Che – Mystery Team

To my shame, I’ve never been one who has spent much time in the kitchen. The thought of cooking up nice soups or of baking my own bread has always been an attractive one but the reality has always been that speedy, convenience takes over when other priorities come to the fore. I’ll put some toast in the toaster and boil a kettle if I must.

In the past, I’ve grudgingly nodded as friends have talked about the joy of the kitchen in terms comparable to the joy of sex. I’ve secretly thought that their exuberance is a tad misplaced and that Jona Lewie was probably onto a good thing when he associated kitchens with parties.

Now, I’m not saying that lockdown has changed me – old habits die hard – but I am conscious of a shift in my thinking. I’m not in the soda bread territory quite yet but I am scouring recipe books to find new and exciting things to do with a lentil. Whisper it quietly but I enjoy cranking my music up to loud and seeing what I can concoct. A newfound interest in kitchen pottering does not however mean that I’m putting myself forward to do your Christmas dinner.

Evidence would suggest that we’re all getting more familiar with our kitchens over lockdown. Che certainly has. The video for his single, Mystery Team, finds the David Bowie enthusiast taking on different guises and poses. We can’t help to be stirred as he batters his way through this steaming-hot tune for our delight. 

There are nods to Bowie. I’m pretty sure that some of the lyrical references within obliquely draw attention to Bowie’s initial efforts in 1966 and his dalliances with Tin Machine in the late 80’s yet this is also a track that stands on its own. It’s exuberant rock ‘n’ roll and lo-fi self-made garage (via the kitchen) whipped into one. You’ll have read the recipe before but will feel no contempt for the familiarity that breeds. 

Che has cooked up a kitchen treat here. I could pun all day on this but I’m probably better off just posting the song and boiling the kettle for my morning coffee. Over to you. 

 

David Woodcock & The Fixtures, Joseph Futak and Preen – Biddle Bros – March 12th 2020

 

I wrote this piece in May about a gig I went to in March. For some reason, I never published it. Now feels like as good a time as any to do so. With an incredible, determined spirit, bars, their staff and the musicians who play in them have struggled on through 2020 reinventing themselves, releasing lockdown videos and generally keeping our spirits up. I miss those small and sweaty back rooms of bars from where live music flowed… 

 

 Can it really only be just six weeks ago that I went to my penultimate  gig (for the foreseeable future)? Back then, London was mumbling towards an eventual stop but, by and large, none of us truly could see what was just around the corner. We talked in whispers about the impending doom as if that might ward off the disease and gave people stares on public transport if they inconsiderately coughed our way. 

I’m glad that the memory of seeing David Woodcock And The Fixtures is such a positive one. In many ways, signing off from active gig-going after such a fun gig at Biddle Bros up in Clapton seems stupendously lucky and entirely appropriate. A grand venue and a jubilant night of music for this unforeseen swansong.

I’ve been to Biddle Bros before. Blink and you’ll miss it; it’s a small boozer, a quirky local with a back room music venue. There’s no stage and this back room can barely hold more than 30 people without it being a squeeze. But squeeze in we did; social distancing wasn’t a thing for us gig-goers determined to keep on keeping on. Hindsight’s a wonderful thing. 

When we return to live gigs, we’ll all let out a collective cheer. The efforts made by musicians to fill our living rooms with live Facebook feeds are noble but any avid gig-goer will surely concede it’s not the same as being there in person. I’ll be sure to celebrate their return by checking out all three acts on this bill put together by that interesting promoter, Sad House Daddy. 

Up first are Preen, a three piece folk act who let us know that this is one of their first gigs. With smart harmonies and clever key change, they play their own songs about English sun, watching and not dancing at parties, puzzles and hanging on. At times, it’s a bit Mamas and Papas. They play an obscure Jeff Buckley cover as if it’s one of their own. These are nice people and they go down a treat. 

 

Joseph Futak begins by praising Preen. Tonight has that sort of close camaraderie about it. With rich, baritone vocal, Joseph melts the crowd with a mellow, soporific sound. Think Tindersticks with a chilled shoegaze layer and you’ll be in the right space. Backed by George, Osian and Lucy, Joseph’s maudlin and dry humour comes to the fore before a deliberately ‘stompy’ tune wakes us from our peaceful dreaming. Neat stuff. 

 

David Woodcock takes to the stage giving off the air of Jarvis Cocker (if JC was a foot shorter). Dressed with dapper-retro style, in red shirt and one of those piano-keyboard ties, he soon gets the crowd onside by throwing some toilet paper into the audience. Back then, stockpiling was a very real thing. David’s dog, Barkley, barks along attentively right at the front of the crowd. 

