Fake Turins & Shattercones – 26 Leake St – May 29th 2019

I am bereft. Just before arriving at 26 Leake Street, I receive a text confirming what’s been on the cards for a short while. 

A great man, the Grandpa to my son, has passed away. 

I didn’t see John much in the latter years of his life. My memories are of a kind, busy man; a witty cynic who had an enduring curiosity for life. He tried hard to convince me about the jazz he loved though I was never sure at the time.

I sit at the back of the Leake Street railway arch on a communal bench and have a private moment. A tear falls. 

 

Shattercones might have to forgive me in this circumstance that I don’t give them my full attention. I see enough from this distant vantage point to know that they’re a band I’d typically like. It’s very Dirty Three; fiddle-led murder ballads played by quiffed men in suits. Their songs build into thrilling, orchestrated climaxes. The higher, arched ceilings in this venue perhaps moot and muffle the overall, intended effect. Regardless, I note their name and resolve to check them out again in months to come.

Fake Turins are headlining tonight. So impressed was I by this sprawling collective when I first saw them (here) it was a no-brainer to choose to see them again a couple of months on. If anything, and this is the highest of praise, they’ve got tighter and more urgent since that initial gig. 

They’re really going for it tonight. When I last saw them, I observed that backing singer, Alex, might have been an expert in some sort of throat singing. Tonight, you can be left in no doubt that his contribution to Fake Turins is considerably greater than that. His harmonies carry the extended jams into different directions; at times, he becomes the tick making this clock tock.

Their Lead singer, replete with red hair tonight, still conducts the rest of the band a bit but the need to do so appears reduced. Each member of this consortium knows their place and there’s a comfort as a whole in the sound being produced. It results in an astonishing array of rhythm; at times, an euphoric, gospel-based rush. 

It’s the drummer’s birthday. Fake Turins draw attention to this and celebrate accordingly. They’ve got kazoos and cowbells; they know how to party even if the audience remain mostly seated and reserved. 

I’m glad I persevered with tonight. Fake Turins provided an ounce of cathartic release just when I needed it most. 

Jonathan Bree & John Moods – The MOTH club – May 22nd 2019

What a difference a year makes. Last May, almost to the day, I was settling into the Spanish villa bemoaning my lack of gig action (here). I wrote about the genius of Jonathan Bree and my disappointment over having to miss his Leicester gig.

A year on and here I am standing in a sweaty MOTH club watching Jonathan and his band play a sold-out London headliner. I can barely conceal my delight at being here. A cheeky FB message to the man himself and I was generously added to the list.

It’s a mind-blowing show – convention-breaking and visually spectacular. It’s been another hot day in London and sweat drips down my forehead in the throng of the crowd. It’s beyond belief how the band can possibly perform.

For one marvellous (some might say foolhardy) thing about the Jonathan Bree live show is the costumes. The five on stage all wear linen-white Lycra leotards that cover them from top to toe. Their facial features protude from behind the tight-fitting masks. They’re mannequins, crash test dummies, anonymous robotic prototypes onto which we can craft our own images. 

Two of the band dance, often in symmetry on the left and right of Jonathan. They’re his prim and proper dancers; other-worldly and yet you want to connect. Jonathan stands in between, laidback and gauche with occasional struts in the way that Jarvis Cocker might if he were covered from head to foot. You can just about see Jonathan’s glasses (or is it a headset) from within his balaclava.

The music is similarly odd; Slowed down disco, a chanson-based French pop. Tracks from last year’s wonderful Sleepwalking album are instantly recognised by the crowd of fans; some dance, some kiss whilst others sway. This is exotic comedown music; Kraftwerk with a layer of Magnetic Fields. When the band launch into You’re So Cool, the treat is complete.

 

Before Jonathan and band plunder all, support act John Moods does his level best. This MOTH club crowd is a tough one for the sweet-natured and nice, gentle tone of John. With a backing tape for company and Casio keyboard loops, John’s 80’s influenced pop is illuminated by the pale suit jacket and piano keyboard tie that he wears. At one stage, his enthusiasm gets the better of him and he jumps into the crowd to have a bop. Those paying attention appreciate the effort but many rudely ignore whilst waiting for the main number.

 

Jonathan Bree – I’m glad that I’ve now seen his unforgettable live show.

