A festival, A Parade, Liar Liar, Josh Vine and James Leonard Hewitson – The Finsbury – March 10th 2020

When time allows, it’s always worth making the effort to get to a gig right from the kick-off. It’s also worth staying until the final whistle has been blown. Following such a principle certainly paid dividends on Tuesday evening up at The Finsbury when two acts from the North East book-ended a Killing Moon’s New Moons bill with startling skill.

Up first was James Leonard Hewitson and band. Hailing from Hartlepool, this young four piece make a fine racket; a bubblegum post-punk that draws obvious influence from Jonathan Richman and The Ramones before veering away from that course with Gang Of Four like noise.  James could double as Josh Widdecombe but don’t let that put you off. They’re promoting an album and, on first listen, the songs transition into a live setting well. The thrusting complacency within ‘Shy of Hard Work’ gives way to ‘The Screen’, a song about looking at your mobile too much, before James jumps from the stage and plays his prostate guitar from the floor. A great way to kickstart the evening. 

 

Josh Vine doesn’t have the comfort of a full band and it’s arguably a challenge to follow one but with an electric guitar and a rich, strong rock voice he has a damn good try. Though not entirely my thing, it would be churlish to not see that this tall lad has talent. A smidge of Springsteen-like influence is discernible in Josh’s best tune, ‘The Losing Side’.

 

Liar Liar take a while to get into their stride. Perhaps the initial technical hitches get in the way but when they do all press go it all seems off kilter. A trio, it’s not obvious what they want to be with two hirsute chaps providing instrumentation over which a girl sings. The chaps want to rock when the songs might be better treated to less bang and clutter. The sexy, slap-laden funk of a tune that might be called ‘ I don’t want to take it easy with you’ hits some heights but ultimately I expect that Liar Liar will have better days than this.

A festival, A Parade have been steadily raising their profile and it’s clear to see why. With guitars and effect pedals a-plenty, the lads from Newcastle have more kit than kat and provide a fine take on Americana indie-rock. The National influences are there for all to see but I pick out more than a faint nod to Murmur era R.EM.. Things get intense when a e-bow is utilised on the lead guitar but the songs continue to stand up to scrutiny. Their complete sound and confident performance will win them many more  fans in festival fields this summer.

That’s if we don’t all die first. Let’s hope that’s not the case eh? 

 

Vida Festival London Launch Party – Zulu Zulu and Sam Berridge – Sebright Arms – March 5th 2020

I go to lot of festivals. Indeed, it was the lure of a festival press pass or two that got me into this writing game. I used to think that most people who write about music are pricks; in fact, by and large, I still do. But now I’ve well and truly joined that club with many years of eFestivals contribution in my rucksack. 

People often ask me what my favourite festival is. It’s an impossible question to answer. There are so many special ones dotted across the calendar. And they all scratch different itches.

But I guess one solid measure of quality would be looking at the festivals I still pay for tickets for; the ones that, press pass or not, I have to be at. For the past two years, there’s been one in particular that meets that criteria. 

Valued readers of Sonic Breakfast – I give you Vida.

Two years ago, when living in Spain, I was told about this mighty gem that takes place in early July on the outskirts of Vilanova i la Geltru and south of Sitges in Catalonia. It was the line up that year that first drew me in. It had been far too long since I’d had chance to see They Might Be Giants and Of Montreal play live and elsewhere on the bill there was more than enough to delight. I had no idea at that point just how beautiful the Vida site is (It’s set in the grounds of a gorgeous house) or what value for money the Wild Side VIP ticket represents.

Please don’t tell your English or Irish friends about this“, said more than one other Wild Side ticket holder to me in that first year. I could see their point. Frankly, this all felt too good to be true. Nestled beside the country house, this VIP area was a mini festival in itself. As DJs played fine tunes, we would sit on straw bales and help ourselves to the free alcohol. Yes, free –  all beer, wine and cava is free with a Wild Side ticket. For a price of about 150 euros it works out as astonishing value for money. Last year, I told my good friend from Dublin, Rian, all about the Wild Side. This year I’m totally breaking rank and blogging about Vida.

With a cracking line-up announced for 2020, my ticket’s already purchased. In the build-up to the festival, Vida have put on showcase gigs free for ticket holders in Barcelona. I was over the moon to see that this year they’d added a launch party in London. With a line up headlined by Zulu Zulu (previously featured here on Sonic Breakfast), the Sebright Arms was the only place to be last Thursday evening. 

