here. That is, however, if we ever learn to interpret exactly what it is our neighbours are actually saying to us…”

Danny and Darren have had a very positive response to their exhibition and there is every sign that some very interesting opportunities may arise for them in the not-too-distant future. With work of this standard, there is no real reason for there not to be.

For more about: 
Danny Hill                
Darren Washington                   

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Album Review: Captain Yange – Compos Mentis

Review by Steve Dean

I have always maintained that Captain Yange have a sound that distinguishs them from anybody else much in the same way as Queen were instantly recognisable no matter what they played. Queen were obviously astronomically better known, but if Yange maintain the standard demonstrated here, it can only be a matter of time before they make a major breakthrough themselves.

Their general musical profile is made up of many influences, not to mention the odd exotic Eastern rhythm, but none continually strong enough to say that Captain Yange actually sound exactly like or overdo any one of them. However, part of the fun of this album is when the odd obvious influence suddenly blushes out from the speakers and grabs your attention instantly.

Beginning with a great beat and commercial (to my mind) as it gets, the Beatle-ish and vaguely Oriental-sounding ‘Vex machine’ leads us into a veritable banquet of diverse styles, fresh ideas, unusual chord shapes and colourfully abstract musical forms that permeate the entire well-produced and deftly arranged album. Not to mention some great lyrics throughout.

As a brief synopsis of some of the thirteen songs on offer here; ‘Fuse’ and ‘Sticks of Dynamite’, excellent tunes both, are extremely heavy without being metal, whilst ‘Chemical’ has shades of Bach without being classical. ‘Verbal Laxatives’ has a terrific Rolling Stones-ish opening riff to it, whilst ‘We are Electric’ has a slinky Chilli Peppers feel; although neither of the songs actually sound like those bands. ‘Missing You’ has the most fantastic rumbling bass and drum riff, while last song ‘Space Age Devotee’ sounds almost genteel after all that goes before it. There is not a dud song on the album.

I have to reserve a special mention for the fabulously atmospheric ‘Calmoceans’; quite simply one of the best songs I’ve ever heard.

As a debut album, it is hard to fault and I’m told it will be available as a free download; with a higher quality download available through iTunes, Amazon and Napster (prices will vary) and as a CD with an 8-page booklet (probably £10 or thereabouts).

Get a listen!

Friday, 12 September 2008

Mauskramp @ The Bird in Hand, Stafford. September 6th

Review and Photos by Stephen Harvey (a.k.a. DJ Fresh)

Mauskramp are a three piece outfit from Stafford, who have been one of the leading lights in bringing live music to the Stafford night life. A distinct lack of suitable venues in the town has been the principle obstacle obscuring their way in their homeland, but this was never going to hold them back.

They did what the Hip Hop community had already done in nearby Stoke on Trent some time ago, and they embarked on building their own night and scene from scratch. This was no small project, but to their credit they seemed to have achieved what they had set out to do, if this particular night was the end product of their labours.

The Bird In Hand may on first glance seem unsuitable, but with the inclusion of projectors and lighting in the back room, it was soon transformed into a venue more than capable of hosting the much talked about Activerb night. The sound engineer must also take some credit for creating the perfect sound and levels for the job at hand, and to his credit he achieved fantastic results from a nightmare of acoustics, with a low ceiling and exits at each end.

There was a quite sizeable and obviously well musically educated audience assembled and ready to be entertained, which included Matt Lee from Radio Stoke Subculture and Kelvin Andrews from the Soul Mekaniks, so it was obvious from the start that this band was something special from the offset.

Mauskramp have a sound that cannot easily be pigeonholed into genres, but the electronika scene would welcome this imput on any level. A collaboration of rock guitar riffs and vintage synths blend together with vocals surrounded in effects and charisma. The sound created resembles no other artist, but brings togther influences that are clearly understated to perfection.

