Category Archives: Music

LIINES & Sleaford Mods: Hull Asylum 07/03/19 – live review

Over to Asylum on the Hull University campus for LIINES and Sleaford Mods and I’ll admit to an almost childish level of excitement. They’re both bands I’ve read a lot about, listened to a lot but never seen live and they both have a reputation for excellent live shows.

There’s been plenty written about Manchester trio LIINES in recent months and the most common description used of their sound is powerful post punk. This description seems to have the blessing of the band themselves so I’ll go with it.

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They’re not your usual ppp exponents though. It’s a genre that often favours brute force over subtlety but LIINES have a deft touch that makes a refreshing change with some remarkably subtle bass from Steph Angel blending with Leila O’Sullivan’s incendiary drumming. Add some remarkably controlled vocals from singer/guitarist Zoe McVeigh and the nearest comparison is to Sleator Kinney although McVeigh reminds me a lot of Kristin Hersh, which in our house is considered to be no bad thing.

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This isn’t to say that they don’t have the raw energy we love, they’ve got that in bucketloads, it’s just that LIINES have other stuff too. If you haven’t crossed paths with them yet then check our Shallow on You Tube – https://youtu.be/C_EqNF2IyzE – two and a quarter minutes of excellence.

Once LIINES have cleared up their stuff it doesn’t take long to get the stage ready for Sleaford Mods. Andrew Fearn, the provider of the beats sets up his laptop on a box and takes up the position behind it, nonchalantly swigging beer from a bottle. He looks amused and once he is joined by Jason Williamson there’s a huge roar from a crowd for whom this is the first chance to hear live the material from the new album Eton Alive. They waste no time on trivia and launch straight into Into The Payzone. It’s a bitter and rage fuelled as you’d expect and that goes for most of the rest of the set too.

Like I said, it’s my first visit to the Sleafords live, although I’ve been listening to the new album, Eton Alive, on rotation for a couple of weeks. After English Tapas it didn’t seem like they could go much darker and bleaker but they’ve managed it. I’ve expecting some rage, in fact a lot of rage, and I’m not disappointed in that respect but what I’m not prepared for is the extraordinary delicacy of Williamson’s performance, both in respects of vocals and choreography.

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I had imagined him standing motionless at a microphone and bellowing but he is altogether more watchable than that, in fact he is seldom at rest, skipping on tiptoe across the stage, delicately raising and turning his foot on each step so that it touches the opposite knee. It gives him a strangely balletic gait, making him look like an angry Mr Tumnus.

It is customary to talk about the Mods as being a political band but in fact there’s relatively little actual political content in their songs, other than Policy Cream. They’re pissed off and they’re bitter having a moan about stuff but they’re not offering any detailed critique or possible solutions.

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And while they’re undeniably angry there’s much more to their performance that. Williamson manages to convey an extraordinary depth of vulnerability, even on Bang Someone, even when he’s crouching and hurling repeated expletives into the floor, he seems remarkably unhappy and unthreatening. He looks like somebody the police would taser first and ask questions about later.

They’re surprisingly funny too, particularly on subjects like it being safe to let children play with white dogshit, tolerance of hipsters and the joy of getting one over on the council by having an extra brown bin.

There’s plenty of old favourites, including TCR (I had one of those) and BHS (Hull had one of them). Ah those were the days. There’s a lot of melancholy and nostalgia in their set and we end up with Tied Up In Nottz, which pretty much brings the house down.

A great show, full of surprises and their music won’t ever sound quite the same again.

More images in nicer quality at LIINES | Sleaford Mods

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The Stranglers at Scunthorpe Baths Hall

Tuesday night in Scunthorpe and the Baths Hall is pretty well full for a visit from The Stranglers, a band who, after nearly forty-five years in the business are still touring regularly and who as far as live performances go, seem to be riding a wave. It’s chilly out but inside the crowd is warming up nicely.

