Sunday, 18 November 2018

Memories of 2018 gigs #8

Shame
Support: HMLTD, Fontaines D.C.
SWX, Bristol - 15 November 2018

Back so soon at SWX? Well Shame have made one of the albums of the year and one of the best debuts of the decade. They also have a reputation for being rather tasty in the live setting so I reckon it would've been foolish to pass up this opportunity to catch them so close to home. What I've noticed about Bristol in relation to Cardiff is the audiences there arrive early. Like the Idles show a few weeks back, the place was already heaving when we arrived halfway through the opening set.

Fontaines D.C. are from Northern Ireland and play a brand of punk that has great pedigree in those parts, though this lot are more Stiff Little Fingers than Undertones, angrier, grittier and more than a little agitated. There's certainly more than a little bit of The Fall in them too and they comfortably fit into the scene being carved by the likes of Shame, Idles and the like with the the songs to match. I'd look out for Fontaines D.C. if I were you.

For an entirely different reason, I'd also advise you look out for London's HMLTD. If the description 'electro-art-punk' doesn't scare the bejayzus out of you then it really should. I could write paragraphs about this lot, but they are not worthy of my time or effort. I'll just say how annoyed I am that the half hour I spent watching them cannot ever be reclaimed. A horrific experience I just want to forget about. Look out for them - and avoid like the plague, for your own sake.
("I found them entertaining, it was like musical theatre." - MrsRobster.)

So thank heavens for Shame. That reputation they have that I mentioned above? It's justified. My word, how good are Shame live?! Their brilliant debut album 'Songs Of Praise' has been quite rightly heralded as a highlight of 2018, and it has plenty to recommend it. But it's clearly the live setting where they belong, the energy exuded onstage was electrifying. A crowd-surfing singer, an acrobatic bass player, and some of the best lead guitar sounds you'll hear in a long time.

There may be some who will denounce bands like Shame as being derivative of the original punk era. Well, that may be true to some extent, and I don't think they'd totally deny it, but to this generation, bands like Shame are simply expressing what they feel. There is no attempt here to be the new Clash or anything quite so crass, but there are more than a few parallels with 1976 in 2018. The times may share similar tensions, but the bands of each era are certainly doing very different things. No one was writing songs like Concrete, Lampoon and The Lick in 1976, and you'll be hard pressed to find many who do it quite so well as Shame in 2018. Live, they are given a new lease of life, and the biggest, sweatiest and wildest mosh pit I've seen in years (even better than the Idles one) is testament to the pull this band has.

There were a couple of new songs in the set and only time will tell if they hold up as well as the songs we're now familiar with, but having witnessed the sensation that is Shame with my own eyes at last, I'm confident they're in it for the long haul, and that is an exciting prospect whether you're an old punk, a new punk or someone who hates electro-art-punk.

DIY magazine recently wrote of Shame: "This is not just hype, this is the real fucking deal!" I'll happily agree with that sentiment on this evidence.





Monday, 12 November 2018

Monday's Long Song


I never knew much about His Name Is Alive other than they were signed to 4AD. Their albums covers kind of gave that away. I came across Wish I Had A Wishing Ring on some compilation CD that came with a magazine. It was the standout track on the thing.

His Name Is Alive was essentially Warren Defever (great name) from Michigan plus an ever revolving line-up of singers and musicians. He pestered 4AD owner Ivo Watts-Russell for four years, bombarding him with tapes of music, before eventually being signed in 1989. They became one of the label's most popular acts. I Wish I Had A Wishing Ring, a brilliant blast of blues-fuelled squall, is sung by Louvetta Pippen (another great name) and appeared on their fifth album 'Ft. Lake' in 1998. Despite weighing in at more than 6 minutes, it was radically edited for the album, the original recording stretching to a whopping 17 minutes. And it is that version I present today.


Monday, 5 November 2018

Memories of 2018 gigs #7

Public Service Broadcasting
Support: Perfect Body
Riverside Theatre, Newport - 28 October 2018

Can you believe it's been a whole year since we last caught Public Service Broadcasting? In that time, they've taken their tales of Welsh coal mining around the world and back agin, picking up even more plaudits than I reckon even they thought possible. Now back in the land where their wonderful album 'Every Valley' was originally recorded as a way of bidding it farewell, a show in our hometown was too good to resist. This time, MrsRobster and I introduced TheMadster and TheEmster to the live splendour of PSB for the first time.

