Wednesday 12 October 2016

Suzanne Vega, Cadogan Hall, London - 11th October 2016

The refrain from Tom's Diner goes around in my head nearly constantly, popping out at the most unexpected moments!

So it is perhps strange that I had never owned a Suzanne Vega album until a year or two ago, when I picked up a live recording of a concert in London that she'd done to celebrate 25 years since the release of "Solitude Standing", her breakthrough album.

It was very good, with her voice sounding like it had in her prime and her chatty, easy going interaction with the crowd being very appealing (to me).

I spotted, somewhere, that she was playing a gig in London (at the Cadogan Hall off Sloane Square) and decided I'd see if that CD reflected into a live experience.

I turned up early, after a day in the office, so went in search of something to eat, which I failed in, although I did find a small pub, The Antelope, nearby and had a pint.

I returned to the Cadogan Hall about 7:15 and made my way to my seat (D1 - seven back from the front right against the right hand wall on the ground floor - View and sound was fine, I doubt there's a bad seat there to be honest) in time to see "My Girl, The River" the support act.

Formed of a silver haired, bespectacled American woman (with a good voice and a guitar) and an Englishman in a hat, with a double bass, they played a number of tracks from their first album and one or two planned for their follow up.

At one point, the man announced he wrote the 'next song' back in the 1980s with a friend and that it had then been covered by Annie Lennox. The song was "No More I Love Yous" and the duo were joined by their 11 year old daughter who added some depth to the chorus high notes along with the man. It was very good, but, for me, the highlight.

Technically I suspect they were really quite good, but somehow they didn't appeal greatly to me. They certainly weren't unpleasant to listen to though.

There was a 30 minute break to get drinks, dispose of the last ones or stretch your legs (Cadogan Hall is all seater and much more familiar to people who enjoy classical music) and then, as people returned to their seats, the lights dimmed.

An announcer proclaimed "Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome on stage, Suzanne Vega"... and a slightly dishevelled looking man arrived...

This proved to be Gerry Leonard, who is a bit of a whizz on the guitar.

A few moments later, and clearly enjoying the little joke on us, Suzanne arrived.

This 'mini-tour' ("We're in the middle of our UK tour - It started yesterday and finishes tomorrow!") was billed as songs from her new album (and play) "Lover, Beloved: An Evening With Carson McCullers" (Go look it up, this isn't wikipedia!) so there was a slight fear that we may just get a load of new (and maybe not that great) songs.

Fortunately, Suzanne Vega is a compassionate, wise, professional, confident and talented performer, so she started with a few old favourites to get everyone on her side (Later she was to comment that it's better to do some old songs first or everyone is just waiting for her to get to them).

"Marlene on the Wall" and "Caramel" were excellently performed and warmly received and it was very quickly clear that her voice has held up well. Still slightly breathy and talky, but distinctive and clear.

Happily, too, her little chats between songs, explaining the back story to the next song (Reminding me of an old Two Ronnies skit where Mr Barker, as Nana Mouskourri, explained a song at great length, only for the song to last just a few seconds!) is a common event and she comes over as a truly wonderful, interesting person.

She's no dancer, for sure, and doesn't rely on theatricals (Pop up Top Hat aside!), but she has an undeniable stage presence that I've rarely seen.

After some more older songs, all rapturously received and brilliantly performed (the duo were joined by another man on Piano after a while), Suzanne explained who Carson McCullers was and her interest in her and the reason for the new album (and the play it span out from).

The first song she performed was "New York Is My Destination", a smouldering, jazzy New York kind of song and, maybe I shouldn't say it, but surprisingly good! It's too soon to say it's up there with "Luka" and "Left Of Center", but honestly, that was my first thought!

"We of Me" and "Harper Lee" were very different songs, but equally notable and enjoyable - This new album is going to be damned good!

After that she returned to her back catalogue, giving the appreciative audience "Left Of Center", "I Never Wear White" (almost a rock anthem!), "Some Journey" and the iconic "Luka" and "Tom's Diner" (in a version closer to the famed DNA remix one, but with a very electric guitar rock feel, courtesy of Gerry).

Needless to say the audience didn't depart at that point and the trio returned a few minutes later to perform the excellent "In Liverpool" (A song I've grown to love from my live CD) and then two more from "Lover, Beloved", the title track and "Carson's Last Supper".