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Support comes from the always excellent Dr Feelgood although we may have to cut them some slack on this particular night because vocalist Robert Kane is proper poorly. Rather than cancel the show he transfers much of his vocal duties to guitarist Steve Walwyn and the result is a show which, if not peak Feelgood, (and how long could we argue about just when that was?), is still a very fine slice of crunchy rock and blues. Even when afflicted the Feelgoods have an energy and panache that many newer bands would do well to emulate. Highlights include Milk And Alcohol, Down To The Doctor and Roxette and they tie things up very nicely thank you with a blistering Route 66. As if we could ever forget Winona. She was great.

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There being no new Stranglers album to promote, not even an addition to their extensive range of archive live performances, theirs is basically a greatest hits show but with hits like these who’s complaining? The band have been on great form for a couple of years now, gathering rave reviews wherever they go.

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Last time I saw them was at The Engine Shed in Lincoln three or four years ago the show was a much more subdued and minimalist affair but this time they’ve invested in some smart looking staging, a backdrop of a tunnel filled with stagnant water and fallen masonry and some spinning air vents which light up from time to time giving the whole thing the feeling of one of those video games where you have to start by escaping through the sewers, fighting rats and goblins on the way. Add some nice lighting effects and it makes for a great show especially since the band are on great form.

Guitarist and vocalist Baz Warne certainly seems up for it, winding up the front rows by observing that the band have never played Scunthorpe befoe and ignoring shouts of “Yes you have”. He then proceeds to take an old joke for a new walk by enquiring how the thorpe got into Scunthorpe and then explaining that it was of course by way of the Vikings, who used it to indicate a settlement or small town. New arrivals could be forgiven for thinking that they have wandered by accident into a local history talk. As for the rest of the name? He shrugs. “Who can say. There’s cunts everywhere.”

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And so the scene is set for an evening of great music and good natured joshing that kicks off nicely with Waltz In Black as an intro, leading into the rough and tumble of Goodbye Toulose.

The legendary Jet Black, although officially a member of the band, no longer tours and on the road drumming duties have been taken up by Jim Macauley who has clearly made a close study of the master’s work because the distinctive patterns and changing time signatures that marked the band out from their contemporaries and rivals are all present and correct.

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Of course what sets The Stranglers apart is the interplay of the swivel hipped JJ Burnel’s melodic basslines and Dave Greenfield’s swirling baroque keyboards. Hidden behind a multi tiered keyboard stack only the top of Greenfield’s head is visible, making him look rather like the entree at one of those restaurants where you eat monkey brains through a hole in the table. He and Burnel are on great form and there is no sense of anyone just going through the motions here. It’s all full on stuff.

As for the highlights, well I wish I was knowledgable enough to pick out a really obscure album track and comment on how it differs from its original incarnation but the truth is I really like Always The Sun, and it’s going to be my favourite at any Stranglers show I go to. I sing it badly and loudly for most of the car ride home.

So there you go. If you get the chance to catch The Stranglers on this tour I’d grab it if I were you because as elder statesmen of the punk generation go, there aren’t many better around.

Images in nicer quality at Dr Feelgood | The Stranglers

AUSTRALIAN BRITPOPPERS DMA’S DELIVER A STORMING SHOW AT HULL UNIVERSITY ASYLUM

Some musical eras seem to live on forever, The Merseybeat era, 60’s Detroit, Britpop but few are as current in the present day as the Madchester sound which is undergoing a renaissance, not least through the endeavours of DMA’s who played a sold out show at The Asylum on Saturday 15th December 2015.

Unfortunately I never did visit Manchester in the 1990s but being at a DMA’s gig is probably as close to finding out what it was like as I’m going to get.
All the way from sunny Australia to an extremely cold and wet night in Hull, the band didn’t show any sign of weather fatigue although they did keep their top coats on indoors which as my granny and yours used to point out is a sure way of ensuring that you don’t feel the benefit later on.

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DMA’s played a gig at The Adelphi last year which has already attained near legendary status and the step up to a larger venue is clearly paying off. The Asylum is packed. Getting to and from the sunken stage area is a real challenge and everyone seems to be really up for a big night. There’s plenty of singing and chanting and general exuberance before the band take the stage and when they do they are greeted by a hail of plastic cups full of liquid of various varieties. The presence of a cocktail bar on the premises means that this is the first gig where I’ve been hit by a strawberry daquiri.

