Today is the World Human Statue Championships in Arnhem in the Netherlands. Andy Train is representing the UKL as The Gold Man so I thought I’d dig out these shots from a couple of years ago and re edit them.
Best of luck Andy.
Bill Callahan: Dream River (Drag City)
Dream River, the new album from Bill Callahan, the artist formerly known as Smog, is a fascinating patchwork of whispers of joy, intimations of mortality and rumours of trouble scattered through eight spare, wistful, meditative songs that sometimes sound more like notes for future works read into a voice recorder than completed compositions. idp listens to a fine new work from one of the best song writers in the world today.
All the songs on Dream River are delivered in Callahan’s wise young uncle baritone, conversational almost, seldom straying close to anything that would usually be considered singing. Daniel Durchholz famously described Tom Wait’s voice as sounding “like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car.” Bill Callahan‘s voice doesn’t sound as thoroughly abused as Waits’ but it does sound as though it’s been polished nicely and then forgotten about and left in the garden for a few nights.
Although it’s not as upbeat and musically liberated as some of its predecessors the album features some nice splashes of violin, accordion, flute and guitar, (sometimes evoking memories of Mitchell and Pastorius) but they’re just for colour; this is very much a solo vocal album with incidental music. The songs are often fragmentary and opaque and at times it feels almost like listening in on private thoughts spoken accidentally aloud. When applied to song writing the adjective ‘personal’ is often code for ‘not the artist’s best work’ but these are songs where the personal nature of the lyric is what raises them above the mundane and into the realm of the exceptional. It’s tempting to label them poetry but that’s too glib. The truth is that these are songs – just very complex and subtle songs that take a lot of teasing apart.
The whole album is heavy with a restrained emotion (restraint is one of the things Callahan excels at) that sounds at first like guilt or grief but gradually reveals itself to be passion. Despite the veneer of calm these are deeply carnal songs.
“All I really want to do is make love to you
In the fertile dirt with a careless mind”
…. he sings on Spring which feels like the centre piece of the album. Spring is not a good time of the year – Callahan is with Elliott on this one – breeding lilacs and looking like death warmed over.
So constantly present is carnality, or the promise of carnality, or the recollection of carnality this may well be Callahan’s refractory period album. A large measure of transient tristesse colours the lyrics – these are not songs of the sadness of a man who cannot find anyone to love, rather they are the songs of a man who having found a transcendent other is consumed with the fear of their loss or of his own failure to match up. One sometimes hears of suicides who take their lives because they are so happy they cannot bear the thought that anything might change. This album is probably how they feel. It can be hard work always seeing the skull beneath the skin.
On Javelin Unlanding he says of a sleeping lover –
“You looked so peaceful you scared me.
Don’t die just yet
And leave me alone on this journey.”
And Ride My Arrow opens with the straightforward – “I don’t ever want to die.”
These are the songs of a man who knows that happiness is not permanent, that good things come to an end, loves or lovers die, Summer turns to Autumn. In The Summer Painter a hurricane descends suddenly on a coastal town, marking the end of an idyll. Callahan is frequently an acute observer of the natural world and here he summons what is probably the album’s best line –
“The rain ripped the lips of the mouth of the bay.”
Certain motifs recur throughout. The weather, wind especially, silence, alcohol served in bars, travel. Flying is ever present. It’s a frequent subject for Callahan, but on this album it’s not just birds that fly. On Small Plane a pilot muses on his own good fortune to be flying home with his sleeping wife beside him, navigating without instruments and following the course of the river. Later, on Ride My Arrow an eagle uses the same river as it’s own map, while beavers build dams and seagulls fly.
It’s an album that repays frequent listening to get the best from the layers of imagery and the stories it has to tell. Album opener The Sing could easily be mistaken for a generic drinking song, narrated by an intermittently conscious hotel bar customer –
“The only words I’ve said today are beer and thank you.
