Sidney Gish and Alien Tango – The Lexington – June 17th 2019

Life is strange. Nine months ago I was writing in anticipation of a small Murcian festival (here). My night in Beniajan was a spectacularly drunken affair. It’s no wonder that I only previewed the five euro event. I was far too embarrassed to say anything in the immediate aftermath. Pacing things badly, I had to be shepherded home by a kind taxi driver on the desperate advice of Sarah who was co-ordinating things from back in the UK. I had stopped making sense to her, babbling in a beautiful hobo language only recognised by yours truly.

I have hazy memories of finding a bed in a courtyard before that taxi ride. Helpful angels had guided me to this oasis where I could rest my head and doze. I might have even paid  good money to desperate beggars for such luxury. I woke on a bench a few hours later by some large, plastic waste bins, overflowing with detritus. Amazingly, all was in tact and nothing stolen from my pockets. I left my cash card in the taxi but that’s a story for another day.

Before my unfortunate wipe-out, I remember getting bitten to death by mosquitos in a disused railway siding that was doubling up as a festival space. And I remember thinking that Alien Tango were the best live band I had ever seen. It’s this knowledge and context that leads me to the Lexington, less than a ten minutes stroll from my new London house, to see the Spanish glam-psych act supporting the young American lo-fi looper, Sidney Gish.

Alien Tango are an oddity; a beautiful, alternative and flamboyant one that can’t sit still for more than seconds. If ADHD was a musical form, it would probably sound like this. There are three of them on stage tonight. Alien Tango is essentially Alberto Garcia Roca and he stands on the left of the stage whilst another guy plays guitar on the right. In between them are a set of electronics and a chap who sits on a chair cross-legged. 

This chap who sits doesn’t do a great deal throughout the set aside from the briefest of interludes when he stands, presses a keyboard button and dances enthusiastically. For the rest of the set, he’s like Andrew Fearn from Sleaford Mods but taken to another level. Looking nonchalant and bored, he reads his phone and swigs from a can of beer. He scoffs away at a packet of crisps and gets hand-delivered a bowl of green grapes that he turns down for a plate of red grapes. It’s a funny, visual addition not that it’s needed with what else that’s going on on-stage.

“We normally play as a full band”, says Alberto, confirming that my memory from seeing them in Murcia wasn’t completely shot. “But the others are all in prison now”, he jokingly adds.

Musically, I’m reminded of many things as this set progresses. It chops and changes tempo like the best of The Cardiacs; in places, it’s the bizarre funk of Of Montreal and in other places children’s nursery rhyme. It’s Bolan, Bowie and a little bit prog. 

Alberto moves around the stage imitating a scrawny court jester. At one point, he takes a nap on an amp; he tries to swallow his mic as his voice ranges from Freddie Mercury to guttural, metal howl. 

I love it – perhaps not quite as much as I did in Beniajan but those were special circumstances. 

 

Sidney Gish is the main reason I’m here. I sent her a cheeky E-mail to ask if I could be added to her list and got a lovely affirmative reply. I’d only heard a few of her tunes but that was enough to know that I’d enjoy. 

What an added bonus it is to see a friendly Leicester face in attendance as well. John Helps, founder of Handmade festival, Great Central magazine and involved in all sorts of other endeavours, is Sidney’s tour manager for this European jaunt. They’re driving around in a car. I imagine a kind of modern day ‘Green Card’ which is no doubt wildly inaccurate. 

Sidney crouches alone on the stage tuning her guitar. Her long reddish Sissy Spacek hair and general demeanour mark her out as a lo-fi geek. She plays music that might immediately be popped into any coming-of-age indie cinema quirky classic. Fans at the front of the room mouth along to every one of her literate lyrics; it’s clever, well-composed stuff.

So naturally does she lay down her loops that you can almost blink and miss it. But the songs build as layer gets added to layer, crunchy drum beats added to jazz chord progressions. My hearing isn’t what it once was but it sounds very much like these songs have quirky food related titles; ‘Filled with steak and cannot dance’ is followed by ‘I eat snails now’. Towards the set end, we get ‘Sugar pills’ for good measure. 