This was our first visit to the Riverside Theatre, despite having passed it countless times. It sits on the bank of the river Usk slap bang in the city centre. It's a small space as far as theatres go, but ideal for a show like this one. Sadly, still a little too big for support band Perfect Body from Cardiff. It was clear what they were trying to do - despite probably none of them being born when Ride, Chapterhouse and Slowdive released their debut albums, they sounded like all three. There were three problems really: firstly, this really was the wrong venue for them, being much more suited to somewhere like Clwb Ifor Bach or The Globe. Secondly, their look. They didn't really have one, a real ragbag of styles. MrsRobster reckoned the drummer looked like Professor Brian Cox, one guitarist resembled Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the other guitarist like Paul Weller (circa early-Jam) and the keyboardist like a young Morticia Adams. Harsh maybe, but I take her point.

Thirdly, this wasn't their audience. Despite a number of middle-aged ex-shoegazers being in attendance, they couldn't really be appreciated by the majority, many of whom probably wouldn't know what shoegazing was, and no doubt tune into Jools Holland religiously every week. Add to all that the sound mix not quite working to their advantage and you have to concede that sadly, Perfect Body didn't win many over. A shame. I'd like to see them in a better place to make a sounder judgement, especially as they have been very hotly-tipped round these parts.

As for the PSB boys - well I can't really add anything I haven't already told you before. This was, after all, the third time we've seen them during the 'Every Valley' period (the sixth in total) and they were, as always, exceptional. They did do a couple of songs we've not seen them do before, including the new Titanic-themed single White Star Liner. The funky brass section and dancing spacemen were present and correct, and the films were breathtaking as always. My personal highlight was - not for the first time - All Out, with scenes of the miners' strike and the police brutality that accompanied it being soundtracked by loud, aggressive, angry guitars.

TheMadster enjoyed it as I thought she would (the pics here, by the way, are hers). TheEmster? Well he's more of an EDM fan, still in mourning over the passing of his hero Avicii. However, he genuinely enjoyed the experience, the allure of PSB's unique live shows taking hold of him. Maybe there's a proper music fan in there somewhere, but perhaps - for now at least - I'll hold back on asking if he wants to come and see Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs with me next spring...


Thursday, 1 November 2018

A song for... November

It's getting colder, darker and generally more depressing. November isn't my favourite month, although it can be lovely during the few hours of sunshine we might be lucky to get in the middle of the day. So here's something bright to take us into the penultimate month of 2018. I know nothing about The String Cheese Incident, but I'm guessing one or two regular readers may well be familiar with them. A cursory glance at Wiki tells me they hail from Colorado and have been releasing music for more than 20 years. Today's track is taken from their 2005 album 'One Step Closer'.


Monday, 29 October 2018

Monday's Long Song

When I chose today's long song, I realised I had only ever posted anything about Sigur Rós once before here. That's crazy as they have been one of my favourite bands for many years now. That single post told of my reverence for the band's second album 'Ágætis Byrjun', and today's track is taken from that wonderful record.

Viðrar Vel Til Loftárása weighs in at more than 10 minutes and yet it still doesn't seem long enough. An absolute masterpiece.

Pixeldrain went gaga when I tried to upload the file so I've temporarily switched to Nippyshare.

The video won the award for Best Video at the Icelandic Music Awards the following year. It remains one of the most moving film clips you'll ever see. Sadly, the song is some three minutes shorter in this version but that doesn't detract from what an incredible piece of work it is.


Saturday, 20 October 2018

Memories of 2018 gigs #5 & #6

Here we go then - two gigs in two nights. Not unusual 20+ years ago, but now this old fogey creaks and aches far more than is pleasant and usually needs a good few days (sometimes weeks) to recover from each show. So, can we get through it? Well, you should know us well enough by now...



Idles
Support: Heavy Lungs
SWX, Bristol - 16 October 2018

Without a doubt, the album of 2018 is 'Joy As An Act Of Resistance' by Idles. Such an appropriate title because very little else has given me such unbridled happiness this year while reflecting on what a messed up world we're living in right now. Idles have taken all that is crappy and turned it into furious, energetic punk songs riddled with humour, positivity and, most importantly of all, hope. So a hometown show to kick off their UK tour should provide a right old riotous couple of hours right? Yep, damn right!