Their set evokes memories of the classic era of Brit Pop – Oasis and The Stone Roses are obvious influences but whatever 90s indie-ish band of the era you care to mention the DMA’s seem to have absorbed and reprocessed them, and their expansion from a studio trio to a touring six piece means that they have the muscle to take the place by storm.

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It’s energetic stuff, particularly on the big crowd pleasers like Warsaw, the Jamesish In The Air and Time and Money which has more people standing on chairs then I’ve ever seen at a gig before. They’ve got more than one string to their bow however and they let people take a rest from the boisterousness with some of the most sweetly melancholic pop you’ll have heard in a long time. Step Up The Morphine, a tribute to Johnny Took’s grandmother and The End both have the crowd standing in almost reverent silence before the band let rip and the place goes mental again.

Camden Rocks Festival 2018 – review

Funny things festivals. Are they about the music or the event? Or the food? Or the whole kit and kaboodle rolled into one. Not just rhetorical questions because they affect everything that happens on festival day. What should a good reviewer be looking for? In the first place there are the multiple stages to cover, bands that overlap and however carefully you lay a plan to maximise your time in the pit as soon as one band runs ten minutes over their allotted time it’s all gone out the window. Two stages is just about manageable. Three or four stages and you have to miss big chunks of the programme. Camden Rocks has twenty two stages to choose from, ranging from the classic rock and roll halls like Dingwalls and Koko to pubs and cafes.

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What makes Camden even trickier than any old 22 stage festival is that it’s not just about the music, or the event – it’s about Camden itself, the canal and the market and the Asculepeian snakes (they escaped from London Zoo and colonised the canal area years ago and every time I’m in the area I go looking for them but I’ve never seen one yet) and the Roundhouse (even if it’s not a festival venue it still dominates the Chalk Farm end of the festival area), and the pubs and the fancy dress punks who ply their trade on the bridge.

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Then there are the psychedelic shop fronts, the locks and canal boats and of course the street art, both official and unofficial. There’s even a witless Banksy or two. If you stand still too long in Camden there’s a good chance someone will paint over you and standing is frequently the only option you have because unless you’re eating at a restaurant or a cafe there is almost nowhere to sit. By late afternoon my poor old dogs are barking a treat.

Camden lays claim to being the music capital of the UK and it’s hard to argue. Manchester and Liverpool have had their moments but everybody and everyone has passed through Camden at some point. Just look at some of those 22 venues a little closer.

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There’s Koko, at Mornington Crescent, the southern extremity of the festival, founded in the 1870s by Ellen Terry, home to Charlie Chaplin and others and, having become a music venue in the late 1940s, the base from which the BBC broadcast the Stones in the 60s. As The Music Machine in the 70s it was the North London Punk Central, site of legendary gigs by The Pistols and The Clash and in the 80s it changed its name again, becoming The Camden Palace, spiritual home of the New Romantics and the venue for Madonna’s UK debut.

Or The Dublin Castle on Parkway where Amy Winehouse pulled pints, Madness began their careers and The Killers and the Arctic Monkeys made their first impact on the London scene and Dingwalls, legendary home of punk that has seen the almost everyone who’s anyone performing there – from Paul McCartney to The Clash (who shot the cover photo for their first album on the nearby stairs in Camden Market).

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And the list goes on. Plus of course there’s the market, home to a much visited statue of Saint Amy as Wilma Flintstone and more great street food than you can shake a stick at and even if it has all got a bit corporate there’s still enough craft and gimcrackery around to make it fun.

In the event the festival runs with military precision, with each band getting half an hour and then half an hour for clearing up and getting the next lot on – which means that at any given moment there are eleven gigs happening so hard choices have to be made. The early afternoon features plenty of up and coming bands and I catch some excellent indy sets at The Good Mixer with Elsewhere, The Fiddler’s Elbow with Lighthouse and at Dingwalls Canalside with Saint Jean who remind me a little of early REM, which in my house is considered to be no band thing.

