2019 was a full-on year of exploration for me. I loved nipping between the many, varied London venues discovering new delights. I’d struggle, if pushed, to name a favourite venue because there have been many iced buns in the bakery but high in the rankings would be Hackney’s stunning MOTH club. The repurposed British Legion Club is a fab gig venue; I’m yet to have a bad night there.
And of the few MOTH club gigs that I could pick for this epic exercise of a top ten, I’m delighted to announce that number two in the countdown goes to the night spent with Jonathan Bree and support act, John Moods (written about here).
John Moods played Paper Dress Vintage, another favourite Hackney venue, in November but I foolishly managed to miss that. His single that came out in the summer, I Wanted You, was a real cracker. The German popster returned to Berlin and played all manner of gigs across Europe.
I still smile when I consider Jonathan Bree’s direct generosity. A sold-out show, I’d given up hope of seeing Bree and band but the cheeky E-mail paid off. The friendly soul in a mask didn’t need to guest-list me but he did. I love that Jonathan Bree’s career has grown and grown in the last year. Once you see the live show it’s hard not to be smitten.
New tracks are being drip-fed from a future album. They’re sounding solid and in ‘Cover Your Eyes’, you suspect that there’s another set highlight in the making. It’s been a year of relentless touring for Jonathan and band, including a first ever gig for them in the Ukraine. I wish I’d been there. Returning to Camden’s Dingwalls on May 1st, you’ll have to lock me in my room to stop me from being there. And this time I won’t be begging Jonathan for my ticket.
What a difference a year makes. Last May, almost to the day, I was settling into the Spanish villa bemoaning my lack of gig action (here). I wrote about the genius of Jonathan Bree and my disappointment over having to miss his Leicester gig.
A year on and here I am standing in a sweaty MOTH club watching Jonathan and his band play a sold-out London headliner. I can barely conceal my delight at being here. A cheeky FB message to the man himself and I was generously added to the list.
It’s a mind-blowing show – convention-breaking and visually spectacular. It’s been another hot day in London and sweat drips down my forehead in the throng of the crowd. It’s beyond belief how the band can possibly perform.
For one marvellous (some might say foolhardy) thing about the Jonathan Bree live show is the costumes. The five on stage all wear linen-white Lycra leotards that cover them from top to toe. Their facial features protude from behind the tight-fitting masks. They’re mannequins, crash test dummies, anonymous robotic prototypes onto which we can craft our own images.
Two of the band dance, often in symmetry on the left and right of Jonathan. They’re his prim and proper dancers; other-worldly and yet you want to connect. Jonathan stands in between, laidback and gauche with occasional struts in the way that Jarvis Cocker might if he were covered from head to foot. You can just about see Jonathan’s glasses (or is it a headset) from within his balaclava.
The music is similarly odd; Slowed down disco, a chanson-based French pop. Tracks from last year’s wonderful Sleepwalking album are instantly recognised by the crowd of fans; some dance, some kiss whilst others sway. This is exotic comedown music; Kraftwerk with a layer of Magnetic Fields. When the band launch into You’re So Cool, the treat is complete.
Before Jonathan and band plunder all, support act John Moods does his level best. This MOTH club crowd is a tough one for the sweet-natured and nice, gentle tone of John. With a backing tape for company and Casio keyboard loops, John’s 80’s influenced pop is illuminated by the pale suit jacket and piano keyboard tie that he wears. At one stage, his enthusiasm gets the better of him and he jumps into the crowd to have a bop. Those paying attention appreciate the effort but many rudely ignore whilst waiting for the main number.
Jonathan Bree – I’m glad that I’ve now seen his unforgettable live show.
Wednesday night in the city – and it’s a hat-trick of new venues visited by Sonic Breakfast. Paper Dress Vintage is my favourite of the three.
It’s a really friendly welcome I get when I venture over the threshold of this cool space in Hackney that’s a vintage clothing shop by day and a venue by night. Shirts and jackets hang around the walls of the upstairs, fashion statements from a range of yesterday’s subcultures. A soundtrack blasts out reminders of female-fronted indie twee pop bands that I’d long since forgotten about but love all the same. (Mikabomb, The Primitives and Darling Buds anyone?).
I’m here to see Gazel. This British/Turkish songwriter and producer has seen her stock rising in these parts with the recent release of single, ‘You’re Not Funny’. It precedes an album release later this year. But before I see Gazel, in an odd turn of events wholly appropriate for a ‘vintage’ store, Sonic Breakfast meets her Mum. We chat briefly, before the support band take to the stage, about homelessness, architecture and proud parenting. Gazel’s Mum has every right to feel proud.
Gurl are the handpicked support travelling all the way from Bristol to do the honours. The four-piece huddle tightly in the limited space they have on stage whilst running through a set that touches lots of bases and bounces around genres. From souped-up trip hop they head into guitar rock solos before a cover of ‘It’s a Man’s World’ shows of their vocalist’s powerful and soulful range. At times, they veer into sounding a tad Rag ‘n’ Bone Man before calling on the ghost of Bowie’s early to mid 80’s output. As Gurl’s set draws to a close in funk-prog excess, I reflect how much I’ve enjoyed their show. I’d see them again for sure.
Gazel looks the part. With sparkly gold trousers, a mass of hair and round Lennon-glasses, she imitates a 1970’s folk singer who’s taking her first steps to embrace disco. Impressive video visuals behind her band tell an intriguing story as the venue’s heart of glass starts to slowly turn.
This is high concept arty stuff always managing to remain on the right side of pompous. Gazel’s forthcoming album, Book Of Souls, takes us on a conscious/sub-conscious trip encountering a variety of souls who dwell within. An elderly widow sits in a desert obsessed with the fear of going outside (even though she is). The night concierge occupies that space in our lives between being awake and dreaming. And this one is all about the process of becoming a zen master.
Whilst some of the ideas might not completely connect with this old cynic, the show remains fresh and engaging throughout. Standard dance beats give way to more middle Eastern rhythms. Belly dancing moves are exotically thrown into the mix before electronic drum pads are beaten and a violin stroked. As the lights dim, a mock gas lamp is lit; Gazel is an adventurer striding confidently into a hidden cave armed with a spell of spoken word prose.
Gazel gets us all to sit down during a slower number. I’m reminded just how ‘vintage’ these bones are as I attempt to cross my legs. There’s theatre oozing out of this set. I imagine it’s the sort of show that a young Kate Bush would have put on; in fact, it’s probably not far removed from a show that Kate Bush would put on now if she had an appetite for live performance.
Always attracted to the drama within gigs, there was surely never any doubt that I’d enjoy the multi-media assault on the senses that’s frothing within a Gazel show. I’ll return to both act and venue before 2019 is done for sure.