Sonic Breakfast Top Ten 2019 – Number Two – Jonathan Bree and John Moods – The MOTH club

2019 was a full-on year of exploration for me. I loved nipping between the many, varied London venues discovering new delights. I’d struggle, if pushed, to name a favourite venue because there have been many iced buns in the bakery but high in the rankings would be Hackney’s stunning MOTH club. The repurposed British Legion Club is a fab gig venue; I’m yet to have a bad night there. 

 

And of the few MOTH club gigs that I could pick for this epic exercise of a top ten, I’m delighted to announce that number two in the countdown goes to the night spent with Jonathan Bree and support act, John Moods (written about here).

John Moods played Paper Dress Vintage, another favourite Hackney venue, in November but I foolishly managed to miss that. His single that came out in the summer, I Wanted You, was a real cracker. The German popster returned to Berlin and played all manner of gigs across Europe. 

 

I still smile when I consider Jonathan Bree’s direct generosity. A sold-out show, I’d given up hope of seeing Bree and band but the cheeky E-mail paid off. The friendly soul in a mask didn’t need to guest-list me but he did. I love that Jonathan Bree’s career has grown and grown in the last year. Once you see the live show it’s hard not to be smitten. 

New tracks are being drip-fed from a future album. They’re sounding solid and in ‘Cover Your Eyes’, you suspect that there’s another set highlight in the making. It’s been a year of relentless touring for Jonathan and band, including a first ever gig for them in the Ukraine. I wish I’d been there. Returning to Camden’s Dingwalls on May 1st, you’ll have to lock me in my room to stop me from being there. And this time I won’t be begging Jonathan for my ticket. 

Sonic Breakfast Top Ten 2019 – Number Three – TETINE, Fake Turins and Voodoo Rays – The Shacklewell Arms

I’m not really a writer who criticises much. It’s not my style. There were a few times in 2019 when I was less than effusive and one in particular that sticks in the throat. That March night and my review (here for reminders) at the Shacklewell Arms of the great TETINE and Fake Turins was also marred by the appearance of geriatric -rockers, Voodoo Rays. It seems appropriate that such a night should take number three billing in the Sonic Breakfast top ten of 2019. It’s the only top ten that Voodoo Rays will find themselves in this year.

Voodoo Rays weren’t best pleased with my review as evidenced by this response.

Hi Sean

Thanks for the review. 

I’m sorry our drummer almost knocked your pint over last night. The care home he lives in locks its doors at 11, so he has to rush to get back in time. I’ve tried to order a book on gig etiquette for him, but there doesn’t seem to be one available. You seem to know a lot about it- perhaps you should write the definitive text? 

It’s a shame that you didn’t have time to talk about the music more; we’re always interested in sprightly well informed criticism of our songs. I think all I picked up was that we shouldn’t be so old. Rest assured we’ll try to be younger next time.

All the best

Frank Ray

This is at least quite witty from Frank though. I also revelled in altogether less pleasant prose from another member of the band that’s not worthy of publication. 

It’ll come as little surprise that Voodoo Rays did not feature in the BBC Sound of 2020 list. But they have played gigs in small venues in 2019. In 2020, they’ve entered a competition to play a festival. Bless them!! Still, I’ve resolved to be a much better person this year and if that means being invited to a Voodoo Rays gig and eating humble pie when they’re actually bloody brilliant then so be it.

 

A Fake Turins show featured elsewhere in this top ten (here) but they’re such a fine band I’ll give them two bites of the cherry. In a couple of Friday’s time, they are again playing at the Shacklewell, a headline set in celebration of a new single. It’s free and I’ve reserved my ticket on DICE today. So should you if you know what’s good for you and you don’t want to miss out. 

 

TETINE haven’t played in London much since this odd night. The duo have been involved in all sorts of artistic endeavours though both here and back in their native Brazil. Their contributions have filled art galleries; they’ve DJ’d in dungeons and pushed the boundaries. They remain a thing to behold. 

Back later with the top two of this slow, arduous and arguably quite pointless countdown.. 

 

Sonic Breakfast Top Ten 2019 – Number Four – Sasha Siem – Fitzrovia Chapel

There aren’t so many gigs on in London this week. Perhaps that’ll give me time to complete this top ten of 2019 countdown by the weekend? I’m off to my first festival of 2020 then – the rather ace looking Rockaway Beach at Butlins in Bognor and I’ll need my head fully clear so that I can focus upon my eFestivals review of that. 

