I was as happy as I’ll ever be…

The keen of mind will not have missed the tantalising hints I have made over the last couple of posts, and may have spent the weekend chewing their arm off in anticipation of some sort of post about the third gig I went to last week. (Firstly, I’d have to commend your strength and sharpness of vision; but I should probably warn against such a position that leaves you wide-open to the vagaries of a timetable that regular readers of this Blog will by now be immune to. Honestly, protect your heart…)

But in this instance if you took such a position (and again, please…) your zeal has been rewarded, because here is part three of my week in Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Aldous Harding, SWX

Anyway, out of the blue, I got one of those “I’ve got you a ticket, you’re going to love it” calls from Coleser, “It’s tonight.”

I’m totally OK with this, as I think I’ve said before, and seeing as how previous evenings have introduced me to the wistful notes of Meilyr Jones and the bold frolics of the Lemon Twig lads, who wouldn’t be? Aldous Harding this time, and nope, not heard of him. Pick up times agreed, a quick “her, not him” and the deal was done.

An unexpected bonus was old friend H Hawkline providing support (and later on playing bass as part of the backing band). Resplendent in what I took to be some sort of lavishly embroidered three-quarter length coat, he played his way through a series of new songs and informed us that he’d always warned himself “whatever you do, don’t make a break up record, and yet here I am singing that song wearing my sister’s dressing gown.”

Last time I’d seen Hawkline he’d been full-on Cate le Bon garage punk, whooping and warbling his way through another Green Man set. Time has apparently not been all that kind to him if the tone of the new recordings is anything to go by. It was a lovely set warmly received by a very healthy crowd for a support act

Means That Much

My scanty research had revealed that Aldous Harding is indeed a woman, hailing from New Zealand, who likes to make a face. That was about the depth of my prep for the evening, but sometimes that’s quite good, giving you as it does a completely blank sheet free of all the old guff you fill your head up with pre-gig.

Within seconds of coming on stage, though, it was pretty clear that Aldous Harding is a bit of a queer old fish. Barely acknowledging an eager audience keen to interact with her, she gathered herself painstakingly, unhurriedly, seemingly unaware of the expectant folk before her. She opened with a very atmospheric “Swell Does the Skull” which was affecting and made me think immediately of Beth Gibbons. (A good thing, no?)

Throughout the set she grimaced and gurned her way through in a bizarre way which was hard to ignore. Her oddness gives me a chance to trot out all my best Gothic lines (she certainly is a Mad Woman in the Attic…) and lazy as that might sound, there’s no denying she’s most definitely an odd one. We’re way beyond quirky here…

You probably need to see something at this point. For the full ghastly glory, you could search for the Later performance on YouTube, but as this is a boogie-woogie free zone, I’ll post this KEXP video, which is nearly as cracked:

 

And make no mistake, the songs themselves are something of a gruelling listen too. Wounds that need bathing, birds that scream, love that never quite blooms, skulls and velvet all eddy around uncertainly, delivered in the most scarred of voices, windswept and withered but still defiant. The title track of Party starts with the surely darkest of lines – “He took me to a clearing, the grass was warm and the air was soft, he had me sit like a baby, I looked just twelve with his thumb in my mouth.”

Hmmm… gruesome, uncomfortable stuff…

Compelling, mind.

No chatting Facebook ninnies at SWX this evening at least. Each song was silently, religiously observed, pins could be heard dropping and at the end of each performance a wave of frantic whooping would break out, followed by desperate attempts to communicate with the outlandish thing on stage. All quite draining.

I remember feeling by the end of the set a slight weariness and a feeling that it had all been a little one-paced, but listening back to a pretty good set of recordings, I take it all back. It’s an absorbing run of haunting voyeurism we were treated to.

