It’s time to rip up the notebook (or at least to stop trying to make notes on my phone). You see, that’s what i do at gigs. Those notes help to jog the memory when I come to write about what I’ve just witnessed. I’ve got pretty rubbish recall otherwise.
Such is the immediacy of Idles, seducing us with their every sinew, here in Nottingham at the Bodega, I’ve got to just live in this moment. For this short blast of punk, spit and throb, I’ve just got to be. Fuck my phone – I’d probably drop it in the mosh pit anyway.
I’ve got a busy week of gigs coming up. I’ll be reviewing some for the Leicester Mercury and some directly for Sonic Breakfast. If they’re all as great as the one I went to last night, Gregory Alan Isakov, then it’s going to be a fine, fine time.
Sonic Breakfast has had a full-on week of gigs to go to this week. Given how much we’ve been falling in love with the latest Blue Aeroplanes record, Welcome, Stranger!, (previous blogpost here), the one that was filling us with most excitement took place on Wednesday at Nottingham’s Rescue Rooms when the fine Bristol collective flew into town. We were not to be left disappointed.
Time is flying by. A whole week has passed since I saw the incredible Rag ‘N’ Bone Man at Nottingham’s Rescue Rooms. I suspected it was going to be a splendid gig and I wasn’t disappointed.
I first spotted Rory Graham, the brilliant bearded big guy, over three years ago in the Chai Wallah’s tent at Shambala festival. In my eFestivals review (here) I said, “Rag ‘N’ Bone Man is bigged up by the compere and rightfully so. The crowd exchange knowing glances. Here we have a splendid, soulful voice with the ability to shake a room, something that’s rooted firmly in a bluesy past and yet made modern by the presence of a mixing DJ. I note that Rag ‘N’ Bone Man is about to accompany Bastille on their Autumn tour. I hope that that crowd appreciate him half as much as the crowd in here.”
Fast forward to the summer that’s just passed and I caught Rory again, this time at the lovely Barn On The Farm festival. I reviewed that one for eFestivals as well (here) and commented that, “over on the outdoor stage, there were also many highlights. I first saw Rag ‘n’ Bone a few years ago on a small stage at Shambala. Even back then, you could tell Rory Graham was an impressive presence. In recent years, he’s honed his craft and added a band of fine musicians. The bassy blues of his booming voice prove to be a fine choice of Sunday evening headline set on this stage.”
It was nice to now finally get the chance to see a set away from the festival field.
It’s a packed room. I guess a combination of hard work and releasing a steady stream of quality-laden EP’s have got Rory to this point. There’s a noticeably mixed age range in the crowd. The kids push to the front whilst the older gig-goers, perhaps having caught Rag ‘N’ Bone Man’s electrifying, recent performance on ‘Later With Jools Holland’ hang around toward the back. Couples grab their spot at the upper tier balcony and peer down on the balding and not so balding heads below.
Rory takes to the stage confidently holding a guitar. With immense power, he launches his rocket of a voice into a soulful sonic boom. Every corner of the Rescue Rooms is filled with the bounce and reverberation of this wondrous gospel melt. Our knees are weakened and we’re almost down on them before the first verse is complete. The band join Rory on stage, fire up their own instruments, and we’re given brief respite from our near submission.
There’s quite a few new songs played. An album is due for release, perhaps early next year, and this is a chance to road-test some of that material. On first listen, you’d guess that those music industry insiders who’ve marked Rag ‘N’ Bone Man in their BBC Sound of 2017 nominations know what they’re playing with. Mark my words – I have no insight but Rory’s going to be pushing for a top three place.
I’m touched by the humility on offer. “I’ve hardly ever played Nottingham before and I was genuinely worried about how many people might turn up”, he ponders in a break between the songs. Surely, Rag ‘N’ Bone Man knows by now that these are not things to worry about? But, his style is not about arrogant swagger; it’s more about a polished and gentle confidence that sometimes belies the boom of his voice. He’s not afraid to mention his Mum’s critique of his songwriting or the fact that he has a friend going through a dark time. We want our pop stars to be ‘human’ and the laidback Rory connects generously. His band, session musicians no doubt with perfect pedigree, allow Rory to take the limelight. It’s a sign of their accomplished ability that you barely notice the complexities of what they play.
