Monday, 20 December 2010

Julian Cope @ The Slade Rooms Wolverhampton 14th December 2010

Review by John West

The Slade Rooms is a wonderful little venue paying homage to their local heroes which are of course the legendary Slade. The bar area is adorned with old photos of Noddy and the boys during their glory years. As I’m looking around they bought back for me some wonderful memories of one of my first ever musical heroes and first ever gig I attended way back in musical history when the land was awash with glitter and sequins. Oh happy days before the drudgery of eventually entering the big wild world in a couple of years time. Anyway, enough of nostalgia alley; what of tonight’s gig? Yeah, it is one of going down back on my own rock n roll journey recalling the times I’d seen Mr Cope over the years particularly of seeing the Teardrops for the first time and the excitement I felt about it. Both The Teardrops and the Bunnymen came out of the Liverpool, Zoo records scene and were way ahead of the pack in musical terms. They were great to listen too and terrific live bands too.

A week ago I saw the Bunnymen at the Ritz so it was a strange one that I should being seeing Copey tonight, 1980 became 2010 a thirty year journey from then and now and back again.

As the soundman quells the sounds a dimming of lights precedes the entrance of Mr Julian H Cope larger than life appearing as charismatic as ever. He promises an evening of songs proceeding with a spoken unaccompanied “Socrates” before reaching for his twelve string guitar and hitting “Upwards of 45degrees” before a favourite of mine which follows – “Autogedden Blues". He talks about being simply the minstrel tonight with guitar and mellotron to his side it is a one man show which he more than pulls off for the next couple of hours.

It's more than just music with Julian Cope as he brings to the mix his own take on life and beyond, always leaving you with room for thought, yet at the same time there is humour, a self awareness a greater understanding of the man. I guess much of the audience go way back and have appreciated his music and get where it’s coming from. However, there were a few tonight who seemed to like the sound of their voices too much, annoying those close by as well as JC himself – why go to a gig and talk crap to your mate all night? Unfortunately we’re getting this more and more.. Just watch the gig you p..... !

He is a real presence on stage adorning a cosmic biker military concept with his regular over sized shades. He appears like a being from another time and space with his mantra type stance as he addresses the audience. As a musician and songwriter he commands respect but also as a raconteur he comes into his own as he touches on a number of subjects such as the student protests urging our support to out there concepts such as psychedelic talking wasps, a séance involving his wife, it can be serious, yet humorous.

As for the music he takes us on a back catalogue touching on his old band the Teardrops to his solo outings among the highlights are “King of chaos”, ”Like Leila Kaled said”, and an epic “The Great Dominions” which was a real treat to these ears. Julian Cope has had many musical trials and tribulations over the last thirty years of hurt as he said. However he continues to inspire and be a cult icon for his legion of fans. As he continues to take us through the solo years we are treated to a number of Cope gems including a buoyant sing-a-long of “Sunspots”, “Pristeen”, Robert Mitchem” “Double Vegetation” a new song “In the underworld”? He concludes the night with “Sleeping Gas” as the support act David Wrench et al take up their instruments. This is a full band onslaught not the stripped down effect laden vibes of earlier, providing a suitable end to a great night and for this year of gigs; a night of thorough enjoyment as well as reflection. It’s been some time since Julian Cope has played in this part of Staffordshire let’s hope he will make a welcome return and give an appreciative local audience a truly real musical experience.

Recommended:Teardrop Explodes; Kilimanjaro (remastered edition)

Julian Cope; Fried, Peggy Suicide, CITIZEN CAINed, Floored Genius Series


Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Primal Scream perform Screamadelica @ Olympia London, 27th November

Review by John West

This was an eagerly anticipated event for me, having seen the Scream on numerous occasions, but this was the BIG one, big in all proportions from vastness of the stage, to the lighting, projections and huge video screens. Prior to our arrival it was bitterly cold as we left the coach in Knightsbridge, I must say thanks to the driver for allowing us to do that. There were Christmas celebrations in Oxford circus and the Capital was ground to a halt, I began to ask myself would we arrive in time for the concert. A quick word and we were given the all clear from National Express control to hit the streets and be on our way. Busy it was too, as the traffic meandered its way through the glistening glittering streets of London town.

Mission number one - to find a welcoming hostelry to quench the thirst and meet up with fellow fans who had travelled far and wide. The venue itself is a cavernous affair holding 10 thousand, and 20 thousand fans would witness over two nights Primal Scream’s biggest gigs to date. This was to be a celebration of an album which hits it’s 20th anniversary next year and the first time it would be performed in its’ entirety. The previous night the concert was beamed across the airwaves on BBC6 with Steve Lamacq holding court wetting our appetites for the event to come. The audience were clearly here as music fans of one of the most important albums of the last twenty years and a classic in its own right, certainly ranked amongst one of the greats, and in certainly their finest hour.

Within moments of entering the massive arena the band hit the stage to perform a first half of hits

including ‘Accelerator’, ‘Burning wheel’ ‘Country girl’ ‘Kowalski’ ‘Jailbird’ .On stage Bobby Gillespie throws his spider like shapes clad in his obligatory black suit, madly clapping, as the ever beaming Mani throbs his bass lines to his right. They work the faithful keeping them warm with their assault, then they lunge into the anthemic ‘Rocks’ from the ‘Give out...’ album but call a brief halt as Mani and guitarist Andrew Innes mess up, Gillespie asks the band to stop wryly quipping as the crowd sing along stating they know the words better than they do. They kick in again this time getting it right exchanging humorous glances towards each other across the stage.

An interval follows as Andy Weatherall hits the mixing desk to throw in some sounds to reflect the mood of the evening as the band take a break in preparation for the main event. Weatherall was responsible for some of the production of the album adding ambience and texture to the initial recording, therefore its only right that he should share in the glory tonight.

