Dark Tea and Roscoe Roscoe – Shacklewell Arms – November 12th 2019

I’m in a new zone one property guardianship, an old, disused Natwest bank building that’s a stones throw from Angel Islington underground. It’s only been two weeks since I left the last one but it’s felt longer. Being without roots and living out of a suitcase in AirBNB’s is both exciting and exhausting. Having a bit more permanence, albeit with fewer rights of tenure than if I were renting, allows me the chance to think, to take stock and to get a bit comfortable. I stay in for a couple of nights getting my room to a level that can be lived in before the draw of the free London gig scene again entices me out.

It’s seriously so well connected here. I walk out of my front door to bus-stops galore. Different routes will take me to all of my favourite venues on these chilly, dark nights when walking and exploring is less of an option. 

I arrive at the Shacklewell Arms just in time to see Roscoe Roscoe. They’re a five piece who indulge in dreamy and woozy shoegaze-filled psychedelics. Their frontman, complete with a moptop that marks him out as true indie, flits between falsetto and a deeper singing style whilst the others in the band give the impression that this is little more than a prog-jam. They all know how to play but could now maybe look like they’re enjoying themselves more. A Mum of the band (years of gig going has got me well-skilled at spotting them) sings along with every note and dances wildly in the otherwise static and earnest crowd. Roscoe Roscoe’s overall impact is positive. Ultimately there’s something of interest happening here and I’d happily watch them again.

Dark Tea is the current musical vehicle of Gary Canino, a resident of Brooklyn, New York. His latest album, named after the band, is well worth listening to if skewed stoner Americana is your thing. Sitting somewhere between Wilco, Bright Eyes and Jeffrey Lewis on the music mind-map, Dark Tea are also a five piece tonight. It’s none too clear if this is a permanent arrangement (one of the guitar slots is taken by the orange jumper wielding guitarist from Roscoe Roscoe) or a temporary bulking of the sound. What is true is that the full band oozes with a shambolic shuffle that’s kind of endearing. Camino, sporting a Norwegian ice hockey jacket, sings with a muffled casualness; the lyrical quality slightly obscured by the deliberate half-effort. Dark Tea’s main guitarist shuts his eyes and looks towards heaven in an euphoric state as a ‘down to love’ mantra spins out. It’s over quickly. I must have been enjoying myself.

In between bands and after the sets have finished, the iconic Lawrence (from Felt, Denim and Go-kart Mozart) chooses some wayward tunes for our aural education. Bonus for sure. 

That’s what happens in London. It’s difficult to stay in.

Gazel and Gurl – St Pancras Old Church – November 4th 2019

2019 has been good for me. The nights draw in, the fireworks light up the sky, Christmas calls from around the corner and those of us with a romantic bent can’t help but get a bit reflective. At a ripe old age I’ve finally descended upon London and thrown myself into all that it has to offer. 

There are moments from the year, memories that can be plucked from its ether that will register above others. First visits to venues that I’ve since grown to love will always resonate. When I initially stumbled upon Hackney’s fine Paper Dress Vintage, I caught Gazel in full.flow. Gurl were her support band on that balmy evening as well. My review (here) suggests that I’d be a fool to not see Gazel again before the year is out. 

St Pancras Old Church is a venue I’ve wanted to get along to for a little while. The programme there tends towards acoustic Americana and that’s right up my alley as regular readers of Sonic Breakfast will know. But tonight, in a repeat viewing of that fine night back in May, Gazel and Gurl are once again challenged to warm me up. The seasons have changed; you need a coat and a mulled wine in addition to the acts tonight. The line-up is familiar.

St Pancras Old Church is an odd beast. I’ve been to music venues in decommissioned churches before yet it seems that this space still doubles up as a place of worship. Perhaps that why on entering that the atmosphere feels subdued; it’s like you’re gatecrashing a wedding of somebody you barely know. A cash bar sells an array of alcohol in cans and bottles. I crack open a can as I sit on one of the pew-like seats and feel desperately short-changed when I realise that my beer won’t quite fit in the hymn-book holder of the seat in front. 

