LIFE – Marathon Kebabs – September 18th 2019

Keith Jobey has a lot to be proud of. My mate from Leicester (via the North East) has been touting LIFE for as long as I’ve known him. I think I saw this fine band from Hull a few years ago at a festival and saw little special yet Keith bought the T-shirt. I was wrong and he was right.

In an altogether odd turn of events, I’m now standing in the back room of the iconic Marathon kebabs on Chalk Farm Road. LIFE are about to play a press show in advance of their second album release. And Keith should be here. But he’s not. I message him on Facebook to say that I’m having a lovely time. I’m a cunt like that. 

My initial aversion is long gone. Any lingering doubts were put to bed in Brighton this year at the Alternative escape. LIFE’s late night Sunday night set up at the out-of-town Admiral will surely go down as a thing of music folklore in years to come. And I was there. As was Keith. I wrote about it here.

This room is exciting. 

Marathon Kebabs is a venue steeped in popular culture history. The staff are ace and the kebabs fab. It’s an early show but I still eat the meat; my taste buds are confused by having such delicacy before midnight when sober. Once the late-night haunt of all manner of decadence, it’s a calmer space these days. But not necessarily right now. 

The back room at Marathon Kebabs has a crazy artex ceiling whipped up like upside-down gooey yet solid meringue. You fear that Mez, LIFE’s energetic frontman might do himself a serious injury as he jumps ever closer to the white spikes. He climbs onto chairs and benches, throws himself totally into it but ultimately avoids any danger. Promoting the album, A Picture Of Good Health, has only just begun and it’d be foolish to incapacitate yourself so immediately. 

And what an album it sounds like it’s going to be. The whirlwind tour through most of the tracks that we get tonight suggest that the band continue to develop both sonically and lyrically. Lydia’s pumping bass lines move things along with pace whilst Mez’s gnarly charm whilst singing is a wonder to behold. They’re embracing the personal and the political now; ‘Half Pint Fatherhood’ and current single ‘Bum Hour’ both draw attention to the plight and delight of being a single parent in Hull. Both are stand-out moments of the gig. 

There’s no stage at Marathon kebabs but that seems to suit LIFE just fine. They’d only break that fourth wall from the off anyway. This is a band that delights in community and interaction. They’re in your face and in the crowd so much that there are no boundaries. And it’s this, alongside the fact that the songs are bloody good that makes you want to see LIFE succeed.

The gig ends as quickly as it began. The four from Hull have laid on their fodder in London. Sweat drips from the walls, the ceiling and from our brows. It’s been a sprint at Marathon. I text Keith a ‘Wish You Were Here’ and head to the pub.

 

The Wants & PVA – The Waiting Room – September 16th 2019

I’d seen The Wants play when I was down in Brighton this year for The Great Escape. Then, their mix of angular, post-punk style had whetted an appetite (review here) that could now perhaps be sated by a Monday night freebie at Stoke Newington’s finest, The Waiting Room.

PVA are the support. It’s not until they take to the stage that I’m reminded that I’ve seen them before. I spend much of their opening number trying to get my memory to work eventually realising that it was barely weeks ago at The Old Blue Last, a gig I chose to simply enjoy and make no notes about.

But I recall liking this trio. Indeed, I might have even said so in passing comment to members of this distinctive genre-hopping band when they left that stage. They begin with an electro-punk soundclash banger, a phrase that could be ‘I was feeling so high’ shouted over the top of the track by Ella. PVA don’t want to let you settle though and before long we’re embracing industrial strobes and samples with post-punk dance noise. “I’m losing my voice“, says Ella unsurprisingly before PVA go all Hacienda circa 1990 on us. They pack a lot into this half hour set but there’s still time for Josh to vocoder his voice and take us into skewed dance-pop territory. “Like Cabaret Voltaire crossed with The XX”, says Shane, an impressed and charming screenwriter from LA I chat with in the break between bands. 

 

The Wants are two-thirds made up from members of those other prominent New York post-punkers, Bodega. I guess the maths behind that means you could call this a side project (of sorts). 

Dressed all in black with a concessionary pair of red socks, the  image is clearly important. They hurtle through their set; the urgent bass lines funking along whilst stalactite-shards of guitar stab into you. When Madison dances, it’s frenzied and angular; he bends into incredible poses like an action man with stiff joints. 

Lyrically, The Wants urge us to feel the weakness as we pick up the pieces. They remind us that they have no intimacy and so are never vulnerable. The cold, clinical tone, deliberately done, heightens the dramatic intent. 

It ends all too quickly. “We don’t have anymore”, says Madison after half an hour. But urged on by a crowd left wanting, a quick band chat leads to an encore of sorts; a strident instrumental piece that can’t fail to get us dancing. 

