Monday, December 27, 2010

2010: 21 gig salute

My top 21 gigs of 2010 run-down can be found over at Vanity Project.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bowlie II: one-liners

All Tomorrow’s Parties: Bowlie II
Minehead Butlins, 10-12dec10

Continuing this site’s tradition of half-assed commentary on musical events, we present one-line reviews, in chronological order, of the second Belle & Sebastian curated Bowlie weekender.

Friday December 10th

Daniel Kitson & Gavin Osborn Centre Stage
Comedian and storyteller tells one of his whimsical comedic stories punctuated by singer-songwriter singing whimsical songs that he’s written, following suit.

Teenage Fanclub Pavilion Stage
So solid and unpretentious, they are the nuclear bunker of West Coast style harmony pop.

The Zombies Centre Stage
Colin Blunstone’s hair is as pristine as when they started 49 years ago, while Rod Argent has clearly kept his trousers from that mid-60’s heyday.

Saint Etienne Centre Stage
A funeral, a long drive, a traffic jam and being half an hour late as a result is probably not ideal prep for a set but Saint Etienne turn around their early disadvantages by displaying their hits like a peacock; a belated disco peacock.

Saturday December 11th

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan Centre Stage
A Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazelwood tribute act, but without any of their humour.

Edwyn Collins Centre Stage
Because of his triumph of the will, Edwyn could be said to be immune to criticism, but it is with no concession to his circumstances, yet with nods to Teenage Fanclub’s role as backing band and guest appearances by a Crib and two of Franz Ferdinand, when I say this was one of the best gigs I’ve seen all year.

Julian Cope Pavilion Stage
Dirgey on guitar, sprightly on the mellotron – next time: more mellotron.

Dean Wareham Centre Stage
With Galaxie 500’s gear re-released, Dean Wareham has gathered up his wife and new bandmates to perform songs by his former self, but without any real pizzazz.

Dirty Projectors Pavilion Stage
Struggled to understand the hyperbolic reaction to album Bitte Orca but on the basis of this set, I will need to go back and immerse myself in it once more.

The New Pornographers (above) Centre Stage
Despite watching several stream out to get a good spot for the weekend’s headliners downstairs, The New Pornographers respond to keeping chins up and delivering one of the very best performances of the weekend.

Belle & Sebastian Pavilion Stage
The best set I’ve seen them do since their triumphant homecoming free show at Glasgow Botanic Gardens in 2004.

Jenny & Johnny Centre Stage
Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice collaborate on a set of brisk alt.rock gear.

Franz Ferdinand Centre Stage
A set on the smaller stage that went unbilled in the event’s advance press and, as is often the case, Matinee’s gear changes were the highlight.

Crystal Castles (above) Centre Stage
Alice Glass staggering onto the stage on crutches means restricted movement for both her and the crowd as the energy doesn’t swell quite enough for those watching on eagerly to ‘go off’ in the usual manner associated with Crystal Castles shows.

Sunday December 12th

Stevie Jackson Reds
Stevie Belle & Seb goes partly solo and partly in tandem with Roy Muller for some ideal Sunday lunchtime acoustic fare.

Vashti Bunyan Centre Stage
Possibly the quietest, gentlest gig in history.

The Amphetameanies Reds
Alex Kapranos follows up his appearance with Edwyn Collins with another guest slot in a festival highlight set, but this is merely coincidence as this party 2-Tone outfit are infectious enough to stand on their own 18 feet.

Peter Parker Centre Stage
Glam pop that, as yet, hasn’t really found a distinct voice.

Jane Weaver (below) Reds
Former Misty Dixon frontwoman doing a Gruff Rhys-esque guitar and table-full-of-tricks post-folk thing.

Sons & Daughters Pavilion Stage
Still striking me as a little lumpen, perhaps I’m missing something.

Mulatu Astatke Centre Stage
Ethio-jazz so becalming, the seas around Minehead took the opportunity for an afternoon nap.

The Vaselines Pavilion Stage
Spikiness in the tunes as well as Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee’s on-stage banter.

Camera Obscura Pavilion Stage
Any stage seems classier with Camera Obscura’s Spector-esque pop playing out on it.


