A wintry, Monday night at the Hackney Oslo and excellent promoter, Bird On A Wire, has a triple pack to keep us entertained. It’s a disparate line-up and, apart from them both coming from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, it’s difficult to see quite what Wampire and Tops are doing on the same bill. Numbers are made up but by no means diminished by London pop-tarts, Oscar.
Working in London on Mondays has been a bit of a treat in recent weeks. Rather than catch an early train back with the cacophony of commuters, I’ve dipped into the London gig scene. Like pretty much every other venue in this fine city, Hackney Oslo is a new one on me. You can’t fail to be impressed. Set in some converted railway arches just beyond Hackney Central overground, this is an impressive enterprise. I count posh burgers and beards in the smart downstairs space whilst drinking London Fields unfiltered lager (there’s a great range of well priced beers) before heading up a flight of stairs to the venue proper… Every town should have one of these!!
The first band to take to the stage, Oscar, are a new one to me. I warm to their brand of indie pop. Lead singer, Oscar Scheller, with clothing part tie-dye and part Mickey Mouse complements the other members of his band who have a penchant for check. If the Magnetic Fields were from London, they might sound like this. It’s a lo-fi, drums through the Casio quirky thing. “I’m Oscar – but we’re all Oscar“, says Oscar with an awkward and yet friendly charm. I resolve to find out more about them.
I’m mostly here to see Wampire. I blogged about them (here) a month or two ago and their records have since enjoyed spins galore. “This is the first show of our UK tour – how are you all doing?” says Rocky Tinder by way of introduction and we’re off. Psychedelic lights bounce around the walls as Wampire’s brand of beardy, stoner pop-rock infiltrates.
I allow myself to drift off. This is the sort of euphoric sound that you’d want to hear flat on your back, as the sun beats down, in a festival field. You don’t need drugs to alter your mental equilibrium. Simply ask Wampire to do the honours. “We’re feeling a bit jet lagged but we’re glad to be back in England“, they say with understated abandon before launching into recent single ‘The Amazing Heart Attack’. This is as pop perky as it gets – and it’s no bad thing for that.
There are a gaggle of girls standing next to me who appear to have little understanding of gig etiquette. Wampire are hardly a quiet band but still I am perplexed by the rudeness on show. “Oh my god, yes, it’s him”, observes one in a particularly loud North American drawl. They then proceed to consider with volume which member of Wampire they would want to shag. “We’re going to play a song about girls with bad attitude“, says Tinder. I’m pretty sure he didn’t hear the conversation.
With a shake of a Wizards Staff, Wampire’s set draws to a close. The loud girls push to the front. They must have been here to see TOPS. This is weedy and weak synth-pop from Canada. It might be better on record but live, it’s like a watching bad karaoke versions of Madonna records from the 1980’s. Lead singer, Jayne Penny, does her best to look alluring but actually just looks awkward. TOPS play a song that sounds like the bastard son of ‘Nothing compares to U’ if mixed with ‘Together in Electric Dreams’. I resist the urge to find the loud talkers and to shout in their ears and simply leave to catch a train home.
CHILDCARE, also known as London-based musician Ed Cares, seems to be an interesting sort. His debut EP, Flush, was released a few weeks ago to some acclaim. The video that accompanied it had Dan Smith from Bastille jumping to praise it but don’t let that put you off!!!
A real-life Mary Poppins, Ed Cares is apparently a nanny in his day job. He tests his material out on the three children he looks after. I wonder what they make of his tune, Kimberley, an upbeat pop song in which the protagonist confesses to stabbing Kimberley’s boyfriend with a knife, after she’d asked him to. You can’t argue with songs that manage to rhyme Tai-Chi, library and Kimberley.
It’s probably fair to suggest that Ed isn’t a shy, retiring sort. From being a contestant on Saturday evening dating show, ‘Take Me Out’, through to appearing, dressed in drag, in this smoky, seedy video for Flush, here’s a man full of creative ideas for how to make an impression. A series of secret shows in London recently (the venues only being announced to ticket holders on the day) confirm that desire to take an alternative route. By all accounts, Iggy Pop would have been embarrassed by the nakedness on display.
