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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.

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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.

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.

Interview: Reggae legend Ali Campbell

As founding members of Britain’s biggest reggae band UB40, singer Ali Campbell, second vocalist Astro and keyboardist Mickey Virtue topped the UK singles chart on three occasions and sold 70 million records as they took their smooth yet rootsy musical blend to all corners of the globe. Now with ‘A Real Labour Of Love’ the trio give us a fresh take on the legendary series of albums, putting the focus primarily on reggae tracks from the 1980s.

We got to talk to Ali and we started out by asking him about the inspirations behind the new album.

idp: First of all congratulations on a fine new album. It’s got the real classic UB40 feel – a bit cheeky, a bit sly, a bit chilled, a bit romantic. It’s going to be very popular with the fans, I’m sure of that. And it sounds like you were all having a lot of fun in the studio.

Ali Campbell: Well yes, we loved it. It’s a delight to go into a studio to record songs that you already know and that you love. That’s why we called them the Labour of Love albums. We’ve called this one A Real Labour Of Love just to differentiate it but they were very successful albums. We sold more than 21 million of them and some of our biggest hits came from them including Cherry O Baby, Kingston Town, and Red Red Wine.

What made you decide that the time right for a new version and what’s special about the songs on this one?

They’ve been asking us for a long time to do another one so we thought that enough time had passed and we should give it a go. The songs that we cover on this album are all over thirty years old now. They’re the songs that we listened to when we were on the road with the first Labour Of Love album. When we made that album we were we were just covering the songs we grew up listening to – the songs that made us love reggae in the first place – whereas this one takes us into the 80s. These are the songs from when I was in Jamaica.They’re all classics and big hits in the reggae world and we’re trying to bring them to a new audience.

I’ve spent a long time on YouTube and elsewhere tracking down the originals of some of these songs and it has reminded me just how powerful great pop can be. How were the songs for this album chosen and did they bring back a rush of memories for you of the time when you first heard them?

Well most of them are reggae classics that I was listening to in the 80s like JC Lodge’s Telephone Love and Strive by Shinehead which is a great record. And then of course there’s She Loves Me Now by the great Dennis Hammond which is the first single from the album. There’s a really nice and funny little film to go with it and you can find that online. These are the sounds that made us love reggae in the first place and when me and Astro sat down and started to draw up a list we were like all we got to have some Dennis and we’ve got to have some Gregory. It really is a joy to do these albums. It’s always nice doing your own material but it’s a lot easier and more fun to cover songs that you love. It’s only what The Beatles did and the Stones and The Who but they loved blues and we love reggae. Their hero was Bob Dylan and mine was Bob Marley.

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It sound like you’re still as passionate as ever about making music.

It’s the best job ever and i think I’ve got the hottest reggae band in the world right now. I think this is the best thing we’ve done in 25 years.

How does your approach to a covers album differ from making an album of original material? It must be important to avoid doing anything like a note for note copy.

If there’s a secret to it, it’s that you have to stay true to the melody because that’s why you liked the song in the first place but then we do our take on it and we try and make it more accessible to a pop audience. That’s all we’ve ever tried to do really, When we started the band in the first place my main idea was because I loved reggae music I wanted to promote reggae music.

Just like I loved dub and I wanted to spread the word about that. There’s a song by Goldie Lookin Chain and one of the lyrics goes “I wouldn’t know what dub was if it wasn’t for UB40” and hearing that for the first time was one of my proudest moments. The first dub album we did was our third album I think. Present Arms had gone in at number two and we thought this is the perfect time to do a dub album and show people what it’s all about. A lot of people brought the album and then took it back to the shop saying it was faulty. No vocal and some strange echoey sounds. But if you look all around the world at pop music today so much of it is informed by reggae beats. People like Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande even The Script. I saw them the other day doing a reggae track. The Sly Dunbar beat, the Bogle beat, that’s what contemporary dance music is at the moment. So reggae is more influential now than it’s ever been which makes me happy.

There’s some excellent artwork with the album and you’re auctioning some of it for charity. It’s nice to see performers taking an interest in the music as an artefact for a change. We used to love reading the album sleeves and looking through the racks at the record shop but now it’s all electronic, living in download world as we do.