Thursday, December 09, 2010

Unlucky for none: Truck 13 2010

My fourth summer in Oxfordshire: high time this festival fun-seeker paid a visit to the one right underneath his nose. Truck is held in one of the two villages my bus passes through on the way to work in the morning, so my previous non-attendance is shameful. Even now, the 1-2-3-4 means I'm only set to experience the second and final day of the bash, though will in the process be setting a new first: two festivals in one weekend...

The day begins in fine fashion: blue skies (again), a lift to the site from my neighbour, no queue whatsoever, a cheerful and welcoming security guy, coffee for a mere quid courtesy of the Didcot Rotary Club, a hook-up and catch-up with a couple of work colleagues, a refreshing (after yesterday) absence of ridiculous and punchworthy outfits and haircuts... How very genteel, becalming and civilised.

So one of the first outfits pressed into Sunday service, Oxford's own PHANTOM THEORY (Barn), are the equivalent of Brian Blessed bellowing "Morning, campers!" through a loudspeaker directly into your lughole. The pair have applied to play twice before, so it's third time lucky - and they're grateful for the company: "Thanks for coming - you could be sleeping. You're missing out". Us early risers are treated to a new song called 'Gary' - "If you can think of a better name for it, come and tell us" - as well as vicious opener 'Trancedog' and a closing track which sounds pleasingly like the Smashing Pumpkins' 'Silverfuck' given a meaty metal makeover. The duo's impact is magnified by being within the concrete confines of the Barn, which may stink of shit but which permits an effective light show at midday and actually makes for a tremendous venue.

Certainly it is compared to the legendary Truck Stage itself - still a flat-bed trailer underneath it all, for old times' sake, but curiously positioned so it's uphill of the audience and coming up a bit short in the amplification stakes. The thankless task of entertaining a listless crowd sunning their way through hangovers falls to BORDERVILLE, who more than compensate for Phantom Theory's lack of pretension with a pronounced theatricality borne out as much by their dress shirts as by their string section and musical eccentricities. It's as if Tim Burton was one of Mumford's sons (actually, he lives in a neighbouring village...). As laudable as it is to be raggamuffins dreaming of being royalty, I'm more interested in procuring a pint of Truck's very own lager, from the Cotswold Brewing Company - at £3.50 a pint a marked improvement on yesterday's £3.80 for a San Miguel.

From dress shirts to no shirt. Having also busied himself drumming with La Roux, I Was A Cub Scout and Young Legionnaire, it's little wonder that William Bowerman should have precious little time for upper body clothing. He's here with BRONTIDE (Barn), whom I glimpsed all too briefly at last year's Southsea Fest and whose taut and muscular (if occasionally self-indulgent) math-metal is a bruising joy. Frontman Tim Hancock, wearing a snapped string round his neck, announces "I've lost my voice - if anyone finds it, can they give it back" - good job they're instrumental, then - as assorted Nightshift scribes look on. What's the collective noun - a hackle?

To the "food hall", which turns out to be a less-grand-than-anticipated tent staffed by an army of Rotary Club members of varying ages and degrees of senility. The construction of my burger leaves a lot to be desired (the cheese is more out than in, for a start), but you can help yourself to as much salad as you want, it's good value and it's all for the benefit of local charidees.

I've read plenty about DEAD JERICHOS (Market Stage) and now finally come face to face with Drayton's answer to Arctic Monkeys indulging in a bit of fisticuffs with Foals. They've certainly got the cocky spoiling-for-a-scrap attitude, a dynamic (if vocally limited) frontman in Craig Evans and a handful of decent enough songs ('She Says The Word', for instance) but they've got some serious tightening up to do if they want to fulfil any potential. Not that the crowd seems to care, a combustible congregation of teens buzzing on youth and booze.

Speaking of which, nearby there's a chap selling Butts beer out the back of a white Transit van. I get a pint of the rather lovely Barbus barbus for £3 and smile at the fact that although he sells proper cider (none of your mass-marketed pear nonsense), he confesses to gritting his teeth when serving it in preference of real ale.

Time to venture a hypothesis: when it comes to band names, "Wild" is the new "Black", "Blood" or "Dead". Wild Beasts, Wild Palms and now WILD NOTHING (Village Pub). Jack Tatum's influences - The Smiths, New Order, C86 - are transparent in the basslines and the gentle jangle of the guitars. Pleasant enough, but not much to stir me - though it does rouse a couple of toddlers with ear defenders to dance around the ubiquitous loon at the front (Big Jeff from Bristol, apparently) like he's some kind of poodle-haired maypole.