And yet the speaker feels that he is somehow “Giving praise in a quiet way” as a storm brews outside and the wind arrives back to ‘ping’ the fabric of the building. No explanation of the drinker’s decision to drink themselves in to oblivion other than a cryptic
“Mortal joy can be that way.”
The songs are so effortless it is easy to overlook the subtlety of their construction. There can’t be many rhyme patterns that have never been used before in popular song but the following is probably unique –
“The silence returns, high as scaffolding,
Until the wind comes back looking for something to ping,
All we’re looking for is a body. Or the way to make one sing.”
And that’s about the size of it. How to make a body sing. It’s tempting to think that perhaps on the evidence of this album Callahan spends too much time thinking about the answer and not enough taking practical steps to find it. Introspection like this is seldom the path to the careless mind.
But he does know how dangerous the search can be and he knows that even when one has found something truly beautiful that does not mean that one has reached the end of one’s journey or the end of the pain that beauty can bring. Human vulnerability is never far from his thoughts – described poignantly in Javelin Unlanding which dwells on the quiet moments in the night when his lover is asleep and they are “laying all twisted together and exposed like roots on a river bank. Bam bam bam! The earth off its axis.”
In Winter Road a truck driver meditates on the beauty and danger of the snow covered highway –
“Oh I have learned when things are beautiful
To just keep on, just keep on
The blinding lights of the kingdom can make you weep
When things are beautiful, just keep on.”
It’s probably good advice.
Bill Callahan can be found at his record company’s website. He doesn’t use Facebook or Twittle. He just makes great music. This makes a refreshing change.
21st September 2013
Manchester turned out in force for Joe Bonamassa at the Arena and he repaid them with a dazzling display of guitar virtuosity which drew on a wide range of influences from across the range of blues styles, with an emphasis on music influenced by the classic British rock blues revivalists of the 1970’s.
The Arena was set up as an all seater and the show had very much the atmosphere of a recital. While several thousand people looked on in awestruck admiration at the outrageous bravura, nobody stood up and danced, despite the fact that up on stage Bonamassa was laying down some fine grooves. While it was a pleasure to sit and listen to a man on the top of his game putting a wide range of impressive looking guitars through their paces it would have been nice to see just a little bumping and grinding on the floor. Blues is the devil’s music after all, somebody should have let him in.
Dressed conservatively in blue suit and shades Bonamassa is not a flamboyant presence on the stage. He rocked gently while playing, occasionally leaned back or paced the stage and although there were tricks and displays of virtuosity enough for several shows there was very little of that aimless noodling at the bottom of the finger board which characterises the solos of many rock guitarists intent on showcasing their skills. Bonamassa has a real commitment to the music – the song comes first and everything follows from that.
Acting as his own opener he began with half a dozen acoustic blues numbers, either solo or with members of the band, including a dazzling cover of John Martyn’s Jelly Roll and a lovely version Athens to Athens with Tal Bergman on bongos and Derek Sherinian on upright piano that set the standard for the rest of the evening, which was to be electric in every sense of the word.
It was, of course, the promise of the electric set that drew the crowd and Bonamassa didn’t disappoint, opening with a blistering Dust Bowl followed by Story Of A Quarryman. During the course of this set there were many changes of guitar and style; Driving Towards daylight opened with the stage drenched in blue light and Bonamassa playing atmospheric licks that echoed round the arena before the band joined and the song uncoiled into a howl of anguish, Slow Train was a full power Led Zeppelin style rocker played very loud indeed while on Midnight Blues, a cover of the Gary Moore number, Bonamassa evoked not only the spirit of Moore himself but of that other British guitar legend Peter Green. Elsewhere there were touches reminiscent of the Altman brothers, Jeff Beck and Don Henley and show closer The Ballad Of John Henry was embellished with some fine flamenco.
Bonamassa was generous with the spotlight on stage. Both Bergman and Sherinian got spots for extended solos, Sherinian summoning up the spirit of prog with his swirling organ motifs. The band was completed by bass maestro Carmine Rojas. Bonamassa also gave up the spotlight for young guitarist Eilidh McKellar who showed that there are young blues guitarists in the UK who could be snapping at the master’s heels in a few years time.
