Tne Pinheads, Fat Earthers & Bad/Dreems – Shacklewell Arms – June 10th 2019

Search around a bit, keep your ear to the ground and London will reward you with free gigs that should probably be charged events. That’s why I’m here at the Shacklewell Arms for a sandwich of Aussie garage-psych rock with an Isle of Wight based cheesy middle.

 

It might be June but I’ve not seen rain like this so far in my London stay. The puddles are almost river-like as they cascade down the streets. A driver in a jeep clearly swerves into a stream to drench my already soggy frame. I curse the fucker as he speeds off, no doubt chuckling at his prank. The lovely barman at the Shacklewell offers me a roll of industrial-strength paper towel with which to dry off. It’s needed.

Bad/Dreems are currently on tour with Midnight Oil and are thus playing some pretty big UK shows. But they have a night off and so are late additions to this bill. The wise have spotted this and the Shacklewell back room is pretty full when I enter. 

Archetypal Aussies from Adelaide, this five-piece all have facial hair. Some have shaggy curls and a couple wear linen-shirts with the top few buttons undone to show off the hairs on their chest. No band member removes any shirt during their set. This is important given what occurs later. 

Bad/Dreems do a garage punk, indie-rock thing. They sing about big muscles pumping in sweatshirts though I suspect this is an ironic swipe at machismo rather than a song in praise of such lifestyle. Lead singer, Ben Marwe, is thoroughly engaging to watch; at one point he rapidly blinks as if on the edge of a fit; at another, he bashes a tambourine against his thigh standing proud like a toy soldier in a  regiment. He’s a bit Roger Daltrey and the band a bit Who-like. I curse myself for not seeing the full set. 

 

Fat Earthers make quite a noise for a two piece. We’re only two songs in and already lead singer, Puke, has his top off and torso bare. Typically such rock ‘n’ roll excess would have me heading for the door but there’s s gnarly cheekiness about this Isle Of Wight based duo that keeps me onside. It doesn’t matter a jot that each tune sounds largely identical. They rant about Theresa May selling off the NHS, still paying tax on your tampax, boredom and suicide bombers. By the time the set finishes, Henry the drummer has also got his top off; naked upper-halves becomes a theme for the night.

 

The Pinheads, tonight’s Aussie headliner, are a riot. They have a very tall, lanky lead singer who you fear is going to bang his head on the ceiling every time he jumps. He contorts with his microphone stand and palms dust from the Shacklewell’s glitterball – you suspect it’s not had a good clean for some time. 

He’s out of it. At one point he temporarily leaves the stage, probably to ablute in some way; he heads down into the crowd and orders a pint from the bar at the back of the venue. He cares about his audience enough though to advise moderation when a raucous and fighty mosh breaks out amongst agitated youths. 

The rest of the Pinheads tightly play an urgent and shimmering garage-psych whilst their singer cavorts. It’s fun and certainly without pretence. As damp condensation drips from the ceiling, three of the band members also strip down to bare their chests. It’s just that sort of night. 

Satisfied and yet fully shirted, I get an Uber home. I can’t bear to be bare in the continuing downpour. 

Ben Abraham – You And Me

I must be yearning for Australia; maybe it’s these cold and dark wintry mornings that’s pushing my thoughts towards the Southern Hemisphere. This’ll be my second post in a row featuring an Australian act.

I’m quite charmed by this song and video from Melbourne based, Ben Abraham. ‘You And Me’ is taken from Ben’s soon to be released first album, Sirens, which is due out in early March.

On initial listen, I’m ashamed to admit that I very nearly didn’t perservere beyond the opening verse. This felt like one of those heart-wrenchers that might throw out bland cliches and, in the process, spectacularly fail to connect with the heart-wrenching that will inevitably be going on in my life. In truth, it’s actually a bit more considered than all of that. 

Yes, it does seem to be about a relationship that hasn’t lasted the distance; a love that was once so right that is now so wrong. I’m sure that we’ve all been there. Ben captures those melancholic moments when we inevitably mourn and moan about such things with consummate humanity and ease. I guess that he’s an expert in such grief.

Even if the song’s not for you, do give this video your time. The final, lingering shot is pure cinematic beauty. 

 

As a special Monday bonus, here’s another track from Ben’s album. ‘Home’ is just Ben; his voice and his guitar plucking. There’s the same mournful, missing you, tone to this lyric, even though, unlike in ‘You And Me’, the relationship is not yet dead and buried, more ‘on hold’ , miles apart with travelling complications. 

 

The Jezabels – Synthia

News reaches Sonic Breakfast that Australian band, The Jezabels, are having to cancel all of their world tour that’s been set up to promote the release of Synthia, their frankly incredible forthcoming album. The keyboard player in the band, Heather Shannon, needs some immediate treatment for an Ovarian cancer that she’s been dealing with for the past three years. 

Heather said – “Up until now, I have preferred to not let this diagnosis get in the way of getting on with life. I feel a deep frustration at this new roadblock, as I now have to take a step back and undergo treatment. The band means so much to me, and cancelling the tour has been a very sad decision. I am hopeful that in the near future we will be back on the road again playing music we love. This album means so much to us, and we were so looking forward to sharing it live with everyone.”

