Idle Empire – The Donkey – March 31st 2017

Last Friday evening, I went along to the Donkey in Leicester to watch Idle Empire. I first saw them as an acoustic duo back in the days when I was involved in compering OBS showcases. A friend, Laura, who I’d not seen for some time got in touch with me out of the blue and asked if I’d go along – for she’s now managing them.

 

The Leicester Mercury appears to be publishing more of my reviews again (albeit for bigger shows like Rick Astley at De Montfort Hall) so I thought I’d send a write-up of this gig into the paper. To my knowledge it’s not been used. Phil Bull took some great photos from the evening that are also gathering dust. Waste not, want not.. It’s not my best writing ever but let’s add it to a Sonic Breakfast. 

(Click on page 2 for the review and more pics from Phil)

Oliver Sean – New York

I’m not as knowledgeable as many about the Leicester music scene – but it is the city I live in and, as such, you do tend to hear about the locally based acts with an international profile. It’s really hard to get my head around the fact that somebody played on VH1 and with MTV awards might be ‘anonymously’ living in our midst.

So, it was something of a surprise when the new music of Oliver Sean was thrust under my nose via musicsubmit, a U.S. based promotions company. They often send me tunes to listen to and then link me up directly with the artists I like. Oliver Sean is a chap from Oadby, Leicestershire.

And he has a name that would lodge in my head. It’s not something I’d easily forget. My nineteen year old son is called Oliver and his middle name is Sean. Coincidence can account for so much but this seemed beyond that. I wondered if somebody was winding me up.

(Click on page 2 to find out if it is a wind-up)

Nikki Pope – A preview

I’m back from Eurosonic in Groningen. Now the hard work begins as I piece together the jigsaw of events in an attempt to make a coherent review for eFestivals. Suffice to say, I’ll be singing the praises of a fantastic event.

 Forgive me if the blog goes quiet for a few days whilst I’m working on that. The day job remains busy and I don’t have a massive amount of spare time. I did want to publish this piece first though.

 Jono has been a friend for a number of years. He’s a man to know in Leicester with his finger in many pies. I don’t know much about studios but friends with more expertise than I’ve got tell me that his studio (Yellowbean) is one of the best-equipped and supportive across the Midlands. Jono sings in a Madness tribute band, Gladness; he has the trust and ear of Dean Jackson, the excellent BBC Introducing DJ for the East Midlands (who I once blogged about here). Every year, he organises a fab skiing trip for mates (I went one year and, in truth, struggled on the slopes). Jono’s an avid Leicester City FC fan and a very friendly and sociable guy. In truth, he’s one of the good people on this planet and I ought to drink beer with him more than I do.

 So, when a stranger gets in touch with you saying that they’re a friend of Jono’s and he’s sent them your way, you sit up and listen.

(To find out more about that stranger click on page 2)

Curse Of Lono – Saturday Night

On balance, it was probably a good thing that the gig I was due to go to on Monday night was cancelled. It’s been a hectic sort of non-stop week, one in which sleep has been at a premium, so another late night watching headliners, Uncle Lucius, and support, Curse Of Lono, might have been pushing these weary bones too far. 

But, there’s no getting away from the disappointment. I was sent a promo copy of the Curse Of Lono EP, Saturday Night, a couple of weeks ago and the four tunes on it have rapidly become favourites when driving in my car. On a recent trip to Liverpool, I listened over and over again to this distinct mix of Americana, siphoned through a seedy London backstreet. Passengers in the car chuckled over the perversities voiced within the title track whilst I was drawn to the skewed sadness and sentiment of ‘He Takes My Place’.

I had some vague knowledge of Hey Negrita, the previous band that the founder of Curse Of Lono, Felix Bechtolsheimer, had spent years being involved with. Back in the day, before I wrote about music, I’d seen them at festivals and gigs. At De Montfort Hall and The Big Session Festival, I’d watched them perform before heading back to the beer tent and nearly missing my own compere duties.