It had been a great evening and the word I heard most as we left was "talented". She clearly has talent in spades, but also a quiet confidence that makes her an enjoyable and engaging performer to spend an evening with...A bit of a star, I'd say!

Highly recommended if you get the opportunity.


Fat Man & Dancing Girl
Marlene on the Wall
Crack in the Wall
Jacob and the Angel
Small Blue Thing
The Queen and the Soldier
New York Is My Destination*
We of Me*
Harper Lee*
Left of Center
I Never Wear White
Some Journey
Tom's Diner


In Liverpool
Lover, Beloved*
Carson's Last Supper*

*From Lover, Beloved: An Evening With Carson McCullers.

After a busy couple of weeks, I think that's my gig going doing for 2016!

Wednesday 5 October 2016

Saint Etienne, Heaven, London - 4th October 2016

I'm no festival goer (the idea horrifies me a little actually!), but I always check out the BBC's coverage of Glastonbury and this year Saint Etienne's performance struck me a remarkably fresh sounding still.

Within a few minutes of watching it I was Googling "Saint Etienne Live" and was delighted to find they were performing at Heaven in London in October. A few minutes later I had tickets.

It only struck me later that I was doing two London gigs on consecutive nights, what a rock and roll lifestyle, eh? The juxtaposition of a gig in a Church and then Heaven the following night didn't escape me either!

A little while before I discovered the "Stealing Sheep" were the support and a quick scan on YouTube convinced me it wasn't a big problem, for me, if I missed them, but as it turned out I arrived in plenty of time to catch them.

Three young women in spotted 'catsuits' (for want of a better word), produced a sound that I quickly came to think of as "Kitchensink Electro". Their songs seemed to include everything but the kitchen sink and ramble all over the place, sometimes for longer than necessary.

After two or three songs I was pretty sure I could have caught a later train to London, but as they went on they seemed to hit their stride or a nerve and suddenly I found I was jigging (again for want of a better description) along with their songs. They still rambled a bit, but the beats became catchier and the subversive way they phrased the vocal over the music, ignoring the normal pattern of making the lyrics fit the music, but breaking lines over natural rythmns in the music, was undeniably different. Worth a quick scan on YouTube to see what I mean!

By the end of their set, I was glad I'd seen them. They struck as the kind of different band that John Peel would have lauded in his time.

After around 45 minutes Saint Etienne arrived on stage.

Fronted by Sarah Cracknell, a woman who must surely have a ghastly portrait in her attic as she looks incredibly youthful, the band performed the entirety of Foxbase Alpha, their debut album, which was released 25 years ago.

What had impressed on TV was Cracknell's still crystal clear, sweet voice and there it was again, delivering the songs from FA that we remembered. In between, there were those odd audio interludes (Sarah dolling out sweets to the audience whilst "Wilson" played and her and fellow vocalist (Debsy?) playing cards through another!), but "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" and "Carnt Sleep" and "Nothing Can Stop Us Now" still stand the test of time and had the crowd singing along and 100% on the band's side.

I read a review which described Cracknell's voice as "at times comically flat" and that may be true, but it's a great deal of her charm that whilst the sweetness verges on saccharin, there's an honest, real and slightly vulnerable element to her voice - Whatever it is, it works with these songs and seems undimmed with the passing of time. The audience (including me) loved it.

Once FA was done, the band adjourned for a short 'intermissione' (time for another expensive pint!) and then returned with set that included most of their other well known tracks, starting with "Join Our Club" and including "Who Do You Think You Are", "You're in a Bad Way", "Kiss and Make Up" and "People Get Real". They were also briefly joined by "Q Tee" who rapped on "Filthy", which was a suitable gritty track and well received by the audience as were all the songs that Cracknell fronted.

Generally, the gig was enjoyable and fun and the band and, especially, Sarah Cracknell (for her voice is a large part of the "sound of Saint Etienne") delivered the performance I hoped they would after enjoying their Glastonbury performance. The small venue was packed out (they're playing again tonight, so have fun if you go!) and the audience left buzzing and happy.

A great evening in the company of a band I'd not really followed much over the years, but I'm glad I'd joined them for the Foxbase Alpha birthday bash!