We've never set foot inside Bristol's SWX before, but on tonight's showing it seems to be a darn good venue. Support band Heavy Lungs were onstage as we arrived. Their billing was not entirely unexpected considering 1) they are also local lads; and 2) they are fronted by one Danny Nedelko, the subject of one of Idles' best-known songs. Personally, I wasn't all that taken by them, though I will say some of their music was rather offbeat and, perhaps for that reason, also a little bit interesting.

Idles, a band who have really come good in the last couple of years thanks to two storming albums, had nothing to prove to an audience who knew only too well what they were capable of. That same audience was blown into the middle of next month by set-opener Colossus. Its ominous, bass-heavy rumbles at the start were rendered even darker and heavier by being slowed right down, the pace being maintained throughout the first part of the song which got progressively louder and heavier, before the second (fast) part kicked in and the mosh pit really got going.

New single Never Fight A Man With A Perm was next, and Idles could have ended their set right there and half the crowd would have gone home happy. Probably. In the end we got all but one of the songs on the current album, and a sprinkling of those from last year's debut 'Brutalism'. Samaritans, Great and 1049 Gotho were my personal faves, but other notables were Danny Nedelko (during which the aforementioned singer of the support band was carried around the stage on the shoulders of a roadie), Well Done (which singer Joe claims has earned him a whole £7 on Spotify) and Television.

I have to give a lot of credit to the audience for the brilliance of this show. It has been a long time since I saw such exhuberance and energy from a crowd - the mosh pit was immense. Bristol audiences are generally excellent but this lot surpassed themselves, their love of their band plainly obvious by their reactions. They certainly played their part, but Idles know how to play to the crowd.

Idles were so good, I had to buy a t-shirt. Yep, that good. The bass player sold it to me. I signed off the transaction by telling him what a "fucking great show" I'd just witnessed. "Oh thanks very much," he replied with seemingly humble surprise. A nice touch for a band on the verge of hugeness, with nothing but the highest of acclaim following them wherever they go. Maybe I'd have forgiven him if he'd been a bit of a dick, but it's good to find they're still firmly grounded. For now anyway.




Gwenno
Support: Adwaith, Halo Maud
Tramshed, Cardiff - 17 October 2018

And now for something completely different... The sound of bellowing punk was still rattling around my head the following evening as MrsRobster, Our Mate Colin (OMC) and I entered the Tramshed in Cardiff. This was the opening night of the Sŵn festival, an annual five day extravaganza of music across numerous venues in the city. And what better way to get it started than one of Wales' most heralded artists singing in Cornish?! Gwenno's new album 'Le Kov' is certainly one of 2018's more intriguing releases, but the fact it's also very good means it's worth more than just a token listen.

To kick things off though, were Gwenno's French labelmates Halo Maud. I'd not come across this lot before but their debut album, also released this year, seems to be picking up plenty of plaudits. I wasn't entirely convinced by their opening number, but everything that followed got better and better. Think Cocteau Twins meets Stereolab and you're part way there though there's plenty more going on. Worth investigating further for sure.

Carmarthen's Adwaith have been touted as one of Wales' best new bands. The all-female three piece make a somewhat minimal post-punk noise in the mould of early Wire, The Slits and the Au Pairs, yet they failed to make an impression on the three of us. Maybe in a smaller venue it might have worked better, or even some better songs. Either way, they didn't connect with us on the night, which is a shame. Young Welsh talent is always welcome round here so I'd like to be more positive.

You could be forgiven for thinking that, based on her two solo albums to date, Gwenno's live shows would be dreamy, laid-back affairs. And compared to an Idles show they probably are. But while she almost whispers her lyrics on record, live she belts them out with gusto. Den Heb Tavas was delivered with a ferocity that was unexpected, and Hi A Skoellyas Liv A Dhagrow sounded far more earnest and intense than its recorded version.