As the lights dim the familiar backdrop of the Screamadelica album cover is there in all its glory as the familiar Stonesy riffing of ‘Moving on up’ is belted out. The crowd are ecstatic as this is what they came for; this is a celebration of a great musical moment. Whereas some bands have rested on their laurels Primal Scream has continued to push the musical boundaries embracing all genres and soaking it up like a musical sponge. This is not merely a night of nostalgia its highlighting what is a masterful recording, and to hear it live in its entirety it works on all levels and beyond taking the audience higher than the sun for the experience.

Primal Scream has been together for well over twenty odd years with the ever controversial Gillespie at the forefront. They’ve taken on board all their eclectic musical tastes from the garage sounds of MC5, the Stooges, via the swagger of the younger Stones through to punk then embracing the ‘Krautrock’ of Neu and here with this airing the sounds of dub, coupled with acid house vibes and beats. It is the moment where the indie rock audience of all ages fused with the ravers of the chemical generation. Everybody wanted to dance and groove along whatever their personal musical bent, a unison of sound and vision. It’s a testament to the Screamadelica album that it cuts across all the musical snobbery that goes on, the rock kids were allowed to dance after all, they had moved to the dance floor.

Gillespie and co are first and foremost music fans themselves, they simply acknowledge what they hear and bring to the mix a sound that is very much their own. They are a true rock band, a gang, a collective who have led a much documented hedonistic lifestyle, but they have the ability to deliver here tonight they do not let us down. It is not a simple run through, the band have rehearsed this to maximum effect replicating the original and taking it even further, much to our delight.

The original running order has been mashed up and despite it being a massive venue for them, the sound fills every corner of the arena. With added vocals from the extremely impressive Mary Pierce and the addition of a wonderful gospel choir for added effect they can do no wrong. The climatic airing of ‘Loaded’ and ‘Come Together’ emphasises the point, the band have taken the time and space to deliver on all levels, with the psychedelic backdrops, hi tech lighting, and great musicianship the audience are left overwhelmed by their sheer power and majesty. Screamadelica won the inaugural Mercury music prize, it’s debt is somewhat owed to the masterful production and mixing qualities of both Jimmy Miller and Andy Weatherall, the music however is pure Primal Scream.

If you haven’t got this in your record collection you need to. This band don’t hide behind stylists they are pure rock n roll they are the Xtrmntrs of the Xfactor wannabes. Thank goodness we have bands like them who are original and groundbreaking , they continue to reinvent the rock ‘n’ roll rule book with their innovation and influence on a musical landscape which sadly currently is more concerned about the look and celebrity status – to coin a familiar phrase “just what is it that you want do?”

Primal Scream will be taking to the road in Spring at smaller venues across the country, get inside the house while you can. The album itself will be re-released and re-mastered for a March release with extras.



Dirty Hits

Monday, 29 November 2010

Don Vito / Lamo / That Fucking Tank / Part Chimp @ Fat Cat Hanley 26th November 2010

Review by James Winter-Samuel

Image Courtesy of Wrongpop

It’s very, very cold outside and the way things generally are when it’s like this, people tend to stay in the warmth of their own homes. Thankfully, this has not stopped the Wrongpop faithful from venturing out to enjoy one of the strongest line-ups Stoke has seen for a good while. The place is full and happy, expectant of a bill that promises much and will deliver more.

Don Vito are a late addition to Wrongpops already stellar line-up. Placing themselves on the dancefloor a la Lightning Bolt and inviting the assembled throng to share their performance space almost as if the band need the audience to perform, like some voyeuristic parasite. Song titles are meaningless and those songs seem to snake into one another, coiling and twisting like an aggravated boa constrictor. Off kilter, skittish stop start rhythms combine with rolling grooves to great effect, for when these guys hit that groove, it nearly takes your head off. That’s a good thing.

Lamo seem rusty. Seeming like a band who haven’t played in a year, and deciding to pick up their instruments and just dive straight into a gig, crash landing but coming up unscathed. Maybe slightly in awe of the other bands they share the bill with, which the lead singer embarrasingly tells us they worship, the bass heavy duo rattle a few teeth and grind away with a youthful exuberance. If this is Lamo at their rustiest, I can’t wait to see what they are like at their best!

That Fucking Tank! Good band name. Good band. As soon as the first notes are wrung out of the guitar, they bombard you with a repetition of riffs and fret-noodlery and controlled but powerful drumming. No vocals. They don’t need them. The riffs are so huge that anything resembling a vocal line would get swallowed up by the mass of mudslide like power riffs. Another member of the Don Vito like stop/start brigade, it’s as it the duo seem to rely on telepathy when arriving upon new rhythms to contort and reshape to their liking. Excellent!

Finally Part Chimp take to the stage with all the laid back cool that most bands would kill for. They plug in, take their places, and then an unleash absurd explosion of noise that rumbles off the stage and through the room. It’s like some sort of sludge rock ‘n’ roll party in here as the audience lurch and sway to the grooves but the members of the band are unaware, focused on the task at hand, which is to basically obliterate every venue they can with riff after riff of bomb like detonation. This is thunderous stuff and I’m surprised the bar upstairs hasn’t landed in our laps by now. Part Chimp have mastered the ability to create amazingly heavy heavy songs that don’t rely upon any basic structure or conform to any genre but still retain an accessability that will appeal to a broader spectrum of open minded music fans. Quality, Quality stuff across the board, it’s a shame Stoke will not see a gig like this again for quite some time.

