Tuesday, 23 December 2008

CD Review: New English Social

Review by Danny Hill

New English Social are, for the moment, former Rough Charm members Will Abercombie and Ashley Leese. The pair are currently looking for extra members, a lead guitarist and a bass player, with the possibility of another guitarist to take rhythm from Will, who would like to focus his duties on singing.

‘With The Rough Charm it was more shouty, indie, punky stuff.’ commented Will. ‘This new project will be more alternative and layered so I can actually sing in me own voice. I just hated the thought of being known as “just another Libertines/Arctic Monkey-ish” type band that every one forgets about after a few years. I rate the New English Social as capable of bigger and better things…’

2008 has been a tumultuous year for Will and The Rough Charm - a year that showed such signs of early promise being one of the six bands signed by the SONS record company, famed for having four of their bands simultaneously in the top five of the independent charts earlier this year, an accolade that heralded comparisons with Manchester’s Factory label of the late-eighties/early-nineties. Since then, however, things took a turn for the worse. SONS blamed financial reasons for their inability to sustain their bands’ assault on the charts, leading gasps of expectation into reversible huffs and puffs of frustration. In my opinion, people can say what they like about SONS, as they often do, but for those few weeks music lovers from across the entire country - and beyond - had their eyes on Stoke-on-Trent’s burgeoning scene. No mean feat, that.

So, as you can probably understand, making the decision to break away from SONS and The Rough Charm couldn’t have been easy for Will and Ashley. ‘It was pretty much my decision split the band up and I’m glad I did it,’ said Will. ‘We all still get on and if the other lads start new projects they’ve got my full support.’

These are comments echoed in the first of the tracks from New English Social’s new acoustic EP, “So“, its lyrics a veiled message that Will has no regrets - “Stand alone I need no more - no you won’t silence me. And I’m so not sorry for all I’ve done…” Will’s ability to carve up a decent tune is in no doubt, but reflected here is a songwriter growing up and looking forward. The raucous anthems of The Rough Charm have been supplanted by a more mature approach, a maturity that belies songwriter Will’s twenty years.

The next track, even better than the first, “Take No More” had me reaching for my CDs in confusion, such is the similarity between Will’s voice and playing style and now-retired local songsmith Andy Gower. So much in fact I had to eject the CD to check I was listening to the correct one. The sprightly and infectious choruses and mid-bar refrains could easily slip into Gower’s collection. Purely coincidental, said Will. The pair, in my opinion, will never be remembered as classic singers. But neither will Noel Gallagher or Paul Weller. For what they lack in range they add up for in the energy and passion in their delivery. And, of course, their songwriting ability. The comparisons are obvious.

On the strength of these two songs, it’s certainly worth checking the New English Social out in the not-too-distant future.


New English Social

Sunday, 21 December 2008

The Capellas/ Johny Wood/ The Black Apples @ The Sugarmill, Hanley. December 19th.

Review by Danny Hill

Photo by The Shadow

The Capellas are the latest local band to sign to the SONS record label, but given their MySpace profile page offers no band member names, the only one I can offer you is lead-singer’s Oliver Hawthorne. Starting proceedings early on is never an easy task, with so few people around to entertain, but The Capellas did an alright job of it. They have a rich, melodic, meaty sound coming from their five-piece section. The lead-guitarist, equipped with a Fender Telecaster, did well merging some well-timed riffs along with the rhythm player’s classic cherry-top Gibson Les Paul. 'Take A Walk' is a superb example of their indie/rock heritage, drawing obvious comparisons with some of the genres earlier pioneers such as Oasis and Jesus and the Mary Chain. There are some impressive Page-inspired solos and riffery in 'Another Big Star', whereas 'The City Lies' displays the sheer excellence of the bass player. The five lads spent a great deal of energy in their set and it translated well to their audience, some of which were obviously staunch followers. They left the stage in The Sugarmill to great applause.

Johny Wood (that’s right, one N) you could be forgiven for thinking is the name of one band member. Not so. Johny Wood’s name is taken from singer Jan Rodziewicz’s neighbour, a refined English gent. Music-wise, Johny Wood offer something a little different to The Sugarmill, the awesome lead-guitar work of Jay Heath presenting influences from ‘60s bands like Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. Dave Wood on bass guitar and Ben Cooper on drums complete the line-up. 'Poker Face' had flashes of Lenny Kravitz springing to mind, although Liam Gallagher seeped in too, but only with regards to singer Jan’s menacing, rasping vocal and haughty stage presence. The band took the audience through a collection of fine songs - 'Dancing', 'Keep The Faith' and 'It’s Not Over' earned almighty cheers from the appreciative crowd. And again, like their predecessors The Capellas, the band had more than their fair share of support on the night. With gigs approaching in the new year at The Norfolk Inn and the Old Brown Jug, it may be worth catching them.