Sam Berridge was up first. I confess that Flyte were a band that largely passed me by, an act that I ought to revisit. Sam, one of their mainstay members, has now gone solo and he’s worth a watch. Happy to be in ‘London’s fashionable East End’, he plays beautiful and literate folk songs on an acoustic guitar, laden with Byrds-like melody. He temporarily discards his guitar to sit at an electric keyboard where he wraps Gilbert O Sullivan, Paul Simon and Paul McCartney up in one easy-listening package. ‘No Soy Gringo’ is his concession to the event, a song written in Colombia and, like the other morsels of joy in this lovely half hour, an intelligent song of love and regret.

Zulu Zulu are a must-see live band. Think Animal Collective or Caribou and you’re part of the way towards envisaging what you get from this trio from the Balearic Isles. Dressed in crazy animal-themed outfits and wearing colourful masks, Zulu Zulu serve up exquisite melody, African rhythm and tribal harmonies; even for the self-conscious, it’s impossible not to dance. As a Vibraphone gets touched and a crazy jazz trumpet blown, the impressive strobe lighting just adds to the euphoric feel all around. It all comes together in a free-form baggy indie that The Stone Roses could only aspire to. This is super-fine stuff. 

 

The party continues upstairs at the Sebright Arms with a DJ playing tunes to keep us dancing. But I’m off elsewhere. The gig has whetted that appetite for the fab Vida festival. 

 

Oli Swan & The Dangerous Creatures, Mirror Shot and Modra Luna – The Victoria – March 3rd 2020

I’ve been meaning to catch Oli Swan & the Damgerous Creatures for a little while now. I’ve noticed their presence on gig listings that I’ve very nearly attended and have been impressed by the way that they’ve surged from bottom to top of those lists in a short time. That’s a sure sign of quality and it’s all backed up by the interesting, skewed and spirited pop-rock of their releases to date. They’re headlining at the Victoria in Dalston. I’d be a fool not to go along. 

I don’t want to be uncharitable to first support, Modra Luna, but I doubt that their rise to the top of the bill will be as smooth. An energetic delivery, technical competence and some friends in the front to add to the atmosphere can’t mask the fact (for me at least)   that there are few hooks with which to engage. Lola, ‘their first song to be released on Spotify’, at least has a melody to cling to but ultimately their set peters out before beginning. 

 

Mirror Shot fare better. Despite a considerable thinning of the crowd that appears to zap a bit of confidence, there’s more than enough C86 spirit and off-kilter awkwardness to entice a man like me. Reminding me a bit of Hefner, Mirror Shot are not yet the finished article but with vocals that are dripping with longing and loss, the intrigue remains. They don’t appear to be enjoying this trial much yet they have the right to be more perky; ones to watch I suspect. 

 

Oli Swan and the Dangerous Creatures are everything I hoped they’d be. An entourage of happy looking people dressed brightly take to the stage and with a ‘one, two, buckle my shoe’, we’re off. Oli has big, permed curls and a cheeky attitude as he casually discards of his gum between songs. His fantastic band look on adoringly, admiring his many talents. Beautiful harmonies come from the musicians to his side; the keyboard player in particular throwing herself into the gig full-whack. 

There’s a lot of influences at work here; they jump from Motown influenced 60’s pop to 70’s AOR by way of a Wham-like pop jewel from the 80’s. Clearly not ones for routine, they end with a spritely new one that’s either talking about millennial pleasure or pressure. 

They’re a fun band and well worth watching before we all succumb to Coronavirus.. I head home happy. 

Ephemerals and Shunaji – The Jazz Cafe – February 26th 2020

I’ve been to Camden’s Jazz Cafe before but haven’t published a review from the iconic, always-cool space a short stumble from the tube station. It’s a proper music venue; happy punters, smiley, friendly staff, the music tickling with infectious joy. Wined and dined guests watch from their seats on the first floor balcony whilst the cool cats congregate in the dance floor square below. 

We’re here to see Ephemerals. I’ve written about them before on Sonic Breakfast (here). But that was a long time ago and the soulful jazz-funk ensemble have morphed along the way. They have a rich back catalogue and they will no doubt make fleeting use of it even if the intended outcome from this tour is the promotion of their new album, The Third Eye.

I arrive to see Shunaji take to the stage. She’s a happy bundle of energy, a mass of positivity as she welcomes herself back to the Jazz Cafe. She’s been two years away from this stage but her fine jazz hip-hop manner immediately warms the crowd’s cockles. During early single, Perfect Like Venus, she lays down her intent before waving an incense stick, delivering with a smile as she picks up the guitar she’s currently learning. A producer on a voyage of discovery, Shunaji is a fine warm-up to the main event. 