After nearly two and a half hours the show closed with crowd favourites Sloe Gin and John Henry – a fitting close to a fine display of virtuoso playing. Rumour has it that Bonomassa’s next album is going to have a lot more emphasis on blues and less on rock and that will make for an interesting listen but tonight’s show left the crowd happy and there are few people in the world today who can play guitar the way Joe Bonomassa can. Fantastic.
I’m usually a bit sceptical about songs that talk about people wanting to be free, or needing to be free, or being free or getting free or whatever. It tend to be a lazy songwriter’s motif when they can’t think of anything to write that actually means anything. Occasionally however someone will get away with it, but not often. Off hand I can only think of Famous Blue Raincoat. Anyway here’s Dala getting away with it in style. I’m always a sucker for beautifully sung songs that sound like someone has worked hard on them.
There’s something about the details in this song that makes it work ‘I don’t look like my photos’, the key under the stone, the horses watching the cars. It feels like it was thought out pretty carefully.
Dala are new to me although I think they’ve been around for a while. I’m presently listening to their back catalogue – it’s full of things like this.
“She wears her body like a lifetime achievement,
It fills the silence when she doesn’t know the words,
And he is working on his lifetime achievement,
But all they want is to be instantly intimate.”
China Rats: Don’t Play With Fire (Once Upon A Time)
Available September 30th 2013
Brash, cocky, likeable and loud, China Rats have taken the festival circuit by storm and now they have a new ep out and it’s well worth a listen.
With gigs at Leeds and Reading (and Bingley where I had the good fortune to hear them and where the nice pictures below were taken), a trip to SXSW and a surprise headline spot at Benicassim, Leeds based China Rats have had a good year and this new EP seems likely to cement their position as one of the best up and coming bands in the country. Although it’s only 5 songs long the rats manage to pack in a wide range of styles that show a wide range of influences as you’d expect from a band who have been compared to The Enemy, The Vaccines and The Arctic Monkeys to name but a few.
China Rats aren’t big on subtlety and this isn’t music for discussing politely or for debating meanings – this is big, riffy, noise pop with great hooks, made to be turned up really loud to annoy the neighbours, kicking off with N.O.M.O.N.E.Y., which has already received some mainstream radio airplay – a proper little rocker about just the things proper little rockers should be about – girls, being skint, girls, dancing and girls. It’s a big sound, fast and noisey and a bit Undertonesish and echoey as the bottom of a very big bucket – but the distortion suits the song so no problems there.
Deadbeat is full of Ramones style energy, Get Loose sound a bit like an early Kinks song and is an all together poppier proposition that could easily be an indie disco favourite. Reeperbahn opens the sound up until it resembles classic 60’s psych rock, great harmonies and I’ve not heard a tambourine that high in the mix for a long time and winding things up is Green Tears, whose vocal harmonies come straight from the Beatles but with a big ringing fuzz guitar solo laid over the top and drums that threaten to come out of the speakers at you.
China Rats can be found at their website and at their Facebook, Twitter and SoundCloud pages. Images from their set at Bingley 2013 are in the gallery below and further images from that set can be found here.
So I’ve got a nice new blog but it feels a bit empty and I will miss some of my favourite old posts. So I’m migrating a few across, starting with Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie. There are no pictures of Marilyn Manson because he withdrew the passes at the last minute. Oh well.
The ‘Twins of Evil Tour’ came to town and it was costume night at the Manchester Evening News Arena on Tuesday, November 27th. There was plenty of pale skin and black eye shadow on display, a lot of leatherwear, several hundred bondage enthusiasts, a few sexy Nazi girls in full SS regalia. A large contingent of the undead were in from somewhere near Wigan. It was a sea of black and white (with the occasional cherry red hairdo for variety), but there weren’t any nuns.