Frontman Richard Underwood sauntered on stage smartly dressed in suit and sensible shoes, and proceeded to lure the audience into a false sense of security before bombarding them with huge industrial beats and noise that hypnotised and drew them into his dark world. The drum tracks are simple, but adequate enough to keep the dance music fan more than contented, while the vocals and electric guitars are distinct and interesting enough to keep the rock fan involved for the whole set. The rhythms created by John Matley left you feeling as if there was someone hiding in the background with the contents of a well stocked music shop at his disposal, and the new band member Dave Ahmid added that little bit more width to the sound, which I didn’t realise it lacked until I heard again the CD the band had sent me some months earlier, minus his injection. It seems Richie and John made a wise decision when they welcomed a new member to the band, and hopefully this will show in future recordings and not just their live show.

Tracks like 'Standing Out” with its vocals smothered in effects and megaphone sound, and the anthemic 'Active Speaker' shows the quality of the band, and they are surely headed for some big things in the future.

I would urge anyone reading this article to go and check out the sounds of Mauskramp with the urgency it deserves, and to hear first hand what is very hard to describe on paper, no matter how intelligent the metaphors and adjectives used sound.

Photos: L - R John Matley, Richard Underwood, Dave Ahmid.


Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Wrongpop 18 featuring Inside Right/Everyone to the Anderson/Lebanons/Tribal Brides of the Amazon @ The Glebe, Stoke. September 6th.

Review by Charlotte Lunt

Photos by Stuart F. Steele

A surprisingly empty venue for Wrongpop (rated) 18 soon filled as Inside Right opened the evening’s proceedings. Providing quirky pop-punk with a decidedly commercial edge, this four-piece have a contemporary sound. They mix tempos and differing styles within each song, and have a distinct sound of their own; shown in songs such as ‘Snakes’ and ‘Book of Crypto’. As musicians they are clearly talented and play a tight set, however this isn’t matched by the lyrical content of their songs which leaves them lacking somewhat. Despite this, the band obviously enjoys playing and once they had relaxed into their set they put on a good show.

Brighton’s own Everyone to the Anderson took to the Glebe’s stage as part of their current tour; opening a quirky set that clearly showed their sense of humour. Their post-rock set shone with influences such as Fugazi and Mogwai, with dramatic time changes, discordant guitar and bass, and a commanding delivery of prosaic vocals. Live, the band delivers a much rawer sound than on their recordings, giving tracks like their opener, ‘When Beasts Attack’ and ‘West? West! West?’ added teeth, which is an achievement for a band who describe a recent recording of 'Oh No, Raptors!' as “it's the one where Sven’s guitar sounds like the apocalypse”

Lebanons, who are touring with Everyone to the Anderson, cranked things up a gear, with a blistering first song which witnessed frenetic playing and vocal delivery from Michael Miles. The stage set up with the band facing inwards could have lead to an insular performance were it not for the shear vitality of the music. Their second song ‘I’m a little bit 1789’ had a calculated sinister edge to it with the repeated lyrics “how many times must I tell you?” More than fulfilling the distortion requirement of the evening and playing at break-neck speeds, they soared through their set finishing with ‘One arm’; a curiously eclectic, yet compelling song.

The final slot of the night belonged to Tribal Brides of the Amazon, who brought a lighter tone to the proceedings, layering ornate hooks over a tight rhythm section. They gave a professionally nonchalant performance throughout their set with glimpses of a more commercial sound amongst some of the tracks. They presented a rockier sound with one track which saw Michael Walsh exchange his drums with Jim Mycock’s guitar, before returning to their favoured instruments. In Mycock they had the first identifiable frontman of the evening, and his distinct and formidable vocals powered each song along. Their last track was ‘Dim Hills’, apparently “a song about camping”, and then left the venue full of feedback. It is featured on ’14 songs to derail your Zen’ a compilation from local label Owd Ear Recordings.

Wrongpop has again provided a dynamic and diverse evening of musical entertainment, and will make its last appearance of the year at The Glebe on October 4th.