 

ADMT, Archie Langley & Tom King – The Social – Tuesday September 3rd

My love for London life has taken a literal bashing over the past couple of weeks. I thought that I was immune to the danger. I walked in the clouds, hopping onto night buses from gig to gig without a care in the world. Such naive freedom came to a grinding bump over the August Bank Holiday weekend when I was mugged, punched, bruised, battered and scuffed-up in broad daylight. 

It’s fucked with my confidence and messed with my head. 

The police are on the case and CCTV has captured the robbery in full technicolor glory. As time passes, I’ve no doubt that my confidence will once again build. But for now I’m content to just do a couple of gigs a week as opposed to the typical five. My bedroom, the rocking chair and a new vintage record player will see more action. 

I did head out on Tuesday though. Invites from Propeller records are never to be sniffed at. The Norwegian artist label are branching out via Propeller UK into a new market. And tonight at The Social, there are three acoustic acts that have been linked as early signings.

I arrive half way through Tom King’s opening set but see enough to realise that here we have an exciting new soul-pop talent. Only 17, he’s got a bit to learn about stagecraft but that’ll come. He already has a voice that’s the spit of Boy George at his most soulful. Tom’s polite and relaxed; he introduces each tune as if he’s communicating to a jazz crowd – and perhaps that’s where he’s heading. The Robyn cover that he ends his set with takes on new life in these surrounds. One to watch. 

 

It seems that most of the crowd at the Social are here to see the second act to take to the stage. According to his PR brief, Archie Langley draws his influence from the likes of Coldplay and Ben Howard. As I don’t this could be a painful half hour. Archie is tall and anguished. You suspect that he’s not really experienced extreme and tumultuous times in his tender years but that doesn’t stop him mining the grief. “Still feel the pain when you say my name”, he says in one ballad before launching into Greyhound, a song about when a friend, in this room, was going through a hard time – it’s Archie’s best on the evidence of tonight. Archie is joined by Christian on keys and guitar; Archie has a rich voice and a songwriting team around him and lyrics about waking up next to somebody so you suspect he might ultimately be alright. 

 

ADMT headlines the night. From Doncaster, he’s assisted by Tom for this set. There’s a stoned reggae-pop feel to the tunes and they’re delivered with charm and good grace. Sometimes when ADMT gets worked up by the emotion of his songs, there’s something a little Frank Spencer about his delivery. In one tune, I swear the chorus is going to launch into an ‘oooh Betty’ before taking stock and realising that most of the crowd here won’t get the comparison. But I like ADMT; I warm to his tales about mental health issues, city living and being a young man today. Indeed, Man Now, the future single more than connects and you realise that here we have another talent who could cope with a lucky break.

 

Every night across this town, there’s musical talent oozing out of bars, pubs and clubs. Life can sometimes toss some shit your way but that shouldn’t stop us punters making the most of the music. 

The Tearaways and Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts – The 100 Club – August 28th 2019

Ryan Hamilton, support act on this night at the 100 Club is waxing lyrical in between songs. “If you feel like you’re meant to do something, then stick with it”, he urges. Age should be no barrier when following and realising your dreams, he reckons. That’s certainly more than true tonight. 

The Tearaways are something of a celebrity magnet. Perhaps that’s because they have Clem Burke as their drummer. The man from Blondie remains a magnificent visual icon, a powerhouse of a drummer and a thoroughly decent chap. Bob Geldof watches from the shadows generously accepting the requests for selfies that his level of fame must demand. Nick Heyward gets up on stage with the Tearaways and they astound with the most assured, joyous version of Fantastic Day. Glenn Matlock joins for an encore of mod classics. 

 

“When I wrote Fantastic Day, I always had it with the drumming of Clem in mind”, says Nick post-gig. A lovely man full of smiles and looking decades younger than his 58 years, he simply seems star-struck and in awe that he’s met a power-pop hero of his tonight. I ask him if there’s any chance of a Haircut 100 reunion and it’s not ruled out. That’s a gig I’d love to go to. 

But back to The Tearaways. Some wondered whether this gig and this tour would actually go ahead. Just a month ago, John Ferriter, key band member, passed away aged just 59. Despite the grief that the others must be feeling you suspect that cancellation was never a consideration. “We’re doing this for John”, they say throughout the set. 

I wouldn’t want to give the impression that this is a solemn affair either. It’s far from that. The Tearaways write music that’s full of mod melody, sunny harmony and splendid riff. In the hands of a band less capable, the encouragement to raise our hands in the air could appear cheesy or laboured. Here it’s just a whole heap of fun. 