Foxbase Alpha
This Is Radio Etienne
Only Love Can Break Your Heart
Carnt Sleep
Girl VII
She's the One
Stoned to Say the Least
Nothing Can Stop Us
Etienne Gonna Die
London Belongs to Me
Like the Swallow
Dilworth's Theme

Join Our Club
Who Do You Think You Are
Filthy(With Q-Tee)
You're in a Bad Way

Kiss and Make Up
Hobart Paving

Lloyd Cole, Union Chapel, Islington - 3rd October 2016

I'd greatly enjoyed Lloyd Cole and the Leopards some years ago at Shepherd's Bush, so it was with some anticipation that I looked forward to seeing him perform some of his early solo and Commotions work at The Union Chapel in Islington.

I didn't know much about the Union Chapel, except it's location and the fact that, at some time, it had been a church, so it came as a bit of a surprise to find out that it's a current, working place of worship, that doubles up as a venue.

On arrival, the audience picks a space on one of the wooden pews, leaving a coat or bag, and then adjourns to the bar to await the arrival of the act.

Lloyd arrived on a stage, in front of the pulpit, with just 3 guitars on it, so it was clearly going to be a stripped back, acoustic performance, which was good for me as it would be an interesting counterpoint to the last time I'd seen him, with a full electric and percussion equipped band.

He quipped his way through the evening, one person next to me commenting that she "never knew he was so funny!", between performing songs.

He started out with Patience and Perfect Blue, two Commotions era songs, before moving onto some of his early material, which was pretty good, but I was less familiar with (I lost track of Cole after the Commotions and after the last gig picked up a couple of his, excellent, later CDs, but the early 90s were a black hole for me).

After around a dozen songs, including a few Commotions songs I didn't recognise (I guess there's a gap in my collection!), which he'd performed alone with one of two acoustic guitars, there was a short intermission.

The first part had been extremely good, with his distinct voice as strong and clear as ever (and more laconic than in his Commotion days) and the venue's acoustics were excellent, meaning that the rich lyrics were clear to hear.

After the break he returned with a 'special guest' ("It's no surprise anymore", he remarked before the break), his son, who with a second guitar provided a fuller sound, remarkably so in fact for just two guitars.

The majority of this set was Commotions materials, so the 'bigger' sound suited songs originally performed by a band, but the venue and stripped performance provided a very different, but no less enjoyable, experience to that at Shepherds Bush.

I commented previously that Lloyd Cole remained good value as a performer and this gig just reinforced that belief.

His voice is excellent and the intimate venue made him seem more relaxed than previously and he seemed to be enjoying himself, poking fun at his need to wear reading glasses OVER his contact lenses, for example.

Overall, this was a great evening's entertainment, round out by a short encore of the bouncy Lost Weekend and the iconic Forest Fire, which made the (for me) lengthy trip to (and home from) North London worthwhile.

The Union Chapel is a great venue, with good acoustics, well worth a visit if you're in easy reach, although those wooden pews get a bit hard after an hour!

Set List:

Patience (Lloyd Cole and the Commotions song)
Perfect Blue (Lloyd Cole and the Commotions song)
Sometimes it Snows in April(Prince cover)
I Didn't Know That You Cared
Love Ruins Everything
Lonely Mile(Lloyd Cole and the Commotions song)
Pretty Gone(Lloyd Cole and the Commotions song)
My Bag(Lloyd Cole and the Commotions song)
Jennifer She Said(Lloyd Cole and the Commotions song)


Don't Look Back
Mr. Malcontent (Lloyd Cole and the Commotions song)
Like Lovers Do(includes I Could Never Take… more )
Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken?(Lloyd Cole and the Commotions song)
Cut Me Down (Lloyd Cole and the Commotions song)
Charlotte Street (Lloyd Cole and the Commotions song)
Perfect Skin (Lloyd Cole and the Commotions song)
2cv(Lloyd Cole and the Commotions song)
Undressed(with false start)
No Blue Skies
No More Love Songs
Hey Rusty(Lloyd Cole and the Commotions song)
Brand New Friend (Lloyd Cole and the Commotions song)

Lost Weekend(Lloyd Cole and the Commotions song)
Forest Fire(Lloyd Cole and the Commotions song)

Monday 25 July 2016

Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott, Somerset House, 8th July 2016

I've tried to attend concerts at Somerset House a few times.