I’ve probably seen The Black Apples perform on more occasions that I dare remember. What strikes me is that they’re either sometimes distinctly average, or they’re very good. Last night it was the latter. As soon as lead-guitarist/singer Musso wailed into the opening bars of 'Consider This', you knew it was going to be a good show. The energy and passion that goes into The Apples shows are seemingly relentless. With the second number, 'Leave Before My Time' melding so flawlessly from the last it was a job to hear the link. As the night progresses, with any Apples gig, the audience not only gets the treat of hearing their substantial collection of foot-tappingly good material, but they are also taken along a journey of Musso’s obvious infatuation with the Blues too, throwing in the occasional cover from the likes of Robert Johnson or Muddy Walters. The Apples’ ability to brand this old material with their own distorted, eclectic style is commendable given the multitude of bands and artists that have tried and failed in a similar field before.

Always one to get the crowd on their feet and on to the dance floor, 'Hypnotise' started its familiar riff, earning great cheers. It’s also with this great song that The Apples epitomise what they’re about, bass player Jamie and drummer Joe flowing fiercely and purposely in harmony. 'Buy Me A Ticket' and 'Rollin Tumble' follow shortly after, and The Apples are cheered on for two encores, finishing with their catchy anthem, '1,2,3'.

All in all, another great night in the Sugarmill.

The Capellas
Johny Wood
The Black Apples

Saturday, 20 December 2008

The Decision / The Imperfectionists / Maybe This Friday @ The Sugarmill, Hanley. December 17th.

Review by Steve Dean

Photos by Simon Bamford

A large and expectant crowd greeted The Decision as they took to the stage to begin the evening’s proceedings, and as usual they did not disappoint. Having reviewed them only recently, it is enough to say that they were even more confident than when I last saw them; and their fanbase seems to have grown considerably as well, judging by the screams and yells as they came on. Ben West displayed his impressive flair for soloing and drummer Liam Kaye and bassist Rob Melville more than adequately backed him up. Of all the Stoke bands, The Decision are well up there on the list of those showing the greatest promise.

The Imperfectionists also have a fine guitarist in Jaime (no surnames available on websites) and all in all, the whole band; bassist/singer Ellis, drummer Liam and later addition JJ on bass while Ellis just sung, gave a most creditable performance. Despite the audience appearing to intermittently lose interest, each number was very well received. Although their main influence comes from the classic rock school, the funky piece they played when JJ took the stage for the fifth number sounded very tasty and showed a different side to the band altogether. Finishing the set with some hard driving rock, they went off to great applause. As with the outfit before them, they showed great promise indeed.

Maybe This Friday are something else again.
With a female vocalist and much more in the pop/rock vein, Maybe This Friday put me very much in mind of Blondie; the songwriting style included. Lois Stevenson has a fascinatingly similar voice and just as much power. From some angles, she even looks a tad like her (in her heyday, I might add). Shades of Clare Grogan and Altered Images shone through occasionally as well. All this isn’t to say they don’t sound original though, the songs I heard tonight had a definite character of their own. Looking like they are having the time of their lives, this very mobile outfit waste not an inch of the stage and put on a fine show - obviously, performance is something they pay much attention to. I loved the bass line in the opening number and overall the band has a set chock-full of fine compositions. I also enjoyed the nice acoustic work featured in some of them. I can’t help thinking that Lois and the rest of the band; Tyler Henry and Callum Barlow on guitars, Matt Forrester on bass and drummer Jack Watson may have a very big future in front of them. As with the previous bands, they have great, great, promise.

The Decision
The Imperfectionists
Maybe This Friday

Friday, 19 December 2008

CD Review: Owd Ear Records - 14 Songs to Derail Your Zen

by Charlotte Lunt

Owd Ear Records are a gathering of musicians who in various guises have produced a fine collection of ’14 Songs to Derail Your Zen’. The album shows the positively eclectic influences of its creators not simply delivering broad strokes within a comfortable genre, but with the differing groups having distinct sounds.

The album is opened by Tribal Brides of the Amazon’s ‘Better days’ which sets a fast pace and demands attention with just that and the urgency of Jim Mycock’s vocals; before the album takes a distinctly different turn with Sunny No Share’s track 'FOALW', an atmospheric track with distorted vocals and lead by keys.