There are moments of casual hilarity when a crowd member observes that she knows a college acquaintance of Sidney’s.  Sidney plays her anthem of teenage rebellion and angst, ‘Homecoming Serf’ as a sort of tribute. ‘Sin Triangle’ gets one of the biggest receptions of the night and it’s easy to see why.

An encore of Jackson Browne’s ‘Somebody’s Baby’ sounds wonderful under Sidney’s grasp. She re-records some loops here (“We make our own clicks in America”) aiming for perfection and you get an insight into just how difficult this layering of sound can prove to get right. It follows an earlier quite glorious cover of the Talking Heads. She has a style that breathes extra life into these old tunes.

It’s been an enjoyable night – and one that, unlike in Murcia, I’m able to make my way home from unaided.

 

 

Scott Lavene & The Pub Garden, The Golden Dregs – Servant Jazz Quarters – June 11th 2019

Scott Lavene & his new backing band, The Pub Garden, are right up Sonic Breakfast’s street. This Essex geezer specialises in self-deprecating story-songs, often delivered in spoken-word and laced with a delicious sly humour. Scott’s ‘reluctantly’ hitting the road on a short tour to promote the release of his new album, Broke. “I’d rather be at home with my wife”, he jests in between-song banter.“I’m hoping that the album will just fade into obscurity so that I can get back into scaffolding”, he adds, tongue firmly in cheek.

The trouble is (for Scott) that the new record is bloody good and it comes alive even more in a live setting. Tonight at Servant Jazz Quarter, a venue that Sonic Breakfast has been wanting to get to for some time, he shows enough to the gathered throng to indicate that he just might have to get used to this life of fame. Steve Lamacq has picked up on this diamond, who’s single-handedly squeezing the best parts of Ian Dury, Jona Lewie, Joe Jackson, Billy Joel, Squeeze and early Blur through a wringer to see what emerges on the other side.

The Servant Jazz Quarter is a tiny space. There’s a small upstairs bar with friendly staff and a decent range of craft and a small downstairs basement that can probably hold no more than 50 without it feeling a squeeze. I like the cosiness; it’s surely not far from capacity on this Tuesday night.

I shamefully miss the opening act but arrive in time for The Golden Dregs. The Golden Dregs are in fact just one chap, Benjamin Woods.  With bleached blonde hair, Ben inauspiciously takes to the stage and presses a button on his backing-tape machine. As he sings, he eyes his audience with nonchalant suspicion. If The Magnetic Fields came from the South West Of England, this is what they might sound like. A lyrical and literate poet able to fire out wry observations with a dry, deadpan manner, his deep, baritone voice contrasts beautifully with the skewed pop on tape. He excuses himself from ‘the cheating’ musical accompaniment and takes his place at a keyboard where his foot gets in a tangle with a tambourine. Ben’s an enjoyable, engaging support act; he’s also quite a musician as is his sister Hannah who he invites on stage to join him with a saxophone. 

“We share the same Mother and Father”, says Ben.

“How many times a week?“, retorts the quick-witted soundman. 

 

It’s not a comedy night but you could be forgiven for thinking that it edged that way. Scott Lavene is a witty raconteur; he’s the jovial Jack-of-all-trades who exists in all great, local boozers. He’s got short-stories to tell about slices of good luck and epic novels to tell about misfortune. 

“This one’s about those classic rock ‘n’ roll subjects – anxiety and unplanned pregnancies“, he says, before launching into ‘It’s All Gonna Blow’, an Up The Junction for the 21st Century. “And this is about working in a factory, having an amphetamine habit and your girlfriend leaving you”, he says for the next song. There’s a theme emerging here. 

For lesser acts, the self-deprecating humour might be used to mask a lack of talent but that’s not Scott. He’s a nifty guitar player who can also play piano well. When he gets out of spoken-word mode to sing (notably on Methylated Blues, a love song set in New York), you can’t help noting that the voice is pretty soulful.

