Peaness, Caro and Kelora – The Social – February 12th 2019

I went to a gig on Tuesday night.. Wrote a review and then forgot to post it.. Whoops!! 

I’ve liked Peaness for a few years now. Ever since a friend, an old school teacher of Jess, sent me a soundcloud link of their debut release, Fortune Favours The Bold, (review here) I’ve been urging Peaness to grow. 

I wrote about Peaness in my top ten of 2015 (here) and could barely conceal my joy after seeing them live for the first time at Leicester’s Handmade festival (eFestivals review here). 

Last night at a free Huw Stephens presents gig at The Social, they once again proved why they’re worthy of full attention. They make a fine sound for a three piece; lovely harmonies and melodies that hark back to your finest summer ever. It might be cold outside but Peaness cheerily warm the very cockles of your heart (and yes, I did use cockle deliberately there).

The trio smile on stage like it’s going out of fashion; there’s no moody faux here or mumbling grumbling. Instead, the between-song banter revolves around Gregg’s vegan rolls, whether or not Huw Stephens is actually in attendance and how they’re heading home to Chester after a late-night radio session (and this gig) because work beckons in the morning. An exhausting schedule but not one that appears to break the spirit. 

I go to the gig with a friend, Gary. On paper, Peaness are probably not his thing with his preference being for a meatier (or folkier) sound. But his head sways and toe-taps from the start. “I’d go and see these again given the opportunity”, he reveals.

It is very hard to not love Peaness. 

 

There are a couple of other bands playing this showcase. Caro are tight, competent and destined for bigger stages. They’re not afraid to mix things up a bit though obvious reference points would be Alt-J and Wild Beasts. “Ooh, this one’s very XTC“, says Gary – and he’s most certainly right. 

 

The first band of the evening, Kelora, didn’t entirely grab our attention. But that was no fault of theirs. Gary and I were still catching up after not seeing each other for almost a year and so arrived in the midst of their set. The insane levels of chatter from one table near to us rendered listening to the act nigh-on impossible – but from what I did hear, this was light, uncomplicated pop, not the finished article in terms of a live show but possibly intriguing on record. 

 

Another great night out in London watching music put on for free. And a reminder that gig-going is always better when you’re sharing the experience with mates.  

Flo & Joan – Leicester Curve – Saturday February 9th

Thinking that I was likely to be in Spain still, I initially had to turn down the annual approach from the Leicester Mercury to review some shows as part of the Leicester Comedy festival. 

But, with the sudden change of plans, I got in touch with them asking if I could be their reserve weekend reviewer. The initial reviewer dropped out of seeing Flo & Joan at Curve and I stepped up to the plate. Here’s my pre-edited words that were probably printed in yesterday’s paper… 

 

Flo and Joan must be pinching themselves. Worthy recipients of the Comedy Festival award for ‘best musical-comedy act’ in 2018, they’re no longer destined to be playing small rooms in pubs. Here they are playing Curve’s main theatre on a weekend night. “We were a bit nervous about the upgrade”, the quirky sisters confess towards the end of their ninety minute set of two halves.

But they needn’t have worried. In many ways, their precise and professional performance style is ideal for Curve’s County-set, venturing out of their Harborough and Hinckley enclaves to chuckle and occasionally whoop at the songs on offer. Flo, bespectacled and healthily geeky, mostly perches behind her keyboard uttering dry quips whilst Joan, seemingly the more confident of the two, is left to do the audience interaction bits whilst playing a mini-castanet at her seat. Both harmonise and pronounce exquisitely. Even when their songs aren’t pant-wettingly funny, there’s enough delight to be found in just listening to their music. 

Fortunately, this is a show where the laughs are plentiful. Newer material is delivered in the longer first half, a fine mix of gentle observational stuff and story-telling yarn. The audience can’t help but marvel as the tongue-twisting tale of ‘Carol, the cracker packer’ is despatched with crisp confidence. Many moan with personal insight as depressing stats about divorce are reeled off in the wedding song. Things really sparkle as the end of the first half looms and, in an effort to prove how cool and contemporary musical comedy can be, the girls get all jazzy on their resplendent array of recorders. 