And that was the overriding feeling of the set. Gwenno's decision to sing entirely in her first two languages - Welsh and Cornish - is fuelled by her passion and belief that her native cultures and identities should be kept alive through music and language instead of being forced into extinction. Whether you agree with this concept or not, you'd have a hard time arguing against Gwenno's conviction. The psychedelic moods of the new Cornish material sat comfortably alongside the more Krautpop tendencies of the Welsh-language stuff from her first record. There's certainly something in Gwenno's sound that brings to mind the much-missed Broadcast, though she's just as likely to name Aphex Twin and Maurice Chevalier as influences. It's that mix of retro and modernity that fits the whole spirit of Gwenno's words and music.

As the backdrop showed us live psychedelic images of Gwenno in full flow, and the strains of Tir Ha Mor, Fratolish Hiang Perpeshki and Chwyldro filled the Tramshed, it was evident that there was more in common between the two shows we saw this week than we might have otherwise expected. Both Idles and Gwenno have causes to fight for, passions to elicit. Both acts are animated onstage and have a convincing presence, connecting with their audiences. Closing her set with Eus Keus?, Gwenno's final song touched on another pressing issue close to her heart. Teaching us the chorus of the song which translates as "Is there cheese? / Is there, or isn't there? / If there is cheese, then bring cheese / If there is no cheese, bring what there is" she laments that "There just aren't enough songs about cheese." How true. Maybe if this Cornish language lark doesn't catch on, Gwenno can define a new genre. Dairy-pop, anyone?

Monday, 15 October 2018

Monday's Long Song

Not my idea of course, but as I can't be arsed to bring you any of my own, I thought why the hell not join Drew, Adam, Swede, et al and do a Monday Long Song thing? I was going to post this last week, but I had that Anniversary post lined up so I held it over. At the time of writing, I've been listening to the brilliant new album by Geordie boys Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs. In case you don't know, this lot sound like a cross between Hawkwind, Motorhead and Black Sabbath and make a most terrifically heavy noise. I was in a bad mood last weekend so played 'King Of Cowards' loudly in the kitchen while I ironed a couple shirts (how rock 'n' roll, eh?) and it cheered me up no end. Which is more than I can say about the family house rabbit Eric who was none too impressed. He's more of a reggae kind of guy, so the sound of heavy, Sabbath-esque riffs booming forth kind of freaked him out a bit.

The track I've chosen is not from the new album as its longest offering is a mere 8 minutes 52 seconds in length. Instead, here's the opening track from Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs' debut album, 2017's 'Feed The Rats'. Psychopomp needs to be played loud and will annoy your neighbours, scare your pets and terrify your children - but by gum will it get your week started right!



Monday, 8 October 2018

It was 30 years ago today... Memories of my first gig



Gawd I feel old. Three decades ago on this very day, 8th of October 1988, I attended my very first concert. I didn't consider that 30 years later I'd be writing about it. To be honest, when you're 17, you don't consider anything in 30 years time. To mark the occasion, I've decided to republish one of the first articles to appear on this blog, the very first of my rather long-winded 'Memories of a thousand gigs' series - the tale of my very first gig. It's pretty much exactly the same as the original piece (footnotes and all!), though I've taken the opportunity to update one or two little factoids...

Originally published on 19 February 2014; updated October 2018

The Wedding Present
Support: The Heart Throbs
The Great Hall, Exeter University - 8 October 1988

You never forget your first. Your first gig, that is. Mine was a relatively obscure indie band from Yorkshire that a much cooler friend of mine at college introduced me to. The Wedding Present were ‘between albums’ when I lost my live band virginity to them. Their debut ‘George Best’ had made a reasonable dent in the consciousness of NME readers and Peel listeners alike and major labels were taking an interest. As it was, I had recently bought the non-album single Nobody’s Twisting Your Arm and was awaiting the follow-up Why Are You Being So Reasonable Now? when they descended on Devon.

My best buddy Wayne and I decided to buy tickets, but not being able to drive yet, would have to work out a way to get there later. A minor detail! Wayne had beaten me to the first gig experience by a few months, when he went with his cousins to see Wet Wet Wet in Plymouth. I wonder if he’d admit to it nowadays; by the time of the Weddoes show, he was already showing signs of denial.

Somehow I managed to convince my mum to take us. Living, as we did, 30-odd miles away from the venue – an hour-long drive on largely rural B roads – it was a nice gesture from her to say yes without hesitation. Wayne’s mum Val was taken along for the ride; they would have a girl’s night out in Exeter as Wayne and I mixed it with students older, smarter and considerably cooler than us.

