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By the start of the 21st century, festivals once considered to be edgy and alternative were turning from big to dinosaur. Newer events like the Truck festival were creating a more intimate vibe in the countryside. Big weekend festivals were arriving at indoor/ outdoor sites in the heart of the city, from Leicester's Summer Sundae to Cross Central at London's Kings Cross. And so why not intimate weekend festivals in town too?
August Bank Holiday 2006 saw the advent of the Peafish Festival. Not the first weekend music-based festival in a pub, nor even the first in this pub. But possibly one of the least cynical and most band-oriented. No merchandise, no trendy magazine, no youth clique, just a bewildering range of music from virtually unknown acts, generally sticking with a good time vibe and within hailing distance of the mainstream.
There were over 30 performances in 3 days, I dipped into about half. Here's a romp through what I made of the performances.
This is the good time sound of the Blues Brothers, smothered in grandstanding solos. In its favour, the cool organ and harmonica sounds keep things gutsy, but it's a safe rather than challenging start to my afternoon.
Ryan (of GPD) – acoustic set
Genuinely acoustic, no mike, no amplifier, just man and guitar. Ryan's singing is thoughtful, lines wind and curl, or rasp and break in mental anguish - part Steve Harley, part Dave Grohl. Guitar moves through listless minor chord strumming and yearning hooks.
If he has a theme it's turning over to a new chapter without losing your memory of the one before: "Some day these thoughts of mine will find their way back home and to you". Ryan takes the chance of a solo set to cover his favourite artist - Smokey Robinson, "Feel love all around". Ryan shows himself to be a serious songwriter and innovative performer.
Scuzzy indie blues rock built around piping guitar anthems. This is a feisty show pitched between Blondie and Skunk Anansie, with the female singer belting her tunes out as she grooves constantly around the floor. The words sound spookily familiar: "Show me, show me what is real" and "You forgot to peel me off the floor". Nobody dared to try!
Guy (of Vulnerable Things) – acoustic set
This is old-style hobo blues but with modestly amplified electric guitar.
For a youngster, what a care-worn and overused voice croaks and drawls. But the lyrical writing explains it all "I spent my money on wine and cigarettes… I got a spin in my tail baby". The guitar is so warm you want it cascading into your swimming pool. I spent all my money on whiskey and beer, but I still know this is a very special blend of blues.
Another very special blend, this is funky rap-mental. House piano joins spangly guitar and rockin' beats. An outing for new material too, dark and urgent. It's as if Senser got so mellow they forgot about the world and they forgot about the Government.
The established exchange is still featured: "What? > You wanna give me the score? > What? > You don't wanna know more?" Implausibly "You won't catch me with a refer in my hand". Draw on it dude, draw on it.
These Pretzels are Making Me Thirsty
The only organised comedy slot of the festival, named by compère Dylan Bray after a line in the Seinfeld sitcom. Bray grabs the funny-but-true moment of the slot by quoting the definition of necrophilia from the Sexual Offences Act 2003. Nice.
Duncan Edwards falls pretty flat with a routine accusing the freaky Camden market shoppers of being refugees from the parental mansion in Surrey. Accurate for some Camdenites, but not news to many people in Islington. The audience warms more to Nick Cowen's depiction of mugging-by-chav and happy-slapping. The observation hadn't occurred to me but he's right, the train from Stratford (East London) to Highbury IS like the inside of a Stephen King novel.
Stompin schlock rock, with the best moniker of the festival. Influences apparently include The Who and Lynard Skynard, but they're at their best in bluesy Stones mode. No clever lyrics here, they're tailored perfectly to the schlocky sound - "I don't give a damn if your heart's fuckin' broke, cos you broke mine".
There's certainly an on-stage dynamic, plenty of on-the-spot jogging and hip-shaking. Neon Diamond seem to be aiming for a Judas Priest sound and a Spinal Tap persona. But I kept wishing I was watching The Cult.
Betty - acoustic
One of the most impressive performances of the weekend, a cabaret set featuring female vocal and acoustic guitar.
Betty plays the part of the brutalised jazz femme-fatale, perfectly outfitted in a bowler hat, tinted specs, pink woollen shawl and braces hanging limply from a long skirt. She's mostly joined by a male collaborator strumming with gentle folksiness at the guitar, but sometimes she's completely unaccompanied.
Betty sings Nico style with a deep worried voice: "I practice in the bedroom at the wardrobe mirror" and "When the black dog bays at your heels no-one knows, no-one knows how it feels". Burning from the inside, the white torch of passion.
She closes oddly with Dury's 'Clever Trevor' - not the best display of her voice, but her facial expressions are quite magical. Got no right to make a clot out of Betty.
One woman's work, brittle and bright blues and pop rock.
A tenderly curled female voice is accompanied by edgy guitar grunts with sliding chord changes, rumbling bass and dramatic drum cracks. The Velcros can do PJ Harvey-style thundering blues, but singer Alison Dear can play pure angelic like Polly Jean can't. Sheena Magog.
No obvious signs of drug-taking or sadism, this is Claptonesque blues.
Two men share duties on vocals and semi-acoustic guitars. Soft strummery provides the background for metallic slides and twangs. A light inquisitive voice gives way to squeaks and whistles from a Stevie Wonder mouth organ. This music rolls on by like a meandering old river. "I keep knockin' at the same old door" sighs Smack Boy #1. Yeah but there's great riches behind that door.
A new sub-genre of folk-punk, an exercise in creating The Pogues without The Enormous Charisma Known As Shane.
Trad Arr open staccato and rapid-fire, as if rearranging Subterranean Homesick Blues for semi-acoustic guitar, banjo and fiddle. The vocals are a strangely upbeat mix of sneers and drawls. I don't think I've encountered an outfit this joyously fed-up before: "I wanna bury the hatchet in your head" they warn.
Speaking of MacGowan, Trad Arr have a guest, the Irish Rabbi, complete with shebeen ramblings. This must be the gruffest "She moves thru the fair" to appear on a stage, and it's followed by the unlikely Rabbi single "Hang down your head Tom Dooley". Those who like to croon drunkenly as they sob into their Guinness, rejoice! Now is your hour.
A stripped down blues trio, just voice, guitars and drums.
The gritty drawl and the twanging strings would satisfy many mortals, but these boys also add heart-rending slides. Some boys and some girls are just destined to be together, as the Vulnerable Things have found: "I just wanna tie her to the railroad track, but somehow Sadie she keeps bouncing back". These guys have the Tennessee River running through their veins.
They sure had me fooled, I couldn't quite decide whether I was watching mod, blues or grunge. The lead vocal soars into pure blue sky, with well-pitched harmonies backing. The guitar certainly blueses, an affair of rasps and slides. Drums smack out time for a bass line of haunting drifts and classic rock 'n' roll hooks.
One minute this is thoughtful and mannered, the next they seem to be launching into Golden Earring's "Radar Love". "Be afraid, my little one, be afraid" they warn. Wise words from band that sound like a youthful amalgam of Foo Fighters and The Clash, but with the threat of a Ballroom Blitz just around the corner.
Saturday's memorable moment
Despite having scheduled comedy acts, the biggest comedy moment of the day came with the arrival of the band Deceit. The first chap through the door was asked "Are you a musician?"
"No" he replied, "I'm the drummer".
Spencer Jude Pearce
An unhappy singer with a semi-acoustic guitar. He doesn't like Copenhagen Street and its chattering audience - he celebrates his arrival in 'Chav Heaven' by blasting out "I'm gonna get fucked".
Nevertheless, he's mighty good at what he does. Delicate melodies are drawled whispered and murmured. Speed chords, sparkly strumming, twangs and slides. This is showy and beautiful guitar-work with elements of Bob Dylan, T.Bone Burnett and Greg Lake. And the songs are laden with political or social commentary: "I've got the GB invasion blues" and "We don't need to live in fear, it's just what we choose to hear". Spot on.
The Rabbi and Mark Cottrell – acoustic set
The Trad Arr plays a delicate semi-acoustic guitar that jangles like a banjo. The Rabbi singing for this set is thoughtful and light, with Mark adding gentle vocal harmony.
We're used to the Rabbi's love of Guinness from the Trad Arr set, so the confession "I've been drinking all my life" is no surprise. He's not been drinking all of today though, and the whispering cover of Leonard Cohen's 'Suzanne' is a real treat.
A set of guitar-driven electronica that's both ethereal and catchy. The keyboard, synth and programming rig is so enormous it won't fit on-stage.
Fast beats trickle alongside a booming groove as synths seethe and whoosh. The female bass player produces a gentle thrumming, and as the look IS important, it would seem rude not to mention her gazelle-like legs. The guitarist is responsible for scribbling and fuzzy strummery, and of course if he had gazelle-like legs, I'd report it. These two alternate lead vocals, melodies that float and drift. "I don't recognise your shape" they muse.
I can imagine a range of 80's and 90's influences for Flame On - Flock of Seagulls, Curve, Garbage and Belle & Sebastian. The set builds to a triumphant climax with a big hooky bass-line and squealing feedback. Scorchio!
Mark Cottrell (of Trad Arr) – acoustic set
A set with male voice and semi-acoustic guitar. This is an angry and embittered vibe, loaded with the country and western theme of failed relationships and scorned lovers - although the sun breaks through occasionally. The delivery has a folky feel with a strong voice and whipping guitar strummery.
Get some of these lyrics "Find a way to break the vicious circle before it breaks you"; "I hate myself for loving you, but I do"; and his love letter to the music business "You're taking all the right drugs, we can make you a star". But they're all delivered with a smile, as are surprisingly effective covers of 'Teenage Kicks' and Primal Scream's 'Movin' on up'. This man is doing it his own way, he's done with stepping stones.
Adam de Gruchy
A two-man set of country-blues from A.D.G. Vocals, backing harmonies, semi-acoustic and electric guitars, lots of shaking percussion and an iPod.
The iPod is now the vehicle of choice for backing tracks, in this case primarily trickling beats and occasional hooky bass grooves. Guitars unleash warm strummery, grunting chords, twangy flourishes, even a flash of flamenco. Words drawl and patter with a bizarre mix of the roguish and the innocent: "My mother always told me you're a diamond in the rough".
As always Adam's set is breezily catchy and cleverly witty. And he's the master of an abrupt ending.
Sunday's memorable moment
I left disgracefully early, I'm sure more notable things happened later. As I left, some youth in the audience claimed that Adam de Gruchy's set sounded like the Pet Shop Boys. As far as I know, the Pets haven't shifted into country-blues. But the set did happen to be performed by two blokes wearing baseball hats. How confusing it must get having to distinguish between five senses when you've only had eighteen years to get used to them.
A kick-start to proceedings, the sound of a jetplane landing. But we're not back in the USSR, we're back in the Tom Tom Club. Warm bass funking, guitars with mellow soul and busy scratch-chords, twinkling keyboard backing, plus a mix of live and programmed dance beats and lots of cowbells. The female lead singer and male dance monkey deliver megaphone sloganeering " You've got to laugh to be kind" "You have to rock into the night"; "Hey > the music's playing > hey > the beat is rockin' > hey > the body's pumping". Lunchtime is now partytime.
Asazi – acoustic set
Haunting sounds of drums and voice only - not the manic tribal noisiness you encounter from station buskers, but gentle distant sounds, cajoling, summoning, pacifying.
