Getting baptised by your daddy

IMG_1765Live music is a wondrous thing, no?

You think you know a record, you have it neatly bundled up and categorised, you no longer spend a lot of time considering it, and then the hum of a cannily-plucked bass string, a clever little guitar run, or the expression on a player’s face as he does his thing… All of a sudden, all bets are off, and you’re somewhere you didn’t expect to be.

Ryley Walker & Danny Thompson, The Bullingdon

The fact that I was going at all was the subject of the odd eye-roll and raised eyebrow amongst my friends, as I’ve been somewhat luke-warm about Walker’s debut Primrose Green, a record that’s had usually-composed punters losing their cool. I do like it, but I can’t help hearing each track and saying to myself “This is him doing Tim Buckley. This one’s his Nick Drake song…” (This, of course, is not something you hear me say when the latest White Fence or Allah-Lahs record appears, oh no – consistency, pah!)

The truly massive figure of the great Danny Thompson clearly doesn’t have any authenticity issues, though, agreeing as he has to go on tour with Walker. And if that wasn’t reason enough to hoover up one of the last tickets at The Bullingdon, well…

I’d missed my chance to see the pair the night before at Bristol’s venerable old St George’s (also something of an
experience, I gather), so a maiden trip to Oxford’s number one venue was called for. It’s a decent enough spot too, although it was a little disconcerting to see it almost empty when we arrived just before the support act was due on.

IMG_1757We needn’t have worried. As soon as Meg Baird had finished her earnest (if flagging) set, a swell of old lags of Severn Bore proportions surged across the hall, and suddenly the room was abuzz with expectation. They were on pretty quickly after and once the introductions were over (“This is Danny Thompson, he’s just getting his start, so I thought it’d be nice to bring him along…”, followed by “I could’ve been at home watching ‘Flog it!’”), we were off.

It’s probably stating the bleedin’ obvious but Walker’s a helluva guitarist and almost immediately his impossibly deft guitar runs were filling the hall and mesmerizing a knowing but expectant audience. I cannot imagine how much you need to practice to be able to skip your way around a fret board as lightly and faultlessly as he does – I suspect no amount of practice supplants the sheer instinctive ability to articulate an idea in music. He was quite good.

Actually, I had to remind myself to switch my attention to the guitarist after about fifteen minutes once I realised that the equally nimble fingers and intense expressions of Danny Thompson had monopolised my attention almost entirely up until then. (Walker referred to him as “Mr Thompson” or “Sir”, so I guess maybe I should too…) His own description of his style (in this interview I read this morning) as being someone who just plays intricate bass solos is characteristically modest but was spot on for the evening. He scampered up and down the bass for intense seconds of activity then stopped and listened, looking for the next space, like some sort of woodland animal. He was massively captivating and yet never at any point hogged the stage. A dream to play with I’d imagine… (It’s perhaps worth
pointing out at this stage that his huge list of credits include being a founding member of Pentangle and playing on Five Leaves Left; Solid Air & Bless the Weather; Folk, Blues and Beyond and Dream Letter, not to mention Cliff’s “Congratulations” and also the Thunderbirds theme tune. What a guy.)

IMG_1769The pair of them showed a terrific understanding and a sensitivity to each other’s direction, which belied the fact that they can only have been playing together a matter of weeks. They ran through a number of songs unfamiliar to me which sounded fresh and above all original (making a mockery of all my prejudices), before finishing with two songs from Primrose Green. The evening ended (too soon) with an encore that included a dazzling “On the Banks of the Old Kishwaukee” and a beautiful new song that according to the setlist doesn’t yet have a name. Neither man bothered to leave the stage for the encore which I kind of like, and as the seventy-six-year-old (Mr) Thompson pointed out “when we go off, we’re hunting crumpet!”

Here are some of the highlights of a great, great evening.

