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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

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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.

 

Bingley Music Live 2014

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Bingley Music Live 2014
Myrtle Park, Bingley
29th – 31st August 2014

One of the best weekends of the year, family atmosphere, great music, warm beer – it’s Bingley time!

Bingley always seems like an unlikely place to hold a music festival. For those scrabbling for their atlases it’s on the River Aire, just north of Bradford, with a skyline that bears witness to both its roots as a mill town and its status as the home of the Bradford and Bingley Building Society whose epic brutalist head office squats like a brown concrete toad in the town centre. It also boasts a curious tower with a pergola on top which looks like it could have been the inspiration for the hiding places in Assassin’s Creed.

Bingley Music Live, sponsored by Bradford Council and held annually at Myrtle Park is a proper old fashioned pop festival which since 2008 has offered three days (originally two) of quality music at ridiculously good value prices. There are no pretensions to high art here. It isn’t full of bearded hipsters or street performers reciting fragments of Shakespeare at bemused passers by or aging hippies or crazy retro people with staring eyes, it’s just families looking for a great day out listening to music in the company of their children and some warm beer.

Image gallery

QRO review and images

R’n’B

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This year’s line up was a little more chart orientated then previously which meant doing a bit of research in advance (no bad thing for us aging photographers desperately trying to be down with the kids) but the crowds loved it all, or almost all anyway.

My previous experiences with contemporary R’n’B had led me to think that it chiefly consisted of a man pretending to be working some sort of sound desk while another man (or woman) shouted “Come on now (insert name of venue here) make some noise” and then jumping up and down in a very silly way and clapping. For extra emphasis the phrase could be varied by the addition of adjectives, for example “Come on now (insert name of venue here) make some fucking noise”. For even more emphasis the jumping and clapping could be made very silly indeed.

Excellent sets from MNEK, Jess Glynne and Chloe Howl went some way towards dispelling that view although there were outbreaks of clappy, shouty dancey stuff at other times through the weekend, but I won’t dwell on them. There was a lot of great music on offer and I’ll concentrate on that instead.

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Discoveries of the weekend

The Strypes have been blazing a trail through the music scene for the past couple of years and gathering reviews so good that I’d started getting a bit suspicious and thinking that they couldn’t possibly be that wonderful, but of course they are that wonderful. I had intended to listen for ten minutes and then go take some photos on the other stage but I didn’t because their reinvented 60s rock pop just grabs you. Judging by the squeals in the crowd it works on girls too. It doesn’t matter who you say they remind you of because they’ve clearly done their homework and they sound like a whole generation but it’s between The Who and the Beatles and Bo Diddley and The Yardbirds and all the rest. Hailing from Cavan in Northern Ireland they are simply ridiculously good and they’re all younger than my car.

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Less well known as yet but equally good was Emma Garrett and her band on the top stage. In a fortnight when I have spent hours listening to my Kate Bush albums and seen St Vincent live at Leeds the last thing I expected on the small stage at Bingley was a female vocal that threatened to make them other two seem just a little bit ordinary. Emma has been compared to both the aforementioned singers and to Florence Welch and lots of others and she can mix rock, soul, jazz and folk into one song with just a hint of musical theatre showmanship and it sounds just perfect. Check out her SoundCloud immediately.

And an outside pick. It’s not often anyone gets booed at Bingley but Etta Bond appeared to misjudge what was required from her at a family festival and delivered a set loaded with sexual detail and other varieties of bad language and the crowd hated her and let her know about it. That’s Yorkshire for ya. Her performance and on stage demeanour didn’t do her any favours either – whether it was the fault of the sound system or whatever she sounded as flat as a pancake. Since getting home I’ve spent a couple of hours listening to her stuff and she’s a talented writer and performer who I’ve no doubt we’ll hear more of in future and in fairness to her the booking people might have figured out that a woman who tweets as C.U.N.T. is probably not going to go down well with the mums and dads.

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Old friends of the weekend

Not friends in the sense that I’ve been round their house for tea or anything but among the bands that I was already familiar with there were two standouts.

Firstly The Selecter who, legal difficulties with rivals having been dealt with are now entitled to use that name. They have original vocalists Pauline Black and Arthur Gaps Hendrickson and they delivered a set that sounded as streetwise and energetic as if it was a teenage tribute band and not the real thing at all, finishing with On My Radio and Too Much Pressure/Pressure Drop – one of the major highlights of the weekend.

As were the opening songs of the set by The South. It’s no secret that I have a fondness for elegantly witty pop and at their best The Beautiful South could deliver that in spades. They are now fronted by Alison Wheeler and Dave Hemingway and I had everything planned so I could catch the whole of their set but difficulties with the sound meant that I only got the first few songs, (which sounded wonderful). They’re on tour this autumn however so watch this space.

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Headliners

Friday night saw Shed Seven make the journey all the way from York for a set of their greatest hits that served to remind us that even if the whole Britpop thing is now seen as a cultural disaster on an epic scale there were good bands around at the time who never quite got the recognition they deserved. Shed Seven were a lot smarter than some of their more illustrious contemporaries and the dry wit of frontman Rick Witters was much in evidence during their set. They also played the most energetic set of the weekend and no sooner had they taken the stage than Witter’s natural exuberance saw him almost disappear into the crowd over the barriers. Their set featured classics like Dolphin, Disco Down and Rainbows as well as a storming cover of Born To Run, a song by former rock god and now Butlin’s redcoat Bruce Springsteen.

It was the turn of rnb to take centre stage on Saturday with Example heading the bill. There’s not much point in me pretending to comment on his set except to say that the multitude loved it, there was lots of audience participation – “Come on now Bingley make some noise, jump, clap – and it culminated in a spectacular light show.

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Rounding off the weekend were Sunday night’s headliners The Pet Shop Boys who brought their Electric World Tour show to the Bingley stage complete with spectacular lights, a whole stage projection screen, dancing orange minotaurs (my favourite flavour of minotaur as it happens), massive feathered power shoulders, projection beds (really), and pzazz and razzamatazz than you can shake the z key on your keyboard at. It was a show that walked the finest of lines between superlative showmanship and embarrassing nonsense and always stayed exactly on the right side. If any greatest hits were missing I didn’t notice and nobody seemed to care and the explosion of confetti that accompanied It’s A Sin brought the festival to a fittingly spectacular close.

Same time next year?

Yes please.