It’s good to come away from every gig having learned or experienced
something new. In this case, despite the early signs that eating
about a kilogram of Ikea’s meatballs is definitely not suitable
pre-gig preparation; it quickly becomes apparent that other
pearls are on offer. Indeed, even during the week before the
show, the slick and all pervading marketing drive which saw
every website I visited endorsed with a Woman’s Hour advert
courtesy of some cheeky cookie only served to illustrate that
this band is highly thought of. So with meatball-quenching drink
in hand and eager ears at the ready what would Fiona Burgess
and her cohort deliver?
First up, the stage set sees several carefully placed yet insubstantial
looking pyramids dotted on the stage. However far from turning
into a Spinal Tap moment (what is it with ancient monuments
and musicians?), when the stage lights are turned on the effect
is actually really convincing and in mimicking the album artwork,
provides a deft touch of consistency. Still, don’t bump into
those cardboard pyramids guys.
Musically, the heavily ethereal soul-pop vibe is beefed up
on this show by the presence of new drummer James playing his
first gig with the band and the gently appreciative crowd is
bathed in swooshing synths and Fiona’s breathy tones through
opener ‘Unbroken Sequence’ and follow up singles ‘Conversations’
and ‘Darkest Place’ – my own personal favourite of the evening.
The PA is sounding sweet as a nut, the synths are awash across
the warm evening air and even Fiona’s beguilingly awkward looking
dancing can’t spoil the atmosphere. Then something happens.
I think it was part way through ‘To the End’, another of my
favourite tracks that it occurs to me that there is an elephant
in the room. Gorgeous though the tone of her voice is, it strikes
me that a lot of Fiona’s notes are not getting hit, particularly
the longer held ones. Unfortunately ‘To the End’ is full of
long drawn out notes which on record are pretty much whispered
and form part of the charm. Live, they seem to get belted out
and so when they aren’t bang-on pitch wise, there are a few
awkward ear splitting moment.
All of this could easily be overlooked – everyone hits a few
bum notes from time to time - but within such pristinely minimalist
compositions, they jar. They also highlight the fact that the
second half of the performance seems to string out a couple
of very samey sounding songs and the whole thing gets a bit
one paced. Even I am thinking about trying out for the part
of bassist for Woman’s Hour as it must be the easiest job in
British music. Trotting out a cover of Springsteen’s ‘Dancing
in the Dark’ is a low point for me – I don’t much like the original,
I don’t like their recorded version and their live version prompts
a much delayed trip to the bar.
But I don’t want to sound like some kind of muso-fascist -
these are minor gripes overall. Odd errant vocals aside, Woman’s
Hour put on a very slick show and aside from their cool, professional
stage demeanour, post gig they seemed a pretty charming and
cheery bunch, genuinely reflecting the huge amount of love for
them in the room tonight.
Last Big Weekend
30.8.14 - Richmond Park, Glasgow
The Chemikal Underground-curated
East End Social’s Last Big Weekend was the full stop to a series
of social, cultural and musical events surrounding the Commonwealth
Games and Culture 2014, as well as forming part of the government-led
Homecoming Scotland 2014 initiative.
Held over two days (the second day curated by local club night
Optimo), today’s bill was mainly a mix of old and new noiserock,
culminating in a set from Mogwai. The location was interesting
– Glasgow’s outdoor events are usually held at Glasgow Green
on the City Centre’s fringe. Richmond Park, situated betwixt
Green and The Gorbals, is something of a poor forgotten cousin,
but provides a natural arena for a show and was possibly chosen
to include an area largely ignored while the rest of the town
partied hard during the Games fortnight.
On-site facilities were of a boutique festival standard and
it was an easy-going, relaxed crowd, ranging from hipsters with
massive beards, to middle-aged spreads sporting tattered Teenage
Fanclub T-Shirts. Attendance was hard to gauge – it was busy
and could have been a lot busier, but this turned out to be
a bit of a blessing as early on it became apparent that the
bar facilities were hugely inadequate, and 20 minute changeovers
between acts soon fell behind half hour queue times for the
As regards the music, opening grunge-pop duo Honeyblood didn’t
really impress, but Holy Mountain turn things on their head
with what could only be described as a tops-off sonic onslaught.
Pleasingly, where a lot of post-rock can be quite po-faced in
delivery, the mountain boys were disarmingly anarchic, with
some serious grinnage being exchanged between the protagonists.