Party

Imagining My Man

Horizon

Very impressive, not a little scary…

Come and join me on the other side…

This has been a couple of weeks ago, now, and while there was a bit of a Twitter-buzz about it for the next couple of days, things have moved on…

Can’t remember whether I alluded to it in the previous post but this evening of joy and wonder came at the end of a pretty long week, which as well as being made up of the usual round of working and the odd moment of play, managed to include three gigs (nothing for three months, three gigs one after another). I was a little tired.

Still, the prospect of seeing the rarest of one of my favourite artists pretty much cleared the head.

Michael Head & the Red Elastic Band, St George’s

I loved Shack back in the day and although a lot of the records I listened to in the nineties seem nigh-on unlistenable now, the years that have drifted by have done nothing to diminish this most wonderful of all song books.

The new Red Elastic Band record is just lovely, with each song wandering in like an enduring friend and again there’s nothing to suggest any decline of Head’s gleaming song-writing powers. You’ve got to say, this is no small achievement given the dark and oft referred to back-story the man certainly has. So, all in all, having secured one of the last seats at the back of the hall, I’d been looking forward to this evening for a while, with no sense of Davy Graham-style foreboding. It was gonna be epic.

And.

It was.

Bounding chirpily onto stage with Elastic Band in tow, Head was hailed from the rafters of the old chapel, and a wave of cheer and joy seemed to ripple up and down the hall. He merrily acknowledged cries of ‘Happy Birthday’ from the floor (late, as it turned out) and joked about the big 5-0 (it wasn’t); such was the affection he was clearly held in by an audience of thirty and forty somethings that I’d not have been surprised to see a group of folk carrying a giant cake to the foot of the stage. A lot of memories stirred and a lot of love for the man.

He cantered through most of the songs from Adios Amigo, a few from the Strands record and, contrary to expectations, a bunch of Shack songs. My own memories are most attached to the timeless HMS Fable – a period of stress and Ofsted-induced high-anxiety, somehow soothed by the psychedelic shanties within (“We’re going down the beach to finish Natalie’s party – we’re in deep, we’re inside”). So it was particularly fine and not-a-little emotional to hear “Comedy” and “Streets of Kenny” surging up and down the aisles.

Some fine soul nearer the front than I shot some cracking video that’s worth sharing too:

 

Other goosebump moments included the intricate, delicate nostalgia of “Byrds Turn to Stone”, (brotherly relations apparently strained) and an extraordinary, spontaneous outburst of audience participation during “Meant To Be” – I usually have fairly firm and inflexible views about this sort of thing, but, well… Clearly every man, woman and dog in the hall was mentally replaying their copy of …Here’s Tom with the Weather and felt an obligation to step in for the sadly absent mariachi band (I’m listening to it now, the hairs on my arms…).

The recordings sound like they’ve been made by an oafish love-struck man at the back of a church hall, but take them, please, if only for the flood of the final trilogy: Meant To Be; Comedy and Adios Amigo.

Workin’ Family

Meant To Be

Comedy

Adios Amigo

A privilege to witness and take part in an evening of exuberant, overwhelming love and overcast beauty…

You wanna do what? You wanna do what?

Evening, all.

There are a couple of ways we can approach the iffy subject of another extended absence from my post. And in best post-modern conventions, I’ll let you form your own conclusions (if you haven’t already…) We could, for instance, say that I’ve been over-extending myself in the dizzying world of work, fingers to the bone etc. (charming though the image of me swanning around like Hugh Grant smoking cheroots and drinking absinthe, may indeed be, I do actually have a job and domestic staff to pay…). Alternatively, we can venture down the “Phew! Rock And Roll!” route and wave off your (justifiable) protestations, with a foppish wave of the hand and a few off-hand, barely caught words about near-constant ligging and a particularly heavy week of burning the candle at both ends and then blow-torching it from the middle.

As I say, there’s truth where you seek it (and in any case, truth? Who needs it?)

Anyway, after months of anticipation, I stole (softly through snow) down to the Fleece last week to see this chap – a genuine living legend of the Rock circus.