Time was when a few nuns waving placards and sprinkling holy water on the concertgoers were an essential part of the build up to a Marilyn Manson show, but nobody pickets him anymore. Nobody holds him personally responsible for any atrocities. Nobody hates him. This audience came for a night of pantomime grotesquery – they wouldn’t get another chance to break out these costumes again until the touring production of The Rocky Horror Show arrived. The demographic was strikingly broad, both Manson and co-headliner Rob Zombie have a wide fan base, including plenty of grandparents and children. There’s no doubt about it, Marilyn Manson has now officially been declared safe.
Having spent many years complaining about being public scapegoat number one for a wide range of random atrocities, it ought to make a nice change to be a family favourite. And there was always something endearingly vulnerable about him, the white face and eyestripe not the mark of a monster but rather the sign of the perpetual outsider – condemned to unjust vilification for the crimes of others. You’d think he’d be pleased.
He didn’t look pleased however and there was precious little of the vulnerable Manson on show at the MEN. He seemed to be taking the ‘Twins of Evil’ tag pretty literally and the set list was packed with his loudest and most abrasive material, opening with “Hey Cruel World”, “Disposable Teens” and “Love Song” and closing with “Antichrist Superstar” and “Beautiful People”, taking in “mOBSCENE” and “Rock Is Dead” along the way. Each song was dispatched with relish, allowed to scream for a while before being finished off with a stake through its heart; Manson’s voice was in fine fettle, hysterical one moment, menacing the next. There were, of course, lots of costume changes, several feather boas in a variety of colours and some fantastic light effects but Manson himself seemed somewhat distant; he engaged only occasionally with the audience, throwing a few angular shapes with the microphone stand and issuing a few booming obscenities.
The audience screamed and punched the air during the rocking out numbers but their biggest reaction was reserved for the two cover versions that made up the middle part of the show, Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus: and the Eurhythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”. For these songs Manson allowed the decibel level to drop just a little and it was here that he made best use of the deeper end of his vocal range, the sly and insinuatingly wicked vocal stylings which have always been a feature of his recordings, but which feature less in his live performances. He ruthlessly dissected these small innocent songs and reassembled their still quivering parts into gothic inversions of themselves, teasing dark nuances from the lyric with irresistible relish, investing them with a menace that their authors surely never envisaged.
Manson has always been a master of image manipulation and there was plenty of that in evidence on stage – his guitar is equipped with a laser rifle sight which he played on the audience during “Slo-Mo-Tion”, inverted American flags featured widely, the stars replaced by a jagged fascistic arrow, and during “Sweet Dreams” a single lamp in a circular shade was lowered from the roof to hang just above Manson’s head evoking countless movie scenes of torture and interrogation, but at times the whole symbolic edifice seemed somewhat random and top heavy – particularly when two crew members manhandled a distinctly wobbly looking barbed wire tinseled pulpit onto the stage for Manson to mount and declaim “King Kill 33” Nuremberg Rally-style. One began to suspect that perhaps Manson had taken his reputation for evil just a little too seriously – and recent events in the U.K. have shown that we can create plenty of evil of our own thank you, and it is more likely to be wearing a track suit and smoking a big cigar than sporting a gimp mask and red leather elbow gloves.
If Manson’s set verged on the over serious the same cannot be said of his partner in wickedness on the night, the gloriously over-the-top Rob Zombie. Having revitalized the Halloween franchise, Zombie now divides his time between music and filmmaking, but whichever he’s doing he seems to give it one hundred percent, and his set featured every horror trope in the playbook. When asked how long he will continue making music he usually replies, “As long as it’s still fun” – and he certainly appeared to be having a great time this night. Having emerged from a giant robot at the start of the show, Zombie delivered several numbers from behind a microphone stand surmounted by a six armed skeleton, before being joined on stage by an assortment of aliens, Halloween pumpkins and (of course) Satan, who put in an appearance late on looking remarkably like a man in a very tall Satan costume with a big head. Film inevitably played a large part in the set – every available vertical surface was covered with panels which showed a nonstop montage of fragments from horror movies and cartoons, soft core porn, clips from the original Planet of the Apes, and snippets from The Munsters as well as a promotional trailer for Zombie’s new film Lords of Salem, which drew appreciative roars from the crowd and actually looked pretty good.
