Holy Now, Lazy Pilgrims and Calluna – Sebright Arms – March 13th 2019

The AirBNB is comfortable this week. I’m paying peanuts to be in Bethnal Green. The room has a desk (on which there’s a couple of cups and a box of strawberry, raspberry and cranberry infusion teabags – but no kettle) and the bed’s a dream to sleep on. I sit and write at the desk and I’m almost tempted to not head out to a gig. 

But this one comes recommended by a good friend who’s music taste I trust. I realise that the Sebright Arms (a venue I loved when I visited last – here) is no more than a twenty minute walk away and I’ve always been a sucker for a bit of Swedish jingle and jangle. Holy Now, recent additions to this year’s Indie Tracks festival line-up, are probably going to be worth making the effort for.

I’ve got some time to kill so order a burger at the Sebright bar. When it arrives, it’s nothing short of a taste-delight though I’d completely miscalculated that preparation time plus eating time would result in wolfing the food down to catch the opening act. Rather than give myself indigestion, I masticate slowly and saunter down to the Sebright basement when Calluna are in full flow.

They’ve clearly brought a fair following to the Sebright – and it’s unfortunate that some of the between-song banter fails to reach out beyond the dewy-eyed front row friends and family. For, despite hailing from Milton Keynes, Calluna should be more confident than this. In lead singer and band leader,Heather Britton, they’ve got a vocalist who has a pleasant, mellow husk to her voice. The band make a polished gentle shimmer of a sound and you can see why they’ve already got Match Of The Day (or is that MOTD2) soundtrack credits. My notes say it’s a bit like if Tanita Tikaram ever did shoegaze. My notes are probably wrong. 

 

The fan room empties for Lazy Pilgrims. They’re an altogether more challenging proposition than Calluna. A four piece, two boys in beanies flank a singer, Georgie, who’s probably well dowsed in patchouli oil. Their thing is grunge with a fair dose of prog. My notes suggest that it moves into stoner jazz at one point but given that’s barely a genre (is it?) I’ll just settle on the fact that they give us extended jams with power vocals. Chris, the guitarist, changes guitar after one particularly epic solo, probably because he’s worn the other one out. I notice that Chris is wearing no shoes but is wearing a particularly thick pair of woollen socks. Georgie is odd in that she wears a black boot on one foot and a sock on the other. Random things distract as my mind wanders. “This one is called ‘Sepia lips and the cosmic elliptical”, says Georgie. Oh my, I am done. In a festival field though, this could be right up my street. 

 

Holy Now are two boys and two girls from Gothenburg, Sweden. They write great songs but that is probably where the similarities with ABBA cease. “They’re like a band that would have been on Sarah Records back in the day”, says a decent chap I chat with before Holy Now take to the stage. Regular readers of Sonic Breakfast will know that this is a label that appeals and so I await their entrance with anticipation.

“It’s been a long day. We had to be up at 4.30 to catch our flight”, says Julia, singer with Holy Now. Nobody can tell that this is a tired band though. Their breezy tunes are delivered with attention-grabbing energy. It’s all about twee melody, discord and harmony. Julia has a high-pitched wail of a vocal which makes it sound less pleasant than it actually is; the rest of the band moderate with bursts of backing vocals which take the songs to new and interesting places.

Best of all, there’s a sense that Holy Now want to have shambolic fun. They admit that they’re testing a sharper approach to their chat between songs. “How does you say Sebright?“, ponders Ylva, the drummer. “What does it mean?“, she adds before telling all about the lovely merch on offer. We’re encouraged to count to four in Swedish enabling the count-in to an upbeat jaunt of a number. “Grab someone you love for this ballad”‘ we’re told – potentially strange advice for a song with a chorus containing the lyric ‘Break It Off’.  “That’s a really sad song”, admits Julia as it draws to a close. 

It’s been another night when making the effort to get out and about has richly rewarded. I’m lucky to be living this nomadic lifestyle. 

 

 

HMS Morris, Perfect Body and Zac White – The Social – March 12th 2019

For too many years to mention, I’ve been a fan of Dorchester Town football club. Just to be clear, they are not an obscure band that you really must listen to. They are my football team (along with Leicester City FC). Strangely, I’ve rarely talked football within this blog; from a Dorchester perspective, there’s been slim pickings to post about in truth.

