Slow Club – Leicester Cookie – February 24th 2015

(Support for tonight’s show came from London based three piece, Happyness. Seeing as it was them that secured me my guest-list ticket and also because they’re bloody good in their own right, I’ll be reviewing and featuring them shortly on Sonic Breakfast. This article is all about Slow Club.)

There’s a message that’s painted into an overhanging part of the ceiling down here in the excellent music venue and basement of Leicester’s Cookie. ‘Respect the artist respect the art’, it says. There’s no danger tonight that this packed-in crowd won’t obey such a command for Sheffield’s Slow Club are in town and there’s a lot of love on show.

Charles and Rebecca, the duo that are the bones behind Slow Club, appear confused by their popularity. “There’s so many people here. Who knew? Slow Club are huge in Leicester“, they say before Rebecca attempts to explain it by letting all know that her brother came to University here. Later in the set, Charles asks if anybody remembers when they played De Montfort Hall as part of the now, very much missed, Summer Sundae festival. He urges all to start a campaign to get them to play there again, so impressed was he with the building (Simon Says anybody?). Loose family ties and previous City shows might go a little way to explaining their popularity tonight but the truth is, I suspect, that most people are here because they know just how exciting a live proposition Slow Club are.

That reputation can only have been further secured after the release last year of their latest album, “Complete Surrender”. The set list tonight is mostly drawn from this album. From the Motown crispness of set opener, ‘Tears Of joy’ through to the nostalgic, shimmering Stax-like soul of ‘Suffering You, Suffering Me’ and the electro-pop of the albums title track, this is a band not afraid to mix up styles and stage dynamics to keep us enthralled. They swap instruments between songs. Charles apologises when he sits at the keyboard that nobody beyond the front row will see him for three minutes or so. Rebecca moves between guitar and drums with ease.

Some of my favourite tunes on the album are the ones where Rebecca, dressed tonight in a T-shirt that says ‘I defy your labels’, lays bare her grief about a relationship breakdown. It’s simply stunning songwriting and tonight the power of these songs are at the core of my enjoyment. Early in the set, a stripped back version of ‘Not mine to love’ brings the grief of that affair to the forefront. When Rebecca sings, you feel that she’s re-living every word and every memory from this period of her life. We wait until the encore for ‘Dependable people and things that I’m sure of’. Dramatically conveyed and full of tender bitterness, the audience are reaching for a collective tissue by the end.

I’d hate to give the impression though that this is an emotional wringer of a gig. It has those moments but they’re more than offset by the ramshackle, humble humour and laidback charm on display. Effortlessly, Slow Club connect with their crowd. It’s freezing cold outside but, down here in this basement, it’s almost unbearably sweaty and hot. The band make light of the facade behind encores by refusing to milk the audiences cheers for too long. “It’s too cold to wait outside in the alley“, they say. The Leicester punters are told by Rebecca that this has been her favourite show of the tour. “It’s much better than Stoke”, adds Charles. For their second encore, the band raise the roof by strolling into the crowd and playing an acoustic version of ‘The pieces’ in the round. Fans get out their phones to film a moment.

Tonight, we have respected a band who are at the top of their craft.

 

 

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The Hoot Hoots – Colorpunch

There’s a theme park in the South of England called Paultons Park. I’ve not been there for quite some time. But, for a couple of years when my son, Ollie, was not yet ready to graduate to the more extreme rides of larger and more expensive theme parks (Alton Towers), he’d clutch his cuddly owl toy tight as we had some fine, happy times on the gentle rollercoasters and water rides on offer. This was the Nintendo DS of theme parks.The strapline on the advertising at that time was ‘you’ll have a hoot hoot at Paulton Park’. We always did.

I guess it’s inevitable that I’d be drawn to a band called ‘The Hoot Hoots’ though I’m pretty sure that any similarity between them and the strapline of a theme park in the South of England is pure coincidence. The Hoot Hoots hail from Seattle and offer up a brand of fuzzy, geek-fuelled power pop that I probably obsessed over a bit too much when Ollie was younger (it’ll explain his love of Gangsta rap now!).

 

The Hoot Hoots released a new album, Colorpunch, in November of last year. I saw no reviews of the album; there was no blogger buzz and no PR push. This week, I was fighting with an ironing pile and listening to a random stream of music when a track came on by the band. It caught my ear; I’m not averse to being distracted when completing such a mundane chore but nonetheless, this had my full attention. I wondered if The Shins might have released something new.

A sneaky peak at Bandcamp and Colorpunch has accompanied me on my travels this week. It’s an exuberant album and it’s difficult not to raise a smile when listening. The Hoot Hoots don’t always go for obvious topics in their choice of songs. Opening track, In The Air, places lead vocalist and guitarist, Adam Prairie, behind the cockpit of a plane. His instruction is done and he’s flying solo for the first time. Given the bands stated love of video games (they challenge other bands to Mario Kart competitions on their FB page) we might never know if this is a flight simulation or reality. I’m not sure it matters. Elsewhere, there’s references to super-heroes, fantasy fighting and rocketships.