But for all the horror imagery Zombie always appeared to be aware of the high camp nature of his enterprise – he swung his massive dreadlocks from side to side like a man with a head full of nunchucks (he was lucky not to have anyone’s eye out) and danced around the stage with his arms held wide and curved as if he were polkaing with an imaginary fat girl, but he also knows that even the most diehard fans of the genre need some occasional light relief. His attempt to organize adversarial community singing with one half of the audience (“The ones on the right of that guy with the skull bandana” – definitely the best line of the night) chanting “Rock, Rock, Rock” while the other half countered with “Motherfucker, Motherfucker, Motherfucker” rapidly disintegrated into disaster, but later while guitarist John 5 played an exhilarating extended solo Zombie descended from the stage and completed a full lap of the arena with security men floundering in his wake as the crowd parted before him but then closed up just as quickly when he had passed. In this context the arrival on stage of dozens of large brightly coloured balloons which Zombie and the band kicked out for the audience to amuse themselves with came as no surprise. Much hilarity ensued. “When you’ve all finished playing with fucking balloons perhaps we can get back to some serious business,” Zombie growled before launching into “Pussy Liquor”.
There was an early nod to Zombie’s early career in the White Zombies with “Thunder Kiss ’65”, and then songs were drawn even-handedly from his solo albums – highlights were the infectious stomp of “Sick Bubblegum” fromHellbilly Deluxe 2 and “Meet The Creeper” from HD version 1. The set concluded with Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” and then another on stage pulpit arrived, this one taking the form of a huge alien/dinosaur rib cage from which Zombie delivered everybody’s favourite goth rock anthem Dragula to close out a riveting performance.
As the leather clad hordes left the arena an elderly man and woman stopped to allow the motley collection of goths, vampires and assorted walking dead to pass in front of them. They looked puzzled but not intimidated. “What is it?” the woman asked. “I think it must be some kind of concert,” replied her husband. They don’t scare so easily in Manchester any more.
Elvis Costello & The Roots: Wise Up Ghost (Blue Note)
Another Elvis Costello album another collaboration. But this one is with alt hip hop outfit The Roots. That’s got to be something special right? Right.
What’s the first thought that crosses your mind when you hear there’s a new Elvis Costello album out? There’s a good chance that it’s ‘Oh yeah, Elvis Costello. Who’s he with now?’ He’s a serial collaborator is Elvis. The Brodsky Quartet, Alain Toussaint, Sophie von Otter, Burt Bacharach – no one can accuse him of musical narrow mindedness. He’s one of those people who is clearly in love with all kinds of music and with all kinds of musicians.
But while the results of this promiscuity are always interesting they’re not always his best work, sometimes it can seem like he’s trying just that little bit too hard. The really good stuff tends to come when he’s with a group of musicians he knows and trusts, typically The Attractions or Imposters or whatever they’re called nowadays. His last stone cold masterpiece was 2002’s angular, bitter When I Was Cruel; albums since then have included the distinctly dull piano ballads of North and the very ordinary roots of The Delivery Man. Momofuku was good though.
So who’s he with now? None other than alternative hip hop pioneers The Roots with whose leader ?uestlove or Questlove he struck up a friendship after they had worked together on the Late Night With Jimmy Fallon Show. Jam sessions followed and then a plan for an album revisiting Costello’s back catalogue which gradually developed into Wise Up Ghost, a mix old new and reworked material. Clearly it’s a work that its authors want us to take seriously – it’s released on the prestigious Blue Note jazz label and arrives with a black and white text only jacket design in homage to Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights poetry covers. Is there a message here? Is this Costello’s Howl? Certainly these songs are populated by enough grotesques and snapshots of urban despair to make the connection tenable even if there are no saintly motorcyclists or screams of joy.
