Artmagic, The Left Outsides & Thom Ashworth – Paper Dress Vintage – May 21st 2019

Cast your eyes around the crowd before Artmagic take to the stage at Paper Dress Vintage and you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re at a convention of Suede fan-club obsessives. Friendships are reunited whilst band T-shirts from back in the day are admired. It all shouldn’t really surprise as one half of the Artmagic duo is Richard Oakes, long-term guitarist of Suede. 

I surmise that I’m no more than a Johnny-Come-Lately here and marvel at the loyalty. Because in truth, Artmagic aren’t much like Suede. Admittedly, the expansive guitar vision within Oakes’ repertoire crosses both bands and the effortless flourish adds to the floss. But Artmagic are very much a duo in their own right. Sean McGhee, no slouch in terms of music industry influence either, is more than an equal partner. It’s his words, his character sketches, his soaring vocal and his position as the carousing frontman that carries this gig forward. And the Suede fans have clearly adopted him as one of their own.

Before Artmagic do their thing, there are two supports. Thom Ashworth sings a range of folk tunes, some self-penned and some covers whilst playing an acoustic bass. His politics are left-wing and his banter engaging. He advocates against poverty, breaking Union lines and capital punishment. His brief impressions of Martin Carthy might be lost on many gathered but they’ve probably just about heard of Richard Thompson, a track from whom ends Thom’s set. 

 

Maybe I missed something in second support, The Left Outsides. A husband and wife act, they wallow in mournful 60’s folk whilst playing guitar, squeeze box and fiddle. At best, it’s deliberately haunting; at worst, pedestrian and dull. The slow ripple of applause between each song suggests that others are as enamoured and confused as I am by the bleakness on display. I like them more on record.

 

Artmagic are a modern-day English folk band. Pastoral and laidback, they sing of farmers and fisherman, photography, lost faith and lost love. It’s clever pop, often ‘metrically irregular’ but never to a degree that it alienates. Sean sings at a tone that’s almost falsetto but not quite; the late, great Billy Mackenzie is an obvious reference point. There’s little within that’s jolly although a few upbeat numbers from the latest EP are sprinkled throughout; “we’ve come to terms with what we are”, observes McGhee, content to be languid, almost revelling in it. 

“Today’s the warmest day of the year”, says McGhee, noting that the temperature might not be best placed for the wintry chill of Artmagic. But his analysis is flawed; for, despite the evident wistfulness on offer, there’s an undeniable sunnier tone trying to get out. And when it all comes together this dip into their ‘Songs Of Other England’ album is an invitation to celebrate and not denigrate. ‘Sing For The Snowfall’ encourages one and all to live for the moment before a beautiful and chilled encore is conducted without amplification.

The Suede fans and new converts bond together, happy with what they’ve seen.

Club Kuru, Ttrruuces and The Rodeo – Hackney Oslo – May 15th 2019

The Great Escape down in Brighton the weekend before last was an absolute blast. I’ve cobbled together my review for eFestivals and it’s now been published here

It didn’t temper my enthusiasm for going out to gigs last week whilst in London though. Bands that travelled far distances to get to The Great Escape extended their holidays by gigging in London. Nice Biscuit, the Aussie theatrical and futuristic psych-pop band, were great at the Sebright on Monday and the Chilean Music party, packed out with ex-pats, was every bit the experience it sounds at Paper Dress Vintage on Tuesday. 

It was nice to get out to Hackney’s Oslo on Wednesday for a good, old-fashioned album launch. Club Kuru were the act. I didn’t know much about them but the press release sounded like it’d be right up my street. 

I’ve been to Oslo once before (here). Somewhat strangely, it’s yet to feature on my 2019 gig travels. I like it though. The beer options are decent and the atmosphere generally friendly. 

I arrived just in time for The Rodeo who travelled all the way from Paris for this show. Initially, I wondered if their take on Britpop might need a bit of work but it’d be uncharitable to describe the whole negatively. A bit Echobelly, a tad Catalonia and a whole lot of The Cardigans is what you get here. And I’ve found another French act in 2019 to find out more about. 