Friday, 26 November 2010

The Fragrant Vagrants Take High Tea, EP

Review by Sian Eardley

So following the thoroughly enjoyable gig of Adam Green, I’m sent this EP ‘The Fragrant Vagrants Take High Tea’ from the Congleton based band who supported the eccentric genius that night, my precious recollection of them:- "The Fragrant Vagrants’ blew me away from walking through the door, let alone the headline act. Where have this band been hiding? Stoke shows us their defiance in delivering quality indie rock of a high caliber; the kind we’ve been crying out for," pays homage to their brilliant little EP. Well-produced and well put together, it’s rather good for a local effort. Not cheaply printed with somewhat of an art deco design, it’s obvious that this band have something, substance; they quite clearly take care in the quality of their productions, releases and material.

The name itself ‘Take High Tea’ suggests they have something to say, whilst giving the sweet bohemian image that so many of today crave and love – the Alice in Wonderland image bombarding the highstreets (Topshop/Miss Selfridge etc.) However, (recalling my last views), I do feel that The Fragrant Vagrants have to be seen live to do them full justice. They gel together well on record, but even more so in their raw performances, and personally that’s where I think their real essence lies, and if you haven’t got your stage shows nailed and on a par with the recorded stuff then there really is no hope.

‘The Duke’ – a fantastic and roaring opener reminiscent of guitars from the Pumpkins, with the defiant vocals of the likes of The Clash and The Jam. A pure exploration into a punk indulgence. TFV are living proof that punk is alive and well in Stoke, exhilarated by their soaring angst and energy to pack out local venues.

We progress go the stomping ‘Common Ground’, spunky, punky and full of in-your-face attitude. They can’t be ignored – fitting for their Adam Green appearance and fitting for their impressionable state of beautiful varieties of bass amplitude sensations and ‘two fingers’ lyrics. A talented bunch.

‘Blood’ offers something fresh in its insanity of the main guitar riff, which you can’t help but love with every listen. With its heavy and prominent bass lines it’s a guaranteed crowd pleaser and I’d guarantee you’d be nodding along to it in seconds and feverishly if live.

‘Blinkers’ for me is a tribute to the legendary Ian Curtis, back in his early ‘Warsawza’ days. It’s definitely haunting, but in a good way. ‘Left, right, Left right’ they roar, reminiscent of Joy Division’s hypnotic ‘Digital’. The aged vocals make TFV more distinctive than any poppy preppy effort from a band of 15-year-old youths.

The closing ‘Useless Generation’ ends on a high note indeed. Funky, fresh riff shredding injects a hedonistic rhythm into your body, sounding like an advert for Garnier Fructis’ hair wax but with more bites and more balls – if you will a more amplified version of Dogs/Subways.

What you see is what you get here, and if decent punk music set up to 21st century speed isn’t for you then sod off; a little treasure on CD, but an intense spectacle on stage.


The Fragrant Vagrants

Monday, 15 November 2010

Cut out Dreamers / Faux Feet @ The Sugarmill 13th November 2010

Review by Charlotte Lunt

Photo by Simon Bamford

As I arrived at the venue on Saturday eveningthere were just the last few chords ringng out from tonights openers - so apologies all round for missing them. However, as I stepped out of the drizzle into the familiar surroundings of the mill it was clear that the majority of tonight’s audience were also unfortunately running late, with the 50 or so assembled audience being firmly glued to the walls or hiding behind the sound desk.

Nevertheless, Cut out Dreamers took to the stage to deliver their bass heavy melodic to the assembled few. I was struck initially by the brevity of their songs, and also by the slurred vocals, which made a couple of the tracks difficult listening. This was short lived however, as their third song ‘Changes’ really raised the bar. This is a strong song musically echoing the indie-guitar vibe of 5 years ago, and the delivery of the vocals was far more confident.

I was beginning to see that Cut out Dreamers, have specialised in a very simple formula, and this is not intended as a criticism. They are clearly driving their music and there is plenty of variety in their set with their influences showing in very subtle ways rather than wearing them on their sleeves like so many bands do. There is also a marvellous feeling of summer about their melodies, which on a rainy Autumn evening in Stoke is not a bad thing at all.

Heading full tilt into their final two songs, the lads gave us a glimpse of their inner punks, and front-man Eddy Hollinshead released his inner Dave Grohl, before covering a particularly U2-esque version of ‘Helter Skelter’. If these two songs indicate the bands aspirations then they have drawn their line in the sand, however a word to the wise, don’t show your hand too soon. There is definitely a strong bond within this trio and as their steady progress over the last two years has shown and it will be interesting to see where they take it.

The main event tonight was Faux Feet, who I first saw playing in Fat Cats as part of the Oxjam Festival, and I was mightily impressed so this gig had been firmly in the diary since then.

It was clear that I wasn’t the only person anticipating the performance as the audience gravitated to the front of the stage and within the first 10 seconds of the opening number people were dancing. Frontwoman Sian Matthews plays a good game on stage, appearing coy whilst maintaining full control and being a natural performer. Perhaps let down a little by the PA this evening, her vocals were not as crisp as when I saw her last which is a shame as for me it is Sian’s voice that makes this group stand out.

The most commercial song of their set was ‘Don’t look back’ which for me is a song that seems to capture the band at their best, with solid playing from Ben Carl and Jamie creating a bedrock platform which allows Sian’s precise vocals to add another ethereal dimension to their music.

What I find striking about Faux Feet is not only Sian’s vocals and stage presence, but their entirely unassuming nature; these guys all appear to have their feet firmly on the ground and it is difficult to identify an ego between them. While the lads seem almost ambivalent to the audience, Sian interacts almost at an individual level with the first few rows, and relays her stories to them through song, making her performance more of a shared experience.

