The Tearaways and Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts – The 100 Club – August 28th 2019

Ryan Hamilton, support act on this night at the 100 Club is waxing lyrical in between songs. “If you feel like you’re meant to do something, then stick with it”, he urges. Age should be no barrier when following and realising your dreams, he reckons. That’s certainly more than true tonight. 

The Tearaways are something of a celebrity magnet. Perhaps that’s because they have Clem Burke as their drummer. The man from Blondie remains a magnificent visual icon, a powerhouse of a drummer and a thoroughly decent chap. Bob Geldof watches from the shadows generously accepting the requests for selfies that his level of fame must demand. Nick Heyward gets up on stage with the Tearaways and they astound with the most assured, joyous version of Fantastic Day. Glenn Matlock joins for an encore of mod classics. 

 

“When I wrote Fantastic Day, I always had it with the drumming of Clem in mind”, says Nick post-gig. A lovely man full of smiles and looking decades younger than his 58 years, he simply seems star-struck and in awe that he’s met a power-pop hero of his tonight. I ask him if there’s any chance of a Haircut 100 reunion and it’s not ruled out. That’s a gig I’d love to go to. 

But back to The Tearaways. Some wondered whether this gig and this tour would actually go ahead. Just a month ago, John Ferriter, key band member, passed away aged just 59. Despite the grief that the others must be feeling you suspect that cancellation was never a consideration. “We’re doing this for John”, they say throughout the set. 

I wouldn’t want to give the impression that this is a solemn affair either. It’s far from that. The Tearaways write music that’s full of mod melody, sunny harmony and splendid riff. In the hands of a band less capable, the encouragement to raise our hands in the air could appear cheesy or laboured. Here it’s just a whole heap of fun. 

And support act, Ryan Hamilton & the Harlequin Ghosts, have already warmed us up on that front. Their thing is pure energetic rock ‘n’ roll with a cowboy twang. Ryan has songs that reference Tom Petty, The Beatles and Bob Dylan. He’s clearly a student of music memorabilia and so is more than aware (and humbly delighted) about the significance of this venue in pop lore. Ryan has songs about not doing drugs anymore because you’re married and drinking in Texan saloons. He also has a new album with an unfortunate acronym (This is the sound). He teases his British band mates who are able to give as good as they get. If ever the phase ‘rollicking entertainment’ was appropriate tonight could be your night. 

 

As I get older, a measure of a great gig is how much of a smile it leaves on your face. And tonight The Tearaways have reached the wide grin accolade. 

 

Jack Perrett, The Orders & Pastel – The Old Blue Last – August 20th 2019

You’re going to struggle if you head to an indie gig to find originality. The genre is chucking out little new and the young lads that are involved wear their influences very firmly on their sleeves. This is no bad thing; you just have to roll with it, right? Enjoy it for what it is and suspend the extremes of your critical faculty for a while.

This is certainly true of Tuesday night at the Old Blur Last (see what I deliberately did there?). Tonight (Matthew), we have three more than competent acts from across the UK who have all scoured through their parent’s CD collections to collate their chords of influence. They’re all, in different ways, likeable and it all makes for an entertaining though hardly ground-breaking evening.

Jack Perrett is the headliner and arguably the pick of the bunch. Jack and his two mates, from Newport South Wales, are very much from the indie-mod camp, oozing with Jam and early Beatles influence. It’s all ‘lazy days’ and ‘sunshine mornings’ carried along with a generous dose of harmony and melody. Jack shows that he’s got an ear for writing a catchy, radio-friendly singalong and more than demonstrates how appreciative he is to have a crowd to play in front of. Some guy in an Arsenal shirt bounds up onto stage and stays there for four songs taking pictures on his i-phone. He’s the merch guy but it’s not entirely clear why he thinks it appropriate to hog Jack’s limelight. Jack and the others are too polite to tell him to fuck off. The kids of today eh?  

 

The Orders have travelled from the Isle Of Wight for this show. They wear shorts because that’s what everyone does on the island. Another three piece, you can tell that they’ve practiced hard in their bedrooms. The floppy-haired guitarist who also takes lead vocal duties can certainly play his instrument; many of the songs descend into psychedelic wig-outs with extended solos when we perhaps want short and snappy. It’s Britpop with occasional swerves towards grunge. Sometimes you can’t entirely make out what the singer is saying between tunes; he needs to project, show a bit more confidence with the mic yet I’d still see them again. 

 

Pastel are playing when I arrive. From the way they look to the sound they make, these guys from Swansea via Manchester nail their indie credentials to the mast. Think shoegaze and The Stone Roses with an Oasis sneer and you’ll have pinpointed Pastel. But, to their credit, they don’t come across as cocks on stage; there!s a sort of contained confidence, a shuffling laid-backness that’s actually quite charming. Admirable.

 

I’m glad I made the effort to get on the 205 and head to the Old Blue Last tonight. All three bands have entertained and it’ll be interesting to follow their progress from here. 

Old School Funky Family & Mulvey’s Medicine – The Finsbury – August 19th

It takes something pretty special to get me dancing like a crazed maniac on a Monday night. In fact, I’m hardly known for my weekend strutting and so the sight of me bopping like a bad one early in the working week would have filled the casual bystander of a friend with all sorts of confusion. Fortunately, for me at least, I’m pretty sure that there is no video evidence of my flailing and failing extremities. And besides, it would have looked odder not to be dancing at the Finsbury to the French funk of Old School Funky Family. The whole room was up and at it. It was contagious.