Tonight, I went along to the Social. It’s hard to believe that it’s now a whole month since I saw Peaness there with Gary (review here) but it must be because the next Huw Stephens presents instalment is in town (even if he isn’t). Tonight he’s joined up with the Bubblewrap Collective, a well-regarded indie record label from Cardiff to give us three new Welsh acts. 

It seems all sorts of appropriate (to me anyway) that I’m keeping myself updated with Dorchester scores every time I make a note into my phone about the acts on stage; for tonight, DTFC are playing away at Merthyr Tydfil FC. When HMS Morris, the headliner of sorts, play songs about self love in Welsh or banter in the language with a countryman in the crowd, I allow myself a little chuckle. Dorchester, relegation candidates in a tight league, are crashing the goals in up in the valleys. It ends 7-1 and even the one for Merthyr was an own goal.

Zac White opens the Bubblewrap gig at the Social. It’s just Zac on the small stage with an electric guitar that’s set to a permanent reverb. The vibe is psychedelic; Zac’s long floppy hair for the most part obscures his face as he meanders through his set of fuzzed-up folk. He’s got a decent line in desperate and longing lyric; anybody able to rhyme ‘tourniquet’ with ‘tanqueray’ gets top marks in my book. He doesn’t have much to say in terms of between-song banter; in fact all he says is “I should have probably said but that was my last song”, as his set draws to a premature close. Despite the awkward stage manner, there’s enough craft on display to warrant further investigation. 

 

There’s a definite buzz about Perfect Body. You can’t help but notice the five piece (and entourage) as they waltz around the Social pre-gig and think ‘they’re in a band’. It’s not that there’s any arrogance about their behaviour; they’re all wonderfully polite, stylishly aware and evidently determined. Record company executives from significant indies are casually drawn into conversations before their set even begins.

When it does begin, the start is determinedly slow, deliberately ponderous. It’s music for wide vistas; perhaps we’re scanning across the outback in the opening scenes of a modern Western or seeing the setting sun over desert dunes. There’s longing in the languid guitar licks. This is the Welsh Wild West. 

When Perfect Body get fully into flow, their thing is dreamy shoegaze. They do it very well. Vocals from a keyboard player and a guitarist are barely audible over the shimmering noise that’s being created by the rest of the band. We’re probably not supposed to hear the words. It’d be easy (and lazy on my part) to draw comparisons to My Bloody Valentine so I won’t do that. Suffice to say, as the swirly atmospherics draw you in, you suddenly become aware of quite how loud the volume’s been turned up to. I move closer to the front to get more of the effect.

 

HMS Morris are a tough act to review. They’re not as easy to place or pigeonhole as many who have gone before and that should be a good thing. They’re a three-piece. Singer and guitarist, Heledd Watkins, plays for goals up front whilst the impressively bearded Sam Roberts holds it all together in midfield with samples and keyboards. Drummer, Alex Møller, sits behind in defence.

I can’t tell if it’s just the poor mix down here at the Social or if the piercing sound of the high-hat is intended but it hurts. My mind wanders and I begin to think how much more of a pleasant experience this could be without the drums in the mix. Seriously, it’s like fingernails scratching down the chalk-board. 

When HMS Morris’ music properly flows you can’t help but enjoy. But, for me, this is art-rock that rarely gets going. I’d make a point of watching them another time though as they’re not without appeal. 

See you all at the Burger King at Reading Services”, suggests Heledd, conscious that many of the crowd here are on a day trip and they’ll soon be travelling home back up the M4. 

The victorious DTFC team coach probably won’t pass them on the way.. But I’ll bet it’ll be a happier bus ride home for them. 

 

 

Tetine, Fake Turins and Voodoo Rays – The Shacklewell Arms – March 7th 2019

My working week in London is nearly done. After a training day tomorrow, I head out to the countryside (well, Peterborough and Leicester) for a weekend break from the constant go. I can’t help myself. This is a city that never sleeps and so I oblige by rarely nodding off. It helps that the bed in this Airbnb is basically an instrument of torture.

 

But I won’t grumble. Instead I’ll just make myself scarce and head off to another free gig. Anywhere else they wouldn’t be free but there’s just too much choice in this town. It’s back to the Shacklewell Arms tonight. I enjoyed my first trip there (reviewed here) and this is a chance to see three more bands. 

