Lisbon and Declan McKenna – Leicester Cookie – January 22nd

Last Friday night, I nipped along to the fab Leicester venue, The Cookie, to review a gig. I was hoping that this review would get featured in the Leicester Mercury (as per my review of Drenge the following night).. For some reason, I can’t see that it’s been published.. Never mind – I’ll feature it here…. 


The last time that I saw Lisbon in Leicester, a crisis had just beset the band. They’d had guitars and instruments stolen in Birmingham and so needed to beg and borrow temporary equipment to play. I was struck by how decent and calm this young band appeared in the midst of disaster. 

Fortunately, on Friday night at the Cookie, no such predicament was in play. Lisbon had a full kit through which they could inflict their funky radio-friendly indie swagger on a half full but wholly appreciative audience. “It’s Friday night, let’s go crazy yeah?” urged lead singer, Matthew Varty, with genuine, Geordie exuberance. “Keep your dancing going”, he maintained as the band launched into new single, ‘Vice’. Varty worked the crowd hard and, as a result, we bopped to their beat.

“This is a song that’s very close to our hearts. It’s about the town we were born in; a place very far from here.” announced Varty by way of introduction to one of Lisbon’s minor hits, ‘Native’. These young lads are clearly not in a rush to forget their Whitley Bay roots even though headline tours and radio airplay are inevitably pushing them away from home comforts. 


Despite still having youth on their side, Lisbon must feel like senior citizens in contrast to their support act on this tour, Declan McKenna. No more than 17 years old, it’s Declan who, arguably, the crowd had flocked to see. Winning the Glastonbury emerging talent competition last year thrust this young man into the limelight. It’s fair to say that he’s still honing his live craft. 

Almost apologetically, Declan introduced songs that “you probably don’t know”. Assisted by an equally young band (two boys and two girls), this is awkward, angular, art pop. The plonk from the Korgs and the Casio mesh with the strum from the sticker-covered, beaten and bruised guitar to give us a very 2016 version of new wave post punk. Stand-out tracks, ‘Paracetamol’ and ‘Brazil’ lead the way as Declan slyly and shyly engages with those gathered to watch. It’s possibly heaping a bit too much praise to say that this Declan Mc reminds me of the early years of another Declan Mc (Elvis Costello) but they certainly walk in similar water.


Opening the night was the local Ali Clinton Band. This powerhouse,blues-rock trio, led by the sickeningly brilliant guitar playing of Ali, appeared, on the surface at least, to have little in common with either Lisbon or Declan McKenna. But, tonight has all been about precocious (in a positive sense), young talent. The three acts on this bill can all be filed in that particular cabinet.


Girl Friend – The Cookie – Last week sometime

Last week, I had one of those fab evenings you get sometimes when watching live music. 

I thought that Manchester’s Girl Friend were a bit special. 

I was able to write about them for the Leicester Mercury and after some delay, they’ve published my review for others to read here..

Yep – they were that good. I’ve previously blogged about Tapestry. There’s perhaps no finer support. 

One of my favourite new bands of 2015.. There’s been a few. 



An interview with Happyness

I first saw Happyness down in the basement of The Shipping Forecast as part of Liverpool Sound City. I referred to their set in my review of the festival saying that, “Happyness are harnessing a growing reputation for their pavement like stoner fuzz punk. And in this basement tonight they show they’ve got the tunes to back up the talk.”

They’re a band that I’ve followed with interest since. It’s somewhat strange that I’ve yet to feature them on Sonic Breakfast.

A couple of weeks ago now, I popped along to Leicester’s Cookie to see them support Slow Club. Their growing confidence in performing live; an increased swagger that never once erupted into arrogance was more than evident. In a packed room, they indulged in a brotherly hug and then launched into their bass thumping buzz of an opening tune. A year earlier, the Pavement comparisons were hard to avoid but now they appear to be drawing on a wider set of influences. Wilco come to mind.

“This mic smells really strongly of rosemary and thyme“, they say. I find myself wondering who might have used it before. “Anybody know Slow Club? Because they’re playing after us”, they comment. The audience cheer. They play ‘Montreal Rock Band Somewhere’ making no reference to the fact that part of the lyric is NME award winning. They crumble into a sweat-laden bundle on stage; solos are played from the crouched backs of other band members. It’s all laid-back, laconic slack from a band on the up.



Before the gig, I’d sent Happyness some questions. Here are Jonny and Ashley’s answers. With references to bearded ladies and tanning pills within (do follow my link to check out who Jane Barnell is), you suspect that Happyness are no ordinary band. You’d be right – there’s something extra-ordinary here.


