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. 

 

Declan Welsh And The Decadent West & Natalie Shay – The Waiting Room – June 18th 2019

Declan Welsh, Scottish indie agitator, is in his stride at the Waiting Room on a rainy Tuesday evening. He’s chatting about his mate, Gary, who passed away a couple of years ago on his 22nd birthday. Declan tells us how Gary was the nicest, most caring and humble man you’d ever be likely to meet. On returning from his own gigs supporting The Last Shadow Puppets (Gary was the frontman of an up and coming act, The Lapelles), Gary was only interested in finding out how Declan’s tour of the North of Scotland had gone. Not an overtly political guy, Gary still had compassion in bucketloads according to Declan. For Declan, who merges the personal with the political so astutely throughout this gig, true socialism is organised compassion. He plays a song, Times, about Gary in celebration of who he was.

Sonic Breakfast is reminded that we saw one of those Lapelles support slots. Nobody could have predicted that just months later, Gary would no longer be charting a path to the pyramid. I reviewed the De Montfort Hall show for the Leicester Mercury but my words about The Lapelles got cut in the final edit. I check back over my notes on the bus ride back home from Declan’s set. They don’t reveal much aside from The Lapelles are from Glasgow; they’re kind of what you’d expect from a LSP support; there’s something about belt and braces, sixties jangle, skinny boys with guitars and pop sensibility. I do remember being quite enamoured with their set though. 

It pays to see the support act. If I’m not otherwise engaged I will always make the point  of doing so. Tonight’s support is Natalie Shay and I feel for her. Her crowd consists of me, two relations and polite members of Declan’s band. Despite the low turnout and to her credit, Natalie (and bandmate Joey), still go for it like they’re playing Wembley. They both play acoustic guitars; Natalie doing the rhythm bits and Joey the lead.

Natalie Shay is nearly but not quite an anagram of Shania Twain – and it’s that sort of polished, glossy country-pop that the hair-flicking and head-tossing Natalie seems to specialise in. Made for Radio 2, the growing careers of the likes of Catherine McGrath must give encouragement to this 20 year old from North London. There are strains of Joni Mitchell when Natalie veers into folkier territory. Ultimately though, tonight I want my music to snarl and this is too polite.

 

On the surface, Declan Welsh and The Decadent West are indie fodder. They’re clearly aficionados of white-boy indie guitar music. This is an act that has consumed the back catalogues of the Arctic Monkeys, Suede and Franz Ferdinand for influence. In their heavier, more spoken-word moments, some of Declan’s tunes give an appreciative nod towards The Hold Steady and the literate storytelling of Craig Finn.

What sets Declan apart though from some standard indie landfill is his political rage. In ‘Different Strokes’ he intelligently rants about the occupation of Palestine having seen at first hand the devastation caused. He brings things back to a personal level by playing tunes about Kurt Vonnegut, provincial nightclubs and heartfelt break-ups. Jumping straight back on the soapbox, he rightly calls out Rory Stewart’s voting record (“Fuck Rory Stewart”) before launching into the set highlight (for me at least). ‘Do what you want’ swaggers with indie-funk as it rallies for tolerant thinking about sexuality. “The stench of Section 28 is just another reason why we should never forgive the Tories” says Declan. (Or words to that effect – I confess I struggle to fully work out his thick, Glaswegian accent at times).

The personal again comes to the fore for the encore. Declan’s fine band step to one side allowing him to play a solo version of Aretha Franklin’s ‘I Say A Little Prayer’. It’s a quality moment and I warm to this lad even more.

Sidney Gish and Alien Tango – The Lexington – June 17th 2019

Life is strange. Nine months ago I was writing in anticipation of a small Murcian festival (here). My night in Beniajan was a spectacularly drunken affair. It’s no wonder that I only previewed the five euro event. I was far too embarrassed to say anything in the immediate aftermath. Pacing things badly, I had to be shepherded home by a kind taxi driver on the desperate advice of Sarah who was co-ordinating things from back in the UK. I had stopped making sense to her, babbling in a beautiful hobo language only recognised by yours truly.

I have hazy memories of finding a bed in a courtyard before that taxi ride. Helpful angels had guided me to this oasis where I could rest my head and doze. I might have even paid  good money to desperate beggars for such luxury. I woke on a bench a few hours later by some large, plastic waste bins, overflowing with detritus. Amazingly, all was in tact and nothing stolen from my pockets. I left my cash card in the taxi but that’s a story for another day.