The first was Franz Ferdinand, but they were on whilst I was on holiday. I actually booked tickets for the Ting Tings, but then they cancelled the gig!

So, 3rd time lucky and I booked to go and see Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott, formerly of the Beautiful South (and Heaton of the Housemartins before that). Mandy and I had really enjoyed The South, but though there were mostly former Beautiful South members, the voices you recall from the "Beautiful South" are Heaton's and Abbott's.

I saw them perform at Glastonbury, via the magic of the BBC i-Player and thought there were OK, but maybe not great, but still, a gig's s a gig and usually fun.

Fortunately, amidst a dreadful Summer to that point, the weather played ball and it was a pleasantly warm, dry evening as I walked from Waterloo to the Strand and into Somerset House's open courtyard. There was a bit of a queue to get in and huge queues for the food and drink stands around the courtyard.

In the centre, at one end, was a stage, rather like those you see at Festivals, but a little smaller, I guess. I needed the loo after an hour on the train, so walked around behind the stage and downstairs to the Gents. Business done, I headed back upstairs where a long haired woman in jeans was smoking a cigarette as people passed by her. I did the typical double take, but sure enough, it was Jacqui Abbott! No-one else seemed to notice her and I decided to not be the tongue-tied fan (What would I say? "I hope your good tonight" or "Have fun" or "Do you think smoking is good for your voice, let alone your lungs?") and returned to the front of the stage.

As I'd queued to get in the support band had finished, so I can't tell you who the were or if they were any good.

The band appeared first and then Paul and Jacqui joined them.

They started with Wives 1,2 & 3, which whilst a post "B.S." song is very like their output and it was a good, upbeat number to start with, followed up with the classic "Old Red Eyes Is Back", which had all the crowd around me singing along.

They slowed things down with Real Hope and Have Fun (another Beautiful South song, but one I must admit I didn't recall) and then another more recent song "The Horse and Groom".

Whilst later, post "Beautiful South" songs were applauded, the real enthusiasm was for the big hits and it was good to hear some Housemartin tracks included, not least Caravan of Love, performed acapella as the finale to main set.

Rotterdam, Happy Hour, Perfect 10 (in a different, but really enjoyable arrangement) and Don't Marry Her (the naughty version, sung enthusiastically by the crowd) were all great and greeted with rapturous applause.

The audience were mostly 40+ somethings, but there were younger people there too, who clearly had come alone for a fun night out, although the 30 somethings just in front of me impressed me with their knowledge of Beauitful South lyrics - I guess it's not imposssible their parents were fans! There's a sobering thought...

The Setlist records two Encores, which I'd forgotten, but they weren't gone for long before either and delivered up "A Little Time" and "You Keep It All In" followed by

It had been a great night's entertainment. The venue was excellent, the sound impressively balanced and clear for an outdoor venue (maybe Somerset House is blessed with especially good acoustics and chosen for that reason).

Heaton and Abott and their band had been hugely enjoyable (much better than they'd seemed at Glastonbury, I thought, perhaps they enjoyed the smaller crowd?) and I will definitely be back to see other acts at Somerset House if I get the chance!

Wives 1, 2 & 3
Old Red Eyes Is Back(The Beautiful South cover)
Real Hope
Have Fun(The Beautiful South cover)
The Horse and Groom
I Can't Put My Finger on It(The Housemartins cover)
Prettiest Eyes(The Beautiful South cover)
Sundial in the Shade
The Queen of Soho
Rotterdam (Or Anywhere)(The Beautiful South cover)
I Don't See Them
Build(The Housemartins cover)
Don't Marry Her(The Beautiful South cover) (Somerset House additional lyric)
The Austerity of Love
Happy Hour(The Housemartins cover)
Perfect 10(The Beautiful South cover)
Caravan of Love(Isley Jasper Isley cover)

A Little Time(The Beautiful South cover)
You Keep It All In(The Beautiful South cover)
Woman in the Wall(The Beautiful South cover)

Monday 11 July 2016

From the Jam, Guildford 24th June 2016

For a moment I felt like the student I could have been...