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Down in the Dingwalls souterrain the Soap Girls, dressed only in some graffiti, a guitar, a feather boa and a butterfly head dress (each) are keeping the crowds happy with their mix of abrasive banter and catchy, riff driven grunge. They’re on their way to my home town later this month and I’m hoping to catch their full set at The Yardbirds.

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On the subject of the Yardbirds I end up parked next to a large blue van containing Hands Off Gretel who I last saw at that august venue. Described by no less a wordsmith than Ged Babey on Louder Than War as a technicolour grunge, angst-rocker, sex-punk death-rock, emo-pop band from South Yorkshire, and I can’t do better than that, although I think their geographic diversity may have increased following some recent line up changes. They’ve been championed by no less an authority than Paul Cook and have been supporting the newly renovated Professionals.

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I catch Hands Off Gretel’s set and also Rews, whose brand of infectiously hooky high energy alt rock is new to me (and I’ll be keeping an eye open for them if they brave to cold of the north any time soon), beneath the massed surf boards at Fest, which is packed out for both and stop into The Monarch for Alvarez Kings, who conjure up some of the best South yorkshire indie you’ll hear in a long time. They’re off on an extended US tour soon, which is just reward for their excellence and a work ethic which has seen them become a growing force on both sides of the Atlantic.

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The prize for the most photogenic band of the day goes to Flavour Nurse at The Monarch who combine classic glam with psych and alt rock to create a potent mix that serves, as they say on their website, as musical medicine for a diseased world. In the absence of clinically accepted double blind trials I’m going to go with the fact that they sound great, a perfect blend of 70s glam and contemporary indie with just the right balance between archness and irony. Whatever you call what they do it’s exciting and wonderful and it is a tribute to their metabolisms that they are able to put on a show that belongs after midnight at eleven in the morning. They’re from Watford by the way, but we won’t hold that against them and they’re definitely ones to watch.
Highlight of the day is a close run thing between This Year’s Ghost who blast out a deeply reverberative set of fierce grunge at The Camden Assembly that has the whole building buzzing. Think Alter Bridge and Pearl Jam with a touch of The Deftones thrown in for good measure making for some seriously nasty in your faceness.

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Second contenders are Beatsteaks who, despite having possibly the worst band name ever manage to feature punk and rock and soul and some distinctly 70s cheese pop and frequently do it all at the same time as well as exhibiting considerable football skills and a happy knack for front row bothering.

When it comes to the final choice of the day – Twin Atlantic and Maximo Park at Koko, Sikth at Underworld, British Sea Power somewhere else I go for Public Image at the Electric Ballroom and possibly the only disappointment of the day. Not because they’re not excellent, John is on great form, trilling and chirping his way through his set, but because only ten togs get into the pit so the day ends with some disappointing photos.

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Next year Camden Rocks becomes a two dayer and I for one will be putting in an application for what is definitely establishing itself as one of the best events of the year.

Tramlines Festival 2018 – preview

Okay it’s in Sheffield. It’s not as local as Bradley Woods or Humberston Fitties (grimsby places – locals will understand) but if you’re looking for a major festival to visit over the summer, one with a top quality line up, loads of extra activities, great value and not too much travelling involved then Tramlines is the one for you.

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Now in its tenth year Tramlines gets bigger and better every year. This time it will be held in Hillsborough Park, with four stages, a capacity of more than 40,000, and a range of entertainment including pop-up cinema, a stellar comedy lineup, special treats from Sheffield’s local breweries, a kids and family area and much more. It remains one of the best value for money city festivals anywhere in the country, with weekend tickets still available from http://www.tramlines.org.uk

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Household names from the worlds of indie, rock and roll, garage, rap, pop and hip hop are scheduled including headliners Stereophonics, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and Craig David’s TS5, plus Blossoms, De La Soul, Jake Bugg, Reverend And The Makers, Stefflon Don, The Sherlocks, Mabel, The Magic Gang, Coasts, Pale Waves, Gengahr, Naaz, Mullally, and Stereo Honey.