Herrald Harks deliver a mellower dimension to the album with stand out track ‘Sherriff’, which ambles along with layered vocals and sauntering bass. Being one of the main contributors on the album, their tracks meld together the electronic and guitar driven music favoured by the other contributors providing a more accessible way into the world of Owd Ear.

The other main contributor to the album is Low Key, who delivers charged electronica ranging from discordant and angular on ‘Drinking Smoking Freaks’ where he collaborates with Mar Kee, to the darker grittier character of ‘Economic Sanction’.

A number of the artists appear only once in particular guises such as Poverty & the Vultures, and Sunny no Share each bringing another dimension to the album and showcasing the talent of those involved.

For an album that deliberately sets out to “derail your zen”, this diverse collection of tracks certainly pushes boundaries; that is not to say that it is a mismatch of songs that have no place being together, but more of a deliberately composed selection box of songs that reflect the personalities that make up Owd Ear. It is precisely because of this that ’14 Songs to Derail Your Zen’ is well worth a listen or two, and is available through Owd Ear Recordings.

Also listen: Tribal Brides of the Amazon

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Regent Theatre, Hanley - Free tickets over next two years.


The Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, is today celebrating the news of a £30,000 boost to get more young theatre goers through its doors.

The news comes from Arts Council England, as part of an announcement of successful applications to the Free Theatre Initiative, which will see 618,000 free theatre tickets given to under 26 year olds across England over the next two years in an attempt to increase young audiences.

The awards were made across three categories – Premium (a £50,000 grant), Standard (£30,000) and Flexible (£10,000) with The Regent Theatre receiving a standard £30,000 award.

Richard Wingate, Chief Executive, Stoke-on-Trent Theatres Ltd said: “Today’s announcement by Arts Council England is fantastic news for the young people of Stoke-on-Trent and we are delighted to have been selected for the Free Theatre Initiative. The Regent Theatre is one of the best touring venues in the UK, and we must applaud the decision to allow youngsters in Stoke-on-Trent the opportunity to experience live theatre, maybe for the very first time. Our inclusion in the initiative also supports the year round hard work of our Creative Learning team, who are already committed to involving members of the local community and beyond.”

The free theatre scheme – which will be named in the New Year – is supported by £2.5 million additional funding to the Arts Council’s core grant from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Since its announcement in September, Arts Council England has worked with the sector to finalise parameters for the scheme and to assess applications.

Attendance at arts events traditionally drops in the 18-26 age range and so this initiative is specifically targeted at young adults and their families. It is designed to reach new audiences and develop a new generation of arts attendees.

The scheme will run alongside the successful reduced price schemes for young people which many theatres already operate. Results of the pilot will be carefully monitored and, if successful, it is hoped that the initiative could be extended to other art forms.

The free theatre scheme will go live across the country on 16 February 2009, with a week of special activities at all participating venues. A dedicated web site will be launched in the New Year, providing further details and direct links to book free tickets.


For further information please contact David Bradbury, Regent Theatre Press Officer on 07884 067 455 or email davidbradbury@theambassadors.com

The Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, is operated by the Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG). Co-founded by Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire in 1992, ATG is currently the largest theatre group in the West End and separately, the second largest in the UK regions, with a total of 23 venues. ATG is also one of the country’s foremost theatre producers and has been behind some of the most successful and innovative productions in Britain and internationally.

Current and recent ATG co-productions in London and internationally include the hugely successful and critically acclaimed musical West Side Story (West End season and UK Tour); Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard; Riflemind by Andrew Upton (in association with Sydney Theatre Company); hit comedy Fat Pig by Neil LaBute; Harold Pinter’s The Lover/The Collection; Elling starring John Simm; The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess directed by Trevor Nunn and Guys and Dolls starring Ewan McGregor.

Creative Learning at Stoke-on-Trent Theatres Ltd initiates participatory arts projects involving dance, opera and drama. Over 7,000 people have taken part in events initiated by Creative Learning during 07/08 through extensive partnership work with schools, colleges, universities and community agencies, as well as other independently delivered programmes. The hugely successful Dance Artist in Residence project has introduced high quality dance to thousands of local children since 2003, and the groundbreaking work with youth opera will continue to be developed into 2009. ACE free seat initiative will be an invaluable enhancement to the department’s programmes over the next two years.

Arts Council England works to get great art to everyone by championing, developing and investing in artistic experiences that enrich people’s lives.

As the national development agency for the arts, ACE support a range of artistic activities from theatre to music, literature to dance, photography to digital art, and carnival to crafts.

Great art inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves, and the world around us. In short, it makes life better.