It can be a bit soul destroying when you spend a year or two of your life making an album from its inception to the point where it’s finished and you spend all that time and all that money and all that effort and then you see people listening on little white headsets coming out of their phones. It’s like why was I worried about getting the bottom end to sound just right and trying to marry the bass drum and the bass guitar perfectly; it all seems a bit futile but it’s what we do. When you go back and you’re re-recording tracks that you remember as classics they always seem a bit rougher than you remember them. So it’s nice to go in and do a clean version and try and reduce it as best I can.

You act as the producer on the album. Is that something you’ve always done.

UB40 have always produced their own around music and I like to be there at the mix because there’s nobody else who knows better than I do how I want it to sound. We had Sly and Robbie mix for us but even though they’re geniuses and we love them it’s never been exactly what we wanted out of our own music. We believe we’re the ones who know what it’s meant to sound like.

Any particular favourite tracks on this album that you’d recommend we go listen to?

I think people should go and have a look at the funny little movie that goes with She Loves Me Now. It’s a terrifying thing to follow in the footsteps of Dennis Hammond I felt the same way when we did Many Rivers To Cross. It’s a tall order. I had a lot of sleepless nights and worry because he’s one of my favourite singers. It’s a bit like taking on Stevie Wonder. That’s got to be one of my favourite tracks on the album because it’s one of my favourite songs of all time anyway.

You’ve got lots of festivals lined up and an arena tour as well so you’re going to have a busy few months.

We’re doing mostly festivals in England and Europe this year. I still love touring and playing live. As I said I’ve got the hottest reggae band in the world at the moment we’ve we’ve had Morgan Heritage play with us, and Inner Circle and and Jo Mersa Marley. Raging Fyah too, they’re one of my favourite bands of the moment.

Well thanks for the chat, congratulations again on the album and we’ll hope to catch one of your summer festival shows.

Thank you.

Jess & The Bandits: Fruit, Hull – live review

Last September, just as Jess Clemmons was setting out with The Bandits on a UK tour in support of her new album, the gospel influenced Smoke And Mirrors, Hurricane Harvey struck her hometown of Houston, Texas, causing extensive damage to her mother’s home and necessitating the cancellation of the tour. Five months on and she’s back with us, kicking off the rearranged tour at Fruit in Hull and proving to the doubters (if there were any) that the change of style hasn’t diminished her ability to create some of the finest cast iron ballads and torch songs you’ll ever hear.

Opening the show is up and coming Glaswegian country pop artist Kevin McGuire, who is also on a roll at the moment with the release of 2017’s debut EP Foreign Country leading to performances for the BBC and at the Nashville Meets London Festival.

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Highlights of his set include the new single Late, 3am which is an unusual up tempo break up song written from the perspective of a rejected lover who now unwillingly finds himself in demand again, and the last song of the set, Alright Tonight, which I’d recommend checking out soonest you have the chance. McGuire is one of a growing number of home grown country performers who seem confident enough to produce authentically British country music without the need to slavishly follow US music, although he is clearly influenced by the likes of Rascal Flatts and Sam Hunt.

Jess Clemmons has changed the line up of her band since I saw them last. They’re still bandits of course, but they’re different bandits, better suited to her new sound, on display on the fine new album, Smoke And Mirrors. There are still plenty of high powered country rock grooves of course, she hasn’t gone all wimpy on us all of sudden, and the show kicks off with My Name Is Trouble straight out of our favourites playbook before swinging into love Like That, another favourite and I’m Not Going Home, whose power shows the close connection between both sets of songs old and new.

Vocally she’s in fine form voice is in fine form – she’s as good a country singer as I’ve ever heard live – capable of a wide range of emotional colour plus considerably more out and out charismatic sexiness than one person really ought to possess. It’s not fair really it isn’t.

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The set is a mix of the best of the two albums with highlights including The World’s Still Round, whose brooding verse explodes into some great rock and roll, White Lies which slows things down a little but has a classic broken lives and shattered dreams feel to it, Gone Girl for which Clemmons channels her inner Dolly Parton and Nitty Gritty which has the whole room singing.

By tradition the set includes a couple of covers – on this occasion it’s Mama told Me not To Come and Bonnie Raitt’s Love Sneaking Up which is followed by the outstanding track from Smoke And Mirrors, the gospel anthem of empowerment Sister.

And of course the show ends with some of real favourites – bring the house down rocker Ready Set, the emotionally supercharged Fault Lines and to round it all off Single Tonight.

A fine show from one of our favourite performers and if I get the chance I’ll try to catch another show later in the year. If you get the chance you should too.