The one-man of formulation of Asazi is want we have today, with partner and child on occasional tambourine support. Words are lullabies floated in African tongues. A nursery rhyme, a proverb, an equivalent to 'Simon row the boat ashore'. A tambourine makes a great crown when you're two.
Left of the Dealer
Card games are the new funk-rock pastime of choice. Cool balladeering opens, with earnest vocal melody, sparing harmonies, breezy drums, hookline bass and sparkly semi acoustic guitar.
As the set progresses, the funk and rap is accentuated, magical string intricacy gives way to squeal and squall electric guitar and as much chewy Steely Dan stretch and wah-wah as you could ever wish for. "Pick up the pieces of your broken heart stick it together, then you can start to recreate what was lost". Simple, you see?
Blues guitar, partly solo, partly with male guest vocal and partly with female guest vocal.
This is simultaneously intense and mannered. Both singers are excellent and the guitar alone is near classical in its complexity. The female singer steals the set with a cleverly controlled cover of The Stones' Angie and by out- Turnering Mrs Tina: "Don't you play with me, you're playing with fire"
A twenty-first century alloy of grunge, mod, punk and pop.
GPD open with a wash of hats and guitar-scribbling. Then they race, urgently cracking drums neck-and-neck with simple bass groove, phaser-distorted rhythm guitar, and lead guitar of swirls, twangs and reverb. The voice is melodic but passionate, an outward calm seems to suppress grief and disillusion.
Classic rock and pop is the new avant garde it seems: 'bah-bah-bah, bah-bah-bah, bah-bah-bah' lines; sudden deceleration for the middle eight; slow, teasing reconstructions of the full weight for final chorus. Some of the lyrics are like old friends - "This one goes out to the ones I left behind".
With music that references The Beatles, The Jam and the Foo Fighters, why not REM too? "I'll be somebody new today" warn GPD. Those ever changing moods.
A juggernaut of bluesy-metal.
The singer becomes a beast of skydiving passion and big rock bellows. Rhythms stomp and ping. Bright guitar revs sit up and screams out in solo sustain. This is a set of fanfare and anthems, to describe Big Truck as spirited would be a gross understatement. This'll get 'em marching down the hillsides.
Widescreen prog-poppers with a striking blonde frontman.
Up to 3 guitars confront you in a constantly changing set up, careworn semi-acoustic strumming, crazy horse riffs, country blues with piping solos and delta jangle twangs. They rasp, they cry, they sob. Keyboard adds a moody rumbling, as cleverly stilted rhythms crack, tumble and roll. The singing skies tastefully amongst the clouds and rises to falsetto.
There are likely and unlikely elements in the States' sound. Coldplay is obvious, Seahorses is a surprise, but the dominant vibe is a chilled Radiohead. "I could sleep for days" they observe. That'll be The Bends I expect.
Compelling blues rockers.
This Scarf is woven from busy rhythms, big hole basslines, chopping guitar and splurging hammond organ sounds. The lead singer's staccato bark is softened by backing "whoa-oh" harmonies and stretchy falsetto "heys". There's a joyous cover of The Clash's 'Train in Vain', but the more obvious comparisons would be with the Charlatans, the Zutons (and Mersey predecessors), and Paul Weller's Style Council (all with extra blues).
Lyrics like "trying hard to find a way" really don't float my boat, but it's not about words. It's about rhythm, about blues, about soul and about a mighty organ.
Natural and unforced, Timshel's singer sounds exactly like Robert Plant. He's backed by fast semi-acoustic strummery, bluesy electric guitar, bouncily thrumming bass and clacketty beats. They've got this festival idea sussed 'Been drinking in the sun, there's something only just begun'.
Jolly set though this is, they're squeezed into the last 15 minutes of the day and what's just begun is soon finished. Still, they're smiling and enjoying themselves. If Timshel don't lead your pencil they'll certainly put Zed in your Zeppelin.
Monday's memorable moment
Maybe there's something about playing when you're hungry, but the performers who were on at when I'd normally be eating seemed to find an energy and enthusiasm no-one else quite matched. Gertrude's Storm have geared their set to creating a 21st century funk-party for some time, but the Big Truck drive-time lead-footing actually got me bouncing about in front of the stage – and I'm quite confident that I'll never be a fan of their sound. See what happens when you drink for three days solid?
The final analysis
There was plenty of variety in the Peafish outing, but nothing extreme or hard on the ears: this event was geared up for booze and fun. Having said that, there were forays into a good few traditions, from rootsy North American blues to African voice and drum. But if you were looking for an underground surprise, the first afternoon brought the revelation of the festival – Betty's performance on Saturday afternoon was the set of the weekend. She sings jazz (more-or-less), presented with charisma smoldering beneath a cloak of vulnerability. Find her music online via Betty Woz Ere or Fuzzynoise Records.
Adrian R Teenbeat kicked off while I was still outside, scoffing the post-match chips'n'mushy peas. You can rely on Teenbeat for a grimacingly flat Smiths cover. Next up Fractured, a touch of Marc Riley era Fall, bitter anthems about football and gardening. "Give us pubs, not luxury apartments with riverside views", campaign Fractured. Then with synthesised violins and a mournful stomp, together we lament the era of leylandi: "All my conifers are dead". Surprisingly, this is fun.
I, Ludicrous are the perfect players for final support position, singalong stories about bar-room philosophy and football from the era of the spot-the-ball competition. This is the life of the English football supporter, grin and bear it.
I, Ludicrous are just two geezers with voices, guitar, synth and backing track. But they un-can more laughs than Milk Kan as they build up to their almost hit "Preposterous Tales in the Life of Ken Mackenzie" A tour of three English football grounds takes in such highlights as The Den "we are not animals, we are human beings". Football north of the border also gets a look-in: "Och, the Highland League has 15 teams - och,the Highland League runs on limited means - and attendances are slowly on the up". Finally, to Germany for a cover of Joy Division's "She's Lost Control" (ironically a dig at the goal-scorer of the hour): "Confusion, Peter Crouch has got the ball, he's lost control again - and he's kicked it to the nearest passer-by, he's lost control again". But it's not all over until the fat-head sings.
So, Sidebottom is a chap with a plastic head looking like a 1970s lego man, singing in a nasal easy-listening croon, with backing that sounds like an electric organ that your nan won in the bingo at a Working Men's Club. And it's filled the venue with cheery beery blokes that see essentially the same thing when they take their kids to the panto at Christmas. Except all the jokes are Lancashire and Cheshire based. Like his reworking of Anarchy in the UK - who'd have guessed it, Anarchy in Timperley?
Frank starts the set in trademark suit and tie, but he's soon peeled off the layers to reveal the football strip. The props are out - Little Frank, the ventriloquist's dummy that's a duplicate of Sidebottom ("he's only cardboard, don't let yourself get swept away") - and Mr Moulinex the Puppet Iron, passed off as a marionette with a single cord. Then the football songs are out, "The Red Red Robins ain't bob-bob-bobbins says me" - the joy of Altincham FC and Moss Lane. "Because football is fantastic, it's fantastic, oh yes it really is". This is how Frank works, an audience that knows all the lines, and loves to hear the old favourites repeated, oh yes, we really do. Regularly, Frank reminds us that he's been on match of the day because he's got Very Big Shorts.
Another prop, the Freddie Mercury moustache, and the ultimate routine is a digression-rich cover of Bohemian Rhapsody, "Mother, I just killed a houseplant". A side-excursion takes in more celebrations of the north-west - "Timperley Sunset", "There isn't a cure for the Timperley Blues". How to stage your own eBay bidding battles - you don't need a computer, just photos of things you might be selling and a group of friends who'll stay at your house for 10 days. And an indie medley to complete the show, featuring the Smiths' "Little Frank strikes again", and closing with "Take the skinheads bowling, you know you should - you really should, specially when the wind blows". And nothing really does seem to matter very much.
Frank Sidebottom works the finest traditions of music hall and stand-up, the endlessly revisited catchphrase, the gag that runs on through the diversions and returns when you least expect it. This is like Punch and Judy with Frank and Little Frank - oh yes it really is. Don't expect political correctness to get in the way either - he wants his mother to buy him a computer so he can visit www(dot)rogertheboynextdoor(dot)com. But the crowd loves every second - each prop is returned to the suitcase in turn as the set ends, and every one gets its own cheer. Frank Sidebottom plays cheesy easy-listening from the worlds of The Two Ronnies and Morecombe and Wise. And he's good. Oh yes, he really is.
When the number of acts is into double figures, it’s a scary prospect to review a whole event - the way to keep it fun is to dip in and out, watch a handful of bands, and drink plenty of beer.
The tiny performance space is rammed, even 5 deep on the balcony. The ranks of the Antifolk acolytes are clearly swelling, but the 12 Bar dilemma remains constant: an upstairs view of performing heads, or a downstairs view of legs and torsos.
I listened to 8 acts and the incomparably incomprehensible compering of Moondog, and the synopsis is: summer festival time soon!
Here's the 8, roughly in order, but roughly shuffled to give a sense of ups and downs.
Tonight, the McGees set-up is three-clown skiffle.
As greasepaint victims with bright costumes, they treat you to banjos, double-bass and melodica. The joys of romps and eyebrow-plucking, playground tales, washboard beats. The McGees most loveable feature is the male-female vocal combination, quizzical Scots sandpaper versus innocent baby doll, with twee lyrical exchanges and echoes: "I've got no frineds, not one". But it's not only childlike subject matter, Star Wars, light sabres, and Jedi knights. There's childlike directness too: "Why don't you just fuck off and die". He really means "mine's a pint of heavy".
The McGees are always a joy to see, with their fistful of twisted lullabies. It's a bonus to see them step away from their schoolyard operetta: boy meets girl, falls in love, falls out, maybe makes up. All they need now is a lion tamer.
Seth Faergolzia (of Dufus)
Two Dufus players deliver cowboy-cowgirl wisdom and campfire singalongs.
The set opens bizarrely, Papa Lazarou with female accomplice, the sound of a tune-up, a strum and vocal scatting. "Have you figured out that this is the show yet?", he prickles. "I could just sit here and play this G-chord all night". Fortunately, he twists into mean semi-acoustic guitaring, and pours forth a skinny preacher's sermonising, whilst his partner lightly adds simple bass impulses and higher pitched harmonies. Advice if you're seeking a lover: "If you need someone, make sure they help you, not hinder you". Advice if you think you're losing a lover: "Why would she want you to be not you, if that's who she likes?". By now, we're turning into hippies (or woodcraft children), so there has to be a round of audience parts: "Water > drips down > we'll spread it > we'll burn fire". Don't encourage them, they'll start juggling.
Seth Faergolzia claims that the entire 12 Bar audience has now been inaugurated into Dufus, and I'd have to admit the audience participation works surprisingly well. More than that, a set that started like a curious culture clash between the White Stripes and Violent Femmes ultimately transforms into a stripped-down Fairport Convention duet, simple and soothing, male and female voices in harmony with guitar and bass. For this festival, Soho is the English Woodstock.
David Cronenberg's Wife
This is psycho-delic country with lyrics of top quality cheek.
The four wives (mostly males) bring along guitars, bass, drums, and occasional drifts of keyboard. The male vocal drawls and gabbles astride sweet female harmonies, the accompaniment twangs, slides, scribbles and bubbles - and an honourable mention is also due for a rash of punkabilly drumming. The songs are long drones of good-humoured misery, an odd hybrid of Velvet Underground and the Country Teasers. Words about a loveless relationship - "I bent to pick up a pencil, you stood on my hand". Words about a best mate going out with the woman you've been chatting up - "Something came between us, his big fat cock". Words about the jealous girlfriend as jailer - "Her truncheoning left me stiff".