Swervedriver are a band that you always puzzle over why they
were never bigger than they were. After four albums and chequered
fortunes on Creation and Geffen, they split in 1998 and, since
reconvening around a decade later, have had a steady gig diary
with 2014 seeing them in the latter stages of recording a new
album that’s slated for release next year. They unfussily kick
off with the spaghetti-westernisms of "Last Train to Satansville”
and follow with a shimmering and majestic “Sunset” from 1991’s
“Raise”. With the exception of one new song, the set is pulled
entirely from their first three LP’s on Creation and bypasses
unsettled final release “99th Dream”. Never massively talkative
onstage, they finish with their most successful single, “Duel”,
and disappear into the backstage ether as quickly as they appeared.
I last saw Twilight Sad around 2007/8 and the most striking
thing about them is how much they have aged in the intervening
time. The upside to this is that they have managed to lose the
arrogance I found a complete turn-off first time around and
replaced it with a refreshing humility and honesty, with James
Graham charmingly sharing with the audience his incredulity
and delight at finding himself on the same bill as Mogwai, Swervedriver
and The Wedding Present. They are a complete triumph with a
career spanning, but all too brief set. And when is coming to
a close, the finality is reinforced by Graham’s gesture before
“Three Seconds of Dead Air” that “they would probably never
play this song again, at least not for a very long time”.
Edinburgh’s Young Fathers were a scary bunch of people, with
some effective tunes. Visually, they were the unique spectacle
of the day, and my eyes continually wandered up to the drummer,
standing throughout, menacingly perched on his riser, acting
as sentinel over band and audience. The Wedding Present were
pleasing, partially because I’m glad they are still on the go
after all this time, but mainly because they were so fucking
good. Dave Gedge, a man who inspired thousands of bands in the
80’s and early 90’s, still has it in spades.
Alas, I can’t tell you anything about James Holden or most
of Fuck Buttons as, by this stage, the bar queues were now vast
and along what appeared to be the rest of the crowd, I managed
to wait one hour and twenty minutes for a beer. The food stalls
were no better. To be fair, East End Social got an absolute
roasting for this on Facebook, and they did apologise, stating
that they would address the situation on the Sunday (and presumably
they did). However, with the wealth of festival experience available
to draw upon in Scotland from the folk that put on Wickerman/TITP/Belladrum
etc, for East End Social to get something like this so wrong,
and have punters missing bands because of poor logistics, was
Mogwai appear sometime after nine. Stuart Braithwaite, rather
improbably feeling the coming autumn chill, takes to the stage
in a woolly hat which is sensibly lost as the set progresses.
They launch into “White Noise” from 2011’s “Hardcore Will Never
Die, But You Will”, and the songs tonight are drawn mainly from
the last three studio albums. “Wizard Motor” from the “Les Revenants”
EP thrills and there are scattered remnants of older material,
but nothing at all from “Come On Die Young”. There is, however,
a tip of the hat to their roots near the end of the night when
they encore with a dazzling “Mogwai Fear Satan” from “Young
East End Social billed this event as “One Big Top, Two Great
Parties” and they brought some fantastic music, but forgot to
bring anything like enough beer or pizza – what sort of party
A field in Skipton
Beacons festival is deliberate in its intentions it seems.
Better food, better beer and not just music
Nothing new, but copy the good things.
I was deliberate in my intentions too. Aware that I had not
been able to listen to as much music as I would want this year,
I saw Beacons as an opportunity to try and make the most for
the sadness that went along with not being as up to date with
music as I want to be. My plan, my intention, was to go and
see as many bands that I didn't know about as possible. I found
the idea of wandering to and fro and choosing bands based on
recommendation and intrigue rather wherever possible a joy.
And, in between bouts of diving into music, I took in as much
of the Impossible Lecture Tent as I could because it was magic
and everything about it should make those involved proud. The
ideas of testimony and show and money and worry and the impact
of experience we all have were some of the wonderful things
on display. Along with humour and warmth and tea.
It was odd, as I watched that I was able to link everything
mentioned to something in popular culture. Not odd. Not really.
But, I was here to hear music.
It is sometimes bad to have aims. Unfulfilled aims may taunt
you when you want peace and I should know because the first
band I saw was a band I'd seen before.
