Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Bleached WaiL / The Boothen / Tequila lips @ The Underground 21st November 2009

Review by Liam Kelly

Photo by Chris Bostock

Tonight The Underground played host to one of it’s most eagerly anticipated shows of 2009, Tequila Lips Album launch. Excitement was clear from the reasonably sized crowd by the time first act, Bleached Wail took the stage. These lads from Alsager got straight into things with the pulse racing beats of ‘Rumours’ and then into the boisterous rendition of ‘He’ll do anything’. The yelping vocals of frontman Gus shone throughout a set filled with energy and passion. So much so that they somehow managed to knock over two mics and destroy an amp. A band who can’t be put into one specific genre, showed a small snippet of everything including indie, pop, ska and punk. Bassist Floody danced around the stage as if it were on fire and kept the crowd more than entertained throughout. Throw this in with Nicks frantic drumming and it’s in tracks such as Zoo Town and ‘Hot on his heels’ that this band shows their promise.

Following this superb first act were newishly formed band, The Boothen. Formally known as The Rough Charm, these four lads are the perfect example of the sex, drugs and rock & roll cliché. The Boothen arrived tonight with their usual large following that were sent into a frenzy by the engaging choruses of songs such as ‘Pure’ and ‘Calling’. As their performance goes on, with each song, each infectious charge of head - bobbing riffage, the band increase in confidence. From front man Will's swagger, guitarist Liam's energy fuelled guitaring, bassist Danny's cheeky laid back attitude to Ashley's symbol crashing drumming, it's hard not to admire the boys for their style and charisma. Will demands respect from his audience and certainly earns it with crowd favourite ‘Suburban Suicide’. It's a testimony to Will's song writing ability that large sections of the crowd were singing along to every word of his lyrics. The clear influences of the late eighties-mid nineties era of bands such as Oasis, and The Libertines is evident throughout in The Boothen’s set. Ending with an old but classic track and a stage invasion from their loyal fans indicating the kind of popularity The Boothen are experiencing at the moment.

Next it was the moment this near sell out crowd had waited for, the appearance of Tequila Lips. To say the lads were excited was an understatement considering they all ran onto stage. Storming into their set with the anthemic ‘No Way Back’ got the crowd going, much to the delight of frontman Gary Clay who urged them to get involved throughout the set. It has to be said, Gary is easily one of the most talented frontmen in Stoke right now. The thriving energy of guitarists Tom and Dave, mixed with Azza’s tight bass playing and Sam’s ferocious drumming give the band the perfect stepping stone to create a sound powerful enough to earn comparisons to influences such as The Verve and Kasabian. A band not only big with and sound and musical quality, but with the good looks, style and charm that screams out coolness. ‘Joe Teague’ was screamed back to Gary by the loyal following of the band and sent the crowd into further chaos prompting scenes of flung pints, frugging mosh pits and crowd surfers. ‘The Rain’ and one of the bands newest tracks went down well with the crowd and the mayhem continued. These boys certainly no how to put on a show! It was then time for the title track of the album, ‘Crystal ball’. After having a sneaky preview of the track beforehand it’s clear to see why it’s so popular with its neat and tidy guitar riffs to its engaging chorus and hooky melodic vocals. It’s the kind of single that rattles around your brain for days and was impossible to leave without humming the melody to yourself. Finishing the night with crowd favourite ‘Another Face in the Crowd’, the band finished on a high and in particular Tom, whose pitch perfect voice carried the first verse of the song. A successful year for the lads from Tequila Lips and was topped off with one of the most spectacular performances I’ve witnessed in a long time from a band who are already making their mark on the local music scene and are expecting to go on to big things.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Good Shoes @ The Sugarmill 16th November 2009

Review by Sian Eardley

Photo by Simon Bamford

It was a ghost town for a Monday night in Hanley; twinkly lights yet no-one around. However, a good turn out (for a £10 gig mind) could be found in The Sugarmill, waiting for headliners: “Good Shoes”. It must also be said that the quality of support acts is definitely on the rise, as the penultimate act had attracted more viewers than the eventual audience for Good Shoes, and were an interesting mix of Dogs, old school Editors, and good old fashioned rock (not the drivel you’d hear on the radio which gets to much airplay). Also, and most interestingly, the night had a very much male dominated crowd – maybe because it was all testosterone on stage across all acts, but it also got me thinking -maybe Good Shoes are on a connecting par with the males, maybe they push their buttons, (?) as through their performance I was honestly stumped as to whether it was: good, bad, middle of the road, exciting or boring. I couldn’t put my finger on what they were.

It was a bit of a rough start (potentially due the sound guys bodging the levels), as the vocals fought the music, and it just looked and sounded dreadful. However, with a few alterations, it was pulled back and from a scratchy feedback of noise, and reached a more eloquent tone, as vocals “subtle…subtle…subtle” floated into the air, with a “Never Meant to Hurt You” comeback.