Two sites that more Stoke bands should get onto

by Clare-Marie White

OK, so I know you *need* your Myspace pages, with their flashing lights, ugly wallpapers and comment boards strewn with lols and ZOMGs (and in SS editor Steve Dean's case a stream of pretty ladies offering pictures), but there's more places out there. Sites that I, for one, would actually venture on to without feeling disorientated...

Sellaband. Nice simple concept which has been getting a bit of media attention lately and will no doubt upset the record companies a bit more. All you need to do is get 5,000 'parts' (no sniggering at the back) invested in you and you get to make an album, get promoted and the rest. Then you and your army of 'believers', or investors, get to sell the album, hang out and generally enjoy the road to fame and fortune together, with Sellaband taking the other third of your profits.

Blip.fm. Very quick to get started on, this site is about becoming your own DJ and connecting with people who like the same kind of music as you. Bands can upload their own MP3s, so once you've amassed a few hundred listeners who think you're witty with fantastic music taste, drop a few of your own in and you'll be heard instantly by everyone tuned into Blip as well as all your new fans. With thousands of listeners connecting to each other daily, your music could get very far, very quickly.

The North Staffs scene is abuzz with talent and loyal community spirit. In a place without a lot of money, small contributions make all the difference and in the world of web 2.0 it's the passion of the crowd that could propel artists to the top. If you're trying out these or any other sites be sure to let us know whether you think other bands will find them useful.

The Flying Colours/The Sliphouse Fairys/Modey Lemon @ The Sugarmill, Hanley. September 7th.

Review by Steve Dean

Photos by Leo Mazzocchio

First on the bill and apparently the latest of many incarnations, The Flying Colours set a fine standard for the evening with a half-hour set full of engaging and well-delivered songs in the semi-commercial soft rock vein, although Danny Whitehouse’s solid drumming hardens things off from time to time. Paul Macdonald on acoustic and lead vocals puts his melodic point across very well and their first jangling composition, 'People Walking', proved to be a powerfully engrossing song, the repetitious chord sequence only adding to the overall drive of the number. I’ve always liked semi-acoustic 335s and guitarist Rob Sherlock played some restrained, but cool lead on a nice blonde one throughout the set, ably supported by a coated and buttoned Andy Macdonald on his Rickenbacker bass. I’ve always had a partiality for those as well, but I digress…Of incidentals, I especially liked the pounding drum beat in a new song called ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ and the slow overall build-up of ‘There’s Not a Lot of Love’ from just a lone acoustic chord sequence to a full-bodied crescendo was perfectly executed. An entertaining set from a very promising band

Some bands seem to have a certain something about them that sets them apart and The Sliphouse Fairys are one of them. The ‘something’ is hard to define. The great violinist Isaac Stern once said that after learning how to play a musical instrument, one must then learn how to play music. It is a moot point, but it gets us nearer an answer. It is certainly to do with the ability to put across emotion. The Sliphouse Fairys; James Fitchford/guitar and main vocals; Elliot Porter/lead guitar and Tom Green and Matt Andrew on bass and drums respectively, have an atmospheric sound, heard at its most haunting in their final number, ‘So Called Friends’. James has an excellent voice, sounding much better live than on record and it seems to come easy to him; Tom’s accompanying vocals giving a dual voice as good as anything the legendary Byrds ever came up with. The tempo change for the solo in ‘How Many Times?’ was cool and the more chunkier sounding ‘Small’ is a good strong song with some nicely building leadwork. I liked the vaguely Turkish-sounding guitar and the arrangement in ‘Nothing’ as well. This is a seriously good band with bags of potential. Give them a good producer and they could go places, no problem.