Between 2008 and 2011, ACE will invest £1.3 billion of public money from government and a further £0.3 billion from the National Lottery to create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.

There were 99 successful applicants for the free theatre scheme, representing more than 200 venues across the England. 116 applications were received, including groups of venues acting as consortia. The applications were scored against the published criteria for the scheme and scrutinised by an overview panel to ensure a good spread of participating venues across the country.

The 99 awards were made across three categories - Premium (a £50,000 grant), Standard (£30,000) and Flexible (£10,000).


Tuesday, 16 December 2008

New Year's Eve - Hanley / Track Review: The Rebounds - Mr Zed Lister

and track review
Ellen Argile

etween losing yourself in Christmas TV and frittering away your well-earned cash on presents that will be forgotten about, New Year's Eve is the perfect time to let your hair down and concentrate on number one.

For lovers of anything that features a guitar, The Sugarmill will be your haven. With three different rooms offering everything from britpop to ska (with some dance thrown in – just to keep you on your toes). With entry to the Main Room, Room 2 and the Roof Top Terrace Bar costing a mere £6, you’ll be sure to be partying until the wee hours.

If dance music is more your scene, then it’s just a short trip across the road to Hanley’s biggest nightclub – Liquid. For those of you that like to scrub up and splash out then their black and white ball themed evening is just for you. With tickets costing around £15 each you’ll definately be getting value for money, with 3 floors featuring dance, cheese and R’nB you’ll be spoilt for choice. With Envy’s lavish décor, Liquid’s hypnotising light show, and Jumpin’ Jaks' mega talented dancers, it’ll be a feast for your visual as well as your audio senses.


Track Review: The Rebounds – Mr Zed Lister.

From the ballsy bass intro to the ear ringing drop dead ending, The Rebounds latest offering 'Mr Zed Lister' is exactly what we’d come to expect.

The vocals not as polished as it could be, but it doesn’t need it. The whole song reflects that electric, mightier than thou, almost masturbatory air. The instrumental speaks volumes in this track, in fact I’d go as far as to saying you could get rid of the vocal all together and still have a track that would be strong enough to work in its own right.

It’s good to hear that they still master the sound that no other band in their league can even get away with.

Listen: The Rebounds

Saturday, 13 December 2008

CD Review: The Vanguards - Regress / Hey You / If Only


fter giving the three songs on this latest CD from The Vanguards, formerly known as Twem, a good listen, it is obvious to me that without a doubt this band possesses the songwriting skills to take them a long way, not to mention the excellent musicianship.

First track 'Regress' is a bright, uplifting song with beautifully ringing chords, well-structured solo, and some great vocals. It also made me want to listen to it again after the first hearing, as did the other two tracks, 'Hey You' and 'If Only'; the former featuring some gripping incidental drumming from Tom Bishop. The cohesion between he and the rest of the members, main vocalist Thom Twemlow and Richie Hearn on guitars and bassist Joey Jennings is extraordinary. The band sound like they have been playing together for years, when in fact they begun in their current form only earlier this year.

Overall, they put me vaguely in mind of an updated and more upbeat Crosby, Stills and Nash; that summery West Coast sound broken down to it's component parts, reformed, reworked and presented all shiny and new, but still retaining that slight but vital raw edge.

Working with well-respected producers Dave Tolan and Jim Spencer, a duo who have collaborated with such names as Primal Scream, The Charlatans and Tears for Fears, the Vanguards have forged a fresh, vibrant sound that they can truly call their own.

I am informed that the band is currently working on another four tracks, with a debut single planned for March, a follow-up single in May and a debut album scheduled for release in the Summer of 2009. A busy outfit indeed.

The band is currently unsigned and looking for opportunities at live dates, festivals and gigs generally. Further information is available from the band itself, or Louise Minter @ Blurb PR 020 7419 1221.

Listen: The Vanguards

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Primal Scream @ Sheffield Carling Academy. December 1st 2008

Chloe West

une 2005. Primal Scream take to the stage as Glastonbury’s Sunday night penultimate headliners. To be brief, the band have clearly had a bit of a session, and before being forced off stage, frontman Bobby Gillespie appears to make Nazi salutes, manages to throw a tantrum and several mic stands, and offend Kylie Minogue. So, with this my first exposure to the Scream’s live performance, tonight’s gig at the Academy had a lot to live up to. Would it be necessary to avoid flying equipment or had Gillespie and co tamed over the subsequent years?