In at number four is the night I spent at the glorious Fitzrovia chapel with Sasha Siem back in February. It was a beautiful, exquisite night and I was still bright-eyed about all that London had to offer. Readers can remind themselves about that gig here

Sasha is part Norwegian and this gig was the first show of the year that I saw part-promoted by the fab team at Propeller records, the label specialising in Norwegian releases. I’ve seen some absolutely cracking shows put on by Norwegian acts in 2019 – and one of those shows features higher still in this top ten. 

In the second half of 2019, Sasha found higher profile by releasing a series of cover versions of ‘classics’. It’s a bold move to tackle such established numbers but one that marks a sense of Sasha’s growing confidence. Apparently, Elton John fully endorses her cover of ‘Your Song’. 

Sasha has a new album coming out later in January. I’ll be listening in to see what direction this intelligent talent takes next. I’m sure it won’t be an obvious route.

 

Sonic Breakfast Top Ten 2019 – Number Six – Fake Turins and Shattercones – 26 Leake Street

2019 has been a great year for me. Zone one London living on cheap-as-chips floors, seasonal ups and downs and yet an ultimate sense of moving forward more than backwards. 

Happy at the Spanish villa, I look out of the windows to see wispy white clouds stitched into the pale blue sky. Reeds in distant furrows wave at me as they rock back and forward in the shallow breeze. Peace. Restful peace. Chill.

I know that there are some back in Blighty for whom Christmas will have been tough. And not just those turkeys who voted for food-banks and a widening of the gap between the have and have-nots. It’s a time of reflection and for many life will be irrevocably different to how it was in 2018. Loss, grief, release, memories. 

Number six in my countdown of Sonic Breakfast 2019 gigs is one that will always stick in the memory. It was at 26 Leake Street in May that I learnt of the passing of John. I wrote about it here. A fine man, I’m sure that there were tears and yet joyful tales told in his memory around dining tables this past week. 

Since that night in May, Fake Turins have raised their profile with video releases and headline shows. Without giving too much away about the rest of this top ten another of their gigs that I saw features higher up the chart. So I won’t dwell much upon them here. Suffice to say that they’re one act that I plan to see before Winter gives way to Spring. 

 

Shattercones ended the year playing support shows with New Model Army, dabbling in soundtracks and soundscapes. Their artistic endeavours will undoubtedly draw me in again in 2020. 

 

Happy New Years Eve. Must get a boogie on with the top five whilst thinking of 2019’s highlights and lowlights. 

Sonic Breakfast Top Ten 2019 – Number eight – Wovoka Gentle at Omeara

I meant to publish this on the 25th December but events and celebrations overtook. Better late than never eh? 

Happy Christmas Day one and all. Here in Spain the skies are bright and the heads are dull after entertaining lovely neighbours last night. Sonic Breakfast has just put a fire on to take the nip out of the chill and, with Cava in hand, is now ready to continue the 2019 countdown. 

One of the bands that I managed to see most in 2019 was Wovoka Gentle. Before the year started they were simply, to me anyway, an act that I’d once stumbled upon on a Sunday afternoon at a small festival and subsequently blogged about (here). Now, they’ve supported the Flaming Lips on a UK tour. They are pure and simply a fantastic live proposition and always delightful to watch. Except on a Brighton pier when they were a bit wobbly. They had just had their instruments stolen from a van.

Eighth slot in this Sonic Breakfast top ten is thus an easy one to consider. I’m going for the gig at Omeara put on by the wonderful Yucatan records and showcasing three from their stable. I adored the way this venue nestled beside a larger complex. I’ve returned lots since to munch the street food on offer and to be bombarded by all sorts of delights in the wider space that surrounds. But back in March, gig going was my only intent.

And what a night it was. (written about here)

Josiah and the Bonnevilles were up first. Keep an eye out for Josiah and gang should you ever get the chance to see them live. Josiah, solo for the night, seemed like an odd addition to the bill back in March but that was before I really understood the nature of Yucatan records. They’re not fixated by genre and simply sign stuff that meets a quality threshold. Thus, Americana can sit beside pop, skewed folk and electronica with ease.

 

It’s such a shame to discover that Swimming Girls have split in the last couple of months. I didn’t entirely fall in love with them back in March but had no qualms about their Glastonbury Emerging talent shortlisting. They were undoubtedly exciting prospects and we all watch with interest to see what comes next from their talented members. 

 

Wovoka Gentle will continue to bloom. They might become too big for this blog in the way that the likes of IDLES have previously done. They might not. But my 2019 has been enriched by having their live show to depend upon. 

 

Back later today with more of the countdown. 