David Cronenberg's Wife ought to be unlistenable, but they're not. The curmudgeonly growl of the music is beguiling, and the writing creates almost as many cringes as a scene from The Office. Cheesy it may be, but seasoned with herb and spices. David Cronenberg's Wife goes down well with Kronenbourg.
The Big Fibbers
Singalong fun for the whole family, with barely concealed innuendo - is Crackerjack still going?
Two blokes sing, guitar, toot on the birdcall whistle, and generally jape a merry jest. This is challenge-free good natured busking, nothing new about it. "She's got wonderful big boots!", they compliment - oh yeah, guffaw. The tradition of including a little jocularity in the set spans may years and acts - Lonnie Donegan, Roy Harper, Deep Purple, Chuck Berry, Stranglers, Pulp - but the Big Fibbers are out to break it down to the lowest common denominator, ha'penny music hall.
There was Mungo Jerry. There was the Scaffold. There were the Monks (Nice Legs, Shame about the Face). We have amnesia about the next 25 years, but now we have the Big Fibbers, so it's ok - evidently nothing important happened. By now it's midnight, so the acts don't need to stand up to critical scrutiny. "You only say you love me when you're drunk - so drink! drink! drink!", cry the Big Fibbers. So we gave Mr Fibber's wife some medicinal compound, most efficacious in every case.
Folk poetry for the big city.
The power of Crash is the simplicity and the lack of pretension. The voice a bemused enquiry, the mouth-organ in bluesy bursts, relaxed semi-acoustic guitar strumming rendered gritty by fx that chew, squeal and reverb. The current whacked-out observational anthems: "There ain't no superheroes no more"; "They're digging up the road, but they'll never find oil in my back yard"; and the homage to Wetherspoons "Work is the curse of the drinking classes". Can't help thinking Wilde might have been there first.
JJ Crash has generated an unlikely mosh-pit led by Milk Kan, and it would be fair to say his approach is more everyman than intellectual - I'd go further, and risk more populist than punk. I've compared him to Patrik Fitzgerald before, but this is more teasing than sneering, a diffidence borrowed from Jake Thackeray. Not so much grubby stories as cautionary tales.
Outrageous and drunken folksy irreverence.
With a bottle, you're never alone, but for this set Pedro's bottle and semi-acoustic guitar are augmented by kazoo, bass, a Cronenberg's Wife drummer, and some unlikely electronic backing tracks. Astonishingly, this man can sing and play when he's 80% of the way to the land of MacGowan. I'm not altogether convinced by the writing, get these supposed achievements of an immortal life: "12,000 years, I'm the real deal, discovered fire and invented the wheel" and "I fucked Caesar in AD44, when I stabbed him in the back, the blood did really pour" (roughly, to the tunes of My Old Man's a Dustman, and Messin About on the River"). I've got more time for the small island misanthropy blues: "They kicked me out of Anglesey - although I'm half-Welsh they couldn't see". But it's hard to be persuaded by musicians who try to make a virtue out of being shambolic.
Somewhere in the Filthy Pedro persona there's a serious musician, which becomes apparent when he's at his most perverse. Donning a horned gimp mask wasn't favoured by Nick Drake or Beck, but Pedro uses this guise to embark on his curious mix of rant and rap, complete with drum'n'bass backing - "I'm Gilgamesh". Unfortunately, the novelty act remains the dominant characteristic, as Pedro closes with "Scoring rock'n'roll points", a catalogue of proud moments in the history of booze-sodden mayhem. To illustrate, a thoroughly-greased 6 foot monkey swings from the beams and demolishes a table-load of glasses. Don't try this without anaesthetic alcohol.
A dour look at power, hypocrisy, depravity and death, in an idyllic folk-country setting.
Joe Buzfuz Murphy is a man with a dark sense of humour and a righteous sense of anger. In honour of the lateness and debauchery of the hour, an opening tale of the Vatican's divinity down the ages: "Hide your wife, bury your dope, here come the popes". There are so many murderers, buggers, rapists, torturers and thieves in the annals, you'd imagine that God sanctions almost anything: Joe has to speed to hyper-poetry and 15-second verses to cram them all in.
With the addition of a female singer, the set lightens to a country-duet - but the subject matter is no more cheerful than arsenic poisoning. The Sheffield roots appear to be on show with the (presumably) Pulp-inspired "Do you remember the first time" (about a dying romance, of course) - "As we stubbed out the butts of our Silk Cuts, we knew it was the last time". Folk guitar strafed with angry regrets meets the uncanny vocal chemistry of a David Gedge and a Kirsty McColl.
Forget Donovan, Buzfuz is Northern England's twenty-first century incarnation of Bob Dylan, complete with his own Joan Baez. Oddly situated in a night of slapstick, Buzfuz plays to the gallows. Slowly unfolding tales in the tradition of the Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll alternate with the bleak wit of high-bodycount psycho drama. I can hear the sharpening of the knives…
The shorter part of the Milk Kan partnership brings you common wisdom from the semi-acoustic mosh-pit.
Everyday anthems in a sarf London accent, samples from TV shows and easy-listening standards, lo-fi backing with chatterbox beats, surfy rock'n'roll with guitar twangs - this is the new DIY music. Mr Hood alternates his assembled scraps with thrusts of straightforward folk guitar, or blasts of hip-hop with unlikely punk guitar solos. The songs deal with life as a piss-head, life as a small wheel in the music industry, and life as a big fish in a small pond - the kind of person who ends up asleep in wheelie bins and train depots: "I'm a nobody, and I'm happy as can be". Scrappy follows the crowd and the crowd follows Scrappy - "Wherever you're going, I'm going with you".
Scrappy Hood makes his space in a triangle between Carter USM, Billy Bragg and Chas'n'Dave. It's not an idea I would normally find engaging, but I'm surprised to say I really enjoyed the set - and that's bonhomie rather than beer talking. I don't think you can knock a performer that closes with a song based on a huge slice from Dolly Parton's hit "Here you come again". Especially when he adds a hugely silly parody of the US-FM rock station guitar solo. This does not mean that the continued existence of Chris Moyles is forgiven.
An unexpected bill this, with Kardomah added at the last minute, a slice of Coldplay brand indie-pop angst.
Keyboards chime and glisten, guitars combine swinging strum and tooting sustain, plenty of that jingle bells feel. The front man's melodies are impressive, from honeyed croon, to passionate swoon. But is this wisdom or pretentiousness: "You follow me through the streets of deception; we'll find a path to equality". Kardomah have perfectly mastered their chosen genre, but I still wouldn't listen to it at home.
The Darling Reds seemed to forget that their gear needed to be onstage and ready before the start time of their set, but their four-song set certainly leaves you wanting more. A little bit mod, a little bit ska, a little bit reggae. A voice full of Albarn-boy next door cheek, duelling guitars trade music slashes, Keith Moon drum energy. Anthems that are thoughtful and fun in a Members and Madness tradition, the sound of the suburbs suits me and it suits them.
The Old Street Musical Union are a special bunch, although you'd have to decide for yourself whether they're intelligent and multi-talented or sanctamonius show-offs. Between the five, they offer up scratching and bluesing guitars, cello, banjo and chimes, jazzy drums and sliding bass hooks. There are three part male-female vocal harmonies, but lead vocals are taken by the boys, alternating from fake southern drawl, to cheeky cockney, to honest John.
A lot of The O.S.M.U feel is almost psych-country, a chilled out Zutons, but the observations of life in the city owe more to The Kinks and Blur, and the verse-after-verse-after-verse structures are Bob Dylan classics. Two observations struck me as spot on, even if they are too knowing. On the press use of an image of a suicide, and the last thoughts in a dead woman's head: "All these people watching me - I know what they wanna see - jump, jump, jump, (etc). Here I am on the window sill, I should have taken sleeping pills". On moving into Kilburn when you're not used to it: "Outside there's a lot of scared and angry people - they make you feel scared and angry too."
There may be no excuse to be lonely, but equally there is no excuse for making music that ignores the state we live in. The O.S.M.U. can't be accused of making excuses, they let rip. All of the angry people, where do they all belong?
By now, I thought the best must be over, but it wasn't. A wailing voice breaks in, a protest that's part Jarvis Cocker (Pulp) and part Kevin Rowland (Dexy's): "I'm gonna shake your tree house down".
This is the Low Sparks, another band showing off their knowledge of a range of forms and instruments, but it's a more focussed type of silliness. Two guitars contrast choppy slashes with glowing reverb, and bass bounds wildly around the scales. Bonus sounds are percussion blocks and bells, the lonely wait of a melodica, and episodes of broken hooting from the keyboard. The writing is bizarre, epithets and truisms presented as revelations: "My floor is made of wood, but my roof is made of tin"; "Out came the police - the ducks and the geese started flapping at me"; and "The sound I make with my last breath will be the sound of a man who's ready for death". It's as though author Magnus Mills had decided to move into popular music. Essentially, this music is whacky rock'n'roll'n'pop with a few exotic flavours. I'm reminded of 1980s Hull outfit Red Guitars. More recently, this everyman storytelling has been at the core of the Divine Comedy business. The Low Sparks' music is clever fun, not clever-clever fun. Bring the playhouse down boys!
As if The Church wasn't enough, the Bull and Gate opens it doors to Ocker lager louts on a Sunday afternoon for a very trucking loud juggernaut-load of acts.
Feel: look into the eyes of beautiful losers - they're a mirror.
Vocal: rumbling grunt.
Guitar: niggle lines.
Bass: meandering tunes.
Drums: crunchy, broken.
Extras: floating trumpet.
Popstar factor:75% - the frontman's even traded his duffel coat in for a suit.
Familiarity factor: 75% - I've seen them loads, but they still have the power to surprise.
Song count: half a dozen.
IT factor: overgrown hair on frontman, but some visible face.
Antecedents: Velvet Underground, The Fall, Blue Aeroplanes.
Quotable quotes: "This is a headcount"; "We do these things to remind ourselves we're safe and warm"; "23 foot high-rise"; "She could swim underneath and still come out on top"; and "You forgot whose life you lead".
Remark: Prince Headbutt.
STOP PRESS: HiFi Killers in Talks with Sean Organ denial. Tony and Rhys categorically deny having discussions with Mr Organ about his Organ. "We haven't talked to him for years", they inclusively informed OT and anyone else nearby.
Feel: sex on the beach.
Vocal: come to bed and expect to die a tiny death.
Guitar: vicious scratch and twang.
Drums: concrete in a food blender.
Lyrics: a murderous Poly Styrene.
Popstar factor: 100% - they're already stars, and the bloke's got a better jumper than me.
Familiarity factor: 80% - I know exactly what they're about, but wonderful chaos reigns.
Song count: hundreds.
Longevity: this decade.
IT factor: 100% hair coverage.
Antecedents: White Stripes, Winnebago Deal, PJ Harvey.
Quotable quotes: "I wanna be naked"; "You lay down… No, No, No".
Remark: this band have already put their own name in lights, and they are So Right.