It’s either a measure of how good Ephemerals are or how great the beer is at the Jazz Cafe but I find myself submitting out of control superlatives to social media by the end of their set. Wolf, their singer, takes to the stage dressed in a full-length white robe. By the end of their third song, my notes ask why I’ve been so remiss to never watch Ephemerals live before. Trip hop gives way to a slow beautiful soul before it’s all shoved out of the way by a mad, mod electronica groove. It’s music that imposes itself upon you, gradually getting under your skin before clawing you tight. As I sway to the beat, I can’t help contemplating that this’ll rank as one of my gigs of the year. 

And it’s still only February. How fine this London life is. 

Austel and Rookes – The Victoria – February 12th 2020

I meant to publish this before spending last week in Spain. Reading it on my return, I thought that the acts would appreciate my thoughts. Better late than never. 

It’s been months since I’ve participated in the weekly listening post on Tom Robinson’s Fresh On The Net. Regular readers of Sonic Breakfast will know the premise. Each week, 25 songs are selected that you and I can listen to and pick our five favourites. The competition is fierce and this week was no different. 

Austel was always going to make my cut though. There was simply something about the ethereal, laidback meander of her tune ‘Dry’ that appealed immediately. Her voice, a thing of angelic clarity, leaping out above the electronic bleeps. 

 

So, when I notice that Austel’s playing a free Wednesday night gig at Dalston’s Victoria, attendance is a no-brainer. One of my favourite venues in town hosting an act that’s a must-see. Oh yes. 

I pay little attention to opener, Lo Lauren as beer is calling but catch the whole of support act, Rookes, set. Alone on the stage, this East Londoner (for the last two years) surrounds herself with an assortment of colourful, musical gadgetry. Rookes draws heavily on the 80’s as she summons the spirit of Madonna, Annie Lennox and Whitney. Songs about romance and sex are the norm and yet Rookes is equally at home when she’s breaking the patriarchal bad code. Fingering the rainbow-esque squares of her instruments, we’re reminded that Rookes needs no fixing. She has a nervous energy in between songs that could be off-putting for some but get beyond that and there’s a brave talent on the way up. 

Austel is joined by a five piece band. A life support beep emits before a violinist wearing a Sufjan Stevens T-shirt joins in with some bow action; the electronica shivers over the icy fiddle as Austel’s voice, pure chill, distinctly distant and yet very much present, joins in. ‘Cold Love’, her new EP, was released today and the music smartly backs up the lyrical ambition. Over in the keyboard section, Austel’s producer conjures up magical sorcery on an invisible theremin; with his hands, he uses finger puppetry to cast sound shadows of echo, reverb and sustain. It’s mesmerising. We gently sway through the set sometimes allowing ourselves to drift elsewhere. 

It’s a set made for such cerebral wandering. Suitably chilled, I put my bobble hat on and catch the bus home.

 

An Evening With JF Robitaille and Lail Arad – Coronet Theatre Bar – February 11th 2020

Lying awake on a Monday night/ Tuesday morning, unable to sleep and convincing my hypochondriac self that my niggly cough is in fact Coronavirus, I use a bit of distraction therapy by checking out acts that are playing later today in London. My eyes and ears are drawn to JF Robitaille and Lail Arad’s set over at the Coronet Theatre bar in Notting Hill, a new venue for Sonic Breakfast. A quick listen to ‘The Photograph’ by JF and Lail on YouTube and I’m sold. This is my must see for a Tuesday night.

Their literate, country folk, steeped in the traditions of the best songwriters from the past, was never going to disappoint. Think Paul Simon meets Dory Previn, the streets of Greenwich NY with a Gallic twist, the poetry of Leonard Cohen with thoroughly modern flourishes and you won’t be far from the place that this duo navigate towards. 

The Coronet Theatre bar is quite a mish-mash of a space. Over there, a range of mirrors in all shapes and sizes dominate a wall. On the wall opposite, handbags are the theme. We sit on iron conservatory seats and plush antique chairs admiring the globes and hats that dangle above us. The bar staff work from behind a piano, serving drinks onto its top. The overall feel is one of plush yet quirky decadence, a private members club that nobody should feel excluded from. “It’s a great place for a gig”, I agree with Pip, a vicar I get chatting with who also has a neat sideline in gig promotion. 

Lail and JF take to the stage for this show of two halves and Lail reads from some prose. Perhaps I should recognise it – the florid descriptions of those moments before a gig begins both set the scene and calm the mood. Tonight we will lounge and luxuriate, relax and roll in chilled delight.