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Tickets have been selling fast are still great value at just £59 plus booking fee for a weekend ticket, covering all three days.

Keep an eye out for further lineup announcements – visit http://www.tramlines.org.uk or follow @tramlines.

John Prine: The Tree Of Forgiveness

Some albums arrive bearing the threat of disappointment heavy in their saddlebags, particularly if they’re by someone you’ve loved for years, someone who matters. A Cohen or a Mitchell, Springsteen or Dylan. Tom Waits and Elvis Costello and John Darnielle too. They’ve all delivered their share of late period disappointments. For every ‘Love And Theft’ there’s a Together Through Life and from the moment The Tree Of Forgiveness hits the doormat I’m on tenterhooks.

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It’s thirteen years since Prine’s last album of original material was released and in that time he has undergone surgery for both neck and lung cancer and I’ve undertaken a major reassessment of my list of the best singer songwriters of the last fifty years and Prine, by virtue of his sly dry humour and self deprecating mid-western surrealism has reached the upper tier of the pile.

So it’s a just slightly nervous moment when I set the thing playing but as soon as the first track gets underway, with a slight rush, as if we were walking into a gig in progress, it’s pretty clear that Prine is a man on form. He’s always had a knack for making records that sound like he’s conversing with you personally and the album maintains that feeling of intimacy throughout its length. No attempt is made (as far as we can tell at least) to hide the cracks in the 71 year old Prine’s voice, but they aren’t accentuated for effect either. Think Rubin era Johnny Cash but with less artifice. No sympathy cards being played here.

With a slightly echoey production and intermittent whispers from an unseen audience, most of the time it sounds like your favourite slightly eccentric uncle, the one that smokes and drinks too much now and then and teaches you magic tricks and tells smutty stories to embarrass your mum, sitting in a back room somewhere, or a barn maybe on hay bales, with his buddies and his guitar, chewing the fat and smoking a big one and singing a few tunes, mostly smiling but occasionally getting just a little bit sad.

It’s an altogether sparer collection that 2005’s Grammy winner Fair And Square with Dave Cobb on minimalist production duties and vocal assists from the likes of Brandi Carlile, Amanda Shires and Jason Isbell, but it’s all the better for it, full of sly jokes and homespun wisdom and irony.

There are plenty of changes of mood with a pair of excellent love songs – I Have Met My Love Today and Boundless Love – and two pieces of Prine’s distinctive homespun irony in Egg & Daughter Night and Lonesome Friends Of Science which manages to spin a poetic melancholy out of the decision by the astronomical world to downgrade Pluto to minor planet status leaving the former hero to spend his evenings hangin’ out in Hollywood In some ol’ funky sushi bar rather than with the big guys at the interplanetary dance as he did in his heyday.

When I Get To Heaven is a sort of a sequel to the wonderful irreverence of Jesus The Missing Years, a promise of posthumous debauchery with a honky tonk piano and a room full of people singing along (sounds like it anyway).

“I’m gonna get a cocktail | vodka and ginger ale | I’m gonna smoke a cigarette | that’s nine miles long,”

he promises and the album title reveals itself to be the name of the nightclub that he plans to open up in paradise, (if God lets him, and I think he will). It must get dull up there sometimes. There’s a baby gurgling away in the background and a giggling child and anybody who has ever walked across a supermarket forecourt in the dead of night and heard the strange laughter from the deserted children’s rides will understand how eery that can sound. Nobody delivers a memento mori like John Prine and a room full of children.

Album highlight for my money is the glorious No Ordinary Blue, which should be a staple of live shows for many years to come. It’s a song that shows Prine’s ability to work authentic sounding conversations into songs without straining the language or the metre –

She said, “Well what’re you thinkin’?”
“I’m just a-wonderin’”
“Is it somethin’ that I did?”
I said “It’s nothin’ | Just somethin’ | I picked up as a kid”

and also has my favourite moment of the album –

Last night | For a split sec | I was a train-wreck | I was a complicated guy
I hope we don’t find | This’s the last time | We ever say “Goodbye”

Prine is over in the UK this summer, including a stop at the Cambridge Folk Festival and if the press for the US leg of his current tour is anything to go by these should be the highlight gigs of the year, definitely not to be missed.