STOP PRESS: TEAM pull out in Refusal to Include Jelly Babies on Band-rider deadlock. An embarrassed Bull and Gate representative explained: "All the other bands wanted lager, and we provided an abundant supply of Probably the Cheapest Lager in the World". The Jelly Babies were not available for comment.
Feel: Jackson Pollock.
Vocal: hysterical wailing.
Drums: Ivor the Engine, a ferociously friendly train.
Keyboard: chewy Kraftwerk throbs.
Lyrics: fart, fart, fart, it's an Autofart.
Popstar factor: 10% - I really can't see it.
Familiarity factor: 90% - it's elemental.
Song count: 3.5.
Longevity: it fades in and out.
IT factor: 90%, one has almost complete hair coverage.
Antecedents: Jon Lord, Cozy Powell, TOTP1972.
Quotable quotes: breaking off mid-song with the cry "We've already played this song"; "I'm so clean when I feel so dirty - I'm so dirty when I feel so clean".
Remark: I'm quite sure they're not really Germans or fans of motorways.
STOP PRESS: Bull and Gate bar staff in We Don't Really Like VF Load Bands shock. A spokesperson asked OT "So all these bands are supposed to be wonderful. Are we listening to the same bands?". "Oh yes", replied OT sagely, "But with different ears".
Feel: mechanical, with shearing bolts.
Vocal: wild cries, gargling with soup, singing against the tide.
Guitar: Jack White and the strangled cat.
Bass: a fur-covered mallet.
Drums: steel fists, derailed train trips, pudding basins.
Extras: I'm sure there's a Casio VL1 lost in there somewhere.
Lyrics: traded slogans and asides.
Popstar factor: 99%, I'd do 'em all at the same time.
Familiarity factor: 50%, I've seen 'em before, don't really remember the songs, but I get the drift.
Song count: normal (about 16 per hour).
Longevity: timeless, like jazz.
IT factor: 10%, no beards, limited head-banging potential.
Antecedents: Jimi Hendrix Experience, Ten Grand, TEAM, Wire.
Quotable quotes: "You make me feel I've got my head screwed on", "Throw my things away".
Remark: ridiculously over-amplified Voodoo Children.
STOP PRESS: Bilge Pump in We're Not Pretentious claim. As they announced their song "Storm in a Teardrop", worried punters were heard to say "Who does he think he is, the new poet laureate?". Bilge Pump later explained "No we're not trying to be clever, we really DID see a storm in a teardrop. It was just last Tuesday".
Feel: crushed by the wheels of industry.
Vocals: out-screaming Ozzy by 100 decibels.
Guitar: feral revs and chimes - after all, today is the Sabbath.
Drums: mental Maiden.
Extras: squealing and whistling jazz sax, indecipherable rants, claimed to include French statements.
Popstar factor: almost possible, in a Henry Rollins kinda way.
Familiarity factor: 80% - I don't know them, but I sure know the genre.
Song count: normal.
Longevity: eternal, probably on a space waste-transporter called Red Dwarf.
IT factor: 25% - just two beards and a little floppy hair.
Antecedents: Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Lydia Lunch, Ex-Models, Motorhead.
Quotable quotes: "Slice up your toys" - or possibly "Slice off your toes", and "Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye".
Remark: Blue for Ceaucescu.
STOP PRESS: The Mass thanked Sean Organ for Organising the gig, an interesting tribute, but we are not quite sure what they meant. The architects of the day were Silver Rocket, Noisestar and Monotreme Records - with Bull and Gate promotions of course. Mr Organ could not be contacted for his reaction as he had already left.
Feel: a ton of bricks - Flettons to be precise.
Vocals: rare, bawled.
Guitar: It growls. It pounces. It kills. It thrills.
Bass: thrumming, grooving.
Drums: the extra special ingredient in a complex stew of chopped up jazz.
Lyrics: just about.
Popstar factor: absolutely none, and that's great.
Familiarity factor: 10%, it's always an adventure.
Song count: normal.
Longevity: again, jazz remains timeless.
IT factor: modest, not more than 20% facial coverage.
Antecedents: traces of Hendrix, Beefheart, Rock of Travolta, Princess Headbutt (ho ho), but primarily themselves.
Quotable quotes: "People disappear, Disappear, DISAPPEAR".
Remark #1: I am a pioneer, they call me perverted.
Remark #2: Cove wrote one of the ultimate post-rock pieces, but they're not playing it tonight - Abstemious Monks.
STOP PRESS: Richey Edwards spotted backstage during Cove set, with tears of joy on his cheeks.
Feel: Scooby Doo catches rabies.
Vocals: industrial screams.
Bass: particularly attractive limb of the fiend - it bruises.
Keyboard: ice cream with raspberry, a flake, and hundreds and thousands - all laced with arsenic.
Drums: WWI artillery, helmets, bestial, fretful, he hates skins, but he hates teachers more.
Popstar factor: remote.
Familiarity factor: could you get familiar with a Monitor Lizard?
Song count: millions.
IT factor: 30% - fair bit of headbang and facefuzz action.
Antecedents: Rage Against the Machine, police helicopters, Herr Hitler, pneumatic drills, Trio.
Quotable quotes: "What's the use?"
Remarks: Something Wicked This Way Comes.
EDITORIAL: and, as Trencher concluded, we sat in the main bar, squinted at one another, and said WHAT? Rather too much fun, sea, and Bass was had by one and all, which is A Good Thing. Thanks to: Phil and Andy B+G, Rachel and Andy SR, Rhys and Tony Noisestar, Monotreme Records. Vive la vie ignoble!
Sometimes an unlikely combination of obscure and late bookings can create an evening that's incredibly varied but fits together like a jigsaw. Monday 10 October was one of those nights. In the order that the acts performed...
Argentinean electro insanity.
Minimal electronica comes from an Apple laptop, skeletal dance swirls-bleeps-judders, military beats, PacMan showers, Space Invader squiggles, w-h-i-t-e n-o-i-s-e. Vocal one minute is a meths drinker shout, the next an ethereal croon, and then a marching Laibach chant. "Doomed to conform"; "You and me - Up and down - Up and down - Who are we? - Up and down - Up and down"; more bizarre "My love Michael Howard is home, he's naked, his chest is in my mouth… he's not racist, he moans and smiles".
Movement Improbable: one hand claps; two worlds miss. < Mummy, mummy, what's that scary man doing? > It's performance art, dear > But why does he look like he's banging his head against the wall? Why does he look like he's running away from a giant foot that's about to stamp on his head? > It's because his Daddy didn't love him, dear >
Episodic and instrumental post-rock, a romp through the world's climatic zones and all the weather systems in turn.
Apparently, a 3-piece suite. Tricksily stilted beats come as standard. Two guitars needed for drizzle chords and sustainy chimes, solos that tickle and spangle, cat-strangling scribbles, and the obligatory stick as bow to a violin. The synth option, piano contemplation for wall texture, drifting breaths and space farts as air conditioning. Bass is the chocolate coin surprise, wandering tunes with a sub-funk pump. Like it or not, esoteric titles are thrown in: "In case you get caught". The first ten minutes is the most confusing, passages flow smoothly and suddenly disconnect, a jarring realignment that isn't a progression, but in the absence of an interval, doesn't seem to be a new piece. The subsequent and final sessions do feel like coherent pieces that build to a conclusion. Quietness developed to anthems, then descending to anarchy. More features in the post-rock game - that "special" contribution frontmen make to percussion (the parting flail at the cymbals) - and the blitzkrieg finale, two awkwardly crunchy to quite qualify as a rock-out. Music that reminds me of Youth Movie Soundtrack Strategies and Detwiije. Great sounds, but the whole is less than the sum of the parts - I'd rather listen to Genesis' Foxtrot, at least then you get the bonus of Peter Gabriel's vocal silliness.
Mode's music is a post-rock colourwash: how are you meant to tell which one of these bands/ albums/ songs you're listening to? It's a smokescreen, a fog of particles you can't grasp because there's no structured substance. < Mummy, mummy, why are your eyes closed? > Sorry, darling, I must have nodded off > Can I go out to play? > No, dear. Supper's Ready. >
Spooky vaudevillian pop-rock spoofs.
The frontman does lots of leaping around, and as he flails, he wails in anguish. Nothing is sacred or safe from being targeted: a song called "Intelligent" slams religious belief on the basis that it's not - "And maybe on your next go round you're gonna be intelligent, but I have my doubts"; while caring for the elderly gets shock treatment in "Your mother has needs too" - "She ages, oh Christ she ages, she looks like a cabbage-patch doll". The music is pleasingly crunchy; guitar slashes and feathers, scratches and spangles; bass prods and spiders; beats shift between cabaret patters and showy atmospherics. An electro moment too, monkey programmed skitters and chirrups. A song that could have been prompted by opening act Movement Improbable - "Scary man, scary man, I'm so scared of you". But most fittingly, a prog-rock ending to the set. I didn't take him seriously when he was explaining his upcoming 10 minutes of self-indulgence in 3 parts - but that's EXACTLY what followed. It's a search for meaning, and there are three staged conclusions: "I don't like emotion, I just don't like the commotion"; "Unless it's rational, unless it's for a reason - if it's rational, I can do it"; and "There's nothing out there, there's no point in anything". It's official - The Truth is Boring. I don't think I ever heard prog-rock lampooned so comprehensively before, this is like John Otway and Neil Innes play Rush. Microscopic observation of the curiosities of the world in an Alex Harvey/ Pulp/ Space tradition. And following on from the pretensions of support act Mode.
There may be no point in existence, but this is not the end. After 2 acts of effete knowingness, there are still parts of the music façade left to demolish, and Tim Poland is the man for the job. Beefheart randomness and beat breakage, the parting shot "God is my maker Part II". Aficionados of Lennon and U2 would understand. The drummer contributes growling chants and utter madness is achieved. "God is my maker. He is my maker, and He is my baker… Too may cakes, too may cakes". And too much cheese. < Daddy, daddy, I can't sleep. And I'm still hungry > Lick on my chocolate salty balls, son. >
I don't know who Stolen Recordings are or what they do or why. But this is a free monthly night, and the September 2005 event was exceptional. Here's who played, in the order they played.
She Shimmy Rivers And And Canal
Chopped up junkyard blues.
This music is not just from the garage, it's from the inspection pit. The singer screams, a Zappa hysteria, reading poems from a pad. Guitar is an awesome blues plucking, atop bass boings and the patterns of the stand-up drummer, part car-crash mania, part tribal essences. There are sax contributions too, wavering hoots, unnerving squiggles. Songs arrive and end in two-minute bursts, and words aren't easy to get a grip on. Ensemble shouts of "Determination". Repeated Mark E rants "Work it out". She Shimmy play like an extra frenetic Bad Seeds.
She Shimmy are talented musicians choosing to play intense and fractured lo-fi. The themes are cut so fine, the messiness sometimes leaves you desperate for a conventional song, or even a complete hook. So it's not catchy, but it's crunchy, screamy and poetic. That's enough in my book. And She Shimmy are certainly the only band in the world with the word "And" repeated immediately in their moniker. Now that's what I call swimming against the shopping trolleys.
Unbelievably stark blues.
Calculated unhappiness, but it doesn't stop them falling about laughing when things stuff up. The drumming is an intense procession of rattling and sharp cracks. Twin guitar sounds develop slowly, glowing reverb, chopping chords that generate their own harmonic beats, string bending warbles: a combination of fuzz and grind. A drawling vocal of gritty gloom: "Down by the river, you saved me from drowning"; "Your life seems empty when nothing is plenty"; "We cannot go on, we have destroyed ourselves" and "I'm leaving me, I'm leaving you". The deathly narratives of a Leonard Cohen, the magical guitar desolation of a John Parish.
