Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Chasing the running order

1234 Shoreditch Festival.
Shoreditch Park. 26jul09.

These smaller festivals are made for serendipity, a chance to wander about and find something new. That is increasingly so today as it soon becomes clear that the times given in the programme bear so scant relation to what’s actually going on on-stage that a printed listing of the contestants in the Hartley Wintney village-fete under-8’s fancy dress would have served just as well.

Still, it’s only a £15 in, I have no rigid agenda as to who to see and, well, I like a challenge. I’m not sure if my fellow mug-punters feel the same and certainly the bands on the second stage appeared a little disgruntled as they were forced to hammer through 15 minute sets due to the over-running.

Brevity is the soul of wit though, as well as being the key to not out-staying one’s welcome. KASMs (below) are a vibrant, jagged soul-punk outfit, but Rachel Mary Callaghan’s yelped vocals grate rather than pummel, so a quick in-and-out means there isn’t time to get too hacked off with it. Rory Brattwell's guitar work does the job though.

An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (below) have been reviewed here before, and only did 15 minutes of their pencilled-in 30 then anyway. So, everything remains in place, and is even a little more thrilling this time, what with their cataclysmic drum beat; their incessant fuzzcore; and their primal soul holler coming in three different shades as each member takes the lead mic.

LR Rockets were first on when I arrived (you can thank their valedictory remark of “Oh, and by the way, we’re LR Rockets” for me being able to identify them for you) rolling out some sweaty and dishevelled Parkinsons’-like art-punk, vocalist Le Bomb prowling the empty grass arc in front of the safety barriers in lieu of a dancing crowd.

Out on the main stage, the unfeasibly young looking Lion Club were playing half an hour earlier than billed. With crowds still only trickling in, and many picnicking outside due to food being confiscated on the way in (I found myself two apples light after picking up my wristband), the Club didn’t appear to be overjoyed with their rescheduling, singer Lewis Henry Rainsbury misanthropically announcing “luckily for you, this is our last song.” Far as I could tell, people were quite receptive to the big expansive keyboard sweeps in their arch pop-rock endeavours, but Lion Club seemed happy to do the off anyhow.

Back inside the second stage’s tent flaps, Wild Palms (thanks to the good people at MySpace for the ID on this occasion) were chopping about, drums nibbling around; their singer Lou Hill looking like Zammo MacGuire, the vein on his neck popping as he prowled. He’d come in an 80’s shirt of many misguided colours running together, but at least this made a change from the uniform black on show thus far.

Ox.Eagle.Lion.Man brought the sartorially monochrome back to the fore for their main stage set, but at least Frederick Blood-Royale had the decency to put a suit on for the occasion. Arguably he took it a little far on returning after a lengthy instrumental break in a lengthy grey coat with a pointy hood. Still, their Birthday Party-esque rumbling punk blues was agreeable enough.

After ...Air Pump in the tent came the duo Banjo Or Freakout. Alessio Natalizia sings and manipulates guitar, sampler and snare drum, often all at once, whilst his colleague Daniel Boyle rat-a-tat’s away behind him. Their second tune sounded like an electric train hurtling towards the inner ear as the two player’s clattered together in an attempt to beat it back. Ploughing a similarly defiant vein later, Factory Floor brought into unison a crackling electro-beat, brooding PJ Harvey vocals and a guitar being bowed like a carving knife attacking stubborn duct tape. They climaxed with an aggressive tumult of screaming feedback, then wandered off.

As a contrast back outside, Polly Scattergood was playing her cutesy and twee summery electro-pop under a sky that was refusing to play ball. Later on, Patrick Wolf would alter his set to be in keeping with the elements, respecting Mother Nature, but disrespecting whoever it was that threw their drinks can at him. “Go back to the dole queue, motherfucker” was the end of long ranted riposte. Still, Patrick is always likely to be provocative to audiences that are not his own, being that he is the most ostentatiously dressed pop hero since David Bowie packed his Ziggy Stardust costume up in the loft next to his old Beano’s. Yet for all the make-up and clothing unbuttoned to the navel, young Patrick makes a wonderfully ambitious classic pop sound that follows in the lineage of Bowie, Scott Walker and ABC. Nowt wrong with a little flamboyance or even, as in Patrick’s case, a lot.