But, I’d hate to give the impression that this is an album that’s detached from the real world. It’s not. We’ve got songs of incredible tenderness within; songs that express the different stages of relationships with stunning simplicity. In ‘See You’, one of my favourites, Adam is in that space where he wants to spend every waking hour with his muse. “I don’t want a world where I can’t see you , I don’t want a world where I can’t see you every day” he pines in the upbeat chorus. ‘Nancy’ is about the high school love that got away. In ‘Confused’, Adam’s in that lonely space at the end of a relationship, aware enough to know why things didn’t work but still wishing that a solution could be found so that he didn’t have to sleep alone.

I post a track from Colorpunch but also an early video from The Hoot Hoots. I think it’s a fine representation of the fuzzy pop world they inhabit. We should start a movement to get the Hoot Hoots to cross the Atlantic and play a show at Paultons park.

 

 

Jacco Gardner – Find Yourself

I’ve had a restless night of half-sleep. I lay wide awake at half past four in the morning aware that, if I did fall to sleep, I might again be woken by one of the fleeting nightmares that are punctuating my dreams. In the past half hour, a ghost-like witch has briefly joined me in bed, poked me hard in the back with a long fingernail, cackled as I jumped awake and left as quickly as she came.

Fortunately, such dreams rarely disturb my sleep as much as this. I’ll be tired when I head off to present in Bedworth later but I know that I’ll probably sleep better tonight. I turn to music and listen to Jacco Gardner’s single , Find Yourself, from his forthcoming album, Hypnophobia, that’s getting a release in May.

I feel for those with hypnophobia. Hypnophobia is the often irrational and excessive fear of sleep. It results from a feeling of control loss, or from repeating nightmares or anxiety over the loss of time that could be spent accomplishing tasks or maximizing leisure time instead of sleeping. Maybe, I’ve got a mild form of this tonight. My mind is full of the things I need to do.

‘Find Yourself’ is taking me away to another place. I don’t need to defrost my car later today because I’m transported to a warm summer day. I’m lying under a tree, taking shelter from the warm rays of the sun. Men and women, dressed in white robes and with long flowing locks are beaming broadly as they dance and whirl around me to the sound in the distance of a Wurlitzer organ. Next to me a beautiful woman smiles as she pulls daisies from the earth and ties them to others that she’s previously picked. This is bliss.

Jacco Gardner is described as a baroque-pop prince. A Dutch producer/multi-instrumentalist, Gardner’s all set to cast a majestic and vibrant psychedelic spell that will hypnotize listeners at the point dreams and reality meet. Since unveiling his Cabinet of Curiosities in 2013 (released on the Trouble In Mind label), fans have been drawn deeper into his fantastical fairytale kingdom. The opening track from ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’, ‘Clear The Air’ sets the tone and ‘Find Yourself’ strides further down that path of discovery.

 

 

Blank – Only Built For Northern Lights

Dear sir,
Hazel Ruxton, is right in her answer but, in Swedish at least, these letters are distinct characters in their own right, which appear at the end of the alphabet, so it wouldn’t be quite right to describe these dots (or the ring) as an accent. The A with two dots (Ä) is pronounced like the english word “air”, whereas the A with the ring (Å) is pronounced “oar”, there is also an O with two dots (Ő) which is pronounced “eugh” – or something rather similar, there isn’t really an equivalent sound in English. Out of interest your readers might like to know that the Ő character appears as Ø in Norwegian but this is still the same letter.
Peter Clark, Cambridge, England

The two little dots (the acid tabs of punctuation) might be called Umlauts; diacritics that I’m completely ignorant about. From what I can tell, this umlaut alters the pronunciation. It gives more influence and more prominence to the vowel sound. I wonder if re-introducing the umlaut to written English might resolve those debates between the North and South of our country. (‘You say bath, I say bath’, ‘you say scone, I say scone’).

I don’t know how to show the umlaut from this I-pad keyboard. This is unfortunate given that I’ve recently been listening to the new album by ‘Blank’ (they have an Umlaut above the a in their name). I want to review “Only Built For Northern Lights” because it’s extremely good but don’t want to misinform readers about the name of the band. The canvas is not blank.

Blank are a Swedish/Sapmi (Lapland) trio. This new release builds from a core of electronica and pop to embrace all sorts of other influences. Old school hip-hop mixes with laid back trip hop; rap is mashed up with traditional Sapmi folk to create a diverse yet rooted listening experience.

It’s an album in which Blank are on the brink; these are songs that are about facing up to life as you approach your 30’s; these are songs about coming to terms with relationships that are failing; “Life’s good, but I’m trying to make it better”, raps Simon Trabelsi on ‘This is Blnnk’, one of the track titles that doesn’t translate across into English. “I guess it’s time to move on”, he stresses in the closing track of the record, ‘P.O.V.’.