Old School Funky Family are on a short UK tour. You can see that they’ll go down exceptionally well at festivals and it should be of no surprise that the good people of Chai Wallahs have snapped them up for Green Man last weekend and Shambala this. In between, they’re playing shows across the country. Go and see them if you’re going to Shambala or living in Bristol. They will not disappoint. 

In any other town, you’d pay good money to see musicianship of this quality. London continues to confound and delight in equal measure. I realise there’s a ton of competition out there every night but quite how this can be put on as a free show is anybody’s guess. “You’d be happy paying £15 for that”, says a punter, slightly gobsmacked by what he’s just witnessed. And he’s quite right as well.

There’s eight of them crammed onto the Finsbury stage. Brass heavy and brass led, it’s instrumental funk with more than a sprinkling of jazz. They’re from deep in the South of France – and it’s perhaps appropriate, given the nationality, that bass duties are not taken by a guitar but by a French horn. Between each song, one of the troupe takes a microphone and introduces what’s coming next.

At different times in the set, each member of the band gets to delight with an extended solo, to show off their musical pedigree with a spotlight slot. Other members of the band give way sometimes leaving the stage to signal what’s about to occur. In the hands of lesser musicians, such interludes might become little more than elongated wank-fests. But these guys are so talented that it’s always astonishing to watch. The clarinet player particularly impresses in his solo. It begins all seedy, backstreet nightclub (slow and languid) and ends with fireworks (explosive and illuminating). 

Whilst the core of this is jazz-funk, Old School Funky Family can also mix it up. They play a cover but mostly it’s their original compositions. They draw on their proximity to North Africa to charm snakes in one piece and take us on a tour of EDM styles in another. My short attention span never once wanes whilst my legs move; the dynamics on stage providing just enough to maintain interest.

Support act for the night, Mulvey’s Medicine, could learn from this. Indeed, I’m sure they are for many of their seven-strong number are lapping Old School Funky Family up dancing in the front row. Mulvey’s Medicine also indulge in instrumental jazz-funk and do so with fine musicianship. To move on to the next level, I’d politely suggest that they now need to give some thought to their stagecraft. They jam well – and it’s by no means boring to watch – but what might their gimmick be that can set them apart? 

The night (and probably the week) belongs to Old School Funky Family. This was no typical Monday.

Aidan Moffat and RM Hubbert and John Mouse – Omeara – August 16th 2019

What better way to enjoy a Friday night in London than to spend it with revered Scottish ‘miserabilists’, Aidan Moffat and RM Hubbert? It’s their last ever London show and you’d forgive a few tears yet the reality is that both are pretty chipper and this is an upbeat affair. As upbeat as downbeat can get anyway. 

Hubby sits throughout, sometimes singing,  but mostly adding crisp flamenco rolls over which Aidan offers his trademark Scottish scrawl. Spoken word poetry interspersed with moments of sheer beauty when things resembling choruses kick in. Siobhan Wilson sits behind the pair adding vocal and violin depth. “This is another song about shagging the wrong person”, says Aidan, giving the crowd exactly what they want.

It’s the humour, the banter and the camaraderie that gets Hubby and Aidan through the night. They’re mates from that hidden bar snug you’ve always wanted to discover, jibing with each other to mask their obvious mutual respects. Accidentally and with no ill intent, Hubby comments that the tea-towels at the merch desk might be of more use as a Christmas present for women and Aidan, after revelling in the rightful response such gender stereotyping produces, helps his friend out by being even more of a cunt. “My girlfriend fucking hates me”, he observes before playing “another tune about the breakdown of the family unit.”

“Brexit’s going well”, says Aidan in trademark sarcastic manner before Hubby follows up with “you’re all welcome to visit us when we’ve independence”. Hubby’s only a tad pissed off that his name isn’t there with Aidan’s above the entrance to the Omeara. “I’m not even going to get fucking paid for this show”, he jokes whilst Aidan looks on amused.

“How come you don’t sing our songs back at us?“, shouts Aidan when the beardy and bespectacled crowd (that’s just the women) sing along to the stripped-back reading of Yazoo’s ‘Only You’. The sad longing of the tune comes to the fore under Aidan’s baritone – but let’s face it, he has the ability to make the happiest of texts seem mournful. In the running joke of the night, the crowd try to force a cover of Wonderwall out of the pair but they’re having none of it. We do get a Napalm Death cover, “You Suffer”, though. It’s brief but still a 12 inch remix on the original. 

Welshman, John Mouse, is an entirely appropriate support act for the evening. Those gathered probably know that he’s not the reggae ‘John Mouse’ or the mis-spelt ‘John Maus’ yet John still sees fit to explain. At times he plays a Fender strat; at other times, it’s just John and a backing tape. His largely spoken-word story tales are dark and appear to be about childhood memories of injury or death yet the bright, bossa-nova beats and incongruous dance moves mask the subject matter. I’m reminded that one of his tunes – all about breakdancing to electric boogaloo and other memories of being a youngster in the 1980’s has been recommended to me by Spotify before. I resolve to check out more after being taken aback by his tune about the man down the road who’s bothering him. 

The end is nigh for Aidan Moffat and RM Hubbert. They finish with Car Song, the first tune they ever wrote together. And it sounds as beautiful tonight as it ever has. I’m willing to bet that nobody in the crowd wants this to be over and such is the response I wouldn’t be surprised if Aidan and Hubby aren’t having second thoughts themselves. 

 

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.