Tenebrous play blues deeper than the ocean. Their name could just as suitably be Languorous or Lugubrious: in their own words "It's going on for a long time" and "Asleep, asleep, asleep, you've been asleep". Evan Dando would make music like this after his 40th joint of the day. But Tenebrous produce a hypnotic evocation of desert landscapes, human isolation, and the transience of life. And they serve it with a pinch of salt. You can feel the heat, you can smell the rotting carcass, you can hear the wind whipping up the sand, you can see the blasted skulls. Nevada, here we come.
Challenging mix of voice, electric violin, guitar, bass, percussion, electronica and found sounds, from a band that profess to parking a car in the same garage as NY antifolk acts.
The players tonight are Jamie Smith on guitar, Michael Oxtoby on electric violin and bass, and Lee Allatson on everything else. Guitar creates a warm southern comfort sound of picking and thrumming, and flocks of feathering that see hands moving too fast to focus on. Violin plinks, screams and swoops, or breezes a wistful serenade like the fiddler on the roof. Percussion is at once simple and complex: rattlesnake maraca, stick-shattering snare, a tambourine placed atop the snare and struck with a damped stick, even the microphone scratched around the snare and fx box. There's a synthesizer for whooshes, feedback squeals, and processing the vocal into a pitch-shifting cyber growl. Mostly, the voice is a reverby baritone weaving light but complex melodies, teasing poetry from everyday life: "There's holes in your happiness, there's gold in those hills" and "Squeezing drops of light from short skies". Misterlee are a one off. If Thomas Truax played with Hugh Cornwell and JJBurnel of the Stranglers, then the output might resemble Misterlee.
If you like rock-quarrying crunchiness and playfully seething guitar, Misterlee could be your band. But there's no compromising here, nothing for the faint hearted. When Lee takes complete control, we have "Wasted", with processed mike gobbling vocal and screwy synth only, bizarre echoes of David Essex's "Rock On". These are dangerous sounds, most of them not just noises you've never heard before, but noises you've never even imagined. As Lee observes, "Sometimes it's safer to sleep". Misterlee have mastered the correct use of space.
A set of extraordinary post-rock instrumentals.
A colourwash of tootling, shimmering, and raw grinds from guitars, layered over an immovable feast of cracking snare and thrumming bass guitar. Together, the guitars create hauntingly melodic flickers and heartrendingly sorrowful flights of strings: these are the twin cities of sustain and reverb. The show closes with a growling crescendo and the inevitable indulgence of two minutes' feedback noodling. Moly could be the Cocteau Twins without vocal, in contemporary terms, a close sonic cousin of the Exploits of Elaine.
Moly produce sublime but wildly progressing guitar atmospherics. Pieces that combine jangling sleigh rides, looping roller coasters and powerful storms of anger. This could be heaven or lost vagueness.
One of the best events of the year sees OppositionT faves Akira and twentysixfeet get together. This is the order of play...
Clever mix of urgent post-punk grime and summer breeze vocal harmonies.
The singers shift from hysteria to dreaminess and back, Beach Boys layering switches to traded cries that fly off the melody: "Waster! > Waster!". Guitar sounds are dark slashing chords, hooky repeated sirens, curling intricacies and sobbing entreats. Keyboard focus is swirling synth, organ flourishes and simple piano repeats. Bass is a collision of compelling bounce and evil thrumming. Drum sets a tempo like a jerky merry-go-round, beats that are racing, crunching, then broken. Flavours of Teenage Fanclub compete with Fatima Mansions and even early Idlewild.
These Swansea boys are serious musicians, but their concerns are urgency, crankiness and contagious tunes. They claim to have only a single fan in the audience, but win a rapturous reception from people who've never seen them before. A main event waiting to happen, they'll be back along the M4 soon. Goodbye, give thanks.
An anxiety attack over grudgingly catchy tunes.
Akira are a three-piece with both frontmen pitching in vocals. Desperation contorts the tunes at times, but the response is deftly soaring croons and falsetto that squeaks with concern. "Do you see what it means?", they demand. Guitar lines buzz, curl and zap, floating off into liberated freeform solos. Bass output is a gently stroked series of sonic nudges, so low down they're almost subliminal. Drums are stilted to the max, toppy waltzers, strangely reverby and disembodied. As with manga animation, Akira are about leading not following, and the only comparable act I can offer is US post-rockers Ten Grand.
Akira bludgeon and spike their sounds, but there's an oblique and thinly veiled tunesmithery to be found. The reluctance to quite accept the joy of the melody makes me think of Belle and Sebastian. A measured aural painting where the colours bleed over the edges, its attractive because it doesn't ignore the boundaries, and fresh because it doesn't adhere to them. Pop-art never stretched it this far. Ignore it, and you've not got what I got. You're rotting. You're rotting.
Assertive and essential electro-guitar grooves.
tsf don't play a gig, they perform it. The opening builds from a skittering synth. Then a grinding guitar, awkwardly urgent. Irresistible bass groove and crisply demanding beats follow. The final element a perfectly pitched and brilliantly contorted Yorke-style vocal. As the set progresses, synth introduces more layers of chattering teeth, electronic chews, chirrups and wheezes, and crackling radiowave fireworks, the sound of volcanoes erupting on distant planets. A second fledgling guitarist is introduced, augmenting the flurry of gritty chord chops, anxious and wild solo attacks, accelerating McGeogh jangles, and intricately traced circlets. Bass continues its relentless dance pressure. Vocal cries are as dry and esoteric as ever: "Yesterday, I learnt to crack a smile" and "What's you answer, what's your answer, boy?". Diverse elements here to remind you of Headswim and Minuteman.
Possibly the finest twentysixfeet outing of the year so far, hair and fur flies into a swirling oceanscape crescendo. A superb mix of danceforce compulsion, guitar trick persuasion and anxious plea. No sarcasm, but plenty of darkness, and a determined attack on any remaining electro-guitar divide. Break down the walls.
Former Cats on Form return for vital post-punk noisecore with extended progressions and throbbing synth.
The juddering synth beats open the set. Punky up-down bass thrums, crunching drums, and guitar curl. The vocal is classically Cat, it follows its own melodic logic, but it pitches wildly, the birth of a new key. Guitar sounds become ever wilder and more inventive too, grimy slicing and scratching, opposing squalls and tickles, spitting feathers, coiling reggae hooks, a toytown music box cycle, and the brief but inevitable finale of feedback and beating harmonics. Bassman is the primary tunesmith of Holst-like gravitas. Bass moves deep and dirty into some serious grooves, carefully measured jazzing, and a combined force of earth-moving booms tied to the synth. Instrument-hopping brings more out of the synth, a Kraftwerk style compulsive-obsession. Drum output is close to insane, manic crunches schism into military beats. Vocal proceeds as an angry and strangely mystified bark, self-confidence steadily dissolving: "This is heaven"; "Something must give"; and "You should have seen the way they looked at us". Projections may have lots of Cat on Form characteristics, but the Cat never played long songs with a slowly engineered development. Projections are not emulating childhood heroes, they're utterly incomparable.
Projections are everything you could wish them to be. Add to that the apocryphal voice, a devilish sniping between bass and guitar, and guitar lines so frightened they draw you in and tie your heart in knots. The future is a nightmare, and Projections will force you to confront it: a quip in one hand, and truth in the other.
A cold February day, but a warm diehard crowd. Here are four of the acts which were less familiar and made a good impression. In order of appearance.
Mertle and Larry Pickleman
Folk nursery rhymes and playground threats written by children for children.
Both the Mertle and Larry sing, sweetly coy melodies, drawls, yelps and tantrums. Tanya Donnelly crossed with Pam Ayers set against Martin Corrigan crossed with Alex Harvey. Guitar is semi-acoustic strummery, country picking, jangly lullaby. Accompaniment comes from xylophone doorbells, coconut horse hooves, melodica, kazoo and spring whistle.
The most enjoyable moments are the 20 second kids songs: "Don't wanna go to bed", "Sniff sniff" and "Butterfly". The playground cruelty is also engagingly gleeful: "Running 'round, showing off… she wouldn't talk to me so I tripped her up"; and better "I'm gonna stick pins in her eyes and fag butts up her nose, feed her steak and kidney pies all night and cripple her toes". OK, some of this is mundane: holiday fallout "The Sun was hot, it didn't cost a lot, the holiday", and life-wisdom "It's so important to be happy". What does it all amount to; well, in their own words, they're more twee than the Bobby McGees.
Mertle and Larry Pickleman produce some fantastic bedtime stories and educational rhymes for kids. But when they plunder other aspects of their lives, the result is only faintly amusing, adults feigning childhood innocence. "Daddy ain't no peace freak honey; Mommy ain't no peace freak neither, are you" (Julian Cope)
Brains and Virgin
Mad electric take on Dames Hinge and Bracket.
One partner performs primarily home-counties accented poetry, half music hall compere, half fairground barker. Add on kerchunk kerchunk synthesised rhumboid beats, embellished with mad dance squiggles, squishy scratching, plink-plonk tunes and sampled strings. Also sampled are the sounds of US Hawkishness: "outlaw Russia forever", air-raid sirens, cries of "ceasefire". Extraterrestrial conquest gets a look in too: "We are the superiors of the human race… We'll kidnap Jamie Oliver and atomise his brains" (someone beat you to it). Just to prove they're serious, there's an episode of supposedly jungle drumming accompanied by madcap dancing around the audience to shouts of "Mumbo jumbo", the claim "I am a tower of attraction to women", and the chant "Get yer tits out, get 'em out" (the home counties has slipped into mockney by now). This sounds like the Flying Lizards perform Gilbert and Sullivan.
Brains and Virgin are twenty-first century vaudeville. Clever it may not be, but entertaining it is. Not every idea is original (or even inoffensive) - the sample of "You can't touch this" as a backdrop to the story of a street-drinking whiskey-sodden MC Hammer is pretty obvious. All the same, Brains and Virgin are crazy showmen, and you can't touch that.
A genuinely funny duo telling the story of a stop-start stop-start relationship with the aid of ukulele, banjo, guitar, xylophone, melodica and flute.
The Bobbies come from Glasgae via Brighton it would seem: he with the chewy sub-melodic musings, she with the beautiful baby doll romanticising. Ukulele and banjo are picked-at like the redneck instruments they purport to be, electric guitar rocks'n'rolls, the flute butterflies like the eponymous theme tune, xylophone tinkles, and melodica wheezes.
And so, to the opera. The nervousness before the meeting: "I've got no friends, not one". The head over heals phase: "Our love is indestructable, totally watertight, uncorruptable". Trying to recapture the good times: "Tomorrow could be like yesterday and tie us up in knots again". The dreamy lullaby credited to Presley: "Forever and a day". Uncertainty over a partner's continued dedication (proclaimed also to have an undercurrent of Czechoslovakian politics): "I'm still getting butterflies, I'm sure she's not getting butterflies". Desperation phase: staccato repeats of "Please don't dump me" paired with threats of vengeance: "I'll slit your throat and gouge out your eyes". The development of pure hatred: "You used to be a wanker and you're still the same, so kill yourself" - followed by a catalogue of favoured death rituals. And finally, the glimmer of hope from a weekend in Paris: "We'll pretend it was chic, just for a laugh, I'll be Sacha and you be Piaf… we'll be friends for a little while, happy again". The concept of the antifolk opera surely owes something to Attila and Otway's "Cheryl"; but this is less cheap and far more engaging.
