Jade Jackson & Laky – The Old Blue Last – October 1st 2019

Will this guy ever shut up? A super-stalker of a fan has placed himself at the front of Old Blue Last’s stage and is using every opportunity, every break between songs, to tell Jade Jackson, the emerging Californian Americana star, that he loves her. He probably doesn’t realise quite how disruptive his over-the-top obsession is and mostly Jade is able to steer the attention away from him and back towards her. “Oh, you can play every song of mine on guitar can you?“, Jade observes. “Good to know should I get tired.

I go to a lot of gigs at the Old Blue Last and it’s fair to say that I’ve never seen the average gig-goer so advanced in age. Perhaps that’s a direct consequence of the music on offer; the timeless bar-room spit of cool Country is never going to seem relevant to the grime-fuelled  popsters who  typically frequent this place. And they’re missing out. 

Laky, support for the evening, is probably the youngest in here. She takes to the stage armed just with an acoustic guitar. The beanie she wears gives her folk credibility; her confident chat and well-composed songs the air of a protest singer who’s not quite settled upon a cause. The heckler at the front auditions for the main event by also directing far too much between-song adulation towards Laky. She’s clearly not quite sure how to deal with such unrequited love and so offers up a bit of Country. “Whoops, Americana I mean”, she says, correcting herself quickly.

When Jade Jackson last visited London, she gigged at The Slaughtered Lamb. Jade’s proud that she’s now playing a larger venue and few would bet against that ascendancy continuing when she returns again – for tonight Jade’s composed, languid songwriting really does entice those watching. When it’s good, this is a very special talent indeed. 

Jade reveals that she almost chose never to play set highlight, Tonight, live. Initially cautious of baring too much, this autobiographical maelstrom is a hard-hitting exercise in cathartic release. “Tonight I’m confused but that don’t take away my right to refuse”, Jade sings, whilst retelling an all-too-familiar tale of predatory behaviour. 

Jade’s band of Devin, Tyler and Julian, seriously talented sessioners, back her to the hilt. They can all play but Julian on guitar particularly stands out. Here’s a man who can make his instrument sing and is given plenty of opportunity to do so with solos a feature of most tunes. 

“Give this man a microphone”, says Jade before launching into a cover of Elvis’ ‘Burning Love’. Most of the crowd are in no doubt though – they want more of the act on stage and no encore from the talkative twat. 

 

Slurp, Attawalpa and Gladboy – The Shacklewell Arms – September 30th 2019

I realise that a mistake has been made. I’m standing here at a venue (which shall remain nameless) watching the second band of the evening. Two songs in and it’s clear that they’re slightly better than the first act but only marginally so. The first band were a sub-standard Biffy Clyro specialising in that dull, tuneless and turgid, exasperating Rock thing that tends to take itself far too seriously. I might be a glutton for punishment but this is simply foolish. 

A quick check on my phone reveals that there’s a free gig of interest on up at the Shacklewell Arms. It’s a taxi ride away at the best of times but tonight with the rain bucketing down that Uber is a necessity. On arrival, I immediately know that I’ve made a wise choice to abort on the first gig. 

Gladboy are playing. I only find out that they’re Gladboy after the event and only catch three of their songs but it’s enough to realise that this young bunch from Norwich are worthy of further attention. Mixing a punkish energy with a psychedelic and woozy doo-wop, they’ve got tunes and guile. The guitarist-vocalist takes drumming duty for the final tune whilst the fab backing singer stands centre stage, deliberately nonchalant in a red leather skirt. The crowd appreciate Gladboy’s efforts and you can see why. 

Attawalpa are up next. They take an age to get ready with front man, Luis (Attawalpa) hiding himself away in the toilet when the all-clear is given from the sound desk. I guess nervousness is a funny thing. Luis is engaging to watch, over-the-top black mascara highlighting the frustration and creativity at the sets core. Things start with a skewed nod to Pink Floyd before moving into a Brit Pop space. Luis’ lyrics excite and are conveyed with a mix of Cocker and Walker. He jumps out into the crowd loosely acknowledging friends and family who are looking on. Tall women, in all likelihood models, take to the floor to dance energetically. There’s a lot to take in and Attawalpa deserves further attention.

There’s some confusion over the name of tonight’s headliner. Advertised on the poster as Dragon’s Daughter, it would appear that this all-girl trio from France have now renamed themselves Slurp. CDs at the merch stall have the original name crossed out and the new name scrawled over in black marker. Slurp confess that they don’t speak much English but then proceed to introduce each song with fine diction. Jangly, bubblegum punk-pop is a genre of choice for Sonic Breakfast so this was always going to appeal but the lively delivery just adds to the pleasure. The songs might sound like three-minute throwaways but lyrically they’re taking on bigger issues; these women are hard, independent and not to be messed with.  I want to see more – and it appears that Slurp have more to play – but we pass 11 and I guess that Monday evening licence regulations mean that an abrupt halt ensues. 