I mustn’t give the impression that it’s all gimmick and no substance though because, quite simply, it’s not. Strip away at the layers of this nursery and the music stands up to scrutiny.
I’m predicting an exciting 2015 for CHILDCARE. Festival fields will surely beckon. We need our pop stars excitingly extrovert and, now that Stevi has been dumped out of X-Factor, we might just be relying on CHILDCARE to break the mundane.
I’ve been listening to The Cardboard Crowns quite a bit recently. Their new(ish) album, Global Citizen, has me hooked. Long train journeys have passed by in a flash. I’ve simply plugged my headphones in and allowed myself to drift off into the exuberant ska pop punk world that they inhabit. Here I ask one of my new favourite bands ten questions by way of introduction….
(1) Many readers of Sonic Breakfast might not have heard of ‘The Cardboard Crowns’. In less than 100 words tell them what they need to know…
The Crowns are a four piece blast of something different. We really try to deliver high energy, high involvement entertainment. There’s a lot of boring archaic convention in show business these days… that’s something we try to blow to pieces. We’re also really big on (as the title of our new album Global Citizen would suggest) trying to get people to identify themselves more with the human race than it’s sub sects. We’re all humans, lets have a good time together, and also try to think about those of us who are in rough spots as though they were our family.
(2) What have been your highlights and lowlights of 2014?
We’ve had some really awesome times this year. This is the first year we’ve really had an opportunity to drop the gloves and hit the road. We’ve played some awesome festivals: Ottawa’s Sparks st. new years eve event with K-OS, Beer Fest in Toronto with Wide Mouth Mason, Hope Volleyball With Matt Good, and we’ve been lucky enough to play a couple shows along the way with one of our biggest influences The Planet Smashers. That said, we REALLY loved our album release mini tour through Montreal Ottawa and Toronto. The support was really out of this world! As for lowlights… I guess we had one fiasco show (I won’t say where…) but my (Joel) throat was infected so I tried some REALLY COOL mime intro… miming is clearly not a forte of mine I guess. At any rate we made It through the set, and my car tow bill was only $250. Nasty business.
(3) You’re from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Is it a city with a good music scene? What are the best and worst things about living there?
The scene in Ottawa is interesting… it’s a bit of a lazy little town when looking from the outside. But the most packed shows we play are always there. The support in Ottawa is unreal, and there’s something so cool about having a nearly fully bilingual crowd. There are some REALLY talented bands from Ottawa as well, our good Buddies Finding Chuck and Mosquitos for starts… but I could really go all day with awesome Ottawa acts. Great town for music, it has a great attitude and support system for it’s artists, and great artists for it’s fans.
(4) In the past month you’ve released the terrific album, Global Citizen. Apart from the fact that Global Citizen is also the title of one of your songs, why did you settle on this title for the album? Is it important to be a Global Citizen and why/why not?
We titled the album Global Citizen for a few reasons: A) we really love that crowd hook at the end, B) (more seriously) it kinda sums up a lot of what we’re about. The lyrics talk about human fragmentation, and how we relate more strongly to a kinda silly national identity (beavers + maple syrup + “thank you sorry eh”) than we do to the suffering and state of affairs outside of our immediate field of vision.
(5) Bits of the album suggest an anger (or at least a frustration) with the music industry. What’s wrong with it and what would you change about it if you could?
I suppose you’re PROBABLY asking about Pulling Teeth. Really I wrote that song about advertising and the culture that’s sold between the satirical one-liners in our commercials. That said… the state of the industry has a lot of similar goofiness as well. We’re bombarded every day with the same 4 chords and lowest-common-denominator “sex n’ money” lyrics; Pulling Teeth is about how selling the idea that you’re not good enough unless you have X amount of dollars and intercourse, at the cost of our confidence and self respect, is REALLY destructive to our humanity.
(6) Who are your influences?
