Skinny Lister and Wood Burning Savages – Leicester O2 Academy – March 9th 2019

It’s exhausting to simply watch Skinny Lister live on stage. Goodness knows what it must be like to actually be in the band. They just don’t stop moving, none more so than singer, Lorna Thomas. Quite how she still has the breath to sing without wilting is anybody’s guess. They’re certainly well practiced in this hard-partying performance lifestyle.

Indeed, this correspondent wonders whilst watching them at Leicester’s O2 on Saturday evening if there’s a band that he’s seen more times over the last five years than Skinny Lister. And if there is he’s not sure who. Be it hungover early afternoon at a festival or later at night at their own headline gig you always know what you’re going to get. This is a frantic, riotous folk, an exhilarating Clash-like head rush, a sharing-caring  united celebration, an opportunity to let your hair down whilst all else turns to shit. 

Ostensibly, Skinny Lister are here to promote their new album, The Story Is. And they take the opportunity to play a fair few of the songs from it. It might have only been out for a few days but the tunes already appear to have worked deep into the heads of the moshing crowd and the more-cautious types who position themselves just outside the throng. There’s no sign of discernible lull here when the band plays new ones. “This is not a drill”, we urgently sing reminding ourselves that life is to be cherished whilst also comprehending the stark situation described within set and album opener, 38 Minutes.

For Lorna (and her brother Max), Leicester is pretty much their homecoming gig. They tell us regulars once again that they remember Saturday lunchtime folk sessions at the old Phoenix (what days they were) – and a Skinny Lister gig in Leicester wouldn’t be what we love without an appearance from Party George, their Dad. He comes on stage during the traditional encore as do the rest of the touring entourage, support acts and shameless liggers, in a finale free-for-all knees-up. Six whiskies is the most exuberant of drunken excess party tunes and it’s hard not to delight in its playing tonight. 

 

I mention the support; we berate ourselves for missing the opener, Trapper Schoepp, but happily arrive just in time for the Wood Burning Savages. From Northern Ireland, they’ve got a neat take on the angry, the political and the human.  They’ve got a retro -rock anthemic sound not dissimilar to The Alarm (though I’m sure they’d baulk at such a comparison). “Put your name on our mailing list and you could become our First Minister“, says their lead singer, clearly as despairing of the state of things in Stormont as most are here about the impending Brexit gloom. 

 

Lorna dances with the punters; she dives into the mosh and crowd-surfs. The flagon of rum gets passed around as is tradition though I’m no longer close enough to the action to take a gulp. John Kanaka, Skinny Lister’s largely acapella call and response number, raises the roof like never before. 

This is a band at their very riotous heights. As they head off overseas with leg one of their UK tour done and dusted, the neatly reworked Scholars bar at the O2 knows it has witnessed a treat. 

Flo & Joan – Leicester Curve – Saturday February 9th

Thinking that I was likely to be in Spain still, I initially had to turn down the annual approach from the Leicester Mercury to review some shows as part of the Leicester Comedy festival. 

But, with the sudden change of plans, I got in touch with them asking if I could be their reserve weekend reviewer. The initial reviewer dropped out of seeing Flo & Joan at Curve and I stepped up to the plate. Here’s my pre-edited words that were probably printed in yesterday’s paper… 

 

Flo and Joan must be pinching themselves. Worthy recipients of the Comedy Festival award for ‘best musical-comedy act’ in 2018, they’re no longer destined to be playing small rooms in pubs. Here they are playing Curve’s main theatre on a weekend night. “We were a bit nervous about the upgrade”, the quirky sisters confess towards the end of their ninety minute set of two halves.

But they needn’t have worried. In many ways, their precise and professional performance style is ideal for Curve’s County-set, venturing out of their Harborough and Hinckley enclaves to chuckle and occasionally whoop at the songs on offer. Flo, bespectacled and healthily geeky, mostly perches behind her keyboard uttering dry quips whilst Joan, seemingly the more confident of the two, is left to do the audience interaction bits whilst playing a mini-castanet at her seat. Both harmonise and pronounce exquisitely. Even when their songs aren’t pant-wettingly funny, there’s enough delight to be found in just listening to their music. 

Fortunately, this is a show where the laughs are plentiful. Newer material is delivered in the longer first half, a fine mix of gentle observational stuff and story-telling yarn. The audience can’t help but marvel as the tongue-twisting tale of ‘Carol, the cracker packer’ is despatched with crisp confidence. Many moan with personal insight as depressing stats about divorce are reeled off in the wedding song. Things really sparkle as the end of the first half looms and, in an effort to prove how cool and contemporary musical comedy can be, the girls get all jazzy on their resplendent array of recorders. 