It’s all over far too soon. As we file out, the sense of joy about what we’ve just witnessed is palpable. “We’ll never see him on a stage that small again”, says one. “That massive guy is about to really get massive”, says another.
In a couple of weeks, I plan to nip along to The Cookie,one of my favourite venues in Leicester, to see The Big Moon. I’ll pull together 350 words or so about the night that’ll hopefully be published within the Leicester Mercury. In terms of content, it’ll be more concise than this waffling piece.
On Wednesday night, I had opportunity for a dry run; on the first night of their first ever headline tour, the London based four piece are playing in Nottingham at the fab Bodega Social. By chance, I’m here with my day job so a sneak preview beckons. It’d be rude not to.
First impressions of a fuzzed-up Bangles fade slightly as the set progresses. It feels lame to draw comparisons with another all female band but I think the likeness just about holds. And at least I haven’t mentioned Throwing Muses, Belly or L7 as yet. As it is, this is a band not afraid to throw a Madonna cover into their mix (an exuberant Brilliant Stranger) so I’m sure they’re aware of their antecedents.
I’m a bit fed up of seeing up and coming touring bands who play so hard at being ‘cool’ that they seem unable to enjoy the experience. Such accusation cannot be levelled at The Big Moon. Indeed, bassist Celia Archer, who does much of the between song jabber, is positively skipping with happiness. This adds to the charm. Tight and blissful, summer-fuelled harmonies tingle and shimmer through your core. Here we have a thoroughly modern Motown girl troupe, bounced through a scuzzed-up indie blender.
There’s a smell of wet dog in the air amidst the crowd. Lads with pudding bowl haircuts stare on with such awkward, spectrum-rubbing focus that I wonder if deodorant has been forgotten from their routine. It’s either that or somebody has wet themselves. I move towards the front just in time to catch the opening strains of new single, Cupid.
It’s undeniably one of the set highlights. The quality of this and a song (potentially called Pull The Other One) so new that this Nottingham crowd are the first to hear it suggests that there’s some longevity in The Big Moon story. They’re clearly growing in stature and confidence with each song they write.
The same might also be true for the main support of the night, Virgin Kids, although so tall and gangly is their hair bun-wearing bass player that he definitely doesn’t need any more height on him. Unaware of his personal space, he auditions for a role in the ‘guild of incredibly tall men who make it their business to stand right in front of you thus blocking your view’.
Minor quibbles aside, they do the business on stage with workmanlike skill. They give us a dynamic and punkish London thing. At times, the three piece almost veer towards the pre-punk, sweaty bar-room blues rock of Dr Feelgood but then project us forward into a more Libertine-like swagger. I mark them as ones I’ll see again and, given that they’re supporting The Big Moon throughout this tour, that chance will come again soon.
Wishing both bands the best for the next couple of weeks and I’ll definitely look forward to hearing about the touring adventures when they arrive in Leicester on the 8th April. You should catch them on this tour if you can.
“She describes herself as a sensual, spicy and happy go lucky person and her music translates these qualities perfectly. Her latest offering ‘Back Door Man’ is a joyous song inspired by her eldest son’s love for cooking in the kitchen at the back of the house and the beauty of friendship.”
So runs part of the press release that I received this week to accompany a new tune by 63 year old, Elaine Blake, a former Labour Party councillor in Newcastle Under Lyme who has roots in Nottingham and Jamaica.
There’s no doubting this is a joyous song. Indeed, I haven’t stopped smiling since I played it for the first time earlier this evening. I’ve sent it onwards to friends and, whilst some of them have poked fun, most have received ‘Back Door Man’ with warmth, appreciation and openness.
Truly, I’m not getting how Elaine’s eldest son’s love of cooking has inspired her to write this soft reggae pop but I can see there’s something of the beauty that comes from friendship within.
I wonder if it would get Radio airplay? I wonder how it would do as an entry in Eurovision? Have lovely weekends Sonic Breakfast readers and try not to choke on your cornflakes.