The shorter second half is filled with back-catalogue classics. The sisters ponder politely how they would kill their sibling before noting the importance of bees for human existence in a funky track that must surely have drawn influence from The Flight Of The Conchords. 

As the show draws to a close, we’re disappointed to discover that we’ve been a tad duped by Nicola and Rosie. Flo and Joan are not their real names but rather the names of grandparents. That disappointment though is short-lived as we’re taken on an English folk-homage, a luscious alliterative tale about Linda that grows like an old lady swallowing a fly into the highlight of the night for many. 

Flo and Joan’s appeal is broad. There’s nothing niche about their precise, talent-laden comedy and you rather suspect that arena gigs could well be next on their trajectory. Those at Curve tonight have witnessed the start of that transition. 

 

 

 

July Jones, VC Pines and Jylda – The Social – Tuesday February 5th

I’ve been to The Social on Little Portland Street before. I don’t remember this until I turn up at the free show tonight and recall how awkward it can be down in this basement room to see anything on the stage. Back then though it was an industry showcase of fingering folk from the bearded John Smith. We were hanging from the rafters. Tonight, for The Fix’s first promotion of 2019 we’re not. 

That’s not to say it’s empty here; it’s more of a pleasant hum as the three up and coming acts do their best to entertain us. Much like last night’s venture (review here), the variety impresses. It’s just a shame that it all wraps up before it’s really had chance to begin.

I don’t catch the very start of Jylda’s set which is a shame because, on balance, she’s probably my favourite of the trio on display tonight. She presses some keys, sets into motion some wonky electronica and then dances quite sexily with flamboyant flailing arms. I can’t take my eyes away from the red, curtain-net veil that’s pinned into her black hair. Jylda tells all that her forthcoming single is called ‘Torrential River’ and then proceeds to perform an industrial dark pop. You wish that she had a full band behind her so that she could simply focus on her movement. “Do you wanna dance?”, she asks and few are able to resist the charms of this performer who has the stagecraft if not the songs quite yet. 

 

 

VC Pines is confident in his voice (as well he should be). This is soulful, singer-songwriter stuff pared down from the ‘normal’ full-on seven piece band. If you want to see that there’s a Lexington show coming up in April but for now it’s just VC and his bassist, Andrew. In places it goes jazz chord and controlled falsetto. I find myself desperately hoping that they cover Billy Paul’s ‘Me and Mrs Jones’ for that’s their space but instead VC takes on the more challenging task of The Pixies ‘Where Is My Mind?’. It sounds nothing like the original save for the angst. There’s clearly talent here but, for me at least, there now needs to be a hook – perhaps the full band show gives that. 

 

 

July Jones makes me smile from the beginning to the end of her short set. Taking to the stage as a girl group trio, it soon becomes clear that the one in the middle is July. Full of fake gold chains and choreographed dance moves, the attitude is apparent from the off. “Fuck you up like a porn star“, I think they sing appealingly whilst the boys in caps on keyboards and decks look on from behind. There’s no doubting that there’s something here that could quite feasibly gather momentum, their last song being July’s next single. “Liar, liar, pants on fire”, goes the chorus as it mines itself into your head. 

 

 

 I’m loving these nights in London. Inevitably, personal preference says that some music will appeal more than other. Yet all that I’ve seen over the past two days has brave purpose and talent. I might take a breather tomorrow. 

 

Rubber Jaw, Nenah and Dualeh Oke – Victoria Dalston – Monday February 4th 2019

I’ve not blogged for some time. And for that I make little apology. Life has taken some fabulous turns and I’ve been lining my ducks up (so to speak).

I’m no longer in Spain. I didn’t quite make a year in the villa. One day I might regret that I cut my sabbatical short by a few months but the opportunity presented by the new day job was one too good to turn down. 

And working in the centre of London is something i’ve always wanted to do. With so many live gig opportunities on the doorstep, I am truly now a man in a sweetshop. I’ll be spending a fair few weekday nights in this fair city and what better to do than to scan the guides for the bizarre, the up and coming and not-yet-famous talent. 