The shorter second half is filled with back-catalogue classics. The sisters ponder politely how they would kill their sibling before noting the importance of bees for human existence in a funky track that must surely have drawn influence from The Flight Of The Conchords. 

As the show draws to a close, we’re disappointed to discover that we’ve been a tad duped by Nicola and Rosie. Flo and Joan are not their real names but rather the names of grandparents. That disappointment though is short-lived as we’re taken on an English folk-homage, a luscious alliterative tale about Linda that grows like an old lady swallowing a fly into the highlight of the night for many. 

Flo and Joan’s appeal is broad. There’s nothing niche about their precise, talent-laden comedy and you rather suspect that arena gigs could well be next on their trajectory. Those at Curve tonight have witnessed the start of that transition. 

 

 

 

The British IBM – Where Is Matthew Smith?

The pre-teenage Sean wasn’t half a geek. I’d progressed from collecting football stickers but held court in the playground when it came to discussing all things ZX Spectrum. Others, arguably from more ‘middle class’ homes, swore by the virtues of the BBC computer (and some were swayed by the Commodore) but I was loyal to my Sinclair. I once had a program I wrote in ‘basic’ for my ZX81 published in ZX Computing and was paid the princely sum of £5 for it. Raspberry Pi – eat your heart out.

I can recall my first evening playing Manic Miner like it was yesterday. I’d only recently advanced to the ZX Spectrum and it was all set up around the family TV in an act perhaps akin to watching the coronation a generation earlier. That little black box with rubbery keys, the standalone Ferguson cassette recorder beside it a vital component in loading the games. 

Manic Miner lurched out from the screen; a blitz of colour and sound that I’d never witnessed before from older TV consoles, Binatone bat and ball configurations. Collecting keys and avoiding comic monsters whilst pixels of ground vanished beneath your feet. I’m sure that I fell asleep that night to dream of toilet-seat creatures and crushing boots. It’s perhaps explains my love of all things psychedelic now.

And then came Jet Set Willy. A wonderful sprawling mass of a game. Frustrating and seemingly impossible to complete as you wandered around Willy’s mansion collecting objects. We’d use up our school lunch breaks thinking up how we might jump further to reach those objects just out of grasp. And report back the following day. We’d be at the newsagent on the day that Crash magazine came out using up our pittance of pocket money to devour the tips and gossip from the Spectrum world. 

Even back then, Matthew Smith, writer/programmer of Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy, was something of a hero. The magazines fed the myth; a bedroom programmer who we could all aspire to be in a few years time. We waited anxiously for news of other games from this genius, snippets that we could cling to in order to convince others (and ourselves) that the influence of the Spectrum was not waning. It never came. 

Yesterday, I received details of the song, ‘Where Is Matthew Smith?’, by the British IBM. Immediately I knew what this was going to be about. I had little need to read the attached press release. 

It’s brilliant – and the accompanying video is shot in my home town (just to clarify that’s Leicester and not Catral, the place in Spain where I currently reside). I think that the fact that Leicester houses the Retro Computer Museum was vaguely etched in my head but it’s not a place I’ve ever visited. Slightly out of town, it’s just open on Sundays and run by volunteers. The British IBM got special dispensation to film the video for ‘Where Is Matthew Smith?’ at the museum. The images take you back and I’m resolved to visit when I’m next in England. 

As for the tune – ninety seconds of power pop punk, expertly dispatched by geeks like me. Their ‘Jet Set Willy’ tune brings back so many memories as well. This afternoon I’m going to load up a Spectrum emulator on this pad and reminisce whilst playing the British IBM on repeat. 

 

 

Lucy DK – Drama

Everyone who watched Lucy DK’s performances years ago at the OBS Unplugged showcases knew that they’d seen something pretty special. So taken with her talents was I that I featured her here and then reprised that with a second place in my Sonic Breakfast top ten of the year (here).

At University in America it appears that Lucy has continued to develop. Alerted to a new video via social media, I felt compelled to take a look. 

Gently unique, laidback but suitably strident, Drama is the sound of a strong, young woman finding her voice – although in Lucy’s case one suspects that the voice has always been there. 

Drama finds Lucy coming to an end of what sounds like a toxic relationship, one in which she’s taken the blame from her boyfriend for all sorts of misdemeanours. In truth though, the faults that he’s been so keen to highlight are little more than his own insecurities coming to the fore. 

Glossed with a charming pop intent,  a calypso dust and a light jazz spray bubble away under the surface in this altogether addictive piece that lures you sweetly in. The chorus, a restrained and elegant hiccup of a thing, is the catch that draws you further in and, in my case at least, necessitates repeat listens. 

Lucy DK – her stage is so clearly set. 