September will shortly be over for another year. The rain still pours down. Shops begin to fill with Christmas stock; lights shimmer in the residue of drizzle. One constant remains – every night in this town, some fine bands will be playing (and some shit ones as well). 

Lady – Kadija Kamara, Kyra, Chess Galea and Buyinza – The Finsbury – September 24th

For the second night running, I head up to the Finsbury pub by Manor House station. There’s much to love about this space; always a friendly vibe and music that entices. 

Tonight though all of the stops are pulled out. Kadija Kamara has been running her monthly nights for three years now. Lady showcases female acts who are creating a buzz around town giving them a platform on which to perform. Everyone who takes to the stage is grateful to be playing; the night bleeds with warmth and generosity.

Buyinza, the nights opening act is a revelation. Fizzing with energy and a smiley, sunny presence that could melt the iciest of receptions, she romps through a sex-fuelled set of her own songs. “I write mostly about boys, my legion of lovers”, she tells us. She’s originally from Uganda, a fact celebrated in her opening tune; urban African beats with a backing tape. She captivates with her thrusting moves as she turns on an R’n’B tap letting us know that she wants to ‘get high in a different dimension’. Buyinza jumps into the crowd to dance before charming all with a tale of being stuck in Uxbridge tonight with no chance of making the gig. ‘Don’t give up’, she sings as the Metropolitan line comes back into action and saves the day. I’m glad it did. Buyinza is an imminent star. The fact that she stays until the end of the night, cheering, whooping and dancing wildly in support of the other acts on stage is a measure of this lady. Wonderful.

Once each act finishes their set, they are briefly interviewed by Kadija. It’s a top touch amplifying the supportive family feel that this night aspires towards. 

Chess Galea is up next. She’s accompanied by Dean on guitar. Chess acknowledges early on that she won’t be dancing quite like Buyinza did but we all probably need a bit of a breather in truth. A diehard romantic, Chess fantasises about being in love and nothing going wrong. She has songs about wrapping yourself in cellophane though I’m sure this is more metaphorical than literal. One would hope so anyway. At times, Chess’s vocal goes a tad too Mariah Carey for my liking; the over-elaborateness masking something that might sound better simple. All told though, there’s quite a pop-soul talent on display here. 

KYRA is third up, the headliner before Kadija plays a set. KYRA has Chris on keys and does a gentle yet elaborate jazz pop thing. Her vocal has a fine tone and you can see why record executives are buzzing around. Cause and cure, a recently released single sounds great though things really get going during Bandages, a track that KYRA wrote for a dying brother. She covers The Fugees before calling Buyinza back onto stage. It transpires that Buyinza, in rushing to the venue had nothing to wear and so creatively cut a jumper in half backstage and wore it as top and skirt.

Kadija is a great curator of talent yet it turns out she’s no musical slouch either. Fresh from a summer season at a few festivals, she’s not with a full band tonight but with a pretty talented guitarist. Together, they make a Motown soul sound frothing with a rockier Living Colour feel- the vocal is stylish and joyful. Kadija sings  ‘where did we go wrong?’ – and you want to tell her ‘nowhere tonight for you are the glue that has made all of this possible.’ A funked-up version of All Along The Watchtower sounds great. 

There is still time to dance the night away with Lady’s resident DJ, Handson Family. I stomp some steps amidst happy smiles. I learn of a Lady festival one-dayer that Kadja is putting on at Pop Brixton on October 27th and make a mental note to go along.

Reluctantly I leave the Finsbury. There is work tomorrow after all. Looking back over the makeshift dancefloor, take a guess who’s still throwing down some moves looking like the night is still young?

Frauds, Rope and Sans – The Victoria – September 19th 2019

Whilst others sit at home and watch the deliberations about the Mercury music prize, (best shortlist for many a year despite The 1975 inclusion) I do what I know and head to a gig. It’s back up to one of my favourite venues in this town, the Victoria in Dalston, for a night of noise from three bands who are new to me. 

Frauds are the headliners. They justify that billing by being by far the most entertaining of the trio on show. They’re a duo, madcap scientists whipping up punky potions for our aural delight. Mike stands centre stage, monk-cut apparent, slinging his guitar through all sorts of pedals to make quite a cacophony of splintering sound whilst Chris drums in frenzied fashion behind. Both take turns to sing. 

