Oli Swan & The Dangerous Creatures, Mirror Shot and Modra Luna – The Victoria – March 3rd 2020

I’ve been meaning to catch Oli Swan & the Damgerous Creatures for a little while now. I’ve noticed their presence on gig listings that I’ve very nearly attended and have been impressed by the way that they’ve surged from bottom to top of those lists in a short time. That’s a sure sign of quality and it’s all backed up by the interesting, skewed and spirited pop-rock of their releases to date. They’re headlining at the Victoria in Dalston. I’d be a fool not to go along. 

I don’t want to be uncharitable to first support, Modra Luna, but I doubt that their rise to the top of the bill will be as smooth. An energetic delivery, technical competence and some friends in the front to add to the atmosphere can’t mask the fact (for me at least)   that there are few hooks with which to engage. Lola, ‘their first song to be released on Spotify’, at least has a melody to cling to but ultimately their set peters out before beginning. 

 

Mirror Shot fare better. Despite a considerable thinning of the crowd that appears to zap a bit of confidence, there’s more than enough C86 spirit and off-kilter awkwardness to entice a man like me. Reminding me a bit of Hefner, Mirror Shot are not yet the finished article but with vocals that are dripping with longing and loss, the intrigue remains. They don’t appear to be enjoying this trial much yet they have the right to be more perky; ones to watch I suspect. 

 

Oli Swan and the Dangerous Creatures are everything I hoped they’d be. An entourage of happy looking people dressed brightly take to the stage and with a ‘one, two, buckle my shoe’, we’re off. Oli has big, permed curls and a cheeky attitude as he casually discards of his gum between songs. His fantastic band look on adoringly, admiring his many talents. Beautiful harmonies come from the musicians to his side; the keyboard player in particular throwing herself into the gig full-whack. 

There’s a lot of influences at work here; they jump from Motown influenced 60’s pop to 70’s AOR by way of a Wham-like pop jewel from the 80’s. Clearly not ones for routine, they end with a spritely new one that’s either talking about millennial pleasure or pressure. 

They’re a fun band and well worth watching before we all succumb to Coronavirus.. I head home happy. 

Austel and Rookes – The Victoria – February 12th 2020

I meant to publish this before spending last week in Spain. Reading it on my return, I thought that the acts would appreciate my thoughts. Better late than never. 

It’s been months since I’ve participated in the weekly listening post on Tom Robinson’s Fresh On The Net. Regular readers of Sonic Breakfast will know the premise. Each week, 25 songs are selected that you and I can listen to and pick our five favourites. The competition is fierce and this week was no different. 

Austel was always going to make my cut though. There was simply something about the ethereal, laidback meander of her tune ‘Dry’ that appealed immediately. Her voice, a thing of angelic clarity, leaping out above the electronic bleeps. 

 

So, when I notice that Austel’s playing a free Wednesday night gig at Dalston’s Victoria, attendance is a no-brainer. One of my favourite venues in town hosting an act that’s a must-see. Oh yes. 

I pay little attention to opener, Lo Lauren as beer is calling but catch the whole of support act, Rookes, set. Alone on the stage, this East Londoner (for the last two years) surrounds herself with an assortment of colourful, musical gadgetry. Rookes draws heavily on the 80’s as she summons the spirit of Madonna, Annie Lennox and Whitney. Songs about romance and sex are the norm and yet Rookes is equally at home when she’s breaking the patriarchal bad code. Fingering the rainbow-esque squares of her instruments, we’re reminded that Rookes needs no fixing. She has a nervous energy in between songs that could be off-putting for some but get beyond that and there’s a brave talent on the way up. 

Austel is joined by a five piece band. A life support beep emits before a violinist wearing a Sufjan Stevens T-shirt joins in with some bow action; the electronica shivers over the icy fiddle as Austel’s voice, pure chill, distinctly distant and yet very much present, joins in. ‘Cold Love’, her new EP, was released today and the music smartly backs up the lyrical ambition. Over in the keyboard section, Austel’s producer conjures up magical sorcery on an invisible theremin; with his hands, he uses finger puppetry to cast sound shadows of echo, reverb and sustain. It’s mesmerising. We gently sway through the set sometimes allowing ourselves to drift elsewhere. 

It’s a set made for such cerebral wandering. Suitably chilled, I put my bobble hat on and catch the bus home.

 

Sonic Breakfast Top Ten 2019 – Number Seven – Scott Lavene & The Golden Dregs – Servant Jazz Quarters

Are we only on number seven on this top ten gigs from Sonic Breakfast’s 2019? I’d better up the pace a bit unless I want to still be writing about 2019 in February 2020. 

The one time I went to Servant Jazz Quarters this year was to see Scott Lavene. I loved his set back at the start of the summer and wrote excitedly about his live act (here). ‘Broke’, the album he was touring, has rightfully found its way into some end of year lists from astute bloggers though many still seem oblivious to its many delights. Lee from the Birmingham Mail still ignores it in favour of The 1975. 