Main influences I guess are Toots and the Maytals, Sublime, Planet Smashers, Against me, all our friends, and global events.
(7) The video to ‘Hat’s off’ is a pretty entertaining watch. What was the thinking behind it when you made it?
Ahhhh the Hats off video haha. A few of our dear friends at Prototype D invited us to an abandoned factory to shoot some sort of video. It was all very loosy goosy show up and see what happens, so that morning the boys and I decided we’d surprise them by dressing up like super (idiots) heroes! They were certainly surprised as we showed up over an hour late (we’re real divas when it comes to superhero costumes). So feeling a little bashful we apologized for the late arrival, and followed that up with “And no we don’t have a clue what to do for this video”. I don’t even think we knew we were going to shoot hats off. We basically had to turn a somewhat uncomfortable situation around visa vi running around like clowns, jumping, and climbing whatever we could find. Luckily the city workers and our good pals at Prototype D forgave us, and all in all the video came out quite well!
(8) Is it obligatory to wear a cardboard crown at a ‘Cardboard Crowns’ gig? Who typically wears the best one?
It’s not mandatory or anything… but it can be lucrative! Originally our hardcore friend-base started wearing crowns to our shows to show their support. We then tried to reciprocate the love (and start a wicked gimmick) by offering discounts ticket rates at the door for people wearing home-made crowns. We’ve seen SO many awesome crowns at our shows over the years it’s hard to pick the best. We had one gentleman with a castle for a crown, complete with working draw bridge, we’ve seen Lord Sauron’s crown carefully constructed over at least several hours… personally I love it when people incorporate egg cartons. Those ones are just hilarious for some reason.
(9) What are your plans and dreams for 2015 (and onwards)?
The Crowns want to do it. We want to be a self sufficient, fully independent band that tours and meets cool new friends and have a great time. We want to try to get people onboard with global thinking, and we want to, frankly, make a positive change in the world. It’s a tall order, but with the amount of awesome people jumping on board every day, be it by donating to doctors without borders, at our album release shows, showing solidarity with crowns, making AWESOME cover videos (montreal boys!) it feels like it’s happening, and we couldn’t be more excited and thankful!
(10) And finally – energetic humour isn’t far from the surface with ‘The Cardboard Crowns’. What’s your current favourite joke?
Hmmm… I feel like the best jokes the crowns know are usually when we actively try be funny on stage. Every time we plan any sort of gag, or joke or whatever we always get a TON of laughs… The kind of laughs that manifest themselves 2 years down the line in one of those “hey remember how DUMB that idea was?! MAN are we lame” kinda conversations. I think our favourite jokes are one ones where everyone ends up laughing at how bad we SUCK at being funny lol. Anyone who’s been to a crowns show will know our banter is always ripe with this kind of “comedy”!
I don’t know about you – but I can’t wait for these guys to be able to tour Europe. They’d make a pretty decent festival band…
In 2013, Public Service Broadcasting were perhaps the band that I saw play live more than any other. I was new to gig reviewing when I caught them at Leicester’s Musician but I was relatively happy with the finished article I prepared for eGigs (here). I was so impressed with them that particular night that I saw them a couple of nights later in Northampton.
As Spring passed and Summer arrived, we seemed to follow each other around the festival circuit. From Beat-Herder to Deershed, here was an act that were pretty compelling to watch. Technical difficulties aside, you knew what you were going to get with PSB. As enjoyable as it was, after a Summer spent over-dosing on their live set, you couldn’t help but wonder if this might be a one trick pony. Where might they take this next?
I needn’t have worried. It appears that J.Willgoose, Esq. and Wrigglesworth are more astute than to let their careers fizzle out by not developing their offer.
Public Service Broadcasting have just released the video for the first single from their upcoming second album, The Race For Space. They’ve added chunks of brass and layers of string to their more trademark sound. This tune, Gagarin, wouldn’t be out of place on a Daft Punk album. PSB are ramping up the funk rocket and having a spacesuit disco.
“We wanted to surprise people, and show that there is a depth and breadth to our musical interests and influences that goes far beyond our first album”, says Willgoose about this release. I think they’ve succeeded.