I arrive just as Voodoo Rays begin. I don’t want to be ageist – indeed, I’m no spring chicken myself – but it’s fair to say that Voodoo Rays have age on their side. It’s something of a surprise then that life experience doesn’t seem to have given any of these losers insight into gig etiquette. They’re not astonishingly awful though I do find myself hoping that somebody will tell them they’ve over-run when they casually enquire ‘how much time have we got left’. They play ‘new ones’ which seems to be code for ones we’ve not fully rehearsed.

 

What really gets my goat – and swings my mind towards slamming Voodoo Rays – (regular readers of Sonic Breakfast will realise this is a rare occurrence) is their attitude post gig. There mightn’t be space to leave kit anywhere at the Shacklewell but it’s just bloody rude to spread yourself out alongside the wall with a shelf – the only place where punters can rest their beer glasses. The drummer excessively and possessively fiddles with kit like nobody else here matters. He’s oblivious to anybody else around him and by the time that he pretty much knocks my beer out of my hand, swinging the bass drum on his back like a snail on speed, Voodoo Rays music has long since ceased to matter.

Fortunately, things quickly take a turn for the better. There’s six, no make that seven, members of the Fake Turins crammed onto the Shacklewell stage but despite the tight fit they’re all more than aware of their personal space and role in the band. There’s no getting away from the Talking Heads comparisons here. Their lead vocalist takes the mantle of band leader in a manner reminiscent of David Byrne as he conducts the rest of the troupes through their funked-up art jams. Intuitively, they know when to build and when to fade. He takes a David Toop novel out of a jacket pocket and proceeds to read from it; the spoken word of the prose creating an effect not unlike that you’ll get from Bristolian stalwarts, The Blue Aeroplanes. Fake Turins are good and they know it; despite unnecessary interjections from recorder and cowbell, there’s more than enough bass, bongo and backing vocal to stop this from being a dud.

 

Tonight’s headliner, Tetine, are from Sao Paolo though I’m led to believe that they spend a fair bit of time in London these days. The duo of Bruno and Eliete originally present as a pretty traditional synth act with added bass. Full of beat and disco excess, they’re never anything but entertaining. Eliete leaves the keyboard to fend for itself and takes centre stage during Mata Hari voodoo, an early set-highlight that begins in contained control but ends with Eliete as a person possessed, speaking in tongues in squat position.

 

I don’t get to hear what the song title is but over the chorus of a disco-pop banger, the words ‘I was falling in love’ entices a couple in front of me, who are clearly in the first throes, to start dancing energetically. My smile is enduring.

Bruno’s bass is discarded with and Eliete again leaves the Roland running for Tetine’s very own ‘Beastie Boys’ moment. Lick my Favela is a Brazilian reworking of ‘Fight For Your Right’. It’s seedy and performed seductively. It’s only later that this correspondent realises that the Favela is not a body part but a slum area in Brazil. One suspects that there’s a political angle to this art and it’s not just a hedonistic party.

 

London’s given me another top night despite the slow start. I splash through the puddles on the way back to the Airbnb without a care in the world. 

Suitman Jungle – 26 Leake St – March 6th 2019

I have no idea that the Leake St Arches might provide such a vibrant experience when I head there straight after work. The smell of spray-can paint is thick in the air; the juice of creative sorts rampant. Pop-Ups are popping up before the idea has even hatched out of its incubator; yep, down here underneath Waterloo some fine artistic pursuits are taking place.

I stop for a while and pause, pretty much paying homage, at a drying image of Keith Flint. 

I’m here to go to the bar at 26 Leake Street. In a reclaimed arch space, they’ve taken to scheduling gigs a few nights each week. Look to the ceilings and you’ll see two long rat murals, black and white rodents on a red canvas. It’s a Banksy apparently. It all fits with the surrounds. Bands and acts play at the far end of this cavernous tunnel whilst punters (art school beardsters, fashionistas and adventurous tourists) find space at tables to drink the local craft. It’s not as exclusive as I make it sound. I arrive in my office clothes and feel no snobbishness over my lack of effort.