John French, The Fleece

Although he’s billed it as an evening with the Magic Band, French himself acknowledges that this is a little steep, there being by now just the one member of Beefheart’s long-suffering troupe of freaks still on the circuit, and therefore this has been denoted a Farewell Tour, my last chance to see the man who did so much to bring us the music of Captain Beefheart. He looked pretty dapper to me and was genuinely up for it, so whether this really is the end of a very strange journey indeed remains to be seen. But it was good enough for me (in the words of the song) and the deal was done…

The Fleece was pleasingly packed full of balding, whiskery old gits and the merch stall in particular looked a little like a Furry Freak Brothers convention. No support band, just two substantial sets from French and his band of young acolytes, who certainly knew their Beefheart and threw themselves into what must be one of the more difficult songbooks in music. An evening of refreshingly awkward music ensued, running from Safe as Milk right through to Doc at the Radar Station, Shiny Beast featuring heavily. Highlights were a galumphing “Bat Chain Puller”, a snorting, sooty “Click Clack” and four awkward buggers from Trout Mask Replica.

French led from the front, hooting, growling and howling his way through the evening in appropriately lupine fashion. He threw in some blues harp and a heap of suitably demented, van Vliet warblings on sax. He did do a spell behind his kit, too, which was a real treat, his shuffling, stuttering style always a genuinely exhilarating and interesting listen.

I’ve spoken before about his revealing, uncomfortable biography “Through the Eyes of Magic” and I think talked about French’s remarkably forgiving nature, given Beefheart’s treatment of him – he re-joined the Magic Band on more than one occasion, even after having been physically thrown out of the house, post Trout Mask Replica. I couldn’t help thinking, however, that he could’ve done with being a little more steely with his band – the twin guitars of Eric Klerks and Max Kutner occasionally threatened to take over, going over all White Denim at times. Not sure the good Captain would’ve put up with it. (Although nothing a six month stay at the Trout House and a cupful of lentils a day wouldn’t put right…)

To be fair, French is now 69 and playing two full sets plus spending the interval at the merch stall, he could certainly be forgiven for taking the odd breather while the young pups played.

It was a great evening, one which found me pinching myself at times to be sure that I was really there; an evening I will remember for a very long time. John French, in his role as facilitator of the one of the weirdest, most ambitious records of all time, is to my mind one of yer actual Sixties legends, whose position as such is rarely recognised because of the vast, glowing shadow he stood in.

Have a listen to the samples here, they’re not bad at all and, I’m afraid, as close as we’re going to get to those strangest of times…

Bat Chain Puller

My Human Gets Me Blues

Click Clack

Dropout Boogie

Everybody knows, that you’ve been untrue

As Glaws suffer another (historic) drubbing in Salford, my thoughts – never the most robust – drift towards the maudlin…

If, God forbid, I was to pack up now and meet an insalubrious end over a half-marked pile of Maths books or putting away grassy netballs in an ill-lit PE shed, well, let’s just say I’d not really have my papers in order. Pension provision: patchy. Tax affairs: still unresolved. General final arrangements: yet to be put in place. Most alarming of all, I’ve still (still!) not settled on my All-time Top Ten Albums.

I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about this before, but suffice to say, I’ve not really made much progress… Inexplicably, this band’s oft-neglected masterpiece has somehow never put up its hand.

The Flamin’ Groovies, the Fleece

As an older bloke, you have a little more money and the CDs come and go – thick, fast and with a little less gravitas than in the days of youth. As a teenager, you have no money and the records you do get hold of you hold onto hard, listening to them with a fury and determination you never match later on. I can remember as, say, an 18-year-old I probably only bought a handful of records – Forever Changes, 5D, Closer, Nuggets, The Velvet Underground & Nico, Smash Hits (and a few others I do not care to share with you at this point). And the Groovies’ wonderful Shake Some Action.