 

Crying High, Vanity Fairy and Aunt Lucy – Victoria Dalston – May 28th 2019

I very nearly didn’t go out. A tiring day at work and a quick pint on my meander home meant that I had to summon up all sorts of reserve energy to head to the Victoria in Dalston. I can’t underplay how glad I am that I did. This was a night to cherish. 

The Victoria will always have a space in my heart. It was here, just a few months ago, that I began this ridiculously rewarding schedule of night-time London gigs. I’ve not been back since but probably should have. The friendly, accessible vibe remains. 

I plump for food (an adequate Chicken burger) whilst the first act plays. Unlike at most other gigs, there are no sheets pinned to walls here with set-times on so it’s anybody’s guess who is on. I’ve forgotten to charge my phone so can’t make the brief memory-prompt notes that I’m typically prone to. 

I think, though can’t be sure, that the first act I see is Aunt Lucy. A newcomer on the scene judging by comments they make (“I wrote this last week”) they seem well supported by friends and family. It’s disco-sludge (not in a bad way) presented by a person who slithers around the stage in a black bin-bag of a catsuit. The lyrics sound funny; comical tales of everyday partying wrapped up in a cautious charm. Definitely one to watch both tonight and into the new-romantic future.

Memorials of Distinction are the promoters of tonight’s show. I’m pretty sure I’ve not been to one of their gigs before but, way before the evening ends, I make a note to check out more. They’ve evidently got an eye for the theatrical; each of tonight’s act know the value of performance and have thought about their stagecraft. This feels like an emerging scene of arty glamour and I want in.

And that promoter ethos more than holds true for Vanity Fairy, the sub headliner. I’m captivated from the off and can barely remove my gaze. Dressed in vintage white fairy robes, she’s a full-size version of the thing that fantasists might find at the bottom of their gardens. An exquisite crocheted bonnet plays host to knitted fruit; the gown ebbs and flows as Vanity poses around the stage. It’s all done with backing tape which is fine but you also wonder how epic this could be with fully-choreographed band. Vocally, there’s more than a dash of Kate Bush involved; presence wise, it’s Madonna when she was good. More than anything, this porcelain doll, face painted white with rosy cheeks, stays on the right side of artistic fun. And I love it.

 

The headliner, Crying High, is from Toronto. I get early sense that this might be equally theatrical to what’s gone before when, from a merch desk at the back of the hall, two loud girls encourage adoption of the ‘free’ merch on offer. There are cardboard face-masks of Crying High (who is one person) with elasticated cord attached; we’re encouraged to wear these on the back of our heads. I take one along with a tiny comic book and a postcard. 

Crying High comes to the stage with an electric guitar wrapped across his shoulders. He proceeds to play a sad country tune of longing that’s interspersed with a whistled chorus. The voice, strong and powerful, is a bit Hawksley Workman (God, how I loved his live show). This isn’t the slowed-down disco the PR promised but it’s entertaining all the same. 

“I’ll do a slow one, then a fast one, then a slow one and then…” – we get the pattern and Crying High is good to his word. The more upbeat numbers are programmed into a synth that runs riot. Crying High holds two mics for maximum vocal effect. He throws his all into it; angular, strutting postures whilst the now-modest crowd looks on in appreciation. 

I’m aware of photographers taking pictures of the mask that’s fixed to the back of my head. We’ve all got them on. The final images must be strange; an act watching an act perform. I love this detail. I have loved this night. More, more, more of the same please.

Artmagic, The Left Outsides & Thom Ashworth – Paper Dress Vintage – May 21st 2019

Cast your eyes around the crowd before Artmagic take to the stage at Paper Dress Vintage and you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re at a convention of Suede fan-club obsessives. Friendships are reunited whilst band T-shirts from back in the day are admired. It all shouldn’t really surprise as one half of the Artmagic duo is Richard Oakes, long-term guitarist of Suede. 

I surmise that I’m no more than a Johnny-Come-Lately here and marvel at the loyalty. Because in truth, Artmagic aren’t much like Suede. Admittedly, the expansive guitar vision within Oakes’ repertoire crosses both bands and the effortless flourish adds to the floss. But Artmagic are very much a duo in their own right. Sean McGhee, no slouch in terms of music industry influence either, is more than an equal partner. It’s his words, his character sketches, his soaring vocal and his position as the carousing frontman that carries this gig forward. And the Suede fans have clearly adopted him as one of their own.