Funny Thing She Said

On the Banks of the Old Kishwaukee

“New”

Lucky Seven – Some Gigs of 2015

empty-stageI think I mentioned last time that with the end of Euros Childs at Thekla last week, 2015 is now complete as far as live music is concerned. 2014 was a pretty thin year for me, due to a combination of factors, but this year has definitely upped the ante for coming seasons. I’m slightly self-conscious about talking numbers because I know so many serious liggers who might smile indulgently into their Eindhoven Psychlab lanyards, but I think twenty (plus a music festival) is a decent haul for a middle-aged part-timer.

So having scratched about a bit last year, coming up with seven notable live sets of 2015 is a different sort of challenge to wrestle with. Here, then, in roughly chronological order, with an extra recording or two from each set:

The PP Lucky Seven – Live

 

“Worlds that crash each other…”

  1.   White Fence @ The Fleece, January

An electrifying start to the year, which I’d been looking forward to all over Christmas. Augmented by a slightly self-conscious Cate le Bon (not at that time fully bedded in, I felt) I remember being thrilled by Presley’s light, slashing guitar work (a rapier, if you will) and by his habit of wearing his guitar high, like the Beatles or the Hollies. Class. Also saw them in the summer and to be honest they were pretty average, which is ok, leaving as it does a glittering January evening to loiter a while in the mind’s eye.

All of this, and Ultimate Painting doing support.

Anger! Who keeps you under?

 

“Put me on a pedestal I’ll only disappoint you”

2.   Courtney Barnett @ The Fleece, March

This evening seems a very long time ago indeed, but once I listen back to the recordings, it all comes skittering back. Looking back at the lines I wrote at the time, I overuse words like languid and effortless, but the point was definitely worth making, (and repeating even) – Courtney Barnett has wit and intelligence in spades. And this was ably demonstrated over the course of a relaxed, easy-going March evening at the Fleece. Skilfully supported by a sympathetic band of work colleagues, her clever songs stood proudly in front of an enthusiastic clutch of Brizzle punters (with the addition of cool a couple of hipsterish Gloucester gents…)

Pedestrian at Best

 

“Spent some times in stormy weather…”

3.   Super Furry Animals @ The Guildhall, April

Unfortunately, this clip’s not from our show – I used the best one on YouTube in the original post – but it’s how many of this year’s comeback shows started, including SFA’s first gig for six years, in my very own Gloucester. Playing for just over two hours, and showing few signs of rust or arthritis, Super Furry Animals were excellent – powerful, imaginative and above all self-assured. Having seen Gruff play many times, but never with SFA, personally there was something of a sense of relief that I’d been able to do this. That, of course, and the fact that they were so damn good…

The Man Don’t Give a Fuck

“Can’t say I never warn you, can’t say I never tell you…”

4.   Misty in Roots @ The Tunnels, May

Perhaps predictably, I’m afraid there’s no video footage of this intimate little evening at the Tunnels club, underneath Bristol Temple Meads station. And not anything similar, so you’ll have to take my word for it, when I tell you that this too was a magical evening, although in an entirely different way.

Warm, earnest and loose, MiR made light of skanking their way through an hour and a half’s set, to an enthusiastic middle-aged, group of similarly warm, loose, if not quite so earnest souls. I remember being struck at the time that sore fingers and aching limbs permitting, these fellers could have gone on all night, doing what comes naturally. I might have had to sit down, but apart from that, you’d not have heard a murmur of discontent from me or anyone else there. Bewitching stuff…

True Rasta

“It’s not a game of monopoly”

5.   Jah Wobble, The Fleece, July

Again, not much in the way of video evidence, only some very ropey footage (in which I regret to say my bald patch features heavily), but this clip from Manchester shows Wobble in his pomp – wild fingers, toneless, reedy vocals and marvellously iffy dress sense. Another great evening at the Fleece (and the third in this list) which included more than a few PiL numbers, some jazzy tendencies, loads of booming, spaghetti-western-style reggae and dub, and a 15-minute version of the Liquidator. Engaging and captivating throughout, an enormously entertaining evening.