British sea Power, with their back to the audience, played
all of their album From the Sea to The Land Beyond. I thought
it was lovely. A gentle way into a weekend of listening, but
a good start. I was surprised to find how happy they made me,
because I have often been bored by BSE, not least the first
time I saw them. When music seemed to have run on for long enough,
a song started. I hope it is no disservice to say that I found
the whole thing relaxing. Which is often the last thing I look
for in music.
I was then able to kick off my hunt for the new and, for me
the untried. I found Post War Glamour Girls, whom I heard of
but never heard, to be an excellent beginning. I enjoyed their
stage presence and that their lead singer seemed to be unintentionally
taking being dour to new heights, at one point pointing out
that he was actually psyched to be there but could not help
the way it appeared. He didn't say psyched though.
If I were not in the midst of this wild-eyed, lolled-tongue
hunt for the new, I would have gone to see Serious Sam Barret
and probably Paul Thomas Saunders too, but instead not seeing
them reminded me that the worst kind of rule is an absolute
rule and so I decided to change my game plan to include seeing
stuff I wanted to.
This meant I got to see Vessels and that was an excellent decision.
Vessels are great. So is Joan as Policewoman, whom I have also
seen before and would probably have seen here even if I had
stuck by my guns. I enjoyed her competing with the dance tent,
which at times heavily detracted from her fragile music but
was easily beaten by her.
If you get the impression that I am hurrying through these
bands it is because I am Eager to write about Action Bronson!
ACTION. Bronson! ACTION! BRONSON! What I needed, what I regularly
want, is good Hip-Hop. Good Hip-Hop that I haven't heard is
admittedly more plentiful than pennies, but that detracts not
one jot from the party and the fun I had.
Friday was finished off not, as I expected, with Daughter but
with the Into The Woods Stage. If I'm going to look for new
things, I'm going to look for new things generally.
Saturday found me faced with myriad bands I had neither seen
nor heard of and subsequently I found myself overawed. I dipped
in and out of stages and caught songs by some and excerpts by
others, which is hugely satisfying if you're a gadfly, eagerly
dashing from new things to new thing, but leaves you pretty
bereft of things to say. Unless you realise that that is wonderful.
It is a great testament to a festival. While I am finding it
hard to say much about anyone I saw (and doing an excellent
job of saying nothing so far). I am able to say that I hugely
enjoyed my time doing it which suggests that the festival itself
has me as an eager attende.
BUT. That was only part of my day. I took some time out from
flitting in order to talk to Jed Skinner, shortly to be known
to all of you as one half of wonder band:
Galaxians are fantastic and there's no way I would miss them.
Party bands don't need guitars (or any constraint other than
to be a really good party band). Galaxians were, as I riccochet
wildly between various tenses, the highlight of my festival.
A pleasure to watch a band in full stride show that they're
super great. A pleasure to be able to see that they are enjoying
it as much (more?) as the crowd.
Drums n Synths duos aren't the new anything nor do they replace
anything or make other things un–cool. Galaxians are dead good
and there's always room for things that are that. I urge you
in strong terms to check them out. I think that there is a Badly
Drawn Boy shaped hole nowhere in what they do.
Dam Funk : MORE Hip Hop? I believe that I danced more at this
festival than I have in a long time. Grooves are great. Dam
Funk was on fire and that's all you need to know.
I have never listened to Hookworms on record. This is on oversite
on my part. I have, however actively sought out seeing them
live on several occasions and continue to be awed by the kind
of noise they make and how fantastic they are and it is.
Tall ships were beautiful and I'm not sure who of four bands
that I saw were Metz, but they were all good. Just kidding,
loud, great band of girls.
It is astonishing how much of a demarcation there is with 65
days of static. The old stuff is fantastic. The new stuff is
dull. Would you like to listen to some 65 days? When's it from?
This year. No.
Nope – YES
I've always wanted to write a review like that and I'm not
missing this chance now it presents itself. You're not the boss
The Fall – ARRRRRRRRRRGH disappointed I haven't been asked
to be in the fall. I'm from Manchester and everything. I can
even play instruments, sort of.
I can finally see what people like about Mark E Smith. He was
cantankerous. That is what is good about him. But he is very
good at being cantankerous and being like that in the face of
people trying to make him leave the stage because of danger
is only going to endear. It is, truly, on stage where you can
be forgiven all your faults. That story about Jools Holland
is amazing though.
Ultimately, I've just hit all the clichés for when writing
about the Fall, which I blame them for as much as I blame myself.