It’s those positive statements of intent (and the upbeat nature of the electronic pop on offer) that pull this back from being a melancholic break-up record. But, the relationship that has come to an end is never far from the surface. In lead single, ‘Tears Run Dry’, we hear the breathy yet lush Lina moan that, “I guess it’s over between me and you” before pulling herself together in the chorus and stressing that now she’s going to run until the tears run dry. “In time the pain will fade”, she pines on ‘In disgrace’.

Many are predicting that this is a record that’s going to thrust Blank into the mainstream. It’s definitely a record in which the band are preparing themselves for change. There’s potential hit singles within and I’m prepared to wager that we might all know how to access the umlaut on our keyboards by the time we come to pull together our best of lists at the end of the year.

 

 

 

OBS Unplugged – Claire Schofield

“Time goes by but you never realise
Until it’s gone and you’re still holding on, but is it too late?”

Memories of last weekend are fading slowly. We sang, we danced, we drank and we laughed. It was the fifth OBS Unplugged finale nights down at Leicester’s Musician. Twenty tremendous acts across Friday and Saturday, hand picked to ensure much praise was elicited from the busy throng watching.

It’s not my style to review these nights. I’d run out of superlatives and others do that better than me. OBS Unplugged is going to be supplying acts to local festivals over the summer; at some, it’ll be running a stage. You’ll be able to judge for yourselves at the likes of Simon Says, Riverside and Western Park whether or not my exuberant praise is based in bias.

I’ve previously blogged about Lucy Davies-Kumadiro and Guy Jones. They both delivered incredible sets on Friday. It was hard not to feel overwhelmed.

In some ways, the delightful Claire Schofield had one of the toughest slots of the weekend. First up on Friday, it was Claire who was able to set the tone for the rest of the evening. We were in safe hands. With delicate grace, she plucked at her guitar and sang with such a gentle and beguiling charm that few wanted her set to end. Despite some calls for more, Claire stuck carefully to her allocated time. Her style is not one of forceful arrogance. Once her set was done, Claire sat, quiet and content with her boyfriend, watching the rest of the evening evolve, generous in her praise of each of the other acts.

She sent me an E-mail the following day with a link to her debut album. I’ve dipped in and out of ‘The Unwind’ this week. It’s worth getting to know these tunes. ‘Summer Song’ is one of my favourites. When Claire plays this live, the melody sticks in your head so much that you find yourself humming the tune hours later. Claire tells me that her second album, ‘The Lighthouse’ is due for an imminent release in March.

 

 

There’s a video to another song from ‘The Unwind’ that I’ve attached here. ‘Plain Park Signs’ has both folky fragility and worldly weariness. Basically, it’s beautiful.

 

Charlie Belle – Get to know

“I told you I loved you. You told me that’s exactly what you didn’t want me to do.”

And with that we’re off. There’s a momentum that’s building around Charlie Belle. It’s easy to see why when listening to their debut EP’s lead track, ‘Get To Know’.

Sonic Breakfast heads off into all sorts of other diversions but I’ll always come back to innocent indie-pop for a regular feast. I was no more than four bars into the shambolic shuffle of ‘Get To Know’ when I knew I’d need to feature Charlie Belle.

The cynical and jaded amongst us might sniff a con; it’s true that the level of recent press engagement with these new kids on the block might indicate that there’s big bucks behind their simplistic approach. But, to take such a guarded stance denies you the opportunity to enjoy the youthful optimism on offer. This is a song that helps me feel like a teenager again.

Austin based Charlie Belle are a trio. Sixteen year old vocalist and guitarist, Jendayi Bonds, is the eldest member. She formed the band six years ago with her younger brother, Gyasi, who plays drums. That sibling connection often seems important in bands of this ilk. The Magic Numbers might be an obvious reference point but there’s no beards or excess weight on offer here. Completing the three piece is fourteen year old bass player, Zoe Czarnecki.

Life presents so many opportunities. As we get older and more comfortable in the patterns we’ve learnt, our sense of curiosity can be stifled. We do the same things, meet the same people and get stuck into our own musical ruts. It’s well worth staying fresh and getting to know Charlie Belle today.

 

Elvis Costello – My Funny Valentine

One of the first singles that I ever ‘owned’ was Elvis Costello’s ‘Oliver’s Army’. I wasn’t yet nine years old but I played it so much that I wore out the grooves on the vinyl. I sat in my bedroom and loved it. I tried to transcribe the words from it onto computer print-out waste paper that my Dad recycled from work. I missed the political nuances and called ‘Johannesburg’ Joanne’s bird.

My Dad bought it for me on the day that my younger brother, James, was born. I was transcribing the words so that I could give them to James as a ‘welcome to the world’ present, I’ve always been a bit odd.

On the B-side of the vinyl was Elvis Costello’s version of My Funny Valentine. Picture me, six months after getting the seven inch, in a village hall asking the DJ if he could play the B side of ‘Olivers Army’. It was Michelle’s birthday and I thought she might be impressed by my obtuse and slightly obscure take on music.

I’m still that eight year old boy.

Happy Valentines Day.. Sean x