Mike Atkinson

Suede – Nottingham Rock City, Thursday 28 March

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rock City by Mike A on March 30, 2013

Originally published in the Nottingham Post

It’s hard to believe that Suede have never played Rock City before; even front man Brett Anderson had to check with the crowd, just in case a stray Nottingham date had slipped his memory.

In truth, we could be forgiven for feeling a wee bit shunned. Suede’s last gig here was at Trent Polytechnic in October 1992, just after the release of second single Metal Mickey. It was one of those rare occasions when an audience could be observed singing along, word perfect, to tracks that hadn’t yet been released: a clear sign that the band were destined for imminent greatness.

Greatness duly followed: chart-topping albums, an unbroken eleven-year run of hit singles, and a career that is widely credited as inspiring the Britpop boom. But by 2003, the band’s creative spark was dimming. A seven-year hiatus followed, broken by a reunion show in 2010 that was supposed to be a one-off.

Three years on, Suede are still a going concern. They’ve yet to stage a full UK tour – but with a big London show imminent, in support of their comeback album Bloodsports, a warm-up date was quickly needed, and Rock City fitted the bill. After all these years, it was a welcome recognition.

The eighty-minute, eighteen-song set was evenly divided between new material and old favourites. It opened with the first three tracks from Bloodsports: a bold move, which thrust the band firmly into the present day. Then it was onto the classics: Animal Nitrate, Metal Mickey and We Are The Pigs, all sounding as fresh and vital as ever.

The three founding members might be in their mid-forties, but middle age hasn’t blunted their focus. The playing was sharp and lean, and Brett Anderson remains a compelling, energising presence, barely touched by the aging process.

During Killing Of A Flash Boy, one of Suede’s many great B-sides and a big fan favourite, Anderson sunk out of sight, mobbed by the crowd. “Yeah, thanks for that”, he spluttered at the end of the song, surfacing with a wry grin, his shirt torn open to the navel.

Three of the new songs, taken from the quieter end of Bloodsports, had never been played on stage before. Although it would have been great to have heard some of the big ballads from Dog Man Star, they punctuated the set effectively, and were respectfully received. Two of them – Faultlines and Always – paved the way for the final salvo of the main set, which ended with the thrilling double whammy of Trash and Beautiful Ones.

Conducted by a demonically beaming Anderson, the crowd bellowed along, reconnecting with the mad mid-Nineties hedonism that Suede had documented so well. “We’re trash, you and me, we’re the litter on the breeze”, we roared, as if 1996 were only yesterday. It was a suitably messy climax to a truly magnificent show, from a legendary band who are right back at the top of their game.

Set list: Barriers, Snowblind, It Starts And Ends With You, Animal Nitrate, Metal Mickey, We Are The Pigs, Sometimes I Feel I’ll Float Away, Hit Me, Filmstar, Killing Of A Flash Boy, Faultlines, Always, So Young, Trash, Beautiful Ones. Encore: What Are You Not Telling Me, For The Strangers, New Generation.

Origamibiro – Nottingham Contemporary, Friday 22 March

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham Post by Mike A on March 30, 2013

Originally published in the Nottingham Post

There’s more to an Origamibiro performance than mere music. As the Nottingham-based trio told us, their shows are also designed to lay bare the processes behind their work, giving us a glimpse of how it’s all done.  “We bring our studio with us everywhere we go – and we don’t travel light”, Jim Boxall explained, gesturing to the sizeable array of kit around him.

While Tom Hill and Andy Tytherleigh concentrated on the musical elements – a pair of ukuleles, a double bass, an electric guitar that was alternately picked and bowed – Boxall, who prefers to be known as The Joy of Box, took care of the equally important visual elements. With a miniature camcorder in one hand, he manipulated a variety of objects with the other, looping the sounds which they made, and beaming his actions onto the backstage wall.