I love the Bobby McGees. They are coy and extrovert at the same time; you similtaneously believe they are not quite sure about themselves or each other, but that they completely understand and trust each other (ergo, they are not having a relationship). They encore with a knockabout of VU and Nico's "Femme Fatale", which they claim as an Elton John cover. The Bobby McGees are the antifolk Sonny and Cher. And they're way more twee than the Picklemen. There must be fifty ways to kill your lover.
Kid Sister Phoebe
Bittersweet acoustica about childhood, romance, and the tiny gap in between them.
Except for a brief spell of snare accompaniment, this is one man on guitar and vocal. The singing is somehow simultaneously earnest and playful, he's got an impressive ability to whistle a would-be guitar solo, and a knack with busky semi-acoustic strum and slash chords. Subject matter is animals, girls who love Converse baseball boots, Chilean girls with irresistible accents, and having your partner stolen by a character from Cats. Lines like: "If I were a hedgehog, I'd roll into a ball, and anything that bothered me, it wouldn't bother me at all"; "Macavity the mystery cat, he always gets the girl"; "We're shouting in the attic and nobody knows we're at it"; and "Although your footwear will be different, your heart will be the same". I can't think of any other singer-songwriters that reveal themselves completely in simple unembellished tales.
Kid Sister Phoebe gives a direct and honest performance of wide-eyed story-telling songs. The set is announced as his first live performance, which is mighty surprising given his talent and composure. Astonishingly bright and untainted.
An interesting venue. Friendly. Cheap beer. Stock of a ship's chandlery. Large scale model of HMS Victory. Porthole in the door. Hunting trophies (deer heads). Shivering timber beams. Scalloped cake-icing plasterwork.
And interesting music...
Ming the Mong
Genre: electronic irony.
Vocal: neatly phrased rants, poetry, monotonal blues.
Backing style: evil dance, Soft Cell, twinkling piano, vieltone and bontempi home organs, fake funereal violins, Fallesque drum tumult.
Costume: budget, half a child's football and some sellotape.
Rough quotes: "You can't, you won't ever sanitise me"; "Victoria Wood, but I wouldn't"; "We put our heads on the tracks and listened for trains"; and "My life is a mess, my own admission, I look like Dave Lee Travis".
Subjects: misanthropy, suicide, school reunions.
Precedents: The Fall, Half Man Half Biscuit, Carter USM, Country Teasers, Pitman.
Ming the Mong (aka Andy) performs poetry about how to enjoy being pissed-off, with chunky electronics for backing.
Weirdness to pop ratio: 40% - the eighties style dance backing is pretty hook infested, timing is pure Mark E. Smith.
Familiarity factor: 80% - plenty of Half Men Half Biscuit anthemic chants, by the end of each song you feel like you know it.
Genre: guitar and electronic experiments on the cosmic psyche.
Vocals: 2, manic screams, whinnies, processed ethereal sirens, rant-rap, eastern mantras.
Guitar: crazy horses, shimmers, scribbles, dew-drops.
Synth: space station, parabolic bells, clangers, martian crickets, white noise, wild horses.
Backing: trippy dance beats, Doctor Avalanche, Cocteau metronome crunch, machine gun.
Rough quotes: "Comfort me by sound"; "How will I defend you?".
Precedents: Eno, Bowie, Fripp, Bill Nelson.
Savage Henry straddle a line between spacescapes and spacecakes.
Weirdness to pop ratio: 95% - there are structured developments, but no prospect of a chart-bothering single.
Familiarity factor: 15% - the sounds and the themes stick in your mind, but I've seen them play 4 times, and they could have played 4 different sets - or not. Well, you can't say it seems like you've heard it all before.
Genre: Classic ironic punk grooves.
Vocal: barks, bellows and twists-it like Mark E., with lots of sitting down.
Guitars: 2, chugging Damned riffs, rock'n'roll solos, feedback, snowdrifts, chimes.
Bass: big tunes bounced and pumped.
Drums: tickled, trickled, crashed, crated.
Timing: at least as reliable as London Underground.
Lyrics: yes, but mostly unknown.
Rough quotes: "We're going straight to hell"; "Set wrecker! I didn't come up in the middle of your set and say I can't hear what your singing".
Precedents: Damned, Pistols, Fall, Velvet Underground, Jesus and Mary Chain.
The Gimps churn their punky mayhem better than a Kenwood mixer.
Weirdness to pop ratio: 15% - it's rock'n'roll, but too loud and grunty to qualify as pop.
Familiarity factor: 90% - many of these songs feel like covers, and some are (Sex Pistols' Submission for one) - but they're all instant pogo - boogie generators.
Genres: redneck punk and blues, with tongue in at least one cheek.
Members: man, woman, boy.
Guitar: rumbling riffs, Mysteron and Motorhead solos.
Bass: not just tunes, but sonic earthquakes - they justify the moniker.
Drums: lo-fi, snare-bashing.
Vocals: his (majority) - grunts and bellows; hers - strident Suzi Q.
Average song length: under 90 seconds.
Timing: almost Swiss.
IQs: allegedly drums 150, guitar 6, bass "not telling".
Rough qoutes: in song > "Hey baby, let's take a ride somewhere I ain't been"; "Can you hear me, I've got shit to say"; "Baby I've got nothing to say, cos' I'm too fucken fast"; "I'm no. 1, I'm fucken' no. 1"; and I need to change, to rearrange": in conversation > "I can tell by the look of the audience there's not a lot of ballerinas here"; "I've drunk a lot of beer, I'm talking absolute shit"; and (my favourite) "Eat what you want, drink more than you possibly can, and you'll lose weight".
Motherfucker count: 69.5
Precedents: Motorhead, Natural Born Killers, Bonnie and Clyde.
Sludgefeast is blistering lo-fi rock. It is what it says on the tin.
Trailer park: Torquay (Farty Towels).
Weirdness to pop ratio: 10% - irresistibly catchy riffs and charisma.
Familiarity factor: 90% - like listening to the White Stripes play mother fucken Status Quo.
Inspired thought: the future's so bright I gotta wear shades.
One generation's historic moment was what they were doing when Kennedy died.
A generation or more onwards, for many of us, the events of 26 October 2004 will be emblazoned on our minds forever. The Channel 4 news opened with a report of John Peel's death: "The most influential DJ of our times, and probably ever".
Indie music fans sought out their local bar or venue to trade sorrows. Rob drifted to the Bull and Gate, and concentrated on reviewing the night's three noise merchants.
And the legacy of sounds is what matters, not the endless eulogising or mythical encounters at the checkout in Presto [a defunct supermarket]. It is doubtful that these three bands would be playing at the Bull and Gate (doubtful, possibly, that any bands would be playing), had it not been for the man and his radio shows.
Three days later, the band Balaclava offered up my favourite tribute: "here's a minute's feedback in memory of Uncle John".
Surgery or the Bomb
Fantastically crunched-up post-punk music.
The broken-up structures of the Surgery are hardly pieces you'd recognise as songs, but there are big catchy melodic hooks and lyrical repeats like "Her skirt is short but her legs are long". The vocal is a selection of episodically delivered monotone barks and wails. Guitar is an odd Western US sound, a series of circling lines of strangled jangling. Rhythm is a slaloming bass and hard staccato drum-whip. Surgery strike me as a post-rock mix of Television and Josef K, or maybe a sedated mix of New York's Ex Models and London's Montana Pete.
Surgery or the Bomb is a misnomer, this mix of cogitation, incision and explosion surely takes in Surgery AND the Bomb. Three angry maverick cowboys. There's so many arteries that lead to the heart.
The Optimist Club
Proggy post-rock tomfoolery.
The OC are driven by nightmare drums of non-linear time. Bass is a massive random-thump jump-bunny (and left-handed at that). Guitar combines fast chord spangles with spiky machine codes and niggly binary lines, plus occasional left-handed guitar slaps from the lead singer. Lead vocal is an oddly melodic blend of chews and bellows, with backing scream and harmonies from the bass-player and supporting shouts from the regular guitar-man. This is my third visit to the OC, and I still can't tell you what it's all about, although soldiers and aerosols feature, together with "I've never seen such bravery" and (apparently) "Waiting for the revolution - mortician to the people". A kind of brain salad of Wire, Part Chimp and Bauhaus, the OC have a sense of uncoordinated urgency in the face of an insurmountable crisis.
The Optimist Club are post-rockers with a highly self-conscious style of madcap contorted musicianship. It's good, but is it fresh or poisonous? Oh classic gentlemen with your fish, that you surround, all around… you men will always point your fishes at me (Bauhaus).
Sludgefeast are a front partnership of male vocal/ guitar with female vocal/ bass. Male vocal is a convincing southern state drawl and bawl, female vocal a dry wail and distant harmony. Guitar is a blues-zoom solo, a gristly grind, a huge spiralling scuzz. Bass is pure grunge, a variation on the tuneful ho-ho-ho of the jolly giant. The fledgling drummer is happily tormented by his mentors, and strikes his own rhythmic twist of crashing bass and cymbal plus rattling-sleeper snare-snaps.
The lyrics are ridiculous, and don't Sludgefeast know it. From the female side "C'mon baby, let's take a ride, somewhere I ain't been": from the male side "I'm in manual, ain't got no brakes"; "I'm gonna fuck you up, c'mon"; "You've been giving me what I want, not giving me what I need - oh honey, you're so fucked up". It's all showpersonship really: bickering between the front pair, arbitrary invention of the new word "shippee", a new song ostensibly about how stupid songs are - "I don't sing no song 'cos I ain't got nothing to say". But the result is creditable just the same - The Damned taking on Black Sabbath and ZZ Top.
Sludgefeast are not a garage band, they're a gas station band. The guitarist could not be contained in a ten-gallon hat, only a ten-barrel hat would be enough. To acknowledge the departure of John Peel, they crack out a respectful if wayward extract of Teenage Kicks. But for the most part, Sludgefeast blaze a trail of 2-minute scuzzball hooky blues. One-trick ponies perhaps, but it’s a phenomenal trick. Move over Rover, let Jimi take over.
The second UK antifolk all-dayer mourned the death of Summer, starting late on a dull autumn Sunday afternoon. Less ambitious than its 13 act predecessor, it nevertheless produced a great range of the quirky, the semi-acoustic parody, the truly individual, and the lame.
Here's a sample of three, with the headliners truly earning their finale role.
Syrupy songstress whines alone tonight.
Aaah - Jane strokes the strings like a waterfall. Then belligerently rips into Tracey Chapman's anti-oppression chords. A saccharine voice wielding a semi-acoustic axe. Jane's trademark is negativity delivered in run-on sentences. "Can't you see I see right through you > so there's nothing else for me to > do except pray > for the rain > to come down > on you". But often this is simply the lament of the lovelorn: "She knows when she's with him nothing is wrong, it's all innocent"; and "Tonight I smoke alone, waiting for the telephone to ring".
Hazy Jane is a little princess of the sad and dreamy. On a Sunday afternoon when it's pouring with rain, you're smoking a joint, guzzling chocolate, and feeling self-indulgent: then probably this sounds great. But at a gig sprinkled with expectant punters, waiting to be excited, daring you with their low attention span? Dull.