He dislikes touring (“Fuck Swindon“) and launches into a tirade about Lee from the Birmingham Star who gave his album three out of ten. You sense though that behind the banter, there’s a chap who isn’t taking this too seriously. 

Scott Lavene knows how good he is and will enjoy this ride for as long as it lasts. I had a blast, one of the best gigs I’ve been to in 2019, and can’t wait to catch him again. I reckon the venue will be bigger by then. 

 

Tne Pinheads, Fat Earthers & Bad/Dreems – Shacklewell Arms – June 10th 2019

Search around a bit, keep your ear to the ground and London will reward you with free gigs that should probably be charged events. That’s why I’m here at the Shacklewell Arms for a sandwich of Aussie garage-psych rock with an Isle of Wight based cheesy middle.

 

It might be June but I’ve not seen rain like this so far in my London stay. The puddles are almost river-like as they cascade down the streets. A driver in a jeep clearly swerves into a stream to drench my already soggy frame. I curse the fucker as he speeds off, no doubt chuckling at his prank. The lovely barman at the Shacklewell offers me a roll of industrial-strength paper towel with which to dry off. It’s needed.

Bad/Dreems are currently on tour with Midnight Oil and are thus playing some pretty big UK shows. But they have a night off and so are late additions to this bill. The wise have spotted this and the Shacklewell back room is pretty full when I enter. 

Archetypal Aussies from Adelaide, this five-piece all have facial hair. Some have shaggy curls and a couple wear linen-shirts with the top few buttons undone to show off the hairs on their chest. No band member removes any shirt during their set. This is important given what occurs later. 

Bad/Dreems do a garage punk, indie-rock thing. They sing about big muscles pumping in sweatshirts though I suspect this is an ironic swipe at machismo rather than a song in praise of such lifestyle. Lead singer, Ben Marwe, is thoroughly engaging to watch; at one point he rapidly blinks as if on the edge of a fit; at another, he bashes a tambourine against his thigh standing proud like a toy soldier in a  regiment. He’s a bit Roger Daltrey and the band a bit Who-like. I curse myself for not seeing the full set. 

 

Fat Earthers make quite a noise for a two piece. We’re only two songs in and already lead singer, Puke, has his top off and torso bare. Typically such rock ‘n’ roll excess would have me heading for the door but there’s s gnarly cheekiness about this Isle Of Wight based duo that keeps me onside. It doesn’t matter a jot that each tune sounds largely identical. They rant about Theresa May selling off the NHS, still paying tax on your tampax, boredom and suicide bombers. By the time the set finishes, Henry the drummer has also got his top off; naked upper-halves becomes a theme for the night.

 

The Pinheads, tonight’s Aussie headliner, are a riot. They have a very tall, lanky lead singer who you fear is going to bang his head on the ceiling every time he jumps. He contorts with his microphone stand and palms dust from the Shacklewell’s glitterball – you suspect it’s not had a good clean for some time. 

He’s out of it. At one point he temporarily leaves the stage, probably to ablute in some way; he heads down into the crowd and orders a pint from the bar at the back of the venue. He cares about his audience enough though to advise moderation when a raucous and fighty mosh breaks out amongst agitated youths. 

The rest of the Pinheads tightly play an urgent and shimmering garage-psych whilst their singer cavorts. It’s fun and certainly without pretence. As damp condensation drips from the ceiling, three of the band members also strip down to bare their chests. It’s just that sort of night. 

Satisfied and yet fully shirted, I get an Uber home. I can’t bear to be bare in the continuing downpour. 

Wovoka Gentle, Gareth Jones & Laucan – Corsica Studios – June 5th 2019

Wovoka Gentle release their debut album today.

 

‘Start Clanging Cymbals’ is a glorious record. Complex, kaleidoscopic and smart, it draws upon all sorts of influence whilst remaining charmingly accessible. It’s a bold thirteen track statement that says hello to the wider world by making a lot of noise without straying far from the core ambition of ensuring that the overall effect is one of joy. It’s clearly no accident that the final words on the record are a fading refrain of ‘Happy Music’. 