Here was a blog post waiting to happen.

But I held back a bit. I was aware that each of the EP tracks were also being used within a short, accompanying film. The trailer for ‘Saturday Night’, directed by Alex Walker, looked gripping. Cinematic, dramatic and loaded with debauched crime, the indications were that this was going to be a fine vehicle to elevate already great songs to another level.

On staggered release across some fine blogs, each of the videos have now been uploaded to Youtube. Watch carefully and visual clues help you to follow the ongoing plot. Despite the lack of dialogue, you can follow the characters through to a satisfying denouement in the final video. The path mightn’t be linear and the story not always obvious but, for me, that sense of crippling confusion and slow-motion thoughtfulness makes the music crisper.

It’s a bold statement doing things this way. There are no half measures here. Pull up a chair, sit back and open the popcorn. 

I’m sure that, after watching this, you’ll be like me in checking future Curse Of Lono tour dates and desperately hoping they reschedule that gig. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

French Leave – Tourist

It’s a fantastic time to be a citizen of Leicester. 

I’ve lived here more than a dozen years now and have always raved about its wonders. When Kasabian headlined at Glastonbury, I wore my retro-foxes top all day even though their brand of indie swagger is not exactly my thing.

When King Richard was buried, I was in Yorkshire but should have been on our fab streets. 

Now, we have the football. An amazing thing is happening across this beautiful city. A place so used to not really singing from the rooftops about its wonder now finds itself thrust onto the back pages of national newsprint. I was on a train heading back to Leicester yesterday with tourists who thought they’d visit because ‘it seemed like a vibrant place’.

These are great times. 

It’s a common theme that I keep coming back to both in my blog and in my live reviews for the Mercury. When I went to see the Brandy Thieves (and reviewed it here), I had to state that there was a movement occurring. Earlier this year when I featured Plaudits on this blog (here), I sensed that this was a city dancing to a different drum. 

Now, we have the new single from French Leave. ‘Tourist’ is an absolute belter. Occupying a similar space to Plaudits, French Leave appear to revel in a hard-edged electro-pop thing. I deny you to not think this is brilliant. When they sing ‘Come see me in my town’, it’s an invite to head here and party with us all. Yes, this is a tune that might well become a soundtrack to my summer, blasting from the speakers when the team are transported in their open top bus. 

French Leave are playing at the painstakingly curated Handmade Festival in a couple of weeks. It’s a great festival for this great city and it’s not escaped my attention that this might be the weekend when we’re really under the glare of worldwide media.

We love N’golo Kante. We want the French to Stay. 

French Leave..

  

 

The Big Moon & Virgin Kids – Nottingham Bodega Social Club – 30th March 2016

In a couple of weeks, I plan to nip along to The Cookie,one of my favourite venues in Leicester, to see The Big Moon. I’ll pull together 350 words or so about the night that’ll hopefully be published within the Leicester Mercury. In terms of content, it’ll be more concise than this waffling piece.

On Wednesday night, I had opportunity for a dry run; on the first night of their first ever headline tour, the London based four piece are playing in Nottingham at the fab Bodega Social. By chance, I’m here with my day job so a sneak preview beckons. It’d be rude not to. 

First impressions of a fuzzed-up Bangles fade slightly as the set progresses. It feels lame to draw comparisons with another all female band but I think the likeness just about holds. And at least I haven’t mentioned Throwing Muses, Belly or L7 as yet. As it is, this is a band not afraid to throw a Madonna cover into their mix (an exuberant Brilliant Stranger) so I’m sure they’re aware of their antecedents. 

I’m a bit fed up of seeing up and coming touring bands who play so hard at being ‘cool’ that they seem unable to enjoy the experience. Such accusation cannot be levelled at The Big Moon. Indeed, bassist Celia Archer, who does much of the between song jabber, is positively skipping with happiness. This adds to the charm. Tight and blissful, summer-fuelled harmonies tingle and shimmer through your core. Here we have a thoroughly modern Motown girl troupe, bounced through a scuzzed-up indie blender.

