Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Echobelly - West End Centre, Aldershot - May 16th, 2019

It was my birthday and I was idly thinking that I really haven't seen (or have got plans to see) many bands this year, so I did an online search to see what I could find - What I found was 'A Special Acoustic Evening with Echobelly' just down the road, a couple of nights later...

Now, if you're about 10-15 years younger than me, you probably remember them, the way I remember 'A Flock of Seagulls' or 'The Bodysnatchers' - A band that were around, had some success, but never really hit the 'big time!'.

Me, I recognised the name, but actually couldn't think of anything they'd done, so a bit of Googling revealed a pretty good sounding 'Brit Pop' group with a sweet sounding female lead singer and some year old black and white videos of the singer and lead guitarist, sounding pretty good (maybe better!) still.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, and so I found myself snuggling into the tiny arch of the West End Centre in Aldershot.

I grabbed a beer and found the support act had started. A woman singing and playing a keyboard and a chap on a guitar. The singer had definite influences of Bjork. I have to say it wasn't really my cuppa, but the sound was surprisingly good and it wasn't awful, as many support acts are, either through appalling sound balancing or lack of talent.

The archway emptied out and I shuffled forward with my now half empty pint glass.

Unnoticed, and before most of the crowd had returned from the bar or wherever else they'd been, a small woman and a tall man appeared on the stage, which is almost at floor level in the West End Centre.

Smiling, the woman (who was obviously Sonya Madan), said "Hi" and she and the tall man (Glenn Johansson) settled themselves onto their seats. Echobelly, on this tour, are formed of just these two original members, and songwriters, of the band.

The setlist below is from other gigs on their acoustic tour and may not be 100% right, from memory, for Aldershot, but they performed a mix of material from their heyday in the mid '90s and more recent material, mainly from their recent Anarchy and Alchemy album.

Glenn's guitar work sounded pretty good to me (although I'm no musician myself) and I think Sonya's voice is better now than in her '90s performances, richer and fuller to my ear, although there were a couple of moments where I think she just failed to reach a high note, but that may have been the audio equipment rather than her. Generally, though, they sounded crisp and clear and her voice is up there amongst the most pleasant I've heard and overall, the sound in the West End Centre was as good for them as it had been for their support act.

Many of the audience were 50ish year old men, some of who seemed transfixed by Sonya, but I was the only person who cheered when she announced that the next track was 'Faces in the Mirror', from their recent album, suggesting most of the audience were on a nostalgic trip down memory lane.

For me, though, this was a voyage of discovery and I have to say it was a highly enjoyable one.

Glenn's guitar playing and Sonya's lovely voice and the venue lent the whole gig a very intimate feeling and was one of the most enjoyable I've been to.

The more famous singles like King of the Kerb, Dark Therapy, Insomniac and, of course (he writes as if he remembered it!), Great Things, got the best reception, but to my unfamiliar ear, the newer stuff was just as enjoyable and, probably, more mature and rounded (no great surprise that they would get better at writing songs as time goes by, I guess).

The gig was short (before the last song of the encore, Sonya said "This really is it, because we don't have anything else!") at around an hour, but perfectly formed.

I didn't know anything about Echobelly, except the name, a week before, but by the time I left, I was a definite fan.

If they're in your area, go see them!

Setlist

Something Hot in a Cold Country
Car Fiction
A Good Day
Faces in the Mirror
On Turn On
Sparks
Bulldog Baby
Firefly
King of the Kerb
Great Things
Dark Therapy

Encore:
Insomniac
Giving It All

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Hue & Cry - St John's Church, Farncombe - April 5th, 2019

Hold on, read that again... A concert in a church 15 miles from here? By The Blow Monkeys?

OK, so that's (sort of) how I came to be sitting in a church, on a wooden pew, listening to Hue & Cry, now just Glaswegian brothers Pat and Gregory Kane, on an early April evening.

I'd had an eye on seeing The Blow Monkeys for a while and an alert popped up for them appearing at the Church in a small village on the edge of Godalming in November 2019. The price was right and it was local, so I bought a ticket.

From that purchase I started following events at St John's Church in Farncombe and soon spotted that Hue & Cry were playing here in April, so I bought a ticket and here I was.