It’s a very confusing experience to see Good Shoes. Are they likeable, are they not? Are they loud, are they soft? It’s fair to say they’re like mini explosive outbursts of energy on stage, and they’re verging on punk rock with a pinch of Doherty, a dash of Jamie T, and a sprinkling of The Holloways. And just when you’ve got that figured in your head, “The Way My Heart Beats” - “ends so softly” melody, resembles that of a good old indie love song, and then to further mess with your head, massive drum pounds come in from nowhere to resemble The Distiller’s “Hall of Mirrors”.

They proudly stated they were a south London band, and it looked like it was a south London crowd they were expecting, instructing the crowd to: “Get involved”, “applause because we like being applauded” and it all came off a bit too big headed. Still, it made you think about them: “Do I not like the band but find myself drawn to the music?” This I kept trying to fathom, through their emotive thought processes which came off as Muse-esque intros, outros and interludes. At times, it did seem that they were too big for their own (Good) shoes, expecting London chique from a midlands crowd. You can appreciate that they’re trying to bring something new and unique across, but they’re not intended crowd pleasers. The set was all a bit dilapidated, but then again was catchy in parts. This is the thing! What to make of them?

They get into your head by puzzlement, mixed with semi-fashionable sound (often sounding similar to Jake Penãte’s: “Are We Really?”), and on stage, main singer: Rhys Jones had a clear childlike anxiety and want for fame, which is only too visible in his stage act, up to the point of being vulgar. He’s clearly expecting to make it sooner or later, but then, thinking about what constitutes commercial success, it’s the charts (not that-that’s good either) and sales and downloads that drives you up there, and they’re not going to fit amongst the Razorlights, or The Views of today, but for festivals- yes!

There’s some sort of irony as just when you’re ready to leave as you think you’ve got all you can out of their set, an amazing riff will come out of the sky and you’ll be compelled to stay and listen. Maybe it’s intentional, maybe it’s genius? And maybe the real answer as to how well their performances go is to judge for yourself; see the musical ups and downs, see the samey parts, see the inspirational bits, decide whether to press play or eject. One thing that is fact is that they’re intriguing and they are the first act ever to still leave my mind boggling for hours after the performance!


Good Shoes

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Vellocet/Acid Sunshine/Screaming Lights @ The Sugarmill Hanley 11th November

Review by Liam Kelly
Photos by Leo Mazzocchio

First band to arrive on stage to a modest sized crowd were local band, Vellocet. Starting their set with a sublime instrumental solo and then kicking straight in with 'We are the Frontline.' Ryan Barker approaches the mic with a style similar to that of Liam Gallagher whilst screaming out a vocal performance with the passion and quality of influences such as Arctic Monkeys. This is supported by Jordan and Ash on guitars, Louis on Bass and Leigh on drums. Jordan’s soaring guitar riffs combined with the perfect delivery of Ryan’s vocals make Vellocet a must see band. A set packed with energy and enthusiasm on stage gives this band a great stepping stone to go on to big things in Stoke. Songs such as 'The one and only' and 'I am alive' make leaving the mill without humming the warms of Vellocets heart-warming choruses an impossible task.

The main support slot was taken by a new 5 piece from Stoke called Acid Sunshine. It’s fair to say that I have never been so impressed by a band on my first viewing of them as I was by Acid Sunshine. Front man Andy Character had one of the most demanding stage presences I have seen and he clearly knows how to entertain the bands loyal following. They are a group who put on a visual performance of real quality have a sound similar to that of Queen of the Stone Age and Tokyo Police Club. It’s the songs such as 'Black Star' and 'The Citizen' that have made this band so popular amongst their loyal fans, with the symbol crashing of Kev Jones on drums mixed with the fast and furious guitaring of Lee, Day and Jack. The bands most accomplished song of the set was 'Billy no mates' which has a chorus boasting that 'feel - good factor.' A band who are a must see and in particular for Andy’s humour and entertaining stage show.