Strange and wonderful things have clearly been afoot in Cardiff since I left. It might be stretching the term a bit far to describe ISLET (Barn) as a "supergroup", but they do feature former members of The Victorian English Gentlemens Club, Attack + Defend, Fredrick Stanley Starr and Sweet Baboo. Cardiff indie royalty are also represented in the audience by Harriet Los Campesinos! and Carl of Forecast. Trying to make sense of Islet and piece together what happens is impossible, so I won't even try. Here's a list: one naff brown jumper, one supremely ridiculous moustache, a lot of tambourine abuse and wandering around the crowd, fluid and frequent movement between instruments like some kind of circuit training for musicians, the odd sample, some songs that are almost purely percussive, one song that starts off as reggae and ends up like Rolo Tomassi. They leave us with an exhortation to stick around for Future Of The Left "despite their new members" and me with a curiosity as to whether I really enjoyed them but also a certainty that I want to experience them again.

Poseur cocks in aviator shades and "I Heart NY" T-shirts who worship the ground Kasabian's Serge Pizzorno drags his knuckles along and who declare of the Village Pub: "This is the main stage and we're headlining". Yes, SOUND OF GUNS need shooting. Sadly, a glittering career probably awaits. Locals are just as guilty of Big Rock Bluster, though - as A SILENT FILM (Truck Stage) prove. Once upon a time they were a metal band, Shouting Myke, but listening to this blandly epic epically bland guff it's hard to imagine it.

Oh how clever I thought I was yesterday, deliberately missing Veronica Falls (aka The Pains Of Being C86 Revivalists With Morbid Fixations At Heart) at the 1-2-3-4 in favour of other things as I'd be seeing them today. Not so - they're running late due to traffic and might not make it at all. Worse still, does that not also spell trouble for Fucked Up, who'll be making the same journey? It doesn't bear thinking about, I decide, trying to avoid eye contact with the scary checkout girl from Waitrose.

Nottingham's DOG IS DEAD (Village Pub) are a welcome distraction: a rather unlikely but intriguing concoction of vogueish Afrobeat guitars, hollered harmonies borrowed from the Futureheads (particularly on set-closer 'The Zoo'), a generous dash of pop classicism, some Dexys sax (the latter supplied by a chap sporting the most extraordinary ginger Tory Boy bouffant) and - on 'Glockenspiel Song', at least - the irrepressible youthful vigour and barely contained chaos of early Los Campesinos!.

Sandwiched inbetween Foals and Stornaway - who were by all accounts surprisingly upstaged by Bellowhead last night - LITTLE FISH (Barn) were the local scene's darlings. Through signing to hitmaker Linda Perry's Custard Records and decamping across the Atlantic to record a debut LP (Baffled And Beat) which is at long, long last on the verge of release, the duo have become somewhat detached from their original Oxford fanbase, and so this is a chance to reconnect. How will stints on the road with Blondie, Alice In Chains, Supergrass, Eagles Of Death Metal and Juliette Lewis (amongst others) have honed their garage rock craft? Not having witnessed them before, perhaps I'm not the best to judge - but my report card reads contrived, derivative and flat. Julia "Juju" Heslop is a naturally talented frontwoman but her affected accent immediately grates, any edge they may have had has been sanded off and their gurning waistcoat-clad keyboard player looks to have been parachuted in from a limp cabaret act. In short, not worth the wait.

In need of a drink and with the main bar temporarily sold out of Truck Lager, I toddle off to the Butts van and find myself shoulder-to-shoulder with Whispering Bob Harris, Market Stage curator for the day. Could have guessed he'd be an aficionado of foaming ales.

Back in the main arena, I'm confronted by the frankly terrifying sight of Pulled Apart By Horses' pitbull of a drummer Lee Vincent heading directly for me - it always pays to be wary of a man with a big tattoo on the front of his neck, I find. Meanwhile, fellow sticksman Jack Egglestone of Future Of The Left is engaged in conversation with a couple of small children - schooling them in the art of the paradiddle, perhaps, or explaining the lyrics to 'Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues'...