They're easy to write and they get in the way of things. Actually,
I was completely won over by them. It was a shame when they
finally had to stop and we headed off to watch some Fat White
Family who look like how anyone would draw a Band From Liverpool
and sound like it too. I felt awful about how I'd searched out
new, exciting music and found that it was not in any way that.
Neneh Cherry was surprising and not something I was ever planning
on either. Her new band breathe new life into something that
was already vital. Now I know. Always try and head somewhere
different. Ruts aren't good for you.
John Wizards were much better. Sunday seems to be weird day.
It never got weird enough for me. But maybe I did stay up and
watch Fear and Loathing and that ruined everything. John Wizards
brought a late uplift in party mood. I wanted more.
Eventually we had to leave, but we were forced out. Blown away
from the field. The final thing was that once we were off site
the cancelled Cate Le bon was put back on. I hope there were
people there. Get there early, stay til the end.
Ultimately a festival review has a far more passing relationship
to music that normal reviews. The sense, the feel and the look
of a festival and how you spend your time are all important.
A festival which allows you to take a break from music and which
encourages walking from place to place while, better yet, allowing
that to happen easily is one to be cherished. For a festival
I set out to do as much new music finding as possible at, I
also spent more time than I've spent at any Glastonbury doing
things that were very definitely part of the festival but that
were not music.
I had a blast and this festival needs to be preserved.
I had a great Beacons and will, I hope, again.
19.1.2014 - Salon Teatro, Santiago de Compostela
The 19 songs on Cass McComb's Big Wheel And Others are a bit
of a sprawl, but its dusty rambling charms over 70 or so minutes
have an enduring appeal. The enigmatic US singer-songwriter
has always embraced something of an open-ended approach to his
music, allowing songs to form freely with a certain poetic lyricism.
His label Domino listed the featured genres of the artist's
latest work as “ Road songs, rock songs, folk songs, blues songs,
country songs, rhythm and blues songs, skronk non-songs, cinema
songs, cult songs, poem songs, jams, and ballads”, so any attempts
to pin him down would seem rather futile.
He kicks off tonight's performance at Salon Teatro, Santiago
de Compostela, with the 3 Americana-infused road songs that
open his Big Wheel album. The title track grinds along nicely,
followed by gentler 'Angel Blood' accompanied with some beautiful
pedal steel, and then to round off the triumvirate, the dark
and lightly-strummed 'Morning Star'. It sets the tone for the
evening, a more stripped-down approach of playing compared with
the chamber pop of his last album in 2011 Wit's End.
What you notice immediately is how functional everything is.
The band come on pretty much without any sort of fanfare or
announcement. Few words are exchanged during the whole evening,
McCombs is well known for not engaging much with his audience,
but the understanding he has with the band also seems very intuitive
rather than verbal. Daniel Allaire drives the music along on
a very spartan and low-strung drum kit. McCombs stands almost
motionless throughout the evening, occasionally turning his
back to tune his guitar. The Clapton-like quiff suits him as
he trades licks with his co-guitarist Daniel Iead and shares
vocals with bassist Jon Shaw on one or two songs.
It seems to work with the audience in this moderately-sized
all-seater who'd probably rather banter in Spanish or local
language 'Gallego' than in English anyway. The energy is concentrated
through the music.
Predictably, the evening features many songs from Big Wheel,
including the current single 'Brighter' (the recorded version
features the late Karen Black on vocals, like on the cuttingly
sardonic 'Dreams Come True Girl' on McCombs' 2009 Catacombs
album. Tonight the singer plays both of them straight!). The
highlights of the band's set are 'Robin Egg Blue' and 'The Same
Thing', rare treats from 2011 under-appreciated 2011 release
Humor Risk, and the melancholy classic 'County Line' with its
falsetto vocals. The playing throughout was exemplary, as was
McCombs' voice, and you had to marvel at the way they occasionally
rocked out Neil Young-style in this tiny and rather sedate venue,
like 'Bobby King Of Boys Town', from his 2004 debut A.
Cass McCombs 'Robin Egg Blue'
Quite a musical spectacle then, the audience lapping up this
no frills approach. Oddly enough, Big Wheel may be some sort
of play by McCombs for the mainstream. When asked once what
he most liked about rock'n'roll, Lou Reed answered bass, drums
and electric guitar, especially going from E to A, “if it's
done right”. Cass McComb's solid riffing and country-tinged
blues is certainly “done right” and still makes the hairs on
the back of my neck stand up.