The Damned: O2 Apollo, Leeds – live review

As I made my way from the car park to the Academy for the show the night air was filled with rain and the sound of bells. Ringing in the damned.

The original goth punks were rumoured to be on good form, with a new album in the works, a single getting plenty of attention and the return of Paul Gray on bass and there was a long queue waiting to get out of the drizzle.

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First up one of the best surprises I’ve had in a long time. Usually before I set out for a show I check to see who the support are but on this occasion I forgot, so it’s a real pleasure to find that it’s no less a personal hero than Slim Jim Phantom, Stray Cats drummer and rockabilly guru playing some of the rawest rock and roll you ever heard. The other two places in the trio are a movable feast, (I believe Captain Sensible and Dave Vanian sometimes appear), but on this particular night the top class sidemen are James Walbourne and Nick Wilkinson, whose day jobs are as guitarist and bass player respectively for The Pretenders.

Their set takes in classics spanning the history of rock and roll from Carl Perkins’ Matchbox and The Womack’s It’s All Over Now to a terrific That’s Alright Mama that sets off at a slouching amble before bursting suddenly into a run and reminding us all just what it was that made rock and roll great in the first place. They tie things up with the Cats very own contribution to the rock and roll classic song book – Rock This Town.

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And so on to the main event and the Academy was pretty much full for The Damned who open with All Messed Up, Lively Arts and Silly Kids Games, representative of a set that’s heavily weighted towards the band’s glory days from the late 70s until the early 80s.

There’s a great British tradition of looking for the clay in the feet of our musical heroes and as such I feel like I ought to say at this point that The Damned weren’t a shadow of their former selves. We don’t have Johnny Hallydays in England.

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In fact The Academy crowd is treated to a great show with the band on excellent form, having a fine old time and revelling in the sheer joy of making some very loud music in company of several thousand like minded individuals. What more could you ask?

Front and centre Dave Vanian is bathed in Hollywood light as he struts his stuff with his retro mic and long black coat, while over to stage left The Captain finds himself a little pool of purplish darkness in which to hop and bop and twist, leaning over his guitar like a tangled marionette and offering occasional pithy comments. Paul Gray dances almost non stop and even Monty manages to escape his decks for a few brief moments of electrifying dad dancing during New Rose.

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Highlights include an anthemic Stealer Of Dreams, a raucous Elouise and the new single Standing On The Edge Of Tomorrow, featuring some ringing guitar riffs but what was most noticeable was how adeptly the band switches styles, one moment full on punk, next moment Vanian is transformed into a Neil Diamond style crooner. At one point he’s a fire and brimstone Old Testament prophet conducting a chorus of Woah ah Ohs on Devil In Disguise, next he seems to be channelling the spirit of The Housemartins.

The show closes with a mixture of old and new including Generals, Evil Spirits, (again the forthcoming album sounding like a good thing) and the classic Smash It Up before the band responds to the appeals of the assembled company by returning for a final cover of the Elton Motello classic Jet Boy, Jet Girl.

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Status Quo | Terry And Gerry: Sheffield City Hall – live review

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Status Quo | Terry And Gerry

Sheffield City Hall

April 21st 2015

The Quo roll into town and Sheffield takes a break from the snooker to welcome the legendary (and of course mighty) rockers who played the second night of their 2015 Aquostic Tour to a packed house at the City Hall on Tuesday.

Status Quo go acoustic? It seems like an odd premise but the album of the same name, featuring twenty one acoustic covers of Quo classics performed in chronological order reached number 5 in the UK charts in 2013, their highest chart position since 1996’s 30th Anniversary album and a concert from The Roundhouse was broadcast on the Beeb and issued as a live album. Empty seats are few and far between. So even if the idea of acoustic Quo seems a little odd to me there’s no doubt the fans are on side already.

The acoustic album is an established part of the modern music business, right up there with the full album live performance and the special collector’s edition CD in a tin stuffed with imitation tickets and loads of outtakes that didn’t make the cut because they weren’t good enough. To some bands it might seem like an opportunity to cut costs and save some cash but Status Quo don’t do things that way. Apart from the five band members there is a six piece string section, two backing singers, and bass player John Edward’s son Freddie, (who has a considerable and vocal following among the Quo faithful). I think that’s everybody but there may be one or two more I missed.