The Quireboys: Yardbirds Grimsby – live review

The Quireboys don’t do subtle. What they do is full on in your face rock and roll and they do it bloody well. Their reputation as a live band is second to none but they’ve also released a couple of well received albums in the last couple of years with White Trash Blues, a collection of standards from the repertoire of the likes of Chuck Berry and John Lee Hooker being a particular favourite in our house.

They’re regular visitors to Grimsby and their set at The Yardbirds opens with one of my personal favourites – Too Much Of A Good Thing, from 2013’s Beautiful Curse which sets the scene for the evening, plenty of classics, a few new ones and surprisingly few from White Trash, considering that this is listed as the album’s European Tour. It doesn’t matter too much though because the truth is that The Quireboys haven’t changed their sound a whole lot over the past thirty or so years and songs from their 1990 debut A Bit Of What You Fancy sit seamlessly alongside more recent material and it all sounds like it was ripped by main force from the 1970s heyday of British rock.

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This is timeless music. If you were determined to be mardy about it you could say that they’re a band who haven’t developed much in three decades but you could also say that if you’re that good at what you do why change things around?

Spike is on fine form, the celebrated soft rock rasp is as good as ever and we are reminded early on that we are in the presence of one of the all time great microphone stand jugglers but what’s a little bit of false ceiling damage among friends? It’ll fix easy enough. He’s a force of nature, roaming the stage, playing the crowd, dancing on his own or with the band, bandannaed as always, the piratical effect accentuated by a long scarf and one velcro sea boot. Curiously enough the last time I photographed The Quireboys he had a broken leg as well, on that occasion caused by a heavy tackle in a game of football (that’s soccer to some of you) against giants of British metal, Saxon.

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He’s not the only one set for a good time – the whole band look like they’re ready for a party. Guy Griffin’s guitar is the perfect foil as always, particularly on Going Down and This Is Rock And Roll which feels like a stadium filler in need of a stadium and sets the walls and furniture buzzing. They’re the just the band for a proper dark and sweaty rock club like the Yardbirds. Highlights include a raucous 7 O’Clock and I Don’t Love You Any More (obviously) but also a gorgeously sleazy cover of Slim Harpo’s King Bee, with Keith Weir’s honky tonk piano a driving force and Sleepy John Estes’ Leavin’ Trunk.

They round things up with Sweet Mary Ann and Sex Party which is about as good a singalong finale as you could wish for and we’ll be keeping an eye on the website to check that they’re making their annual visit again next year.

 

The Vive Le Rock Awards 2018

It’s Wednesday, March 28th and the great and good of the classic era of punk and new wave gather for a night of celebration at the inaugural Vive Le Rock Awards. The O2 Islington is the place – a 1980s brown brick purpose built venue at the back of a shopping centre just to the north of The Angel. (That’s one of the blue ones on the first quarter if the Monopoly board if you’re a traditionalist like me. None of them new fangled localist boards in my house). Tonight there are 300 carefully invited guests and 200 paying punters and the squeeze is on for an evening filled with the sound of working class people getting uppitty, celebrating the old times and getting royally smashed.

It’s one of those nights that makes you pause for a moment for a ponder about the state of the music magazine industry. Looking along the shelves in your local newsagents is not always a pretty sight these days. It’s a case of turning up with your cash and hoping your favourite read is still on the go. Seems like a big name crashes every couple of months or merges to pursue economies of scale or goes 51% up for sale.

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It’s the internet wot dun it of course. The print market is tough, we know that but there’s still a thriving market for niche titles that do just what they say on the tin and among those Vive Le Rock is one of the market leaders.

Founded in 2010 by the good people at Big Cheese and having recently reached its fiftieth issue, Vive is the go to publication for British fans of rebel music, whether from the past or the present day. From Gene Vincent to The Ramones, Motorhead and The Pistols to The Gaslight Anthem or White Lies or Rancid. If it used to get up your grandma’s nose back in the day or if it pisses off your kids now then it’s probably grist to the Vive Le Rock mill.