Think the very best of British – the Kinks meeting Ian Dury before a bit of a Blur crossed with music hall and you’ll have imagined the space that Woodcock inhabits. Lyrically astute and melodically engaging, this is a knees-up for thinkers and drinkers. It’s not long before a honky-tonk contagion spreads from the house piano and spontaneous dancing erupts. 

David knows his pop history. He tells a story about Sir Paul McCartney before launching into Guilt Tripper, a tune that recalls when their paths nearly crossed. Barkley obediently observes at stage right as a troupe of punters launch into an early English folk dance. Handkerchiefs and toilet tissues are thrown into the air with reckless abandon as an incredible run of the best pop tunes you’ve never heard are strewn from the stage in the finest of finales.

If only we knew the full impact of what was just around the corner… 

 

Marie Naffah – California

I’m thinking about heading home. It’s not that I particularly want to leave this oasis in the South East of Spain to head back to the South East of England but I know I’ll have to one day soon. When I left from Stansted in July I had no idea that I’d still be here now. I’m stretching my Summer wardrobe out to the extremes pretending it’s still warm enough to wear T-shirts and shorts. And it is, just about, even though the nights are on the turn. 

I’ll miss it when I go. I was out here two years ago at exactly this time of year and though I built up a wild bank of memories, I was ready to return to London and a day job when the time came. But now, because of this odd year that we’re all experiencing, London pulls me less – and I can do the day job from here. I like my own company and I’m no longer a novice at dealing with the solitude. 

I’m drawn to the new single, California, from Marie Naffah. It’s competent stuff, soulfully delivered. There are happy memories within as Marie recalls a recent road trip and the smiles it still evokes. The song, a gentle jazzy-pop meander, is a vehicle for Marie’s fine voice as we drive along the coast in search of hidden coves and new dreams.

Marie sums it up better than I can when she says that, “Quite simply, ‘California’ is a love letter to a place. It’s meant to capture the infatuation of being somewhere that is not your home. Where the mundane becomes marvellous and every detail is a souvenir.I wrote it after coming back to London – the verses are just lines lifted from my diary pages. It all happened – the smell of the dock, the drives to nowhere, the early sun rises, the coffee from big cups ’.

I have no doubt that I’ll write similar love letters to Alicante when the time comes to leave. But, for now, I’ll try to live in the moment more, to soak up the sun as it touches the terrace and realise just how lucky I am to be living here right now. 

Cloudy Clouds – I Wrote You A Love Song

The press release waxes lyrical about Cloudy Clouds comparing him to Eminem, Lupe Fiasco and others of that ilk. But I’ve learnt to pay scant regard for the excessive hyperbole that surrounds new releases and prefer now to just give them a listen. 

In this case I’m glad that I did.

Cloudy Clouds is Claudio Elliston, a young man from Crouch End chiselling away at a very specific crevice of the hip-hop mountain. I hope Claudio doesn’t mind when I compliment by saying that this is a hip-hop for bedroom-based geeks. It’s Jilted John for the misfits of 2020. Eschewing the grandiose, the guns and the fast cars for something altogether more civilised, Cloudy Clouds moralises with modern parables about love and life. 

Take his new single, I Wrote You A Love Song, released alongside his new album, Imprisoned In A Daydream, this week. The humour in the words draws you in before the pathos takes over. “It’s all made up”, confesses Claudio in the last verse, not missing the opportunity to make a point about how we might all be better off if we learn to be honest about our feelings. 

 

It’s when telling a story that Cloudy Clouds really breaks through the Cirrus. The lead single from the album, Your Future Daughter, is absolutely worth five and a half minutes of anybody’s time. A sensible plea for the legalisation of Class A’s is accompanied by a wholly engaging mixed-media video. 

 

 

Geeky, wispy and yet unique enough to steer a clear trail through the humdrum, Cloudy Clouds is a worthy investment for anybody’s precious time. He doesn’t seem as messed up as Eminem and that has to be a good thing. 

 

A festival, A Parade, Liar Liar, Josh Vine and James Leonard Hewitson – The Finsbury – March 10th 2020

When time allows, it’s always worth making the effort to get to a gig right from the kick-off. It’s also worth staying until the final whistle has been blown. Following such a principle certainly paid dividends on Tuesday evening up at The Finsbury when two acts from the North East book-ended a Killing Moon’s New Moons bill with startling skill.