But before Vincent and Egglestone's bands set out to raze the Barn, draw the curtains and light the candles for it's Indie Noir Hour courtesy of CHAPEL CLUB. It's not clear what burden these youngsters are laden with - other than hundreds of single of the week awards and the pressure that comes with significant record label outlay - but burdened they appear to be. That the quintet spend an eternity setting up is symptomatic of a band who take themselves far too seriously and yet never really get beyond moping around in Editors' shadow. At least they have the good grace to endorse Islet, though.

And now there's a tough decision: Los Campesinos! and Blood Red Shoes vs Pulled Apart By Horses and Future Of The Left. The growing queues for the Barn mean it's effectively an either/or situation, not both, and the indoor venue's merits sway me towards the latter pair. Filing back into the Barn after a snatch of fresh air, someone else who's made the same decision observes to his companion: "I've got loads of scars. I'm basically just scar tissue". Well, you've come to the right place for more, my friend...

"So, we're Kula Shaker from Leeds". Enough of the taking yourself too seriously, then. "It stinks in here. You Oxford types..." Pay close attention, Little Fish - PULLED APART BY HORSES (Barn) are dishing out a free lesson in what the result of incessant gigging should be: an eyeball-popping intensity. Showing admirable disrespect for his own wellbeing, guitarist James Brown plunges off the speaker stack, and the crowd bump and jostle as an inflatable cow is batted back and forth over our heads. Steven Ansell and Laura-Mary Carter emerge to add extra clout to the climax of penultimate song 'I Punched A Lion In The Throat', and we're left nursing bruises and bangs with hardly enough time to get patched up before the next wave of attacks.

An ill-advised toilet visit means I'm stuck queuing to get back into the Barn - like cattle in a holding pen, appropriately enough - when FUTURE OF THE LEFT bust out Mclusky's 'To Hell With Good Intentions'. Damn it. Founder bassist Kelson Mathias recently defected to join former FOTL and Jarcrew bandmate Hywel Evans in Truckers Of Husk, but if Andy "Falco" Falkous and aforementioned drummer Egglestone have found his departure difficult, destabilising or traumatic, then it certainly doesn't show. Stepping into the breach (temporarily) is Oceansize bassist Steven Hodson, while they've also added a second guitarist, Jimmy Watkins, to their attack: "I'm not even on Wikipedia as being in the band, so do change that". That Falco's outfits remain a British riposte to Shellac is evident both in the juddering riffs and savage bite of the material - which includes a new track about destroying Whitchurch and another pair of Mclusky's songs mischievously advertised as being by Suede - and in the quality of his banter, whether conducting a conversation with Cardiff legend Jon Rostron in the crowd, describing mixing new material with old as "like letting your kids battle it out with swords" or, when someone answers a question with a smug "The latter", responding "That's what your dad told you to say"... The disassembling of Egglestone's kit as he plays would be an even more marvellous spectacle if it wasn't for the fact that it indicates their time's up.

So, where exactly do you go from there? Well hello there FUCKED UP, for the second time in two nights... The Torontonians may indeed have arrived late from the Big Smoke, as anticipated, but they definitely mean business. The way the guitarist carefully removes his glasses just before they kick off suggests he's either about to get smoochy or instigate a fight - thankfully, it turns out to be the latter (cheers Dad...). Drinks can meets cranium by force, and as the blood cascades down Pink Eyes' face, later wiped on those at the front, I suddenly realise the origin of his nickname. Kids have been drawn from far and wide (probably after sniggering at the band's moniker) and immediately I'm on the fringes of a good-naturedly violent circle pit, giving the youth of today a gentle nudge in the right direction now and again. This venue's probably used to containing charging bulls, and Pink Eyes is soon out meeting and greeting his sweaty public. As people clamour to touch him like he's some kind of lucky charm, he finds the time to pause and pose for photos mid-rampage. Among those caught up in the mayhem (or flattening themselves against the walls) are Islet, Wild Nothing and a fresh-from-the-Truck-Stage Blood Red Shoes. 'Crooked Head', 'Police' and 'Son The Father' form a devastating final trio and we're left to reflect favourably on the carnage wreaked at a generally well-mannered festival thanks to liberal security - and on the fact that tonight's performance in a cowshed in rural Oxfordshire was light years better than yesterday in the cooler-than-thou heart of the capital.