You can’t always make out what they’re singing about but you get the sense that Frauds are comfortable with the odd. Whether they’re bouncing on trampolines or questioning our acceptance of fake news, they do so sharing a positive vibe. And the healthily-sized fan base that have gathered respond by jumping into a vibrant mosh-pit. 

Nobody moshes for Rope, the second band of the night. That’s because their brand of slightly sludgey stoner psychedelia doesn’t best lend itself to such behaviour. They’re at their most productive when they enter into spaced-out instrumental prog jams but don’t quite feel the finished article to me as yet. Their keyboard/slide guitar player has already pissed me off before they take to the stage by displaying all sorts of off-stage ‘look at me’ arrogance so they have much to do by way of reparations. And when said chap arrogantly hushes the crowd mid-song, my ridiculously petty and judgemental attitudes are further confirmed. In Paisley shirt, Rope’s lead singer tells us that he ‘can show you how to be a real man’. I’m still waiting.

Sans open the night. Without warning and without melody, they offer an off-kilter noise punk that at times veers into angry jazz. It’s like listening to Beefheart in a dentists chair. Their singer hunches his shoulders and emits an anguished scream whilst bassist and drummer look on despairingly. “Why does it sting when I piss?“, they might howl confirming that they probably need to get to a medical practitioner pronto.

News filters through that Dave’s Psychodrama has won the Mercury. It’s fair to say that  it’ll never become a favourite of mine though I can certainly appreciate the talent and art involved in its production. And that’s probably also how I feel about tonight at the Victoria. Each band has entertained even if it’s not entirely been up my street. 

LIFE – Marathon Kebabs – September 18th 2019

Keith Jobey has a lot to be proud of. My mate from Leicester (via the North East) has been touting LIFE for as long as I’ve known him. I think I saw this fine band from Hull a few years ago at a festival and saw little special yet Keith bought the T-shirt. I was wrong and he was right.

In an altogether odd turn of events, I’m now standing in the back room of the iconic Marathon kebabs on Chalk Farm Road. LIFE are about to play a press show in advance of their second album release. And Keith should be here. But he’s not. I message him on Facebook to say that I’m having a lovely time. I’m a cunt like that. 

My initial aversion is long gone. Any lingering doubts were put to bed in Brighton this year at the Alternative escape. LIFE’s late night Sunday night set up at the out-of-town Admiral will surely go down as a thing of music folklore in years to come. And I was there. As was Keith. I wrote about it here.

This room is exciting. 

Marathon Kebabs is a venue steeped in popular culture history. The staff are ace and the kebabs fab. It’s an early show but I still eat the meat; my taste buds are confused by having such delicacy before midnight when sober. Once the late-night haunt of all manner of decadence, it’s a calmer space these days. But not necessarily right now. 

The back room at Marathon Kebabs has a crazy artex ceiling whipped up like upside-down gooey yet solid meringue. You fear that Mez, LIFE’s energetic frontman might do himself a serious injury as he jumps ever closer to the white spikes. He climbs onto chairs and benches, throws himself totally into it but ultimately avoids any danger. Promoting the album, A Picture Of Good Health, has only just begun and it’d be foolish to incapacitate yourself so immediately. 

And what an album it sounds like it’s going to be. The whirlwind tour through most of the tracks that we get tonight suggest that the band continue to develop both sonically and lyrically. Lydia’s pumping bass lines move things along with pace whilst Mez’s gnarly charm whilst singing is a wonder to behold. They’re embracing the personal and the political now; ‘Half Pint Fatherhood’ and current single ‘Bum Hour’ both draw attention to the plight and delight of being a single parent in Hull. Both are stand-out moments of the gig. 

There’s no stage at Marathon kebabs but that seems to suit LIFE just fine. They’d only break that fourth wall from the off anyway. This is a band that delights in community and interaction. They’re in your face and in the crowd so much that there are no boundaries. And it’s this, alongside the fact that the songs are bloody good that makes you want to see LIFE succeed.

The gig ends as quickly as it began. The four from Hull have laid on their fodder in London. Sweat drips from the walls, the ceiling and from our brows. It’s been a sprint at Marathon. I text Keith a ‘Wish You Were Here’ and head to the pub.

 

The Wants & PVA – The Waiting Room – September 16th 2019

I’d seen The Wants play when I was down in Brighton this year for The Great Escape. Then, their mix of angular, post-punk style had whetted an appetite (review here) that could now perhaps be sated by a Monday night freebie at Stoke Newington’s finest, The Waiting Room.