2014 was the year that many people became aware of Happyness. Was there a point in the year that you thought, ‘Shit, this stone is really beginning to roll’?
It was nice releasing our music into the world after spending a while recording ourselves and not showing anyone. We’re still surprised when people say they have our album. There wasn’t a point as such, although since our label deals maybe some people think of us as validated. But from our viewpoint not too much has changed.

For those readers of Sonic Breakfast who might be still to experience the delights of Happyness, what would be your elevator pitch?
Don’t try and be brave just press the alarm button and wait for emergency services.

You’ve been touring with Slow Club. How’s that going? What’s been the highlights and lowlights? What’s your favourite Slow Club song?
It was kind of Slow Club to have us follow them round. I think the highlight and lowlight had to be explaining to a Slow Club fan that there was a support band, which would mean he would not be home for Question Time (because Slow Club would be on later). He spent our whole set asking for a refund.

Who are the bands that you simply must tour with in the future? And conversely, which one (or perhaps two) bands would you refuse to tour with?
The Glands, but I don’t think they tour as such. They play shows around the place.
And there’s not a single band on the planet we wouldn’t tour with for the right fee or personal favours.

You get to curate your own festival. Who would be your headliners (alive or dead)?
Pere Ubu, Randy Newman and Mariachi El Lemar

Which joke brings you most happiness?
There are two whales and one whale says to the other whale “[whale noise]”.

Who would play you in the film biopic of your career?
Jane Barnell

As you’re a trio, let’s play one of the best ‘threesome’ games that there is.. Shag, marry or kill.. (Snog, marry, avoid for adults).. Your choice is between…
(a) Madonna (b) Lana Del Ray (c) Lady GaGa…
Obviously Lana Del Rey and Madonna would never have sex outside of wedlock so this whole question is impossible to answer. And avoiding Lady Gaga is not difficult.

What are you most looking forward to in 2015? What will a successful year look like for Happyness?
Canthaxanthin on tap


Slow Club – Leicester Cookie – February 24th 2015

(Support for tonight’s show came from London based three piece, Happyness. Seeing as it was them that secured me my guest-list ticket and also because they’re bloody good in their own right, I’ll be reviewing and featuring them shortly on Sonic Breakfast. This article is all about Slow Club.)

There’s a message that’s painted into an overhanging part of the ceiling down here in the excellent music venue and basement of Leicester’s Cookie. ‘Respect the artist respect the art’, it says. There’s no danger tonight that this packed-in crowd won’t obey such a command for Sheffield’s Slow Club are in town and there’s a lot of love on show.

Charles and Rebecca, the duo that are the bones behind Slow Club, appear confused by their popularity. “There’s so many people here. Who knew? Slow Club are huge in Leicester“, they say before Rebecca attempts to explain it by letting all know that her brother came to University here. Later in the set, Charles asks if anybody remembers when they played De Montfort Hall as part of the now, very much missed, Summer Sundae festival. He urges all to start a campaign to get them to play there again, so impressed was he with the building (Simon Says anybody?). Loose family ties and previous City shows might go a little way to explaining their popularity tonight but the truth is, I suspect, that most people are here because they know just how exciting a live proposition Slow Club are.

That reputation can only have been further secured after the release last year of their latest album, “Complete Surrender”. The set list tonight is mostly drawn from this album. From the Motown crispness of set opener, ‘Tears Of joy’ through to the nostalgic, shimmering Stax-like soul of ‘Suffering You, Suffering Me’ and the electro-pop of the albums title track, this is a band not afraid to mix up styles and stage dynamics to keep us enthralled. They swap instruments between songs. Charles apologises when he sits at the keyboard that nobody beyond the front row will see him for three minutes or so. Rebecca moves between guitar and drums with ease.

Some of my favourite tunes on the album are the ones where Rebecca, dressed tonight in a T-shirt that says ‘I defy your labels’, lays bare her grief about a relationship breakdown. It’s simply stunning songwriting and tonight the power of these songs are at the core of my enjoyment. Early in the set, a stripped back version of ‘Not mine to love’ brings the grief of that affair to the forefront. When Rebecca sings, you feel that she’s re-living every word and every memory from this period of her life. We wait until the encore for ‘Dependable people and things that I’m sure of’. Dramatically conveyed and full of tender bitterness, the audience are reaching for a collective tissue by the end.

I’d hate to give the impression though that this is an emotional wringer of a gig. It has those moments but they’re more than offset by the ramshackle, humble humour and laidback charm on display. Effortlessly, Slow Club connect with their crowd. It’s freezing cold outside but, down here in this basement, it’s almost unbearably sweaty and hot. The band make light of the facade behind encores by refusing to milk the audiences cheers for too long. “It’s too cold to wait outside in the alley“, they say. The Leicester punters are told by Rebecca that this has been her favourite show of the tour. “It’s much better than Stoke”, adds Charles. For their second encore, the band raise the roof by strolling into the crowd and playing an acoustic version of ‘The pieces’ in the round. Fans get out their phones to film a moment.