And support act, Ryan Hamilton & the Harlequin Ghosts, have already warmed us up on that front. Their thing is pure energetic rock ‘n’ roll with a cowboy twang. Ryan has songs that reference Tom Petty, The Beatles and Bob Dylan. He’s clearly a student of music memorabilia and so is more than aware (and humbly delighted) about the significance of this venue in pop lore. Ryan has songs about not doing drugs anymore because you’re married and drinking in Texan saloons. He also has a new album with an unfortunate acronym (This is the sound). He teases his British band mates who are able to give as good as they get. If ever the phase ‘rollicking entertainment’ was appropriate tonight could be your night. 

 

As I get older, a measure of a great gig is how much of a smile it leaves on your face. And tonight The Tearaways have reached the wide grin accolade. 

 

Jack Perrett, The Orders & Pastel – The Old Blue Last – August 20th 2019

You’re going to struggle if you head to an indie gig to find originality. The genre is chucking out little new and the young lads that are involved wear their influences very firmly on their sleeves. This is no bad thing; you just have to roll with it, right? Enjoy it for what it is and suspend the extremes of your critical faculty for a while.

This is certainly true of Tuesday night at the Old Blur Last (see what I deliberately did there?). Tonight (Matthew), we have three more than competent acts from across the UK who have all scoured through their parent’s CD collections to collate their chords of influence. They’re all, in different ways, likeable and it all makes for an entertaining though hardly ground-breaking evening.

Jack Perrett is the headliner and arguably the pick of the bunch. Jack and his two mates, from Newport South Wales, are very much from the indie-mod camp, oozing with Jam and early Beatles influence. It’s all ‘lazy days’ and ‘sunshine mornings’ carried along with a generous dose of harmony and melody. Jack shows that he’s got an ear for writing a catchy, radio-friendly singalong and more than demonstrates how appreciative he is to have a crowd to play in front of. Some guy in an Arsenal shirt bounds up onto stage and stays there for four songs taking pictures on his i-phone. He’s the merch guy but it’s not entirely clear why he thinks it appropriate to hog Jack’s limelight. Jack and the others are too polite to tell him to fuck off. The kids of today eh?  

 

The Orders have travelled from the Isle Of Wight for this show. They wear shorts because that’s what everyone does on the island. Another three piece, you can tell that they’ve practiced hard in their bedrooms. The floppy-haired guitarist who also takes lead vocal duties can certainly play his instrument; many of the songs descend into psychedelic wig-outs with extended solos when we perhaps want short and snappy. It’s Britpop with occasional swerves towards grunge. Sometimes you can’t entirely make out what the singer is saying between tunes; he needs to project, show a bit more confidence with the mic yet I’d still see them again. 

 

Pastel are playing when I arrive. From the way they look to the sound they make, these guys from Swansea via Manchester nail their indie credentials to the mast. Think shoegaze and The Stone Roses with an Oasis sneer and you’ll have pinpointed Pastel. But, to their credit, they don’t come across as cocks on stage; there!s a sort of contained confidence, a shuffling laid-backness that’s actually quite charming. Admirable.

 

I’m glad I made the effort to get on the 205 and head to the Old Blue Last tonight. All three bands have entertained and it’ll be interesting to follow their progress from here. 

Old School Funky Family & Mulvey’s Medicine – The Finsbury – August 19th

It takes something pretty special to get me dancing like a crazed maniac on a Monday night. In fact, I’m hardly known for my weekend strutting and so the sight of me bopping like a bad one early in the working week would have filled the casual bystander of a friend with all sorts of confusion. Fortunately, for me at least, I’m pretty sure that there is no video evidence of my flailing and failing extremities. And besides, it would have looked odder not to be dancing at the Finsbury to the French funk of Old School Funky Family. The whole room was up and at it. It was contagious.

Old School Funky Family are on a short UK tour. You can see that they’ll go down exceptionally well at festivals and it should be of no surprise that the good people of Chai Wallahs have snapped them up for Green Man last weekend and Shambala this. In between, they’re playing shows across the country. Go and see them if you’re going to Shambala or living in Bristol. They will not disappoint. 

In any other town, you’d pay good money to see musicianship of this quality. London continues to confound and delight in equal measure. I realise there’s a ton of competition out there every night but quite how this can be put on as a free show is anybody’s guess. “You’d be happy paying £15 for that”, says a punter, slightly gobsmacked by what he’s just witnessed. And he’s quite right as well.