Some of those records haven’t aged as well as others but Shake Some Action still sounds as fresh and world-weary as it always did. Packed full of light but scuzzy Beatles-y pop songs that turned out to be a full ten or fifteen years out of time – too late for the Beat Explosion, too old for the punks. Graceful, crafted and grimy.

To be fair, very little else of their output gets anywhere near it – most of their other records are pretty much standard rock‘n’roll and 12-bar blues Of course many other bands did quite nicely out of doing exactly that but not the Groovies – I don’t think they even found a niche on the pub rock circuit. Who knows?

So, all in all, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I eagerly snapped up tickets on the announcement of a UK tour, back in the Spring – not the least because I had a ticket to see them in Barcelona on holiday a few years back. Then, the euphoria lasted less than 24 hours when news came out that the gig was cancelled with Cyril Jordan in hospital.

There was a pretty good turnout at Bristol’s favourite gummy-floored rock venue, with a smattering of younger faces and even a few ladies amongst the sea of battered leather and feathery hair loss. Thankfully, Jordan looked in pretty good shape, boldly dapper in some sort of polka dot (or possibly cake pattern?) shirt and still in possession of the most San Fran of all haircuts, parted defiantly in the middle. Buddy Chris Wilson looking a little more middle-aged, lead most of the evening taking most of the vocal duties and the occasional guitar lead.

As the opening notes of “You Tore Me Down” rang out across the floor, something of a shiver ran down my spine, and the arrival of the distinctively thin twin-vocals was genuinely memorable. Don’t mind admitting, I felt a little emotional.

I like to think it was a proper Groovies evening with jaded harmonies; effortless Berry-esque guitar breaks; a few sound problems, accompanied by some earthy language and an absolute wagonload of riffing. As well as being one of those “I never thought I’d see this” sort of nights, it was actually really good fun. There was a fair amount of reminiscing and story-telling between songs but also a couple of new ones played. (They were greeted with some good natured booes and a few laughs onstage but were actually OK. There’s a new record out – I was tempted…). But I counted three songs from Shake Some Action and a final run of “Teenage Head”, Shake Some Action”, “Slow Death” and “Jumpin’ in the Night” gives you an idea of the evening. A great night…

In these nervy days, you often get searched going in to gigs, so I’m not keen on taking my proper recorder. I do have some phone recordings, though, which are not quite as “warm” as the others but still pretty good and give a good account of a cracking evening.

You Tore Me Down

I Want You Bad

Slow Death

Bitter nuts and sour wine are all we find within the larder

I should probably count this to check it (although in our post-truth, Bannon-esque world, my facts are just as good yours….), but Alasdair Roberts is probably the artist I’ve written about most of all on these tattered, coffee-stained pages. (Apart from Robert Wyatt, of course, and maybe Griff…)

In fact I wrote about him, here, only about six weeks ago, which in relative terms is pretty much yesterday on this Blog. I spoke then with breathless excitement about said folkie’s planned trip to Cheltenham. All the more surprising then that it should take me so long to get round to talking about the evening – countless eager punters have been besieging me with requests for a few words and perhaps the odd snatch or too…? Well, as you know, I’m a slave to my readership.

Alasdair Roberts, Smokey Joe’s

Might as well get my cantankerous, valetudinarian rant out of the way first – it was bloody freezing at Smokey Joe’s, like sitting outside pretty much. I’m a chilly mortal, me, and I can’t stand being cold – caught out by the slightest cold snap and I’m likely to go over all Mr Woodhouse and retire to my bed with a hot lemon.

Alasdair Roberts is made of sterner stuff than I and the polar conditions didn’t seem to trouble him over much. To be honest, fond as I imagine he is of long walks in the bracing Scotch air, he will have shrugged this off and scorned me as the southern softie I clearly am. In fact I fancy every new Roberts song is unveiled on the scotch muir, ‘midst the purple heather, to a mildly curious audience of highland beasties.