Paul Quattrone of Modey Lemon of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is without a doubt the most unrestrained, ferocious drummer I've ever heard. I'm surprised his kit lasted the night; such was the almost rabid clobbering he gave it. The drums were being hit so forcefully and with such natural volume it was almost impossible to tell accurately what guitarist and vocalist Phil Boyd was playing or singing. Apart from the odd quieter part, Jason Kirker’s synth and basswork at times sounded awash as if it were striving to stay afloat in a raging sea of incredibly pounding, crashing drumbeat. Watching him play, one becomes aware that the kit, complete with metal hub cap tied to the bass drum, is not so much sitting in front of him, but appears to have actually become a part of him; a channelling for an acute understanding of the effect of rhythm on the human psyche rendered back to its most base primeval level; and sounding absolutely fantastic. This was rock ‘n’ roll deep within its essence. To me, it didn’t seem to matter what the songs were called or what they were about. Watching Modey Lemon enjoying themselves immensely as they tossed their heads, jumped around and generally lost themselves in the raw and thunderous tribal beat, I became vaguely aware of some sudden deep grasp of the very roots of rhythm and what it all really stems from. Halfway through their 45-minute set, my colleague Bamf turned to me and shouted, "Christ! What an unholy racket - they're fucking great!!"

Quite so.

Modey Lemon

The Sliphouse Fairys

The Flying Colours: No website at present

Friday, 5 September 2008

Interview: Elliot Brown (rt.) & Jason 'Jay Jay' Estridge of Big Music

Interview by Steve Dean

Photo by Simon Bamford

Michael Esgate a.k.a. Truth Be Known has released a CD, ‘The Birds and the Booze EP’ on the Big Music label - recently reviewed by Stephen Harvey (DJ Fresh). Big Music of Crewe is businessman and music-lover Elliot Brown and musician and producer Jay Jay Estridge. Stoke Sounds went along for a chat.

  • So how did Big Music come about?

ELLIOT: Essentially day-to-day we’re an advertising agency and a record label is something I’ve always wanted to get into and start up really. I’m the business side of it and Jason is the music man.

JJ: I’ve done a lot of session stuff and played in various bands. I play keyboards, drums and bass. I’ve been teaching in schools and doing workshops. Music has been my whole life really. I got married and having a family means I need a bit more stability than with just gigging; where you don’t really know when your next lot of money’s coming in. So I’ve honed it down and I now have a studio at home.

ELLIOT: Jason is an unbelievable musician, just put an instrument in front of him and he’ll blow you away with it.

  • Do you intend to specialise in hip hop or are you looking to promote any other kind of music?

ELLIOT: The reason we started with hip hop is because it is music I’ve always been interested in ever since school really. With other music there is a lot of competition all around the country, whereas with hip hop I don’t think there’s that much competition when it comes to a Northern artist. Down South you’ve got artists breaking through like Dizzee Rascal, and Ironik has had a record in the charts for around eight weeks or something. When it comes to Northern rappers, they are all underground. I think there’s definitely a market because people have been listening to American hip hop music for twenty years and are now leaning towards English rap, which is all London-based, which, if you’re from up North, can be a little difficult to relate to. Certainly for me anyway, and also a lot of people I’ve spoken to about it.

JJ: To be realistic, you can touch on different aspects of all different styles of music, but if you concentrate on one and learn all about that, then you can branch off from there. It’s nice to have a focal point. Me personally, outside of here, I’ll write country and western, r ’n’ b, gospel, almost anything. I love all sorts of music, but for this particular project I’ll focus on hip hop.

ELLIOT: This is the first step to see if we can be a success in the music business. I think we’ve got all the ingredients; Jason is an expert musically and I’ve been in business since I left school. The advertising side of the business is growing quite quickly and I now employ staff to handle the day-to-day running of things while I can spend more time on creative projects like this one. What we do with advertising is fantastic, but music is something I’ve always been passionate about.

  • How are you promoting Truth Be Known right now?

ELLIOT: We’ve been on a Radio Stoke live session with DJ Fresh and we’ve also been advertising on the internet; but the main thing we want to do with Truth Be Known is get him some live performances in the local area. We’re always looking at new ways to promote him and the CD is available on iTunes and Amazon. Another thing we’re looking at is more airplay. Another promotional factor is a video and we’re working on that with a view to getting it on urban music stations and get some interest that way.