The press release gets things right when it observes that Start Clanging Cymbals is an ‘experimental, psychtronica, folk-rock wonderland’. More than a little obsessed, Sonic Breakfast heads off to the album release party to see Wovoka Gentle for the fourth time in 2019.

Corsica Studios, built in industrial arches a stones throw from Elephant & Castle, is a new venue to add to my list. Dark, compact and club-like, this is an ideal location for tonights sold out gig. Visuals are projected around the box-shaped room; the impact is immersive, inclusive and euphoric. Short DJ sets ensure that the music flows in between the support acts. 

Laucan perches on a stool off-stage and in the crowd with a guitar and gadgetry. He loops his falsetto vocal and guitar licks to draw Thom Yorke-like comparisons. “Where did you all come from?”, he says when the crowd respond by surrounding him. Some sit on the floor at the front of the circle and that feels entirely appropriate for the gentle very-English folktronica that follows. “This one’s about the Old Kent Road”, says Laucan before confessing that he’s wearing his Mum’s jumper and the sleeves are getting in the way. As a whole, this is music that’s yearning for something lost in history and it’s a fine tastter for what’s to come. 

 

I must mention the crowd; Wovoka Gentle’s audience are a good-looking bunch, so much so that I stick out like a sore thumb. Beautiful and classy with the whitest of toothy smiles, a bit plummy, you suspect that these are friends made during stints at conservatoires and finishing schools. It’s not an unpleasant discomfort that I feel. Many keep chatting unaware that the second support has started. 

Gareth Jones stands in a similar place to Laucan but twiddles knobs on a complex array of sound-making machine. When he starts, it’s not immediately clear that he has; the sound is drone-like, glitchy and confidently considered. Gareth stands by his equipment wearing a bandana; he’s a surgeon completing the most complicated operation known to man. The slightest error might cause death and his concentration levels are appropriate. As his set progresses more of the It crowd become IT conscious; they turn away from their chats increasingly aware that this understated noise is actually a performance. The beats build and the melody grabs. “Oh my, this is such a dirty sound”, says somebody nearby, now enthralled by what they’re witnessing. At the set close, there are loud cheers. Gareth joyfully raises his arms aloft; a triumph over initial adversity.

 

Everyone knows when Wovoka Gentle take to the stage. This is their night. I wonder if the set-list will be different from the half hours I’ve previously heard this year; there’s much on ‘Start Clanging Cymbals’ that doesn’t see light of day live. I don’t wonder for long; Wovoka Gentle have plumped for the tried and tested set list; the well-rehearsed one that they’re clearly comfortable with. All three are clearly delighted to be playing a sold-out night here; a vindication that their approach to music-making might well put them on the map.

Two large papier-machÄ— eyes look down on us from either side of the space; a nose made from similar material sits on the floor creating a face to play within. When strobe-like lights shoot out of the eyes, the effect is electric, virtually psychedelic. This is club music for a Nick Drake fan. The acapella sections attain aural perfection with Imogen, Ellie and Will’s voices delightfully balanced together. 

For me, it’s a set that allows three of Wovoka Gentle’s recent releases to come to the fore. ‘1000 Opera Singers Working In Starbucks’ simply sounds respledent and ‘Peculiar Form Of Sleep’ emerges as an audience singalong. ‘Sin Is Crouching At Your Door’ has surely never sounded better and I’m reminded of the quote I’d seen earlier in the album press release.

Yeah, so we tried to restrain it and incorporate natural sounds,” says Imogen. It’s not heavy metal – it’s heavy wood!

Wonderful, happy music with the ability to get under your skin; rewarding noise that is far from simple yet so joyful you can’t help but beam. ‘Start Clanging Cymbals’ has arrived with fanfare and I humbly suggest you join this ride pronto. 

 

False Advertising – The Old Blue Last – June 3rd 2019

Trump is in town and everything seems quiet. The protests don’t appear to have spread in the numbers predicted. Instead, there’s an eerie sort of calm. Police outnumber public on the Mall. They twiddle their thumbs and wait for something to happen. If each day of his visit is like this (the talk is that things will ramp up today), the attention seeker will have to create his own news stories; probably not a challenge for one so blessed with the skills of false advertising.