Main support Ttrruuces were my act of the night. I chat to a chap at the bar before they take to the stage who gives me the lowdown. This is the new vehicle of Natalie Findlay (aka Findlay), an act that’s had a fair smattering of success as a solo artist. But now she’s in a band with a Phil Lynott lookalike. It might only be their second show (their first being at The Great Escape apparently) but this psychedelic folk-rock is pretty polished. Surrounded by fiddle and keyboards, beret-wielding Findlay plays the tambourine and dips into kazoo solos. When they move away from the rockier stuff, it’s as if Sandie Shaw is on a comeback trail and has employed The Go Team to help her. The shoe fits and the sensation you get from Ttrruuces is s cool one. 

I wanted to like Club Kuru more than I did. Perhaps I should write this one off as gig fatigue on my part. The songs are clearly well put together; a mix of west coast Americana and stoner funk. The heavy bass drills into my eardrums in the initial numbers and I beat a retreat to stand further back in the hall. I look around and people are chattering, catching up with mates and barely listening to what’s going on. New stuff is announced and it’s a bit like the Flaming Lips without any sense of live show.This should be my thing but I’m getting little out of standing here, it’s just not connecting and so I leave for my train back to Walthamstow. 

I resolve to listen to Club Kuru’s record in my own space. I suspect I’ll get more from that. 

Gazel & Gurl – Paper Dress Vintage – May 1st 2019

Wednesday night in the city – and it’s a hat-trick of new venues visited by Sonic Breakfast. Paper Dress Vintage is my favourite of the three. 

It’s a really friendly welcome I get when I venture over the threshold of this cool space in Hackney that’s a vintage clothing shop by day and a venue by night. Shirts and jackets hang around the walls of the upstairs, fashion statements from a range of yesterday’s subcultures. A soundtrack blasts out reminders of female-fronted indie twee pop bands that I’d long since forgotten about but love all the same. (Mikabomb, The Primitives and Darling Buds anyone?).

I’m here to see Gazel. This British/Turkish songwriter and producer has seen her stock rising in these parts with the recent release of single, ‘You’re Not Funny’. It precedes an album release later this year. But before I see Gazel, in an odd turn of events wholly appropriate for a ‘vintage’ store, Sonic Breakfast meets her Mum. We chat briefly, before the support band take to the stage, about homelessness, architecture and proud parenting. Gazel’s Mum has every right to feel proud.

Gurl are the handpicked support travelling all the way from Bristol to do the honours. The four-piece huddle tightly in the limited space they have on stage whilst running through a set that touches lots of bases and bounces around genres. From souped-up trip hop they head into guitar rock solos before a cover of ‘It’s a Man’s World’ shows of their vocalist’s powerful and soulful range. At times, they veer into sounding a tad Rag ‘n’ Bone Man before calling on the ghost of Bowie’s early to mid 80’s output. As Gurl’s set draws to a close in funk-prog excess, I reflect how much I’ve enjoyed their show. I’d see them again for sure.

 

Gazel looks the part. With sparkly gold trousers, a mass of hair and round Lennon-glasses, she imitates a 1970’s folk singer who’s taking her first steps to embrace disco. Impressive video visuals behind her band tell an intriguing story as the venue’s heart of glass starts to slowly turn. 

This is high concept arty stuff always managing to remain on the right side of pompous. Gazel’s forthcoming album, Book Of Souls, takes us on a conscious/sub-conscious trip encountering a variety of souls who dwell within. An elderly widow sits in a desert obsessed with the fear of going outside (even though she is). The night concierge occupies that space in our lives between being awake and dreaming. And this one is all about the process of becoming a zen master. 

Whilst some of the ideas might not completely connect with this old cynic, the show remains fresh and engaging throughout. Standard dance beats give way to more middle Eastern rhythms. Belly dancing moves are exotically thrown into the mix before electronic drum pads are beaten and a violin stroked. As the lights dim, a mock gas lamp is lit; Gazel is an adventurer striding confidently into a hidden cave armed with a spell of spoken word prose.

Gazel gets us all to sit down during a slower number. I’m reminded just how ‘vintage’ these bones are as I attempt to cross my legs. There’s theatre oozing out of this set. I imagine it’s the sort of show that a young Kate Bush would have put on; in fact, it’s probably not far removed from a show that Kate Bush would put on now if she had an appetite for live performance. 

Always attracted to the drama within gigs, there was surely never any doubt that I’d enjoy the multi-media assault on the senses that’s frothing within a Gazel show. I’ll return to both act and venue before 2019 is done for sure.