It seems that Gurl are similarly spooked by their religious surrounds. Their lead singer says as much a few songs in. The vocal range is as impressive as the first time I saw them and yet the overall performance feels more restrained. The songs still stand out as quality as the music ebbs and flows between 80’s influenced pop and fulł-on glam. The band again repeat how they fortuitously met Gazel via a social media connection. There’s clearly much love and respect between the two. And they’re a band you can’t help but like.

Gurl might have been a bit constrained by the church but the opposite is true of Gazel. Where Paper Dress Vintage might have felt a bit too hemmed in, the extra space afforded to Gazel within this venue allows her expansive vision to truly come alive. So, lights in strong shades of purple, pink, white and red bounce around the nave and ceiling of the church like spirits on the escape from Gazel’s Book of spells. This is the official album release of her Book of Spells, a perfect opportunity to marry the spiritual with the concept in appropriate surrounds. 

Gazel takes to the stage clutching a miners lamp. Wrapped in a green robe and with long curls running down her back, she’s every inch the fantasy figure from your favourite fairy story. She sings sweetly as her band (a keyboardist and drummer) create the fabric. Like Madonna in her Ray Of Light period, Gazel draws upon middle Eastern rhythm to add flourish to her pop. She dances provocatively and giddily twists, a dervish of fun in a sanctuary of friends. 

For some, the pretension within the art might be too much. It’s true that the concept is a busy one that demands attention. And Gazel’s hyperactivity doesn’t cease; she bangs a drum, she reads poetry from her book and now she plays notes on her violin. For most though, the overall impact is engaging. And when all are urged to stand and dance at the end of the set, we oblige. The room has gone evangelical in its praise of Gazel. 

With her debut album launched, we wait to see what her next twist, turn and trick might be. 

LegPuppy and Dismembered Sound Booth – The Victoria – October 31st 2019

I’ve never much celebrated Halloween. Maybe that’s a generational thing? I can’t recall dressing up as a scene from a nightmare and knocking on doors asking for Haribo chews in my youth. I guess for some the thrill of putting on a witches costume, plastering your face in errant make-up and taking pictures of yourself to add to your favourite social media account is too strong a pull. 

Thank goodness that London still has the free gig scene to dip into instead if Halloween does not float your boat. And sometimes those gigs are altogether stranger than the main event.

Up at the Victoria in Dalston, there are more than your fair share of zombies walking around, more than you’d get on a typical Thursday. I’m here at one of my favourite London venues for LegPuppy’s Halloween extravaganza. So weird and theatrically out-there are Legpuppy that every day is arguably Halloween for this oddball art collaboration.

But before LegPuppy do their thing, I arrive in time to catch Dismembered Sound Booth’s delightful set of off-kilter revolutionary electro-pop. There are four of them and the two up front who mostly sing have painted their faces as a nod to the night’s celebrations. “You’re so fucking beautiful you make me sick”, they all sing on repeat as a video jumps through all sorts of image on the screen behind. 

It doesn’t take me long to realise that I love what Dismembered Sound Booth are creating here. They rant against Hackney trendies, the sadness of alcoholism and celebrity culture, never standing still for long enough to be pigeon-holed. It’s as if Jarvis Cocker formed a group from the remnants of The Shamen, Happy Mondays and Chumbawumba and convinced all that they should perform like Public Service Broadcasting. It’s playful and sinister in equal measure. We all nod at the wisdom of lines like ‘I choose chemicals to make me more conversational’ and delight as the two who take singing duties feed each other fake drinks. It’s doesn’t all make sense – and neither should it. Dismembered Sound Booth end with ‘The Fuck Show’ and we stand gobsmacked. 