The design and content of the mag pay homage to the days of the classic fanzine so that despite all the corporate necessities that go with publishing in the twenty first century it still manages to be an outsider magazine for outsiders.

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The main business of the evening is of course the distribution of awards but there’s some fine music as well and after a welcome and a little bit of history from editor Eugene Butcher we kick off with the house band for the night, who go by the soubriquet of The Vive Le Rockers’ but in fact they are most of The Urban Voodoo Machine which is about as good as a house band gets. They fall in perfectly behind each of the solo performers in turn, a masterclass in musical adaptability.

If you’re going to spend an evening celebrating classic British punk then you can’t start off better than a set from living legend T.V. Smith, formerly of The Adverts and nowadays in serious danger of acquiring national treasure status. The current issue of Vive Le Rock has an excellent feature on the music of 1978 and Gary Gilmore’s Eyes and One Chord Wonders, both from that year, still pack a punch.

He’s followed by Master of Ceremonies Ginger Wildheart with a set that includes two from  his newest long player, Ghost In The Tanglewood, to whit Daylight Hotel and Golden Tears and a favourite of mine, Toxins And Tea from 2015’s Year Of The Fanclub.

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The awards themselves are shared among some of the biggest names in punk and roots music with Kirk Brandon picking up the Pioneer Award on behalf of The Cure, Best New Band going to London Oi favourites Booze & Glory and the Roots Award going to The Selecter.

Best Film is presented by Brix Smith-Start and goes to the team from Buttz films, creators of Rebellion, Gary Crowley gets best re-issue and AC/DC drummer Chris Slade picks up the Rock In Peace Award which commemorates Malcolm Young. Perennial favourite street punks Cock Sparrer are best live act.

Album Of The Year, presented by Shakin’ Stevens, goes to The Professionals for What In The World. It’s my first visit with Paul Cook’s gang since Tom Spencer replaced Steve Jones on guitar and they sound just as driven and gloriously rough at the edges as they did at their late 70s prime. Going, Going, Gone – a tribute to messrs Lemmy and Bowie, is a new track that’s definitely worth checking out and although I haven’t got What In The World Yet, on this evidence it’s definitely near the top of the list.

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Best International Performer goes to Michael Monroe of Hanoi Rocks, who manages to overcome his natural shyness to pick up the trofe from Steve Diggle of The Stranglers. He later takes the stage for two songs with the house band during which he manages to climb over most of the stage equipment and perform some remarkable feats of balance on the mojos.

Charlie Harper is up next to get the King Rocker/Icon Award from Captain Sensible and he delivers a couple of songs including CID, as full of raucous energy as you could wish.and then it’s over to England legend Stuart Pearce to present the Band Of The Year Award to The Damned. And it’s up to them to close things down with a set that includes New Rose, Jet Boy Jet Girl and even a brief Wot.

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What have I missed? A great piece of rock and roll from the legend that is Shakin Stevens, Stuart Pearce leading a chorus of Sensible’s a wanker when the cherry bereted one and his bandmates fail to appear to pick up the best band award, an encounter with the luminous choppers of Spizz of Spizzenergi and there are plenty more moments and it’ll have to be enough just to say that it was a great night and if they do it again next year I’d like to be on the list please.

 

A Real Labour Of Love: UB40 Featuring Ali, Astro & Mickey – album review

Back in the good old days, before the great reggae wars, there was a golden age when everybody’s favourite British reggae band, the mighty UB40, in between producing fine albums of original music, issued a series of covers albums, collectively known as Labours Of Love. They sold more than 21 million of them and they gave the band some of their biggest hits, including, Cherry O Baby, Kingston Town, and Red Red Wine.

Since the band’s bifurcation we’ve had new albums from both sides of the great divide, but the new release from UB40 Featuring Ali, Astro & Mickey is the first attempt to return to that tradition of covers with the band exploring the classic reggae sounds of the eighties. As Ali explained it to us in a recent interview these are the songs that he heard being played in Jamaica when the band were living and recording in the Caribbean and while some of them will be familiar to UK fans many will probably be unfamiliar.

