Peeping Drexels, H0nkies, Luxury Apartments and deep tan – The Old Blue Last – April 23rd 2019

Much as I adored my Easter break in Spain, I couldn’t help but pine a little for the gig scene I was missing back home. Feeling completely refreshed, it’s quite lovely to end a humid day returning to the day job with a sweaty night at the Old Blue Last. 

I drank far too much wine in Spain. It’s this that convinces me that a few weeks of lime and soda will do me right. I wasn’t taking into account my weak will and lily-liveried determination though, especially when faced with a sign that announces free cans of Old Blue Last lager between half eight and half nine. I succumb. It’s a tasty lager and a more-than-welcome freebie on this balmy evening.

Saxon Zine and Cool Brother have joined together to curate a trio of Tuesday night residencies at the Old Blue Last. Not being one of the cool kids, I have little idea what Saxon Zine and Cool Brother are. But I pick up an art-laden, well-produced fanzine from the merch desk The typeset demands reading glasses but Cool Brother certainly appears to have its finger on the pulse. I’m sure that Saxon Zine is the same. And it’s nothing short of lovely to witness a world of independent music/art writing and thinking in print form.

There’s four bands on tonight. It’s the headliner, Peeping Drexels, that had piqued my initial attention. Our paths have almost crossed before and, based on the few tracks I’d heard, it seemed right to do a reccy in advance of The Great Escape in a few weeks. 

They don’t disappoint. Younger than I’d imagined, this South London post-punk thing is all the rage right now. With obvious nods to the all-pervading influence of the Fat Whites, Peeping Drexels stumble around the stage as if the free beer has taken too much of a toll. Lead singer, Dylan Coates, can hardly keep his eyes open but that doesn’t stop him from nonchalantly lurching whilst angrily and angularly posing. He’s a bit yobby and a tad gobby; less spit than Joe Talbot and skinnier than Shaun Ryder but positioning himself somewhere between the two all the same. It’s thoroughly engaging stuff.

The band might adopt a shambolic stance but their playing is anything but. Tight as fuck they manoeuvre out of their post-punk comfort zone into Bhangra-based spaghetti western spaces. When they really funk things up, I’m reminded of a ‘Bummed’ era Happy Mondays. Kind of exhilarating.

 

As much as I enjoy Peeping Drexels, they’re not my night highlight. That accolade goes towards penultimate band, h0nkies. On paper it probably shouldn’t work. This five piece look the part and are hard to take your eyes off. Specialising in a skewed-psych Americana, I’d be completely showing my age if I said that there’s more than a passing resemblance to those legends from the late 1980’s, the Colorblind James Experience. I reminisce about considering a move to Memphis whilst the guys on stage playfully let off steam with their cowpunk skiffle. It might be laden with irony but it brings a smile to my face and for that I’m happy.

 

Luxury Apartments have great T-shirts. I spy this when I pick up the fanzine at the merch desk. On stage, they’re not appalling but rarely appealing. A traditional punk all-male three piece, they stick to tried and tested paths. Their manner is almost apologetic as the set is nervously delivered. Vocally, there are tinges of the late, great Pete Shelley if it wasn’t all so unintelligible. With a bit more stage nous and a desire to project their art, Luxury Apartments could be selling a lot more T-shirts. 

 

The evening is opened by deep tan. Another three piece and as a whole I like them. Projecting a Kenneth Anger film whilst they play (Inauguration of the pleasure dome for anyone interested), the occult and magick imagery goes well with their moody, light psychedelic throwback. Some tunes might arguably lack depth and progression but when deep tan’s stride is found there’s more than enough by way of tune and chorus to satisfy. 

 

Free beer, free fanzines and a free gig with four interesting acts. Oh London, I’ve missed you. 

Otha – Sebright Arms – April 4th 2019

I wrote this review a couple of weeks back but never got around to publishing it. Better late than never I guess… 

 

I’m about to head back to Spain for Easter. I’ll miss London; the enjoyable challenge of the day-job followed by evenings out catching one of the many gigs in this fine and vibrant city. 

Before I have my two weeks of spring sun, there’s a chance to take in one last gig. I head to the Sebright Arms again. Across a number of gigs in recent months, I’ve never felt let down by the venue. A fine range of beer and a sound quality that’s precise, it’s helped introduce me to a range of acts I simply would not have heard of otherwise. 