 

But that feeling of joyous bewilderment gets higher still when LegPuppy take to the stage. Instrument wise, it’s set up like a DJ set. A man in a leather gimp mask stands behind the box of beats orchestrating proceedings whilst all manner of theatrical things occur around. A spurned bride, dressed to resemble a Tim Burton character slowly strokes a puppy (of the cuddly toy variety) whilst a menacing predator strolls around. Behind both is LegPuppy’s Bez – a crazy dancer who bounces around whilst being buggered by an inflatable ghost. It’s truly something else. 

Music wise, LegPuppy serve up some pretty dark, industrial fodder. Lyrically, the angry tone is often lightened by the humour. ‘Selfie stick, narcissistic prick’ runs the chant as the hypnotic rhythm reels you in. There’s points being made and points being scored as the performance builds to a cacophonous convulsion. It’s all simply wondrous.

Another band follow but they seemed blessed with an ounce of normality and after the wild scenes from the two acts I’ve seen tonight my eyes can take no more. I pass ghouls and ghosts, witches and wizards on the wander home but it all seems tame in comparison to the night I’ve had.

Blossoms, whenyoung and Inhaler – Sebright Arms – October 28th 2019

Something isn’t right. I’ve been at the Sebright Arms before on a Monday night and it’s never been this busy. People are queuing outside the door of the basement to get in. The 200 capacity club is rammed to the rafters and all for an act that I can find little out about online. Who the fuck are Zuzu’s Petals? An obscure American grunge influenced band from back in the 1990’s with a few Spotify hits each month? The kids must clearly be onto something here. I hang around the sweat-laden basement to see what follows. 

Jack Saunders is apparently the late night Radio 1 indie DJ of choice. Fair play to him – that’s some gig to get and he must hold a fair bit of sway amongst up and coming bands. Tonight is part of his series of  ‘Hopscotch’ gigs. He jumps onto the stage to introduce Zuzu’s Petals.

I’m very sorry“, he tells the assembled throng. “Zuzu’s Petals have been unable to make it.“. Nobody seems that disappointed.

“But as we often do at Hopscotch, we’ve been able to find a last minute replacement. I’m delighted to introduce to you – Blossoms.

The crowd, small and rabid, go ape. They delight in their luck though many clearly had more of an inkling about what was going on than I did. I’ve seen Blossoms before but only on much larger festival stages. I’d enjoyed their melody and songwriting but would never have described them as urgent and immediate. Tonight in such a small venue that’s exactly what they are. They rattle through their tunes. Charlemagne sounds bold and modern; the crowd are pleased by the pick and mix attitude of Blossoms; they mosh like their lives depend upon it. 

 

Truth is that even without Blossoms, this free gig is a thing of real quality. The sub-headliner whenyoung have been ripping up the festival circuit this summer. Coming across as the  missing link between The Cranberries and Blondie, they’ve got a captivating front person in Aoife Power. At times her vocal seems to be stretching a bit too far and that’s either the charm or the downfall of whenyoung. Apparently, they count Bono as a friend and fan.

 

And that might explain why Inhaler are also on tonight’s bill. I’m stuck at the front of the queue, trying to get into the venue whilst ‘industry types’ and their partners push on past. I have time to look up Inhaler on my phone and note that Bono’s son is in the band. I’m not much of a U2 fan but I’m also sure that my son wouldn’t want to be judged by his Dad’s output. So, I listen as best I can; I get the slightest of glimpses of the band and they look the part. For a moment, I convince myself that this is why the room is so very crowded. It’s not ground breaking but it’s indie guitar music done with a style and flourish. They’ll go far. 

 

Fame and celebrity are funny old beasts. I can’t deny that I feel pretty lucky to have chanced upon this evening; it’s another London gig that I’ll never forget. I also wonder whether I should have missed out so that a proper fan of tonight’s acts could have taken my place. 

Still – onwards and upwards.