False Advertising are a three piece grunge unit. They play the Old Blue Last on the day that Trump hits town. A glut of amateur photographers at the front of the crowd suggests that there might be a buzz about this trio. Recent 6 music and festival successes would tend to back that up.

A disclaimer – I find grunge difficult to get excited about. Despite a wide and varied love for most musical genres, this is a style that largely leaves me cold. It’s entirely possible that if I’d have stumbled across an early live Nirvana show back in the day, I would have simply given them a wide berth. My critical faculty goes out the window. And so False Advertising have to achieve much to impress.

Three songs in and I contemplate leaving. Each number has sounded the same to my ears. It’s clear that singer, Jen, can belt out a tune and that she’s ably assisted by decent enough musicianship but, for me, this is adequate without being particularly likeable. There’s little thought that’s been given to stage show; it’s spit ‘n’ sawdust music for those who love 1990’s Seattle. “I don’t think I’ve ever been sharp before”, says Jen, pleasantly unaware of the double-meaning as she apologetically tunes her guitar.

Jen swaps places with Chris, the drummer, and there are glimpses of improvement. He sports a fringe down to his mouth and a head that’s shaved at the sides. It’s hardly a bellow of a rock voice he has but, for a moment, the harmonies hit and the tunes entertain; dare I say it, the grunge is less obvious. 

The original formation reforms with Jen returning to lead vocal duty. Sweetly, she encourages all to move towards the front so that she can hand out sticky lollipops. The lollies advertise False Advertising’s new single, ‘You won’t feel love’. It’s an undeniable set highlight. The grunge gets punkier, more direct and more melodic; I almost lose myself in enjoyment. 

All around, people are obviously getting this more than I am. Some flail about urgently as if their lives depend upon it. Despite some glimpses of greatness, I have to ultimately concede that I’m not feeling the love for this more than competent band.

Fake Turins & Shattercones – 26 Leake St – May 29th 2019

I am bereft. Just before arriving at 26 Leake Street, I receive a text confirming what’s been on the cards for a short while. 

A great man, the Grandpa to my son, has passed away. 

I didn’t see John much in the latter years of his life. My memories are of a kind, busy man; a witty cynic who had an enduring curiosity for life. He tried hard to convince me about the jazz he loved though I was never sure at the time.

I sit at the back of the Leake Street railway arch on a communal bench and have a private moment. A tear falls. 

 

Shattercones might have to forgive me in this circumstance that I don’t give them my full attention. I see enough from this distant vantage point to know that they’re a band I’d typically like. It’s very Dirty Three; fiddle-led murder ballads played by quiffed men in suits. Their songs build into thrilling, orchestrated climaxes. The higher, arched ceilings in this venue perhaps moot and muffle the overall, intended effect. Regardless, I note their name and resolve to check them out again in months to come.

Fake Turins are headlining tonight. So impressed was I by this sprawling collective when I first saw them (here) it was a no-brainer to choose to see them again a couple of months on. If anything, and this is the highest of praise, they’ve got tighter and more urgent since that initial gig. 

They’re really going for it tonight. When I last saw them, I observed that backing singer, Alex, might have been an expert in some sort of throat singing. Tonight, you can be left in no doubt that his contribution to Fake Turins is considerably greater than that. His harmonies carry the extended jams into different directions; at times, he becomes the tick making this clock tock.

Their Lead singer, replete with red hair tonight, still conducts the rest of the band a bit but the need to do so appears reduced. Each member of this consortium knows their place and there’s a comfort as a whole in the sound being produced. It results in an astonishing array of rhythm; at times, an euphoric, gospel-based rush. 

It’s the drummer’s birthday. Fake Turins draw attention to this and celebrate accordingly. They’ve got kazoos and cowbells; they know how to party even if the audience remain mostly seated and reserved. 

I’m glad I persevered with tonight. Fake Turins provided an ounce of cathartic release just when I needed it most. 

Jonathan Bree & John Moods – The MOTH club – May 22nd 2019

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.