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. 

 

 

 

Wovoka Gentle, Gareth Jones & Laucan – Corsica Studios – June 5th 2019

Wovoka Gentle release their debut album today.

 

‘Start Clanging Cymbals’ is a glorious record. Complex, kaleidoscopic and smart, it draws upon all sorts of influence whilst remaining charmingly accessible. It’s a bold thirteen track statement that says hello to the wider world by making a lot of noise without straying far from the core ambition of ensuring that the overall effect is one of joy. It’s clearly no accident that the final words on the record are a fading refrain of ‘Happy Music’. 

The press release gets things right when it observes that Start Clanging Cymbals is an ‘experimental, psychtronica, folk-rock wonderland’. More than a little obsessed, Sonic Breakfast heads off to the album release party to see Wovoka Gentle for the fourth time in 2019.

Corsica Studios, built in industrial arches a stones throw from Elephant & Castle, is a new venue to add to my list. Dark, compact and club-like, this is an ideal location for tonights sold out gig. Visuals are projected around the box-shaped room; the impact is immersive, inclusive and euphoric. Short DJ sets ensure that the music flows in between the support acts. 

Laucan perches on a stool off-stage and in the crowd with a guitar and gadgetry. He loops his falsetto vocal and guitar licks to draw Thom Yorke-like comparisons. “Where did you all come from?”, he says when the crowd respond by surrounding him. Some sit on the floor at the front of the circle and that feels entirely appropriate for the gentle very-English folktronica that follows. “This one’s about the Old Kent Road”, says Laucan before confessing that he’s wearing his Mum’s jumper and the sleeves are getting in the way. As a whole, this is music that’s yearning for something lost in history and it’s a fine tastter for what’s to come. 

 

I must mention the crowd; Wovoka Gentle’s audience are a good-looking bunch, so much so that I stick out like a sore thumb. Beautiful and classy with the whitest of toothy smiles, a bit plummy, you suspect that these are friends made during stints at conservatoires and finishing schools. It’s not an unpleasant discomfort that I feel. Many keep chatting unaware that the second support has started. 

Gareth Jones stands in a similar place to Laucan but twiddles knobs on a complex array of sound-making machine. When he starts, it’s not immediately clear that he has; the sound is drone-like, glitchy and confidently considered. Gareth stands by his equipment wearing a bandana; he’s a surgeon completing the most complicated operation known to man. The slightest error might cause death and his concentration levels are appropriate. As his set progresses more of the It crowd become IT conscious; they turn away from their chats increasingly aware that this understated noise is actually a performance. The beats build and the melody grabs. “Oh my, this is such a dirty sound”, says somebody nearby, now enthralled by what they’re witnessing. At the set close, there are loud cheers. Gareth joyfully raises his arms aloft; a triumph over initial adversity.

 

Everyone knows when Wovoka Gentle take to the stage. This is their night. I wonder if the set-list will be different from the half hours I’ve previously heard this year; there’s much on ‘Start Clanging Cymbals’ that doesn’t see light of day live. I don’t wonder for long; Wovoka Gentle have plumped for the tried and tested set list; the well-rehearsed one that they’re clearly comfortable with. All three are clearly delighted to be playing a sold-out night here; a vindication that their approach to music-making might well put them on the map.

Two large papier-machė eyes look down on us from either side of the space; a nose made from similar material sits on the floor creating a face to play within. When strobe-like lights shoot out of the eyes, the effect is electric, virtually psychedelic. This is club music for a Nick Drake fan. The acapella sections attain aural perfection with Imogen, Ellie and Will’s voices delightfully balanced together. 

For me, it’s a set that allows three of Wovoka Gentle’s recent releases to come to the fore. ‘1000 Opera Singers Working In Starbucks’ simply sounds respledent and ‘Peculiar Form Of Sleep’ emerges as an audience singalong. ‘Sin Is Crouching At Your Door’ has surely never sounded better and I’m reminded of the quote I’d seen earlier in the album press release.

Yeah, so we tried to restrain it and incorporate natural sounds,” says Imogen. It’s not heavy metal – it’s heavy wood!

Wonderful, happy music with the ability to get under your skin; rewarding noise that is far from simple yet so joyful you can’t help but beam. ‘Start Clanging Cymbals’ has arrived with fanfare and I humbly suggest you join this ride pronto. 

 

False Advertising – The Old Blue Last – June 3rd 2019

Trump is in town and everything seems quiet. The protests don’t appear to have spread in the numbers predicted. Instead, there’s an eerie sort of calm. Police outnumber public on the Mall. They twiddle their thumbs and wait for something to happen. If each day of his visit is like this (the talk is that things will ramp up today), the attention seeker will have to create his own news stories; probably not a challenge for one so blessed with the skills of false advertising.

False Advertising are a three piece grunge unit. They play the Old Blue Last on the day that Trump hits town. A glut of amateur photographers at the front of the crowd suggests that there might be a buzz about this trio. Recent 6 music and festival successes would tend to back that up.

A disclaimer – I find grunge difficult to get excited about. Despite a wide and varied love for most musical genres, this is a style that largely leaves me cold. It’s entirely possible that if I’d have stumbled across an early live Nirvana show back in the day, I would have simply given them a wide berth. My critical faculty goes out the window. And so False Advertising have to achieve much to impress.

Three songs in and I contemplate leaving. Each number has sounded the same to my ears. It’s clear that singer, Jen, can belt out a tune and that she’s ably assisted by decent enough musicianship but, for me, this is adequate without being particularly likeable. There’s little thought that’s been given to stage show; it’s spit ‘n’ sawdust music for those who love 1990’s Seattle. “I don’t think I’ve ever been sharp before”, says Jen, pleasantly unaware of the double-meaning as she apologetically tunes her guitar.

Jen swaps places with Chris, the drummer, and there are glimpses of improvement. He sports a fringe down to his mouth and a head that’s shaved at the sides. It’s hardly a bellow of a rock voice he has but, for a moment, the harmonies hit and the tunes entertain; dare I say it, the grunge is less obvious. 

The original formation reforms with Jen returning to lead vocal duty. Sweetly, she encourages all to move towards the front so that she can hand out sticky lollipops. The lollies advertise False Advertising’s new single, ‘You won’t feel love’. It’s an undeniable set highlight. The grunge gets punkier, more direct and more melodic; I almost lose myself in enjoyment. 

All around, people are obviously getting this more than I am. Some flail about urgently as if their lives depend upon it. Despite some glimpses of greatness, I have to ultimately concede that I’m not feeling the love for this more than competent band.