Monday, May 31, 2010

British Sea Power Glee Club Birmingham 18th May

The Glee Club has a policy of shutting the doors after 8.15 . Which means, you get to see the support band. And I’m glad I did. John and Jehn are a French boy girl duo who’ve bulked up for this tour with an additional boy and girl. They’ve got a Galaxie 500/New Order sound with a mixture of very clean, taut guitar lines, feedback and keyboards. They swap vocals and instruments. Jehn's vocals are a bit theatrical, John's are much more New York rock 'n' roller. Which is how we'd all sing if we were French and had relocated to London. The final song had some of that early White Stripes chemistry/tension with Jehn slowly moving towards John as if she was about to put her head on his shoulder. Like a Status Quo gig if Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi were actually a couple.

I know a bloke who can’t bring himself to listen to the Who because “Girls don’t like them”. On the other hand, Jon Bon Jovi (who is not my Who dodging mate) has said that he takes no notice of critics that say The Bonj are too lightweight. After all, girls come to his gigs and lift up their tops. So who likes BSP? Well there’s a lot of them and it's a very mixed audience. I like them a lot, but I didn’t think they’re a band you’re going to fall in love with. I was proved wrong at the Glee though. There was measurable love and anticipation in the air. Not just pollen from the plant covered amps tended by gardeners rather than roadies. It felt like people had travelled to be there.

What BSP bring is cleverness, a broad, sweeping approach to lyrics. There’s nothing straight forward about them. They've got a whiff of moleskin and they look as if they’d be happier going to the Antarctic in dufflecoats and cable knit sweaters rather than following traditional rock n roll leisure activities. There’s a bit of Bowie, or Psychedelic Furs in the vocals, a thick sound, a grandeur and songs that take in ornithology and Dostoevsky. After 3 albums of arty guitar Pop they released an evocative and oddly ambient, soundtrack to a 1934 documentary Man Of Aran. No Lucifer has a terrace style “easy easy” backing vocal and references to Carlton Corsair and Raleigh 20 bikes, roe deer, the anti aircraft crew and the boys from the Hitler Youth. The stiff upper lip has got a potty mouth though. One of the new songs they play at the gig though has a chorus of “Over here, over there, over every fucking where.”

It’s a barnstorming opening 3 tracks. Apologies To Insect Life with it’s clicking bass, yelping vocals and a guitar that sounds like a quarrying operation. Guitarist Noble is dropping it from a very great height. In fact at one point it looks like he's brought his own stool to stand on. Remember Me and Atom just sound immense. Singer and guitarist Yan is wearing a white top, part space suit, part strait jacket. Guitarist Noble is wearing a vintage cycling top that probably doesn't provide much in the way of breathability and sweat wicking. Bassist and vocalist Hamilton shuffles as if he is peeping coyly from beneath an standard issue indie fringe- which is actually a leafy crown. He looks like he’s skipping band practice at Mount Olympus. Aby Fry plays violin and Phil Sumner adds keyboards, cornet and guitar as required. So for the new song (over here over there and over sweary there etc) there were actually 3 guitars powering away. Biff, Bang and Pow! BSP also like to swap instruments and take turns on vocals.

True Adventures sung by Hamilton has got an excellent bit where the rest of the band seem to slow down but the drums speed up. It sounds a bit like tape rewinding and is the sort of studio trick that Lee Perry would stick on the start of a track.

Please Stand Up finishes with that rare beast – a section that sounds like a cross between Boxer Beat by Jo Boxers and New Order.

The Great Skua is an instrumental where Phil Sumner's cornet really comes into it’s own. It’s a great piece of music in it’s own right and much more than a bog and bar prompter.

The band seemed relaxed and confident. There was banter about it being the second comedy club they’d played on the tour and the perennial problem of careful and insightful lyrics getting in the way of the gags.

Final song Spirit Of St Louis soon departed from a recognisable song structure was either largely improvised or they were just making it up as they went along. There was guitar dive bombing, crowd surfing from Noble, guitars being beaten with bushes and I think there may have been monocle wearing too.

Despite the fact that new album is on the way they only played a handful of new songs, with most of the material coming from the last album Do You Like Rock Music. BSP are actually more accessible than their eccentric image suggests and are a terrific live band. Full marks to the merchandising. Who wouldn’t want a mug with a British Tea Power logo?