Lail and JF open with two singles; familiar territory for many here gathered before the new material is triumphantly tried and tested. We learn that the video to ‘The Photograph’ was filmed in this very venue. The duo jump between instruments; electric and acoustic guitars, harmonicas, tambourines and piano providing the variety that helps maintain our interest. But with harmonies and arrangements as special as these, there’s no chance that minds will wander. The first duo-album has been recorded in Italy with a full band but these are songs that don’t need clutter and full instrumentation to work. 

The second half begins much like the first ended but we do get chance within this section to hear mini sets from the solo repertoires of both JF, the doting French-Canadian and Lail, the proud Londoner.  JF digs deep into his back catalogue whilst Lail plays a completely new tune, a frantic ditty, busy with words perhaps called ‘hustling’ and possibly a reflection on there not being enough hours in any day. 

The home straight is upon us. This has been a night of optimistic romance, of lost love, of kitchen-sink dramas and travelling tales.A speaker buzz that crackles like a cry-baby as the set closes does not dampen the overall spirit. A medley of love songs to Europe and the EU bring proceedings to an end. Tuesday’s don’t tend to get better than this. 

 

Disco Lizards, Murman and Aubrey – The Finsbury – January 27th 2020

It’s back to the Finsbury for a Monday night of indie guitar; a trio of acts who all have something ‘new’ about them and one, in particular, who could be a bit special when they find their stride. 

First up are Aubrey, a three piece who reveal that this is their first gig. Given this, you can pretty much forgive that there’s a raggedness around the edges and simply focus on the positives. A female lead singer sports an androgynous look whilst singing and shouting with atonal charm. There are hints of placebo and hints of a post-punk prog about Aubrey. None of this is without merit. “Marry me”, shouts a punter between songs. “If you buy me a shot of tequila I will”, is the quick retort. 

 

Murman take a small group hug off-stage before jumping onto it and picking up their instruments. Another three piece, their singer delvers their energetic indie with a deep, gravelly sneer. He sounds the spit of Billy Idol and this is no bad thing in Sonic Breakfast’s book. Triumphant like a souped-up Glasvegas, they announce that this is their bass player’s first gig with the band. You could never tell; he seems a fine fit. Ending with crowd singalongs about not wanting to fall in love again, it’s obvious that there’s a lot here to like.

 

Disco Lizards have a great name; they’re not disco and neither (from what I can tell) are they lizards. They indulge us with some pretty traditional psychedelic indie. They’re almost trying too hard to impress and there’s no denying the technical quality of Ollie’s guitar playing; it’s his first gig as well we learn. There’s competence on show here as they sing about doctors, crazy car journeys and their friends. Solid stuff. 

 

Monday nights – and The Finsbury delivers again. It’s best not to stay in when you can watch new guitar indie at a fine venue. 

Georgia Reed and The Meg Cavanaugh Band – The Finsbury – January 26th 2020

If ever things are a bit slow on the London gig scene, it’s always a grand idea to check out what’s on up at The Finsbury. Heck, even on busy nights of quality gigs, it’s probably worth checking out what’s on at The Finsbury. 

Conveniently positioned a minute from Manor House tube (and the 341 bus), it’s rare that I’ll have a night here in which a new, up and coming, artist doesn’t grab my attention. Better still, loads of the gigs have no door charge. I’ve been twice this week already. 

The first of those gigs was on Sunday night. A monthly show, curated by the people behind the ‘Sunday Kind of Love’ podcast, it proved to be a worthwhile trip, even though I missed the opening act. 

The first thing I notice is that the venue is set up differently to the other times I’ve been. Recognising the need to create a relaxed and laidback Sunday setting, chairs and tables are moved to the front of the room. There’s no urging us onto our feet to dance here. We can watch in lounge mode. 

The Meg Cavanaugh Band are onstage when I arrive. ‘A Sunday Kind of Love’ is Meg’s baby but she’s not here to make up the numbers. Enticing and stylish, Meg and her five-piece band are a throwback to the soundtrack of your favourite 1970’s film; we’re in an American bar and about to hustle; with swinging beats and the finest of harmonies we’re partying on the craziest of nights out. It all ends with a Nina Simone cover. ‘Do I move you?’ asks Meg. ‘Well, yes you do as It happens’, we collectively reply. 