“If someone tells me I have to go out there and impress some people because they’re important to my career, I’d rather go out there and really piss them off. Because this should be about the songs and a belief that everything else is bollocks. I walk around thinking ‘people in Liverpool, can’t you see what they are doing to you?’. There’s so much to say and no one is saying it. I’m going to be the lad who does.” – Louis Berry
In a couple of weeks time, I’m lining up a chat with Louis Berry. He’s playing at Nottingham’s Bodega on the 19th January as part of a short headline tour. It wasn’t long ago that I saw Louis play in Leicester when he supported Saint Raymond. I reviewed the show for the Leicester Mercury but I’m not sure if my words ever got published. In truth, I was quite scathing about the headliner and I can understand why an editor might have opted for an easy life.
Anyway, waste not want not (and all that) – I’ll publish my uncensored review here…
I look at my watch and despair. Saint Raymond have only been playing for forty minutes in the second room at Leicester’s O2 academy but it already feels like a lifetime. It’s not simply because he’s from Nottingham that I take such a dim view. One song, with bland,subtle variation, is played over and over again. Repeat until it’s really not funny.
He’s the master of monosyllable is Callum Burrows, the man behind the moniker, Saint Raymond. ‘I want you to know that, I want you, you know that’, he sings in yet another jaunty, catchy, raise your hands in the air, singalong pop by numbers blow-out.
Yet it would be churlish not to admit that this man with very little to say does seem to say a great deal to his fans. Young female students have graduated from Ed Sheeran, Olly Murs and One Direction. They now have a new poster boy for their university bedsit and Burrows is it. Surrounded by a faultless band, the crowd sing, clap, dance and wave their phones to the innocuous, choppy pop on offer. “Let’s carry on dancing, I want to tire you out”, smiles Burrows. I yawn.
Callum plays a cover. I only know it’s a cover because he tells us so. The crowd cheer wildly after every dull syllable he states. He tells a story about making a video in a taxi in Manchester with Thomas Turgoose, a potentially interesting tale in the hands of a somebody less boring. He plays two songs without a band that fail to resonate.
More impressive is Louis Berry, the scouse support act with jug ears, a cheeky grin and a charming swagger. Sometimes he veers a bit too close to Jake Bugg for comfort but when on form, you can see the Johnny Cash crossed with Arctic Monkey influence. Plagued throughout with sound problems, it seems to distract Berry from his full game. “We can’t hear what we’re playing”, moans Berry. It has rebel attitude, bite and enough skiffle based melody to suggest that, on a good day, Louis will be one to watch.
Ever one to consider the positives of a situation, as I leave the venue I think it could be worse. A poster of forthcoming gigs is thrust into my hand and I notice that it’s two days away from a Scouting For Girls gig. I thank God for small mercies.
I was a grumpy bastard towards the end of 2015 wasn’t I? I’m more than confident that Louis will continue to impress throughout 2016 and he’ll have a great deal more to say than Saint Raymond.
Billy Lockett has a cheeky charm that it’s hard not to warm towards. He might be one step away from super-stardom or he might have already peaked, safe in the knowledge that his latest EP has touched the I-tunes top 40. Either way, the audience on this Sunday night at Nottingham’s Bodega are caught up in the infectious wide-eyed enthusiasm with which he goes about his craft. Interspersed throughout the set, he plays three new songs, all of which he has a good feeling about. “I think this is going to be the big one but then I say that about every song I’ve written”, he repeats until funny.
For much of this set, Billy is content to sit behind a white electric piano and allow us to relax into this. A roaming, orange spotlight threatens to give us all migraines in the initial parts but this is quickly faded to a more Sunday appropriate and less frantic blue. Support act, Karima Francis, has already observed in one of her chatty, smiley diversions in between songs that “Sunday gigs are for people coming down from drugs.” Billy briefly leaves the comfort of his piano to show off his impressive guitar skills but it’s the keyboard, backing tape and his soulful, clean voice that take most prominence.