It’s not rigidly conceptual, featuring as it does Stevie Wonder’s A Place In The Sun, (a Motown classic from 1966), and numbers from the late Seventies including Dennis Brown’s sublime How Could I Leave and Culture’s International Herb but it’s clear from the respectful way the material is handled that these are special to the band and the result is an album which, while not opening up any new or surprising territory, is still much more than an exercise in nostalgia.

Within a few days of release the album has already achieved the band’s highest chart position in 25 years, becoming their highest charting new album since their 1993 No.1 Promises And Lies and there’s plenty on show to please long term fans including Ali’s superbly soulful lead vocal, Astro’s singjay stylings (particularly on a fantastically complex version of Shinehead’s Strive) and the ten piece band on top form but there’s also a commitment to the material and to the roots of reggae that show how much this music means to Ali and his collaborators.

Highlights include a superbly fluid version of Beres Hammond’s She Loves Me Now, The Dramatics In The Rain, a deftly toetapping cover of J.C. Lodge’s “Telephone Love/Rumours and a delightfully pretty take on the Stylistics Ebony Eyes but for many people, me included, this is an album to play on repeat in the car, to let some of these classic tunes but strangely unfamiliar tunes make themselves into old friends.

UB40 Featuring Ali, Astro & Mickey are headlining The Royal Albert Hall on March 19 as part of the Teenage Cancer Trust series of gigs. For ‘An Evening Celebrating The Very Best In British Reggae’ they will be joined by Hollie Cook, Three The Hard Way – Brinsley Forde MBE (Aswad), David Hinds (Steel Pulse), Dennis Bovell (Matumbi) – and special guest David Rodigan MBE.

Erasure: Hull City Hall – live review

So City of Culture year has been and gone and what a year it was. From my point of view it meant Jeff Lynne, The Flaming Lips, Ocean Colour Scene and lots more. The question now is whether or not Hull can continue to attract big names, to the new Venue, or the football stadium or my special favourite Zebedee’s Yard for open air gigs and, of course, to the amazing Victorian pile that is the City Hall.

Early signs are promising – maybe the City of Culture can do attitude is still around – and we have the likes of Orbital and Chase & Status and local hero Calum Scott lined up for the summer. The year’s major musical events start out with a sold out show from 80s pop legends Erasure at the City Hall.

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Support comes from up and coming nu-disco star Bright Light Bright Light who is making his second visit to the venue, having played last year’s LGBT rights festival night. He’s got some great catchy songs, a style that’s midway between classic pop and musical theatre and a nice line in restrained ironic showmanship. Plenty of the crowd at the front are obviously fans already and it looks like he’s made a few more by the end of his set.

The stage set up for Erasure is a surprise, with the duo separated from each other for most of the show, Andy Bell performing in the narrow space between the front of the stage and a large ziggurat constructed from scaffold and fluorescent tubes atop of which is Vince Clarke with his keyboards and a guitar. There are two dancers and singers who initially occupy frames, also fluorescently defined, on either side of the stage but their contribution is pretty minimal. All eyes are on Bell who dominates proceedings by sheer charismatic presence although Clarke descends from the gods towards the end of the set it almost seems like a one man show.

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But what a great show it is. Even though I’ve been playing Erasure tracks all week I’m amazed by the strength in depth in their back catalogue. The set kicks off with an eerily gorgeous Oh L’Amour and heads for a climax with Sometimes and Respect but along the way are Stop, Drama, Blue Savannah and a variety of Love related matters including Chains Of, Victims Of and Who Needs It Like That.

Tracks from the new album World Be Gone are interspersed throughout and on tonight’s showing it’s a strong piece of work. All around the City Hall it’s pretty much a non stop dance-a-thon, from the main hall to the steep galleries and what more perfect way could there be to celebrate some of the most elegant and romantic pop music ever than dancing the night away.

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By the time Clarke descends for the last couple of songs you’d imagine that people would be exhausted but of course they’re not and the final Respect is a triumphant statement of the power of great pop music to unite people in joy. Fantastic stuff.