These looped and layered noises – crinkled camera film, scrunched and torn paper, the hammering of an antique typewriter – gave the band its percussion section. The two musicians used the same techniques, conjuring crackling and shimmering soundscapes from their instruments.

The music’s dreamlike qualities were boosted by video footage that juddered and flickered, never quite settling into full clarity. Sepia-tinted civic dignitaries beamed at us, all dressed up for a long-forgotten function. A waving child emerged in front of smouldering undergrowth. Letters were typed onto blotchy paper, and magnified to the point of abstraction.

“Experimental” is an overused term, but in this case it was justified. Much of the music was being performed for the first time, ahead of recording sessions for the next album, and you could sense the performers feeling their way through uncharted terrain, responding to each other’s ideas as they emerged.

“We wanted to make it as live as possible, which means it’s fallible and risky” said Boxall towards the end of the show. “Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t – but that’s part of the joy, isn’t it?” It certainly was – for to our ears, this experiment was an unqualified success.

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Girls Aloud – Nottingham Capital FM Arena, Tuesday 19 March

Posted in Capital FM Arena, gigs, Nottingham Post by Mike A on March 30, 2013

Originally published in the Nottingham Post

If this isn’t the Girls Aloud farewell tour, then it’s certainly doing a good impression of one.  After just over ten years at the top – or seven years plus an extended break, if you’re being picky – the girls are coming towards the end of a tour that celebrates their past achievements: twenty-one hit singles, seven big-selling albums, and a career that has defied all expectations.

“This is our penultimate show”, said Kimberley. “That’s the one before last”, she added, just in case we were struggling with the word “penultimate”. With just twenty-four hours left on the Girls Aloud clock, this made for an emotionally charged night. At times, some of the girls looked close to tears (especially Sarah, whose top lip seemed particularly prone to quivering), but for the most part, they seemed determined to have as much fun as possible (especially Cheryl, who looked like she was having an absolute blast from start to end). The smiles were real, the enjoyment was never forced, and the party mood onstage gradually infected the initially reserved crowd, allowing us to give them the warmest of send-offs.

While lesser acts might have been happy to shuffle on and off stage from the wings, Girls Aloud had grander schemes. They began the show suspended in mid air, perched on top of a platform that spelt out their name. The same platform re-appeared mid-show, lifting the girls from the main stage and slowly transporting them to a specially constructed rear platform. At other times, the performers simply popped up through holes in the floor, freshly changed and ready for the next sequence.

The set list took us through the group’s hit-making career in near-chronological order, starting with Sound Of The Underground – the winners’ song from 2002’s Popstars: The Rivals – and finishing with last year’s comeback single, Something New. It was a guided tour through one of the most consistently inventive catalogues in recent pop history, with songs that plundered fifty years of musical styles – new wave, electro-pop, eurodance, rock & roll, disco, blues and show tunes alike – and bent them into an instantly recognisable signature sound, topping them with witty, surreal and leftfield lyrics.

If the crowd seemed slow to respond at first, an absolutely banging version of Jump brought everyone alive, as the girls worked every corner of the stage, accompanied by eleven tirelessly energetic dancers. Switching from burlesque-inspired outfits to Mardi Gras-style head-dresses and wings, they paraded down an extended catwalk for The Show, twirling their outsized carnival costumes. This massed catwalk strut proved to be a favourite move, as the girls seized every opportunity to work their runway, pouting and vamping like seasoned supermodels.

“This is our favourite part of the show” said Nicola, as the group arrived on the rear stage for a three-song set. But while those at the back of the arena enjoyed their enhanced view, the fans at the front were left somewhat in limbo, many still facing towards the main stage. Stronger songs would have helped to bridge the gap, but this was where the chronological approach started to wear thin, revealing a certain drop-off in excitement compared to those brilliantly inventive early hits. In retrospect, this was probably an attempt by the group’s songwriting team to steer the group into more mature waters – but Girls Aloud were always at their best when at their brashest and brattiest.