He’s at his best when he’s dealing with raw and tender emotional stuff. Songs and stories about and for his Dad who passed away earlier this year loom large. ‘Your Love Hurts’ was Dad’s favourite Billy song and you can tell that it means a lot to Billy when he sings it. Plenty of reverb and echo on the voice add to the emotional effect. He saves the single from the top 40, Radio 1 backed EP to last but the quirky, jaunty tune about his relationship with his ‘Old Man’ is lapped up by the audience.
As popular as Coldplay might be (they’re not in these quarters), I wish that Billy’s one cover of the night (Magic by Codplay) was left out of the set for an extra one of his own. Billy tells us all a story of how he was involved in a marriage proposal set-up whilst busking in London and then ponders what it must be like to be married whilst falling in love with a serving soldier. Mostly, the sentiment within the set stays on the right side of a heartstring tug but there are moments that are a bit too much for this cynical, cold, hack.
“Nottingham, that’s the best it’s gone on this tour,” beams Billy as ‘Winning Team’, his audience participation, clapping and singing ode to his manager draws to a close. As a song, it charts the progress made and friendship built on his career to date. The audience seem to appreciate the honest focus that Billy brings to songs such as this and ‘Pathways’, comments on how tough and how persistent you have to be as an unsigned artist in these days of Instant yet fleeting fame from TV talent contests.
Billy tells us that he won’t be playing live for some time now that this tour is coming to an end. He’s clearly a very talented, hard-working performer and few in the audience would deny him the chance to grace stages larger than this in future years. Those who take a stance against the popular and the derivative might disagree. It remains to be seen if his 15 minutes of fame have already passed or if in 2015, one of his ‘new songs’ propels him further forward. I think, on balance, I’m hoping for the latter.
It’s fair to say that I’m looking forward to this evening. Micah P. Hinson is coming to Nottingham and I’m going to be reviewing the show. This’ll be the first time that I’ve seen a Micah gig in eight years. That time has flown.
There’s no doubt that he’s a complicated character. And music needs more of those.
Back in 2011, a serious van crash in Spain left Micah needing a period of serious rehabilitation.
“When the emergency crew got to us, they were looking at us as if we were fucking dead people. They said they’d seen less heavy accidents with more people die. So yeah, after that they took me to a hospital, gave me an x-ray and I had no broken bones, but my left arm wouldn’t work at all, and my right arm worked about 28%, maybe less.” commented Micah in a recent, revealing interview here.
It wasn’t as if Micah was renowned for his impeccable health prior to this accident. Back problems have beset him for years which have resulted in a fair amount of cancelled shows. Bankruptcy, drink and drug dependency (reformed) and a complicated upbringing all compound the sense that this is a man we’re privileged to be seeing live tonight. It’s sometimes hard to believe that Micah is still in his early 30’s given the dramas he’s lived through.
You can bet your bottom dollar that tonight won’t be an exercise in self pity though. The new album, ‘Micah P. Hinson and the nothing’ sounds beautiful and triumphant, melancholic but spirited, adventurous and timeless. Many of the tracks on it have been live favourites for years.
I wonder if any of them were played eight years ago. That time has indeed flown.
Monday morning and another working week beckons. Very shortly, I’ll be jumping in my car and heading up the A46 to the Nottingham office. Summer’s definitely shown signs of joining us this past weekend. I need a sunny driving track for the car..
Enter Huskies. I might be heading north on a road trip but they’re already there. Their brand of summery, coastal pop suggests California (or at least Skegness) rather than the metropolitan sprawl of Nottingham though.
The very best pop gets inside your head so that you find yourself whistling the tune throughout the day. I suspect that ‘Sober’, the B side to the extremely well received single ‘Whatever together’ will do just that. This is a jaunty sea breeze rather than a coastal hurricane. It’s a stroll along the esplanade rather than a hike in the cliffs. It’s exactly what I want this morning.
It’s only on a later listen that you’ll realise there’s also wisdom in the words. “I know that this ain’t the end, you’ll hit me once or twice again“, sings vocalist Antonio Panzera. He’s singing about the end of an abusive relationship where the hit will come not from another person but from alcohol. As somebody who’s been largely sober for a month now, I relate to the sentiment – especially when those summer songs and festival fields are just around the corner.
And, as a B side is never complete without an A side..