Tonight, I’ve come to see another Norwegian act. This’ll be my fourth (I think) this year. Otha is described in blurb as a lo-fi downtempo Robyn. It’s a comparison that you can certainly see in the two singles, I’m On Top and One Of The Girls, that she’s so far released. 

But to pigeonhole her in such a way does miss the point a bit. My guess is that for most of the considerable crowd gathered tonight the bulk of the songs that Otha takes us through are new. Deliciously catchy bedroom electronica with breathy vocals, these are tunes that lodge in your head and won’t let go. 

Across many of the numbers, Otha does this thing where she’ll introduce a couple of lines of poetry and then repeat, amending the melody slightly and adding an extra plink here, an additional plonk there. “Put your clothes back on, we drink, we dance”, she utters across one particularly memorable verse. “You don’t give a shit about me so please stop acting like you do”, she speak-sings in another.

With a sharp, straight fringe and long reddish hair, she’s strikingly sweet; the stage set-up is minimal. Sometimes Otha plays notes on her keyboard but mostly she leaves the music to the other musician on stage with her whilst she smiles and dances in a patchwork dress of many bright colours. There are technical hitches – for a period of time, the click-track can’t be heard on stage but our enjoyment down in the crowd is not hindered. 

She seems genuinely delighted to be here and happy that a crowd has shown. “Last night in Liege, the computer crashed on the floor”, she tells us. Frankly, by this point, Otha could tell us anything, so invested are we in her.

Look at me, look at me, I’ll put you in a heavy trance. It doesn’t matter what you look like. Just Dance“, she beams towards the end and the hypnosis is complete. 

Singing and performing like Sarah Cracknell in her prime, I’m glad I’ve made the effort to ‘tarka’ a look at Otha. 

 

Seazoo, Little Thief & The Desert – The Old Blue Last – April 3rd 2019

Sometimes, free gig nights in this fair city feel expertly curated; at other times, they feel like they’ve been thrown together with little thought to any common thread between bands on the bill. For a genre-hopper like me, the latter mish-mash approach is often more appealing. I had a grand time on Wednesday night at the Old Blue Last when three very different acts took to the stage.

The Desert were up first. From Bristol, this four-piece specialise in mellow acoustic pop layered with gentle electronics. Lyrically, they’ve got the broken love story off to a tee with words like distract, bitterness and gone featuring heavily. Their main singer looks fruity with a lime green dress and bob haircut and there’s no denying that she has a pleasant, calm voice. Think Everything But The Girl crossed with Sadė yet produced in the city of trip hop. Some of the more subtle changes in variety are a bit too much for a chattering Wednesday night crowd but mostly the good stuff on show here is appreciated.

 

Little Thief are a much harder proposition than The Desert. They’re a three piece and probably consider themselves a jagged indie-rock band. I can’t get over how much the singer sounds like Sting though.  A track that they put out a couple of weeks back, Bringing It Back, stands out as a slightly heavier version of Roxanne. The bass player (who is not the singer – a fundamental difference from Police) jumps into the crowd and plays his instrument behind his head before a ballad is announced and lighters are waved. It’s fair to say that the crowd are loving Little Thief. I didn’t dislike them myself.

 

Seazoo have featured on Sonic Breakfast before. Sometimes, back in my Leicester days, I ‘allowed’ friends to contribute and this (here) was one such post. My good friend, Paul, has pretty different music tastes to me but it appears that we converge when it comes to jjangle-pop from North Wales. 

Seazoo are a band made for Sonic Breakfast. It’s no accident that their album from last year, Trunks, shows up as one of my most played on Spotify. They’re are all about fine, happy tunes tinged with shuffling awkwardness. When we’re introduced to the ‘shoddy display’ of CDs and T-Shirts at the merch desk it’s all perfectly in sync with the somewhat makeshift and stumbling nature of the band. For me,this music is pure bliss but only those living with the Sarah Records and Belle And Sebastian back-catalogue might fully agree. 

Criminally, large swathes of the crowd that watch Little Thief leave and so, despite the long distance travelled, action is initially sparse for Seazoo. It must be a real bummer but like true pros, the show goes on. Those of us remaining get a treat. Spring is in the air and you can almost smell summer within these tunes. Many are enticed back and by the time the show ends, fans and new converts are energetically high-kicking with arms gleefully interlocked. 

Strangers smile over the friendly, ramshackle brew. It’s been yet another great night out.