Tonight, we have respected a band who are at the top of their craft.



Heyrocco – The Cookie Leicester – 6th October

“This song’s about premature ejaculation”, drawls Heyrocco’s lead singer, Nate Merli, as this much vaunted trio from South Carolina launch into their opening song, Melt (previewed here). It’s not packed at the Cookie in Leicester but it’s fair to say that those in attendance have had their attentions fondled.

Such blunt introductions to their songs continue to characterise this gig as we get to know the interests and attitude of these Nirvana influenced pop-punk kids who balance self-deprecation with an assured swagger. “This song’s about being a loser”, states Nate but we don’t believe he really believes that. Two swooning Japanese fan girls mouth along to the words and you sense that Nate will soon become a winner.

He’s certainly quite a captivating frontman. Shambolically dressed in odd converse boots (does wearing one black one and one white one make them inverse boots?), Nate jumps and flails around the stage. He’s playing at being a tortured soul, a bit too charming and polite to ever completely descend into madness but when he stands up straight and rolls his eyes into the back of his head, you wonder if he’s about to fit. The stage at the Cookie is only raised a few inches higher than the audience but at one point, Merli brings his microphone stand and guitar amongst us to really break down any sense of them and us.

Bass player Christopher Cool, acts as his name suggests and stays calm throughout concentrating on creating a tight rhythm section with Taco Cooper on drums. There are times when these two freak out but those are few and far between. The final song of this 40 minute set arrives which signals the right time for Taco to leap from his bass drum, rugby tackling Nate to the ground. It’s a play fight, a high school rumble but perfectly in keeping with the laddish euphoria these mates are trying to create. It’s also a pretty fine climax for a gig that started with a song about premature ejaculation.

You have to give special credit to the excellent promoter for this gig and many others that happen in Leicester. Ian Magic Teapot has been putting on gigs for years and I’m sure he must lose a small fortune when potential punters decide to stay in their warm houses instead of venturing out into cold Autumn nights. The shame of it all is that tonight at the Cookie for a mere fiver, people would have seen a band that are still learning their live craft but are already displaying the signs that any return visit to these parts will demand larger venues and more of a ticket scramble.


Heyrocco – Melt

A week today, I’ll be heading down to one of my favourite Leicester venues, The Cookie, to watch a band that I really cannot make my mind up about.

Heyrocco came to my attention by virtue of a press release that promised the earth. Here’s a band that are “in pursuit of becoming the biggest and loudest rock band of their generation.” It’s probably mandatory for any band trying to launch careers but it’s refreshing to know that Heyrocco have a “compelling image and an onstage persona that’s in-your-face rock and roll.” Just in case there’s any doubt (there is), it’s of great relief to know that this is a band already endorsed by Kerrang! and Huw Stephens of Radio 1. Sounding like the first Foo Fighters album, this is “perfect rock with massive hooks and sign along choruses“. (The press release suggests sign along choruses – I’m not sure what that might be!!!)

When confronted with such hyperbole, my typical response is to press delete but something had grabbed my attention. I had five minutes to spare and I thought I’d at least have a listen to their single, ‘Melt’. First impressions are that it’s undeniably derivative.

But then I’m drawn to the words of ‘Melt’… Hang on, is this what I think it’s about? Suddenly, it becomes clear that this is a song about premature ejaculation. These cool, rock and roll kids with a ‘compelling image’ and ‘sign along choruses’ are singing a song about a very intimate vulnerability. I had Heyrocco down as brash and slightly arrogant Americans but here they are revealing something completely different.

I’m still not sure that they’ll be entirely my cup of tea. I might be blown away.

But (and I’m sorry for the use of a rather obvious pun here) next Monday cannot come soon enough…..





Mr Plow – Not The Beginning, Not The End

Mr. Plow” is the ninth episode of The Simpsons’ fourth season, which originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on November 19, 1992.[3] In the episode, Homer buys a snow plow and starts a business plowing driveways. It is a huge success, and inspired by this, Barney Gumble starts a rival company and quickly puts Homer out of business.

But that’s not what I’d be writing about on Sonic Breakfast.

Mr. Plow is also the name of an Americana singer-songwriter, influenced by Johnny Cash, dark tales and guitars with slide. The man has lived in Leicester for years. He now appears to be working with a band of quality musicians. For ease and simplicity, they also take the name, Mr. Plow.

I’ve known Mr Plow for years – known as in we’ve sometimes made comments on the same social media threads. We’d acknowledge each other with a nod of the head and a couple of sentences of small talk should we pass each other in the street but I’m not sure that we’ve ever got into any conversations that have lasted longer.

