Friday, 6 December 2019

Skinny Lister - West End Centre, Aldershot - 5th December, 2019

Sometimes something really surprises you and this was one of those times.

Looking for a bit of live music before the end of the year, I idly explored the West End Centre's website and discovered a band called "Skinny Lister" was playing on the 5th December.

I'd never heard of them, but a quick Google suggested they were a "Punk-Folk Band", not a concept I'd ever encountered, so a bit of YouTube viewing ensued and they seemed a bit like the Pogues or Dexy's Midnight Runners, but with more teeth and less mannered performances (choose which one I mean from that), so I decided they'd be a bit of fun for a cold December evening. What did I have to lose?

I turned up expecting them to be on at 8, even telling my wife I would probably be home by 10PM! However, there was a support act, Jack Humphries, who was a decent performer with a foot-operated drum, a guitar and a harmonica. He did a few of his own songs, including one about getting off with an ex while he was high, and a decent cover of 'Dancing In The Dark', by Bruce Springsteen.

As support acts go, he was pretty decent, I'd not have minded seeing him on his own, to be honest.

After that we had about 40 minutes break until Skinny Lister arrived on stage.

And did they arrive!

None of this shuffling on, waving to the crowd, tweaking their instruments, the 5 men and 1, heavily pregnant, woman, hit the stage and BANG! Straight into their first song.

Two things were immediately clear. First, this was a band who were going to have a good time and they'd make bloody sure you did, too.

Secondly, there was a hard core of fans who clearly knew every song that they played.

So, what does Punk-Folk sound like? At one point, I thought it was a bit like a cross between The Pogues and Stiff Little Fingers - The playing was frenetic and fast and full of brash self-confidence, but there was a definite Folk-y twang to everything.

Frankly, it was brilliant.

The woman explained she was taking it easy as she had a 'little Lister on board' and actually disappeared from the stage a number of times for a few songs, but was back energetically joining in or singing lead for a while.

For around 90 minutes we rattled, exhaustingly, through songs I'd never heard before or very vaguely recognized from my YouTube browsing (Trouble on Oxford St, for example), but which others around me clearly held dear and sang along with every word.

A flagon of something was passed from the stage around the crowd (look up their videos on YouTube and you'll see it's a 'thing' for them), but as I was driving and had already had a pint, I passed, so I can't tell you what it was.

One song recounted the tribulations of putting unleaded in a Diesel Vehicle, another more folk song tune recounted the longing to be Rollin' Over valleys and hills to come home from a distant war. Some sounded like traditional folk songs or shanties (Bonny Away and Raise a Wreck, for example), while others were more Punk or Indie in style (Thing Like That and This is War, for example) and clearly self-penned. The vast majority were energetic and fast, with one or two exceptions.

Aside from a handful of people who clearly have fun in a very different way to me (Despite them not moving at all that I noticed, I assume they had fun as they stayed to the end!) everyone was bouncing and singing along, even if it was only to the catchy, easy to learn choruses, some without words at all!

Honestly, I reckon this was one of the best live performances I've seen - The energy and enthusiasm from the band was both impressive and infectious and I can see why some people were following them around.

At one point the lead singer mentioned they'd just done a tour in the US and Canada, which suggests they must have a reasonable following, but I'd never heard of them before!

After they finished their main set, they came back for a three-song encore, which kept the buzz going for a little longer and the lead guitarist came down and played in the crowd!


Photo from Skinny Lister's Facebook Page

Would I go and see them again? You bet and I suggest you do, too - As soon as you can!

Setlist:

38 Minutes
My Distraction
Tragedy in A Minor
Devil in Me
Artist Arsonist
My Life, My Architecture
Diesel Vehicle
Rattle and roll
Rollin' Over
Wanted
What Can I Say
George's Glass
Any Resemblance to Actual Persons...
Geordie Lad
Cathy
Bold as Brass
John Kanaka
Thing Like That
Bonny Away
This is War
Trouble on Oxford Street

Encore:
Raise a Wreck
Hamburg Drunk
Six Whiskies

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

The Blow Monkeys - Arlington Arts Centre, Newbury - October 31st, 2019

It was my choice, but it was no choice at all...to sit or to stand

The Blow Monkeys were never a hugely successful band, but for a variety of reasons, I'd always enjoyed their material from their heyday of the mid 1980s. The line "You know it doesn't have to be that way" was often twisted into "Tee Po it doesn't have to be that way" after my wife swapped her FIAT Uno for a Tipo and that may be part of the reason that they stuck in my mind over the years.