There’s eight of them crammed onto the Finsbury stage. Brass heavy and brass led, it’s instrumental funk with more than a sprinkling of jazz. They’re from deep in the South of France – and it’s perhaps appropriate, given the nationality, that bass duties are not taken by a guitar but by a French horn. Between each song, one of the troupe takes a microphone and introduces what’s coming next.

At different times in the set, each member of the band gets to delight with an extended solo, to show off their musical pedigree with a spotlight slot. Other members of the band give way sometimes leaving the stage to signal what’s about to occur. In the hands of lesser musicians, such interludes might become little more than elongated wank-fests. But these guys are so talented that it’s always astonishing to watch. The clarinet player particularly impresses in his solo. It begins all seedy, backstreet nightclub (slow and languid) and ends with fireworks (explosive and illuminating). 

Whilst the core of this is jazz-funk, Old School Funky Family can also mix it up. They play a cover but mostly it’s their original compositions. They draw on their proximity to North Africa to charm snakes in one piece and take us on a tour of EDM styles in another. My short attention span never once wanes whilst my legs move; the dynamics on stage providing just enough to maintain interest.

Support act for the night, Mulvey’s Medicine, could learn from this. Indeed, I’m sure they are for many of their seven-strong number are lapping Old School Funky Family up dancing in the front row. Mulvey’s Medicine also indulge in instrumental jazz-funk and do so with fine musicianship. To move on to the next level, I’d politely suggest that they now need to give some thought to their stagecraft. They jam well – and it’s by no means boring to watch – but what might their gimmick be that can set them apart? 

The night (and probably the week) belongs to Old School Funky Family. This was no typical Monday.

Aidan Moffat and RM Hubbert and John Mouse – Omeara – August 16th 2019

What better way to enjoy a Friday night in London than to spend it with revered Scottish ‘miserabilists’, Aidan Moffat and RM Hubbert? It’s their last ever London show and you’d forgive a few tears yet the reality is that both are pretty chipper and this is an upbeat affair. As upbeat as downbeat can get anyway. 

Hubby sits throughout, sometimes singing,  but mostly adding crisp flamenco rolls over which Aidan offers his trademark Scottish scrawl. Spoken word poetry interspersed with moments of sheer beauty when things resembling choruses kick in. Siobhan Wilson sits behind the pair adding vocal and violin depth. “This is another song about shagging the wrong person”, says Aidan, giving the crowd exactly what they want.

It’s the humour, the banter and the camaraderie that gets Hubby and Aidan through the night. They’re mates from that hidden bar snug you’ve always wanted to discover, jibing with each other to mask their obvious mutual respects. Accidentally and with no ill intent, Hubby comments that the tea-towels at the merch desk might be of more use as a Christmas present for women and Aidan, after revelling in the rightful response such gender stereotyping produces, helps his friend out by being even more of a cunt. “My girlfriend fucking hates me”, he observes before playing “another tune about the breakdown of the family unit.”

“Brexit’s going well”, says Aidan in trademark sarcastic manner before Hubby follows up with “you’re all welcome to visit us when we’ve independence”. Hubby’s only a tad pissed off that his name isn’t there with Aidan’s above the entrance to the Omeara. “I’m not even going to get fucking paid for this show”, he jokes whilst Aidan looks on amused.

“How come you don’t sing our songs back at us?“, shouts Aidan when the beardy and bespectacled crowd (that’s just the women) sing along to the stripped-back reading of Yazoo’s ‘Only You’. The sad longing of the tune comes to the fore under Aidan’s baritone – but let’s face it, he has the ability to make the happiest of texts seem mournful. In the running joke of the night, the crowd try to force a cover of Wonderwall out of the pair but they’re having none of it. We do get a Napalm Death cover, “You Suffer”, though. It’s brief but still a 12 inch remix on the original. 

Welshman, John Mouse, is an entirely appropriate support act for the evening. Those gathered probably know that he’s not the reggae ‘John Mouse’ or the mis-spelt ‘John Maus’ yet John still sees fit to explain. At times he plays a Fender strat; at other times, it’s just John and a backing tape. His largely spoken-word story tales are dark and appear to be about childhood memories of injury or death yet the bright, bossa-nova beats and incongruous dance moves mask the subject matter. I’m reminded that one of his tunes – all about breakdancing to electric boogaloo and other memories of being a youngster in the 1980’s has been recommended to me by Spotify before. I resolve to check out more after being taken aback by his tune about the man down the road who’s bothering him. 

The end is nigh for Aidan Moffat and RM Hubbert. They finish with Car Song, the first tune they ever wrote together. And it sounds as beautiful tonight as it ever has. I’m willing to bet that nobody in the crowd wants this to be over and such is the response I wouldn’t be surprised if Aidan and Hubby aren’t having second thoughts themselves.