Cancer is a bugger isn’t it? I have a story to tell. 

At some point last year (I can’t exactly pinpoint when), I noticed a ‘thing’ on my leg that didn’t want to go. Like a cigarette burn, it would threaten to heal and scab over. After a night of restless dreaming, the scab would often peel from my leg leaving my sheets dotted with dried blood. 

A course of antibiotics (for a separate injury) didn’t heal the damned spot. Reluctantly, I trudged to my GP. 

Immediately, I was referred to the Dermatology unit of a local hospital. A qualified doctor informed me that I had a perfectly treatable skin cancer; it was either a basal or squamous cell carcinoma. 

‘Perfectly treatable’ it might have been but it didn’t stop my head playing all sorts of games and tricks on me. The ‘C’ word had been uttered. Even though, I knew the risks were low, my mortality still felt challenged by the events. This was freefall. I didn’t deal with it well. 

Just before Christmas, I went back to the dermatology unit for an operation; the spot was removed and sent to specialists. I’m now sporting a war wound, seven stitches in a scar on my thigh. I’m yet to get the all clear but it feels good that it’s removed. 

Now, I can be dramatic sometimes but I’m in no way comparing this minor cancer thing with the Ovarian cancer that Heather is dealing with. I do know though that having close friends to be able to call upon was fab when I was in freefall. And I bet that Heather is chuffed to bits that the rest of The Jezabels are supporting by not touring without her. 

I spent much of yesterday listening to ‘Synthia’ on repeat whilst sat in my comfy armchair. It’s a dense, intricate record full of twists, turns and deviations that you simply aren’t expecting. Songs build from an electronic base into rock symphonies. It’s powerfully ambitious, drawing upon influence from a spectrum of the strongest women in rock and pop.  With nods to Kate Bush, Chrissie Hynde and Florence Welch, this is confident, strident and emotionally appealing. The National have that knack for writing something that’s not immediately obvious which then gets into your core on repeated listens. I’d file Synthia in that sort of league. 

And with that, I’m going to get back to my comfy armchair and press play again. 

Thinking about you Heather.. 

 

Tulane – But I Say

“Despite the fact that your head might know better, unremarkable people can make remarkable impressions on your heart sometimes. ‘But I say’ is one of those unfortunate stories.”

Nikki Malvar, lead singer of Tulane, sent me an E-mail. She wanted me to know about the impending digital release of ‘But I Say’ on Grandpa records. I was struck by something within the tone of the E-mail. It was confident without being brash and friendly without being over-enthusiastic. I listened.

It surely says a lot about me but I do love a sad song. ‘But I Say’ is a love song to somebody who is not interested. They’ve moved on leaving you feeling raw, vulnerable and low but you can’t quite get them out of your head. They still fit in with your romantic perspective. You’ll probably still dream about this person in decades to come. They won’t even remember your name.

Tulane are a duo from Sydney. Nikki sings whilst Nikk plays acoustic guitar. ‘But I Say’ is their attention-grabbing debut electro-acoustic folk-pop single. It builds beautifully, orchestrated from the opening bars to demand maximum effect from your heartstrings. You can sense the pain within Nikki’s lilting vocal. This is real life. I defy you not to love.

 

Sticky Fingers – The Cookie

Australia – I’m 100% convinced that one day when I decide to properly travel you’ll be high on my list.

I knew this before we had the British Invasion. It’s a slow burner of an invasion. Tokes get in the way. But, it’s no coincidence that my first ever blog post on Sonic Breakfast, when I was learning how to do this, was about Jagwar Ma.

And since then, I’ve effused about Courtney Barnett and Australian BBQ’s.

Tonight, I was invited to one venue in Leicester that might convince me to stay here longer than I probably should. Tinny, the venue owner at The Cookie is developing a place that Leicester should love. In the last couple of years, this venue has morphed, expanded and changed. It once specialised in stand up comedy and whilst that’s still a money maker for this enterprise, it now has space and ambition for the jokes to be a supporting actor.

A new 300 capacity venue opens soon next door to the current establishment under the Cookie’s management. This is exciting beyond belief and should further cement Leicester’s growing reputation on the touring map.

It was a free show tonight. I wish people were charged. A free gig hardens people. You know how fucking great the band are but you’re reticent to cheer, dance or unfold your arms because you’ve invested no dosh in it. Sticky Fingers were the band. Hailing from Sydney, they put on a show that was worth a fiver of anybody’s money. I suspect that in Australia, they could charge a whole lot more again.

Sticky Fingers specialise in a sort of laddish rock reggae. It’s a sound that’s probably born out of smoking a bit too much weed whilst listening to Hendrix and Marley. Amidst a stage of guitars (and keys & drums), shaggy hair and moustaches so dated that they’re incredibly cool, Sticky Fingers gave us 45 minutes of laidback, slacker swagger. To call it slacker isn’t to say that there wasn’t energy and effort on display here though because there was in abundance. No, this is a band that could give you three part harmonies without labouring the fact that this is what they were doing. This is a band that could sweat loads on stage but still look chilled. This is a band that should never be confused with the Rolling Stones tribute act that go by the same name. 

Uncomplicated cool. Music with confidence but without arsey, artistic pretense. When should I book my flight to Oz?