Finishing the evening with ‘Circles’, a definite crowd pleaser, Faux Feet have shown again that they have a spark about them that is not often seen. For my money they are definitely one to watch.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Robert Plant / Band of Joy with Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara @ Manchester Palace 31st October 2010

Review by John West

Photo by Simon Bamford

I’ve travelled to many, many gigs in Manchester and visited numerous venues across the city but this is the first time for the Palace. It’s a wonderful grade II listed building dating back to 1891, a fascinating structure of architectural significance with a warm atmosphere extremely pleasing to the eye boasting two balconies,royal boxes and a warren like environment. It was originally known as the Manchester Palace of Varieties which is rather fitting for tonight as the music and performers will certainly offer a variety on stage tonight.

As the lights dim Juldeh Camara and Justin Adams enter the stage bathed in a red glow plugging in their traditional African instruments the Ritti a one stringed fiddle and the Kologo a two stringed African banjo. There has been a line up change since I last saw them with Dave Smith replacing the colourful intriguing character of Salah Dawson Miller on percussion. Justin Adams will be familiar to Robert Plant fans as he is one of the guitarists in Strange Sensation and a mighty fine musician he is too. Juldeh is a Gambian ‘griot’ meaning poet, tonight wearing traditional robes he again excels in his own musicianship too. It is a perfect fusion of blues; rhythm and African tradition taking rock ‘n’ roll music back to its desert roots. Justin is a world music and blues enthusiast, being responsible for producing the music of Mali band Tinariwen along the way on his own musical journey, and he is in buoyant mood tonight.

Their vibrant hypnotic trancelike tunes take the listener on a musical journey utilising the electric guitar against a backdrop of percussion and traditional handmade instruments from the African continent. It’s an almost unworldly sound as they bring to the fore their individual strengths with mainly guitar and the virtuoso playing of Juldeh on the Ritti and singing in his own language Fulani. Their unique sound may not be as familiar to many in the audience here, however it is a real pleasure to see these two masters of their craft perform tonight. This is joyful music too, with Justin humorously remarking that we ought to see them in a smaller venue in Wales where everyone will be guaranteed a good time, offering more than a hint for people to get up on their feet to dance. I couldn’t agree more, as I could easily imagine myself transported to the hills to witness this perfection of fusing the musical styles of the western and African continents. It’s their unique take on tradition with familiar blues and Bo Diddley riffs which is a joy to behold, especially with ‘Sahara’ and ‘Feluni Coochie man’ and judging by the queue to buy their CDs during the interval they certainly turned on and won over more fans tonight.

On Friday evening the Band of Joy performed in London for BBC radio and recorded a soon to be televised Electric Proms, if you heard that performance you would have had an insight into what to expect tonight

Initially I was a little concerned as to the direction the ‘Golden God’ was taking with this new project and I personally hoped that after the collaboration with Alison Krauss and T Bone Burnett he would reconvene with the excellent Strange Sensation. However having heard their take on the Los Lobos song Angel Dance’ prior to release it was a relief when I heard that arrangement and when the album finally arrived I was knocked out by the sound of it and the choice of eclectic covers.

This of course is not the Band of Joy with which he performed in the 60’s with his best mate the late great John Henry Bonham, no this is a different engine entirely, a newly assembled outfit of some of the finest musicians from Nashville and beyond and back home to Kidderminster. On Fridays’ Radio 2 live broadcast he was quick point out that it was playing with the Band of Joy as Jo Whiley had only introduced him to the nation. This modesty is justified, as he fully acknowledges their individual input to the BoJ throughout the night, an affinity which is warm and fully appreciated by the man, who is willing to take a back seat allowing the others to shine, much like he did with Alison Krauss and T Bone a couple of years back at the Apollo down the road.

Casually dressed in jeans and open necked shirt he takes to the dimly lit stage following the BoJ collective to rapturous applause, the legendary rock hero had returned. They open with ‘Down to the sea’ from the ‘Fate of nations’ album, it’s a much heavier sound than the previous live outing with swampy wah wah guitar from the awesome Buddy Miller. This flows into the mandolin led ‘Angel dance’ featuring a fine display therein from multi instrumentalist Darrell Scott and singing accompaniment from Patty Griffin. Robert dances and throws a few familiar shapes with the mike stand, with all the band beaming and thoroughly enjoying themselves. He recollects previous visits to Manchester name checking a few places including the Twisted wheel and the Domino club, recalling the blues greats, Sonhouse, Bukka White and the Reverend Gary Davies as inspiration - a misspent youth as we all surmise, ha ha.

He always comes across as a very humble person, not one for chasing celebrity status and escaping down the cabaret route unlike some of his peers, always allowing the music to speak for itself. This is his path now, a quest to continue and pursue his roots once again reinterpreting his muse in his own way. With calls of “I love you Robert”, he laughs and quips “I thought it was all over for us”.

Naturally the audience wonder when one of those songs will appear and it’s not long before a radically reworked version of a little played ‘Misty Mountain hop’ appears. Other songs to feature from the mighty Zeppelin cannon later include Houses of the Holy, a superb country tinged acoustic and peddle led steel guitar version of Jimmy’s self penned ‘Tangerine’, a hint of ‘In my time of Dying’, a more roots version of the traditional blues folk song ‘Gallows pole’ and the audience participation which is of course the encore ‘Rock and Roll’ complete with the obligatory “ah ahs” in response.

One of my favourites from the BoJ LP is their version of Richard Thompson’s ‘House of Cards’ which tonight is sublime. This is one of several highlights this evening from the BoJ release another being Low’s ‘Monkey’ which is dark and brooding in its delivery echoing U2’s Edge guitar style as Robert and Patty almost breathlessly bounce off each other taking the song to epic atmospheric proportions. There’s a humorous plug for the new single ‘Can’t buy my love’ as he says it is after all being played on the Ken Bruce show. The music takes on an almost gospel like quality with ‘Satan your kingdom must come down’ with banjo and echoey guitar sounds. The musicianship on stage is organic and faultless as is the mandolin, banjo, guitar and pedal steel five part harmonies. The BoJ is one musical living working body allowing individuals to take time in the spotlight to shine as Buddy Miller, Darrell Scott and the “hillbilly princess” Patty Griffin are all allowed their chance as Robert moves to the side of the stage or behind, also giving him the opportunity to play some harmonica in the background.