Up first was James Leonard Hewitson and band. Hailing from Hartlepool, this young four piece make a fine racket; a bubblegum post-punk that draws obvious influence from Jonathan Richman and The Ramones before veering away from that course with Gang Of Four like noise.  James could double as Josh Widdecombe but don’t let that put you off. They’re promoting an album and, on first listen, the songs transition into a live setting well. The thrusting complacency within ‘Shy of Hard Work’ gives way to ‘The Screen’, a song about looking at your mobile too much, before James jumps from the stage and plays his prostate guitar from the floor. A great way to kickstart the evening. 

 

Josh Vine doesn’t have the comfort of a full band and it’s arguably a challenge to follow one but with an electric guitar and a rich, strong rock voice he has a damn good try. Though not entirely my thing, it would be churlish to not see that this tall lad has talent. A smidge of Springsteen-like influence is discernible in Josh’s best tune, ‘The Losing Side’.

 

Liar Liar take a while to get into their stride. Perhaps the initial technical hitches get in the way but when they do all press go it all seems off kilter. A trio, it’s not obvious what they want to be with two hirsute chaps providing instrumentation over which a girl sings. The chaps want to rock when the songs might be better treated to less bang and clutter. The sexy, slap-laden funk of a tune that might be called ‘ I don’t want to take it easy with you’ hits some heights but ultimately I expect that Liar Liar will have better days than this.

A festival, A Parade have been steadily raising their profile and it’s clear to see why. With guitars and effect pedals a-plenty, the lads from Newcastle have more kit than kat and provide a fine take on Americana indie-rock. The National influences are there for all to see but I pick out more than a faint nod to Murmur era R.EM.. Things get intense when a e-bow is utilised on the lead guitar but the songs continue to stand up to scrutiny. Their complete sound and confident performance will win them many more  fans in festival fields this summer.

That’s if we don’t all die first. Let’s hope that’s not the case eh? 

 

Vida Festival London Launch Party – Zulu Zulu and Sam Berridge – Sebright Arms – March 5th 2020

I go to lot of festivals. Indeed, it was the lure of a festival press pass or two that got me into this writing game. I used to think that most people who write about music are pricks; in fact, by and large, I still do. But now I’ve well and truly joined that club with many years of eFestivals contribution in my rucksack. 

People often ask me what my favourite festival is. It’s an impossible question to answer. There are so many special ones dotted across the calendar. And they all scratch different itches.

But I guess one solid measure of quality would be looking at the festivals I still pay for tickets for; the ones that, press pass or not, I have to be at. For the past two years, there’s been one in particular that meets that criteria. 

Valued readers of Sonic Breakfast – I give you Vida.

Two years ago, when living in Spain, I was told about this mighty gem that takes place in early July on the outskirts of Vilanova i la Geltru and south of Sitges in Catalonia. It was the line up that year that first drew me in. It had been far too long since I’d had chance to see They Might Be Giants and Of Montreal play live and elsewhere on the bill there was more than enough to delight. I had no idea at that point just how beautiful the Vida site is (It’s set in the grounds of a gorgeous house) or what value for money the Wild Side VIP ticket represents.

Please don’t tell your English or Irish friends about this“, said more than one other Wild Side ticket holder to me in that first year. I could see their point. Frankly, this all felt too good to be true. Nestled beside the country house, this VIP area was a mini festival in itself. As DJs played fine tunes, we would sit on straw bales and help ourselves to the free alcohol. Yes, free –  all beer, wine and cava is free with a Wild Side ticket. For a price of about 150 euros it works out as astonishing value for money. Last year, I told my good friend from Dublin, Rian, all about the Wild Side. This year I’m totally breaking rank and blogging about Vida.

With a cracking line-up announced for 2020, my ticket’s already purchased. In the build-up to the festival, Vida have put on showcase gigs free for ticket holders in Barcelona. I was over the moon to see that this year they’d added a launch party in London. With a line up headlined by Zulu Zulu (previously featured here on Sonic Breakfast), the Sebright Arms was the only place to be last Thursday evening. 

Sam Berridge was up first. I confess that Flyte were a band that largely passed me by, an act that I ought to revisit. Sam, one of their mainstay members, has now gone solo and he’s worth a watch. Happy to be in ‘London’s fashionable East End’, he plays beautiful and literate folk songs on an acoustic guitar, laden with Byrds-like melody. He temporarily discards his guitar to sit at an electric keyboard where he wraps Gilbert O Sullivan, Paul Simon and Paul McCartney up in one easy-listening package. ‘No Soy Gringo’ is his concession to the event, a song written in Colombia and, like the other morsels of joy in this lovely half hour, an intelligent song of love and regret.