Sonic Breakfast Top Ten of 2019 – Number Nine – Life At The Arcade and DAY at the O2 Islington Academy

To truly appreciate the quality of gigs, you need some duds. There’s been a couple of times over the course of this fine gig-going year that I’ve needed a jolt to bring me out of a routine, a reminder of how lucky I am that quality gigs are taking place on my doorstep. My recent November experience at Islington’s O2 Academy proved to be exactly that; after writing about it (here), my critical faculty was reset, refreshed and ready to appreciate again. 

And it’s for that reason that the Life At The Arcade headline gig gets a number nine slot in Sonic Breakfast’s top ten of 2019. 

Well, almost for that reason. There was one band on the bill that really appealed to my senses. And DAY have just released a video from the night. Chasing Sugar was a set highlight and gives a really good indication about where this super-interesting outfit are heading. Regular readers of Sonic Breakfast better be quick to view though as I’m told it’ll only be shared for a week or so. 

 

 

Back tomorrow – Christmas Day and the number eight ‘present’ in this countdown of moments. 

Sonic Breakfast Top Ten 2019 – Number Ten – The Lottery Winners and Depression Baby at the Sebright Arms

I’ve been in Spain for a couple of days now. Yesterday morning, I briefly watched the television as the spectacle of the Christmas lottery unfolded before my eyes. ‘El Gordo’, the fat one, is a tradition, an event that runs back hundreds of years. And the presentation of it all is weird. Schoolchildren sing with tuneful innocence as numbered balls get dispatched from a giant sphere that sometimes turns. They get gleefully teary should they get to announce one of the big prizes. And whole villages cheer when their numbers get drawn as winners.

It’s appropriate (in some ways) that number ten in the Sonic Breakfast 2019 top ten is The Lottery Winners and Depression Baby’s gig at the Sebright Arms from back in February. I recall that this was one of my first times at the Sebright and both bands excelled on the night by really putting on a show to behold. Here’s my review of it. (Click, click).

I would have been keen to see both bands again during 2019 but, alas, it was not to be. And now I’ll have to wait until 2020 for the pleasure. In the case of The Lottery   Winners, I notice that they’ve got a Spring tour coming up and one of their stops will be The Lexington, the fine venue just around the corner from my property guardianship. They’ve had quite a year of it with festival appearances and a support slot with Tom Jones to contend with. Their debut album gets released next year and it shows early signs of being a cracker.

Depression, Baby have now played London headline sets – and a festival in Norwich. They’re avid supporters of new and interesting music with their Spotify playlist always making for an interesting listen. I wish that I’d seen their show at The Old Blue Last earlier this year. Video footage suggests they stormed it. 

Back with number nine in the countdown tomorrow. 

Life At The Arcade, History & Lore, Juke Lucid and Day – O2 Academy Islington – November 22nd 2019

The Islington O2 Academy prides itself on being London’s smallest academy. It also seems to pride itself on being a bit shit. Not on its own in terms of academy venues, this is a space that appears to relish in sucking the life and soul out of live music. I find myself wondering, whilst there on Friday night, whether the whole set-up is a great conspiracy, an establishment investment. Make music venues naff and stack the cards against enjoying gigs and then people will come out less – bingo – control and suppression at its best. Thank goodness that London has so many other venues that buck that trend.

I concede that my conspiracy theory is an extreme one. But I have evidence with which to back it up. Expensive beer and an excessively poor range (fine if you like Carling); broken hinges on urine-soaked toilet doors; bands having to accept the less than adequate sound mix they’re given; crazy rules that dictate that once you’ve entered the venue you can’t leave if you want to come back in (despite gigs starting at 6.30PM) and over-the-top security searches. I could go on but I won’t. And in the interests of balance, the bar staff here in Islington are friendly. 

I’m here as the afternoon gives in to the evening to see Day. They’re an act that I’ve been keen to see for a little while. Alex fronts up Day and also sings backing vocals in one of my favourite live discoveries of this London year, Fake Turins. (Reviews of them here and here). Alex has enthusiastically promoted Day live shows to me by e-mail but I’ve always had to make excuses with something else on. This O2 Academy gig supporting Life At The Arcade is my opportunity. 

Alex warns me that the gig has a hideously early start time. Half six on a Friday might be a challenge for some but not for me living a literal stones throw from this space. “I’ve never played a gig so early”, says Alex to other friends gathered. 

Day are an interesting proposition, a work-in-progress that have more than enough about them to keep on moving forward. As the venue manager waves an incense stick around to take away last night’s smells, the four-piece take to the stage. It’s lo-fi hippy; a sound mess of an intro gives way to an off-kilter police siren before a classic rock sound fuelled by Led Zep chords comes to the fore. There are obviously experimental kazoo-bits, cardboard didgeridoo’s and blasts of saxophone. 