 

It’s a Monday night in February yet still the gig-going options are plentiful. A few catch the eye but none more so than the ‘sous le radar’ night at the Victoria in Dalston. It’s not a venue I’ve been to before but the draw of seeing (for no door charge) Rubber Jaw for the first time, recently signed to Alan McGee’s new vinyl 7 inch label, is an enticing one. He mightn’t have signed a truly great band for a while (some would uncharitably argue since Oasis) but for me his stamp is sufficient.

It’s the rather peculiar beauty of nights such as this one that you’ll need to be open-minded about the variety on offer. It’s new and under the radar but that’s where any similarity between the acts on stage stops. To my mind, it makes for a better night if you’re not afraid to mix up the genres but many of the indie kids might disagree staying in the bar or planning their travel to only arrive once McGee’s protégés take to the stage. 

And that’s a shame. Dualeh Oke opens proceedings with warmth and awkward charm. A rapper with a backing tape, this young lad from East London shows enough within his four tunes tonight to warrant further investigation. He connects by confessing that he writes tunes in the toilets during breaks from work. The jazzy overtones of his songs about Instagram fame almost descend into trip-hop. He takes us further down during his dark fourth number, Dualeh’s comment on how he can’t always best communicate with his Somalian Dad. 

I head to the bar and order another pint of milk. No, dear readers, I haven’t changed that much. Milk is a locally brewed lager in these parts. I like the Victoria. Trendy yet simple and grounded, it’s got a decent choice of beers and a friendly bunch of staff. What’s not to like?

Nenah, the middle act of the night is not without merit either. Confident, urban pop, it’s taken out of the obvious with an occasional sprinkling of what could be described as a sort of middle Eastern dust. She’s probably got enough material to fill this short set by herself but generously gives up some of her slot to a K-rapper called Wu. Wu bounces energetically, hyper-actively and not always convincingly around the stage urging to all to feel his energy before Nenah returns for her last track, Sick. She has a bass player sporting a Lionel Richie T-shirt and you concede that there is something of the 80’s here; with a bit more polish, there’s an early-years Madonna waiting to get out. 

Rubber Jaw are nothing like Dualeh or Nenah but everything like every indie guitar band from the past few years. And it’s no bad thing sounding like Blossoms if that’s the space you’ve set your eyes upon. With familiar tricks and licks they run through their repertoire with cool swagger and nonchalant mumble. They’ve been generously watching the other acts of the night and such decent behaviour doesn’t go unnoticed in these quarters. Nice lads from Essex, you concede that they’ve got the tunes to make further impact in this big bad world. Unsurprisingly, they save their McGee released single, Feeling Funny, to their finale. It’s good but not necessarily their best; I prefer their third tune played, belatedly announced as their next single coming out in March by their lead singer. 

All told I’m pretty excited by tonight. I would have paid a few quid for the privilege of seeing these three acts run through their short sets but that doesn’t seem to be the aim of ‘Sous Le Radar’s’ promoter. With so much on my doorstep, I can’t wait to discover more nights such as this. 

JP Harris – Ent Shed Bedford – November 17th 2018

I feel robbed by the imposter. JP Harris has surely given a sort of shout-out to me from the stage of Bedford’s Ent Shed and  somebody else, a nemesis in a front row seat, has just claimed the glory. 

“We’ve got somebody who’s travelled all the way from Spain tonight to see us”, he offers, mirroring some text we’d previously exchanged. “It’s a great country – we’ll get there next year”, he might say in his Southern drawl but I’m distracted, already reeling from the blow. 

JP now thinks that I’m that distinctly uncool person sitting to his right, the one waving at him like a deranged, drunken harlot. She clearly doesn’t  know the words to his tunes like I do; she’s not getting his references to great Country songwriters of the dim and distant past; FFS, I bet she’s never even been to Spain for longer than that week in Benidorm. 

My anger isn’t healthy. There’s little that can be done. I temporarily toy with the idea of standing up and arguing the toss but “No, I’m your Spanish fan”, seems like a foolish intervention. I anonymously slink into my chair and resolve to get on with enjoying the gig. 