Before my unfortunate wipe-out, I remember getting bitten to death by mosquitos in a disused railway siding that was doubling up as a festival space. And I remember thinking that Alien Tango were the best live band I had ever seen. It’s this knowledge and context that leads me to the Lexington, less than a ten minutes stroll from my new London house, to see the Spanish glam-psych act supporting the young American lo-fi looper, Sidney Gish.

Alien Tango are an oddity; a beautiful, alternative and flamboyant one that can’t sit still for more than seconds. If ADHD was a musical form, it would probably sound like this. There are three of them on stage tonight. Alien Tango is essentially Alberto Garcia Roca and he stands on the left of the stage whilst another guy plays guitar on the right. In between them are a set of electronics and a chap who sits on a chair cross-legged. 

This chap who sits doesn’t do a great deal throughout the set aside from the briefest of interludes when he stands, presses a keyboard button and dances enthusiastically. For the rest of the set, he’s like Andrew Fearn from Sleaford Mods but taken to another level. Looking nonchalant and bored, he reads his phone and swigs from a can of beer. He scoffs away at a packet of crisps and gets hand-delivered a bowl of green grapes that he turns down for a plate of red grapes. It’s a funny, visual addition not that it’s needed with what else that’s going on on-stage.

“We normally play as a full band”, says Alberto, confirming that my memory from seeing them in Murcia wasn’t completely shot. “But the others are all in prison now”, he jokingly adds.

Musically, I’m reminded of many things as this set progresses. It chops and changes tempo like the best of The Cardiacs; in places, it’s the bizarre funk of Of Montreal and in other places children’s nursery rhyme. It’s Bolan, Bowie and a little bit prog. 

Alberto moves around the stage imitating a scrawny court jester. At one point, he takes a nap on an amp; he tries to swallow his mic as his voice ranges from Freddie Mercury to guttural, metal howl. 

I love it – perhaps not quite as much as I did in Beniajan but those were special circumstances. 

 

Sidney Gish is the main reason I’m here. I sent her a cheeky E-mail to ask if I could be added to her list and got a lovely affirmative reply. I’d only heard a few of her tunes but that was enough to know that I’d enjoy. 

What an added bonus it is to see a friendly Leicester face in attendance as well. John Helps, founder of Handmade festival, Great Central magazine and involved in all sorts of other endeavours, is Sidney’s tour manager for this European jaunt. They’re driving around in a car. I imagine a kind of modern day ‘Green Card’ which is no doubt wildly inaccurate. 

Sidney crouches alone on the stage tuning her guitar. Her long reddish Sissy Spacek hair and general demeanour mark her out as a lo-fi geek. She plays music that might immediately be popped into any coming-of-age indie cinema quirky classic. Fans at the front of the room mouth along to every one of her literate lyrics; it’s clever, well-composed stuff.

So naturally does she lay down her loops that you can almost blink and miss it. But the songs build as layer gets added to layer, crunchy drum beats added to jazz chord progressions. My hearing isn’t what it once was but it sounds very much like these songs have quirky food related titles; ‘Filled with steak and cannot dance’ is followed by ‘I eat snails now’. Towards the set end, we get ‘Sugar pills’ for good measure. 

There are moments of casual hilarity when a crowd member observes that she knows a college acquaintance of Sidney’s.  Sidney plays her anthem of teenage rebellion and angst, ‘Homecoming Serf’ as a sort of tribute. ‘Sin Triangle’ gets one of the biggest receptions of the night and it’s easy to see why.

An encore of Jackson Browne’s ‘Somebody’s Baby’ sounds wonderful under Sidney’s grasp. She re-records some loops here (“We make our own clicks in America”) aiming for perfection and you get an insight into just how difficult this layering of sound can prove to get right. It follows an earlier quite glorious cover of the Talking Heads. She has a style that breathes extra life into these old tunes.

It’s been an enjoyable night – and one that, unlike in Murcia, I’m able to make my way home from unaided.

 

 

Scott Lavene & The Pub Garden, The Golden Dregs – Servant Jazz Quarters – June 11th 2019

Scott Lavene & his new backing band, The Pub Garden, are right up Sonic Breakfast’s street. This Essex geezer specialises in self-deprecating story-songs, often delivered in spoken-word and laced with a delicious sly humour. Scott’s ‘reluctantly’ hitting the road on a short tour to promote the release of his new album, Broke. “I’d rather be at home with my wife”, he jests in between-song banter.“I’m hoping that the album will just fade into obscurity so that I can get back into scaffolding”, he adds, tongue firmly in cheek.