It’s not a surprise of course that Elvis Costello should choose to cut a soul album – his first arrival in that territory was 1980’s Get Happy – an affectionate homage to the Stax sound – and he has revisited frequently. Questlove himself has a long history of collaboration having contributed to albums by D’Angelo, Fiona Apple, John Mayer, Christine Aguilera and Joss Stone to name only a few. From that point of view it’s a dream pairing but we know from past experience that dream pairings don’t necessarily produce baby pandas so it’s an album to approach with a degree of trepidation but from the opening bars of the first track it’s pretty clear that this collaboration is one of the success stories.
A rhythm picked out on what sounds like an early digital telephone dialling system, some bleeps of computer noise, a Doppler shifted train horn followed by an urgent keyboard riff and we’re off, immediately drawn into a soundscape that’s urban and timeless, polite but always slightly threatening, with The Roots providing a tight and respectful 1970’s soul backing to Costello, who leans into the vocal with his trademark sly vehemence and who for once is happy to sound, well, just like Elvis Costello. Which is how we want him to sound. We never quite get the full on contemptuous sneering Elvis Costello but for most of the album he sounds thoroughly mardy, supercilious and rather unpleasant – just right then.
And contrary to rumour this is definitely not Costello’s rap album – the musical equivalent of Dad dancing – this is distinctively and recognisably a mainstream Elvis Costello album; for the most part Questlove and his boys seem content to take a deferential back seat and fulfil the role of backing group. And what a backing group it is. The drums always rock solid but capable of distinctly skittish asides along the way, some fine loping bass and then blasts of brass and keyboards which serve as punctuation to the lyric, Costello’s muse has seldom been so well served by a band.
There’s some archaeology to be done among the lyrics – whole chunks of earlier songs are incorporated into the new work – possibly this sampling and reworking is where the hip hop tradition shows it’s influence most clearly, although Costello has always been a bit of a magpie himself. Refuse To Be Saved is a new take on Invasion Hit Parade from Mighty Like A Rose, Wake Me Up runs together elements of Bedlam from The Delivery Man and The River In Reverse (from the album of the same name), (She Might Be A) Grenade takes it’s lyric from She’s Pulling Out The Pin (also from The Delivery Man) and anti Thatcher favourite Pills And Soap gets a lick of paint and a new identity as Stick Out Your Tongue. Do they all benefit from the radical revisioning? In most case the answer is yes, especially in the case of Bedlam, whose lyric, when pushed to the front of the mix and not smothered with percussion like the original, reveals itself to be one of Costello’s better later works. It’s not just his own back catalogue that Costello samples – snippets from songs as diverse as The Red Flag and We Wish You A Merry Christmas manage to insinuate themselves into the mix and I’ve no doubt that a diligent listen would yield even more borrowings. This is a knowing album that takes great pleasure in being just a little bit obscure. It has no intention of giving up its meanings easily.
There are some good things among the originals too. Viceroy’s Row is a lyrically dense homage to places where they’re selling postcards of the hanging, Walk Us Uptown is a song to be sung on twenty first century protest marches until the guns open fire, Sugar Won’t Work offers a welcome to the end times and provides a catalogue of unnatural portents of doom straight out of Macbeth (Act 2 Scene 4), Tripwire drips with not entirely convincing compassion that sounds like a veiled threat and If I Could Believe (the album’s only ballad) is a world weary two fingered salute to credulousness. Only Cinqo Minutos Con Vos with its latin jazz stylings seems not to hit the mark.
The album’s highlight, and the song which will doubtless appear on several future Greatest Hits compilations is the title track Wise Up Ghost, which starts slow, the distant vocal accompanied only by strings, but gradually the vocal comes closer and the band arrive one by one as dystopic visions are piled high one on top of the other until the whole structure threatens to topple but never quite does. Here and on Tripwire are the signs that Costello’s verbose and cryptic lyricism and sure fire ear for a hook are both functioning at full power.