Now, lest you think this is a defunct Church repurposed as a club/venue, not a bit of it, it's a proper working church, earning a few quid on the side and delivering the great acoustics you often get in churches to the audience of less 'spiritual' (Two Marxists in this case!) performers.

The venue was all seater for this and sold out. Most people were pretty old (I'm mid '50s and I think a good chunk of the audience was older than me, although one of the group of women sharing my pew commented that 'They sound just like they did when I was at school', putting here at 1east 10 years younger than me!), but it was clearly popular and some were, equally clearly, hardcore fans.

It started early (I guess an early curfew is one of the conditions for holding such events in the church), but being 30 minutes drive from home that was no hardship and there was no cringe-inducing support act (with dreadful sound levels) to suffer either.

At 8PM the two brothers appeared.

From their heyday as two bright eyed, curly haired lads, their appearance now is more akin to a couple of Mitchell Brothers lookalikes, but fortunately Pat's voice (always the defining element of the band, I thought) has stood up incredibly well.

The tour was billed as a 30th anniversary celebration of the Bitter Suite album and the first part of the evening featured most of the tracks from that album, including "Mother Glasgow", the Kate Bush song "The Man With the Child In His Eyes" (which seems to make more sense when a man sings it, but I never like Kate Bush that much), The Robert Wyatt/Elvis Costello song "Shipbuilding" and a number of others, before reaching the massive hit that was 'Looking for Linda'.

Pat (and to a lesser degree Gregory on electric piano) chatted away humorously between songs, explaining their strict recording policy ("If you're not recording all your favourite songs and sticking them on YouTube, we want to know why!") and some of the inspirations for the songs.

The sound was good and Pat's voice really did sound clear and distinctive as I recall it doing so in their heyday (I'm sure, too, I have a more recent 'live' recording of them, but I can't find it!)

After 9 tracks (I don't know why they didn't do all the tracks, maybe some are hard to deliver as a duo or they just don't rate them anymore) there was an interval (A bottle of Doombar, ordered before, awaited me out in the side room at a refreshingly un-Gig like price!) and then we were back for a hodge-podge of hits and favourites.

This included the hits, 'Ordinary Angel' and 'Labour of Love' (sadly one of my favourites 'Violently' was left out) as well as some more recent songs, including one (or more) from an album released a year ago.

The de rigeur encore (Take that, Brexiteers! ;) ) was but a single song, 'Stars Crash Down', where we all got to sing 'Building a republic of love'.

To be honest, I never enjoy gigs where I have to sit down as much as standing ones, but this gig suited listening on the whole, rather than jiggling about (I can't call what I do dancing with any credibility), and I did enjoy it.

The pews did feel a bit hard after a while though. The chap in front of me must've been a regular as he'd brought a cushion with him!

I hope, though, that the Blow Monkeys will be a standing event - They need jiggling around to! ETA ARGHHHH - Stupidly I booked a holiday the same time, so I won't be getting to see the Blow Monkeys in 2019 after all!

Setlist
Mother Glasgow
The Man With the Child in His Eyes (Kate Bush cover)
Shipbuilding(Robert Wyatt cover)
Rolling Home
Peaceful Face
Widescreen
Looking for Linda
Remote
Truth
Just Say You Love Me
My Salt Heart
Headin' for a Fall
It Happened Here
I Refuse
Labour of Love
Ordinary Angel

Encore:
Stars Crash Down

Monday, 3 December 2018

Jess Glynne - BIC, Bournemouth - 2nd December, 2018

I must admit it was a with a little trepidation that I joined the crowd flooding into the BIC to see Jess Glynne...

Don't get me wrong, I've admired her strong vocals and found many of her songs catchy and enjoyable, but I did wonder if maybe this wasn't going to be 'my thing'.

The Bournemouth International Centre (a 'big' venue for us, but the couple next to us commented how 'small' it was - Different strokes!) was the last stop on her UK tour in support of her second album, which, if I'm honest, I didn't really find as enjoyable as her first although there were a few good tracks, but I figured there'd be a fair selection of old and new tracks for me to enjoy.

I treated my daughter to a ticket as an early Christmas present, too, and we settled in to watch the two support acts.