And enjoying yourself at a JP Harris gig is an easy pastime. This is a songwriter who’s at a pinnacle of sorts. His latest album, Sometimes Dogs Bark At Nothing, sees the slightest of diversions from the out and out country that’s made his previous records so great. But the variety, the veering into blues, soft-rock and folk, simply makes this two hours in his (and his astonishingly talented bands) company more palatable. And ultimately it does still feel like we’re being transported to a backstreet bar in Nashville.

The Ent Shed is a new venue for Sonic Breakfast; it’s an impressive community hall, an extended skittles alley in the backwaters of Bedford. Attached to the Gordon Arms pub, it’s a place to love, cherish and value. Capping capacity at 100 people, it seems to be building a fine reputation in promoting these sorts of gigs. The plethora of punters in cowboy shirts and wrangler jeans have clearly clocked on that if they want their fix of slightly under-the-radar Nashville quality this is the place to be. 

The sound could be better. JP’s songs come alive with the lyrics, sometimes poignant, often sad but mostly true stories about past misdemeanours and struggles. Happier tales do surface from time to time. If only his vocal was slightly elevated within the mix we could engage more. As it is, we marvel at the playing and at the tunes without quite getting the full blow by blow account.  

His banter is engaging between songs. Hirsute with the best of beards, authoritative and tattooed to the hilt, you’re inclined to accept his murmured wisdom without question. He talks genuinely about the extreme hassle that women face in the music industry before launching into set highlight, ‘Lady In The Spotlight’. A curious explorer,wanderer and reveller, he talks of leaving home when young and the impact it had on his Mum. Crazy tours of the past, lost love, mistakes, regrets, solitude and his battles with alcohol also come to the fore. ‘When I Quit Drinking’ and ‘I Only Drink Alone’ being gut-wrenching statements of his stark honesty. 

I’d hate to give the impression that this is all navel-gazing therapy though; for the most part it’s a rollicking ride, a bar-room blitz, a storming hoot. The pedal steel merges with the guitars and drums to create a pretty party on this Saturday night. 

Miss Tess supports. Part of JP’s band, her set is a gentle prelude to the main event. Clearly a Nashville name, she duets acoustically with Thomas Bryan Eaton (also JP’s pedal steelist) giving a showcase of her cabaret-country tunes. Like JP, she’s also an entertaining raconteur moaning that her professional touring life gets in the way of her love life. She glows when telling all that a marriage proposal came her way earlier on this tour in Scotland and delights in disappointing Bedford’s Tourist Information Office by questioning the greatness of the castle. I didn’t know Bedford had a castle. I won’t now go. Essentially though, the songs stand up to scrutiny and I resolve to check out more when I get back to Spain. 

Like all here, I’ve loved my night out in Bedford. I’ll head back to Spain happy. As the gig draws to a close I think about waiting around to put right the wrong and to claim my prize. I realise such behaviour would simply be churlish and head out to the car with a spring in my socks. 

 

 

 

 

Wovoka Gentle – Peculiar Form Of Sleep

I’m glad to see that Wovoka Gentle are slowly and gradually expanding their fan-base. One of the many perks of going to lots of summer festivals is that you ‘discover’ live acts that you quickly grow to love. You get home, clean out the mud from your tent and reflect on what you’ve seen.

Here’s an extract from my eFestivals review of Nozstock back in 2017 (full review here)..

Earlier in the day, I’ve accidentally stumbled across a new favourite band here though. Think of a folkier version of Caribou and you’d be in the right space for imagining Wovoka Gentle. A three piece, they all convene around an array of instruments in the centre of the stage. With electronic bleeps merging in with more traditional ‘folk’ instruments and their own sampled and looped voices, they produce a blissed-out psychedelia perfect for a Sunday afternoon. There are criminally few here to watch, perhaps because Wovoka Gentle are a name not widely known but I’d recommend checking them out with haste. I curse myself when wondering about what other delights I might have missed around Nozstock – though you can’t be everywhere.”

Given the new favourite band status, I’ve been disappointingly tardy in writing about them on Sonic Breakfast. A whole year has passed since Nozstock. 