Aside from the serendipity, festivals can also act as a point of reconciliation. I can only ever remember walking out on bands twice for reasons other than transport home. The two bands were Mega City Four and The Warlocks, both of whom bored me to the point of anger. The Four got a second chance at a small festival gig in Gosport, and failed to win me back. Now, six years on, Warlocks got their chance, and whilst their records will continue to be thumbed past in record shops, I can happily say we have reached a point of partial reconciliation, even if Bobby Hecksher’s voice continues to detract more than it adds. Yet, I liked the fact that they all looked a little silly in their war-paint (each face sporting a different tiny coat of arms) and I am much more receptive than I was to getting locked into a peering-at-me-tootsies post-rock groove. Others do it better, but I reckon even more do it a lot worse. This is about as faint praise as you can get, but its progress nonetheless.

After all this came the final two acts of the day on the second stage. S.C.U.M.’s psychedelic, Joy Division-with-more-showmanship kinda thing was just starting to grab me when the power was cut on them for over-running. Those plugged in could only raise their arms in an incredulous ‘WTF??!?!?’, however drummer Melissa Rigby gamely clattered through to their end of the tune with a ridiculously wide grin on her face. Every drummer wants their Cozy Powell moment, it would appear.

Getting Chrome Hoof’s many instruments sound-checked was proving problematic, the soundman having to speak to the band through the house-speakers rather than the monitors to get his message across. His message containing many heavy sighs and a final exasperated “let’s just get on with it, I’ll sort it as we go along, this PA is a fucking joke.” Not that this appeared to affect the band, but then you can pack up any troubles in a uniform set of silver robes, I guess. Also, chants of “Hoof, Hoof, Hoof” would suggest a less than 100% ideal sound mix isn’t going to affect the on looking punters too much.

Besides, the ‘Oof are arresting in every sense so only the real nerds would notice. They work through, free-noise, shimmering glam jazz and freak-soul. Not only that but when bassist and co-founder Leo Smee (formerly of Cathedral) has a barbute-like helmet shoved on his head, this gives him the threat and energy to deliver death metal to a disco-pants crowd. The Rakes are still playing the main stage as we file out after this, but checking their progress would seem a bit post-Lord Mayor’s Show after Chrome Hoof’s captivating display.

More photographs at SongKick


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Short cameo innings, flashing the bat

The Duckworth Lewis Method.
Spitalfields Rough Trade East. 13jul09.

If you were to compile a list of subjects on which an album of concept pop might be sold, it is likely ‘cricket’ would not feature high upon the list. In fact, I’d go further, I’d imagine it’d be somewhere near the bottom, between ‘Oswald Mosley’s sock drawer’ and ‘Budget Meals for the Committed Nosepicker’.

Undeterred, Thomas Walsh, formerly of Pugwash, and The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon, have plumped for the cricket option and, if you’ve gone that far, you might as well name the project after the mathematical algorithm used to sort out rain-affected matches (much, I imagine, to the chagrin of the Welsh language minimalist electro artist of the same name). Furthermore, if you’ve found the whole thing perfectly logical up to this point, then you’d meet the notion of them writing a song about a single Test match delivery with a shrugged “yeah, fair enough.”

Mind you, it was a good delivery, it’s not like the song in question (Jiggery Pokery) relates to a Phil DeFreitas dot ball, ably defended on the front foot by Ravi Shastri. Instead it is a Flanders & Swann-like rag that replays, several times, Shane Warne’s first ever delivery in Ashes cricket, from the perspective of bamboozled, but hungry, England batsman Mike Gatting.

It’s not a comedy album, although it is certainly a novelty, and the spirit of music hall softly ‘I say I say’s throughout. That’s not to say it’s myopic though as Sweet Spot provides a glam stomp, whilst Gentlemen & Players comes straight outta the parlour.

Perhaps the whole thing is a little too cutesy and I defy anyone to get through it without cringing at one line at least (I’ll nominate “Now we’re driving Bentley’s, playing Twenty20” from The Age Of Revolution as mine). Yet, as with all Hannon’s material, it remains utterly charming and the interplay between him and Walsh here tonight is equally so. Mind you, I think they thrive on the stubbornly unfashionable nature of it, Hannon announcing Gentlemen & Players by saying “Here’s another song about cricket”, emphasising the final word and following it with a cackle that some might cast as malevolent.

Matt Berry’s treacly-voiced-rakish-cad-for-hire shtick appears not only in cameo on the record but, impressively for a free nine-song set, here in-store at Rough Trade, although his monologue gets a bit lost through a PA which fails to do real justice to any of the songs.

Perhaps to emphasise the music hall element, if Hannon’s striped grey blazer and the arm-less spectacles teetering at the top of his nose aren’t achieving that on their own, they try to get an on-stage game going. However, given the space limitations, Hannon swings and misses several times, before Walsh takes up the bat and proceeds to smack the spongy ball into a front row punter’s mush.

