Blossoms, whenyoung and Inhaler – Sebright Arms – October 28th 2019

Something isn’t right. I’ve been at the Sebright Arms before on a Monday night and it’s never been this busy. People are queuing outside the door of the basement to get in. The 200 capacity club is rammed to the rafters and all for an act that I can find little out about online. Who the fuck are Zuzu’s Petals? An obscure American grunge influenced band from back in the 1990’s with a few Spotify hits each month? The kids must clearly be onto something here. I hang around the sweat-laden basement to see what follows. 

Jack Saunders is apparently the late night Radio 1 indie DJ of choice. Fair play to him – that’s some gig to get and he must hold a fair bit of sway amongst up and coming bands. Tonight is part of his series of  ‘Hopscotch’ gigs. He jumps onto the stage to introduce Zuzu’s Petals.

I’m very sorry“, he tells the assembled throng. “Zuzu’s Petals have been unable to make it.“. Nobody seems that disappointed.

“But as we often do at Hopscotch, we’ve been able to find a last minute replacement. I’m delighted to introduce to you – Blossoms.

The crowd, small and rabid, go ape. They delight in their luck though many clearly had more of an inkling about what was going on than I did. I’ve seen Blossoms before but only on much larger festival stages. I’d enjoyed their melody and songwriting but would never have described them as urgent and immediate. Tonight in such a small venue that’s exactly what they are. They rattle through their tunes. Charlemagne sounds bold and modern; the crowd are pleased by the pick and mix attitude of Blossoms; they mosh like their lives depend upon it. 

 

Truth is that even without Blossoms, this free gig is a thing of real quality. The sub-headliner whenyoung have been ripping up the festival circuit this summer. Coming across as the  missing link between The Cranberries and Blondie, they’ve got a captivating front person in Aoife Power. At times her vocal seems to be stretching a bit too far and that’s either the charm or the downfall of whenyoung. Apparently, they count Bono as a friend and fan.

 

And that might explain why Inhaler are also on tonight’s bill. I’m stuck at the front of the queue, trying to get into the venue whilst ‘industry types’ and their partners push on past. I have time to look up Inhaler on my phone and note that Bono’s son is in the band. I’m not much of a U2 fan but I’m also sure that my son wouldn’t want to be judged by his Dad’s output. So, I listen as best I can; I get the slightest of glimpses of the band and they look the part. For a moment, I convince myself that this is why the room is so very crowded. It’s not ground breaking but it’s indie guitar music done with a style and flourish. They’ll go far. 

 

Fame and celebrity are funny old beasts. I can’t deny that I feel pretty lucky to have chanced upon this evening; it’s another London gig that I’ll never forget. I also wonder whether I should have missed out so that a proper fan of tonight’s acts could have taken my place. 

Still – onwards and upwards.

Grimm Twins, Bird Shoes and Lavde – Sebright Arms – May 20th 2019

The London gigs I’ve been to since January have mostly had decent turn-outs. Even on the stay-in nights early in a week, venues have been throbbing with numbers. Thus, I’m surprised and a little thrown to find myself watching a Monday night support act at the Sebright pretty much as the sole member of the audience.

And it’s not as if Lavde, the band in question, are so bad that they’re deserving of the low turn-out. Refreshingly (and despite being acutely aware of the sparseness), this three piece still put on a show. If they’re going through the motions it sure don’t show. Their thing is classic rock; the beardy bass player wears a Slayer T-shirt openly promoting his influence. With some soaring vocals and elaborate almost proggy solos, things go a bit Muse-like for a while before getting back on track with songs that draw upon AC/DC and Led Zep chord structures. There’s rock postures, awkward (given the numbers present) crowd invasions and down-on-yer-knees histrionics. All told, quite enjoyable. 

 

A few more have turned up for main support Bird Shoes but the Sebright is by no means packed. “Hello Wembley, it’s an honour to be here. Thanks for having us”, says the singer of this indie-punk duo who draw obvious numerical comparisons with the likes of Slaves and Royal Blood. They’ve travelled up from Bournemouth, ‘the crack-addict capital of the country’ and pound through their set as if they’re in a hurry to get back. “Thanks for coming out tonight when you could have been at home watching Antiques Roadshow”, says the singer, temporarily forgetting that it’s a Monday night. ‘Door’ is introduced, a song in which they appear as clowns in the accompanying video before all gives way to a megaphone tirade whilst swigging on a can of Stella. 

 

Grimm Twins are worthy headliners. There’s more than a dash of the Buzzcocks about this punk band from Macclesfield. Like Pete Shelley, they’ve got some killer rhyming couplets (“We are Generation Zed, we take our I-phones to bed.”) and the singer has more than a passing resemblance. But Grimm Twins embellish this with a Gallagher sneer and swagger. It’s nihilistic and nonchalant, recent release ‘I don’t care’ full of the existential crisis of youth. “We’re all working tomorrow so wish us luck on the long trek home”, says the singer before launching into their closing number. 