Mum and Val dropped us off outside and drove off into town. Wayne and I joined the queue and patiently waited in line with the cooler kids. The next hour or so is hazy, partly because it was so long ago, and partly because I couldn’t really take it all in. I do, however, remember sitting in the foyer with Wayne and noticing Weddoes frontman David Gedge standing just to my left.Wayne and I argued briefly over whether it really was him or not – he didn’t think so, but I was pretty sure.[1] I also remember where I stood as the support band came on. Facing the stage, I was pretty near the front by the speaker stack on the right. Perhaps not the best idea for a gig newbie like myself.

As I remember it, opening act The Heart Throbs were a decent band. Well, they must have been because I became an immediate fan, buying some of their early singles and all three of their subsequent albums. They were fronted by the bleach-blonde Carlotti sisters Rose and Rachel, sisters of Echo and the Bunnymen drummer Pete de Freitas. Like a number of bands of the time – the Primitives, the Darling Buds, Transvision Vamp – the blonde girls out front were the focus of the group, the male members remained largely anonymous.

The Weddoes were a blast, of course. They tore through most of the songs from ‘George Best’, added a healthy splash of old faves, and even played one or two new ones including a song called Kennedy which, a year or so later, would become their debut major label single and their first ever Top 40 hit.

Throughout the show, I had been forced further back the crowd, from front right to halfway back to the left. That didn’t matter though. From there I could take more in without being blasted by the speakers or getting a wayward elbow smashing into my nose. Surveying the scene – a crowd of sweaty moshers, Mr Gedge bent over his furiously-strummed semi-acoustic in his trademark way, the reaction when the band finally launched into A Million Miles after the crowd had been shouting for it all night – a huge grin fixed itself to my face and stayed there for days. I was hooked, and over the coming years I would see hundreds – yes, hundreds – of bands at various places around the country. I would even see the Wedding Present on another six occasions (to date).[2]

So, technically, the Heart Throbs were the first band I saw live[3] Officially though, it was Gedge & co. that took my virginity. If you’re reading David – you were great. How was it for you?


Fast forward 30 years, and the gigging hasn't stopped. In fact, next week I'm taking in two - TWO! - shows on consecutive nights. You know where you can read all about it...


[1] I was right, as Wayne himself admitted following the show. To this day, Gedge mingles with his audience before and after each show.
[2] On the 'Bizarro' tour a year later in Bristol; on the 'Bizarro' 21st Anniversary tour in 2010 in Cardiff; on the 'Seamonsters' 21st Anniversary/'Valentina' tour in 2012 in Cardiff again; briefly, the tail-end of an in-store show at the Plymouth Virgin Megastore in 1996, after which David Gedge himself commented on my well-worn Bizarro t-shirt; and since this article first appeared, on the 2016 'Going, Going...' tour and last year's 'George Best 30th Anniversary' tour.
[3] Even this isn’t technically true if you include the resident holiday camp bands I saw as a kid, and those that always seemed to play at family parties and weddings etc. But, for obvious reasons, they don’t count!

Monday, 1 October 2018

A song for... October

Right now, I'm really struggling with the blog. It's not that I don't have any ideas of things to write - there's plenty of those - it's just that I really can't be arsed with it. It's been that way for a while now, and I think it's taking its toll as most of my readers seem to have jumped ship, probably because of it. October is a busy month for us though - three gigs I'm really looking forward to, so that'll provide some inspiration, hopefully.

October is also the month where Autumn properly kicks in. September was rough mind, lots of wind and rain, so not sure quite what to expect. So I reckon a song that has a bit of an autumn vibe to it, but doesn't sound stormy or miserable. October appears on Lucy Wainwright Roche's 2010 album 'Lucy' and features the somewhat legendary Indigo Girls.



Saturday, 22 September 2018

Road Trip

This is the debut single from 180dB. The band comprises Savages rhythm section Fay Milton (drums) and Ayse Hassan (bass) with Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner and Perfect Pussy vocalist Meredith Graves. Road Trip is a sort-of cover of Goldie & Skepta's track Upstart (Road Trip), only now it's a raging beast of punk petulance. Bloody brilliant it is too. An album is due in early 2019.