There’s an outing of ‘Please read the letter’ the song originally on ‘Walking into Clarksdale’ which he recorded with Jimmy Page and later to be featured on ‘Raising Sand’. However this is more akin to the former with a slight nod to the Walker Bros to these ears. As the band brings the night to a close they finish with an acapella ‘Goodnight’. As they line up and embrace each other the audience give them a standing ovation before they make their exit having witnessed a master class in musicianship and performance from start to finish.

Where Robert Plant’s journey takes him next is anyone’s guess, but wherever his travels take him I’m sure it will be one of integrity and quality, just don’t expect any reunions, sorry but we just have to accept that one now; just let it go as those images are clear but sadly they are over the hills and far away in the misty mountains.


Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara: Tell no lies

Robert Plant: Fate of Nations

Robert Plant and Strange Sensation: Mighty Rearranger

Robert Plant: Band of Joy

Online: Tight but Loose – The Led Zeppelin magazine

Monday, 25 October 2010

Oxjam @ The Sugarmill 23rd October 2010

Review by Liam Kelly

Photo by Alex Mulliner

Tonight saw the culmination of Stoke Oxjam, with The Sugarmill hosting four of Stokes biggest acts each who played their part in the cause, and put on a memorable show.

First to take stage were Stokes biggest showmen, ‘Tequila Lips.’ The thriving energy of frontman Gary Clay mixed with the backing of a band that not only boasts some serious musical talent, but good looks, style and charm that puts any other band to stage. These boys aren’t all about appearance though, tracks such as the anthemic ‘No way back,’ and ‘Joe Teague,’ show the bands promise and Gary’s melodic voice is superbly backed from the rest of the band. Other particular highlights from the set included ‘The Way you say hello,’ and ‘Crystal Ball,’ a track boasting some of the hookiest choruses around. A performance which suggested that these lads were more suited as potential headliners rather than first warm up act, Tequila Lips went down a storm with the crowd and in particular, me!

Next up were The Riots. This band display quality in every department, from the powerful drumming of Joe, to Marks heavy bassing, the Hendrix-style riffs of Steve and vocals of such quality from frontman Woko that comparisons to U2’s Bono come to mind straight away. In tracks such as ‘Hey Now,’ and ‘No Disguise,’ the 80s/90’s Britpop and earlier influences are easy to see with hints of The Who, Pink Floyd, Kasabian and The Stone Roses. For me, Woko is possibly the strongest frontman on the Stoke scene at the moment, and his vocal strength is incredible, in particular within the tracks ‘Shoot Me,’ and the afoementioned ‘No Disguise.’

The penultimate act of the evening was one of the city’s most popular bands of the moment, The Way. On the back of releasing one of the most anticipated albums in Stoke, in addition to two singles, The Way gave us another unforgettable performance. Minus guitarist Dean Dale , this was to have no effect on the other lads and lead singer/guitarist Stefan Smiths powerful vocals blended with Scott Powell’s ferocious bassing and the brutal drums of Rich Howshall give The Way a rock 'n' roll sound similar that to the old school sound in the 60’s and 70’s.

Not a band to follow the stereotypical “Arctic Monkeys Genre,” their two debut singles ‘Yesterdays News’ and ‘One Time Round,’ have the hasty tempo that sends Stoke crowds into a frenzy, and tonight was no different. ‘River Island Skirts,’ see's Stefan showing off the quality of his rhythm guitar and the switchover of vocals between Scott and Stefan give the band that extra versatility. Go out and buy the album, you will not regret it.

Tonight’s headliners were one of my favourite bands from Stoke, Skinny Pigs. This band are what Rock 'n' Roll is all about! Frontman Craig Paterson is one of the coolest men in local music, and can be described best with the aggressive vocal style Liam Gallagher mixed with the coolness of Paul Weller. This is to take no credit away from the rest of the band, the explosive bass guitaring of Ben Nixon particularly stands out in the bands most well known song, perhaps their calling card in fact, ‘Best in Me.’ A track which the band have just made a video for, it has the potential to be released as a successful single.

Thier slower track, ‘Drinkin up’ see’s Rhythm guitarist Lee Swindells display tight sounding riffs to add to the amp shattering guitar solos Sam Hardy in songs such as ‘Leave me Alone,’ and ‘It’s all about the Rock and Roll.’ The backbeat of all this comes from the symbol crashing drumming of the bands newest addition to the line up, Jake Cunnigham. ‘I've got a fever’ is a particular favourite with the Pigs' loyal following, and sees the crowd screaming back the lyrics to the band. Skinny Pigs know how to put on a show and in particular Craig who owns the stage and easily works the crowd. A great ending to a superb night, and in particular raising money for an important charity. Stoke can be proud of it’s bands tonight as they were all in top form.

Oxjam 2010 @ Various Venues

Photo's by Simon Bamford

Pretty Great White, The Sport, and O.K. Coral, all @ The Full Moon

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Swimming / The Heartbreaks / Carl Barat @ The Sugarmill, 17th October 2010

Review by Liam Kelly

Photo by Tish Scripps

Opening tonight’s sold out gig was ‘Swimming,’ an experimental pop 5 piece from Nottingham. Without a word they exploded straight into a techno poppy indie sound and give off instant vibes of influence from David Bowie right up to a modern day Klaxons mixed with the vocal styles of Vampire Weekend. My particular favourite track was ‘Mirromaze.’