New Mexico Dub

 

“Light as a feather, bright as the Oregon breeze…”

6.   Sufjan Stevens, Colston Hall, September

Carrie and Lowell is a beautiful, sad, profound record and if I’m honest, having got hold of a precious ticket for this gig, I was a little concerned that any live performance would be unable to match the intensity of the record, maybe even spoil it a little (I can think of quite a few records that I’ve never listened to again after seeing the artist live). I needn’t have worried, of course.

A spellbound Colston Hall audience sat back, slack-jawed, as Sufjan put on an incredible show, each song performed with a depth and thoughtfulness that enhanced them further. Don’t think I’ve ever seen an audience as mesmerised by a concert…

Should Have Known Better

(And in the very starkest of contrasts…)

 

“Lauren Lavern keeps playing Tumbling Dice”

7.   Sleaford Mods, Bierkeller, October

Actually, I’ve said the Bierkeller but the May gig was just as good, and although the footage here is actually from that date at the Exchange, I could’ve done either. Both were just brilliant, loud, bleak, profane and above all witty. Still not got much clue what he’s singing about most of the time, but, really, it’s your gut Williamson speaks to mostly…

White hot…

Bronx in a Six (Exchange)

Bronx in a Six (Bierkeller)

Auntie Clancy and Uncle Dillard…

maxresdefaultWent to the recently-spruced up Thekla for the first time in ages, last week, to see the evergreen, ever-whimsical Euros Childs, and a quality evening it was too.

Euros

Having scrambled to get in on time, (and therefore missed the support band – something of a feature of this year), we were treated to a lovely show, full of off-kilter charm and light melancholy, with Euros backed by his own keyboard but also by a full band, including the thrilling mandolin-flute of Laura J Martin.

Mostly, he ran through the group of bewitching songs that make up his new record, Sweetheart and very good they were; but thrillingly, he did manage to find time to fit in a jaunty version of one of my favourites, “Heywood Lane”, and by a stroke of very good fortune, there’s this footage of it from another leg of the tour:

 

And while on YouTube, I came across this little gem, which features a charmingly inept Mel Fung inviting Euros and a couple of other musicians I didn’t know, to play outside her house in Cardiff. There’s chatting, drinking, table tennis and a bit of singing. Look out particularly for the part where the power fails but… trooper that he is, Euros ploughs on, plonking away on a dead keyboard until he’s plugged back in.

 

Inexplicably, I forgot to take my little recording device with which I like to capture these events, so I’m afraid there’s nowt to show for my last gig of ‘15.

It did get me thinking about the gigs I’ve managed this year, though…

I got a bleedin’ strop on, I’ll tell you mate.

1438759864_11393773_857748454300049_587296402972426246_oWell and truly missed the boat on this, a gig from more than a fortnight ago, now. Another truly cracking evening, though, and it deserves its moment…

Sleaford Mods, Bristol Bierkeller

… Although to be fair, I’m not really sure what else you can say about your second Sleaford Mods gig. I pretty much said what needed to be said the first time, really… and this wasn’t a whole lot different. Andrew Fearn stood around with a beer, Jason Williamson jogged about, cussed, belched and shouted a lot, people joined in noisily. Just the ticket.

But having said that, it was another really, really exciting evening and it was hard not to be energised and enervated by the sweary, sweaty parcel of energy and nerves before you. Even though I saw them not six months ago, the set was very different, about half the songs being new (I say “new”, largely from the Key Markets record which I’ve not bought yet, so not really new – but I have seen bands play the same set two years apart…). Williamson’s words are still stream-of-consciousness – jolts of anger and wit, ideas and words linking improbably, nonsensically with an indistinct clarity. It’s fair to say he still has something of a strop on…

If anything, the sticky-floored Bierkeller was even more worked up and disorderly than the Exchange had been in May, punters careening about and oi-oi-ing their way through choruses of spittle-flecked anger and good-natured argy-bargy. All pretty damn stirring…

The recordings are extremely noisy, but what are you going to do?