Zulu Zulu are a must-see live band. Think Animal Collective or Caribou and you’re part of the way towards envisaging what you get from this trio from the Balearic Isles. Dressed in crazy animal-themed outfits and wearing colourful masks, Zulu Zulu serve up exquisite melody, African rhythm and tribal harmonies; even for the self-conscious, it’s impossible not to dance. As a Vibraphone gets touched and a crazy jazz trumpet blown, the impressive strobe lighting just adds to the euphoric feel all around. It all comes together in a free-form baggy indie that The Stone Roses could only aspire to. This is super-fine stuff. 

 

The party continues upstairs at the Sebright Arms with a DJ playing tunes to keep us dancing. But I’m off elsewhere. The gig has whetted that appetite for the fab Vida festival. 

 

Ephemerals and Shunaji – The Jazz Cafe – February 26th 2020

I’ve been to Camden’s Jazz Cafe before but haven’t published a review from the iconic, always-cool space a short stumble from the tube station. It’s a proper music venue; happy punters, smiley, friendly staff, the music tickling with infectious joy. Wined and dined guests watch from their seats on the first floor balcony whilst the cool cats congregate in the dance floor square below. 

We’re here to see Ephemerals. I’ve written about them before on Sonic Breakfast (here). But that was a long time ago and the soulful jazz-funk ensemble have morphed along the way. They have a rich back catalogue and they will no doubt make fleeting use of it even if the intended outcome from this tour is the promotion of their new album, The Third Eye.

I arrive to see Shunaji take to the stage. She’s a happy bundle of energy, a mass of positivity as she welcomes herself back to the Jazz Cafe. She’s been two years away from this stage but her fine jazz hip-hop manner immediately warms the crowd’s cockles. During early single, Perfect Like Venus, she lays down her intent before waving an incense stick, delivering with a smile as she picks up the guitar she’s currently learning. A producer on a voyage of discovery, Shunaji is a fine warm-up to the main event. 

It’s either a measure of how good Ephemerals are or how great the beer is at the Jazz Cafe but I find myself submitting out of control superlatives to social media by the end of their set. Wolf, their singer, takes to the stage dressed in a full-length white robe. By the end of their third song, my notes ask why I’ve been so remiss to never watch Ephemerals live before. Trip hop gives way to a slow beautiful soul before it’s all shoved out of the way by a mad, mod electronica groove. It’s music that imposes itself upon you, gradually getting under your skin before clawing you tight. As I sway to the beat, I can’t help contemplating that this’ll rank as one of my gigs of the year. 

And it’s still only February. How fine this London life is. 

Austel and Rookes – The Victoria – February 12th 2020

I meant to publish this before spending last week in Spain. Reading it on my return, I thought that the acts would appreciate my thoughts. Better late than never. 

It’s been months since I’ve participated in the weekly listening post on Tom Robinson’s Fresh On The Net. Regular readers of Sonic Breakfast will know the premise. Each week, 25 songs are selected that you and I can listen to and pick our five favourites. The competition is fierce and this week was no different. 

Austel was always going to make my cut though. There was simply something about the ethereal, laidback meander of her tune ‘Dry’ that appealed immediately. Her voice, a thing of angelic clarity, leaping out above the electronic bleeps. 

 

So, when I notice that Austel’s playing a free Wednesday night gig at Dalston’s Victoria, attendance is a no-brainer. One of my favourite venues in town hosting an act that’s a must-see. Oh yes. 

I pay little attention to opener, Lo Lauren as beer is calling but catch the whole of support act, Rookes, set. Alone on the stage, this East Londoner (for the last two years) surrounds herself with an assortment of colourful, musical gadgetry. Rookes draws heavily on the 80’s as she summons the spirit of Madonna, Annie Lennox and Whitney. Songs about romance and sex are the norm and yet Rookes is equally at home when she’s breaking the patriarchal bad code. Fingering the rainbow-esque squares of her instruments, we’re reminded that Rookes needs no fixing. She has a nervous energy in between songs that could be off-putting for some but get beyond that and there’s a brave talent on the way up. 

Austel is joined by a five piece band. A life support beep emits before a violinist wearing a Sufjan Stevens T-shirt joins in with some bow action; the electronica shivers over the icy fiddle as Austel’s voice, pure chill, distinctly distant and yet very much present, joins in. ‘Cold Love’, her new EP, was released today and the music smartly backs up the lyrical ambition. Over in the keyboard section, Austel’s producer conjures up magical sorcery on an invisible theremin; with his hands, he uses finger puppetry to cast sound shadows of echo, reverb and sustain. It’s mesmerising. We gently sway through the set sometimes allowing ourselves to drift elsewhere. 

