Slurp, Attawalpa and Gladboy – The Shacklewell Arms – September 30th 2019

I realise that a mistake has been made. I’m standing here at a venue (which shall remain nameless) watching the second band of the evening. Two songs in and it’s clear that they’re slightly better than the first act but only marginally so. The first band were a sub-standard Biffy Clyro specialising in that dull, tuneless and turgid, exasperating Rock thing that tends to take itself far too seriously. I might be a glutton for punishment but this is simply foolish. 

A quick check on my phone reveals that there’s a free gig of interest on up at the Shacklewell Arms. It’s a taxi ride away at the best of times but tonight with the rain bucketing down that Uber is a necessity. On arrival, I immediately know that I’ve made a wise choice to abort on the first gig. 

Gladboy are playing. I only find out that they’re Gladboy after the event and only catch three of their songs but it’s enough to realise that this young bunch from Norwich are worthy of further attention. Mixing a punkish energy with a psychedelic and woozy doo-wop, they’ve got tunes and guile. The guitarist-vocalist takes drumming duty for the final tune whilst the fab backing singer stands centre stage, deliberately nonchalant in a red leather skirt. The crowd appreciate Gladboy’s efforts and you can see why. 

Attawalpa are up next. They take an age to get ready with front man, Luis (Attawalpa) hiding himself away in the toilet when the all-clear is given from the sound desk. I guess nervousness is a funny thing. Luis is engaging to watch, over-the-top black mascara highlighting the frustration and creativity at the sets core. Things start with a skewed nod to Pink Floyd before moving into a Brit Pop space. Luis’ lyrics excite and are conveyed with a mix of Cocker and Walker. He jumps out into the crowd loosely acknowledging friends and family who are looking on. Tall women, in all likelihood models, take to the floor to dance energetically. There’s a lot to take in and Attawalpa deserves further attention.

There’s some confusion over the name of tonight’s headliner. Advertised on the poster as Dragon’s Daughter, it would appear that this all-girl trio from France have now renamed themselves Slurp. CDs at the merch stall have the original name crossed out and the new name scrawled over in black marker. Slurp confess that they don’t speak much English but then proceed to introduce each song with fine diction. Jangly, bubblegum punk-pop is a genre of choice for Sonic Breakfast so this was always going to appeal but the lively delivery just adds to the pleasure. The songs might sound like three-minute throwaways but lyrically they’re taking on bigger issues; these women are hard, independent and not to be messed with.  I want to see more – and it appears that Slurp have more to play – but we pass 11 and I guess that Monday evening licence regulations mean that an abrupt halt ensues. 

September will shortly be over for another year. The rain still pours down. Shops begin to fill with Christmas stock; lights shimmer in the residue of drizzle. One constant remains – every night in this town, some fine bands will be playing (and some shit ones as well). 

Old School Funky Family & Mulvey’s Medicine – The Finsbury – August 19th

It takes something pretty special to get me dancing like a crazed maniac on a Monday night. In fact, I’m hardly known for my weekend strutting and so the sight of me bopping like a bad one early in the working week would have filled the casual bystander of a friend with all sorts of confusion. Fortunately, for me at least, I’m pretty sure that there is no video evidence of my flailing and failing extremities. And besides, it would have looked odder not to be dancing at the Finsbury to the French funk of Old School Funky Family. The whole room was up and at it. It was contagious.

Old School Funky Family are on a short UK tour. You can see that they’ll go down exceptionally well at festivals and it should be of no surprise that the good people of Chai Wallahs have snapped them up for Green Man last weekend and Shambala this. In between, they’re playing shows across the country. Go and see them if you’re going to Shambala or living in Bristol. They will not disappoint. 

In any other town, you’d pay good money to see musicianship of this quality. London continues to confound and delight in equal measure. I realise there’s a ton of competition out there every night but quite how this can be put on as a free show is anybody’s guess. “You’d be happy paying £15 for that”, says a punter, slightly gobsmacked by what he’s just witnessed. And he’s quite right as well.