The video makes for pretty entertaining viewing as well. Those familiar with the largely static Willgoose, presenting an image somewhere between Dr. Who and a teacher of Geography, as he stands behind instruments issuing pre-recorded statements had better think again; for, in this video we get movement (lots of it), dancing that mightn’t be out of place on ‘Strictly’ and a triumphant, joyful exuberance that feels perfectly in keeping for “the hero who blazed the trail to the stars.”
I would embed it directly here but I can’t find it on Youtube yet so here’s the link to NPR where the video launched.
I wish that I was in London this coming Thursday. If I was then I’d be delaying my trip home and heading to the Tamesis Dock, a boat moored on the Albert Embankment, somewhere between Vauxhall and Westminster.
For that’s where Blang Records are hosting a free split single launch party. Two new(ish) bands to me, Sheepy and Lucy’s Diary share the release. I’m keen on both sides of the single but it’s the charming Mod(ish) Britpop bleat of Sheepy’s ‘Don’t Know Much’ that’s mostly grabbed my attention. Just for avoidance of any doubt, Sheepy are not to be confused with the Shepee’s found on festival sites, most commonly at Glastonbury.
It’s evident within the cheeky, chirpy video for ‘Don’t Know Much’ that Sheepy are a three piece. If you’re the sort who recognises cathedrals and churches whilst looking out from the cockpit of a paper aeroplane you might also pick up on the fact that Sheepy are from Liverpool.
Clocking in at a little under two minutes, Sheepy confirm what we’ve always known that length isn’t important (right?) – for, in this short burst of a song, Sheepy prove that their seven inch offers infinitely more than can often be heard in tracks twice as long. This has energy, immediacy and pzazz by the bucketload. It’s very difficult not to fall for its charms.
I mightn’t know much but I reckon they’ll be dancing on the dock and rocking in the rigging come Thursday night.
I intended to post this a while ago – but other things got in the way. I live in Leicester and one of the initial intentions when launching Sonic Breakfast was that I’d feature the many quality bands from these parts.
I don’t know if it’s because they’re shy or if it’s because they consider a blog post from Sonic Breakfast as career limiting but, by and large, Leicester based bands rarely get in touch. This is a shame.
Such shyness is not part of the make-up of Violet Cities. In a previous life, I managed their lead singers previous band. It was great fun working with the James Lewis Band but when their time in the local limelight was done so was my brief foray into band management. James continues to be an exceptional songwriter and frontman and it’s no surprise to me that the band he’s now fronting, Violet Cities, are building an impressive profile that reaches wider than the city of Leicester. I’ve kept a keen eye on their progress and a couple of months ago wrote the following about them –
Dig around their twitter feed and you might come to the conclusion that Violet Cities are the latest in a long line of boy bands. It’s certainly true that the looks and talent of these four young men haven’t escaped the attention of teenage girls (and boys) keen to find a new poster for their bedroom walls.
But, this is only half the story. Boy band can be a maligned term and there’s nothing manufactured about James, James, Paul and Dan. Quality musicianship, songs about their day jobs in which they graft, clever harmonies and a live show that will appeal to teeny bopper, indie blogger and your granny alike. There’s a freshness, friendliness and honesty about their approach that delights all who see them.
2014 has been a stunning year for Violet Cities during which, through hard work and tenacious talent, they’ve shown how they can support out-there indie acts such as Ezra Furman whilst not being out of place sharing a festival main stage with Labrinth and UB40 or headlining their local Oxjam event. 2015 is set to be even better.
This is more Beatles than Boyzone. You’d be crazy to miss out on this bandwagon.
Violet Cities recently launched the video to their latest single, ‘Run’. Filmed in Skegness in the summer, it captures the innocence, the joy and yet the underlying unrequited sadness that exists within their writing. It’s worth a watch.
“I couldn’t remember nouns. I called knives and forks things. One day I could hear and the next day I was deaf”.