Before Artmagic do their thing, there are two supports. Thom Ashworth sings a range of folk tunes, some self-penned and some covers whilst playing an acoustic bass. His politics are left-wing and his banter engaging. He advocates against poverty, breaking Union lines and capital punishment. His brief impressions of Martin Carthy might be lost on many gathered but they’ve probably just about heard of Richard Thompson, a track from whom ends Thom’s set. 

 

Maybe I missed something in second support, The Left Outsides. A husband and wife act, they wallow in mournful 60’s folk whilst playing guitar, squeeze box and fiddle. At best, it’s deliberately haunting; at worst, pedestrian and dull. The slow ripple of applause between each song suggests that others are as enamoured and confused as I am by the bleakness on display. I like them more on record.

 

Artmagic are a modern-day English folk band. Pastoral and laidback, they sing of farmers and fisherman, photography, lost faith and lost love. It’s clever pop, often ‘metrically irregular’ but never to a degree that it alienates. Sean sings at a tone that’s almost falsetto but not quite; the late, great Billy Mackenzie is an obvious reference point. There’s little within that’s jolly although a few upbeat numbers from the latest EP are sprinkled throughout; “we’ve come to terms with what we are”, observes McGhee, content to be languid, almost revelling in it. 

“Today’s the warmest day of the year”, says McGhee, noting that the temperature might not be best placed for the wintry chill of Artmagic. But his analysis is flawed; for, despite the evident wistfulness on offer, there’s an undeniable sunnier tone trying to get out. And when it all comes together this dip into their ‘Songs Of Other England’ album is an invitation to celebrate and not denigrate. ‘Sing For The Snowfall’ encourages one and all to live for the moment before a beautiful and chilled encore is conducted without amplification.

The Suede fans and new converts bond together, happy with what they’ve seen.

Grimm Twins, Bird Shoes and Lavde – Sebright Arms – May 20th 2019

The London gigs I’ve been to since January have mostly had decent turn-outs. Even on the stay-in nights early in a week, venues have been throbbing with numbers. Thus, I’m surprised and a little thrown to find myself watching a Monday night support act at the Sebright pretty much as the sole member of the audience.

And it’s not as if Lavde, the band in question, are so bad that they’re deserving of the low turn-out. Refreshingly (and despite being acutely aware of the sparseness), this three piece still put on a show. If they’re going through the motions it sure don’t show. Their thing is classic rock; the beardy bass player wears a Slayer T-shirt openly promoting his influence. With some soaring vocals and elaborate almost proggy solos, things go a bit Muse-like for a while before getting back on track with songs that draw upon AC/DC and Led Zep chord structures. There’s rock postures, awkward (given the numbers present) crowd invasions and down-on-yer-knees histrionics. All told, quite enjoyable. 

 

A few more have turned up for main support Bird Shoes but the Sebright is by no means packed. “Hello Wembley, it’s an honour to be here. Thanks for having us”, says the singer of this indie-punk duo who draw obvious numerical comparisons with the likes of Slaves and Royal Blood. They’ve travelled up from Bournemouth, ‘the crack-addict capital of the country’ and pound through their set as if they’re in a hurry to get back. “Thanks for coming out tonight when you could have been at home watching Antiques Roadshow”, says the singer, temporarily forgetting that it’s a Monday night. ‘Door’ is introduced, a song in which they appear as clowns in the accompanying video before all gives way to a megaphone tirade whilst swigging on a can of Stella. 

 

Grimm Twins are worthy headliners. There’s more than a dash of the Buzzcocks about this punk band from Macclesfield. Like Pete Shelley, they’ve got some killer rhyming couplets (“We are Generation Zed, we take our I-phones to bed.”) and the singer has more than a passing resemblance. But Grimm Twins embellish this with a Gallagher sneer and swagger. It’s nihilistic and nonchalant, recent release ‘I don’t care’ full of the existential crisis of youth. “We’re all working tomorrow so wish us luck on the long trek home”, says the singer before launching into their closing number. 

I hope they’ve had fun. Nights like this are great. Three bands, not all to my taste, have battled gamely amidst a challenging atmosphere. And for that they deserve nothing but praise.