It’s a set made for such cerebral wandering. Suitably chilled, I put my bobble hat on and catch the bus home.

 

An Evening With JF Robitaille and Lail Arad – Coronet Theatre Bar – February 11th 2020

Lying awake on a Monday night/ Tuesday morning, unable to sleep and convincing my hypochondriac self that my niggly cough is in fact Coronavirus, I use a bit of distraction therapy by checking out acts that are playing later today in London. My eyes and ears are drawn to JF Robitaille and Lail Arad’s set over at the Coronet Theatre bar in Notting Hill, a new venue for Sonic Breakfast. A quick listen to ‘The Photograph’ by JF and Lail on YouTube and I’m sold. This is my must see for a Tuesday night.

Their literate, country folk, steeped in the traditions of the best songwriters from the past, was never going to disappoint. Think Paul Simon meets Dory Previn, the streets of Greenwich NY with a Gallic twist, the poetry of Leonard Cohen with thoroughly modern flourishes and you won’t be far from the place that this duo navigate towards. 

The Coronet Theatre bar is quite a mish-mash of a space. Over there, a range of mirrors in all shapes and sizes dominate a wall. On the wall opposite, handbags are the theme. We sit on iron conservatory seats and plush antique chairs admiring the globes and hats that dangle above us. The bar staff work from behind a piano, serving drinks onto its top. The overall feel is one of plush yet quirky decadence, a private members club that nobody should feel excluded from. “It’s a great place for a gig”, I agree with Pip, a vicar I get chatting with who also has a neat sideline in gig promotion. 

Lail and JF take to the stage for this show of two halves and Lail reads from some prose. Perhaps I should recognise it – the florid descriptions of those moments before a gig begins both set the scene and calm the mood. Tonight we will lounge and luxuriate, relax and roll in chilled delight.

Lail and JF open with two singles; familiar territory for many here gathered before the new material is triumphantly tried and tested. We learn that the video to ‘The Photograph’ was filmed in this very venue. The duo jump between instruments; electric and acoustic guitars, harmonicas, tambourines and piano providing the variety that helps maintain our interest. But with harmonies and arrangements as special as these, there’s no chance that minds will wander. The first duo-album has been recorded in Italy with a full band but these are songs that don’t need clutter and full instrumentation to work. 

The second half begins much like the first ended but we do get chance within this section to hear mini sets from the solo repertoires of both JF, the doting French-Canadian and Lail, the proud Londoner.  JF digs deep into his back catalogue whilst Lail plays a completely new tune, a frantic ditty, busy with words perhaps called ‘hustling’ and possibly a reflection on there not being enough hours in any day. 

The home straight is upon us. This has been a night of optimistic romance, of lost love, of kitchen-sink dramas and travelling tales.A speaker buzz that crackles like a cry-baby as the set closes does not dampen the overall spirit. A medley of love songs to Europe and the EU bring proceedings to an end. Tuesday’s don’t tend to get better than this. 

 

Disco Lizards, Murman and Aubrey – The Finsbury – January 27th 2020

It’s back to the Finsbury for a Monday night of indie guitar; a trio of acts who all have something ‘new’ about them and one, in particular, who could be a bit special when they find their stride. 

First up are Aubrey, a three piece who reveal that this is their first gig. Given this, you can pretty much forgive that there’s a raggedness around the edges and simply focus on the positives. A female lead singer sports an androgynous look whilst singing and shouting with atonal charm. There are hints of placebo and hints of a post-punk prog about Aubrey. None of this is without merit. “Marry me”, shouts a punter between songs. “If you buy me a shot of tequila I will”, is the quick retort. 

 

Murman take a small group hug off-stage before jumping onto it and picking up their instruments. Another three piece, their singer delvers their energetic indie with a deep, gravelly sneer. He sounds the spit of Billy Idol and this is no bad thing in Sonic Breakfast’s book. Triumphant like a souped-up Glasvegas, they announce that this is their bass player’s first gig with the band. You could never tell; he seems a fine fit. Ending with crowd singalongs about not wanting to fall in love again, it’s obvious that there’s a lot here to like.

 

Disco Lizards have a great name; they’re not disco and neither (from what I can tell) are they lizards. They indulge us with some pretty traditional psychedelic indie. They’re almost trying too hard to impress and there’s no denying the technical quality of Ollie’s guitar playing; it’s his first gig as well we learn. There’s competence on show here as they sing about doctors, crazy car journeys and their friends. Solid stuff. 

 

Monday nights – and The Finsbury delivers again. It’s best not to stay in when you can watch new guitar indie at a fine venue.