It’s in this way that Sam Baker describes the days and weeks that followed a Peruvian train bombing that he was lucky to survive. He talks about the little German boy who was sat opposite him when the bomb, placed in a luggage rack above their heads, exploded. “He wasn’t so lucky; I don’t have the right to complain.”
We’re into the second half of the set when Sam tells this life-changing tale from his past. It’s a well-honed tale now but, even if you’ve heard it before, you can’t help but be caught up in the overwhelming surge of emotion that accompanies its delivery. This show at Camden Dingwalls is in two parts and, by his own admission, “you’re going to look back at the first set and say, man, that was a happy set.” It’s all comparative of course. Sam only has one ‘love song’; the rest of his tunes are all dowsed with a downbeat Americana; these are songs about cotton production in God-fearing lands, sparsely arranged and hauntingly told.
For much of these two sets, Sam is joined on stage by Carrie Elkin and Chip Dolan. Chip is the quieter one of the three, a multi-instrumentalist who lets his skills on keyboard, guitar, accordion and vocal harmony do the talking; Carrie is more energetic in her chat. When she sings (or whistles) you get that hushed sense across the audience that only comes when witnessing something stunning. Standing metres from her mic, Carrie knows how to squeeze every drop of emotion from the purity of her vocal.
“Is anybody in the room more newly married than 16 days?“, asks Sam early in the set. Carrie raises her hand and we celebrate her newfound wedded bliss. Sam tells us that he was the wedding officiant and that Carrie’s husband, Danny, remains in the U.S. “This is the weirdest honeymoon ever,” pines Carrie. There’s an over-riding sense of friendship within the room.
This warm friendship and good-natured humour always acts as a counter-balance to the more serious song matter that’s being conveyed. Much is made of the fact that this is the 11th show of this ‘Say Grace’ tour. It’s number eleven because this is the eleventh time ever that Carrie has played the accordion. She picks it up for one tune and plays a note perfect, basic melody. We know she’s learning and the smiles are generous. Sam refers to his album that made the top ten Rolling Stone country albums of the year. “It was just behind Keith Urban – he’s now married to Nicole Kidman,” says Sam by way of comparison. You sense, though, that he’s playing at envy and he wants to be nowhere else but here, in this Monday moment, on a stage in North London.
When you’ve lived a life and experienced the extremes in the way that Sam Baker has, you probably do have a heightened sense of the need to make every moment count. Tonight, at Camden Dingwalls, the audience were given a gentle nudge towards doing the same. This show cannot fail to have a pure, positive impact. You never know what’s around the corner and how your life might change forever.
When I was a boy, I had a weekly subscription to the ‘Dandy’ comic; for me, this was an act of wilful rebellion. Whilst my friends obsessed about Dennis The Menace and the Beano, I strove to be different.
Back then, I was oblivious to the alternative meaning of ‘Dandy’. But, student days exploring Wilde, Baudelaire, Warhol and pantomime put me right. The definition is still hard to nail. Dandyism is a much-maligned way of life but it’s hard to see beyond this text from Camus in L’homme Revolte.
“The dandy can only play a part by setting himself up in opposition. He can only be sure of his own existence by finding it in the expression of others’ faces. Other people are his mirror. A mirror that quickly becomes clouded, it’s true, since human capacity for attention is limited. It must be ceaselessly stimulated, spurred on by provocation. The dandy, therefore, is always compelled to astonish. Singularity is his vocation, excess his way to perfection.”
Many of my friends might argue that the above describes me? It’s certain that the compulsion to astonish and to place myself in opposition has been prevalent since I read the ‘Dandy’ as a boy.
German Electro artist, Honey Tower, has just released an 8-track concept album referencing literary, philosophical and historic manifestations of distinct Dandyism. She draws influence and inspiration from stories of the past, playing with musical styles in an attempt to astonish the listener.
I’m particularly drawn to the story of tragic dandy, Franz Reichelt, who was so convinced of the strength of his parachute-onesie that he jumped in it from the Eiffel Tower in 1912. His equipment failed and Reichelt plummeted to the floor in full glare of friends and press. Some ridicule his stupidity (and he was without doubt foolish) but I’m more impressed by his excess, his misplaced confidence and his singularity.