I hope they’ve had fun. Nights like this are great. Three bands, not all to my taste, have battled gamely amidst a challenging atmosphere. And for that they deserve nothing but praise.

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. 

Otha – Sebright Arms – April 4th 2019

I wrote this review a couple of weeks back but never got around to publishing it. Better late than never I guess… 

 

I’m about to head back to Spain for Easter. I’ll miss London; the enjoyable challenge of the day-job followed by evenings out catching one of the many gigs in this fine and vibrant city. 

Before I have my two weeks of spring sun, there’s a chance to take in one last gig. I head to the Sebright Arms again. Across a number of gigs in recent months, I’ve never felt let down by the venue. A fine range of beer and a sound quality that’s precise, it’s helped introduce me to a range of acts I simply would not have heard of otherwise. 

Tonight, I’ve come to see another Norwegian act. This’ll be my fourth (I think) this year. Otha is described in blurb as a lo-fi downtempo Robyn. It’s a comparison that you can certainly see in the two singles, I’m On Top and One Of The Girls, that she’s so far released. 

But to pigeonhole her in such a way does miss the point a bit. My guess is that for most of the considerable crowd gathered tonight the bulk of the songs that Otha takes us through are new. Deliciously catchy bedroom electronica with breathy vocals, these are tunes that lodge in your head and won’t let go. 

Across many of the numbers, Otha does this thing where she’ll introduce a couple of lines of poetry and then repeat, amending the melody slightly and adding an extra plink here, an additional plonk there. “Put your clothes back on, we drink, we dance”, she utters across one particularly memorable verse. “You don’t give a shit about me so please stop acting like you do”, she speak-sings in another.

With a sharp, straight fringe and long reddish hair, she’s strikingly sweet; the stage set-up is minimal. Sometimes Otha plays notes on her keyboard but mostly she leaves the music to the other musician on stage with her whilst she smiles and dances in a patchwork dress of many bright colours. There are technical hitches – for a period of time, the click-track can’t be heard on stage but our enjoyment down in the crowd is not hindered. 

She seems genuinely delighted to be here and happy that a crowd has shown. “Last night in Liege, the computer crashed on the floor”, she tells us. Frankly, by this point, Otha could tell us anything, so invested are we in her.

Look at me, look at me, I’ll put you in a heavy trance. It doesn’t matter what you look like. Just Dance“, she beams towards the end and the hypnosis is complete. 

Singing and performing like Sarah Cracknell in her prime, I’m glad I’ve made the effort to ‘tarka’ a look at Otha. 

 

Glowie, Karimthapeasant and Millie Turner, Sebright Arms, March 21st 2019

It’s nearly the weekend. But before I head out of London to catch up on sleep there’s still time to take in one more gig. The Sebright Arms is yet to let me down so I head there for a Thursday night of new music promoted by Abbie McCarthy’s Good Karma Club that, on paper at least, looks like it could be a banger.

There are four acts on but the key breaks in the lock of my AirBNB hampering my ability to see the opener and testing my ‘escape room’ resourcefulness. When I get to the Sebright’s basement, Millie Turner is about to take to the stage. I’d seen her name recently announced as a Barn On The Farm festival act – always a reliable predictor of up and coming pop talent.

Millie doesn’t let us down. She’s got years on her side but has already got quite a handle on her stagecraft. Her name is painted on a sheet backdrop across the stage but that’s the only noticeable nod to any DIY ethic. This is polished and smooth; the theatre is thought through. 

 

Flanked on either side by a keyboard player/guitarist and a drum machinist dressed in identical white T-shirts, Millie adds to the symmetry when she emerges centre-stage in angular red mack. She’s got a voice, a decent pair of lungs for this game. It’s hot up there and she throws the mack to the floor as she launches into a spoken word intro to her tune, The Shadow. You expect a duff moment, filler amongst the glorious pop but it doesn’t come. There’s more poetry and you can’t help but notice that Millie’s literate and well spoken. She suggests to all that she’ll send us an individual drawing if we fill out our address on one of the postcards she brandishes. You’d be a fool not to. They could be worth something in years to come.

Karimthapeasant indulges in a very modern rap that I’m not sure I’ll ever entirely understand. That’s not to say that I don’t thoroughly enjoy his enthusiastic set. He bounds on stage with a look not dissimilar to the lion from The Wizard Of Oz yet with so much uplifting energy it’s contagious. He introduces Will, his backing technician on the MPC before freestyling and doing ‘new shit’. The crowd love KTP; he works them well. When he jumps into the crowd for his finale, a mosh pit gets going that your average rock fan from 2019 might only dream of. Exuberant and a total triumph. 