A few weeks ago, a lovely PR agency informed me about a new Wovoka Gentle release. This song, 1,000 Opera Singers Working In Starbucks, was right up Sonic Breakfast’s street. It even had a sparkling video with mad animations. I listened, watched and loved. Diligently I added their name to my makeshift list of bands I really must feature. And didn’t. 

Last Friday news arrived of another new Wovoka Gentle tune, Peculiar Form Of Sleep. I was on my way to Benidorm for Visorfest and, in theory, I’d have time to piece some words together whilst sitting on the tram between Alicante and Benidorm. Instead, I watched as we hugged the coastline, passing pretty coves and stretches of beach less populated than the towns book-ending the tram ride.

Wovoka Gentle played London’s ICA a few nights ago. I wish I’d been there. As I’d witnessed back a-while, this trio of clever conjurers magically play with time signatures, traditional rhythms and folk melody to give the most compelling of shows. One wonders if they’re actually as laidback as they appear or if offstage they’re more highly strung. It feels right to write about Wovoka Gentle whenever the mood takes because that’s the ethic they seem to promote. Like a British version of Animal Collective, it’s fascinating to see how this tribe will develop. 

I might write about them again and it mightn’t take a year. They remain a favourite band. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The British IBM – Where Is Matthew Smith?

The pre-teenage Sean wasn’t half a geek. I’d progressed from collecting football stickers but held court in the playground when it came to discussing all things ZX Spectrum. Others, arguably from more ‘middle class’ homes, swore by the virtues of the BBC computer (and some were swayed by the Commodore) but I was loyal to my Sinclair. I once had a program I wrote in ‘basic’ for my ZX81 published in ZX Computing and was paid the princely sum of £5 for it. Raspberry Pi – eat your heart out.

I can recall my first evening playing Manic Miner like it was yesterday. I’d only recently advanced to the ZX Spectrum and it was all set up around the family TV in an act perhaps akin to watching the coronation a generation earlier. That little black box with rubbery keys, the standalone Ferguson cassette recorder beside it a vital component in loading the games. 

Manic Miner lurched out from the screen; a blitz of colour and sound that I’d never witnessed before from older TV consoles, Binatone bat and ball configurations. Collecting keys and avoiding comic monsters whilst pixels of ground vanished beneath your feet. I’m sure that I fell asleep that night to dream of toilet-seat creatures and crushing boots. It’s perhaps explains my love of all things psychedelic now.

And then came Jet Set Willy. A wonderful sprawling mass of a game. Frustrating and seemingly impossible to complete as you wandered around Willy’s mansion collecting objects. We’d use up our school lunch breaks thinking up how we might jump further to reach those objects just out of grasp. And report back the following day. We’d be at the newsagent on the day that Crash magazine came out using up our pittance of pocket money to devour the tips and gossip from the Spectrum world. 

Even back then, Matthew Smith, writer/programmer of Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy, was something of a hero. The magazines fed the myth; a bedroom programmer who we could all aspire to be in a few years time. We waited anxiously for news of other games from this genius, snippets that we could cling to in order to convince others (and ourselves) that the influence of the Spectrum was not waning. It never came. 

Yesterday, I received details of the song, ‘Where Is Matthew Smith?’, by the British IBM. Immediately I knew what this was going to be about. I had little need to read the attached press release. 

It’s brilliant – and the accompanying video is shot in my home town (just to clarify that’s Leicester and not Catral, the place in Spain where I currently reside). I think that the fact that Leicester houses the Retro Computer Museum was vaguely etched in my head but it’s not a place I’ve ever visited. Slightly out of town, it’s just open on Sundays and run by volunteers. The British IBM got special dispensation to film the video for ‘Where Is Matthew Smith?’ at the museum. The images take you back and I’m resolved to visit when I’m next in England. 

As for the tune – ninety seconds of power pop punk, expertly dispatched by geeks like me. Their ‘Jet Set Willy’ tune brings back so many memories as well. This afternoon I’m going to load up a Spectrum emulator on this pad and reminisce whilst playing the British IBM on repeat.