In many ways, this is an odd state of affairs. A quick scan across my CD and vinyl would show that our musical interests are not hugely divergent.

Back at the start of the summer, Mr. Plow announced the impending release of his third album, ‘Not The Beginning, Not The End’ on Pinkbox Recordings. A free gig at the Cookie was put on to celebrate the launch. Over the course of the last few months, it’s an album I’ve frequently listened to as I’ve driven around the festival circuit. You’ll find more detailed reviews elsewhere but suffice to say, it is very, very good.

I’m a fan of story songs. If they contain heavy doses of death and drama then it’s all the better. This has probably been the case since the 9 year old me first heard Shangri La’s ‘Leader Of The Pack’. So, how could I possibly not fall in love with ‘Dwight’s Roadside Grave’, the second song on the album. In Mr. Plow’s deep, bass-heavy, drawl, he relates the darkly humorous tale of how him and his put-upon sister despatch with Dwight, their step-Dad. It’s classic songwriting.

The tune from the album that I’m featuring here is ‘Bag Of Bones’. It’s another stand-out on an album that in truth always keeps giving. This is a slower number. It could be a man coming towards the end of his life, possibly prematurely. It’s a man questioning his very existence. It’s a wretched, walk out of the door and never come back tune. It’s a sad song and I take much joy from it.

Generationals – Alix

I think it was about 14 months ago now that I saw Louisiana duo, Generationals play at the Cookie in Leicester. It was one of those gigs. I’d heard a few of their tracks and seen youtube videos. I tried to convince friends that are remotely interested in seeing live music that the ‘next big thing from the US’ are playing in their city.

Result – a criminally under-attended gig that probably had no more than four paying punters in attendance.

Yet Generationals were good; sparkingly so. I wanted to make the noise of 100 people but self-consciousness got the better of me and so instead I clapped politely and whooped (very gently) at the end of each song. 

Back then, Generationals were promoting third album, Heza. It had a load of great tunes on it. Possibly the sort of album that could be toured for a couple of years. This video got them a fair bit of publicity to dine out on.


Ted Joyner and Grant Widmer appear to be having none of that though. Their fourth album, Alix, is being released on September 29th in the UK. I received a promo copy at the weekend and have been listening intently since. 

Thoroughly now and yet recalling some of the best synth-noise of the 1980’s, for me it hits a space somewhere between MGMT and Madonna. There’s a poppy swagger amidst funky bleeps providing the bubble. A vocal, often pitching just beneath falsetto, chimes and showers over you to complete the wash.

One of the lead tracks from ‘Alix’ is ‘Black Lemon’. If it’s not been so already, I’d place good money on this being used as incidental music on the BBC by the time this Autumn is done- perhaps with the goals round up on Match Of The Day or in a baking break on that programme that the girls at work go mad for.

By 2015, my friends might need less convincing should these guys ever return to Leicester.


Meadowlark – Family Tree

Male Western Meadowlarks have a complex, two-phrase “primary” song that begins with 1–6 pure whistles and descends to a series of 1–5 gurgling warbles.’ –

Outside, the birds are singing a beautiful song. But, I put my headphones on so that I can mute out their sound and listen to music by a band named after a bird.

Meadowlark have just announced that their first EP, ‘Three Six Five’, is going to have a release date in May and that it’s available for pre-release now. They’ve also just uploaded a new version of ‘Family Tree’, their track that went viral last year, to Soundcloud. 

Going viral is all well and good but I’d not heard of Meadowlark until last night. Hailing from Plymouth, this trio appear to have formed out of the remnants of singer, Kate McGill’s, previous Youtube career. She was able to generate much traffic by providing interesting cover versions of hits. If there was a television programme on Channel 5 listing the top 50 youtube artists you’ve never heard of based on clicks they’d had, Kate would be straight in at number 19. Josh Widdecombe would probably be the celebrity endorser. 

But I’m digressing. Kate McGill is no Sandi Thom (thankfully) and this release of ‘Family Tree’ isn’t half bad. I’d love to say that it begins with 1-6 pure whistles and descends to 1-5 gurgling warbles but in truth it’s better than that. Startling gently and with Kate’s voice to the fore, this song seems to be about getting stuff done and taking your chances in your twenties rather than having a mid-life crisis. It’s also about the chance,serendipity and complexities of family life. It’s Kate’s own version of ‘Sliding Doors’ told in song. As the song develops it gets busier and more cluttered. Strings come to the fore as ‘Family Tree’ builds to a climax. 

It’s a good, strong popular song. 

I notice that Meadowlark are playing a special one-off show this Friday in Leicester at the lovely Cookie Jar venue. I have to say that on the evidence of this song I’m keen to go to see what the warble is about, if only to ask how Kate got all of those Youtube hits. A longer flight follows in a May.