 

Drenge and Valeras – Electric Brixton – April 2nd 2019

I receive confirmation of a press pass to the Drenge ‘Strange Creatures’ show at Electric Brixton barely two hours before Valeras are due to take to the stage. And given that it’s the PR company of Valeras that have offered me such a neat perk, I need to get a boogie on to get there in time. London’s rarely difficult to navigate though. out of rush hour, and I get into the queue at the Brixton Electric with minutes to spare.

I’m clearly not used to these gigs at larger venues; getting in is akin to navigating through airport security. In fact, I’ve been through airport checks that have been slacker than this. Initially, I’m forced to prove my age by showing my ID. Luckily, I’m carrying my driving licence. Yes, I get that they’re showing equal treatment to all but surely common sense must prevail. A man nearing 50 who looks his age is unlikely to be wearing a disguise to shield the fact he’s under-age. After that, every single one of my jacket and trouser pockets are emptied of coins and pens. My wallet is poked and prodded. The frisking is intense but in these times of heightened security I shrug and accept. 

One wonders how on earth Valeras managed to get into the venue themselves. It’s the first thing you notice when this five piece from Reading take to the stage. I’m sure it’s not what they want attention drawn to yet they look exceptionally young – as if this could be a GCSE music project. (I check – they’re older than that).

Standing in a straight line of four, the guitar playing members (3 girls, one boy) of Valeras quickly and urgently launch into their opener. The drummer, Max, sits behind conducting. It’s the most classic of rock sounds. Some have their hair longer than others and throw it around in time with the driving, ballsy beat. There’s head banging a-plenty and full-on rock stance before we even get to the end of this first tune. 

You can’t help but notice the lead singer and bassist, Rose Yagmur. She does most of the talking between songs; there’s not much and it’s your standard stuff of urging people to come a little closer and checking how in the mood for Drenge people are. But Rose’s  vocal is strong and her bass-playing even better. When she really rocks out, my notes suggest that we could have a young Suzi Quatro. It’s no doubt lazy thinking on my part.

What stands out above everything is the unity between band members, even when cowbell and harmonies are introduced. Despite their tender years, Valeras are a band who have practiced and worked hard to sound more accomplished than many double their age. They’re definitely ones to watch.

 

I probably first saw Drenge when they were younger than Valeras. It was a festival up North (review here) and back then it was just the Loveless brothers, Eoin singing and Rory on drums. From memory, they played a small stage at the end of a long weekend but still from somewhere I summoned the energy to mosh, such was the compelling thrash of noise that they offered. I later reviewed them when they were a three piece for the Leicester Mercury. I’ve lost those words and the beasts at the Mercury haven’t archived them. 

It seems sort of right that I now see them as a four piece. With third album just released, Strange Creatures, it’s immediately obvious from set opener, Prom Night, that their sound, songwriting and stature continues to develop. This is dark storytelling, more contained than those early days, more angular post-punk than all-out raucous energy. As a set opener, it’s dramatic, unhinged brilliance. It bookends brilliantly with the slow build and electrifying wig-out of Let’s Pretend at the end of the set. 

In between, the raucous does come; the sound epic and fuller than ever. Classic Drenge tunes such as Bloodsports and Face Like A Skull mix in with the newer seamlessly.

I’m no longer moshing – I couldn’t possibly take it in that crowd tonight. At times, when it really kicks off, you almost feel some sympathy for the security guards, rigorously and desperately clinging to an out of control mob. 

By rights, these should be even bigger than they are”, mouths a chap sat (yes, I sat) next to me. And he’s absolutely right. Perhaps it’s Drenge’s gradual growth in band members, their fluent rather than sudden rise from brilliant to better, their determination to keep developing that has kept the stadiums a bit in check. 

Drenge might no longer be at the start of their careers but they’re forging one of longevity. As it would appear are Valeras. Drenge end in encore with ‘We Can Do What We Want’. In times as uncertain as these it’s probably a pretty fine way to look at things. 

 

Wovoka Gentle, Swimming Girls & Josiah & The Bonnevilles – Omeara – March 25th 2019

Show me a better and more solid live proposition in 2019 than Wovoka Gentle and I’ll be there with bells on. Let’s not beat around the bush here – Wovoka Gentle’s unique approach to live music-making is jaw-dropping; from splodges of sound and harnessed beats emerge the most beautiful of melodies; harmonic juice born out of the most intense of concentrates. This triumvirate astound with their innate electronic folk togetherness. Just see them should you get the chance.

