Richmond Fontaine – The Hare & Hounds – Birmingham Tuesday 19th April 2016

I’m a big fan of Richmond Fontaine. I wrote about how they make me feel here. Over the past weeks, they’ve been playing a farewell tour. I was desperate to see them one last time but, at the last minute, day job responsibilities got in the way. A good friend,Billy Bob Martin, stepped up to the plate and offered to review instead. Another friend, Michael Holmes, took ace photos. 

 

For over 20 years  Richmond Fontaine have been laying the musical soundtrack for Willy Vlautin’s stories of love, despair, lower-limb disfigurement, disappointment and horror. Tonight, they bring their show to town for the very last time and there’s a tangible sadness in the air as the mostly homogenous crowd of bearded 30-50 something-men clearly loves this band and the 3 dimensional characters woven through the melodies. 

Tonight’s set opens with Vlautin in light-hearted mood, well, between songs at least. He thanks the promoters of the show for their long-standing support, before going on to admit that a lot of people have lost a lot of money giving Richmond Fontaine a platform over the years. 

Aside from gentle banter and between song story-telling, tonight, there’s little let up from the bleaker end of the Richmond Fontaine canon. Stripped down to a four-piece, the lack of keyboards , pedal steel, female vocals or trumpet ensure the songs are rendered in good old bass, drums and two guitar format, and while it’s clear the band are enjoying the simplicity of this line-up, the songs lack the beauty historic line-ups delivered – need, this is a a classic rock and roll band we see before us, with all that’s wonderful and limiting about that format.

At times, the band sound like four young men jamming the Velvet Underground’s I Can’t Stand It and having a whale of a time, however, for those of us here to say goodbye to a band that’s soundtracked our middle-age for the past decade or longer, I suspect many were hoping for more ambition- although it’s difficult to chastise Richmond Fontaine for not delivering much mood-lifting relief, as anyone familiar with their back catalogue will attest.

A Night in the City is a stand-out track of the the band’s farewell album, dealing of course with self-loathing, disappointment with ones self and others, but tonight it is removed of any nuance by the limitations of a four-piece. 43, however, was delivered with genuine ferocity, driven by the remarkable drumming of Sean Oldham. 

It’s not until the encore that the band decide to remind us that their songs can lift the spirit – Post to Wire and the anthemic  set-closer Four Walls demonstrate that there is hope, optimism and romance in the songs of Vlautin, tinged with a fear that these feelings are fleeting, but it’s definitely there.

 

Stealth – Intro and I Don’t Need Your Love

Over the course of the past few months, I’ve been spending an unhealthy amount of my time in Birmingham. My day job has been taking me there at least two days a week. In truth, this is hardly a new thing for me. For significant chunks of my working life, I’ve trudged to an office base in Brum. 

It’s a City that tries hard to push its pop music/cultural offer – but let’s be fair. Birmingham is no Manchester, Sheffield or Liverpool despite being England’s second city (Manchester would dispute this of course). Maybe, it’s something about the very specific Brum accent that makes a nasal vocal from the town less appealing than the Manc sneer or the Scouse cheekiness. Clearly, there are breakthroughs – Ozzy Osborne and Jasper Carrott spring to mind (I’m being snide here) – but mostly this is a city that underachieves musically. 

Stealth, from Birmingham, is out to buck that trend. He’s an act that’s been on my radar now for a few months, ever since releasing the lyric video for his song, Intro. Refreshingly, you can pick up the tones of the accent in this neo-soul delight and, it enhances rather than hinders enjoyment. 

The song itself makes a bold sort of statement. We’ve all been in those situations where we’re so eager to please that we lose sight of who we really are right? Whether it’s work or in our love life, we’ve moderated our behaviour to be exactly what somebody else wants us to be. That’s the offer that Stealth makes in this tune. And yet, you suspect that by appearing  so malleable upfront, he’s actually ironically conveying the opposite. This is actually an ‘I’m going to do this my way’ song. 

The video, full of people being ‘slain in the spirit’ and ‘speaking in tongues’, being impressionable and susceptible to influence, simply increases that sense. 

 

The intro EP from Stealth comes out in March. In the past week or so, another track from the EP has been added to Soundcloud. ‘I Don’t Need Your Love’ shuffles along with a soulful, trip-hoppy casualness. This is a tune about mutually deciding that a relationship is at an end. Stealth’s Brum tones come to the fore and ensures that this is a tune that connects. 

 

 

 I’m quite taken with this. Fine stealth. 

Sean Grant & The WolfGang

Another showcase night at the Musician in Leicester tonight and seven bands took to the stage for twenty minute slots. Hard work for the compere (me) who earned his lime and sodas tonight. 

Sean Grant & The WolfGang made the short trip up the M1 from Northampton for this gig. They’re becoming regulars at the Musician (this is their third performance here in 2014 and Sean has played an acoustic set in addition). They’ve already been confirmed on the line up of Simon Says, Leicester’s local summer festival, with a line up pulled together by key venues. It’s fair to say that they’re getting noticed in these parts.

And it’s entirely right that they’re getting noticed. A cool image without tunes is worth nothing in my book but thankfully this is a band that has both. You suspect that they spend hours grooming their facial hair before a show but the rewards are fine and the moustaches sharp. Tattoos and designer Dr Marten boots with white laces complete the image. 

It’s energetic folk music channelled through a Britpop filter. Sean sings stories about prize fighters and working class heroes. He references the industry and drinking culture of Birmingham and Kilburn. There’s political and social history in these tunes, a dash of romance and a pint of pain. 

Sean announces tonight that an EP is coming out sometime in May. But, the exciting label on which it’s going to be released have yet to give him a date. Videos have been made to accompany each track on the EP and one of those has already seen the light of day. It showcases well the excitement that this band are generating.