There’s eight of them crammed onto the Finsbury stage. Brass heavy and brass led, it’s instrumental funk with more than a sprinkling of jazz. They’re from deep in the South of France – and it’s perhaps appropriate, given the nationality, that bass duties are not taken by a guitar but by a French horn. Between each song, one of the troupe takes a microphone and introduces what’s coming next.

At different times in the set, each member of the band gets to delight with an extended solo, to show off their musical pedigree with a spotlight slot. Other members of the band give way sometimes leaving the stage to signal what’s about to occur. In the hands of lesser musicians, such interludes might become little more than elongated wank-fests. But these guys are so talented that it’s always astonishing to watch. The clarinet player particularly impresses in his solo. It begins all seedy, backstreet nightclub (slow and languid) and ends with fireworks (explosive and illuminating). 

Whilst the core of this is jazz-funk, Old School Funky Family can also mix it up. They play a cover but mostly it’s their original compositions. They draw on their proximity to North Africa to charm snakes in one piece and take us on a tour of EDM styles in another. My short attention span never once wanes whilst my legs move; the dynamics on stage providing just enough to maintain interest.

Support act for the night, Mulvey’s Medicine, could learn from this. Indeed, I’m sure they are for many of their seven-strong number are lapping Old School Funky Family up dancing in the front row. Mulvey’s Medicine also indulge in instrumental jazz-funk and do so with fine musicianship. To move on to the next level, I’d politely suggest that they now need to give some thought to their stagecraft. They jam well – and it’s by no means boring to watch – but what might their gimmick be that can set them apart? 

The night (and probably the week) belongs to Old School Funky Family. This was no typical Monday.

L’Imperatrice – Heaven – May 2nd 2019

This is how it must feel to be waking up from a coma after five years out of action – or stepping into a parallel universe. 

I consider myself pretty well informed about this world of popular music. So, how can I possibly have been unaware for so long of the French disco phenomenon that is L’Imperatrice? The 1,600 within this sold-out Thursday night at the iconic Heaven know. They mock my ignorance from afar. Or, maybe they’re just mocking my suit. I’ve had to rush straight from a work function. 

L’Imperatrice descend from space to join us under the arches of Charing Cross Station. With their backs initially to the crowd, their opener draws on space travel imagery. Dressed in white with star-trek stripes, you’re immediately aware that this is going to be a spectacle. Lights draw you in. You recall your favourite time ever had in a festival field and observe the similarity to this. Daft Punk might not play live right now but here we have a ready-made alternative. Seriously, it’s that good. 

Maybe tonight is the night to figure out if you’re in heaven”, asks Flore, L’Imperattice’s impeccable singer. Many don’t need to be asked for we already know. It’s impossible not to beam from ear to ear with the joy being created here.

The incredible graphics are playing a part. Disco balls of light and strobe, the earth spins whilst hands are clapped in tune with the beat. And when L’Imperatrice play ‘Vanille Fraise’ we have a summer scene of tennis umpires, clay courts and dodgy moustaches. Sweat-laden headbands spin like golden rings as tennis racquets swipe in time with the beat. God, this is glorious- a show that doffs its cap to retro 70’s sound and imagery whilst still managing to be entirely modern. 

 

The music is timeless; tunes that have forever been part of your life even though the truth is that this is the first time that you’ve heard them tonight. The groove heads down tried and tested paths; funk, jazz, pop, disco and happy house – a nostalgic soundtrack to your happiest summer ever.

And the images keep on giving. Here we have a grainy collection from when Zidane lifted the World Cup for France. The vocal appears to repeat the mantra that this is your last chance to love. The ascension is glorious as we all proceed to the inevitable lifting of the trophy. Jacques Cousteau gets in on the action; we’re now diving in an underwater world, searching for lost treasures whilst sharks swim in synchronised fashion all around us. It all beats the day job for sure.

I return to earlier thoughts. L’Imperatrice are ready-made headliners of your boutique festival. This would be euphoric in a field as the stars glisten above. Beat-Herder should book them. They’d be a magical fit.  L’Imperatrice – previously unknown in these quarters will not now be overlooked.