Bursting straight into ‘Kill All Hippies’, the track proves why XTRMNTR was such a highly acclaimed album. Gillespie whines over chaotic synth and heavy beats, which along with ‘Swastika Eyes and ‘Miss Lucifer’ form the most frenzied elements of the set; simply dirty electronic mayhem. These compliment the spacey ‘Shoot Speed/Kill Light’ and a dreamy ‘Deep Hit Of Morning Sun’, at which point purple strobes cascade across the venue, mirroring the song’s lyrics. Visually, the Scream experience is overwhelming, the crowd constantly indulged in flickering graphics across the backdrop.

The band also showcase some new material, taken from latest album Beautiful Future. Both its title track and latest release ‘Uptown’ appear to reveal a poppy, lighter direction; another makeover for the genre defying group. Yet despite reinvention being their supposed forte, unfortunately this time it fails to reach previous dizzy heights. ‘Beautiful Future’ sounds more like a charity Christmas single rather than, as previously described by Gillespie, ‘high energy rock and roll’. In spite of this ‘Cant Go Back’ saves the new collection from drowning in its own sickliness, with rowdy guitar enhanced by classic bass from Mani, screeching keyboard and few controversial lines; its all we need to see.

Other highlights of the set include Screamadelica’s gospelesque ‘Movin’ On Up’ along with ‘Jailbird’ and ‘Rocks’, both of which draw heavily on the bands Stones influence. All three show yet another sound Primal Scream have dabbled in over the years, and the set generally moves seamlessly across the boundaries of musical definition. After the final encore, the night draws to a close on the colossal ‘Accelerator’ which seems to produce enough noise as the rest of the songs collectively, as though shaking the Academy to its very foundations. Despite this tour being daubed the ‘NME Rock And Roll Riot Tour’, there is no show of any earlier mentioned antics. Instead the Scream are professional to the end, delivering tunes spanning the last two decades but still sounding fresh as ever. Mic hurling or not, Primal Scream are rock and roll in their own right.


Primal Scream

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Soul 69/ The Trent Vale Poet/ The Clay Faces @ The Old Brown Jug, Newcastle-under-Lyme. December 7th. 2008

Review and interview
by Danny Hill

Photos By Darren Washington

Conditions were bleak last Sunday night at The Old Brown Jug and it wasn‘t just down to the cold weather. The experts have been warning us for a while that the pub industry is under serious threat due to the collective strength of a smoking ban, a credit crunch, inflated energy prices and cheap supermarket alcohol. And under the grim, dark cloud of a recession, who can blame punters for shopping cheaply and drinking their beers at home? It’s all a little Catch-22. It’s not just licensees bearing the cost of these economically challenging times either. It’s bands and artists. Fans, too, though sacrificially rather than financially. Many of you will already know that The Glebe in Stoke, a fantastic live music venue, will be shutting its solid-oak double-doors for the final time not so long from now. So, as a live music fan, you have to ask… Which one’s next?

The Clay Faces have recently completed the 08 leg of their current tour and so are perhaps the most suitably placed band to speak about the current crisis. I spoke to multi-instrumentalist Paul Dunn from the quartet: “The '08 leg of the tour was pretty much just a warm-up for the big push in '09, so we haven't been too far afield. We've been to places both familiar and unfamiliar and I have to say, the main impression is that live music at the licensed trade level is on its arse. It's the arty/cultural music club and theatre type venues that are the best to play, meanwhile some of the pubs can be really hard work.”

That isn’t to say The Old Brown Jug wasn’t doing any business at all last Sunday night, but the venue offered free-entry and one of the top local bands to its punters and still it only remained half-full throughout the evening. If precedents are anything to go by, the same gig would’ve been packed to the rafters 12 months ago. In the spirit of professionalism, however, the bands were not to be deterred.

First up on Sunday’s bill was Soul 69, an acoustic trio with two guitarists, Marcus handling rhythm and vocals, Doon on lead and Vinnie on the turntable. Their quirky, choppy Iggy Pop- Passenger-style riffs and Marcus’ falsetto singing style fused well and made for agreeable listening straight from their opening song, Lookin’ setting the scene for some genuinely unique songs. Soul ‘69’s reggae and hip-hop influences then came across with their next number Old England, with some awesome scratching and lead work and lyrics laced in social and political irony. Songs Sometimes and Answers set the trio in poppier, sing-a-long territories. They finished their set with the infectious In This World to great applause.

The Trent Vale Poet has followed The Clay Faces over the last few months of their tour. “Taking the poet with us and watching him perform outside his comfort zone has been great,” enthuses Paul. “He really raises his game and it's a pleasure to see his work being enjoyed outside of Stoke. I've challenged him to write a poem about the tour, to be performed at Oggy’s on the 20th Dec. So that should be interesting.”