Which is about as ‘in-yer-face’ as the Duckworth Lewis Method get, their songs being so cosy and warm, children could wear them as winter hats and pet dogs would immediately curl up and sleep in front of them.

The Duckworth Lewis Method @ MySpace


Friday, July 03, 2009


Thomas Truax, Boycott Coca Cola Experience, Thee Intolerable Kidd.
Tamesis Dock. 01jul09.

Outside, the nation’s most famous river is reduced to the status of a lurking bystander. The Thames, a body of water for which they had to build a barrier to forestall its latent temper, is tonight but a murky, brownish window licker. Tonight, by hook or by crook, we will rock. Thankfully, due to a secure mooring, there will be no roll.

Indeed, during the Boycott Coca Cola Experience’s dry, DaDaist set, the wonky guitar repetitions become all the more disorientating playing against the ebb and flow of the waters beneath. Tim Siddall’s deadpan vocal is a little more re-assuring, even if the tie around his neck, seemingly made from cheap plastic bunting, really isn’t.

His is essentially, guitar (and brief kazoo) aside, a speaking part, very reminiscent of One More Grain’s Daniel Patrick Quinn, with punning, surrealism and wry satire it’s focus. “Camper van/sales pitch/hesitation” goes one chorus, whilst he makes use of the fact that the world beneath the waterline is sometimes visible through the windows by dedicating a song to the watching fish. Sadly for them, the ducks who wobble past seconds later are not as generously bestowed.

What links the bands tonight is the blues, but with all three acts coming at it from vastly different angles. BC-CE go sardonically psychedelic, whilst Nathaniel Kidd (a.k.a. Thee Intolerable Kidd) adopts a more traditional approach. Got up like a prospective councilman in 1930’s Oklahoma about to sag armchair-wards after a hard day on the stump, his music sounds jarringly pained, adopting a similar vocal tone to Conor Oberst. Early in his set he harmonises with Victoria Yeulet, similarly period dressed and seemingly having come straight from behind a village fete cake stall. It feels pretty noirish all told, perhaps because Kidd, throughout, emotes vocally yet is oddly expressionless beneath his severe side parting and loose braces, staring blankly into the crowd from time to time. Arresting stuff, regardless.

Comedian Rich Hall used to say that there is a thin line between madness and genius; Bob Dylan played a guitar and a harmonica at the same time and people said “wow, he’s a genius!” Yet if he’d gone to the effort of strapping a set of cymbals to his knees…

Thomas Truax deals with this balancing act by taking his one man band shtick off the scale completely. Aside from his guitar, Truax is physically uncluttered, yet the stage around him looks like a more-hope-than-expectation, things-we-found-spinning-out-of-a-crashed-Luton-van yard sale. Thomas Truax, essentially, is the Wilf Lunn of garage blues, abrasive mechanical folk and flight-of-fancy alt.pop, building his own instruments to meet the needs of the modern rail-riding rock n’roll troubadour.

‘Mother Superior’ supplies any required beats, being a collection of pram wheels, levers and long needles working to the same principle as a musical box as it whirrs around. You half expect a cage to gently lower itself on someone at some point as the rest of us all shout “Mousetrap!” Elsewhere there is the ‘Stringaling’ (a drum attached to a length of drier tubing and a number of small instruments and levers), and the Backbeater, which swirls whilst srapped to his shoulders like a percussive roulette wheel. That he plays the Stringaling’s tube as though it were an inhaler is perhaps appropriate given that he is currently touting an album of covers of songs from David Lynch films as the look of it is visually reminiscent of the perversions of Dennis Hopper’s character in Blue Velvet.

Most famously amongst the custom instrumentation though is the Hornicator, an adapted Gramophone horn that performs a number of functions, being tapped at for percussion, as well as being sung into. Truax builds these sounds up into loops which he then accompanies himself.

“We may not have had a machine, but we had a contraption” said Martin Bell after winning the Tatton seat from Neil Hamilton in 1997. Thomas Truax has a number of them and, after a while, it kind of distracts from the quality of the songs, as you stare fascinated at the clockworkings of the instruments, and not giving the actual compositions their due.

Truax copes with this by leaving the stage at one point and performing amongst the dangling feet up on the mezzanine of the narrow room, off mic and sans ‘bits’, thereby stealing back the focus from his creations. Why Dogs Howl At The Moon part 1 as a response to a request is also memorable, and not just for the fact we all add our own yowls into the general direction of the brandished Horn.

Songkick - more of my photos from the gig
Thomas Truax @ Myspace
Boycott Coca Cola Experience @ MySpace
Thee Intolerable Kidd @ MySpace