 

Workers’ Day, Showaddywaddy and Jendrix Rock Bar

Today is a bank holiday in Spain; indeed, International Workers’ Day or Labour Day appears to be celebrated on the first of May around much of the world. At least my friends back home don’t have to wait too long for their own May Day, even if, with routine avoidance of the rules of engagement, the British bank holiday is held on a different day from the rest of Europe. 

The result is the language school in Alicante is shut today and the city appears to be remarkably quiet. Knowing that things would largely grind to a halt, I went out and drank too many gin and tonics last night at the Jendrix Rock Bar. It’s quite a place; friendly, international and with the oddest mix of rock music I’ve ever heard. My smile was wry when ‘Under The Moon Of Love’ from Leicester’s finest, Showaddywaddy, was played without any sense of irony. More royalties for that man Bartram!

You meet characters in these bars. Characters who are travelling and escaping from their lives back home. Thomas is from Reykjavik. We’ll call him Thomas although that mightn’t be his name as I can’t quite hear him properly when he speaks. He has a sort of military swagger about him, a confidence that I suspect is partly put on to disguise his innate shyness. Thomas might well be quite high; his eyes are wide and his frequent trips to the bathroom see him returning with elevated glee. But it’s nice to chat to him about Alicante for a while. He loves the weather over here and the more regular day/night balance. He hardly sells Iceland to me though.

Daniel (and that is his name) is awkwardly sat at the bar. It’s fair to say that Daniel is quite likely on the autistic spectrum. A man in his late 40’s or early 50’s, he sports the most fabulous of bald pates; a monk cut with a tufty ring of hair sitting embarrassingly on top. Daniel tells me that his parents worry about him when he travels but that he likes to travel lots. He likes rock music and that’s why he’s in this bar wearing his ‘Hard Rock Cafe’ t-shirt. He once tried to write a biography about Freddie Mercury. He loves Queen and he loves the queen. From Downham Market in Norfolk, he tries to impress me with his heartfelt views about immigration and Brexit. I think he thinks that I want to hear his ‘leave’ rhetoric. I make it clear that I voted to remain and Daniel’s tune changes. I conclude that ultimately Daniel is decent and we head off for a game of pool. 

But Thomas monopolises the table. His buzz and energy ensures that he’s made friends with two Spanish chaps who are challenging him in a game. Thomas swaggers around the pool table as if he’s a world champion. He’s clearly not. He misses easy pots and fouls when it would be easier not to. He’s oblivious to the slight sniggers from those who are half-watching whilst they dance. Thomas inevitably loses and I play a game. 

And then I play another game.. And another.. It’s winner stays on and I’m in that zone where I’m making the most impossible of pots. I’m feeling invincible and I know that the gin is talking. I look across to the dancefloor and I can see Daniel’s glowing head, exuberantly bobbing up and down as he moves in stifled fashion. I realise it’s time to leave. 

Today, on workers day, I’ve not been productive. I’ve had a monster headache. 

 

 

 

 

Jonny & The Baptists – Leicester Cookie – Wednesday 7th February 2018

February – a month in which the beers are flowing in Leicester. Comedians head to the city to check if their half-baked ideas might have any mileage before launching them onto Edinburgh in August. It’s not all work in progress at the Comedy festival though and for the last few years I’ve seen some great acts whilst reviewing for the local daily paper, the Mercury. 

 

I think this review of mine from the Jonny & The Baptists show I saw on Wednesday night was in Friday’s printed paper. But I can’t find it online anywhere so I’ll publish here…

 (Click on page 2 to read the review)

Sophia Marshall – Fire

Part of my reason for wanting to see Blue Rose Code at Leicester’s Cookie last week was that the support acts were so top-notch. 

I forgot that gigs start (and finish) a tad earlier at the Cookie than they do at other venues in town (step forward The Musician) so managed to miss half of the set from Sophia Marshall. But in the four tunes that I did see I knew that a Sonic Breakfast post was long overdue. 

Back in the days when I first moved to Leicester, The HaveNots were the talk of the town. Liam and Sophie were Leicester’s great Americana hope. Friends and I listened avidly to Bob Harris’ Radio 2 show in the hope that their classy cuts of love-swept Alt-country got an airing. It was hard to miss them around the city, especially if, like me, you were a regular gig goer down at the Musician.

I saw the HaveNots play outside of Leicester as well. Ollie, my son, was seven when we headed down to Larmer Tree in North Dorset for his first ever festival. We both watched, sat in a packed-out tent, as Liam and Sophie charmed all gathered. Liam made reference to Ollie from the stage, how it was his first festival and how exciting it must have been for a young lad of seven. Ollie’s now touching twenty-one. The years have flown. 

(Click on page 2 to be bought bang up to date)