It’s always a pleasure of mine to see TVP perform, and I’ve seen him numerous times. I’m accustomed his act these days, so it’s not him I‘m watching as he begins. I‘m watching his audience. I’m looking for the ones that haven’t seen or heard of him before. Their initial reaction - they don‘t know what to expect. Trent Vale Poet, a man characterised by his flowing black trench coat with its pockets stuffed with his poetry on scraps of paper, performs his work with such passion and energy that his audience’s faces can sometimes leave them set to stunned. That’s when they’re not wise to his approach. Seasoned followers of TVP look forward to his appearances rapt with attention from the second he grabs the microphone. I Were Born In Fenton! is a poem that personifies his approach, written about a real character from the pubs of Fenton, a character that after a few pints or more would always shout “I Were Born In Fenton!” TVP echoes this broad statement as the entrance to his poem, startling a few punters in the process. But after that they’re hooked, and TVP goes on to deliver a few more poems from his massive repertoire, all perfectly-timed and flawlessly crafted, including the tongue-in-cheek one-liners of A Love Letter To Steve Davis.

Performance poetry and band collaborations are on the rise. Just recently, poet John Cooper Clark supported The Fall at The Liquid Rooms in Edinburgh. With that in mind, you could call TVP a pioneer.

The Clay Faces’ birth, in 2004, came from the demise of Jugopunch - a band, then, more concentrated on its Celtic influences and songs about whiskey-drenched songs of yore. One of the original band member’s Paul Dunn explained their name: “I can take responsibility for being the first one to utter the words 'The Clay Faces' as a band name suggestion.

It came about at an emergency brainstorming session - the first EP was in the can and we had a production deadline to meet, and no name! In fact, the decision to change the name at all completely overshadowed the name itself. But basically we just wanted to have something that tied us back to our roots, so that the name would kinda be an explanation as to what we were up to in terms of us moving away from being 'an Irish band'. We wanted to show that we represented Stoke and her history, her heritage…”

And although the Celtic influence may still be alive with The Clay Faces’ material, only somewhat to a lesser degree, the band admit that it was the demise of Jugopunch that opened doors in terms of their songwriting. The band are certainly no strangers to addressing the problems of society through the medium of social commentary, particularly with songs like Football On The T.V. - a song, ironically, about the decline of the pub trade, and World’s Away - a song regarding recent problems in America and Iraq. “The social comment is a Clay Faces trait,” said Paul. “Jugopunch was mainly the traditional Celtic thing, and then on the last album you can hear that political aspect beginning to creep in, with songs like Dark Waltz... That’s when we realised it was that kind of emotional response and social comment stuff is what we wanted to do. We're pretty emotional types, so singing for 90 minutes about whiskey and highwaymen and bonnie maidens wasn’t really doing it for us - much better to vent our spleens about the real problems like fascism and racism and all the other problematic 'isms'.”

These days, it’s only usually hip-hop artists using their music in this way, and in the sappy-pop order of modern times - the music dominating today’s charts - where thousands upon thousands of television viewers will vote for a Christmas number one that has already been decided twelve months earlier (The X Factor) it’s refreshing to see a band using their music in an innovative way to address issues that are important to everyday life.

The Clay Faces kick off with what is also the first track on their album ‘and the word was..’ the punchy Mississippi Burning, quickly followed by my personal favourite Love Lies Bleeding, percussionist Cara Beech trading her drums for a bodhran, and written by mancunian guitarist Dave Walker. Masters of the build-up and break-down as they are, The Clay Faces then soften the mood with the melodic Will You Come Away With Me, singer Andrew Tranter’s trademark deep-throated bark and venom in perfect working order throughout. Their songs are a reminder of some of the most essential sing-along punk(ish) songs ever written, and played by those who wrote them in the way they were supposed to be played. In my opinion The Clay Faces stand exposed as the most rousing trad-fusion band since The Pogues.

Later on in the night came a cover of traditional Irish favourite Barney Hair, along with a collection of favourites from their Jugopunch days, including Cold and A Fiver On The Horses, with Paul seemingly switching instruments between each song. “I get really bored playing the same instrument all the time,” he said. “Definitely a 'jack of all trades, master of none' thing going on.” Impressively, throughout their set, The Clay Faces use a total of nine different instruments in their set, including the mandolin and a penny whistle. “It's a conscious thing on our part to ensure a bit of variation sonically through the set, and I think it works…”

Singer Andy awkwardly attempts to draw conversation from the audience between songs but, alas, it’s a slow night in The Jug and The Clay Faces are more at ease communicating through their music. Up-tempo versions of Marianne and Monyash Road follow, and for the encore fans’ favourite from the new album And The Word Was… earns great applause. For the encore the TVP-penned Black Hearts rounds the evening off.