The first, Moss Kena, was more enjoyable when he didn't insist in singing in an extreme falsetto voice, but I guess it's his USP and some must like it.

The second, Not3s ("Say Take...","Notes" as his DJ got the crowd to respond), is best known (my daughter tells me) for his rapping over tracks by Mabel (Someone else I'd never heard of!). Rap is undoubtedly a musical black hole to me - I neither like nor understand it, although, to be fair Not3s was more melodic than many of his contemporaries and he and his DJ seemed to be having fun. Not my cuppa, but not the worst experience of my life.

The plain black backdrop for the support acts was lowered to reveal a more complex set with a huge screen behind the stage and smaller (but still 12ft or so high) ones either side of the stage.

Just after 9PM, the larger screen displayed "Always In Between" (the title of her second album and the tour) and then 'Summer' as the band, dancers and backing singers appeared and struck up the familiar chords of "Hold My Hand", which made a perfect opener with the lyrics "Are you ready for this?"

Moments later Jess appeared wearing a white outfit (I'll let the photos explain, I'm no fashion guru!) and some funky looking sunglasses (So we remembered it was Summer I guess...).

"Hold My Hand" was a great opener and from the off, it was clear that we were getting a 'big show', with fireworks, shiney ticker tape and dancing and giant screen shots. We were quite near the front, with a good view of the stage (for once we avoided the giants who inevitably tend to cluster at the front of the floor at gigs blocking the view for everyone else!), but the side screens provided close ups of the action (both Jess and band and dancers), while the large backdrop screen provided set dressing and close-ups at various times. It was very professional and added to the sense of event.

Jess commented that Bournemouth was like a 'home from home' for her as she'd spent a lot of her childhood with her grandmother her, as my daughter had (I grew up in the area), so we found common ground.

As the gig progressed, the big screen progressed through Autumn (well done Jess, no 'Fall' faux Americanism!), Winter and Spring and Jess migrated through a number of costumes.

At one stage, and I can't remember which song now, Jess left the stage and appeared in the audience on a lifting platform with a pianist to do a number of songs, illuminated by a single spotlight from above, which was particularly popular with those in the first few rows of the balcony as she got closer to them. It wasn't 'Christine and the Queens' level interaction, but it was a nice touch, especially as these songs were, mostly, more intimate ballad style ones.

After these songs, she was back to the stage to finish the main set with All I Am (one of the best tracks on the second album, I think).

Highlights for me were "Don't be so Hard on Yourself' (my favourite of her songs), recent song "Thursday" , "Take Me Home", "Ain't Got Far to Go" and, actually, quite a few others - It was all eminently enjoyable.

Unsurprisingly, she was back for a 2 song encore, the popular "Right Here" and recent single (although not one of my favourites), "I'll Be There".

Overall, We'd had a great time. Jess' voice came over well live and the whole show was slick and brilliantly delivered. The setup of a band, dancers and backing singers was quite 'old school', but the quality delivered was excellent and Jess Glynne is a personable and confident performer in both the upbeat and slower numbers.

A class act from beginning to end and one of the best shows I've seen this year!

Setlist:

Hold My Hand
No One
You Can Find Me
Rollin
Intro
These Days(Rudimental cover)
123
Thursday
Ain't Got Far to Go
Hate/Love
Don't Be So Hard on Yourself
Nevermind
Take Me Home
Broken
So Real (Warriors) / Real Love
My Love / Rather Be
All I Am

Encore:
Right Here
I'll Be There

Friday, 23 November 2018

Christine and the Queens - Hammersmith Apollo - November 21st, 2018

Christine and the Queens first came to my notice via the BBC's coverage of Glastonbury a couple of year ago.

With a distinctive sound (I'd say unique, but Lauren reckons she sounds quite like Haim - I can't see that!) and their intricate modern dance routines, they were certainly different and songs like Tilted and Science Fiction were also catchy enough to enjoy in their own right.

We'd missed her on the tour she/they (for the dancers are an intrinsic part of the performance) did around that time, but when a tour was announced for 2018, Lauren and I got tickets.

The venue was the Hammersmith Apollo, which on a second visit (after seeing David Byrne earlier in the year) I have to say I really like as a venue.