Jolly Fucker

No One’s Bothered

Tiswas

One of the things that was different this time round, was that a more than decent support slot had been arranged, in
the shape of Steve Ignorant’s Slice of Life. The average keen-eyed reader of this Blog will of course recall that Ignorant was the co-founder of dyed-in-the-wool seventies anarchists Crass (I needed reminding…), whom I remember being more than a little nervous about, back in the day.

Things come round again though, don’t they? And it was something of a buzz to see an older, wiser but still very, very angry Steve Ignorant on stage before me. He’s obviously toned his act down a little, backedKWVNQY4H as he was by a modest, almost soulful band with actual tunes – not an electric guitar in sight. (Although, recent YouTubes suggest he’s still true to his noisy roots, most of the time.)

Softer the sound may have been, but there’s no question that Steve Ignorant also (still) has a bit of a strop on too; and another man who uses an impressive range of expletives – Williamson was no doubt backstage taking notes furiously. It was thrilling, challenging, even moving to see a 57-year-old man, still unhappy with the state of the world, still determined to speak out and still full of seething, bubbling ire.

I enjoyed his set immensely. Good man.

Love and a Lamp Post

Ain’t just another sound that you hear at night…

IMG_1590I’ve got something else I should be doing (and I have something about the ever-exciting Sleaford Mods to put together still), but I’m just going to sneak this in…

Went to see a rejuvenated Graham Parker and the Rumour at the Academy, Sunday night, a gig that’s been pinned to my board for ages now but I’d kind of forgotten about.

Strange thing is that none of my hipster buddies seem to know or care much about Graham Parker (this rings a bell… unsure whether I’m very, very cool or whether I’ve finally been rumbled…). A great, great night, though…

Graham Parker and the Rumour

I’m old enough to remember some of the GP albums as they came out, not as part of the pub rock boom, I should say, more the period when he slightly readjusted himself, became a little bit more “New Wave” after signing to Stiff. Actually, I’ve made that sound like he was more mercenary than I think he really was – in truth he always had a more edgy, sinewy sound than his contemporaries; I don’t think the advent of Punk left him as creatively discomfited as many at the time.

In the event, I was (not for the first time) a little worried about what the turnout would be like but (not for the first time) needn’t have worried. A robust group of more than a hundred grizzled old gentlemen made the trip and a rare old time was had by all.

What I hadn’t factored into the evening was that the Rumour were no mean bunch of performers themselves, and are still pretty much as they were. The lead guitarist was still Brinsley Schwarz, original member of the Rumour and also founder of legendary country rockers er.. Brinsley Schwarz; the familiar swirling keyboard sounds were provided by another founding member of BS, Bob Andrews; drums were by Steve Goulding, another original Rumour member. And the other guitarist, nominally on rhythm, was the mountainous Martin Belmont, formerly of Ducks Deluxe, a member of the Attractions at various stages and (I’ve just found out) a former BS roadie.

We were really taken by Belmont, in truth. Tall (ridiculously so), bedecked in black shirt and white tie, he looked like a gawky physics teacher, strapping on his guitar after many years (and having a ball). He gurned, grimaced and generally larked about, contributing some cracking, twangy guitar breaks throughout. You kind of wished he was your Dad…

Parker’s voice was outstanding, as strident and tough as ever, and he pretty much ripped through an hour and a half set with some gusto, clearly enjoying himself and making for an engaging host as he wandered through a remarkable back catalogue, sprinkled with a good few newer ones.

The recordings are OK, but slightly spoiled by a feller near me, singing along throughout. Annoying for a while, but then I realised he knew all the words to all the songs, and was clearly well away – you carry on, mate.