Next up were a band that are in the middle of major hype and attention from NME magazine, ‘The Heartbreaks.’ These lads are touring with Carl Barat and it’s easy to see why they are highly rated. A band that seem to be following the increasingly popular ‘new-indie’ genre and follow in the footsteps of the likes of The Drums, Bombay Bicycle Club and The Maccabees, they certainly won over this Sugarmill crowd with their high tempo and the exhilarating playingof a guitarist who seemed to model one of the strangest haircuts I have seen in a long time, fashion is certainly changing!

This is not my particular favourite genre of music but ‘The Heartbreaks’ certainly changed my opinion and i will be giving these a future listen, and in particular their newest single, ‘Why do you always make me cry?’

Preparing for an hour long set, the arrival of Carl Barat on the stage was greeted with tremendous cheers. Perhaps many of the youngsters came to this gig hoping that Carl would play stuff from his time in previous bands, ‘Dirty Pretty Things,’ and ‘The Libertines'; but Carl gave us a treat, not only did he play samples of previous work but showed off work from his newest album which was released on 4th October.

First track of the set was his first single as a solo artist, ‘Run with the Boys.’ From the very first chords it is just Carl Barat all over, from the bassy beginnings to the 80’s style riffs in the hooky chorus which you just can’t help but sing along to. Clearly an idol to many lads in the mill tonight, the sound of Libertines anthem ‘Time for Heroes,’ was met with scenes of delirium and sent this crowd into a frenzy. This wasn’t the only ‘Libs’ track we heard tonight, with Carl also playing ‘The King who would be dead,’ and ‘Death on the Stairs’. Then out came the famous Dirty Pretty things hit, ‘Bang Bang your dead’ and Carl showed us what he’s all about with his perfectly melodical vocal performance and backed superbly by his band, this is just a song that is impossible not to love.

‘Deadwood’ saw Carl bring up the tempo and with the aggressive drumming combining with the grimy guitars which once saw this man at the top of the Britpop scene. Between these tracks of old, he showed off his new project, and how exceptional this alum is! Introducing a more soulful side to his music, he combined beautiful lyrics with music that’s a delight to the ears. Particular highlights from the new album were singles, ‘France,’ ‘The Fall’ and ‘Cloud Nine.’ It was in Mr Barats last song of the night where we saw what everyone had been waiting for, The Libertines favourite, ‘Dont look back into the sun.’ Without doubt everyone in the 'mill was dancing along and Carl, clearly enjoyed himself and couldn’t thank the audience enough for what tonight's memorable gig.

The Black Apples / The Pretty Things @ FatCat Hanley 15th October 2010

Review by John West

Photo by Simon Bamford

Phill Bettany and Octopus have really pulled off something rather special tonight as the Legendary 60s outfit the Pretty Things are here to play in the basement lounge venue. If you imagine a scene reminiscent of any 60s underground club you’d observe a diverse and groovy crowd from mods to rockers to hippies and the local scenesters, this is who are here tonight defying all age groups from across the rock ‘n’ roll generations. Since the last time I was here the stage has been moved, and all the better for it allowing more visibility as it takes up the left hand side of the room.

Support tonight comes from the Black Apples who themselves are a popular local draw with their incendiary garage blues. Despite a plea from guitarist Alex for the crowd to move forward during their firey performance there seems to be some hesitancy. However this does not stop the lads from firing on all cylinders as they hit us with classic songs from their debut LP for the locally based Octopus records. As usual this is a tight performance as we hear “Hypnotised”, “Take me to the station” a couple of newys and, what was the highlight for me a cover of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac’s anthem “Oh well”. The Apples are the perfect opener for this evening representing the newer generation as they acknowledge the elderstatesman of the blues, soaking up their influence, having their own take and reinventing the sound for a younger crowd.

The Pretty Things are introduced as “the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the history of the universe” immediately they storm into the mod classics “Roadrunner” and “Don’t bring me down”. Unlike their mates The Stones and The Who they never quite ascended in the dizzy heights of fame ,fortune, and success however, that does not diminish their importance and influence on a sixties music scene and beyond. Tonight we are treated to a heady mix of blues, r ‘n’ b and psychedelia as they mix up their musical potions in the cauldron. Vocalist, Phil May alongside guitarist Dick Taylor remain at the heart of the band as in the beginning when they formed in Dartford 1963.

Their classic 68 LP SF Sorrow is often regarded as one of the great lost classics of the psychedelic era recorded at the same time as Sgt Pepper and Piper at the Gates of Dawn, from that period we get all the magical whimsicalness of a selection of tracks live including ‘SF Sorrow’ and ‘Baron Saturday’. Phil May relates a tale of when they were starting out and would hook up with the Stones and play these intimate little blues clubs and with acoustic guitar in hand Dick Taylor treats us to a couple of blues numbers so we can imagine, take ourselves back in time and get a feel of what it must have been like back then. The performance is sublime a real treat for everyone, blues as it should be stripped to the bone and meaningful in delivery.

We are reminded from where the Pretty Things got their name from with reference to Bo Diddley and they start to build the momentum again powering through with R ‘n’ B stomp. With a superb ‘Judgement day’ with Taylor playing slide alongside guitarist Frank Holland they later move into psychedelic mode with a stretched out £.S.D which gets rapturous applause .Their cameo appearance in ‘What’s good for the goose’ is acknowledged and tribute played to the late Norman Wisdom - star of said film. As proceedings come to an end with a ‘bring it on home’ vibe Pretty Things have thoroughly enjoyed themselves so much so that Phil May says they want to come back! A nostalgic night for some and a rare treat for us all, a truly inspirational band and one which deserves more recognition alongside the more acknowledged greats who are indebted to them also. Well done to Phil and Octopus for getting this legendary band to Stoke here’s to getting more of the same in the future.