Alex’s exceptional rock vocal holds it all together. In ‘Chasing Sugar’, his range goes from the bass of a Barry White into the falsetto of a Jimi Somerville in the space that verse changes into chorus. A set highlight for me comes at the end of Day’s set when they launch into ‘I have everything I need’. I interpret it as an instant anti-greed, climate-change classic, delivered in the style of The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown.

For a work-in-progress, Day have set their bar high.

Still early evening when Day finish, I look to temporarily head out of Islington’s O2 Academy to get a bite to eat. There are still three bands to play and it’ll be a long night without food. “Sorry sir, company rules is that once in we can’t do re-entry”, says the sympathetic guy on the door. After some radio kerfuffle, an exception is made for me. I’m grateful yet the venue has a handful of people within. Their practice is odd.

I return to see Juke Lucid take to the stage. I’ve got a real downer on the venue by this time. Sonic Breakfast in a critical mood is probably not what bands want when I’m reviewing and my notes on Juke Lucid are abrupt. I note that they’re perfectly pleasant if a bit characterless, little more than background music in a shit venue. The bland pop gets marginally more exciting when a chap in a hoodie takes to the stage to rap. Jake Lucid end with a cover of Stardust’s ‘Music Sounds Better With You’. I suspect that their music would sound better in a different venue. 

History & Lore are up next and fare little better than Juke Lucid in terms of grabbing my attention. Perhaps my grumpy mood is crumbling because I do note that the five of them make a decent sound, even if it’s not my thing. The lead guitarist and singer has an arrogance suggesting he’s better then he actually is but their keyboard player sings and is very good. There’s a Los Campesinos feel to some of their work. That’s the extent of my notes. 

I feel genuinely sorry for Life At The Arcade. Tonight’s headliner have travelled all the way from Liverpool to be welcomed by a fistful of fans. Life At The Arcade deliver indie scouse melody with charm and theatre. They’re all dressed in black t-shirts and have clearly thought about their show. Some might argue that the world has to many Catfish & The Bottlemen, Blossoms or Circa Waves tribute acts but I’m not one of them. As tough a gig as this might have been for Life At The Arcade, they keep on it throughout. They now just need to stop playing such shit venues in the hope of developing their career. 

There’s still time to catch last orders (and more) in a pub around the corner. It’s a pub with nice beer, decent toilets and a bunch of cracking tunes on the jukebox. I can see why it would make for a fun Friday night. 

Montrell, Michael Kurtz and Foreign T.V. – The Victoria – November 21st 2019

I’ve known Michael Kurtz since he was 16. That was six years ago. Back then, I spent January evenings down at Leicester’s Musician watching the best of the area’s local acoustic acts. And Michael was undoubtedly one of the best. With a rich, baritone voice and a lyrically astute delivery style, you couldn’t avoid the sense that he had effortless talent beyond his tender years. 

Dean Jackson, the influential BBC Introducing man of the East Midlands got wind of Michael’s talents and studio sessions beckoned. Deservedly, Michael’s profile was rising.

We’ve stayed in touch a bit via social media. I was delighted when Michael checked in a few weeks ago to tell me about a couple of gigs that he was playing down here in London with his new band, Montrell. 

I went along to the Gotobeat promoted Thursday night at one of my favourite haunts, Dalston’s Victoria. Michael generously added me to his list. I’d not come across the Gotobeat model before but I like what they’re trying to do. They’re putting on shows for a club of gig lovers. For a tenner a month, club members can go to all promoted Gotobeat gigs. Arguably, it’s an advanced way of doing things better for bands rather than fronting up the various free shows that London offers. I’ll watch their model with interest. And it’s their photo here as well. 

Before Michael takes to the stage to we get those Tricky Dicky’s from Billericay, the cheeky chaps of Foreign T.V.. They’ve all come straight from work if their stage garb is anything to go by. Their lead singer sports a fleece advertising the painting and decorating firm that employs him. “I’ve still got paint all over my face, I’ve come from an orgy”, he jokes before the band launch into a James Taylor cover. It turns out that the hip-hop vintage vest wearing guitar player is a primary school teacher. “It’s times tables tests tomorrow”, he tongue-twistingly laments.

Musically, Foreign T.V. jump through a range of genres with their main focus being a laidback and sleazy 70’s jazz-funk. Yet over the top of that, they place the swagger of a Britpop era Blur and a lyricism of early Squeeze. We get talk of pheromones in the back seats of taxis before their lead singer throws his fleece into the crowd and conducts a choreographed aerobics. “I need it back for work tomorrow”, he warns. 