As for 2009 the tour will continue further afield, with the band considering a few good offers from different parties. Paul also informs me that the band are currently rehearsing-up a fifth member, predominantly playing bass and lap-steel. In the near-future, however, The Clay Faces, along with TVP and Soul ‘69, will be playing Oggy’s on Dec. 20th.


The Clay Faces
The Trent Vale Poet
Soul 69

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Flamboyant Bella /She is Sue /The Elastics @ The Sugarmill, Hanley. December 5th 2008.

Review and photos by Ellen Argile

Double the number of people, double the energy, double the astonishment. Flamboyant Bella, and their supporting acts The Elastics and She is Sue were simply 100% better than expected.

By the time The Elastics made it to the stage, there was already a impressive number of spectators anxiously waiting at The Mill. Vocalist and general stage jester, Jack seeped vibrancy and pushed every button he could to get the crowd going.

One bar break and toilet stop later we returned to find a considerable increase in head count ready for She is Sue. Despite being one member down their performance was still superb. If you didn’t know any better, you could of easily of been forgiven for mistaking these guys as the main act. It was raw and edgy, the kind of noise you expect from the kind of musicians who know their instruments. Their distinctive sound defiantly shone through, with songs that were just right length, and every one of them finishing with a gunshot ending that left your ears ringing for more.

Flamboyant Bella we’re the biggest surprise of the night. In more ways than one. I was expecting it to sound either like a polished, crystal cut mirror image of the studio sound, or a disappointing half baked effort at a live performance. Neither were the case.

Despite being clearly flabbergasted at the size of the crowd, the band played an effortless set. With just the right amount of every element a good gig needs, it’s hard to describe. Confident but not complacent. Sugary but not Twee. Talented but not overly processed.

Flamboyant Bella
The Elastics
She is Sue

Saturday, 6 December 2008

A Child Rasputin/ Joe-EE-T/ DJ Fresh/ Loose Kites/ Tribal Brides Of The Amazon @ BBC Radio Stoke Open Centre. SUBCulture Xmas Party. December 6th.

Review and photos
by Danny Hill

he annual works’ Christmas party; a seasonal institution etched into the hearts and minds of many of us. An opportunity for employers to express their well-intentioned gratitude and thanks to the hard-working employees with small gifts and gallons upon gallons of alcohol. In all honesty though, the annual Christmas party, for most of us, is an opportunity to drown ourselves in a deep, dark sea of overindulgence, manifesting itself in highly uncharacteristic and alcohol-induced acts of roguishness and depravity that will inevitably lead to a shameful conclusion and a dressing-down in the manager’s office the following Monday morning. It goes with the territory. Or is that just me?

The guys at BBC Radio Stoke SUBCulture, however, do thing a little differently. Their line-up on Thursday evening read like a glorious selection box of treats from a wide range of musical genres. Matt Lee and Dave Hamer did an excellent job of presenting the event throughout, under considerable circumstances. Set in the foyer of BBC Radio Stoke’s Open Centre on Cheapside, Hanley, the entire event went out over the waves exclusively live. So no profanities please everybody. Please. It was then I found myself wondering, and not for the last time that night, what fun would be had had accustomed potty-mouths Parradox, or The Title’s Guy Davies been invited along. Just as I’d began to imagine the pair tethered and gagged, secured in a remote location around 100 miles from the studio, Tribal Brides Of The Amazon (who, for the sake of literary economy, I shall now refer to as TBOTA) began the show with a blistering rendition of Smokey Pig.

To me, TBOTA have a sound that seems to have built its foundations in blues. Somewhere. A darker, grittier shade of the Blues perhaps. Yet, saying that, their technique shatters any boundaries of predictability with the sheer eclecticism in their rhythm playing. In addition to that, Jim Mycock’s vocals add a further dimension with its wailing and charging melody. Purely infectious. Bob Dylan once said that; “Musical evolution is a snake with its tail in its mouth, forever circling around and around.” Over the past couple of years we’ve seen something of a Blues revival, led from the front by the now mainstream-savvy Kings Of Leon. One can’t help but think TBOTA may have carved something of a niche out in today’s current music marketplace. All that remains for them is their music to be discovered by the right hands. The lads - Jim (Guitar/Vocals) Jake Morgan (Lead Guitar) Jon Cole (Bass) and Michael Walsh (Drums) refer to their style as “melodic Sonic Youth-esque with a Beefhearty twist” and I’ll vouch for that.