Earlier this week, Scott posted a Christmas treat onto his Facebook wall, a reminder of a musical project that he was involved with a way back and one of the more entertaining Christmas songs to ever emerge. It’s worth a watch, a dark excursion into one guy’s descent.

 

Also on the bill at Servant Jazz Quarters that night was The Golden Dregs. Since June, they’ve released a quality album (Hope is for the hopeless) that I’m listening to right now. I’m pretty sure that regular readers of Sonic Breakfast would approve. A successful November tour suggests there’s more to come from Ben et al in 2020. 

 

Back later with number six.. 

Montrell, Michael Kurtz and Foreign T.V. – The Victoria – November 21st 2019

I’ve known Michael Kurtz since he was 16. That was six years ago. Back then, I spent January evenings down at Leicester’s Musician watching the best of the area’s local acoustic acts. And Michael was undoubtedly one of the best. With a rich, baritone voice and a lyrically astute delivery style, you couldn’t avoid the sense that he had effortless talent beyond his tender years. 

Dean Jackson, the influential BBC Introducing man of the East Midlands got wind of Michael’s talents and studio sessions beckoned. Deservedly, Michael’s profile was rising.

We’ve stayed in touch a bit via social media. I was delighted when Michael checked in a few weeks ago to tell me about a couple of gigs that he was playing down here in London with his new band, Montrell. 

I went along to the Gotobeat promoted Thursday night at one of my favourite haunts, Dalston’s Victoria. Michael generously added me to his list. I’d not come across the Gotobeat model before but I like what they’re trying to do. They’re putting on shows for a club of gig lovers. For a tenner a month, club members can go to all promoted Gotobeat gigs. Arguably, it’s an advanced way of doing things better for bands rather than fronting up the various free shows that London offers. I’ll watch their model with interest. And it’s their photo here as well. 

Before Michael takes to the stage to we get those Tricky Dicky’s from Billericay, the cheeky chaps of Foreign T.V.. They’ve all come straight from work if their stage garb is anything to go by. Their lead singer sports a fleece advertising the painting and decorating firm that employs him. “I’ve still got paint all over my face, I’ve come from an orgy”, he jokes before the band launch into a James Taylor cover. It turns out that the hip-hop vintage vest wearing guitar player is a primary school teacher. “It’s times tables tests tomorrow”, he tongue-twistingly laments.

Musically, Foreign T.V. jump through a range of genres with their main focus being a laidback and sleazy 70’s jazz-funk. Yet over the top of that, they place the swagger of a Britpop era Blur and a lyricism of early Squeeze. We get talk of pheromones in the back seats of taxis before their lead singer throws his fleece into the crowd and conducts a choreographed aerobics. “I need it back for work tomorrow”, he warns. 

Michael’s playing a solo set before he then takes lead guitar responsibility for Montrell. No slouch in the height front when he was 16, this giant man now towers over all as he haunches towards the mic stand. Foreign T.V. are a hard act to follow inasmuch as they make a lot of noise on stage and Michael doesn’t. And that background chatter (often coming from the mouths of that first act) is undeniably off-putting in the early part of the set. Michael perseveres though and his charm wins through. Like Nick Drake (or indeed James Taylor), his songs are gentle, clever and melodic. His voice still belies his years. He’s proud that Montrell have asked him to join them as their guitarist and the original members of the band repay the compliment by joining Michael on stage for a beefed-up and simply brill version of ‘Carved In Stone’.

There’s no denying Montrell’s musical prowess. So capable are they that they give off an air of session musicians having a night out. They write fine songs that might be classed as easy listening, middle-of-the-road pieces; think Bread (the band, not the sitcom) and you’d be in the right space. None of that is meant as an insult; indeed, I can’t think of many bands I’ve seen this year occupying such a space and I’d take such considered songwriting over indie bluster every day of the week. Jonny, lead vocalist, has a calm charm about him as he regales us all with tales of tracks written in German hotel rooms and songs about feeling alienated in the morning when you wake up in a strange place. There’s a picture of a lemon posted to the wall; the reason for which is none too obvious. 

Montrell tell how they met Michael and knew he had to be their guitarist. The baby-faced one seems to be fitting in well and certainly adds to the overall effect of the band. It’s been a neat night and I head home happy. 

 
 

LegPuppy and Dismembered Sound Booth – The Victoria – October 31st 2019

I’ve never much celebrated Halloween. Maybe that’s a generational thing? I can’t recall dressing up as a scene from a nightmare and knocking on doors asking for Haribo chews in my youth. I guess for some the thrill of putting on a witches costume, plastering your face in errant make-up and taking pictures of yourself to add to your favourite social media account is too strong a pull. 