The fact that they made catchy, politically astute tunes didn't go amiss either, so I had them on my 'will go and see sometime' radar when I noticed they were touring a while back. When I saw they were coming to Farncombe church, where I'd seen Hue and Cry, I snapped up a ticket, only to forget the date and book a holiday! The organisers were very good and refunded my ticket when I explained the problem (I can't see Ticketmaster doing that!), but I still had them on 'the list' and I noticed a new date added a couple of days earlier in Newbury which isn't too far away. Even though it was the night before I went on holiday, I decided to go.

The day before the event, I got a phone call from the venue and, to be honest, I kind of hoped it had been cancelled, because working and packing and an early start meant getting to the gig was feeling like one thing too many and I had considered writing off the ticket cost. However, the call was to say that due to poor standing ticket sales, it would be all seated, which was a big disappointment, I wouldn't have bought a ticket on that basis and I said so, but it seemed a refund wasn't an option, so seated it was.

In the end, I was packed, work was as sorted out as it was going to get and with a start time of 8PM, I figured I could be in bed in time to get a few hours' sleep before a 5AM start. The drive to Newbury was pain-free and I found the venue, part of a private school site, without any problem.

There didn't seem to be a lot of people there and, while I was a little early, by the times the door to the auditorium were opened I can't imagine there were many more than 100 people there.

There was no support act (no loss on the whole and good for me especially this time) and at 8 sharp, the band appeared. Like us all, Dr Robert has put on a few pounds over the years and the rest of the band (I'm not sure if any were original members) were looking, like most of the audience, to be pushing 60, but once they started there was no doubt that much of the sparkle remained, mixed with a high level of musical virtuosity.

I've struggled to find a setlist (those I've found for the same tour definitely don't match this event or each other, so it seems that they mix it up a bit) and can't recall the opener, but I know it was one of their hits.

The keyboard player also doubled up as a saxophonist on a number of tracks, which comprised a mix of the hits 'Choice', 'Digging Your Scene', '(Celebrate) The Day After You', 'Out With Her', 'It Pays to Belong' and'The Man From Russia' and other tracks I recognized less, such as the 'Coming of Grace' and 'The Sound of Your Laughter', but still enjoyed.

They rounded out the set with their career-defining hit "It Doesn't Have to Be This Way' and delivered a short, but enjoyable encore.

The band sounded good and Dr Robert's voice has held up pretty well. To their credit, despite what must have been quite a demoralizingly small audience, they put on an enthusiastic and professional performance and the audience (pinned in their seats, though we were) warmly received all the tracks.

I suspect this quite late addition to the tour was poorly promoted, which led to the poor sales and, from what I've seen on Youtube other venues had a far better turn-out.

I certainly hope so, as the band put on a good set, impressive musically and enjoyable and would be well worth seeing again - I just wished they'd sold more standing tickets as sitting twitching was no substitute for dancing to their catchy numbers.

Setlist from Farncombe Gig:
(Provided for a taste of the tracks performed, but it was different in order and content at Arlington)
Come on Down
On the Wings of the Morning
Choice?
(Celebrate) The Day After You
Crying for the Moon
OK! Have It Your Way
Wildflower
It Pays to Belong
Digging Your Scene
Out With Her
Said Too Much
You Don't Own Me
The Wild River
It Doesn't Have to Be This Way

Encore:
Heaven Is a Place I'm Moving To
Wicked Ways
God’s Gift
The Sound of Your Laughter
Man From Russia
Superfly

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) - G-Live, Guildford - November 11th, 2019

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (henceforth referred to as OMD) have an unusual place in my musical taste.

I bought every one of their albums up until Sugar Tax in 1991, but they also have the dubious honour of producing the only LP I ever returned for a refund in utter disgust (1983's Dazzle Ships, which despite revisionist opinions still sound like an unpleasant cacophony of noise to me, although I kind of wish I'd kept it as it was one of the original origami-style folding sleeves).