Sonic Breakfast first became aware of their class after randomly walking past the stage they were playing on at the fine Nozstock festival. That’s been documented here previously in this blog. I’d pay to see Wovoka Gentle but their record label, Yucatan, has generously put on a lovely Monday night free show at Omeara. It’s another new London venue for me and it’s no-brainer to head along to the collection of railway arches just down from London Bridge.

Omeara is an ace venue. I’m none too sure where it starts and others begin. Once I’ve got my hand stamped and briefly look at the faux-dungeon crossed with music hall facility of the main venue, I wander through a series of connected rooms to see bars and street food spaces. A more upmarket version of a Budapest ruin bar, I sit eating pizza, drinking beer and waiting for the music to kick off.

 Josiah (from Josiah & The Bonnevilles) is tonight’s special guest. The crowd watch with interest despite his style bearing minimal resemblance for what will follow. He’s got a birthday coming up in the next few hours and gives quick nods to friends and family in the audience who’ll no doubt be celebrating with him. Catch him at the right angle and Josiah could be Brad Pitt’s shorter and younger brother. These tunes from Tennessee, mostly performed on acoustic guitar but with a brief piano break, are classic Americana. He’s Ryan Adams pre-disgrace. There’s a vibration to Josiah’s vocal not dissimilar to the one employed by Conor Oberst. My favourite tune of his that I hear draws influence from George Jones. “It’s about the saddest song on a record, the hidden-away one that you can’t stop listening to because you’re fucked up”, says Josiah.

 

The room gets really busy for Swimming Girls. It’s not surprising given that they’re flavour of the month in some quarters. I confess though that, on tonight’s showing, they pass me by a bit. And that’s despite having a guitar player with a Smiths lyric on his T-shirt. They’ve got a sound that’s not far removed from the excessive soft rock of the 1980’s. My notes suggest Starship or an ideal soundtrack to a recently unearthed, never-seen-before, John Hughes movie. Swimming Girls are fronted by Vanessa, a slinky, confident sort who clearly has good rapport with her crowd. When the rest of the band sit down and Vanessa plays a peeled-back number on her electric guitar, the influence of Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors comes right to the fore. There’s nothing wrong with Swimming Girls; they do what they do well and the kids love them. I guess their influences were never entirely my thing the first time around. There’s a slight exodus for Wovoka Gentle and the crowd demographic gets noticeably older.

 

Wovoka Gentle must surely be a sound technician’s nightmare. They bring trays of gadgets, cluttered desks of wires and mics onto stage with them pre-set. But with striking efficiency and organised calm, the three members find the right holes in which to plug things in. A violin is sound-checked. Six separate mics are given cursory attention. The three desks look inward; wires now flail across the stage; complicated neural pathways of the Wovoka Gentle brain.

The opening segment almost induces tears from this quarter. William strums an electric guitar and launches into the briefest of covers of 30 Century Man whilst Imogen and Ellie accompany with exquisite vocal harmony. “That’s our tribute to Scott Walker. He very much influenced us”, says William (or words to that effect).

As for the rest, the biggest big-up that I can give is that I make no more notes. This is a set of such variety and such pulsating beauty that I can do little more than stand transfixed. With the slightest of nods, Ellie lets Imogen know what William is thinking. It’s that sort of understanding that elevates this set beyond the norms. I think (though can’t be sure) that the beats are continuous and that the songs of highest quality merge into one. I recognise some but not all; there’s a new album out in June that’ll surely push the genius that is Wovoka Gentle further to the fore. I am dazzled again.

This is where it’s at.

Glowie, Karimthapeasant and Millie Turner, Sebright Arms, March 21st 2019

It’s nearly the weekend. But before I head out of London to catch up on sleep there’s still time to take in one more gig. The Sebright Arms is yet to let me down so I head there for a Thursday night of new music promoted by Abbie McCarthy’s Good Karma Club that, on paper at least, looks like it could be a banger.

There are four acts on but the key breaks in the lock of my AirBNB hampering my ability to see the opener and testing my ‘escape room’ resourcefulness. When I get to the Sebright’s basement, Millie Turner is about to take to the stage. I’d seen her name recently announced as a Barn On The Farm festival act – always a reliable predictor of up and coming pop talent.