That sort of evening…

Protection

Fool’s Gold

Passion Is No Ordinary Word

The train comes to take you where you’ve got to be

telemanWell, I guess the Green Man “moment” has passed. School has started again and summer’s feeling like it’s over – the tent’s been wiped down and packed away, the mud’s dried up on my boots and 2016 Early Bird tickets go on sale next week.

I will do this, though – there are a couple of really good sets still to post. And to be honest, there were a few fairly ordinary ones that I’ll mention, in that White Fence, The Fall and Super Furry Animals all disappointed somewhat, for different reasons. The first didn’t look very “connected” to the whole Green Man vibe (inexplicable really, considering GM stalwart Cate le Bon is still playing with Presley and co); Mark E Smith’s approach to live performances I’ve covered before (it wasn’t a whole lot better than this time); and although SFA started off well, the onset of rain and an over-extended Mwng section squandered an adoring crowd’s late Saturday evening attention. I need to listen to the recordings of each of these sets again, I may well be doing them an injustice.

This lot were a treat, though…

Teleman

I played the Breakfast record quite a lot when it came out, but by the summer had lost touch with it (and stupidly passed up on the chance to see them at Thekla). So it was good to be taken through some of the highpoints of a fine collection again on a heedless Friday afternoon in the big tent.

Actually, bounding around onstage, infectious and friendly, Teleman led us through a fair few new songs as well, some of which I cannot give names to (this drives me squirell-y), but which suggested that another equally good record cannot be faraway.

I’m not a big synth and eighties baseline man, which I think it’d be fair to say are Teleman’s signature sound, but such is the strength of their melodies (which are deftly accompanied by Thomas Sanders’ words and polite vocals) that it’s surprisingly easy to forgo the pleasures of fuzztone and farfisa.

The set concluded with a mesmerizingly kraut-ish version of “I’m Not in Control” which set us off on our way with something of a Suuns-ish buzz in our ears. Good stuff.

Steam Train Girl

Strange Combinations

Glory Hallelujah

I’m Not in Control

Passing slowly through the town…

IMG_1570The picture on the left is a souvenir from last week’s Kevin Morby gig. I often hang around the merch stall at gigs but by now have learned to curb my natural urge to buy an ill-advised t-shirt or the support band’s murky CD. But I did buy the t-shirt this time, partly because it looks quite cool, but mostly because, now, I have seen this man and by the looks of things last night, I am one of only 25 West Country folk who actually has…

Kevin Morby, The Louisiana

So anyway, I flew solo down to the Louisiana last Monday evening to see ex-Woods member and (ex?) Babies frontman, Kevin Morby, whose two terrific solo records I think I’ve droned on about before. Both of them are great, I reckon, and have been well-received by press and Twitterati alike, so I was pretty surprised at how few people had come out to see him, the Louie being pretty much empty when I arrived (admittedly early). The contrast between this and the previous night’s Sufjan concert couldn’t have been much stronger. He looked a little pissed off himself, although he graciously thanked those who had showed up, mentioning other good shows in Bristol that evening that might have tempted folk away, but I could see that fresh as he (also) was from End of the Road, it must have been a bit disheartening.

No matter. It was actually a very good show indeed. Dipping in and out of Harlem River and Still Life, he led a drums-guitar-lead trio, with Justin Sulivan and Meg Duffy, that switched to drums-bass-lead once he strapped on the electric guitar. The set went up a notch, at this point, to be honest, and he injected a bit of life into his itchy, awkward songs. “Motors Runnin” and “Harlem River” were particularly blunt, both with extended freakouts to close.

And, all a bit soon, it was over. No encore, and by the end it all felt a little perfunctory. I would like to have heard “Arlo Jones” and perhaps something from the Babies’ records, but there you go. I can understand it, a fine set nonetheless, and the recordings are well worth hearing.

Motors Runnin’

Harlem River

Parade

Sucker in the Void

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