JJ: I think the best way to go about promoting it will be revealed as we go along. There is no cocksure way to promote anything really.

ELLIOT: There is no guaranteed way to success; just keep plugging away and get his name out there. If people look for him on the internet, they will find him. We have a pretty strong presence on there.

JJ: As an artist, I know well that the more gigging you do, the better you become at it. Performing hasn’t been a top priority on our list because we wanted to get the CD recorded first. We want his image to be as true as possible to how he really is. He has done some stage stuff, but that has mainly been theatre. When you are just one person on a stage, it can be pretty daunting and we want to build him up in that area.

ELLIOT: For this type of music, there isn’t really that many places to play, so when you do play a gig, you want to put as spot-on a performance as possible. Also the music is mainly on backing tracks, so at a live gig the pressure is that much more on a solo entertainer.

  • Are you in a position to pay your artists anything?

ELLIOT: It’s all based on royalties really. There aren’t any £100,000 advances. We are prepared to spend the time, talent and money getting him where he wants to go. We’ve got guys working on the video even as we speak. As for the CD, Jason put it all together and composed and played all the music and finally mastered it.

  • Sounds like you’ve got a lot to offer an aspiring artist. Are you open to other artists sending you demos for possible inclusion on the Big Music label?

Ideally, I’d like to say ‘yes’, as you’re never going to find fantastic talent unless you are listening to demos, but as this is quite early days, we are looking to put all of our attention into this one project for the time being. Truth Be Known has enough words written for about 40 tracks, so we’ve enough to be getting on with at the moment. We are committed at the moment to getting him more exposure, more radio and TV work. We’ll do all we can to get him out there.

When it’s all said and done it seems to me that Truth be Known would have been hard-pressed to find better support than this pretty much anywhere. With this sort of commitment, Big Music and Michael Esgate are halfway there already. Stoke Sounds wishes them every future success

Check out:

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Live Acoustic Music at the Unicorn.

In a bid to beat the smoking ban, increasing tax on beer, and now the credit-crunch, a town-centre pub is turning to music-lovers to help boost trade.

The Unicorn, opposite the Regent Theatre in Hanley, is host to a variety of exciting acoustic acts every Sunday evening, from this weekend. This traditional pub has been holding an open-mike acoustic night on the last Sunday of every month for four years, and is now expanding the musical programme to attract fans of all kind of music.

There will be something for everyone in a line-up for September which includes home-grown guitarists performing original tracks, polished entertainers doing covers, and even a Trad jazz band.

Licensee Matt Taylor hopes that the new agenda will bring new faces into his traditional English pub. He said: "The Unicorn is a great little pub. But the fact that it's so small means many people don't know its here. I am hoping that the new entertainment on Sundays will bring new customers to the pub, who will like the place and the company, and so will come back on other days of the week when they are in town.

"Times have been hard for the pub trade in the last year. First we had the smoking ban which hit pubs like mine hard. Then we had the budget where we saw hikes in tax on beer, wine and spirits. And now we have to struggle through this difficult economic period. So we need to persuade people to come out and enjoy themselves."

"I think this is a great way of doing it at the same time as giving local musicians the chance to get in front of people."

"There is a huge amount of talent in this area, and for some reason, very few venues that offer live music - especially for free."

Fred Williamson and the Coach Trad Jazz band will be performing on Sunday 14th September and once a month from then on. He said: "This month there are three different acts on with a variety of stuff on offer. We are looking forward to being right in the centre of town and in a place where, because of its size, the audience will be right amongst the musicians."

"To have this at a popular pub rather than a hall somewhere is a great opportunity for people to listen to live jazz in the middle of Hanley."