The headliners tonight were a band who come from Liverpool, Screaming Lights. A band who are riding on a wave of success from an album release and Radio 1 airplays, it was clear tonight to see why this band are kicking up such a fuss in the music world at the moment. Starting the set with the popular 'Volts' shows how this band have become so popular and with the range in pitch from front man Jay Treadell, the band have a unique sound that could see them go to on to even bigger things. Liam Riley’s funky techno beats on keyboard is the benchmark for the band and throw in with this the raw and edgy bass playing of Alan, the aggressive and symbol thrashing of James on drums and the tight sounding guitar riffs of Max then the band have the quality to perform a track as 'GMN’; a song that will be rattling around your head for days after. Other noticeable tracks that continued to show Screaming Lights accomplished sound were 'Hello Tomorrow' and their most successful single to date 'Phenomena.' The variety of instruments used, including synthesisers and piano, give the band that edge over other up and coming guitar bands, and Jay in particular boasts a range of musical talents that make him the perfect front man. Unfortunately for the band, playing at The Sugarmill on a Thursday night doesn’t usually attract the biggest of crowds and tonight this was again evident. This had no effect on their performance and these are a band you should expect to see many more albums and festival performances through the next couple of years.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

The Nanateas / The Only Alternatives / Skinny Pigs @ The Underground, Hanley

Review by Liam Kelly

Photo by Simon Bamford

Tonight’s opening band were the local trio, The Nanateas. A band that clearly aren’t too keen on following the indie rock and roll genre that is evident with most upcoming bands at the moment, The Nanateas played an acoustic indie pop sound throughout their set, and their unique sound surprised the crowd. A group heavily influenced by bands such as The Beatles and The Pixies gave a tight sounding performance, and in particular lead singer Andy showed a melodic and tuneful vocal performance. Dan on Bass and Ang on drums backed Andy and the songs that stood out best during this act were opening track ‘Street Lamp life’ and ‘Enthusiastic Dave.’ Upon first listening the bands style seems simple but as their set went on their performance became one of infection and exuberance. The crowd seemed to be enjoying the memorable melodies of The Nanateas and they kicked of the night in style. A band I will certainly be looking out for in the future.

The second support band for Skinny Pigs were young 5 piece, 'The Only Alternatives.' What this band lacks in age and experience they certainly make up for in stage presence and confidence. The band kicked straight into their set with the catchy and upbeat track which unfortunately I didn’t catch the name of. Lead singer Cam Conway found his vocals in the next track ‘Have you seen it?’ and he belted out a powerful vocal performance of which we’d expect from band a lot older than him. The audience seemed to be particularly impressed with the bands versatility too pull of a cheeky cover of Arctic Monkeys ‘Still Take you Home.’ Charles Steele’s fast and furious drumming set the platform for the band and add to this the neat guitar riffs of Jordan and Paddy and the powerful bass playing of Jack and you sense that these lads could go onto big things. Songs such as ‘Keep the Heat’ and ‘Robot’ reminded me of the sound of early Arctic Monkeys and its clear to see they are heavily influenced by bands such as The Enemy and The Stone Roses. With a few fine tunings and more chances to play live, the future could hold big things for The Only Alternatives and I will be one of many following this band all the way.

Tonight’s headliners were the ever increasingly popular Skinny Pigs. Unfortunately tonight’s gig had not been very well advertised and after some confusion with dates, their usual large crowd was not present. This had no affect on their performance though and as ever, they put on a memorable show. Frontman Craig Paterson has a rock and roll attitude that puts Liam Gallagher to shame and the lad’s appearance suits the Indie Rock genre like no other bands. The track ‘I’ve got a fever’ has the potential to be one day released as a single and showed the bands qualities all around from the powerful vocals of Craig, the frantic drumming of Wez, the authoritive bass playing of Ben Nixon to the tight sounding guitar riffs of Lee and Sam. Skinny Pigs have a gritty sound that stands out from other bands in Stoke at the moment and was best shown in crowd favourite ‘It’s all about the Rock and Roll.’ The band continued their fast tempo in tracks ‘You never listen’ and ‘Wait for nothing’ and Craig was superbly supported by the backing vocals on Lee and Sam. The band weren’t at all effected by the crowd size and ‘drink it up’ saw the audience screaming back the chorus. Ending the night with ‘Wish you were here,’ the band ended the night in style with a excellent instrumental solo for the final few minutes and left the stage to rapturous applause and chants of ‘Skinny Pigs na na na.’

The Nanateas
The Only Alternatives
Skinny Pigs

Friday, 6 November 2009

Ghost Trains, Ghost Trains and Rollercoasters

Review by Danny Hill

It seemed Halloween came about a week too early as I was handed an album to review following a chance meeting during a cold and dark night commuting from Manchester this week; a band known quite ominously as Ghost Trains.

Ghost Trains are vocalists and acoustic noodlers Tim Ellis and Elijah Wolfenheart, and according to their MySpace page the band - then minus guitarist Wolfenheart - were set to call it a day last year, but now they’re back with a new line-up and new material. The result is thus: two new songs, Where Lovers Die and Breathe Again, and more on the way, all recorded in Tim’s studio, Bad Apple, in Hanley.

Last year Ghost Trains recorded a 9 track album entitled Ghost Trains and Rollercoasters, which is one of the albums I have here. Considering their new direction of late the old material might seem somewhat redundant for a review, so excuse the epigrammatic.