Still, everyone's entitled to one mistake and from the electronic gloom of tracks like 'Stanlow', through their infatuation with Joan of Arc and to catchy electro-pop like 'Sailing on the Seven Seas', I'd mostly remained a low key fan - I never thought of OMD as one of my favourite bands, but my LP collection suggests they were!

Having seen them live on TV somewhere, they sounded pretty good still, so I booked a ticket early in 2019 when I saw they were playing my local venue, G-Live. This was billed as their '40th Birthday tour'.

As I've mentioned before, I think G-Live has an acoustic problem, certainly if you're standing, as often the vocals are very hard to hear and, to be honest, throughout the support act Mig15, I was seriously questioning my decision to see OMD there, as the usual problem arose.

However, it seems support acts either get no decent soundcheck time or don't know how to do it and often the main act sounds much better anywhere and, fortunately, this was very much the case for OMD, being probably the clearest vocals I've heard from anyone there.

Mig15 were a lively and enjoyable foursome (with a McCluskey in the line up, I notice - Presumably the 'best Bassist in our house' who Andy McCluskey jokingly referred to later), who, whilst not setting the stage on fire, certainly got the audience nicely warmed up and got a deservedly warm applause.

OMD appeared about 5 past nine to rapturous applause, it was immediately apparent that some people regard Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys as near Messianic figures!

Amidst a dazzle of flashing lights and panels, we heard a fanfare (and various sounds akin to twisting your radio's tuning knob quickly - something anyone under 40 probably won't understand!) from Dazzle Ships and then they immediately got me onside by starting with the distinctly unshowy 'Stanlow' from their first album, a darkly moody electronic track. As it finished the audience roared with approval as if they'd just delivered the final song, rather than the first!

They then performed 'Isotype', which I assumed was an early track, but checking, I find it was released in 2017, explaining why I didn't recognise it!

They followed this with the early 'Messages', another track that I must admit I hadn't expected, followed by one I'd really hoped for but definitely not expected, 'Tesla Girls'.

Paul Humphreys was a static, if quite jolly, figure behind his keyboard, nursing a sore throat (more on that in a moment), while Andy McCluskey was a constantly moving, jerking energetic figure, whether toting his Bass Guitar or delivering robotic dance moves.

The sound, as I mentioned, was great, McCluskey's voice coming through clear and strong - He's not, I suspect he'd agree, a great singer, but his voice has a distinctive note and it was good to hear that the tracks sounded as I recalled them doing so.

A couple of tracks I didn't recognise followed (I'll admit it's a while since my OMD vinyl saw the light of day, so I'm not sure of the era, but I suspect they were post Sugar Tax). Andy McCluskey then sang 'Souvenir' which, apparently, is very unusual ("This is only the second time I've ever done this") due to Humphreys' sore throat. I don't think it was bluff because, from my spot near the front, you could see him reading the words from the sheet of paper he'd put at this feet!

The two Joan Of Arc tracks followed back to back and had the crowd in raptures again.

A little rest followed with more 'noises from Dazzle Ships' and then a few more tracks, including early tracks 'Statues' and 'Almost', 2019 single 'Don't Go' and 'So In Love'.

The main set rounded out with the crowd-pleasing 'Locomotion', 'Sailing on the Seven Seas' (possibly the track that sounded the best this evening?) and the classic 'Enola Gay', their first hit.

A very short interlude occurred before they came back for two more tracks, 'Pandora's Box' ("A new song. From 1991!" as McCluskey quipped) and finally the early track 'Electricity' ("The fastest thing we have").

Then they promised to be back in 2 years, the lights came on and we left.

Overall, it had been a very enjoyable performance, the sound (for once) was great and the selection of tracks was excellent for a 40th celebration, covering everything from their earliest stuff right through to stuff I'd never heard before!

McCluskey was great fun, far more than I'd imagine OMD to be and I would say it was probably the best gig I've seen in 2019.

I'd certainly think about going to see them again, which I rarely do - Now, I'm off to the loft to dig out my LPs!

Setlist:
Souvenir Tour Intro
Stanlow
Isotype
Messages
Tesla Girls
History of Modern (Part 1)
If You Leave
Souvenir(Lead vocals by Andy McCluskey)
Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans)
Time Zones
Statues
Almost
Don't Go
So in Love
Dreaming
The Punishment of Luxury
Locomotion
Sailing on the Seven Seas
Enola Gay

Encore:
Pandora's Box
Electricity

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