Ralph Pelleymounter and Charlotte Carpenter – The MOTH club – October 20th 2019

I have to move out of my property guardianship this week. I’m sad although I can’t pretend that I didn’t know the risks. In exchange for cheap rents and communal living in London’s zone one, you learn to put up with the uncertain length of stay, the chance that you might be turfed out with a months notice. I have somewhere else to go but it’s not yet ready. 

That’s why Sunday was largely spent emptying my room of big and bulky items, transporting them to storage for temporary safe-keeping. It looks like I’ll be back in AirBNB’s for a while.

After a day of such heavy lifting, I was glad to have an evening gig to go to. I’ve mentioned once or twice on these pages before but Hackney’s MOTH club really is the bees knees – and the chance to see Ralph Pelleymounter, frontman from To Kill A King, is too good an opportunity to turn down.

It’s not as if I’m a To Kill A King fan though. They’re one of those many bands that exist on the periphery of my vision. I think I’ve seen them before at festivals and been vaguely impressed by their twisted alignment to your standard Mumford and Sons fare. That’s probably harsh. Ralph’s fan base gathered here would certainly think so. They know his material, love his beard and sing along to all of the words. “The most under-rated songwriter operating in British music at the moment”, says one fan to me in a moments break from the music. 

We’ve already been treated to a set from Charlotte Carpenter. In all my years living in Leicester and writing about music there, it’s inconceivable to imagine that our paths have not crossed before. I’ve seen Charlotte’s name on bills up at the Cookie and The Musician and must have missed her by minutes. But no bells are rung when she takes to the stage solo. She’s a talent with a rich, sweet voice and a bluesy Americana about her storytelling. She’s bereft at the loss of her Nan and has songs about the long drive through Germany on hearing of her passing. ‘Follow You Down’ adds to the overall cathartic experience. Later, Charlotte joins Ralph on stage to offer select backing vocals. She sings Ralph’s praises. He’s a fine man to tour with by all accounts.

 

And it is hard not to warm to Ralph. He’s got a full band on stage with him tonight’s final gig of this tour. The rest of the tour has been more acoustic and solo. Perhaps this is why tonight’s stronger numbers are the slower, more stripped-back offerings. They’ve had more time to settle over the past month as the tour progresses. 

  As Ralph observes early on, these are songs about anxiety and feeling powerless. There are waltzes about heartbreak and soulful Americana offerings about loving somebody most when hungover, tunes about being with a desperately drunken lover. Ralph introduces latest single, AWOL, by saying it’s about liking your partner but finding people in your workplace frustrating. Lots of Amens are said in response by the Sunday evening crowd. 

Ultimately, it’s a pretty uplifting experience. ‘Get Drunk, Get High’ is saved until the end of the set. It strikes me that this could be the best funeral song ever. I probably need to cheer up a bit for work tomorrow and worry less about domestic situations over which I have no control. 

Jade Jackson & Laky – The Old Blue Last – October 1st 2019

Will this guy ever shut up? A super-stalker of a fan has placed himself at the front of Old Blue Last’s stage and is using every opportunity, every break between songs, to tell Jade Jackson, the emerging Californian Americana star, that he loves her. He probably doesn’t realise quite how disruptive his over-the-top obsession is and mostly Jade is able to steer the attention away from him and back towards her. “Oh, you can play every song of mine on guitar can you?“, Jade observes. “Good to know should I get tired.

I go to a lot of gigs at the Old Blue Last and it’s fair to say that I’ve never seen the average gig-goer so advanced in age. Perhaps that’s a direct consequence of the music on offer; the timeless bar-room spit of cool Country is never going to seem relevant to the grime-fuelled  popsters who  typically frequent this place. And they’re missing out. 

Laky, support for the evening, is probably the youngest in here. She takes to the stage armed just with an acoustic guitar. The beanie she wears gives her folk credibility; her confident chat and well-composed songs the air of a protest singer who’s not quite settled upon a cause. The heckler at the front auditions for the main event by also directing far too much between-song adulation towards Laky. She’s clearly not quite sure how to deal with such unrequited love and so offers up a bit of Country. “Whoops, Americana I mean”, she says, correcting herself quickly.