The trouble is (for Scott) that the new record is bloody good and it comes alive even more in a live setting. Tonight at Servant Jazz Quarter, a venue that Sonic Breakfast has been wanting to get to for some time, he shows enough to the gathered throng to indicate that he just might have to get used to this life of fame. Steve Lamacq has picked up on this diamond, who’s single-handedly squeezing the best parts of Ian Dury, Jona Lewie, Joe Jackson, Billy Joel, Squeeze and early Blur through a wringer to see what emerges on the other side.

The Servant Jazz Quarter is a tiny space. There’s a small upstairs bar with friendly staff and a decent range of craft and a small downstairs basement that can probably hold no more than 50 without it feeling a squeeze. I like the cosiness; it’s surely not far from capacity on this Tuesday night.

I shamefully miss the opening act but arrive in time for The Golden Dregs. The Golden Dregs are in fact just one chap, Benjamin Woods.  With bleached blonde hair, Ben inauspiciously takes to the stage and presses a button on his backing-tape machine. As he sings, he eyes his audience with nonchalant suspicion. If The Magnetic Fields came from the South West Of England, this is what they might sound like. A lyrical and literate poet able to fire out wry observations with a dry, deadpan manner, his deep, baritone voice contrasts beautifully with the skewed pop on tape. He excuses himself from ‘the cheating’ musical accompaniment and takes his place at a keyboard where his foot gets in a tangle with a tambourine. Ben’s an enjoyable, engaging support act; he’s also quite a musician as is his sister Hannah who he invites on stage to join him with a saxophone. 

“We share the same Mother and Father”, says Ben.

“How many times a week?“, retorts the quick-witted soundman. 

 

It’s not a comedy night but you could be forgiven for thinking that it edged that way. Scott Lavene is a witty raconteur; he’s the jovial Jack-of-all-trades who exists in all great, local boozers. He’s got short-stories to tell about slices of good luck and epic novels to tell about misfortune. 

“This one’s about those classic rock ‘n’ roll subjects – anxiety and unplanned pregnancies“, he says, before launching into ‘It’s All Gonna Blow’, an Up The Junction for the 21st Century. “And this is about working in a factory, having an amphetamine habit and your girlfriend leaving you”, he says for the next song. There’s a theme emerging here. 

For lesser acts, the self-deprecating humour might be used to mask a lack of talent but that’s not Scott. He’s a nifty guitar player who can also play piano well. When he gets out of spoken-word mode to sing (notably on Methylated Blues, a love song set in New York), you can’t help noting that the voice is pretty soulful.

He dislikes touring (“Fuck Swindon“) and launches into a tirade about Lee from the Birmingham Star who gave his album three out of ten. You sense though that behind the banter, there’s a chap who isn’t taking this too seriously. 

Scott Lavene knows how good he is and will enjoy this ride for as long as it lasts. I had a blast, one of the best gigs I’ve been to in 2019, and can’t wait to catch him again. I reckon the venue will be bigger by then. 

 

Tne Pinheads, Fat Earthers & Bad/Dreems – Shacklewell Arms – June 10th 2019

Search around a bit, keep your ear to the ground and London will reward you with free gigs that should probably be charged events. That’s why I’m here at the Shacklewell Arms for a sandwich of Aussie garage-psych rock with an Isle of Wight based cheesy middle.

 

It might be June but I’ve not seen rain like this so far in my London stay. The puddles are almost river-like as they cascade down the streets. A driver in a jeep clearly swerves into a stream to drench my already soggy frame. I curse the fucker as he speeds off, no doubt chuckling at his prank. The lovely barman at the Shacklewell offers me a roll of industrial-strength paper towel with which to dry off. It’s needed.

Bad/Dreems are currently on tour with Midnight Oil and are thus playing some pretty big UK shows. But they have a night off and so are late additions to this bill. The wise have spotted this and the Shacklewell back room is pretty full when I enter. 

Archetypal Aussies from Adelaide, this five-piece all have facial hair. Some have shaggy curls and a couple wear linen-shirts with the top few buttons undone to show off the hairs on their chest. No band member removes any shirt during their set. This is important given what occurs later. 

Bad/Dreems do a garage punk, indie-rock thing. They sing about big muscles pumping in sweatshirts though I suspect this is an ironic swipe at machismo rather than a song in praise of such lifestyle. Lead singer, Ben Marwe, is thoroughly engaging to watch; at one point he rapidly blinks as if on the edge of a fit; at another, he bashes a tambourine against his thigh standing proud like a toy soldier in a  regiment. He’s a bit Roger Daltrey and the band a bit Who-like. I curse myself for not seeing the full set. 