 

Fine gig moments happen when you least expect them to in the break between acts. I get into conversation with a chap who seems keen to talk. He’s a musician from Ireland via two decades in Australia , just embarking on a year-long sabbatical during which time he plans to conquer London and the world. Liam Naughton is his name. You can’t help but be impressed by somebody following their dreams and going outside of their comfort zone to do so. Liam’s a charming chap and his mates are playing in the headline band. 

 

Georgia Reed is the headliner. She hails from Perth, Australia and specialises in a sort of gothic and husky pop. The sum is by no means unpleasant even if her singing style renders it impossible to understand her words. Georgia, dressed all in black with white and silver cowboy boots, half-mumbles with bluesy and sultry effect, through an impressive range of songs before covering The Killers and ‘When You Were Young’. New single, Colours, is a smoky stomp and stands up well amongst the sedentary Sunday crowd. 

WILSN and Mabes – Folklore – January 24th 2020

On the weekend that Australia Day falls, it feels strangely right to be watching an act from Melbourne who’s making waves. WILSN is currently on tour supporting The Teskey Brothers but tonight’s a night off and so the rising poppy soul sister takes on her own London headline slot at the intimate but all sorts of lovely Folklore. 

I’ve been to Folklore before. I like its quirky charm, the vintage glassware, the backroom gig space that’s made out like a rural conservatory, foliage everywhere. A place with fine foibles we can agree. 

On arrival, Mabes is playing. It’s her and an acoustic guitar. She plays well and has a cute voice whilst singing about the things that impact upon London-based youngsters in 2020. She tells us that she doesn’t easily fit in at parties but fills this room with her charm. I’ll try to catch a full set next time. 

 

The sound at Folklore is fab. It’s clear and crisp and made for WILSN and her three piece. She has a drummer and a guitarist/keyboard player for accompaniment but also utilises backing tapes to work her magic. And it is magic; sweet and soulful, powerful where it needs to be and with an ample splash of gospel to keep aficionados intrigued. Her voice quivers a la Mariah Carey but WILSN stops short of the excessive theatrics that render MC unlistenable. 

Yes, at times it does all goes a bit X factor and you can’t help thinking that WILSN needs to get a bit better at the between-song banter. But that will surely come over the course of this current tour. She’s delighted that crowds have come out to see her but she shouldn’t be surprised because the talent is there for all to observe. 

Sporting an Alicia Keys T-shirt, there is something quite old school about WILSN. She plays a tune written last year in London with her friend, Tobie Tripp, and you suspect that milking these collaborations is a fine way forward. 

It’s been a fun Friday night. I’ve even had a bit of a dancefloor shuffle at the more up tempo moments. You can’t say fairer than that. 

 

Noah Gundersen and Harrison Whitford – Union Chapel – January 16th 2020

Noah Gunderson is right. It probably does suck to start any UK tour at Islington’s Union Chapel. The wonderful serenity of the surrounds; the stained-glass looking down on us in this stunning place of worship. Other venues just can’t compete with the peace and beauty. “It’s all going to be downhill from here”, observes Noah wisely. 

Tonight, the Union Chapel is Noah’s ark. His brand of singer-songwriter folk goes down a treat with the hushed audience who cling to his every word. Noah loves the British audiences; they’re attentive listeners and polite with their praise. We are in a chapel and sitting in pews after all. 

He’s joined for most of his set in the chapel by support act, Harrison Whitford. Clearly friends off-stage, there’s a magic that works between them. Harrison harmonises and play crisp slide guitar licks whilst Noah holds fort taking cheap (and obvious) shots about the state of British food. Rich from an American. 

We’ve already been treated to Harrison’s support set. He’s great; a storyteller with a manner of delivery that mixes Sufjan Stevens with Randy Newman; he plays a cover from the latter. It’s definitely going to rain today. 

Talking of covers, Noah’s not averse to one or two himself. ‘I wanna dance with somebody’ sounds sad and mournful rather than pop. The Tom Waits cover, ‘Day After Tomorrow’ a smart addition and a set highlight. His own songs, earnest and literate, sometimes suffer from a popular blandness. I yearn for a bit more weirdness in my music but there’s no denying that when Noah really opens his mouth, a powerful voice comes to the fore. 

In between the acts, a chap (whose name I miss) comes and gives an impassioned speech about the sadness of suicide, especially in young men. Apparently, it’s a cause close to Noah’s heart and he’s actively working with this charity to get men to talk, to be more open about their emotions. Got to appreciate that touch. 

We parade out into rain-drenched Islington streets. I’ve enjoyed my first visit to the Union Chapel. The adoring fans are oblivious to a bit of drizzle.