Millie doesn’t let us down. She’s got years on her side but has already got quite a handle on her stagecraft. Her name is painted on a sheet backdrop across the stage but that’s the only noticeable nod to any DIY ethic. This is polished and smooth; the theatre is thought through. 

 

Flanked on either side by a keyboard player/guitarist and a drum machinist dressed in identical white T-shirts, Millie adds to the symmetry when she emerges centre-stage in angular red mack. She’s got a voice, a decent pair of lungs for this game. It’s hot up there and she throws the mack to the floor as she launches into a spoken word intro to her tune, The Shadow. You expect a duff moment, filler amongst the glorious pop but it doesn’t come. There’s more poetry and you can’t help but notice that Millie’s literate and well spoken. She suggests to all that she’ll send us an individual drawing if we fill out our address on one of the postcards she brandishes. You’d be a fool not to. They could be worth something in years to come.

Karimthapeasant indulges in a very modern rap that I’m not sure I’ll ever entirely understand. That’s not to say that I don’t thoroughly enjoy his enthusiastic set. He bounds on stage with a look not dissimilar to the lion from The Wizard Of Oz yet with so much uplifting energy it’s contagious. He introduces Will, his backing technician on the MPC before freestyling and doing ‘new shit’. The crowd love KTP; he works them well. When he jumps into the crowd for his finale, a mosh pit gets going that your average rock fan from 2019 might only dream of. Exuberant and a total triumph. 

 

Glowie, the headliner for tonight, arrives from Iceland highly rated. My eyesight isn’t what it once was but I can still tell that her charms are seductive. With T shirt tucked into her jeans that are pulled up to her belly button, she flicks her hair around and tells all that she’s good. On balance, this is probably true though I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve seen her with band. Tonight, with backing tape and the slightest suggestion of miming to her vocal tracks, there’s room to improve. I do feel for her though when men old enough to be her Grandad poke their cameras into her close and personal space to get shots of her writhing dance. It feels just a tad seedy and unsavoury.

 

This London scene shows no sign of letting up. Across genre and across town, they’re are emerging pockets of brilliance. Tonight has again proved that. 

Bjørn Tomren – The Betsey Trotwood – 20th March 2019

Everybody likes receiving an invite to a ‘showcase’. Obviously the lure of free beer is simply a hook and the chance to see new music in a live setting the deal-breaker. 

Propeller Recordings are rapidly becoming one of my favourite labels. Dedicated to the promotion of Norwegian acts, their thorough and diligent UK based coordinator has invited me to some right cool stuff in recent weeks (here) and (here).

And it’s because of Georgie that I’m standing in this basement at the Betsey Trotwood in Clerkenwell on a Wednesday evening to watch an act newly-signed to Propeller, Bjørn Tomren, do his thing.

A word about the Betsey Trotwood first. The more that one scratches at London’s surface, the more you uncover great bases of entertainment. The Betsey is a dinky pub where streets converge. The basement, at a guess, holds no more than 50 though it could be deceptive with nooks, crannies and alcoves all offshoots of the main space. It would appear that they hold folk sessions down here, ukulele jams and knitting circles. It has community and great charm.

Bjørn shuffles to a bar-stool, emerging out of one of the nooks. He has a self-deprecating manner that verges on the fatalistic; he’s an observer, a storyteller with a dry sense of humour and it’s hard not to warm to his folky reference-laden Americana.

After celebrating Vera Lynn and questioning the validity of there ever being ‘bluebirds over Dover’, Bjørn launches into a story about Eartha Kitt’s invite to the White House in 1968. Eartha speaks out about the Vietnam war and sees her career in the States nosedive as a result. Bjørn champions her and other protestors in his song, 68. 

He might be Norwegian but his outlook is truly global. A traditional Norwegian folk song complete with a form of throat singing is included but so to a tune about Drinking in Helsinki, an opportunity to literately reference the influence that the mathematical best-seller ‘The Drunkard’s Walk – How Randomness Affects Your Life’ had on his thinking.

Showcases, by their very nature, can be short affairs but I really don’t want this to end when Bjørn says that he’s going to close his set with a cover of Hank William’s Long Gone Lonesome Blues. Most of us gathered are more than aware of the innate darkness and suicidal sadness lingering within this tune but can’t help raise a smile as Bjorn effortlessly and impressively takes on the yodelling parts.

It’s just another string to his bow. Propeller Recordings have successfully whetted the appetite of those gathered regarding their latest signing. You can see why they’ve trusted in Bjørn.