‘An old woman living in a cardboard shoe,
Lost so many souls she don’t know what to do.
So say your prayers
Cos down the stairs
Wise Up And Rise Up Ghost.”
Bingley Music Live has a reputation for being one of the best summer music festivals in the North of England and it’s certainly one of the best values. Thanks to the support of Bradford City Council prices remain incredibly cheap at £45 for a weekend ticket, which works out at around a pound a band, pretty impressive when the bands include the likes of The Human League, Primal Scream and Chic with Nile Rodgers, Friday through Sunday, August 30th to September 1st.
Held in a wooded natural amphitheatre at Myrtle Park, there are a few stalls and some fancy dress but Bingley has no pretensions to being a festival of arts or culture – it’s all about the music, and this year’s event maintained its reputation for big names, interesting up-and-coming performers and great value. It doesn’t have that rough and ready feel of some festivals either. Although there is camping it’s situated a couple of miles away, most people attending go home in the evenings to have proper food, wash and get clean clothes. It’s very civilized.
In keeping with the festival’s family-friendly ethos, there’s a wide range of music on offer including Britain’s Got Talent favourites The Lovable Rogues, pop performers Nina Nesbitt and Man Can’t Fly, and some karaoke from Katy B. Tinchy Stryder delivers a set of rapid-fire grime and whips up the enthusiasm of the crowd with some call and response and an ultimately unfulfilled promise to bestow his shirt upon a member of the audience. He is assisted, as is Katy B, by a DJ acting as fluffer, whose task is to keep the audience excited and ready for action at times when their attention wanes by shouting, “Make some fucking noise,” or words to that effect. The biggest crowd at the second stage is for X Factor singer Lucy Spraggan, whose Sunday night set is witty and funny, and a small revelation to anyone present who has never seen her on television and had assumed that she must be rubbish simply because of her association with Simon Cowell (That would be me then…)
In fact many of the highlights of the weekend come from the smaller stage, including a fabulous display of Hendrix influenced guitar virtuosity from JJ Rosa, some high energy folk stomp from perennial festival favourites Blackbeard’s Tea Party and the wild gypsy styled jazz pop of The Electric Swing Circus. The current revival of interest in acoustic music and singer-songwriters is reflected in the appearance of John Lennon McCullagh (what kind of parent names their child after an airport?) who has the delivery and guitar style of early Bob Dylan and a nice line in angry young mannishness, and of Dave McPherson, sometimes of Essex alt-metal outfit InMe, who switches to affecting folk pop as a solo artist.
There are also some excellent local bands on show including Halifax based Small Words, who bring plenty of supporters and a rubber duck for their set of riffy Britpop influenced songs about Britishness and independence, jazz tinged rock ‘n’ rollers Rose & The Howling North from Leeds, Born Thief from Bradford, and from Derbyshire (which is local-ish) Gary Barlow’s favourite flamboyant prog and psych revivalists The Struts. Promoted to the main stage as a result of the late arrival of Kat Men, the Dirty Rivers grab their chance by the scruff of the neck and deliver a high quality set of bluesy garage rock that puts to shame one or two of the bigger names on that stage, who give the impression that they feel that just turning up is enough.
Top performances on the second stage are from Leeds folk rockers The Dunwells, closing out the Friday night, and Chris Helme (formerly of The Seahorses), whose set on the Saturday night tempts a large number of people to duck out on Primal Scream.
Down on the main stage (possibly the highest anyone had ever encountered, with the performers set so far back that the front rows can only see heads and shoulders and have to rely on the big screens for a view of the drummers) there’s plenty of variety on offer including eighties influenced pop stylists Frankie & The Heartstrings, who combine great rhythmic sounds with echoes of Bowie and Talking Heads, some echo-y feedback heavy rock from The Virginmarys, southern tinged blues rock from The Temperance Movement and synth driven electro pop from Summer Camp.