Perhaps that’s because Suitman Jungle is also in his office clothes. Admittedly much more dapper than mine, Marc Pell (who is the Suitman) sports a nifty fitted-blue suit and tie. His hair, neatly combed to one side, tells tales of a man who’s anonymously sat behind a desk all day. Maybe he’s contributed to an office donation or opened up with a few words at a team meeting. But now is his chance for release as he takes to the 26 Leake St stage. 

And what a release it is. Just him, a minimal drum kit and electronic gadgets, he sets the most almighty drum ‘n’ bass into motion. In pauses between beats, he issues wise spoken word segments. This one is all about his walk to work through the ‘jungle’ of suits; and this one’s all about going up and down in the lift. In a break-heavy piece, he waxes lyrical about all manner of work breaks. 

When not riffing about work, Marc samples the voice of his young niece. You can tell why he’s a popular uncle such is his spirit of fun and mischief. 

It’s an exceptionally urban, essentially London sound that’s being created here. The perils, the opportunities, the frustrations and the joys of living here are laid out for all to see. It might only be a Wednesday night but the crowd at the front show every desire to dance their socks off. 

Suitman Jungle – made for the festival circuit, made in London. 

Buke and Gase, Naomi Alderman and Polygrains – The Lexington – March 5th 2019

I missed my Monday gig. A friend was meeting the Home Office to talk post-Brexit business and we caught up for a few drinks in Soho. I’m resisting the urge to review the drag Karaoke we ended up at.

AirBNB could have been a disaster this week. I got the dreaded ‘host has cancelled’ message just hours before I should have checked in. Fortunately, another place was available. It’s cheap and functional with a bed that has a mattress in which you can feel the coiled iron springs poke at you after every twist and turn. This creaky bed of nails offers little chance of rest.

So, I choose to stay here for the minimum of hours and source a Tuesday night gig. American duo, Buke and Gase come recommended by a great PR company and endorsed by The National. After a lengthy hiatus, they’ve just returned with new album ‘Scholars’. I have a quick gander whilst multi-tasking at work. There’s enough within to hold my interest. 

“What sort of music is that?’, shouts a punter about a third of the way into their set at the rather ace Lexington venue. 

Ha, I was thinking that whilst playing”, says Arone, one half of this male/female duo. “It’s an awfully interesting hoedown”, she kind of concludes. 

The punter isn’t alone in feeling the genre confusion; proud not to be pigeonholed, Buke and Gase play around with conventional sound, time signatures and musical practice to come up with something entirely off the spectrum. It’s prog, it’s math-rock, it’s abstact folk and obscure Electronica. It’s Tom Waits if put through a Daffy Duck filter. All told, a very complex, modern racket. 

It perhaps helps the overall artistic pursuit that little of this sound is created on traditional instruments. Indeed, Buke and Gase are the names of instruments designed by Aron and Arone. They might (or might not) have been retired now and given way to an Arx, a ‪device that allows them to trigger percussive sounds, change effects on their instruments, and control vocal harmonies all with the punch of an arcade button. Whatever, the whole effect is otherworldly and yet organic.‬

Before taking to the stage, Arone introduces us to Naomi Alderman, author of many works but here tonight to read extracts from her novel, The Power. It’s an enticing ten minute interlude. As Naomi recites a tale of graphic sexual abuse culminating in heroic justice, Arone layers a vocal swirl over the top. As tension builds in the storytelling so does Arone’s vocal flourish. Many decide to buy the book based upon this introduction. ‬

Polygrains is the support for tonight. ‬Vasilis Moschas is Polygrains. He stands, moustached and unassuming behind his array of beat-making tools. When he sings, his vocal is mostly gentle. He might be singing about very important things but it gets lost amidst the beeps. “I hope you enjoy this as much as I do“, says Vasilis. I’m not sure we do. But, this is electronica not without merit. It would go down well on Sonar’s Red Bull stage where oddness such as this is encouraged.

 

“There’s too much shit going on“, jokes Aron from Buke and Gase early in their set. And that’s a pretty fair insight into how this gig leaves your average punter feeling. I like the art that’s on offer here but might need to spend more time familiarising to truly appreciate. It’s a soundtrack to your most chaotic of dreams.

I sleep well on the well-worn mattress, the coiled springs waking me before the inevitable nightmares. 

 

Highasakite – Heaven – February 28th 2019

Norwegians are cool. I formed this sweeping generalisation of an opinion over the last year. Back at Eurovision in Lisbon (here), I met three in particular who just seemed to accept, with little notion of the sniffiness that often attaches itself to your typical British Eurovision outlook, that some of the cheesy electro-pop tunes and glorious ballads on offer are sometimes special. 

