Le SuperHomard – Institut Francais – April 25th 2019

London has so much to offer. It’d be easy to keep venturing out to the tried and trusted venues for my gig action but I’m keen to remain curious and to keep digging beneath the surface of this sprawling metropolis. Thus, I find myself on a pleasant Thursday evening in a stunning library surrounded by the very best French books.

This is not any library. The Denis Saurat Reading room at the Institut Francais is an architectural wonder; a dome at one end letting in stained and colourful shards of light . Ladders and wooden steps guide you to a book-laden balcony that runs around the outside of the room. I choose to sit down in one of the comfy modern pieces of furniture, a chair in beanbag shape. 

I’m here to see Le SuperHomard play a stripped-back set. This baroque pop is right up my street; their 60’s influenced bossa-nova tunes reconnect me with those days when I solely listened to Gainsbourg, St. Etienne, The Clientele and Air whilst dreaming of the life-changing romance that I was convinced was just around the corner. 

The romance never came and the cynical punk came out. But tonight it’s good to reminisce.

This gig is part of a monthly initiative, Music Rendezvous, within the Institut Francais, an effort to share the best of emerging French music with the British public and French ex-pats. But many of us here have already heard of Le SuperHomard. 6 Music DJs have picked up on some of the brilliance within their debut album, Meadow Lane Park, and have been urgently spinning key tracks. The fact that the record is released on the seminal indie-pop label, Elefant Records, evidently helps aa well. 

Typically a five piece, the library setting dictates the stream-lining. It’s SuperHomard first outing as a three-piece but you wouldn’t know by listening. Through a mix of electronica, acoustic guitar and sweet chanson action, the trio of Christophe, Julie and Benoit captivate all for 45 minutes with their Gallic pop. Dressed in a mix of denim, mod excess and blue and white striped fisherman shirts, the look screams twee and gorgeous cinematic hip. 

The music is dreamlike for the romantic poets gathered, a soundtrack to every holiday romance we’ve ever yearned for. It screams of sunny days in the park, misspent youth and nostalgic longing. When Julie dances with her arms locked behind her back we’re transported back to those days when indie disco had something to say, perhaps fittingly for an act named after a nightclub from a 1966 film.

We learn about the origins of the name (and all manner of other stuff) in a Q&A that follows the set. The trio are civilly interviewed; it’s polite, informative and engaging. Christophe is the main songwriter and Benoit the gifted producer who uses analog and digital methods of production to conjure up the fresh sound from a studio and music shop in Avignon. The lyrics are written by two of Christophe’s English-speaking friends because he wants to avoid any sense of Franglais. Julie’s voice is pretty English-sounding we all agree. Meadow Lane Park is (rather disappointingly) not an homage to Notts County, the oldest football team in the world, but rather a reference to a children’s park in the USA.

I make a note of Le SuperHomard impending date in Brighton for The Great Escape and add their set to my growing list of must-sees. “It’ll be livelier as a five piece”, promises Christophe to an audience that has already been converted. 

 

 

Malena Zavala & Wovoka Gentle – The MOTH Club – April 24th 2019

So enamoured am I by Wovoka Gentle, I can hardly pass up the opportunity to see them at the fine MOTH club in Hackney. They’re supporting Malena Zavala and both acts are on the quite stupendous Yucatan records roster. A cheeky E-mail to the label and they’re happy to add me to a guest list. What is not to like? 

I wondered pre-gig if I might have used up the extent of my vocabulary of superlatives on previous posts about Wovoka Gentle (here and here). But I needn’t worry. There’s so much that goes on within their half hour set that you can’t help but observe new variations. The set list might be the same but the experience isn’t. 

The trio take to the stage in shades of pastel-white tonight. Lights at the Moth Club are set to full-beam. It’s got the ambience of a tanning shop in the build up to a British summer (not that I’d really know what that ambience is) yet the brightness simply succeeds in bringing more pleasure. This is joyful, euphoric stuff akin to watching a trimmed down Polyphonic Spree at their peak. ‘1000 opera singers working in Starbucks’ particularly dazzles in the headlights, the harmonies and dynamics within the tune coming to the fore and making it impossible to do much more than broadly smile. Despite it being early evening, we’re taken to a place where we’re basking in hot afternoon sun.

 

From tight acapella to quiet and loud loops and layers, Wovoka Gentle really are the folk-electronica band you must see this year. With their first album up for release imminently, few will be betting against bigger live venues beckoning. Go and see them at The Great Escape or Dot to Dot should you get the chance. I’ll see you there. 

Malena Zavala has a tough act to follow. But this European tour is a few dates in now and Malena’s no slouch in the live stakes either. From Argentina but having grown up in London, Malena’s music has world vision and urban cool, tropical rhythms born out of grimy smog.

Whilst Wovoka Gentle’s support set shimmered in sunlight, Malena and her top-notch band treat us to a much more languid, sun-going-down set. Early on, Malena makes a request for the over-powering lights to be switched to something more moody. It’s needed; many of Malena’s songs hold an inbuilt yearning. That longing to be held close, swathed in a reliable moonlight and to not be broken by the complexity of relationships is never far from the surface.

That’s not to say that this is a ‘slit your wrists’ show. There are enough upbeat moments and generous smiles to avoid such spiralling to the depths. Indeed, when the members of Wovoka Gentle are invited back to the stage, Latin rhythms come to the fore and Malena presides over a dance party. “I was so excited about that that I forgot to play this song first“, confesses Malena before launching into Moon Song. 

There are moments of real beauty at play; emotionally intelligent songs of the utmost quality. I take to shutting my eyes and allowing the crisp guitar solos and the clean tones to wash over me. It’s a stance that yields benefits. 

Malena Zavala makes live music designed to aid escape from the day to day hustle and bustle. Grab the chance and relax. 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Otha – Sebright Arms – April 4th 2019

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Drenge and Valeras – Electric Brixton – April 2nd 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

This is where it’s at.