Among the big names The Fratellis and The Wonderstuff both deliver sets that offer career overviews, before delivering the big hits that everybody is really waiting for. Chelsea Dagger and Size of a Cow both have everyone in the arena dancing and singing along and waving inflatable cows when appropriate (this is in fact almost the only time in one’s life when the waving of inflatable cows is even nearly appropriate) as does Neville Staple, formerly of The Specials and Fun Boy Three and now leading his own band, with hits like “Ghost Town”, “Message To You Rudy” and “Gangsters”.
Friday night closes with The Human League and a set packed with hits, from “Fascination” and “The Lebanon”, through “Don’t You Want Me” to their closer “Electric Dreams”. It’s fashionable nowadays to talk about musicians as having provided ‘the soundtrack to our lives’ (in fact The Human League said something similar themselves in a minor single) and usually all it means is that we like them and we played them a lot, which is illogical because a soundtrack in a film mostly consists of music played in the background that adds to the atmosphere but that nobody really listens to.
What’s striking about The Human League’s set (and Chic’s set on Sunday for that matter) is just how many of their songs have embedded themselves firmly in the consciousness and sing along repertoire even of people who do not consider themselves to be ardent fans. (That would be me again.) If I had been asked before the show (or before I had done my extensive and through pre show research) to name Human League hits I’d have been hard pressed to go beyond two or three. In fact it turns out that with the exception of one track (their first ever recording – played in front of a baffling video montage of erotic nuns and meat processing), not only do I know them all, I know all the words too. If the idea of a soundtrack to our lives means anything then this is it – songs with hooks so sharp we learn them subconsciously, almost without hearing them – and learn to love them too.
Saturday night is Primal Scream night, much anticipated and they don’t disappoint, with a set that mixes established crowd pleasers like “Loaded”, “Country Girl” and “Moving On Up”, with several songs from their 2013 release More Light all played in front of an impressive light show. It’s high energy stuff with Bobby Gillespie roaming the stage, impossibly long limbed and gangly, dancing like a broken albatross and exhorting the crowd to join in and dedicating “Shoot Speed/Kill Light” to Wilko Johnson.
Wilko’s performance earlier that day is one that will live long in many people’s memories – possibly his last and full of his trademark guitar work, good humour, duck walking and of course the death stare. After a set including “Dr Dupree” and “Don’t Let Your Daddy Know”, he closes with a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Bye, Bye Johnny” – an emotional moment for many present.
Sunday night brings the festival to a close with an extraordinary performance from the kings and queens of disco, Chic featuring Nile Rodgers. The rediscovery of Rodgers and of disco itself has been one of the musical stories of the year, and Chic have played the U.K. festival circuit to acclaim, buoyed up by the success of Daft Punk’s “Up All Night”, in the production of which Rodgers played a major part.
Dressed all in white and looking one hundred percent show business, Rodgers and his eight-piece band play a string of hits that, as with The Human League on Friday, make you realize just how much a part of your life he and they have been for years, possibly without you ever really noticing. Their set list takes in elements from his entire career, as a performer, songwriter and producer from the openers “Everybody Dance” and “Dance, Dance, Dance”, via “We Are Family” and “The Greatest Dancer” to “Let’s Dance”, “Le Freak” and of course “Get Lucky”. In the somewhat damp Bingley night everyone dances and sings and waves, many of them from the stage as Rodgers invites crew and festival friends up to join him. It’s a moment to cherish, when even the most die hard of the I hate disco brigade (that’s’s three times I’ve been in this) cheers and dances like an idiot in the dark. That’s real pop music for you.
A great weekend at Bingley for QRO, Human League, Primal Scream, Wilko, Chic and more others than you can shake a stick at.
Just putting the finishing touches to my review of Bingley for QRO. How much detail is needed in a festival review? Nobody wants a small novel, but how do you cover thirty or forty performers in five hundred words? Meanwhile, here are a few shots of the crowd at Bingley. There’s a lot more here and on Facebook.
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