In the last post, I raved about Plaint of Lapwing, his joint record with James Green, labouring under the illusion that this was his most recent record, but it was pointed out by a forbearing friend on Twitter that there’s actually a newer record out, March’s Pangs. And it was this record Roberts drew most of the evening from – I don’t think he played anything from the Lapwing record at all.

The Guardian used the phrase “the weirdness of ancient folk” in one of its throw-away (although positive) reviews, and that’s actually a great description of Roberts’ craft. I’ve spoken before about all of this and it’d be fairly easy to put together an Alasdair Roberts bingo card, with words hapless reviewers will fall back on (“bleak”, “brogue” and “austere” all turn up in the Guardian’s piece). I’m as guilty as everyone else of this – it’s impossible not to marvel at the old-worldliness of the man’s vision, and to revel being taken back to harsher, more open times; all part of his charm.

If you’re energetic enough (ie not as lazy as me) to look further, however, you’re going to find echoes that speak to modern times. At one point, Roberts wryly speculated as he was using some wilfully obscure tuning that once Article 50 was triggered he’d possibly not be able to use it anymore. It was something of a jolt back to current woes and reminded me that songs such as “In Dispraise of Hunger”, “Farewell Sorrow” and the beautiful title track of the new record have as much to do with today’s misery as yesterday’s.

A few old favourites appeared – “Fair Flower of Northumberland”, “Jock Hawk’s Adventures in Glasgow” and “Farewell Sorrow” – but enough of the fragile splendour of the new songs was revealed to make me buy a copy of Pangs from the man himself. And it’s actually a bit of a revelation. He has a full band with him for most of the record, and a number of the songs feel completely new creations, when compared to the reedy charm of their solo versions.

Have a listen to these gaunt unclothed offerings and then go and buy the record for their fuller, finer, fattened-up versions.

Pangs

An Alter in the Glade

The Downward Road

(Oh, and for old time’s sake, In Dispraise of Hunger)

Is he even real?

Such is my life.

A barren, no-gig fast of more than three months is eventually broken and then speedily followed by a couple of smashing evenings in a week. By rights I should be writing about Alasdair Roberts coming over to Cheltenham (it was a good time – I’m sure I’ll get onto it) but I’ve spent most of this Saturday chuckling indulgently to myself as I think back to a classic Thekla Thursday night…

Lemon Twigs, Thekla

Coleser has of late taken to texting me with “I’ve bought you a ticket for,,, You’re going to love them!”. I approve of this hugely, of course, and I’m hoping to be the beneficiary of similar largesse in the future. I’d certainly never heard of siblings the Lemon Twigs from Long Island when I received the most recent message, but a few sessions on YouTube and the loan of their debut record had me suitably piqued, although I have to say I wasn’t sure I quite ‘got’ it…

Pretty much missed the support band, having been caught in traffic coming in, which always seems a shame, but then again, I’ve seen some pretty ropey support slots of recent. The charming, old boat was rammed full of ove-excited college lads and lasses (and a few curious old gits), and was suitably dense, drab and humid, for the first date of what I reckon’ll be an unforgettable UK tour.

Older (but still only 20) brother, Brian Addario, led from the front, dressed in some sort of mauve crushed velvet jacket, longish hair tucked studiously behind his ears, introducing the band and launching into a lustily-received “I want to prove to you”. It was a great start and they banged through three or four more songs really quickly, with all the playfulness and lack of restraint that makes the record such a bag of tricks. It’s as if they can’t resist adding an extra run of notes or another sprig of tinsel to the tree.

“We could make this part sound like a fairground jig!”

“Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!”

“Or, what if we tried a waltz here?”

“Awesome!”

He was supported by Danny Ayala on keyboards and ooh-sha-la-la vocals, a retiring, put-upon Megan Zeankovski on bass, and the not-so-retiring figure of younger brother Michael slugging away flamboyantly on a drum kit he’d damaged within 10 minutes. He actually spent an unwarranted amount of his drumming duties standing, twirling his sticks aloft, and as Coleser wryly observed, it was obvious there was no way he was going to spend the whole of his evening behind the kit.