"I don't think there is anything else like it in the city centre at the

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

The Blow Monkeys & The Scott Ashley Band @ The Sugarmill, Hanley. 1st September

Review by Steve Dean

Photo by Simon Bamford

Opening his act with a song which may or not be by the Fine Young Cannibals, but certainly included parts of ‘She Drives Me Crazy’ as a possible nod to the 80s veterans to follow, Scott Ashley and his band displayed some fine musicianship and songwriting throughout their short, but impressive set. The included cover number was slick and well-executed, sticking more or less to the original arrangement, but the band’s first and foremost strength is in Scott’s own compositions. He featured a new single, ‘Blinking, Not Thinking’; a robust, catchy song in the pop/rock vein and I particularly liked James Marsh’s lead guitar over Scott’s jangling 12-string accompaniment. He also has a very able rhythm section in Ryan Whitmore and Gaz Ryder on bass and drums respectively. With its strong introduction and attention-grabbing incidental parts ‘Together as One’ also stood out, as did ‘Must Have Been the Weather’. Having broken two strings early in the set, Scott managed to play round them admirably and there is no doubt at all of his strong vocal ability. Each member articulately soloing as they went out on ‘Here’s My Imagination’, The Scott Ashley Band proved themselves a worthy outfit to play alongside just about anybody.

“This is only their third gig in eighteen years”, announced the announcer before bassist Mick Anker, saxman Neville Henry, drummer Tony Kiley, and frontman and guitarist Dr Robert, known collectively as the Blow Monkeys, took the stage. A quick check reveals that the other two were both on the previous day. However, there were no obvious signs of such a long break, the old songs sounding just as fresh as they did nearly two decades ago and the new ones bringing a new aspect to their overall sound. Their first number, the stylish and jazzy ‘The World Can Wait’, has the most silky, slinky bassline and a melody that puts me in mind of Pink Floyd of all bands. A great opening song which featured some excellent drum soloing as it neared close. Following this with the thumping ‘Bullet Train’, their new single, Dr Robert and the Blow Monkeys demonstrated a willingness to branch out in all directions musically and this was very evident in the variety of their set. For instance ‘Travellin’ Soul’ has an easy country ’n’ western feel in contrast to the funky soul vibe they are usually associated with. Their best known songs, ‘Diggin’ Your Scene’ and ‘It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way’, had a good few of the mainly middle-aged audience up dancing and they returned for two encores at the end, although it has to be said that the calling for them was lamentably half-hearted. This was no reflection on their act though, and they can congratulate themselves on a fine hour and a quarter set well-played and certainly up to scratch - nice to have them back.


Monday, 1 September 2008

The Shaiyans/The Control/The Rough Charm @ The Sugarmill, Hanley. August 29th.

Review by Danny Hill

Photos by Darren Washington
(click on to enlarge)

Support bands don’t have it easy, do they? Performing in front of an ambivalent (and relatively sober) audience isn’t easy, but Manchester five-piece The Shaiyans do an admirable job here. Opening with a lengthy drum solo, before bursting into heavy rhythm and urgent vocal with their opener Sweet Music, the band display some great energy here, on a particularly sweaty night. With songs like Do The Right Thing and Gotta Get Myself A New Constitution - with their dazzling urgency and Lenny Kravitz-esque foot stomping riffery - they do themselves no harm at all. And The Shaiyans leave the stage to an audience a great deal more appreciative and heavier in numbers than the crowd half an hour earlier. As support bands go, the lads can return North up the M6 with smiles on their faces, after a job well done.

The Control are one band I have been itching to write about for some time. Having seen glimpses of them recently at the Stoke Sounds launch party, I had yet to see them live in more intimate surroundings. They arrived onstage with much anticipation, the crowd buzzing, so much so that it’s hard to imagine The Control have only been around for a few months. Tonight is their second gig since the inclusion of new drummer, Mikey Blue, and the stories around the campfire suggest the band are now even better than they were before.