Apologies To Insect Life
Remember Me
???? (Over here over there etc)
True Adventures
Down On The Ground
Please Stand Up
Waving Flags
Great Skua
No Lucifer
Canvey Island
Fear Of Drowning
??? (Into the night??)
Lights Out For Darker Skies
Trip Out
Spirit Of St Louis

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Fall Birmingham Academy 2 - 11th May 2010

I didn't get the new album until after the gig, so it was just like the old days ...a Fall gig where I didn't know many of the songs. It's a healthy turnout and looks like a veteran Fall audience who've probably seen a fair few Fall gigs. Although surprisingly there's a sprinkling of younger recruits too.

After 33 years we probably know roughly what we're going to get. The line up may change, the wife in the band may change and the sound changes too. Some years it's a bit more Beefheart, sometimes more Rockabilly or electronic but there is still always a distinctive Fall sound, even before Mark E Smith starts to sing...or more as he put it on Dragnet’s Your Heart out "I don't sing I just shout-all on one note ahh".

There’s a backdrop with “Unseen Knowledge” scrawled across it (made more sense once I’d bought the album…but then I never really cracked “Undilutable Slang Truth”) and the line up is bass, drums guitar and Mrs Smith (Eleni Poulou) on keyboards. The current album Your Future Our Clutter is the second with this line up. In Fall terms this line up it's positively U2 in terms of stability and longevity. No drummers were punched onstage and no band members were sacked for dancing to Rock The Casbah.

There's still plenty of room for disruption though.

Smith, who seemed like he'd been catapulted out of the stage door, was wearing a blue shirt and what looked like leather blazer. He immediately grabbed 2 mics and a stand and got down to the business of shouting at traffic. Cue jutting out elbows, the dilemma of how to control 3 things with 2 hands and constant fiddling and feedback. Typical Smith. Ever the irritant and bugger the soundman.

Smith’s made a career out of using hand cupping, megaphones, Dictaphones and kazoos to make his horrible hectoring voice even more unpleasant. But that voice does draw you in. Knowing the songs isn't necessarily any help in knowing what he's singing about though. You get the impression he doesn't like anything much though - except for malt whisky and WW2.

The drums on the opening song Our Future Your Clutter are immense. This line-up is lean, efficient and relentless. A combine harvester scything down everything in it's path and spewing out Smithspeak There's nothing subtle about Eleni Poulou’s keyboards either. She's found the squelch button and turned on the Dr Who filter.

Hot cake has got EP's "ahh ahh ahh ooh" backing vocals and funnily enough they don't sound remotely Pop.

Smith's jacket was on and off all night (yes there are more complex stage shows, you know the one’s that are carried across Europe on huge trucks, rather than on a coat hanger) but he did wait until the Rockabilly twang of Cowboy George before having his first amp fiddle. Ah yes, Smith's favourite trick to try to unsettle the guitarist...he may call it Man Management to coax out a better performance.... he may just call it messing about.

Eleni Poulou sang I’ve Been Duped, from 2008's Imperial Wax Solvent but a very fidgety Smith, had been singing not just with his back to the audience but actually backing into the stage exit. On the opening night in Edinburgh, he had only lasted 6 songs leaving the band trying to carry on without him. Last song of the Birmingham’s better value set was Weather Report 2. In Fall terms it's actually quite a haunting if not downright beautiful song and the lyric "You gave me back my life,” echoes the 20 year old song Bill Is Dead which was his last attempt at crooning

The encores caught me completely by surprise. Psykick Dancehall with it's "Is there anybody there-yeah" intro, (I don’t think I was the only one who found there was a "yeah” reflex I didn't know I had) and Theme From Sparta FC. Peel Show favourite and car advert. For a band as contrary as the Fall, it was the greatest hits equivalent of doing a medley of Hi Ho Silver Lining, Come On Eileen and Beatles No 1's. Smith did actually sing most of Sparta FC from the dressing room though.

So there we go.... another Fall gig. I've seen dozens and there's usually something memorable about even the worst ones. But this was a good one.

The new album is definitely worth a punt. There'll be a different line-up next time round, but they'll still be The Fall.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Candi Staton Bilston The Robin 27th April

Bilston’s Got Soul…and there was certainly a healthier turnout at The Robin than at Candi Staton’s Birmingham show last February. She had an excellent band behind her (bass, drums, sax, trumpet, 2 backing singers and Mick Talbot on keyboards.)