Screwball noiseniks billed as antifolk rock 'n' roll.
The two singers drone misfortune and scream vitriol. Guitar emits harsh growls under the onslaught of a fearsome strumming, but is also tickled into sweet intricate Byrds flight. Pummelled bass glows like a Pete Hook melody. Lyrically, this is esoteric material, either deep or dadaist: "I've got the blood of Christ on my hands"; "And your ego blew up, and that's all"; "OK, it makes you feel ashamed, but you should not feel ashamed". The impact of this is part Violent Femmes, part Pavement, wholly welcome.
The Loners bring serious anti-naff attitude to the world of antifolk. Unabashed wood-shavings from the garage transformed into Pinocchio and winning by a nose. Worlds collide but everybody loves a lady's shame.
The Misterlee sound is simultaneously spartan and dense, an array of noises wrought from voice, synth processors and pedals, drum minimalism and guitars. This set is performed as a duo, with Jamie Smith on guitars and Lee Allatson on other media.
Jamie's guitaring is a phenomenon to behold, an exercise in controlled passion to match John Parish (PJ Harvey collaborator). The contrast between power and restraint is a detail in a much bigger picture. Frequent stylistic switches sometimes read as jolting or stilted, sometimes as swerves in the enigmatic but ordered flight of the bumble bee. For all the swerves and switchbacks, the guitar breezes jazz and drips sweet blues.
Lee's synth sounds swoop atmospherically then scratch and lust cyberneticly. Many sounds metamorphose from the intermeshed processing of voice and pedalling of guitar. But others are the unique product of a singer with microphone in one hand and drumstick in the other. Harsh beats of crunching, twisting scrapyard compactors. The vocal speaks in clean melodies and processed grind, unforced emotion and manufactured horror, plenty of earnest baritone and high tenor sounds without the whimsy of Mordor's depths or of fake falsetto.
Perhaps this has the feel of small-town blues - "an average day in an average town" - but it’s more evocative than the overworn angst of metropolitan alienation. In song, the outcomes include: self-frustrated roaring "Something I remember but I need to forget, I've been wasted"; forlorn crooning "Just an average day, so there's no need to shop around"; daily grinding "Rub the clockface from your eyes"; poetic painting "I may have missed a few editions in the night of the long admissions"; and "Squeezing drops of light from the short season". The density of thought and relentlessness of delivery is almost too intense to relay. Possibly an especially intense show tonight - Lee observes "I looked at [the cut of] the audience's jib, and decided to let rip" - but every performance I've seen has been full-on. The Misterlee sound is not one you could put in a box, but if it has progenitors, surely they include Tom Waits.
Misterlee produce a uniquely assured blend of urban folk and angry blues. Lee laments "The revolution is just another bar in this town". The Revolution is a chain of bars extending its market through town after town. Misterlee are happy not to pursue this in the direction of political pretension, sticking with the booze theme for songs dedicated to the genie of the beer bottle "Another seal gets broken". Streets ahead of antifolk from the amplified campfire, Misterlee represent the sound of post-modern musicianship, stripped down to basics, but with the basics layered like lasagne and cranked to maximum volume. Quality needs no soundcheck.
Four performances from the Sidcup-and-environs roundabout zoo of 1987. And a thoroughly cheesy 80s school disco to follow. Entertainment from people who do give a flying fun - proceeds to the Ellenor Foundation (home care for sufferers of cancer and progressive conditions) and the British Stroke Association.
Norman Stanley throw their musical genius in the skip and pull out a Chas 'n' Dave take on old "favourites" from Kate Bush, The Commodores ,The Carpenters and Dire Straits. For balance, there's an Eric Clapton lovesong take on Chas 'n' Dave's "Rabbit". All built from one keyboard, two blokes, two guitars, and a dozen silly voices. Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. Unbelievable.
(Uni)Lever create the sound of Frankenstein's monster arriving in Trumpton (or was it Camberwell Green?). A backing track of Doctor Avalanche drums and firebells. Duelling basses of doom. Cranky country guitar. A vocal of trapped testicle croon and junkyard grunt. Clever clever lines: "I don't need my dick to fuck you, I got my mind, my soul, and my fingertips"; and "I got 1,000 ways to hate you". This is seriously good music, the Birthday Party meets the Fun Lovin' Criminals.
Electric Sex Circus grunge at their punk in the style of Husker Du with a clash of Stiff Little Fingers and Motorhead thrown in. 12 years since the last gig, they tell us, but they managed to polish off a little gem of a set. Bass is undoubtedly the melodic fat-controller, but the two guitars chordialise their way to orchestrated harmonics, the singer Jake Burnses his way to martyrdom, and the drum Joy Divs it up. Songs slew from the obvious to the surreal: "There's nothing left for you and me"; "I don't know where you're going and I don't like what you're showing"; and "I wanna swim but I'm not sure now". The closing number is Joy Division's "Shadowplay", which is inventive if oddly Lemmied in parts. I missed any Sex Circus antics, but E.S.C. are amongst the sadly forgotten hot property of the 1980s. We let them use you for their own ends. Fools that we be.
Big Gonad Pie - a pie in a thick pea-soup of dry-ice fog. Through the haze you get an impression of three men with hats. A backing track of thrumming and twisted beat-boxery. A John Lydon free-from vocal wail. Urgently scuzzed-up guitar. Bass of dark entries. Lyrics on the far side of David Lynch: "Scarab beetle on the table; he's called George and his wife is Mabel". When the fog clears, we finally get the sex circus. Men in frocks, midriff exposing T-shirts, wacky capes. Clambering over each others' shoulders like arthritic acrobats. The Big Gonad Pie prove that the spirit of Happy Talkin' Captain Sensible lives on. The T.I.S.M. of the northern hemisphere if you will. When they're remotely serious, they lie between Bauhaus and Department S. When they're not - which is 99.5% of the time - we get warped punk classics like a long imagined Pixies-style cover of "I get around". Big Gonad Pie are not a rock band, they're a cabaret phenomenon.
The UK Antifolk network of artists put together their first festival for a hot summer Sunday this year (2004), starting in the late afternoon and stretching to midnight, at the intimate underground Buffalo Bar in Highbury.
The second festival was on Sunday 17 October 2004, and the plan is to repeat the event on a quarterly basis.
Antifolk 1 showed us 13 performers in 7 hours. Four are reviewed here - not because they were the very best on show (this accolade probably belongs to the shocking Purple Organ), but because they were on again at Antifolk 2.
Dylanic balladry focussed on relationships.
Buzfuz (sometimes Sergeant Buzfuz, sometimes Joe Murphy) plays solo, one man strumming determinedly on a semi-acoustic guitar. Tales of drugged up holiday romances: "The DJ was playing Phil Collins, Depeche Mode and the Farm. He looked like Noel Edmonds, he was waving his arms". Stories of happily lost loves: "Your dress is creased; the monkey with you's greased; he walks like a man, but he talks like a beast". Songs on unhappily lost love: "I didn't even know my name, but you were inside my brain". Dirty women: "If you want someone to borrow your pants and return them unwashed". Social conscience: "The wheels of industry crack-deal ths skies; the television will not be revolutionised" And the first cover I've ever heard of Robyn Hitchcock's "1974". Excellent.
Sergeant Buzfuz is the executioner's Billy Bragg. The dark wit and acute obserevation of Aussie folksters Mick Thomas and Robert Jackson. A big daddy of UK antifolk.
Amiable singer-songwriter strummin' away on a semi-acoustic geetaw. Picking gets intricate, but vocal style is so much throwaway drawl. Lyrics range from the direct to the twisted, but focus on the Bush war: "I ain't with you and I ain't with them" and "If I had somewhere to go, I'd build a road".
JJ Crash falls somewhere between the punk poetry of Patrik Fitzgerald and the wordy folk buffoonery of Jake Thackeray. Righteous sentiments and belly-laughs. Where's that bleedin' Esther Rantzen woman?
David Cronenberg's Wife
Rebellious country jukebox.
Electric guitars. Mini-keyboards on the floor. Sweet organ sounds. Bossa nova beats. Frantic strumming. Country twangery. Fake rebel drawl. And - yep - songs about sex. Introduced with statements like "If it weren't for pickpockets, I'd have no sex-life". On dating: "I'm gonna talk about F Scott Fitzgerald - but I'm gonna get his name wrong - and call him Scott F Fitzgerald - so I don't look too intelligent". On masculinity: "If you talk, I will name names. I love this sense of shame. I'm a man, I'm a man, I'm a man, I'm a man. With a cock in my hand". On forgiveness: "What would you say if I married you to get close to your teenage daughter? Would you say <that's just his way> and not shout at me like you oughta? Because I know you love me". Players are: lead vocal/ guitar; backing vocal/ guitar/ keyboard.
David Cronenberg's Wife play morally outrageous backwoods folk. Good. Gnarled up country-fried sounds. Could equally be called David Lynch's Wife.
Urban folk from the kitchen sink estate.
A pair of semi-acoustic guitars never sounded so electrified. A pair of singers without a piano never sounded so much like Chas 'n' Dave. For the most part, this is wry and slightly dubious social observation with good music and bad accents, as if Billy Bragg joined Squeeze. An extra dollop of cheese is added at open and close by a synthesised-samba backing.
A lot of this is strictly for larfs, but there are a few lyrical insights. "Without you, it's like Walt Disney without Goofy" comes early in a catalogue of comically coupled horrors: "like Benson and Hedges without a light"; "like REM without Michael Stipe" and "like Tony Blair without George Bush". But there's also poetry: "The cocaine spills out into the street, but it's not all doom and gloom tonight". There's plenty of bile: "I've smoked your ciggies and I've found your porn stash > Go drown in your Prozac!" There's respect for the music industry in "Kill all the A&R men tonight" - ""I'll throw you off the Sony building with Milk Kan carved across your chest - how's that for a promotional stunt?".
Milk Kan sound unbelievably 1977. What are they on about - having £2.50 so you can see The Clash? But there's enough humour to sustain them - their theme seems to be "Sweep the dancefloor with your... dust pan; shake your body like a… Milk Kan". Out on the windy common, that night I've not forgotten. "Here come the part-time punks" they complain. Who could these part-time punks be?
A demonstration of how much music you can see on your own-doorstep in a weekend - a DIY festival.
Barnsbury is on the North London Line between Highbury and Camden Road. It represents a particular part of North London where lots of new bands are playing, although the nearest venue to Barnsbury station is probably the Lark in the Park. Your own DIY festival is wherever you want it to be - sniff out a venue and check out what's occurring.
Stuff for some of the OT fave Highbury/ Camden/ Kentish Town venues appeared on the site from Wednesday 23 onwards, and kept getting updated until Sunday morning. There were a lot of things you could get up to, we ended up listing performances at 18 local venues from 100 bands. Of these, from OT Mansions we were able to launch ourselves into 5 sessions and see 12 bands. If you worked at it, you could have easily got yourself in front of 30 bands without going more than 4 miles in any direction from Barnsbury.
Here's what we got up to...
Sat 26 June 2004 @ Bull and Gate
The thinking person's rock n roll.