 

It might seem like a logical leap to some but the coolness of Norwegians is a thought that I ponder whilst watching Highasakite at Heaven on Thursday night. For this is a show, and I imply no criticism by this, that oozes Eurovision. 

It helps that every song sung by Ingrid and Trond and the rest of their troupe is a douze pointer; whether it’s upbeat banger or stylised ballad, the tunes are allowed to stand out here amongst the highest of production values. 

There’s theatre – I miss the skull and beating heart entrance because I’m in a queue for beer but can’t help approving as contours fizz in a graphic display behind the band. When the light show really gets going and the costume changes hit full flow (the red leather is discarded with) you see the sense in scheduling this slinky swagger of a show at Heaven, this most iconic of clubs nestling in the arches beneath Charing Cross station. 

The first show on Highasakite’s Uranium Heart tour is a triumph; roots tangle, veins do what veins do and the arteries block to point of explosion as the beating heart clogs with uranium. 

They sound so much better live than on record’, is the general tone of conversation as we file on out. 

And you have to concede that there’s something in that line of thought. 

In terms of music, I choose the Norway option.. 

 

 

Getrz, Walt Disco and Cheap Teeth – The Old Blue Last – February 27th 2019

I’m back at the Old Blue Last for the second time this week.London sizzles in unseasonably warm temperatures and the heat in the Airbnb shows little sign of being any less stifling.I’m here for no other reason than my eye was caught by a band name; Walt Disco is a fine name for a band.

They’ve travelled all the way from Glasgow to be with us tonight. Perhaps that explains why they’re not topping the bill but are sandwiched between two others on this ‘Club Sabbath’ night. It’s a long way home.

Imagine it’s the early 1980’s and you’ve bagged a ticket for Top Of The Pops. Jimmy Savile, replete with gold lame jacket and fat cigar ‘accidentally’ fondles a young girl whilst half paying attention to the band he’s just introduced. A singer preens, pouts and warbles in a shin-length, woollen military jacket that temporarily covers his torso before he throws it to the floor. A keyboard player with bleached blonde hair plays notes from strange looking instruments perched perilously on an ironing board that’s seen better days. Harry Potter, not yet made famous by JK Rowling plays bass. This is the post-punk of Walt Disco. It’s got a pompous peacock strut, a strident theatricality and a pop sensibility. Phil Oakey, Ian McCulloch and Edwyn Collins better watch out. Here we have the new contenders. 

To my mind, the obvious derivations don’t matter. Walt Disco might wear their influences close to their chests but this is 2019 and we don’t want our indie to paint pictures of the Arctic Monkeys by numbers. With Walt Disco, you can feel both terrified and terrific; misfits and oddballs, there’s a lot here to like. 

 

Getrz (pronounced Getters apparently) are pretty normal by comparison. They headline tonight to a crowd that has diminished in size. This is a shame; you can see confidence wilting as the set progresses..From Swindon, you suspect that they’re local heroes in their own neck of the woods. But this is London and the crowd are a tad harsher. We’ve seen the gimmicks, the rock poses, the shirtless torsos and the audience forays before. 

Have any lads out there got trouble with their Mrs?”, asks Getrz’s ginger, squat lead singer before launching into a song, perhaps called ‘Domestics’, that features a shouty chorus of “You’re fucked – and your Mrs. doesn’t like you”. The last bastions of yesterday’s masculinity, you want to like them for their no-nonsense straightness. They’re not far away from finding their own, distinct niche and, when they do, this’ll be a very real possibility. 

 

Openers for the night, Cheap Teeth are competent at what they do. They’ve travelled all the way from Edinburgh to be here. My notes suggest that they’re like a more raucous Franz Ferdinand and that they’ve clearly listened to ‘Peaches’ by the Stranglers. An interesting John Cooper Clarke like spoken word section in one of their tunes helps maintain my flagging interest. 

It’s no doubt hard to be original these days; somewhere, someplace it’s all been done before. And there’s nothing wrong per se with being in debt to your heroes. In different ways, all three acts on tonight’s bill have nailed that worship to a tee. Now, they need to give consideration to who they really want to be.