I was standing in the Guildford University Student Union bar listening to a "Town Called Malice" being played at 10 to the dozen (that's an odd phrase, isn't it? Suggest LESS than you'd expect rather than more!) amongst a load of people about the same age.

Up on stage were Bruce Foxton and a moodily handsome, but sulky fellow performer giving their all.

But wait...

The people around me were rather old, weren't they and now I think about it, scissor kick or not, Bruce Foxton was looking a little older too...

And whilst there's something VERY Weller-esque about the lead singer, he's got grey hair and he's really not as sulky as Paul Weller and... I never WAS a student...

No, well into my 50s, I'd joined a group of, mostly dedicated, Jam fans to see "From The Jam", the name Bruce Foxton and Russell Hastings (not Weller, after all) perform under, in aid of "Wake Up Woking" at the Student Union at Guildford University.

There were a couple of support bands, the first presumably students, but OK, and the second lot I suspect I should have known, but I didn't, as they were very competent, but well into their late 50s and 60s on the whole.

Of course, like everyone else I was there to see Foxton 'from the Jam' (I guess he got fed up with saying "I'm Bruce Foxton from the Jam") and when they blasted straight into "A Town Called Malice" (probably my favourite Jam track) it was clear that the reports I'd heard of them being a great night out were true.

The pace was frenetic and unrelenting throughout. Foxton's looking quite old these days (Hell, we all are!), if I'm honest, but he had seemingly undimmed energy up on stage, even throwing in a few of those trademark scissor kicks.

Hastings is a great foil, looking a lot like Weller, but never straying into pastiche, he offers something a little different, but, whilst for some not the 'real' thing I'm sure, none the worse for that for me.

The drummer, no longer the original Jam drummer (allegedly upset at Foxton's latter day reconciliation with Weller, but who knows?), played his part faultlessly and the energy was infectious and intoxicating.

Through, "David Watts", "Smithers Jones", "When You're Young" and "Start!" they hammered on, I'm sure never sounding any better in their youthful heyday.

A few solo Foxton numbers are included, too and warmly received, but not as deliriously as the "Jam" hits.

To everyone's enjoyment the main set finishes with "Eton Rifles", seemingly more apt today than it was when current!

There's a few moments pause whilst the crowd demand the inevitable encore and they're back with "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight", "In the City" and end on "Going Underground", leaving those 'going home' happy, ears ringing and recalling when they were university age...

Setlist (From an earlier gig on the same tour, but the same, I think)

Town Called Malice
To Be Someone (Didn't We Have a Nice Time)
David Watts
Pretty Green
The Butterfly Collector
But I'm Different Now
Boy About Town
When You're Young
Saturday's Kids
Now the Time Has Come
Picture and Diamonds
That's Entertainment
Liza Radley
Slow Down
Man in the Corner Shop
The Eton Rifles

Down in the Tube Station at Midnight
In the City
Going Underground

Wednesday 18 May 2016

Travis, Bournemouth O2, 17th May 2016

Lauren and I went to see Travis in Bournemouth last night.

I'm certainly not a hardcore fan (as most there seemed to be), but I've always liked their stuff that I'd heard.

They put on a good, enjoyable evening, clearly a band who do what they do and don't pander to popularity.

After 20 years (blimey, I still think of them as a 'modern' band!) they seemed to be enjoying performing still.

Highlights for me were the hits "Driftwood", "Turn", "Side", "Re-Offender", the new single "Magnificent Time" (we all had fun doing the 'dance' from the video) and the finale "Why does it always rain on me?", but possibly the best moment was when Fran performed "Flowers in the Window" with just an acoustic guitar, no mike - Excellent moment that you could only do in a small venue like the Bournemouth O2 (one of my favourites!).

Kudos, too, to the sound engineer who actually responded when I went back and reported the vocals were inaudible in the middle after the first couple of songs. After that the sound was very good - I've done it before and just got a look that suggested I didn't know what I was talking about and they knew it all!

Setlist :

Everything at Once
Selfish Jean
Coming Around
Writing to Reach You
Love Will Come Through
My Eyes
Where You Stand
3 Miles High
All I Want to Do is Rock

Flowers in the Window(Acoustic)
Magnificent Time
Why Does It Always Rain on Me?