All of which means that TEENAGE FANCLUB (Truck Stage) are the musical equivalent of St John's Ambulance staff, brushing off the broken glass and applying some soothing balm to the lacerations. The age divide is obvious, Fannies fanatics being Radio2ophiles content to snuggle into a nice pair of slippers while Fucked Up ironically attracted the festival's teenage fanclub. But as children gambol about chasing bubbles and the sun slowly sinks, it's hard to imagine a better way for the festival to finish than with their bright harmonies and gentle, graceful Byrdsian guitar pop. 'Ain't That Enough'? Yes, it is.

Comparisons and contrasts with yesterday's 1-2-3-4 Festival have been hard to avoid, and I head for home mentally chalking up a knockout victory for Steventon over Shoreditch.

Know Your Enemy

"I suppose anything that keeps Pete Doherty quiet for four-and-a-half minutes can't be a completely bad thing."

My friend Matt on the news that the visionary poet of Albion and assorted other no-marks (the sodding Kooks, for a start) are going to be involved in the official version of John Cage's '4'33', vying for the Christmas #1 spot with whatever cack Cowell cranks out of The X Factor. Needless to say we've both now reneged on our decision to buy the single when it's released.

Just Philling in

Nice to see Spillers staff getting a helping hand last week - from Phill Jupitus. I suspect there might just have been some Blockheads played over the course of the day...

Quote of the day

"Ever heard howling at the moon like the mongrel dogs of Comets of Fire? Yeah, it’s everyday for me too, rock fanatics, gorging myself on their errant aberrant muse. A solar wind blowed through the aching heart of their last studio colossus, but the newie grabs handfuls of the moon and snorts at the gusset of the menstruating Muse. This ain’t no garage band, grandma!"

Thus commenceth Julian Cope's review of what was (perversely) the first album I chose to play in celebration of the above triumph, Comets On Fire's Blue Cathedral. You know what, I think he likes it...

Alive and kicking (out the jams)

When Spillers announced in the summer that they'd be leaving the premises on the Hayes in Cardiff that they'd occupied since the late 1940s, the future didn't look too bright for what is officially the world's oldest record store. So it was with some trepidation that I went along to their new home, a stone's throw away from the old one in Morgan Arcade - but I'm pleased to report that it might actually be an improvement.

No longer exposed to the plate glass consumer porn of the new St Davids 2, the shop actually feels more at home in one of the city's many unique arcades, in amongst a clutch of independent brethren. There are two floors (the upper one being affectionately nicknamed the VPL - the Vinyl Perusing Level - by staff), but otherwise it's business as usual: healthy prominence for the offerings of local bands as well as the recent Matador promotion (cheap Guided By Voices albums? Don't mind if I do...), knowledgeable and friendly staff, excellent choice of in-store music. Cat Power's 'The Greatest' started up the minute I stepped over the threshold and was almost instantly sold to an intrigued punter who'd never heard her before.

So, great to see it thriving - long may that continue.

Take on me a slightly critical reviewer

Hell, it seems, hath no fury like an A-ha fan from Derby scorned - or at least upset by a perfectly reasonable live review...

Slay bells

Lights! Camera! Slayer!

Know Your Enemy

A musical double bill today...

"Just found out [Smashing Pumpkins are] playing with Pavement in Brazil. It's gonna be one of those New Orleans-type funerals. I say that because they represent the death of the alternative dream, and we follow with the affirmation of life part. Funny how those who pointed the big finger of 'sell out' are the biggest offenders now. Yawn. they have no love ... We'll be the band up there playing NEW songs because we have the love."

Billy Corgan does his reputation as an unsavoury, whining streak of bitterness a power of good by reigniting a 15-year-old rock feud with Stephen Malkmus and company. I remember, back in the day, being aggrieved at discovering one of my favourite bands had poked fun at another...

"3 things visible from space, great wall of china, peter hooks wallet stuffed with ian Curtis blood money, man citys empty trophy cabinet!"

"used to adore the man, now he's a self centred sellout reduced to hawking his mates corpse around to get paid. And he can't play."

A couple of recent tweets from Mani, who it seemed has the same opinion of Peter Hook, his former bandmate in vanity project Freebass, as I do - though he's since retracted the comments and attempted to repair the damage.