Across the 8-tracks on Honey Tower’s album, there’s much going on. You’d dance to this at a club without giving the subject much thought and listen to this at home whilst fully considering the content. It’s intelligently dark dance music, erudite electro and techno that teaches. It’s a perfect way in to the weekend.
I’ve got my onesie and I’m off to Paris. Who’s coming?
I’m a little ashamed to admit this but I dismissed The Unthanks for years. “Not for me“, I’d say to myself if I saw them listed in a festival programme or heralded in a magazine review.
I don’t entirely know why or how I’d arrived at such a position. Such was my stubbornness that I’m not sure I’d ever properly listened to them. Others would tell me that they were producing the most beautifully compelling music. I would tell others that they were wrong.
In 2013, I went along to the Deershed festival (full review here). It was a Sunday afternoon and there was little else on around the site. A journalist I thoroughly respected advised me I shouldn’t miss The Unthanks. I might have gone along to be critical but ended up saying this:-
“An hour later, The Unthanks take to the Big Top stage to perform their ‘Songs From The Shipyards’ show. It’s another history lesson supplemented with film images and it tells the story of the rise and fall of the Shipbuilding industry in the North East of England. The combination of perfect harmonies and poignant images leave many in the audience grasping for their tissues to catch their tears. Images of Thatcher elicit hisses of disapproval yet no tears are shed at this point. The hour ends and those in the audience who are sat stand to their feet to offer an ovation to a truly remarkable show. This is a show not to miss.”
If anything, I remember this show being better than I describe. I could have indulged in more superlatives than I did – but I was converted to their extraordinary power.
A couple of days ago, The Unthanks released a video; the title track of their new album, Mount The Air. For a band who you’ll often find in the ‘folk’ section of your local HMV (I have no idea if such a thing still exists on two counts), this is pretty expansive stuff. They know their roots but aren’t afraid to experiment as they branch out into a sound with jazz overtones and epic pop climaxes.
Apparently, ‘Mount The Air’ is based upon a one-verse traditional ditty found in a book of Dorset songs. Regular readers will know that I grew up in Dorset so this earns the tune extra brownie points. The video is a charming animation in which the main protagonist changes form (from woman to bird to fish). I don’t think it matters whether you understand the narrative or not.
Whatever, I’m glad that I’m no longer in the ‘Not for me’ camp. This is too good to miss.
“Sean, why have you never featured anything from South America on Sonic Breakfast before?” asked an imaginary friend the other day.
I had to concede that I had no answer to this question. The friend, created just so that I could find a way to begin this blog-post, had a point.
I knew the name of Sergio Mendes, one of the most successful Brazilian musicians of all time, but couldn’t ever recall listening to any of his compositions. Jazz piano with a bossa-nova beat was never high on my list of must listens. My horizons should have been broader. The World Cup in Brazil wasn’t the best for the English team and supporters but at least we were introduced to some new sounds.
I was sent a copy of Sergio Mendes’ new album, ‘Magic’, alongside a pretty lengthy press release. Maybe there would be things I’d appreciate within this record; for Mendes is ‘a grand conceptualiser’, ‘a truly singular artist’ and ‘curious and intuitive’.
Mendes makes considerable use of collaboration on this album. Janelle Monae, John Legend and Seu Jorge are names I recognise but the cast also includes names that are new to me; Milton Nascimento, Carlinhos Brown and Maria Gadu. They’re all given scope to show off their talents with Mendes almost taking a back seat in proceedings.
A couple of days ago I walked to the train station. It’s a forty minute walk from my house. There was a spit of rain but no downpour. I thought I’d put my headphones on and listen to ‘Magic’ as I walked. I was transported back to the summer. There’s such a sunny warmth within this music that it can’t fail to energise, even if the weather is dismal. Thirty minutes later, I was at the train station.
‘Magic’ – it’ll give you a spring in your step and put a smile on your face.