Thank goodness that London still has the free gig scene to dip into instead if Halloween does not float your boat. And sometimes those gigs are altogether stranger than the main event.

Up at the Victoria in Dalston, there are more than your fair share of zombies walking around, more than you’d get on a typical Thursday. I’m here at one of my favourite London venues for LegPuppy’s Halloween extravaganza. So weird and theatrically out-there are Legpuppy that every day is arguably Halloween for this oddball art collaboration.

But before LegPuppy do their thing, I arrive in time to catch Dismembered Sound Booth’s delightful set of off-kilter revolutionary electro-pop. There are four of them and the two up front who mostly sing have painted their faces as a nod to the night’s celebrations. “You’re so fucking beautiful you make me sick”, they all sing on repeat as a video jumps through all sorts of image on the screen behind. 

It doesn’t take me long to realise that I love what Dismembered Sound Booth are creating here. They rant against Hackney trendies, the sadness of alcoholism and celebrity culture, never standing still for long enough to be pigeon-holed. It’s as if Jarvis Cocker formed a group from the remnants of The Shamen, Happy Mondays and Chumbawumba and convinced all that they should perform like Public Service Broadcasting. It’s playful and sinister in equal measure. We all nod at the wisdom of lines like ‘I choose chemicals to make me more conversational’ and delight as the two who take singing duties feed each other fake drinks. It’s doesn’t all make sense – and neither should it. Dismembered Sound Booth end with ‘The Fuck Show’ and we stand gobsmacked. 

 

But that feeling of joyous bewilderment gets higher still when LegPuppy take to the stage. Instrument wise, it’s set up like a DJ set. A man in a leather gimp mask stands behind the box of beats orchestrating proceedings whilst all manner of theatrical things occur around. A spurned bride, dressed to resemble a Tim Burton character slowly strokes a puppy (of the cuddly toy variety) whilst a menacing predator strolls around. Behind both is LegPuppy’s Bez – a crazy dancer who bounces around whilst being buggered by an inflatable ghost. It’s truly something else. 

Music wise, LegPuppy serve up some pretty dark, industrial fodder. Lyrically, the angry tone is often lightened by the humour. ‘Selfie stick, narcissistic prick’ runs the chant as the hypnotic rhythm reels you in. There’s points being made and points being scored as the performance builds to a cacophonous convulsion. It’s all simply wondrous.

Another band follow but they seemed blessed with an ounce of normality and after the wild scenes from the two acts I’ve seen tonight my eyes can take no more. I pass ghouls and ghosts, witches and wizards on the wander home but it all seems tame in comparison to the night I’ve had.

Frauds, Rope and Sans – The Victoria – September 19th 2019

Whilst others sit at home and watch the deliberations about the Mercury music prize, (best shortlist for many a year despite The 1975 inclusion) I do what I know and head to a gig. It’s back up to one of my favourite venues in this town, the Victoria in Dalston, for a night of noise from three bands who are new to me. 

Frauds are the headliners. They justify that billing by being by far the most entertaining of the trio on show. They’re a duo, madcap scientists whipping up punky potions for our aural delight. Mike stands centre stage, monk-cut apparent, slinging his guitar through all sorts of pedals to make quite a cacophony of splintering sound whilst Chris drums in frenzied fashion behind. Both take turns to sing. 

You can’t always make out what they’re singing about but you get the sense that Frauds are comfortable with the odd. Whether they’re bouncing on trampolines or questioning our acceptance of fake news, they do so sharing a positive vibe. And the healthily-sized fan base that have gathered respond by jumping into a vibrant mosh-pit. 

Nobody moshes for Rope, the second band of the night. That’s because their brand of slightly sludgey stoner psychedelia doesn’t best lend itself to such behaviour. They’re at their most productive when they enter into spaced-out instrumental prog jams but don’t quite feel the finished article to me as yet. Their keyboard/slide guitar player has already pissed me off before they take to the stage by displaying all sorts of off-stage ‘look at me’ arrogance so they have much to do by way of reparations. And when said chap arrogantly hushes the crowd mid-song, my ridiculously petty and judgemental attitudes are further confirmed. In Paisley shirt, Rope’s lead singer tells us that he ‘can show you how to be a real man’. I’m still waiting.

Sans open the night. Without warning and without melody, they offer an off-kilter noise punk that at times veers into angry jazz. It’s like listening to Beefheart in a dentists chair. Their singer hunches his shoulders and emits an anguished scream whilst bassist and drummer look on despairingly. “Why does it sting when I piss?“, they might howl confirming that they probably need to get to a medical practitioner pronto.

News filters through that Dave’s Psychodrama has won the Mercury. It’s fair to say that  it’ll never become a favourite of mine though I can certainly appreciate the talent and art involved in its production. And that’s probably also how I feel about tonight at the Victoria. Each band has entertained even if it’s not entirely been up my street. 

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.