The support act was a young French guy who sang over his synthesiser pre-canned tracks - It wasn't my cup of tea at all and Lauren and I even went to get a drink towards the end of his set, where the busy bar suggested we weren't the only ones to not mind missing some of it.

I must admit, we worried that maybe Christine and the Queens would be equally disappointing during the interval, but we needn't have worried.

At more or less spot on 9PM the band and dancers appeared in front of a backdrop featuring a stormy and moody mountain scene.

Opening with Comme Si, it wasn't (as is often the case) always easy to be sure if Christine was singing in French or English, but that's not really the point, although I'm sure she feels the lyrics are important.

I suspect more than a little, though, are lost in translation from French to English as evidenced by the next song, 'Girlfriend' which is 'Damn, Dis Moi' (Damn, tell me!) in French, but you couldn't complain about the performance, visual or audio.

Some tracks were, to me, more familiar than others, but Lauren commented on the way home that she recognised more than she expected and I was the same.

During the performance, the mountain backdrop fell away to reveal a stormy seascape and then a black drape at various points. It even 'snowed' at one point!

The complex choreography is definitely a big part of a 'Christine and the Queens' performance and definitely added to the overall experience, but Christine sang well and the band provided a good sound.

Christine obviously eschews convention, even to the point of not bothering with a conventional encore (kudos for that from me, it's become a cliché to finish the encore on your biggest hit!). A few moments after the stage lights went out, she was up on the balcony to sing Saint Claude and then was running downstairs to perform her last song 'A lullaby' (it wasn't!) Intranquillité from amongst the crowd on the floor.

By coincidence she ended up mere feet from us for much of this performance, before being borne away to the stage and then the house lights went up.

All around us women, young and not so were in floods of tears, one near us uttering 'I touched her!'. It was a rather strange and a little unsettling experience, to be honest. I thought this kind of adoration was dead! Judging by the number of women eating each others faces before the performance, she has a pretty dedicated Lesbian following, but the audience was very mixed, both in gender and age group.

For us it had been an enjoyable performance (Lauren gave it an 8.5 and I'd agree) which left us content with our evening and chatting about it on the way home. If I'm honest, I'm not sure I'd put her on the must see again list, but I definitely enjoyed the show.

Christine had chatted happily with the audience throughout and seemed a clever, witty young woman who certainly has a different way of performing and that can't be a bad thing.

Setlist:

Comme si
Girlfriend
Le G
Science Fiction
Make Some Sense
Les paradis perdus (Christophe cover)
iT
Feel So Good
Tilted
5 dollars
What's-Her-Face
Here
The Stranger
Goya Soda
Damn (What Must a Woman Do)
Nuit 17 à 52
Doesn't matter
The Walker

Encore:
Saint Claude(Sung from the balcony)
Intranquillité (Mostly sung from the downstairs standing area)

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Editors - Southampton Guildhall - October 7th, 2018

There are some bands that I like, but don't actively follow. Editors are definitely in that category

Some of their early stuff is reminiscent to me of New Order at their edgiest, which can only good in my books and, after thinking about seeing them a few times before, I bought tickets to see them at Southampton Guildhall, a venue that's not far from home, but I'd not visited before.

The hall is one large room, far smaller than somewhere like Brixton O2 or Alexandra Palace, but a lot bigger than the Academy O2 in Bournemouth or Sub89 in Reading. The only downside was, with a city centre location, that parking nearby seemed very expensive (£4.50 in a multi-storey - If I visit again, I'll try and find somewhere close, but cheaper in advance).

I was pretty near the front, arriving early, but by the time Editors appeared, it was packed (I believe it was sold out).

The support act, Talos, were surprisingly good, even having decent sound (far from usual) and got a good reception from the audience.

About 9PM Editors appeared on stage.

As I said, they're not a band I actively follow, so the tracks I knew were those from the first couple of albums, but I was pleased to find that a lot of the tracks I didn't know were pretty enjoyable, too.

The set was lit quite moodily, with a backdrop of the naked forms that feature on the cover of their most recent 'Violence' album.

Someone had commented on a forum I frequent that they 'weren't so keen on their newer stuff', but to be honest, I didn't find there to be a particularly marked difference in style, personally.

