The 10th Original Bands Showcase final

Tonight’s the night of the 10th Original Bands Showcase final in Leicester. This’ll be a night of celebration, sweat, endeavour, smiles and jubilation. It’s become something of an event in the annual music calendar of this fair city and I can’t wait to get on down to the Musician tonight to see what happens.


The OBS is the brainchild of the formidable yet fair Val McCoy. Dig beneath the surface (she doesn’t suffer fools gladly) and here you have a woman who is probably even more passionate now about supporting and nurturing local talent than she was 10 years ago when this venture started. For each year, OBS provides a platform for developing and established acts to take to the stage and further hone their craft. Tonight is the culmination of a series of heats, callbacks and semi-finals.

It was seven (or perhaps eight) years ago that I first got involved. A friend of mine, Richard Haswell (the man behind the excellent and now sadly no more Summer Sundae festival) got in touch and asked if I would judge at a final. I didn’t have a clue what to expect but the promise of free beer was enough to convince. That night a band from Hinckley, ‘The Chairmen’, took the plaudits but what struck me was the air of support and friendliness amidst the sweat covered crowd. They might have been there to see one band but they were cheering all.

The OBS mightn’t be a model for everybody. Some are suspicious of the competitive elements involved. Responding to music can be a personal thing so how can individuals say that one band is better than another with any authority? And the truth is that they probably can’t. But the competition is just a part of this showcase. For me, this is much more about the networking opportunities, future gigs and new friendships formed. The best bands see winning as secondary to the experience and opportunities provided.

For the last few years, it’s all taken place in the Musician, a venue I’ve praised previously in this blog. There’s a cast of characters here who all throw themselves behind the OBS. Andy Mann, the soundman, works his bollocks off to ensure that the tight turnarounds look smooth to anybody within the crowd. The bar staff take an active interest with Chris, Chris, Holly and others never being shy on expressing their opinions (in a friendly way). And the contributions of Darren, Nicola and Wayne all contribute to the impression that this is a supportive, positive event.

There’s six bands that’ll take to the stage tonight. One thing you can always guarantee within an OBS final is that they’ll be stretching across a range of genres yet all excelling in their chosen styles. I’ve featured two previously within this blog, Tapestry and Stop That Train. But, in truth, I could have just as easily featured any of the other four and not impacted upon the quality. Ash Mammal, Beneath The Lights, The Della Grants and 8 Miles High make up the sextet on offer.

The OBS final is nothing without the crowd though. It was the friendliness and supportiveness of the crowd that first attracted me to these events. And though people have moved on, the feeling within the audience seems to have stuck. It’ll be a packed out, sweat-laden affair tonight. It’ll be one of the best gigs many in the crowd will have ever been to. We’ll dance, we’ll sing, we’ll drink and laugh. But, above all, we’ll realise that live music is the winner.

I’ve got my special costume ready for tonight… Now, I just need to go and get my hair done…







Beneath The Lights do not share any of their music for embedding upon Soundcloud.  

Sean Grant & The WolfGang

Another showcase night at the Musician in Leicester tonight and seven bands took to the stage for twenty minute slots. Hard work for the compere (me) who earned his lime and sodas tonight. 

Sean Grant & The WolfGang made the short trip up the M1 from Northampton for this gig. They’re becoming regulars at the Musician (this is their third performance here in 2014 and Sean has played an acoustic set in addition). They’ve already been confirmed on the line up of Simon Says, Leicester’s local summer festival, with a line up pulled together by key venues. It’s fair to say that they’re getting noticed in these parts.

And it’s entirely right that they’re getting noticed. A cool image without tunes is worth nothing in my book but thankfully this is a band that has both. You suspect that they spend hours grooming their facial hair before a show but the rewards are fine and the moustaches sharp. Tattoos and designer Dr Marten boots with white laces complete the image. 

It’s energetic folk music channelled through a Britpop filter. Sean sings stories about prize fighters and working class heroes. He references the industry and drinking culture of Birmingham and Kilburn. There’s political and social history in these tunes, a dash of romance and a pint of pain. 

Sean announces tonight that an EP is coming out sometime in May. But, the exciting label on which it’s going to be released have yet to give him a date. Videos have been made to accompany each track on the EP and one of those has already seen the light of day. It showcases well the excitement that this band are generating. 