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Acoustic reversioning is nothing new of course, you only have to look at the enduring success of MTV’s Unplugged sessions to realise that. I honestly thought it had died off in the late 90s (we only have free to air TV in our house) but it’s still going strong apparently, with Miley Cyrus the latest victim. Despite some remarkable performances, (Nirvana and Clapton being among the most obvious) there’s always something unedifying about the format however, an unspoken assumption that the performers in question need to stop hiding behind all that noise and play acoustically in order to prove their worth as musicians. With more than fifty years as a band Quo don’t appear to be in need of that kind of validation.

So if they’re not saving money and not seeking artistic credibility just what are Status Quo doing playing acoustically? The answer would appear to be that they are having a good time, sitting in a row, playing some favourite songs and cracking a few jokes. And why not?

First up are Terry and Gerry, Louder Than War’s favourite 80’s cow punk skiffle band complete with long black coats, shoestring ties, a washboard with one of those bits on it that sounds like the death rattle of your favourite clockwork railway engine and a ton of great little songs. Little being the operative word. Terry And Gerry seem to think that the phrase “three minute pop song” represents some kind of extreme upper limit on duration. I shoot the shortest three songs worth of pictures in history.

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They’re masters of the art of creative anachronism, starting out in the early 80s (which wasn’t a skiffle boom period), appearing on The Tube and doing several Peel sessions back in the day when peel favourite was just a preparatory instruction in the post Grand National barbecue cookbook. Having been on hiatus for several years they reformed for a 2014 Peel celebration tour. They are bursting with energy and enthusiasm, apparently overwhelmed with their reception and the fact that people haven’t left by the end of their set, and seemingly on the verge of going into a full on Gwyneth Paltrow between songs.

Their exuberance certainly strikes a chord with the audience and by the end of their set contains lashings of community singing, organised waving (some of it bimanual) and some great tunes, among them Kennedy Says, which features benedictions from a place in the sky above the White House and a posthumous pardon for the whole Bay Of Pigs thing, Clothes Shop, a hymn to the loneliness of sartorial elegance and teenage individualism.
I will confess that this was the first time I’d heard Terry and Gerry but it won’t be the last – great stuff.

Status Quo take to the stage in 5-2-6-2 formation with the flat forward line of guitar and bass, the big guys in the centre, backing singers in midfield, and the strings on the left of the defence. The songs adapt well to the new instrumentation and they the size and quality of the band mean that no two numbers sound the same, so there’s no danger of the set getting stale. Paper Plane is embellished with zydeco accordion, Rock’n’Roll is a delicate memento to the band’s heyday, Caroline is an up tempo stomp.

Of course the hits go down a storm and in this new format they sound thoroughly refreshed. Rocking All Over The World has a barrelhouse piano that transforms it into pure Rockney, Down, Down is up tempo concertina driven skiffle and Caroline has an streetwise boogie that belongs to the heyday of pub rock. It’s the less well known songs that benefit most from their new clothes however. (That of course means songs that are less well known to me – I suspect I’m the only person present who doesn’t know all the words to everything). My favourites are Rain, which fairly chugs along with a steam engine percussion and some hobo harmonica, and Don’t Drive My Car, possibly a riposte to The Beatles free and easy attitude to key sharing, with the rhythm picked out by the strings, some great backing vocals and guitar and a sort of Cossack soul vibe going on.

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If there’s any fault to be found it probably lies with the choice of venue. With the best will in the world this is music for dancing to, (not by me I hasten to add, but by others), not for staying in your seat and listening to quietly but the stewards are polite but firm, there is no stage rush and people who get up and block the view are politely asked to replant themselves. Hats off to the brave few that just ignore them – it’s a fine show but the dancers are the ones who enjoy it most.

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Status Quo are on the web at statusquo.co.uk. They are also on Facebook.

Terry And Gerry are together at terryandgerry.com and Gerry Colvin is on his own here – gerrycolvin.co.uk. They are also on Facebook and tweet as @TerryandGerry.

Simple Minds @ Grimsby Auditorium – live review

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Simple Minds

Grimsby Auditorium

27th March 2015

Simple Minds are on great form, providing a timely reminder of their arena packing heyday as they open their UK tour to a packed house in Grimsby. idp reports.

We can be a mardy lot up in here in Grimsby. We think nobody loves us. We feel neglected. Apart from having Channel 5 poverty porn film crews on every street corner we don’t feature much in the mainstream media, unless we’re a key marginal with at least one candidate with alleged links to the far right. (Mentioning no names.)