Club Kuru, Ttrruuces and The Rodeo – Hackney Oslo – May 15th 2019

The Great Escape down in Brighton the weekend before last was an absolute blast. I’ve cobbled together my review for eFestivals and it’s now been published here

It didn’t temper my enthusiasm for going out to gigs last week whilst in London though. Bands that travelled far distances to get to The Great Escape extended their holidays by gigging in London. Nice Biscuit, the Aussie theatrical and futuristic psych-pop band, were great at the Sebright on Monday and the Chilean Music party, packed out with ex-pats, was every bit the experience it sounds at Paper Dress Vintage on Tuesday. 

It was nice to get out to Hackney’s Oslo on Wednesday for a good, old-fashioned album launch. Club Kuru were the act. I didn’t know much about them but the press release sounded like it’d be right up my street. 

I’ve been to Oslo once before (here). Somewhat strangely, it’s yet to feature on my 2019 gig travels. I like it though. The beer options are decent and the atmosphere generally friendly. 

I arrived just in time for The Rodeo who travelled all the way from Paris for this show. Initially, I wondered if their take on Britpop might need a bit of work but it’d be uncharitable to describe the whole negatively. A bit Echobelly, a tad Catalonia and a whole lot of The Cardigans is what you get here. And I’ve found another French act in 2019 to find out more about. 

Main support Ttrruuces were my act of the night. I chat to a chap at the bar before they take to the stage who gives me the lowdown. This is the new vehicle of Natalie Findlay (aka Findlay), an act that’s had a fair smattering of success as a solo artist. But now she’s in a band with a Phil Lynott lookalike. It might only be their second show (their first being at The Great Escape apparently) but this psychedelic folk-rock is pretty polished. Surrounded by fiddle and keyboards, beret-wielding Findlay plays the tambourine and dips into kazoo solos. When they move away from the rockier stuff, it’s as if Sandie Shaw is on a comeback trail and has employed The Go Team to help her. The shoe fits and the sensation you get from Ttrruuces is s cool one. 

I wanted to like Club Kuru more than I did. Perhaps I should write this one off as gig fatigue on my part. The songs are clearly well put together; a mix of west coast Americana and stoner funk. The heavy bass drills into my eardrums in the initial numbers and I beat a retreat to stand further back in the hall. I look around and people are chattering, catching up with mates and barely listening to what’s going on. New stuff is announced and it’s a bit like the Flaming Lips without any sense of live show.This should be my thing but I’m getting little out of standing here, it’s just not connecting and so I leave for my train back to Walthamstow. 

I resolve to listen to Club Kuru’s record in my own space. I suspect I’ll get more from that. 

Alexandra Streliski – Kings Place – May 7th 2019

Curiosity might have killed the cat. But it’s what keeps me alive. Later this week I’ll be heading to Brighton for my first festival of 2019, The Great Escape. That’ll be a frenetic rush around Brighton trying hard to get a glimpse of the next big thing. I’ll be a child in a sweet shop. 

So, in advance of the anticipated headiness of the next few days, tonight I opt for classical Canadian calm. 

As it happens, Alexandra Stréliski also plays The Great Escape. And, should I want a retreat from the rush, I might well check her out again on the coast. Her set at Kings Place, the multi-use space up by St Pancras, has chill by the bucketloads. This is one show that demands that you drift into a dreamland of your own making. 

Alexandra takes to the stage – a mass of curly brown hair hiding a slightly awkward yet utterly charming manner. She sits by a Steinway grand piano and proceeds to play. Smoke machines provide haze on the proceedings; they obscure Alexandra’s eccentricities. We just about spy her swoops and flourishes. 

Some of the instrumental pieces she plays, always ripe with melody, are accompanied with graphics appearing on a black curtain behind her. Art appears to aid exploration; an old video tape of a joyful Alexandra as a child playing her first keyboard is introduced and we all ponder for a moment on our own lost innocence.

Alexandra’s happy to be in London. She was last here as a fifteen year old and learnt one of life’s lessons when she drank too much alcohol and was hideously ill. This is her minor redemption. She tells all that she’s living a very specific dream by touring her music around the world, no longer a slave to the TV and film companies for whom she used to compose.

It’s meditative in tone; the piano, when played well, can take you away to imaginary places. And in this darkened room I suspect that most of us are shutting our eyes, dreaming our dreams  and focusing on a better future. That a gig can elicit such positivity is no bad thing. 

I add another to my Brighton longlist..