Le SuperHomard – Institut Francais – April 25th 2019

London has so much to offer. It’d be easy to keep venturing out to the tried and trusted venues for my gig action but I’m keen to remain curious and to keep digging beneath the surface of this sprawling metropolis. Thus, I find myself on a pleasant Thursday evening in a stunning library surrounded by the very best French books.

This is not any library. The Denis Saurat Reading room at the Institut Francais is an architectural wonder; a dome at one end letting in stained and colourful shards of light . Ladders and wooden steps guide you to a book-laden balcony that runs around the outside of the room. I choose to sit down in one of the comfy modern pieces of furniture, a chair in beanbag shape. 

I’m here to see Le SuperHomard play a stripped-back set. This baroque pop is right up my street; their 60’s influenced bossa-nova tunes reconnect me with those days when I solely listened to Gainsbourg, St. Etienne, The Clientele and Air whilst dreaming of the life-changing romance that I was convinced was just around the corner. 

The romance never came and the cynical punk came out. But tonight it’s good to reminisce.

This gig is part of a monthly initiative, Music Rendezvous, within the Institut Francais, an effort to share the best of emerging French music with the British public and French ex-pats. But many of us here have already heard of Le SuperHomard. 6 Music DJs have picked up on some of the brilliance within their debut album, Meadow Lane Park, and have been urgently spinning key tracks. The fact that the record is released on the seminal indie-pop label, Elefant Records, evidently helps aa well. 

Typically a five piece, the library setting dictates the stream-lining. It’s SuperHomard first outing as a three-piece but you wouldn’t know by listening. Through a mix of electronica, acoustic guitar and sweet chanson action, the trio of Christophe, Julie and Benoit captivate all for 45 minutes with their Gallic pop. Dressed in a mix of denim, mod excess and blue and white striped fisherman shirts, the look screams twee and gorgeous cinematic hip. 

The music is dreamlike for the romantic poets gathered, a soundtrack to every holiday romance we’ve ever yearned for. It screams of sunny days in the park, misspent youth and nostalgic longing. When Julie dances with her arms locked behind her back we’re transported back to those days when indie disco had something to say, perhaps fittingly for an act named after a nightclub from a 1966 film.

We learn about the origins of the name (and all manner of other stuff) in a Q&A that follows the set. The trio are civilly interviewed; it’s polite, informative and engaging. Christophe is the main songwriter and Benoit the gifted producer who uses analog and digital methods of production to conjure up the fresh sound from a studio and music shop in Avignon. The lyrics are written by two of Christophe’s English-speaking friends because he wants to avoid any sense of Franglais. Julie’s voice is pretty English-sounding we all agree. Meadow Lane Park is (rather disappointingly) not an homage to Notts County, the oldest football team in the world, but rather a reference to a children’s park in the USA.

I make a note of Le SuperHomard impending date in Brighton for The Great Escape and add their set to my growing list of must-sees. “It’ll be livelier as a five piece”, promises Christophe to an audience that has already been converted. 

 

 

HelloLisa – Hundred Lives

I’ve always enjoyed E-mail conversations with Pat. Pat is the drummer turned guitarist in HelloLisa, a French band that I featured on Sonic Breakfast (here) back in the day. 

His E-mails are warm, chatty and convivial and when he got back in touch weeks ago to enquire if I’d be interested in reviewing the new HelloLisa record, I jumped at the chance. They’re a bright and breezy indie-pop band able to write magical tunes. The release of ‘Haunted Strange Parties’ in September had passed me by, gone under this radar, and Pat told me why. 

‘The saddest thing is a catastrophic sudden death of Julien, founding member of the band and co writer, co singer of the band at age 42, on July 22 just few days after we get our boxes of this LP from the factory. This is the main reason we didnt communicate so much on the release of this new album because we were in shock and we still are. After weeks of pain and questioning, we decided to continue the band.’

I sat and read Pat’s E-mail as a cluster of thoughts swelled. I didn’t know Julien aside from his art on record and yet still a morbid sadness descended. 42 – no age, younger than me, distinctly horrible. Revealing new material for any band has to be one of the moments they live for and, yet here was an example of extreme sorrow. 