When Jade Jackson last visited London, she gigged at The Slaughtered Lamb. Jade’s proud that she’s now playing a larger venue and few would bet against that ascendancy continuing when she returns again – for tonight Jade’s composed, languid songwriting really does entice those watching. When it’s good, this is a very special talent indeed. 

Jade reveals that she almost chose never to play set highlight, Tonight, live. Initially cautious of baring too much, this autobiographical maelstrom is a hard-hitting exercise in cathartic release. “Tonight I’m confused but that don’t take away my right to refuse”, Jade sings, whilst retelling an all-too-familiar tale of predatory behaviour. 

Jade’s band of Devin, Tyler and Julian, seriously talented sessioners, back her to the hilt. They can all play but Julian on guitar particularly stands out. Here’s a man who can make his instrument sing and is given plenty of opportunity to do so with solos a feature of most tunes. 

“Give this man a microphone”, says Jade before launching into a cover of Elvis’ ‘Burning Love’. Most of the crowd are in no doubt though – they want more of the act on stage and no encore from the talkative twat. 

 

Slurp, Attawalpa and Gladboy – The Shacklewell Arms – September 30th 2019

I realise that a mistake has been made. I’m standing here at a venue (which shall remain nameless) watching the second band of the evening. Two songs in and it’s clear that they’re slightly better than the first act but only marginally so. The first band were a sub-standard Biffy Clyro specialising in that dull, tuneless and turgid, exasperating Rock thing that tends to take itself far too seriously. I might be a glutton for punishment but this is simply foolish. 

A quick check on my phone reveals that there’s a free gig of interest on up at the Shacklewell Arms. It’s a taxi ride away at the best of times but tonight with the rain bucketing down that Uber is a necessity. On arrival, I immediately know that I’ve made a wise choice to abort on the first gig. 

Gladboy are playing. I only find out that they’re Gladboy after the event and only catch three of their songs but it’s enough to realise that this young bunch from Norwich are worthy of further attention. Mixing a punkish energy with a psychedelic and woozy doo-wop, they’ve got tunes and guile. The guitarist-vocalist takes drumming duty for the final tune whilst the fab backing singer stands centre stage, deliberately nonchalant in a red leather skirt. The crowd appreciate Gladboy’s efforts and you can see why. 

Attawalpa are up next. They take an age to get ready with front man, Luis (Attawalpa) hiding himself away in the toilet when the all-clear is given from the sound desk. I guess nervousness is a funny thing. Luis is engaging to watch, over-the-top black mascara highlighting the frustration and creativity at the sets core. Things start with a skewed nod to Pink Floyd before moving into a Brit Pop space. Luis’ lyrics excite and are conveyed with a mix of Cocker and Walker. He jumps out into the crowd loosely acknowledging friends and family who are looking on. Tall women, in all likelihood models, take to the floor to dance energetically. There’s a lot to take in and Attawalpa deserves further attention.

There’s some confusion over the name of tonight’s headliner. Advertised on the poster as Dragon’s Daughter, it would appear that this all-girl trio from France have now renamed themselves Slurp. CDs at the merch stall have the original name crossed out and the new name scrawled over in black marker. Slurp confess that they don’t speak much English but then proceed to introduce each song with fine diction. Jangly, bubblegum punk-pop is a genre of choice for Sonic Breakfast so this was always going to appeal but the lively delivery just adds to the pleasure. The songs might sound like three-minute throwaways but lyrically they’re taking on bigger issues; these women are hard, independent and not to be messed with.  I want to see more – and it appears that Slurp have more to play – but we pass 11 and I guess that Monday evening licence regulations mean that an abrupt halt ensues. 

September will shortly be over for another year. The rain still pours down. Shops begin to fill with Christmas stock; lights shimmer in the residue of drizzle. One constant remains – every night in this town, some fine bands will be playing (and some shit ones as well).