The Strangler Figs

Tonight, I’ve been to another showcase night. 

But, this wasn’t at the Musician in Leicester, a venue where I feel so comfortable. This was downstairs in the Exchange bar. The Exchange has been open for a few years now and I’ve never really warmed to it. It’s at the heart of Leicester’s cultural quarter, over the road from the expensive and soulless Curve Theatre. 

This ‘cultural quarter’ was something imposed upon Leicester people by Local Authority types and Arts Council executives. I must be lacking in culture because for me the whole area feels unwelcoming, divisive and as devoid of creative excitement as can be. 

I bought a lime and soda for £2.20. I then bought a designer bag of pork scratchings for £2.50. I never knew that you could buy designer pork scratchings. They saw me coming eh? 

I digress. There were 4 acts on tonight and The Strangler Figs played last. I’ve seen them once before and their brand of pop swing is creating a buzz around town. Think smoky Parisienne bars, cultured cabaret and witty wordplay and you won’t be too far wide of the mark.

 I wrote about Birmingham based, Steady Hands, in an earlier blog and The Strangler Figs occupy a similar space. It’s music laden with quirks and charm and they might be influenced by The Real Tuesday Weld. They also might never have heard of Stephen Coates and his brand of Antique Beat. 

Here’s a track that The Strangler Figs released in January. Tonight, they put the cultural into the quarter. 


The weekend started well. Another band showcase night down at the Leicester Musician. Four varied acts all at the top of their craft and an appreciative, wise audience flexible enough to hop across genres.

Late additions, The Matchstick Men, did their cause no harm at all when they opened the night with their Springsteen-influenced sound. The Della Grants showed their consummate experience with a powerful,polished set of bar-room blues and Ash Mammal showed why just two weeks earlier their brand of twee punk (drawing influences from Marc Bolan) had the young (and old) flocking to their sell out show at the Y Theatre. All bands to watch on this local scene. 

But this post is about the final band of the night, Tapestry. I simply was not prepared for the show they delivered. 

There’s nothing wrong with a band that wear their influences on their sleeves but when that translates into yet more Arctic Monkey/Kasabian/Oasis wannabees I can very quickly lose the will to live. Tapestry set up on stage and there’s not a guitar in sight. Instead, here we have saxophone, drums and a bewildering array of keyboards, korgs and drum machines. The stage is a messy tardis.

Alex, Elliott and Taylor proceed to bang drums, to press keys, to bewilder with their technology. Amidst it all we get the sweetest of soul voices, bursts of sax jazz, mash-ups that fry and a charm that belies their teenage years. It’s not a rock n’roll set but it inhabits that uncertain space between band and DJ. It’s thoroughly modern, thoroughly now and I can’t wait to see them again soon.

They’ve got an EP out. Here’s a soundcloud sampler.. 

Steady Hands

It was a busy day for me yesterday. 

The Greenlight festival was a huge success and as expected the music went down incredibly well. I’ll write more about that another time. 

Last night, I went along to a lovely Leicester venue, the Musician. It’s been my mainstay for watching live music now for longer than I can remember – fab staff and always great production, sound and live music whatever the genre.

It was a showcase night and there were four wildly different but good acts on. I might well write about the others some other time but this is a posting about the opening band of the night, Steady Hands. 

It’s the third time now that I’ve seen them this year. I first saw them on a cold January Sunday night and was blown away. From what I understand, this five piece (currently) are all studying at Birmingham Conservatoire and that classical training is never far from the surface in what they project. With a sound based around the keyboard and acoustic guitar of front man, Josh Herring, it’s layered with double bass, violin, clarinet and percussion to make a very timeless cacophony. It’s pop without a doubt but not pap. Clever, intelligent lyrics dispatched in a void that exists somewhere between Sufjan Stevens and The Divine Comedy. Last night, they played their song ‘The Librarian’ which strikes me as a a direct descendent of Hannon’s ‘The Booklovers’. 

Indie rock this is not. It’s full of ideas and not for everyone I suspect… But here’s a link to an EP of theirs. Give it a listen over your cornflakes..