With that in mind, perhaps it makes sense to call it a day after ten years, while the girls can still be brash enough and bratty enough. It’s difficult to imagine them performing songs like No Good Advice and Something Kinda Ooooh once they hit their mid-thirties, and so perhaps they shouldn’t even try. Instead, let’s remember them at their peak: fondly serenading both us and each other with I’ll Stand By You, then sending us home with The Promise, their biggest hit of all.

“Thank you so much from the bottom of our hearts”, said Cheryl. “Not only for tonight, but also for the last ten years.” Girls Aloud, we’re going to miss you. Sure, you’re only a daft little pop group – but you’re also one hell of a classy act.

Set list: Sound of the Underground, No Good Advice, Life Got Cold, Wake Me Up, Jump, The Show, Love Machine, Whole Lotta History, Can’t Speak French, Biology, Sexy! No No No…, Untouchable, On the Metro, Call the Shots, Something Kinda Ooooh, Call Me Maybe, Beautiful ‘Cause You Love Me, Something New, I’ll Stand By You, The Promise.

Disclosure & Clean Bandit – Nottingham Rescue Rooms, Tuesday March 5

Posted in gigs, LeftLion, Rescue Rooms by Mike A on March 17, 2013

Originally written for LeftLion

Although this was a sold-out show, punters were still thin on the ground as Clean Bandit took to the stage. This didn’t dent the enthusiasm of the six gold-clad performers, whose innate sunniness was a joy to behold. They were a disparate bunch: a hooded keyboardist, a classically trained violinist and cellist, and a troupe of three singers – plucked from a community singing group in Kilburn – who alternated lead vocals.

The diversity of the line-up was reflected in the music, which gleefully plundered genres like a latter-day Basement Jaxx, and with comparable wit and colour. Tracks would sometimes halt for chamber-music breakdowns, which quoted naggingly familiar classical pieces. This worked so well, that you found yourself wondering why nobody had attempted it before.

As it’s still early days, there were a couple of covers: a mash-up of Gangsta’s Paradise and Survivor, and a rousing take on SBTRKT’s Wildfire that seemed to seal Clean Bandit’s popularity in the ever-filling room. Forthcoming single Mozart’s House closed the set. It’s an absolute corker of a track, boosted by a clever, compelling video, which deserves to do well.

For such a mature-sounding act, Disclosure’s youth still comes as a surprise: Guy Lawrence is just into his twenties, and his brother Howard is still in his late teens. A clean-cut pair, with an unaffected, boyish enthusiasm, they stationed themselves at diagonally facing consoles, beneath a custom-made, back-of-stage lighting rig and diamond-shaped projection screens.

Relying on pre-recorded elements as little as possible, the pair brought a properly live feel to their music, which was augmented by Howard’s bass guitar and Guy’s percussion. Cuts from the forthcoming debut album, of which there were many, slotted seamlessly alongside tracks such as Boiling – an evenly furrowed glide that updates house and two-step garage for a new generation – and current hit White Noise, whose instant-recognition factor lifted the whole room.

Adding live percussion to electronic dance music is an approach that can be fraught with peril, as anyone who ever witnessed dodgy bongo players at tribal house nights could testify, but Guy’s crisp, to-the-point embellishments served the tracks well. By adding cymbals and cowbells to an elongated, dubbed-up version of Running, the Jessie Ware remix which helped make Disclosure’s name, the track felt re-invigorated and renewed.

The biggest whoops of the night came for the brothers’ breakthrough hit Latch, which closed the show. Although far from typical of Disclosure’s sound in rhythmic terms – it’s less of a skitter and more of a march – the track’s popularity proved to be unmatched. The retina-burning backlights rotated and flashed; the head-shaped logos shimmered, seemingly in mid-air; and a happy, equally youthful crowd hollered along, turning the love song into an anthem of collective good cheer.