They were pretty good, I thought. Energetic and sounding good.

Around me, the hard core fans certainly knew all the words to all the songs, but even those unfamiliar to me (especially from the latest album) seemed to fit the overall set well, which featured at least one track from all of their studio albums (with more than a few from Back Room and An End Has a Start, probably their most popular, and first two, albums).

Unsurprisingly, they finished their de-rigeur encore with their biggest hit and best known track, Munich, which is still my favourite, too.

I left happy and humming, a good way to finish a weekend, especially as I only had a 30 minute drive home, rather than running for the last train as I often do with London gigs!

Setlist:

The Boxer (First time since 2010)
Sugar
Hallelujah (So Low)
All Sparks
An End Has a Start
Someone Says
Darkness at the Door
Fall
Violence
No Harm
Bullets
A Ton of Love
Nothingness
Ocean of Night
Blood
Papillon
Belong
Magazine
Encore:
Cold
The Racing Rats
Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors
Munich

Monday, 3 September 2018

Electric 6 - Sub89, Reading - August 28th, 2018

"Gay Bar, Gay Bar, Gay Bar!" - For many, it's all they know of Electric Six (or Electric 6 as their "merch" reads)

I'd heard a couple of albums, so my knowledge went a bit further, but I figured they were worth a few quid for a trip to nearby Reading one mid week evening.

The only time I'd been to the small Sub 89 venue before was to see the Beat, but I remembered it being a good venue where I'd really enjoyed the band.

I didn't rush, but being only about 30 minutes drive from home, I was there for the support band (whose name I was sure I'd remember, but I can't now - It was something pompously heavy metal like "The Last Testament of Garth", but not quite that).

Now, everyone has different tastes, but these were probably the support act I've enjoyed the least ever - It was just noise to me, although some people clearly enjoyed it.

At about 8:45 another group appeared. With a shirtless, heavily tattooed guitarist, a female guitarist, a bloke on a synthesiser and a lead singer who looked like a cross between Paul Calf and Frank from Shameless. As their set progressed, the singer leapt from the stage and stalked through the audience looking like a menacing Freddie Mercury.

Musically, I think they were OK in a slightly retro-80s way, but it was the singer's behaviour that sticks in the mind - Undoubtedly the most unusual support act I've ever seen, but despite the rather unsettling manner of the singer, the crowd (me included) loved them and they got a rapturous send off, leaving us with the question "Are you ready for Electric 6?"- After that, I think we'd been suitably warmed up for anyone!

Electric 6, by contrast, ambled onto the stage (such as it is) nonchalantly (and looking, a bit like me, rather middle aged) and took their places.

The lead singer, Dick Valentine (the sole member from the Fire days), thanked us for coming and told us that their 14th album was just out (or out soon), which surprised me (A quick Google reveals that they've made an album nearly every year since 2005!).

I can't remember the set order or most of the songs to be honest.

There were a few in there I recognised from the first couple of albums (Including 'Naked Pictures', 'Improper Dancing' and 'Syntheziser'), but basically they were just a lively, fun rock and roll band.

At one point Dick Valentine remarked that they'd played the (much larger) Hexagon 13 years before (which must have seemed a bit of a come down), but that they were glad to still be working in the 'dirty business' of gigging.

Of course, the absolute highlights were "Danger! High Voltage" and "Gay Bar" (the opening bars of which would crown any bands repertoire) and the crowd (a mix of students - either heading back to Uni elsewhere or back in Reading for the next Uni year - and older people who remembered the band from their heyday at the turn of the century) went suitably wild for both.

Electric 6 are enjoyable enough and I left, ears ringing for some hours after, happy enough with my modest investment in gig - I doubt I'd go to see them again, if I'm honest, but not because they weren't entertaining, just because I feel (for me) once was probably enough.

That said, I'm glad I've heard those opening bars to "Gay Bar" live once! Maybe, that's worth the time to see them again alone!