Listen :

Black Apples : The Black Apples

Pretty Things : S.F. Sorrow

Pretty Things : Parachute

Friday, 15 October 2010

Samba Mela - Cancelled

If you haven't already heard this years Samba Mela which was due to take place this coming Sunday,has been cancelled.

Stoke Sounds was providing a stage at this event with 7 of the best local acts, however we are extremely disappointed that the decision has been taken to cancel the event at the last minute.

It is still unclear why this decision has been made, and we are still waiting for full details, but we'd like to take this opportunity to Thank all the bands who were playing and all of you who were planning on coming down.

Team SS

Friday, 8 October 2010

Exit Calm / Vellocet / Lovelust / O.K. Corral @ The Underground 8th October 2010

Review by John West

Photo by Simon Bamford

It’s been interesting over the last few months to find this intimate venue being somewhat dwarfed by the new Tesco complex as it buffers close up to the Underground's walls. Gone is the old car park so no more guerrilla style gigs there for Mr D! There’s a sizeable crowd here for the opening act tonight O. K. Corral, it was originally to be The Decision however, Ben the guitarist has moved on since they split a few months ago and teamed up with 3 new sparring buddies Jack, Jamie(bass), Mark(drums). The band start with a instrumental intro then singer Jack enters the stage to cheers. The band are a tad nervous - its their debut gig and judging by the response on their faces they are more than pleased that people have turned up for them. A remark from Jack that “we’re not The Decision but O. K. Corral” get’s a response back – “they were wank anyway” Ben just laughs. The band have been together barely two months but they don’t show signs of just finding their way tonight-it’s all new material here , there’s no BIB for Decision fans. Jack has a powerful voice, at times reminding me of Mark Lanegan with a hint of a Morrison vibe. It’s loud, it’s dirty, there’s lots of slide a hint of e bow effects on guitar with powerful rhythms and given time they will establish themselves on the local scene, still not sure about the name though lads, ‘tho it’s growing on me I guess.

I’d heard a lot about the next band Lovelust, so I was more than intrigued, having taken a breather outside I returned to find the stage and venue filled with smoke, (an over active machine perhaps?). This all added to the drama as the band could be barely seen other than glimpses of slight motions on stage. I was impressed by their psyche- dance fusion for me sounding like a hybrid of Orbital and Hawkwind ,yet creating their own electronic musical ambience. This type of music would be well received at any festival late at night or even at sun rise, with repetitive rhythms and trance like states it taps into that hypnotic state of mind as the audience sways to the inner pulse as one. I’ll certainly be checking them out again as they are worth catching as they assault your visual and audio senses.

Main support tonight comes from Vellocet a firm local favourite of mine who never fail to deliver, with front man Ryan oozing confidence prowling the stage as the newly expanded band operate fully on all levels. They have massive local support which is evident tonight, the loyal are here to welcome their heroes. With their Kasabianesque grooves everyone is bouncing along to their psychedelic groove rock, Messiah’ is anthemic as usual as they simply prove their popularity with the audience being ecstatic. It’s just unfortunate that a few start a bit trouble but, they are swiftly dealt with by security, why go to a gig and be off with people? Music is supposed to bring folk together not divide us! Vellocet are professional enough to let this go and not allow it to hinder their performance and don’t get involved.
I’m sure it won’t be too long before they are getting more attention in the media, they are hardworking and deserve more recognition, they are one of the best bands in the area in my opinion and deserve a wider audience. My only criticism is that a part of their crowd seemed to disperse prior to main headliners Exit Calm tonight, who were certainly worthy of your attention folks.

Headliners Exit Calm arrive on stage and having seen the band several times before it doesn’t matter how big or how small an audience it doesn’t phase them, they still allow their music to do the talking. They are very humble there are no ego or Rock star clichés here, like the other bands on stage tonight they are here to perform for those who want to listen. We have of course featured them on Stoke Sounds by way of introduction via their debut LP review and interview a few months back. They are currently promoting new single “Don’t look down” on a brief tour, the single is available on club AC30 as a vinyl ltd, cd and download too. They don’t have massive corporate backing no massive publicity machine behind them they do it all them selves to promote and even now very few of the major music mag’s have picked up on them.

They are certainly for me the best new band at the moment. They are honest and sincere with a great deal of integrity about them. I still stand by what I said a few months back, they have released one of the albums of the year, if you want manufactured bands who are stylised you won’t get that with Exit Calm they are the real deal and have the music to boot. Nicky Smith is one of the best vocalists I’ve heard in a long time, he simply soars. He is passionate and believes in what he sings as he delivers his all in their songs of loss, despair and human frailty, surely we can all identify on that one.
Rob Marshall is a guitar hero in the making he just plays his heart out delivering those epic guitar scapes, it’s for others to judge and make those assumptions any way, and with a powerful rhythm section of Simon Lindley (bass) and Scott Pemberton (drums) the band is complete.

For those who I heard say during their set we’ve heard it all before well you’ve got it all wrong my friends, every musical hero of yours will have soaked up their own influences too developing and making it sound their own -it grows organically if your true to your muse. That is precisely what every band on stage here tonight has done, there is no year zero in music that was a myth created in 76/77 with punk and long after the event even they acknowledged who influenced them.
For Exit Calm they will be taking time to record new songs in readiness for their second album to be released next year hopefully.