Curiosity abounded (and I didn’t like to ask Pat) so I searched the Internet. To discover that Julien had had a cardiac arrest, that he’d left a young, grieving family just made matters worse. 

If I was feeling a certain shock for this remote loss, goodness knows how people much closer must be feeling. 

Tentatively, I began to listen to the record. It’s a masterpiece, the work of a band at the very top of their game. Lyrically, there are songs that hark back to our younger days; joyous day trips when we were half our age in cars that have long since been consigned to the scrap heap in the sky. It’s an album that grabs middle-age by the scruff of the neck yet makes you all fuzzy about what used to be. 

Clumsily, I cobbled words together to let Pat know how sorry I was to hear the news. I knew I was going to feature HelloLisa again. ‘Haunted Strange Parties’ is a quite remarkable record; one that makes reference to Neil Hannon and The Divine Comedy’s ‘Tonight, We Fly’ in opening track ‘First Black Bike’.

Yesterday. Pat sent me a video for ‘Hundred Lives’, one of the album’s stand-out tracks. It’s only recently been pulled together, a montage of video clips from the 1980’s featuring Toni Basil’s ‘Mickey’ prominently. The song, a nostalgic nod back to your early twenties when optimism is rife about what’s to follow, fits in with the images with eerie perfection. 

I feel so humbled that HelloLisa chose to share this with me. As awfully cliched as it is, life really is for living. We never know what’s around any corner and to not embrace it with every sinew seems like the most awful of cop-outs. 

It’s time to fall in love (again) with the joyful sounds of HelloLisa.  

Tour De France – La Saint Valentin

It’s not been a deliberate ploy but Sonic Breakfast has been encouraging a fair bit of croissant-munching this past month. Yep, fine bands with links to France have been featured quite regularly because I’ve been impressed by the music they’ve produced, 

Tour De France are a duo from Los Angeles that I’ve been in recent contact with. Their pretty unique thing is that they sing all of their stuff in French – a sort of electronic punk with exclusively French lyrics. Singer Bernadette is initially from Bordeaux and is now apparently Leonard Cohen’s French language coach. Sam, initially from New York, produces.

Their third album is being released this year. It’s definitely worth spending some time digging into their back catalogue if you’ve got a spare few hours. 

But, just in case you haven’t and you want a quick fix of Tour De France, here’s a lyric video of their recent release, La Saint Valentin. It’s got a simple melody that ambles along with pleasant urgency. But beware – it’s also got a melody that digs into your head. You might well be humming this as you traipse around shopping centres later today. 

With customary tardiness, Sonic Breakfast encourages you to celebrate St Valentines Day over a month after it’s passed. But I’m not sure that matters. For those of us lucky enough to be in love, everyday is a celebration, right? 

 

 

The Liminanas – Garden Of Love

Many years ago now, I caught a flight to Perpignan. It was a ‘make or break’ holiday for a relationship which, in truth, was already broken. There were four of us and we’d hired a large tent on a posh campsite to keep us cool for a couple of weeks. 

The South of France was sweltering under unprecedented levels of heat. My young son (for he was one of us) flagged even though he wore a hat and drank lots of water. In truth, I didn’t fare much better, although I was drinking wine and beer rather than water. It wasn’t the best holiday ever though the green of the campsite, endlessly watered grass, sticks in my memory still.

The Liminanas are from Perpignan. Marie and Lionel have just released a video for their song ‘Garden Of Love’, the first track to be released from their forthcoming album, Malamore. Significantly perhaps, this track features Peter Hook doing his bass thing. Hooky also offers up some mumbling backing vocals to add to the atmosphere. 

I love it. There’s a definite Serge Gainsbourg thing going on within. It’s got a seductive edge, a dreamy breeze and a shimmering, sunny centre. As lips, glossed with bright red lipstick, mouth the words, other images from the ‘Garden Of Love’ flicker in and out of view. 

Commenting on the forthcoming album, The Liminanas say, “The main idea is a story with a start and an end, which can be linked even if they exist in different universes. Everything here is about love stories – thwarted love, aborted passions, funny or dramatic.”

The campsite could have been my garden. It wasn’t but I’m pleased to tell that story of aborted love.