The very first thing that stands out about The Control - yet not discreetly, like a small cigarette burn on a shirt sleeve, but more Slam! Wham! like a wet kipper across the eye - is their bursting, uninhibited confidence and throbbing energy. The Control clearly know their audience and when their opener Crimes Of Lovedance begins mayhem ensues in the form of a mosh-pit. It’s almost exhausting just watching them. Watching frontman Joe’s showmanship, the singer with the fluffiest fringe in pop, jerking and twitching across the stage, is reminiscent of Ian Curtis and the legendary Joy Division - a band from which The Control have taken their name (Joe was actually an extra in Curtis’s recent film biography). Contemporary similarities, for me, would be shades of We Are Scientists (particularly with fans’ favourite, Playground Punks) and perhaps Interpol.

‘Anyone here like sex, drugs and rock n’ roll? I do,’ states Joe, before song The Wings Have Fallen Off, with its Hendrix-inspired soloing, drives the crowd into a frenzy. As their set continues, the pace never relents. Serving as perhaps testimony to their overall confidence, The Control invite rapper Nicholas Roache to perform in their catchy number, Stop Hiding. The band, it seems, at the moment, can do no wrong, and they are making friends and fans in all the right places. The Control also came with a high recommendation from Steve Dean, who has reviewed the band three times already, all positive. He was in attendance tonight, not as a reviewer, but as a fan - it’s not hard to see why.

Every now and again a band will come along out of nowhere and announce their entrance on the scene with startling adrenaline and gusto; senses are stirred, heads are raised, music-lovers chat eagerly amongst themselves and excitement brews like hot coffee. That band, at this particular moment, is The Control, one of the first names on many lips when affronted with the question, ‘What’s hot in Stoke-on-Trent right now?’

The Control have raised the bar, and the biggest test for them is the expectancy that comes with it. Indeed, they have material to continue their rapid assent, and in lead-guitarist Richard Bratt and bassist/backing vocalist John Burgess they have the musicianship to deliver it.

The Rough Charm, I’m informed, return home to headline The Sugarmill after a few rocky months touring up and down the country. Most bands would struggle to endure such testing times - nobody said things were gonna be easy - but The Rough Charm are made of sterner stuff. Seeing as the band draw their influences from some of the most prominent bands of the late-eighties and nineties (Oasis, The Jam, The Libertines, etc - perhaps I’m biased, I share
the same love interest with this era), it’s virtually impossible not to like them. The Rough Charm perform indie-guitar pop as effortlessly and yet as raw as their name suggests. As the performance goes on, with each song, each infectious charge of head-bobbing riffage, the band increase in confidence, enjoying themselves, and the crowd reciprocate, rocking and moshing fiercely.

How can I describe the songs of The Rough Charm? Picture the scene: you, along with a small group of friends, standing arm in arm, smiling, jumping up and down in receptive harmony to a radio-friendly, just downright enjoying yourselves, the endearing harmonies, reminiscences of good times, songs to put a smile on your face and remind you that no matter how hard times may be, good times are never that far away. These are the reasons why The Rough Charm are one of my favourite bands. And anyone who’s ever heard the Alex Turner-esque vocals (Will Abercrombie) of Better Off Alone, or the systematically engaging choruses of Sometimes and Signs will undoubtedly concur.

Band member Liam, not one to miss out on all the fun, decides to abandon lead-guitar duties and join in with the fun in the crowd, diving spectacularly into the mosh-pit. As a result, however, his guitar takes a hammering and the band is forced to play the remainder of their set without him. I can’t help but feel a pang of guilt for the lads - no such luck for a homecoming gig - but such feelings are quickly dissipated as the lads carry on regardless. The appreciative crowd seem to barely notice as Will, along with bassist Danny Nixon and drummer Ashley Leese entertain the crowd with their tunes. To the delight of the crowd, Liam takes a leaf from The Who’s book and smashes his already-pick-upless guitar to smithereens against the stage floor, auctioning off broken pieces like candy in a sweet shop. Result? Salvaged, in style.

Standing watching and listening from the vantage point of The Sugarmill’s balcony sent rushes of mid-nineties nostalgia flooding back. And this can only be a good thing. The Rough Charm, it seems, are here to stay. And thank goodness for that - you had us worried there for a minute.