There’s a smell of wet dog in the air amidst the crowd. Lads with pudding bowl haircuts stare on with such awkward, spectrum-rubbing focus that I wonder if deodorant has been forgotten from their routine. It’s either that or somebody has wet themselves. I move towards the front just in time to catch the opening strains of new single, Cupid.

It’s undeniably one of the set highlights. The quality of this and a song (potentially called Pull The Other One) so new that this Nottingham crowd are the first to hear it suggests that there’s some longevity in The Big Moon story. They’re clearly growing in stature and confidence with each song they write. 

The same might also be true for the main support of the night, Virgin Kids, although so tall and gangly is their hair bun-wearing bass player that he definitely doesn’t need any more height on him. Unaware of his personal space, he auditions for a role in the ‘guild of incredibly tall men who make it their business to stand right in front of you thus blocking your view’. 

Minor quibbles aside, they do the business on stage with workmanlike skill. They give us a dynamic and punkish London thing. At times, the three piece almost veer towards the pre-punk, sweaty bar-room blues rock of Dr Feelgood but then project us forward into a more Libertine-like swagger. I mark them as ones I’ll see again and, given that they’re supporting The Big Moon throughout this tour, that chance will come again soon. 

Wishing both bands the best for the next couple of weeks and I’ll definitely look forward to hearing about the touring adventures when they arrive in Leicester on the 8th April. You should catch them on this tour if you can. 

 

 

Guy Jones – Leicester Cookie – Thursday March 3rd 2016

I’ve been submitting lots of reviews to the Leicester Mercury recently. Mostly, they seem to appreciate my efforts and to publish my thoughts within the paper. Sometimes, they’ll post my reviews on line as well. I’m doing this with one main aim in mind. I think that supporting live music, especially gigs that are happening locally, is a really important thing to do. If people are more aware of the quality and vibrancy that occurs every night in our fair city, perhaps they’ll be more inclined to venture out themselves. 

Last week, I reviewed an old friend of Sonic Breakfast, Guy Jones, at the Cookie. The Mercury might have printed this but I didn’t spot it so I’ll copy here instead. 

 Guy Jones, the travelling troubadour, has made the relatively short trip from Halesowen, to charm us at the Cookie on a Thursday night. His special brand of Americana-fuelled songwriting is amplified and electrified by a tight and talented quad of musicians. Guy grew up in West Brom so this is Country music formed in the Black Country streets. We respond by lapping it up, albeit politely.

It’s by and large a gentle affair. The room, laid out in a cabaret seating style, allows us to relax as the weekend approaches. Guy has a laidback, natural manner and does his best to draw us in with pleasant singalongs and simple handclaps. Guy sings about real love; he has  a song about friends who grew up bullied; a song about people he’s met whilst touring the States and a song about how he’s grown from a spurned, chubby teenager to a young man able to capture his girl’s heart. 

These tunes (and others) will all be found on Guy’s forthcoming album that’s due for release in May. It’s a sign of the high regard that Guy’s fans hold him in that this was fully funded through a Pledge campaign. Recorded in New York, it’s going to be crammed full of the melodies and harmonies that Whispering Bob Harris and other Radio 2 sorts are likely to praise highly.

Credit for the harmonies at this gig needs to go to Guy’s keyboard player, Kerry Smyth. Their voices weld together with such robustness that it’s very easy to get drawn into this world. Earlier in the evening, Kerry had given us a set of her own songs and covers. She’s a younger Beverley Craven but entertaining enough. Local lad, Reuben Wisner, opened the show with considerable craft and skill. Acoustic pickings, polite audience singalongs and occasional tracks with loops and layering are Reuben’s thing. It sets the mood for the evening well. 

But the night belongs to Guy. Confident without being cocky, this is optimistic and cleansing. Affable and tender, good-natured and nice, we drift away into the night hoping that Guy made enough on the Merch desk to get home to Halesowen.