Their performance was as atmospheric and epic as on previous occasions, there is no bullshit with them, just allow them to enter your hearts and minds and you too will fully realise what a terrific band they really are. Overall a terrific performance from Exit Calm!
Finally for me, I believe that for every band it’s all about getting your music across to people, we need to be encouraging touring bands to come and play in Stoke not discouraging them, Mark Askew (Underground) highlighted this gig as one of quality, one to go to and he wasn’t wrong . We have a thriving music scene here so lets get it noticed out there and support each other whatever our tastes.

Tonight we’ve had three quality supports and Exit Calm. Don’t wait till your told what is good or the next big thing, use your own mind, use your senses, discover and embrace it.
Vellocet and O.K.Corrall are at the Samba Mela, Hanley Park (Shelton) on Sunday 17th October, please show your support and come and say hello. It’s free too, music from noon till 6pm on the Stoke Sounds stage.

NME Radar Tour The Joy Formidable / The Chapel Club @ The Sugarmill 7th October 2010

Review by Sian Eardley

Photo by Tish Scripps

A spectacular treat lay in store for avid gig-goers tonight as ‘The Joy Formidable’ marvelously presented themselves at The Sugarmill as part of the NME Radar Tour, making for a very splendid evening.

‘The Chapel Club’, the main support, in their half an hour (or thereabouts) set offered a very middle-of-the-road performance, with their gentlemanly name painting enough of a picture of these moody boys in suit shirts. Singer Lewis Bowman looked incredibly pensive, trying to hard to aspire to the tortured soul of Ian Curtis. Their attempt at becoming the new ‘Boy Division’ didn’t pay off in the respect that they tried to take on Editors’ Chris Urbanowicz’s reeling guitar style either. You just don’t go there. They’re the sort of fashionable band you’d here when perusing through Topshop (listen to ‘Bodies’ and “All the Eastern Girls’), but their complex structures didn’t bring any spark to make them stand out and succeed nowadays. Lady Gaga, however, who’s as mad as a box of frogs, plus, makes good music, is popular for her different and extreme tactics.

The stage transformed and blossomed with birdcages of twinkling fairy lights for a beautiful and delicate ambience for tonight’s main entertainment. It was as though TJF were set to play in your very own living room, that, or it was an impression of the MTV Unplugged stage from back in the day. Thankfully there was also a much healthier crowd numbers wise, as opposed to any other night at The Sugarmill this week which added to the atmosphere. ‘Lovely, lovely Stoke’ we were addressed as, and as for front woman, Ritzy Bryan, well couldn’t you just keep her in a box!? Their rapport with the crowd was delightful and the genuine bond between the band themselves came across as genuine, none of this pretence rubbish, they just perpetuated talent.

Their appeal is obvious and they’re bound to be big in 2011. It’s hats off to NME for finally backing an act on musical merit rather than fashionable merits which quickly fall out of trend. They’d probably be quite fitting on a Twilight soundtrack for their melodramatic, awe-inspiring, dark, transcending, eloquent and sensational qualities. A bit like our ‘Metric’ from this side of the pond; absolutely kaleidoscopic in sound. It’s obvious that their rockin’ out style comes ‘oh so naturally’, with Bryan comfortably and sensually thrusting the guitar like Juanita Stein (Howling Bells) who’s also graced this very stage in the same manner.

Throwing themselves straight into it, their opening track was like an encore performance. They gave it their absolute all, and this was a consistent factor throughout the whole night. I was surprised they were able to play on after putting so much energy and soul into song one alone, and even a slamming guitar from the lead vocalist from the top of speakers. Needless to say the applause was deafening and only grew track by track. On they strode with drum pounds like a call to arms for fans, straight into ‘Cradle’. Ritzy certainly celebrates the return of the female in alternative music, making way for future pioneers. As soon as she picks up that guitar she assumes the position of sonic sorceress and all who listen are weak to her musical prowess.

Announcing the release of their first record in January (and a follow-up tour in February including a Stop at Ye Olde Stoke – injecting yet another buzz into the audience), I only wish it was now as I’d run out and secure a copy and run back for the remainder of the gig. And why? Why do they work? They’re out of the box, not too similar to anything at present, not boring and not unconventional, etcetera, etcetera (see Lady Gaga debate earlier in review). It’s no surprise that for the entirety of the gig all band members wore a stupidly wide grin on their faces as everybody was lapping them up, earning themselves the biggest response to any headlining act at The Sugarmill this week.

Their feisty bassy and punkish beats are ignited by the wild eyes and hair flicks of Miss Byran adding a sultry fire to their strong sound. The standard was so above and beyond expectation, I thought choirs of angels, flowing champagne, cascades of glitter, rainbows and fireworks would appear from the venues ceiling at any moment: true perfection. Then, for a bit of variation, out came the old acoustic guitar for a song intended to be about Christmas, with a Stevie Nicks ‘Edge of Seventeen’ feel to the start. It produced chills of mystery, a song for city nights with big city lights in the heart of the coldest and darkest time of year as it holds a sinister side to it. ‘You make my spirit full’ she repeats at the end; the exact sentiment any crowd member would relay to TJF tonight judged on their appearance, and this can be my Christmas number one any time, any year.

Ritzy really does come across as the pivotal force to the group, kicking some really good rock ass, as we’re all right with her there in the moment as they sing and play with the utmost conviction. As for their energy levels, whatever they’re on I’ll have some; their stamina and consistency was spellbinding let alone their material.

Ending on ‘Whirring’ – ‘All these things about me you never can tell’ resonate as lyrics, as they make you feel compelled to grow a loving connection with the band as a whole and their music. Her whirring contraption was another matter indeed but see that for yourselves when they next stop by. It all came full circle, they started as they meant to go on, giving 10,000% effort, being professional and a true pleasure to have on stage, spoiling us with instrumental flourishes of colour and feeling – if only they could play on!

Last week I said I wanted to marry Cristina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil), this week I shall aspire to be Ritzy Bryan.