It was only when older brother moved to Ayala’s keyboard for “How lucky am I?”, that we got a real look at Michael, stepping forward for backing vocal duties. From this point, it was clear Brian wasn’t coming back. (An acrimonious Noel/Liam, Ray/Dave split looms…)

Resplendent in leopard-skin catsuit, open to the waist, and furiously primping his feather cut, Our Kid looked like a blinking, alien rock-child, parachuted into the West Country from a Ziggy bootleg. Wearing his 18 years proudly, he cut an impressive and outlandish figure. The confidence of youth for sure…

I’ve gotta say though, that from the moment he propelled himself into his vocal part and latterly took up his guitar to lead the rest of the set, there was no question of him being some sort of dumb parody. He absolutely had star quality and the whole show went up another notch from here on.

Into each song he crammed heaps of precocious, hormonal oomph and referred to pretty much every page of the rock’n’roll book of stage tricks – extravagant high kicks, prone guitar solos and a whole series of gratifyingly lewd guitar gestures. Oh, and a hell of a voice – powerful, frisky and self-knowing.

It was only when they launched into an Alex Chilton cover that I twigged (Ah… sorry… I’m not changing it now…) that instead of being a Dolls band, with a line in Rubettes harmonies, the overwhelming influence was Big Star, not in a Teenage Fanclub sort of a way but with a full on seventies power-pop sound. It was a great sound.

Thought I’d try recording the gig with my iPhone as an experiment which has turned out ok but the sound is not quite as “full” as with my normal recorder. It was also a pretty rowdy night, with loads of unruly audience participation and a general feel of insobriety. It gets in the way of the recordings a little but, to be fair, it all seemed entirely appropriate. Even I can’t find it in my curmudgeonly old heart to get upset about foolish young things having massive fun while a band of foolish young things do the same onstage.

As Long As We’re Together

All of the Time

Why Didn’t You Say That?

A Great Snake

There’s a good Alex Petridis interview with the brothers online and quite a bunch of YouTube stuff available, including a whole lot of charming videos of the lads practicing as youngsters, shot by their father (one of whose songs they covered on the night – another first for me).

Terrific evening…

Be soft, be softer still, give yourself love beyond all thrill.

I’ve been fannying around with this for a while now and all too quickly it’s a couple of weeks old already…

A rather late first gig of the year for me (a close-to-six-month drought in fact) but a welcome one, for sure. Having seen Meilyr Jones last year “unseen”, with pretty much no previous knowledge of him and been suitably wowed by the whole experience, the enchanting Welshman and his wonderful 2015 record have assumed impressive proportions in this old git’s mind (and record collection).

Meilyr Jones, The Fleece

A second gig can be a disappointing affair and it occurred to me this might be a bit of an issue as we walked through the doors of the ever-dependable, gummy-floored Fleece. A brief period of ho-hummery with a support band whose name passed in one ear and out the other, and all of a sudden Meilyr Jones is once again bounding on stage, grinning like a loon on his first day at school. And we’re back there.

I’d forgotten how fond I am of his soppy little face, how much I envy his flimsy Byrds haircut and how much I want to iron his rumpled outfits. In top-buttoned shirt and the shortest grey slacks I think I‘ve ever seen, he cut the gawkiest of figures, a look he embraces unswervingly.

What a guy.

The set whipped by, and even though it was pretty much the same as before (I didn’t catch any new songs), it still sounded fresh, intelligent and passionate. I remember last time being particularly mesmerised by the encore performance of “Be Soft”, which if anything he actually managed to emulate this time, bringing his two violinists off the stage and deep into the audience. All un-miked and somehow even more intimate and overwhelming than even before.

Here are recordings of the two encore songs (the second is a little muddy, thick with feeling a romantic soul might say…)

Watchers

Be Soft

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