 

Glowie, the headliner for tonight, arrives from Iceland highly rated. My eyesight isn’t what it once was but I can still tell that her charms are seductive. With T shirt tucked into her jeans that are pulled up to her belly button, she flicks her hair around and tells all that she’s good. On balance, this is probably true though I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve seen her with band. Tonight, with backing tape and the slightest suggestion of miming to her vocal tracks, there’s room to improve. I do feel for her though when men old enough to be her Grandad poke their cameras into her close and personal space to get shots of her writhing dance. It feels just a tad seedy and unsavoury.

 

This London scene shows no sign of letting up. Across genre and across town, they’re are emerging pockets of brilliance. Tonight has again proved that. 

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. 

 

 

The Lottery Winners and Depression, Baby – Sebright Arms – February 26th 2019

I’m glad that I went out tonight. Feeling a tad tired after last night’s restlessness (here), I almost did the unthinkable and curled up early. 

But this room is still sauna-like and frankly unpleasant. I’ve discovered the source of the difficulty though. There’s a thermostat in the corridor of this Airbnb and a guest in another room seems to think it a good idea to turn this up to max at every opportunity. I’m now switching it to something sensible whenever I leave the room. There are no compromises here; this is a ‘negotiation’ I will win by sheer bloody-mindedness.

In truth it wasn’t much cooler down in the basement of the Sebright Arms. Another new London venue, these trips out are delicious. The Sebright is a spacious and busy pub; upstairs the piped music is loud as it dwarves any commentary from the football being shown on the big screen. Nobody seems bothered by Bury vs Portsmouth anyway. 

The basement venue for music is functional, dark and sticky. Tonight, I’ll be watching The Lottery Winners. From oop north, I’ve been aware of the name for a while without paying them much attention. Initial pre-gig impressions are strong; two of them, beardy giants both, shake my hand as I enter the room. They’ve got a slightly blurry, fuzzy backdrop pinned to the wall behind the drum kit announcing the band’s name and some flickering old black and white TV sets dotted around for the same purpose. You suspect that The Lottery Winners mean business.

But first it’s the support for the evening, Depression, Baby. An initial sense that they might be trying a bit too hard to be cool gives way to a general feeling that they’re bloody good and that they’ve got fabulous tunes. It’s swathed in the past with bits of rock ‘n’ roll, doo wop and country coming to the fore. But, there are also cinematic sweeps and velvet flourishes that give this a decadence not unlike Father John Misty or The Last Shadow Puppets. They’ve got a fine vocalist, an interesting turn of phrase lyrically and a neat way of harmonising. New single, No Strangers, still has less than 1,000 Spotify plays and the band are keen to bump this. It’s a travesty that more haven’t listened. Give it time and their listens will surely rocket.

 

It’s also something of a travesty that more don’t know about The Lottery Winners. From the off you know that this is going to be a hoot. Larger than life singer, Tom, choreographs a last-minute band entrance to Push The Button by the Sugababes. He’s an effervescent ball of energy for a 20 stone man; always wise-cracking, corrupting and being mischievous, it’s a bit like watching Johnny Vegas front a band. The joking around and tomfoolery never gets tiresome.

That’s partly because The Lottery Winners have the material to back them up as well. Quite why this quartet from Leigh are still playing free London shows when, by rights, they should have hit the jackpot and be charging for the privilege, is anybody’s guess. The loyal fan base here tonight are already aware of their brilliance but they pick up other converts (including me) en-route. 

The offer is a sort of best of British pop; singalong choruses (‘a publisher’s dream’) harking back to Britpop highs, they freely comment on and criticise the state of life for young people today. Recent single ‘That’s Not Entertainment’, channels their anger about reality TV through a saucy-seaside postcard lens and ending up sounding like the Northern spit of Blur circa The Great Escape. 

Long-standing followers urge for The Lottery Winners to eventually release their album. “We thought we’d cut out the middlemen and put it straight into the charity shops”, quips Tim. “I wrote this one about my Mum, it’s called I don’t love you”, he states before playing a heartfelt lovely number. 

Loud Northern bastards they might be but they’re also the complete ticket. They have the tunes, the stagecraft and the girth. By the time that they get all baggy on us and recall what it’s like to be 21 again, the knowing lyrical nods towards the Inspiral Carpets (This is how it feels) feel almost throwaway. But one suspects that this cleverness is no accident. They encourage a crazy dancing chap to join them on stage, their very own Bez in the making. 

The room is less sauna-like when I eventually arrive home yet the sweat from the venue still lingers. I mightn’t have won the lottery but I’m winning my thermostat battle – and seeing great bands in the process.