Setlist:
Rock and Roll Evacuation
Naked Pictures (of Your Mother)
Satanic Wheels
Down at McDonnelzzz
The New Shampoo
Gay Bar
How Dare You?
Arrive Alive
Randy's Hot Tonight!
The Hotel Mary Chang
Infected Girls
Improper Dancing
(Who The Hell Just) Call My Phone?
Danger! High Voltage
Synthesizer
Dance Epidemic
I Buy the Drugs

Encore:
Devil Nights
Dance Commander
Showstopper(The Dean Ween Group cover)

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Joan As Policewoman - Omeara, London - August 13th, 2018

I went to see Joan Wasser (Joan As Policewoman) do an acoustic appearance at Rough Trade East earlier in 2018 (In fact, I'd only seen David Byrne in the meantime, looking back) and was very impressed with her voice and easy manner.

After that I saw she was doing a tour with a band, but London's appearance was at the Royal Festival Hall, which didn't really appeal and was the day after I returned from a long-haul holiday, so I gave it a miss.

Coincidentally, she was performing in Venice when I was there for a few days with my son, but it was a treat for him and he's not really into concerts, so again I had to give it a miss, but vowed that I'd go and see her next time around.

Luckily, that turned out to be much sooner than I expected, as a few extra dates were added to her tour, including one at a venue I didn't know, Omeara, in London.

I snapped up a ticket and found out it was near to London Bridge, so I figured I could get home OK (I live an hour's train ride south west of London).

The day rolled around and I made my way to Omeara, finding one of the smallest venues I've been to with a tiny stage.

It's not as small as the Boilerroom in Guildford and maybe not quite as small as the Jazz Cafe in London, but it was certainly not what I expected after the previous London venue was the Royal Festival Hall!

Support was by a duo called Dirty Nice. They were OK, the singer had a decent voice, their sound was OK (if a bit disjointed at times, with electro pop intros giving way to hip-hopish main parts - I'm really out of my musical comfort zone here, so that may not have been the style at all!) and they were joined by a young woman with a pleasant enough voice for one song, but, whilst not offensive, they weren't really my thing.

At almost exactly 9, Joan and her 3 band members came onto the tiny stage.

I'd ended up at the very front as the hall had filled to capacity (at least - I was rather glad to see a fire exit a few steps away!) and so got a great view of the stage.

They started with Wonderful (which is, in my opinion) and then worked through a mixture of tracks from 'Damned Devotion' (the latest, and excellent, album), including "Tell Me", "Warning Bell" and "What Was It Like" and back catalogue material such as "Eternal Flame", "Human Condition" and "The Silence".

Throughout the performance, Joan chatted with the crowd and her bandmates and some time of the full set was undoubtedly lost, so there was barely a moment before they returned for the inevitable encore.

This included the excellent "The Magic" and ended on a slow paced version of Prince's "Kiss" (The most covered song of the last 30 years?). Sadly, my last train was 11:15, so I had to leave part way through this (promised to be the last song), but the performance had been excellent.

I was glad to have seen Joan perform with a band. I'd been mightily impressed with her at Rough Trade, but ultimately I guess I just prefer the sound of a full band and the songs were more familiar in this form, too.

The venue was, I suspect, perfect for them. Joan commented that this sort of venue was their favourite and the set was moodily lit throughout, with plenty of smoke giving the atmosphere, but thankfully not the noxious fumes, of a smokey jazz club from the '70s, helped by Joan's gold lame jumpsuit and glittery eye shadow. It was though, stiflingly warm - I dread to think what it would have been like a couple of weeks earlier in 30C+ heat!

When I told a friend I was going to see Joan As Policewoman, she had no idea who I meant and asked how I'd even got to hear of her, which is typical of Joan As Policewoman's profile, at least in the UK. There are a group 'in the know' (some clearly huge fans) about her, but otherwise she's almost unheard of, which is a crying shame as she has a great voice, writes some great songs and puts on an excellent live performance.

If you get the chance, go see her (and the band if possible)!

Setlist: From another gig, but not a million miles off, although I know "Start of My Heart" was in there.
Wonderful
Warning Bell
Tell Me
Eternal Flame
Honor Wishes
What Was It Like
Steed (for Jean Genet)
Rely On
Valid Jagger
Damned Devotion
Human Condition
Talk About It Later
Silly Me
I Don't Mind
The Silence
Encore:
Christobel
The Magic 

Kiss (Prince cover)