We don’t get many visits from big name bands either and when we do it sometimes feels like they only bring half their kit and only really give it half their usual effort. “It’s only Grimsby lads, save some energy for Wolverhampton,” we can almost hear them say as they wait in the wings.

So when a band of the calibre of Simple Minds decide to open their UK tour here it’s a big deal and the Auditorium is appropriately packed for the show well before kick off. From the moment Jim Kerr struts onto the stage in a bright red tartan frock coat (apparently he’s Scottish) it’s clear that there aren’t going to be any half measures at this show. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anybody look more pleased to be on a stage and he seems to be genuinely impressed with the response from the packed house, as well he might be because the crowd are cheering and singing along right from the start.

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With a back catalogue as long as your arm and a well received new album (last year’s Big Music) to boot Simple Minds are never going to be short of tunes to play but they do their best to pack as many as possible into the set, which allowing for the break runs to over two and a half hours of high intensity performance. Nobody leaves complaining that they didn’t get good value.

It seems to have been fashionable among reviewers of Big Music to praise the parts of the album that hark back to the band’s early output and to be slightly dismissive of songs, like the title track, that evoke the stadium filling sounds of the late eighties onwards. But if we’re being honest here then for me, (and for lots of others judging by the reactions of the crowd on the night), then it was from Sparkle In The Rain that Simple Minds really made an impact on me and I have no problem with them revisiting that era.

With Mel Gaynor’s insistently snary percussion and Andy Gillespie’s keyboards providing the underpinning for the anthemic expansiveness which nowadays characterises the Simple Minds sound, the band seem to sound even more eighties today than they did in the eighties and the new songs blend seamlessly in with the classics. I won’t claim to be a Simple Minds expert and there are plenty of occasions when I can’t decide whether we’re listening to 20th or 21st century vintage but in this relatively small venue, which has a remarkably good acoustic for bands that can crank the volume up a little, it feels that we could almost be at Wembley or The Shea with Thatcher and Reagan chatting over coffee and looking deep into each other’s eyes just down the road.

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Good though the band are, with Ged Grimes unerring on bass and of course co-founder member Charlie Burchill laying down his trademark flickering guitar alongside those already mentioned, it’s Kerr who is the undoubted star of the show, grinning like a Cheshire and constantly in motion, leaning out across the pit to hold the microphone towards the audience, bounding around the stage twirling the mic stand like a dandy with a long cane, or doing what would probably be dad dancing if I did it but which looks rather cool when he does it , he’s a non stop ball of energy chatting with front row, discussing football or waving to people in the balconies. I read in an interview that he hung out for a while with Springsteen in New York and it’s the Boss’s kind of boundless energy and inclusiveness that he displays here. At the end of the gig half the people present will feel like they have had a momentary intimacy with the star of the show, and that’s quite a skill.

The first half of the set is predominantly rock and acoustic tracks (for which the band are joined by Welsh multi-instrumentalist Catherine AD who stars when she switches to keyboards for a stately Rivers Of Ice) and the second featuring soul vocalist Sarah Brown who takes a solo on Book Of Beautiful Things and backs up magnificently on Sanctify Yourself, on which Kerr is so convincing in his role as a revivalist preacher that you wouldn’t be surprised if he pulled a handful of rattlesnakes from the pocket of his black jacket (costume change during half time interval).

Highlights of the show? That’s a tough call and it’s always tempting at this point to pick an obscure track and say how nice it is to see it getting dusted off for the first time in twenty odd years and how you’ve always loved it and felt it was under appreciated but actually on the night it’s Don’t You Forget About Me which starts as a booming monster delivered across a sea of waving arms and mobile phones and gradually morphs into something small and intimate as Kerr lead a call and response singalong from a seated position at the front of the stage.

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From pure eighties over the top stadium rock to delicate and emotional choristry in two minutes or less – it’s some trick and serves to prove that for this tour Simple Minds are a band back on the top of their game. The encores end with Riders On The Storm, as dark and malevolent as the original, and finally Alive And Kicking. As we file out and wait for twenty or thirty minutes to get out of the car park I can hear a lot of people singing tunelessly in their stationary cars and the town seems quite cheerful, almost. But don’t let it fool you.

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Simple Mind’s website : simpleminds.com and they’re on Facebook and tweet as @simplemindscom

All words by idp. More work by idp can be found in his Louder Than War archive. His photography website is here and his photo blog is here.