 

Fat Earthers make quite a noise for a two piece. We’re only two songs in and already lead singer, Puke, has his top off and torso bare. Typically such rock ‘n’ roll excess would have me heading for the door but there’s s gnarly cheekiness about this Isle Of Wight based duo that keeps me onside. It doesn’t matter a jot that each tune sounds largely identical. They rant about Theresa May selling off the NHS, still paying tax on your tampax, boredom and suicide bombers. By the time the set finishes, Henry the drummer has also got his top off; naked upper-halves becomes a theme for the night.

 

The Pinheads, tonight’s Aussie headliner, are a riot. They have a very tall, lanky lead singer who you fear is going to bang his head on the ceiling every time he jumps. He contorts with his microphone stand and palms dust from the Shacklewell’s glitterball – you suspect it’s not had a good clean for some time. 

He’s out of it. At one point he temporarily leaves the stage, probably to ablute in some way; he heads down into the crowd and orders a pint from the bar at the back of the venue. He cares about his audience enough though to advise moderation when a raucous and fighty mosh breaks out amongst agitated youths. 

The rest of the Pinheads tightly play an urgent and shimmering garage-psych whilst their singer cavorts. It’s fun and certainly without pretence. As damp condensation drips from the ceiling, three of the band members also strip down to bare their chests. It’s just that sort of night. 

Satisfied and yet fully shirted, I get an Uber home. I can’t bear to be bare in the continuing downpour. 

Noteworthy Open-Mic Night – Paper Dress Vintage – June 9th 2019

Regular readers of Sonic Breakfast will know that I’ve been nomadic of late. AirBNB has served me well as I transition into London life but the time is now right to stop the lugging of luggage on Mondays and Fridays.

Yesterday, I moved into a place; it’ll give me a semi-permanent room in London’s zone one. I’d been attracted by the idea of Property Guardianship since first reading about it; a collective of individuals getting together to protect space that might otherwise be susceptible to squatters. I’ve got a large room in a building that was once a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre. I love that I can make this my own. Creative millennials seem to occupy the rest of the property. I’m evidently the eldest here but I won’t let that bother me. 

London doesn’t sleep. That much is clear. I’m not used to the night bus noise And I’ll have to invest in a pair of ear plugs if I want to still function by day. 

After getting my room ready (mattress down, clothes rail assembled and rocking chair strategically positioned) I decided to do what I’m accustomed to when in London and headed off to a gig. Sunday night shows hadn’t been possible before so this was a fine way to see the weekend in and to get myself ready for a busy Monday in the office.

I headed up to Paper Dress Vintage. The vintage clothes space has never let me down on previous visits and I was intrigued by the Sunday menu. Noteworthy is a well regarded open-mic night. Back in the day, when I first moved to Leicester, open-mic nights were a staple necessity; Monday nights at the Musician a thing not to miss. I was keen to see how London compared. 

Noteworthy gives space over the course of the evening to a shed load of acts. Perhaps because of its sheer popularity, performers get to play one song only. This makes for a fast-moving show. If an act is really poor (of which there are delightfully few) you only need to grin and bear it for minutes.

Compered excellently by Max Bandicoot (who also opens proceedings with a tune), most acts do a singer-songwriter thing and seem content with their five minutes of fame. There’s variety to be had as well. One happy chap sings to a beat-fuelled backing track before launching into a choreographed dance routine that has to be seen to be believed. A trio play a fine, stripped-back version of Video Killed The Radio Star; their harmonies are charming. A duo valiantly attempt French Chanson whilst a grey haired man with an epic beard creates a wonderful soundscape via guitar, voice and electronica. Those acts stick in the mind yet there are others with equal appeal.

“I’ve not done an open-mic for ages”, says Cerian, the featured artist of the night who gets a twenty minute slot. “I’ve remembered watching how lovely it is and how we’re all just here for the music.” 

And she’s right of course. Cerian more than justifies her headline slot. She plays the harp whilst singing delightfully arranged pop tunes; at one point she covers an Ariane Grande tune which I suspect all know apart from me. She gets a backing singer to join her (Barry) who has already played a song and has the skilful ability to make his voice sound like a vocoder. 

There’s more to come after Cerian but I call it a night. After all, I have permanent lodgings to return to now. Noteworthy returns on the third Sunday of July. Stone Jets (I think that’s their name), purveyors of a radiant African musical style, play that featured set after treating all gathered to a sample of their wares in the June edition.

Chances are that I’ll pay Noteworthy another visit.