PVA are the support. It’s not until they take to the stage that I’m reminded that I’ve seen them before. I spend much of their opening number trying to get my memory to work eventually realising that it was barely weeks ago at The Old Blue Last, a gig I chose to simply enjoy and make no notes about.

But I recall liking this trio. Indeed, I might have even said so in passing comment to members of this distinctive genre-hopping band when they left that stage. They begin with an electro-punk soundclash banger, a phrase that could be ‘I was feeling so high’ shouted over the top of the track by Ella. PVA don’t want to let you settle though and before long we’re embracing industrial strobes and samples with post-punk dance noise. “I’m losing my voice“, says Ella unsurprisingly before PVA go all Hacienda circa 1990 on us. They pack a lot into this half hour set but there’s still time for Josh to vocoder his voice and take us into skewed dance-pop territory. “Like Cabaret Voltaire crossed with The XX”, says Shane, an impressed and charming screenwriter from LA I chat with in the break between bands. 

 

The Wants are two-thirds made up from members of those other prominent New York post-punkers, Bodega. I guess the maths behind that means you could call this a side project (of sorts). 

Dressed all in black with a concessionary pair of red socks, the  image is clearly important. They hurtle through their set; the urgent bass lines funking along whilst stalactite-shards of guitar stab into you. When Madison dances, it’s frenzied and angular; he bends into incredible poses like an action man with stiff joints. 

Lyrically, The Wants urge us to feel the weakness as we pick up the pieces. They remind us that they have no intimacy and so are never vulnerable. The cold, clinical tone, deliberately done, heightens the dramatic intent. 

It ends all too quickly. “We don’t have anymore”, says Madison after half an hour. But urged on by a crowd left wanting, a quick band chat leads to an encore of sorts; a strident instrumental piece that can’t fail to get us dancing. 

 

ADMT, Archie Langley & Tom King – The Social – Tuesday September 3rd

My love for London life has taken a literal bashing over the past couple of weeks. I thought that I was immune to the danger. I walked in the clouds, hopping onto night buses from gig to gig without a care in the world. Such naive freedom came to a grinding bump over the August Bank Holiday weekend when I was mugged, punched, bruised, battered and scuffed-up in broad daylight. 

It’s fucked with my confidence and messed with my head. 

The police are on the case and CCTV has captured the robbery in full technicolor glory. As time passes, I’ve no doubt that my confidence will once again build. But for now I’m content to just do a couple of gigs a week as opposed to the typical five. My bedroom, the rocking chair and a new vintage record player will see more action. 

I did head out on Tuesday though. Invites from Propeller records are never to be sniffed at. The Norwegian artist label are branching out via Propeller UK into a new market. And tonight at The Social, there are three acoustic acts that have been linked as early signings.

I arrive half way through Tom King’s opening set but see enough to realise that here we have an exciting new soul-pop talent. Only 17, he’s got a bit to learn about stagecraft but that’ll come. He already has a voice that’s the spit of Boy George at his most soulful. Tom’s polite and relaxed; he introduces each tune as if he’s communicating to a jazz crowd – and perhaps that’s where he’s heading. The Robyn cover that he ends his set with takes on new life in these surrounds. One to watch. 

 

It seems that most of the crowd at the Social are here to see the second act to take to the stage. According to his PR brief, Archie Langley draws his influence from the likes of Coldplay and Ben Howard. As I don’t this could be a painful half hour. Archie is tall and anguished. You suspect that he’s not really experienced extreme and tumultuous times in his tender years but that doesn’t stop him mining the grief. “Still feel the pain when you say my name”, he says in one ballad before launching into Greyhound, a song about when a friend, in this room, was going through a hard time – it’s Archie’s best on the evidence of tonight. Archie is joined by Christian on keys and guitar; Archie has a rich voice and a songwriting team around him and lyrics about waking up next to somebody so you suspect he might ultimately be alright. 

 

ADMT headlines the night. From Doncaster, he’s assisted by Tom for this set. There’s a stoned reggae-pop feel to the tunes and they’re delivered with charm and good grace. Sometimes when ADMT gets worked up by the emotion of his songs, there’s something a little Frank Spencer about his delivery. In one tune, I swear the chorus is going to launch into an ‘oooh Betty’ before taking stock and realising that most of the crowd here won’t get the comparison. But I like ADMT; I warm to his tales about mental health issues, city living and being a young man today. Indeed, Man Now, the future single more than connects and you realise that here we have another talent who could cope with a lucky break.

 

Every night across this town, there’s musical talent oozing out of bars, pubs and clubs. Life can sometimes toss some shit your way but that shouldn’t stop us punters making the most of the music.