Unassumming melodic vocal. Fantastic guitar, focussed on dirty minor keys, produces fresh-picked Postcard Records bouquets, staccato strumming, soft acoustic chords, and taut Stranglers axe-chopping. Bass slaps and bubbles. Drum can be a punchy cymbal and snare or trickling jazzy beat. Lyrics are nothing if not thoughtful - "Information's running riot"; "We know what that means - we know something different"; "Staring at my reflection - staring at the Sun". Some neat oppositions too - "Ice: Fire" and "Your stock's in your share: your share in your stocks". Layout is: vocal/ electric guitar/ 12-string semi-acoustic; electric guitar/ 6-string semi-acoustic/ 5-string bass; drums.
Audible Thought combine brainwaves with Stiff Records new wave. Moments of Pulp picture-painting and Del Amitri balladry. Sounds broadly like Elvis Costello fronting REM (pre- Losing My Religion, naturally). Compelling.
Fri 25 June 2004 @ Water Rats
Warm atmospheric miserablism.
Vocal is diffident, accurate, unassuming, and boring. Guitar produce edge-free glowing jangle and sub-flamenco chord flourishes. Bass is a simple romp, but played-out double-time. Keyboards are bright even painting, but with ever-present sustain fx and the threat of minor chords. The drums just chatter away. Sound mixing and balancing in the venue is not good, but vocally, I think I picked out "Everyone seems to know that" and (inevitably) "Under a grey sky". It all sounds worryingly like Talk Talk. Players are lead vocal/ guitar, bass, key-synth/ guitar, drums.
Bluestate play songs that seem to dwell on lost love and the advance of the desert. Soporific. Gloomy.
Sun 27 June 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Grungey punk mix of attitude and joy.
Deft vocal melodies in Dave Grohl style and spirited backing harmonies plus false falsetto responses. Complementary guitars, hitting the chorus with the same chord sequence at a diiferent pace, and leaving the verse for the lead to deliver dirty spangles, measured fx, and occasional rock heroics. Bass produces disturbingly deep melodies. Stand-in drummer is an imprssive all-rounder [apparently, due to an accident unloading the gear, their regular drummer is injured]. Songs can be cuddly or gnarly. "She's got a picture of you". "We all die in the end". And the curiously old-man blues (I think) of Teenage Scum: "I want what I want, what I want, what I want, what I want, when I want, when I want, when I want, when I want" etc. The sound falls somewhere between Green Day and Queens of the Stone Age. Line-up is first vocal/ rhythm guitar, lead guitar/ second vocal, bass/ backing vocal, drums.
Carbon Plan play fine punky sounds with passion, wit, and half-an-eye on a big stage. Their classic anthem "God bless America, God help the rest of us" would be a fine MTV-friendly sound to stir the minds of the Busted generation. Quality. Wye aye, man.
Drums Over Heaven
Sun 27 June 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Synthetic folksy guitar pop.
As they point out for the visually challenged, they have no drums. But they have have a drum machine that even pisses them off. The vocal is a Neil Young whine. The two guitars throw in gentle strumming and manana Spanish flamenquette. The most reliable element is a bass burbling away warmly. Lyrically, it's a dose of misery and unconvincing optimism. "This is how it's really supposed to be" (let's hope not)."Bad days will pass" (let's hope so). "I know that's how it's always been" (bizarrely, despite references to body-bags, this is the one that gets them up and dancing). At its best, it sounds like REM on a bad day, and at its worst, it makes the post-Stranglers solo work of Hugh Cornwell sound good. Line out is vocal/ rhythm guitar, lead guitar/ commentary, bass.
Drums Over Heaven are painful to listen to. Lord only knows where their audience come from. The songs are whingeing, the drum machine is all over the place, and the guitar is thrown out. The John Inman running commentary really doesn't help. When they sing "I know what you're thinking of", I'm sincerely glad they don't. Drums Over Heaven are plumbing the depths of awfulness.
Fri 25 June 2004 @ Upstairs at The Garage
Post-rock with a healthy input of punk, blues and glam.
Feverdream pan out as male lead vocal/ guitar, bass/ female backing vocal and male drummer. Bass is the powerhouse, purring and throbbing like a powerful Kawasaki to form the rhythmic and melodic core. Guitar produces squidge and itch garage blues lines, Arab-killing solos (despite the peacenik preoccupations of the Dutch), and truly evil chord juxtapositions. Drum is sharp as a rifle retort, but with some fine time-crunching and tempo changes to impart. Male vocal is a Smith/ Cure wail, which works well for the most part, although there are moments in the blues passages when the vocal slows down and you find yourself desperately trying not to think of… gulp… Sting. Female vocal is more strident, firm, and maybe a semi-tone higher. Lyrics are sometimes odd, sometimes obvious. Rude: "Do you need someone to wake you up? Do you need someone to make you stand up?". Simple: "Do you need someone to make you stand up?". Controlling: "We'll tell you what is good enough". Of the wall: "Give me the gun, Julie". And the pre-encore closer is called "Kitchen Erections". The overall effect is like a stripped-down and fuel-injected take on The Pixies.
Feverdream are a curious melange of quirky pop and heavily twisted rock. Melodic, but never easy. Bouncy, but never nice. With Feverdream, this IS the Planet of Sound.
Sat 26 June 2004 Flag Promotions/ Club Noir @ Upstairs at The Garage
Cockney goth-rap teasers.
Musically, this is based on backing tracks. Heavy tumultuous synth beats with campy samples and spooky disco electronica. There is some live metallic guitar thrash that lends a little menace. But the big foaming head on the drink is a Larndon rant-rap with twin glamour-girl harmonies and rejoinders. Words spout out apace, but audible lines, there were none. The poor fella's trying to get response lines from a bewildered audience where no-one knows what he's on about. Shame, because the feel is thrillingly silly. Think Captain Sensible (Damned) and Shakespeare's Sister teaming-up to cover the songs of Carter USM.
The Fighting Cocks may seem to have put the "thick" in Gothic, but they're good tongue-in-cheek fun. Go wild in the city, where rats up a drainpipe are absolutely free. Pop will disappear up its own fundament.
Sat 26 June 2004 Flag Promotions/ Club Noir @ Upstairs at The Garage
Dark and scarily serious rave.
Duo with synth, lap-top and occasional processed vocal bark. Lots of trickling percussive "chks", seething bass sounds, stellar bleeps, underwater breathing sucks, and bellowing body blows. Not dramatic enough to rate as evil, not melodic enough to rate as dance, not simply percussive enough to rate as trance, not dirty enough to rate as industrial. The last time someone looked so malevolently at a computer was when a crash lost me a whole web-page. But, looks aside, this is not threatening, it's boring.
Jerico One play brooding formless technological halocinogenics. A vision of purgatory. Dull, dull, dull.
Sat 26 June 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Deliciously verbose glammy pop.
Vocal is a veritable Jarvis Cocker croon. Guitar is a warm mix of long complex Ronson sequences, Suede scribbles and Bill Nelson declarations [fuck, he must be good… Ed]. Keyboard is a relentlessly Sparksy voice-changing business, screwball organ and reverby piano. Bass is in the realm of insistent melodies; drum backs the whole performance, across the board, come bass-hell or high-hat water. Lyrics? Well, us reviewers want to write down the lot. More "bon mots" than lyrics really. "It wasn't that hard, it just doesn't seem right"; "I want to hold your hand until sometime next week"; and (I think) "I want success, if it's not too late".
The players are: vocal; guitar; bass; keyboard; drum.
Luxembourg are the beautiful child of the Suede and Pulp generations. They have their own issue - their single featuring killer-line "You happen to have it, you happen to like it, and you're not giving it away". Luxembourg announce the closing song as "Success is never enough", then launch into the first few bars of "Wuthering Heights". Which changes into a glammy prayer to the Fame God, only to close with the keyboard playing that famous 4-note piano line. Ridiculously fey, and wonderfully off-balance.
Fri 25 June 2004 @ Water Rats
The core is an odd coupling of male and female vocals: he melodic mock-opera with Germanic John Foxx clip; she a huge bluesy harmonic backer, almost striving to be Alison Moyet. Other players deliver thumping bass melodies in a Simon Gallup (Cure) tradition and a synth-beat combo (and providing male backing vocal) that mixes Duran Duran bounciness with Nick Cave drama. Question-response lyrics are pretty impressive - "All that I want from you - absolutely nothing" > "Absolutely nothing's what you are". I also liked the (possibly) novel reference "You'll never put me down again". And the positively Roy Orbison "I drove all night". The line-up is twin vocalists, bass, synth/ male backing vocal.
Mourning Chorus are a decidedly 80s retro event, but not sure whether to go for goth, new romantic or blues groove. Caught between Sisters of Mercy, Human League and Heaven 17. And who will have won when the soldiers have gone?
Sun 27 June 2004 @ Bull and Gate
Vocal is a Gallic quasi-melodic wail. Unbelievably low-slung guitar mixes jangly glam, gnawing high-pitched lines, big rock riffs, frantic strumming,and an oddly-placed blues drip (in a song entitled "I could kill you", no less). Bass is a slow and squidgy steer. Drum creates a shares of punchiness and rambling showmanship from an incredibly small kit. Lyrics are English as a Foreign Language. "My grandma taught me how to drink blood". "God is never kind to me". "I could take you down, I could take you up, I could lose control, don't let me down". Overall, Bauhaus meets The Rocks… on speed. Set-up is vocal/ occasional guitar, guitar, bass, drum.
My Juliette sing silly songs with a daft mix of guitar styles, all enveloped in a punk attitude. And it's fun. My Juliette rock.
Fri 25 June 2004 @ Upstairs at The Garage
Cacophonous guitar and vocal squall with drum and bass backing tracks.
Tiger Force are a burst of contrasts. Guitars can duel chords frantically, trade gentle jangles, question/ reply in simple 4-note proclamations, and pitch musical boxes at bedtime. Vocal jumps from rant-rap to screaming match to sweet harmonies. The drum backing track is at breakneck speed, cranking in the energy as fast as they can use it. The effect is like "We've Got a Fuzzbox" play the back catalogue of "Jesus and Mary Chain". The only audible lyric is "We're gonna break it up". Make of that what you will. Players are simply female vocal/ guitar, male vocal/ guitar, dummy drummer.
Tiger Force generate a feeling of constant peril, the spooky Scooby panic to escape the haunted house. Off the wall malice that is somehow not to be taken seriously. Well-intentioned nastiness.
Venus Fly Trap
Sat 26 June 2004 Flag Promotions/ Club Noir @ Upstairs at The Garage
Dark electro-guitar-clash pop.
Backing track is built on edgy percussion and swooping synths. Guitar is an impressive metallic mix of declaratory punk riffs (check Stiff Little Fingers' "Alternative Ulster"), Black Sabbath war chords, harsh solo flourishes and psychedelic phasers. Vocal has a menacingly whiney insistence - a cross between Holly Johnson (Frankie Goes to Hollyhead) and Andrew Eldritch (Sisters of Mercy). Lyrically, the territory is one of threatening-but-slightly-silly hooks: "Right between the eyes of sabotage"; "I'm on my way to you"; and "Can't stop this pressure drop". Overall, it's the later pop-goth phase of the Sisters, or the industrial-electro of Australia's Snog. Players are simply: vocal; guitar/ backing vocal; Dr Avinalarf on loads of backing stuff.
Venus Fly Trap deliver an injection of low drama, gothic evil and pop sensibility. The better face of the 1980s. Give me my amphetamine logic.
"I invite you to the party of my mind" (Adrian Borland, The Sound)