The album opens with a few sinister arpeggios before bursting into fierce rhythm and Ellis’s macabre lyrics, which sets the tone for the entire record.

Listening to a folk record can be a dreary business when done wrong, its horizontally inclined acoustic ambience is not exactly a recipe for those looking for a pre-clubbing pick-me-up. However, what defines this album is its hybrid tendencies to infiltrate folk’s close-cousin genres of pop and soft-rock. Close your eyes, sit back and let the music do the rest. Whereas Terrible Man and Time doesn’t quite hit the stoned-majesty of the album’s opener Ease Your Mind, by the time Mocking Bird arrives at track 5 the album comes into its own, and probably my favourite off the collection. Shooting Star, opening with synths and heavy basslines, makes it even better.

Ellis’s vocals offer a distinctive range, coursing easily from soft to almost stadium-rock proportions. His wailing recalls Paul Draper to mind, and that can only be a good thing. In fact, with their lilting melodies and atmospherics, its macabre-dwelling lyrics and ambience, if you can imagine what Mansun’s Attack of the Grey Lantern would sound like if stripped down to its bare acoustic bones, therein lies the essence of Ghost Trains. If there's one thing about Mansun that made them great, though, it was their little idiosyncrasies, their ability to laugh at themselves and their subject matter. Maybe, just maybe, Ghost Trains take themselves a little too seriously?

Silent Whisper lowers the tone, however, dreary and slightly pretentious, and probably the worst track on the album. Lying Awake is only slightly better, but the album’s saving grace comes in the last track, Cool End To Summer; simplistically endearing, a subtle creature that will sonically creep its way into your consciousness.

At a hair over 35 minutes Ghost Trains and Rollercoasters is short and sweet, but not entirely filling. A small selection of party snacks for a cluster of friends perhaps. But all good things have to start somewhere, right? And this brings me back to Ghost Train’s recently recorded songs.

The new guy, Elijah Wolfenheart, is a concept all his own: not a bad songsmith himself, at all, and armed with picking skills to make Nick Drake blush. When two talents like these get together it can go other one or two ways. Luckily for Ghost Trains the musical marriage has worked out beautifully. Where Lovers Die, easily the pair’s best track, combine their skills exceptionally, from the melodious Simon and Garfunkel duelling to the harmonious singing. Ellis’s voice sounds even better for it, too. Breathe Again somehow demonstrates the same qualities but, quite cleverly, doesn’t fall into the same trap as sounding grudgingly similar to its predecessor, as a lot of the songs on the album do.

Both songs are available to listen to from their website and their MySpace pages. The duo, along with the band, are currently adding new tracks to their impressive couple. The album will be entitled When I Was Still Alive. If you fancy something a little different, a little calming, then I thoroughly recommend you pay them a visit.

Ghost Trians

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Amateur Assassins: Pioneer Abnormalities

Article by Robbie Dennison

Once upon a time in Stoke, there was a nice thing called the Music Room. Of a Saturday you could get the bus up to Stockton Brook and spend a day drinking tea and browsing the most eclectic and exciting small record shop you're likely to find this side of reality. The Music Room also put on regular nights at the Talbot Hotel in Stoke town, which were the sort of thing that you wouldn't think could happen in "this sort of place".

Yet they did, with a range of bands including anti-folk heroes like Kimya Dawson, US alternative figureheads Of Montreal and downright great local acts too. It was at the Music Room that I first noticed the emergence of the guitar-driven, mazey-jazzy-spazzout sound as purveyed by Amateur Assassins. Maybe I was behind the times and all the kids with better shoes had been playing this sort of things for years, but I found it all pretty intriguing.

Around that time, and since then, places like Manchester and Nottingham seem to have become something of a stronghold for this sort of music. I've always thought the danger associated with it, and what sets apart good examples from bad, is the ability to vary the textures and feel of tracks (varying tempos certainly aren't a problem).

This album from Amateur Assassins manages that, with the first track Morphine Pupilus initially reminiscent of industrial electronica. We are soon lead back into more familiar clean, jazz picking and anaphylactic vocal stylings on tracks such as Cyanide Sweet Shenanigans and Signed, Served and Sealed but crucially this is tempered by the moody instrumentalism of Dinosaur and others.

In fact, this pattern is varied regularly across the whole album. It's good to see, as being a bit of a secret pop nancy I've not always got along well with bands that stick solely to the balls-out-of-the-bath hardcore jazzout. So here it's nice to report that the more ambient tracks, or intervals or whatever you'd like to call them, make the whole a much more palatable and crucially memorable piece. It feels organic and as if the tracks were intended to sit well next to each other - a rare feat in these dark days of albums featuring five singles and seven tracks of bloated b-side filler acting as the wood shavings in this particularly bad sausage metaphore.

Amateur Assassins