Next up, practically bouncing with youthful enthusiasm and instructing affairs from a laptop, Joe-EE-T had the small audience rocking appreciatively to his track Cold Feet. Looking on admirably was fellow Stoke Sounds contributor and artist DJ Fresh, who is good friends with the lad’s father. Joe-EE-T, throughout the evening, showed great signs of promise and not a hint of nervousness, interacting with the crowd and inviting them into his set. I’m sure that with such raw talent, confidence and guidance in the form of seasoned local institution DJ Fresh the lad will go far.

I had been warned of A Child Rasputin’s brilliance as I arrived by Fresh, so I looked forward to his introduction. To look at (and I hope he doesn’t mind me saying this) he’s an odd-looking fellow, in his old-fashioned garb, pork pie hat and neatly-trimmed handlebar moustache. But to see A Child Rasputin perform and to listen to his musical ideology is to understand that it’s all part of his truly astonishing act. Acting alone, he adds a whole new meaning to the term “ambidextrous”, using both feet on loop-pedals, fingers on keyboards, hands on two mic’s simultaneously. Did I mention a beatbox? You can also add guitar playing to his instrumental résumé as well, with what looks like a very nifty-looking Fender Telecaster. Phew! And yet A Child Rasputin manages to fit all these different functions in so deftly and artistically that one would think they were listening to three or four people instead of one man. Added to that, he also has a quirkiness and eccentricity in his mannerisms during his act which translates amusingly to his audience. Put simply, he is impossible not to watch. His tunes aren’t bad either. I Want You To Know has an ethereal quality, climaxing beautifully with exquisite vocal harmonies and effects. More please.

If you haven’t yet heard of The Loose Kites, then you really should include them in your “Gigs to attend” priorities in 2009. Already with five residencies across the country, The Loose Kites are a band in high demand. The hirsute acoustic Chester quartet began with Radiation Vibe, the sing-a-long rockabilly-esque engaging immediately with the audience. Singer Si’s gravelley tones set me in the mind of Joe Cocker, and the overall musicianship of the band, with two backing singers, personified significantly by the acapella opening of Roo Bah Bah Now. There’s nothing ground-breakingly original or imaginative about The Loose Kites, and it’s not too difficult to envision which direction any critics would head from. But, to me, that’s just being pedantic. Because for what Loose Kites seemingly lack in innovation they certainly make up for in the likeability factor, ranging somewhere between a basket full of fluffy kittens and extra helpings of mum’s homemade meat and potato pie. They certainly have some very good tunes to their credit, too. The Loose Kites, later on the show, would go on to perform new song Lothario and Devil’s In The Detail. I’d wish them luck for the future, but on the strength of their upcoming tour schedule, in terms of their popularity, I don’t think they need any.

Next up was maestro DJ Fresh, the most relaxed-looking guy in the place, and protégé Joe-EE-T, performing a solid rendition of I Am The Law, the pair melding flawlessly together in their act. This was followed by a nostalgic trip back to the ‘80s with a remix of Synth Train, its lyrics depicting a golden age of dance music and club culture - Old Skool at its gritty, hard-edged very best. The pair will soon be appearing together again with Parradox and Dirty Mundays at The Underground on December 20th. You wouldn’t wanna miss it.

TBOTA returned with their concentrated energy and a few more tracks from their vastly-expanding tune inventory, including fans’ favourite Trippin’ Balls, which ended the show as suitably as they began it. A Child Rasputin also returned with a couple more tracks, including the sensational When Yer 30, transcending from a lush, hymn-like tune to screeching cacophonic proportions, a song that tips your senses to the very brink. In conversation, A Child Rasputin is genial, calmly-spoken and unequivocally modest. He announced a European tour in the not-too-near-future.

Dave and Matt did a great job between acts presenting the show, with only a few minor technical hiccups. There were also a few familiar faces from Stoke’s burgeoning scene in the audience on Thursday night - including The Control, who were included in one of the “Best of 2008” recordings also broadcast, alongside Sgt Wolfbanger’s Elevator Music. For those who didn’t already know, Dave and Matt’s show is broadcast every Thursday night on BBC Radio Stoke, 7-9 p.m. Long may their outstanding contribution to the area’s unsigned artists continue. Xmas party hats off to them.


A Child Rasputin
DJ Fresh
The Loose Kites
Tribal Brides of the Amazon