Wearing jeans and silver /grey housecoat affair, she looked genuinely pleased to be there. I don’t think the audience needed that much motivating, but, like the old soul trooper she is, she took no chances. When she wasn’t singing, she was clapping, and every song had a story behind it. So there was plenty to talk about, and she did like to talk. The stories and anecdotes served to remind both herself and us about her place in Soul history (a Grammy nomination here, and a sample there and a career that spanned Southern Soul, Disco and Gospel and 6 decades)

Opening song Nights On Broadway was buoyed by a tremendous horn sound and Prisoner Of Your Good Loving rattled along like the prime piece of Southern Soul tail shaking it is. As the band cut loose, Staton reminded us “This is how we do it in Alabama.”

A big surprise was hearing her first secular single Now You’ve Got The Upper Hand. She asked if there where any Northern Soul Lovers in the audience. The thing is when she recorded the song originally, there was no such thing…. Often labels where just putting out singles with a slow and fast song and pushing the side that found an audience. Now of course she’ll see it as another part of her career. And she seems happy to promote it all, even when it’s a song she wasn’t directly involved in. When she played He Called Me Baby she talked about the sample from it that One EskimO used on their song Kandi. The first she knew of it was when she heard it in a shopping mall in Atlanta Georgia. Even better was the aside that You’ve Got The Love was originally a vocal for a diet advert.

Stand By Your Man had everything you could need. A sparse intro building up to that magical chord change and then the band shifting through the gears and taking a detour through Stand By Me. It’s Vegas, but it’s good Elvis Vegas. To top it all there’s Staton’s observation about her Granddaughter who got to the part about “He’ll have good time’s you’ll have bad times” and retorted that he’d find himself standing on the kerb with his bags”.

She introduced You Bet Your Sweet Sweet Love with the story that she hadn’t felt like singing it for years, but could do it now because she had got married recently.

I’d Rather Be An Old Man’s Sweetheart (Than A Young Man’s Fool) has the archetypal Muscle Shoals sound and excellent use of brackets. Candi somewhat naively asked if there were any mature men in the audience. Indeed there were. Old Soul’s not a young mans game.

More Elvis, with In The Ghetto and a story about how she was sitting in the control room of a studio with the song’s writer Mac Davis and label owner Rick Hall. Clarence Carter (one of her ex husbands, but not at the time) was about to record it as a follow up to Patches. They talked about a having a female singer do it instead. “I stepped up to the mic and changed the key”. It’s a tremendous record and she still does a fine version.

She finished inevitably with Young Hearts Run Free. The horn section had looked like they’d been having a good time all night, with spots of Ready Steady Go swinging dance moves and grinning and nudging each other like distracted schoolboys. Sax player Richard Beesley pulled a really sweet solo out of the bag, and finished with a big smile on his face and immediately his trumpet playing mate leaned over to poke him again. Mick Talbot got some clown time in with his solo spot where he ran his fingers down and beyond the keyboard and twisted his body round as if he had run out of notes, like a piano driven soul plane slithering off the runway.

The band are Rare Groove stalwarts and have been playing under the name of Push for years. I’d seen the guitar, bass and drummer backing Marlena Shaw recently. They didn’t put a foot wrong then, but never seemed to really take off. I enjoyed them much more with Candi Staton and I was in no way influenced by the fact that the female backing singer was wearing hot pants and the bloke had been in Batman.

She encored with the funky gospel of Halleluiah Anyway and You’ve Got The Love. The set was very similar to last years show at the Town Hall and it was the same band. The anecdotes and patter were different though – which is an achievement in itself. Most importantly she’s still got that classic Soul voice, with it’s mixture of sweetness, tension and rasp. The gigs are a celebration of her back catalogue and I’m happy to celebrate that we can still see this stuff live. Even better though, she is still doing interesting new stuff. She’s featured on the Ashley Beedle celebration of Mavis Staples. Her contribution Revolution feels a bit like Freak Power’s Tune In Drop Out with a Staple Singers social commentary. Her voice sits intentionally back in the mix, but it’s still classic Candi

Last years Birmingham show is at

Nights On Broadway
I’m Just A Prisoner
Now You’ve Got The Upper Hand
Stand By Your Man/Stand By Me
You Bet Your Sweet Sweet Love
Suspicious Minds
He Called Me Baby
I’d Rather Be An Old Man’s Sweetheart (Than A Young Man’s Fool)
In The Ghetto
Young Hearts Run Free

Halleluiah Anyway
You’ve Got The Love