Michael’s playing a solo set before he then takes lead guitar responsibility for Montrell. No slouch in the height front when he was 16, this giant man now towers over all as he haunches towards the mic stand. Foreign T.V. are a hard act to follow inasmuch as they make a lot of noise on stage and Michael doesn’t. And that background chatter (often coming from the mouths of that first act) is undeniably off-putting in the early part of the set. Michael perseveres though and his charm wins through. Like Nick Drake (or indeed James Taylor), his songs are gentle, clever and melodic. His voice still belies his years. He’s proud that Montrell have asked him to join them as their guitarist and the original members of the band repay the compliment by joining Michael on stage for a beefed-up and simply brill version of ‘Carved In Stone’.

There’s no denying Montrell’s musical prowess. So capable are they that they give off an air of session musicians having a night out. They write fine songs that might be classed as easy listening, middle-of-the-road pieces; think Bread (the band, not the sitcom) and you’d be in the right space. None of that is meant as an insult; indeed, I can’t think of many bands I’ve seen this year occupying such a space and I’d take such considered songwriting over indie bluster every day of the week. Jonny, lead vocalist, has a calm charm about him as he regales us all with tales of tracks written in German hotel rooms and songs about feeling alienated in the morning when you wake up in a strange place. There’s a picture of a lemon posted to the wall; the reason for which is none too obvious. 

Montrell tell how they met Michael and knew he had to be their guitarist. The baby-faced one seems to be fitting in well and certainly adds to the overall effect of the band. It’s been a neat night and I head home happy. 

 
 

Sløtface – The Old Queens Head – November 20th 2019

If 2019 has taught me anything, it’s to jump when Georgie, the fab PR person from Propeller Records, sends a recommendation about anything. She promotes a fab range of music, largely from Norway. It’s never failed me yet in terms of quality.

I was going to have a Wednesday in but then got the notice that Sløtface (still pronounced Slutface) were doing a special event at The Old Queens Head. It’s a pub just down the road on the Essex Road, a little over five minutes walk away. Always looking appealing from the outside, now was my chance to see the interior.

There’s a Wednesday celebration going on downstairs at the Old Queens Head. I guess that somebody has just got married. “I said to you in the first year of uni that by the third year I’d be sucking your cock”, screams one drunken casualty. It’s 8PM and I quickly head upstairs, following the printed instruction. 

It’s quite a venue – faux square music hall with an edge of punk spirit. On Wednesday’s The Old Queens Head does cocktails for a fiver. Sadly, it takes a good fiver minutes to make each drink. That leads to queues of nonsense length at the bars. It’s a good job that it’s a midweek session. 

Sløtface are here to excitedly proclaim that their new and second album, Sorry For The Late Reply, is about to launch. The set-up for tonight is announced. We’re going to get a band Q&A with a journalist from the NME before a first listen to the new disc. To round things off, Sløtface will play a short set. The serious fans here whoosh in unified excitement.

It’s hard not to warm to Sløtface. The NME fanboy gets his notebook out and asks his prepared questions. Discussions like this are rarely fun. But, at least he steers clear of questions about the recording process. There’s little more dull than discovering about how an album was engineered. 

We learn that for Sløtface, releasing records is anti-climatic, akin to those birthdays that nobody remembers. The staunchly feminist band rally against missed merch mistakes before revealing that this new record is political but personal not preachy. It still might be categorised as indie pop punk but Sløtface show that their influences range wider; Weaves, Phoebe Bridges and Julien Baker all get nods of acknowledgement. Specific tracks are mentioned. The NME scribe believes that ‘Crying In Amsterdam’ is the album’s centrepiece but the band are less sure. All of Sløtface like ‘Stuff’ because they didn’t much like Haley’s boyfriend who it’s about. “I wanted to call it ‘anti-consumerist love song‘”, says Haley, ever so jubilantly. 

The album does sound ace. Many here must have already heard it because they get up and mingle, talking over the top. I like what I hear. There’s every indication that 2020 could be a major year for Sløtface as their difficult second record lands. 

Gigs in bright rooms put on for fans and press wonks are always odd affairs. But the four members of Sløtface make a better fist of it than most. Tracks from this new album sound impressive and stand up well against the odd old track (Nancy Drew). A break from their current tour with Pup, Sløtface are initially relaxed about our sedentary state. But, by the end, they’re urging us to our feet. Haley stage dives because it’s what she’s done on every night of this tour. Sløtface are a band that could connect with you anywhere. 

The chap from the NME visibly riles Sløtface when he suggests that their mission is to make as many enemies as friends. On tonight’s evidence, the likelihood of more friends is the certainty.