Feature: Katty Heath of Spotlight Kid, on The Voice Of Holland

Posted in features, interviews, Nottingham Post by Mike A on March 10, 2013

This feature originally appeared in the Nottingham Post.

Here in Nottingham, Katty Heath is best known as the singer with Spotlight Kid: a gloriously noisy alternative rock band, once described in this paper as “sounding like twenty thousand bees trapped in a wind tunnel”. But over in The Netherlands, where she has been living since 2011, Katty is more likely to be recognised a contestant on The Voice Of Holland, the TV talent show which spawned last year’s The Voice on BBC1.

Swapping the grime of the indie circuit for the glamour of the television studio, Katty’s transformation couldn’t have been more complete – but as she now reveals, her journey was a largely dispiriting and disillusioning experience.

“I was never a big fan of those shows in the first place”, she explains, talking to EG from her houseboat in central Amsterdam. “So I was going a little bit against my morals, I guess. But I felt that if I was going to have a permanent life here, I really want to have a music career here. So I thought, well, this could be a fast track way of making some connections in the industry.”

Persuaded to give the show a try, Katty applied online, and was invited in for a couple of selection rounds. These proved successful, as did the first two televised rounds: the “blind audition”, where the show’s judges cannot see the contestants, and the “battle round”, where each singer goes head-to-head with a rival. Katty sailed through them all, landing herself a place on the first of the live shows.

At this point, the eager contestant felt what little control she had over the process slipping away. Rejecting all her song proposals – Fleetwood Mac, Portishead, Nina Simone, Kate Bush – as “too unusual, not commercial enough, or too obvious”, the show’s producers insisted that she tackled Katy Perry’s Firework instead.

“Oh my God, I hate that song! And as the build-up came, it was very intensive. You’re in every day from nine in the morning until ten at night. It’s very tiring, so you’re not really in a fit state to sing to your biggest audience in your life.”

Swamped by a noisy arrangement, complete with mid-song pyrotechnics – the very opposite of what she had wanted – Katty did her best, but the voting went against her, and she failed to qualify for the next round.

A pre-recorded version of the track was immediately placed on iTunes, but “we never see a cent of that.” In fact, none of the contestants are paid to be on the show. “The only thing we received from it was a phone, because it was sponsored by Samsung.”

“When you’re in the show, you’re like: this is amazing, I’m loving the fame! And then as soon as you’re out of it, you’re like: Oh my God, it’s just a money-making machine, and we are pawns in it.”

“The first week after, I was just in a big hole of despair. You’re just dropped into nothingness. There’s no kind of follow-up, to see if you’re OK. From beginning to end, it’s six months, and you can’t really commit to anything else in your life. So I was sort of broken: financially, emotionally and psychologically.”

Tied by a year-long contract, which forbids her from releasing any other material until the end of March, Katty found herself in limbo, unable to capitalise from any immediate post-show opportunities. More humiliatingly still, she was even turned away from the doors of the studio, when attempting to watch one of the later live shows.

“Sometimes I feel like I shouldn’t have done it”, she reflects. “But I still think it was a valuable lesson, and a learning experience.”

When asked what advice she would give to anyone contemplating a similar move, Katty pauses before answering.

“Don’t expect to get paid. Don’t expect it to be the be-all and end-all. Just see it as an experience, rather than a solution. See it for what it is: entertainment, a TV show, and very quickly you’re going to be yesterday’s news. Take from it what you can, but don’t be deluded into thinking it’s about you. Because it’s not. It’s about viewing figures, and the company making money out of you.”

The most intrusive part of the whole process for Katty was having her past scrutinised.  “We all had to have an interview with a private investigator, who had already investigated us,” she says. “That’s to protect the company, because if people come forward with stories about you, they want to be prepared.”

She adds, laughing: “So of course they were with me for a long time, because I’ve had a right shady past!”

Spotlight Kid’s single Budge Up is out on Monday.

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Justin Bieber – Nottingham Capital FM Arena, Saturday March 2

Posted in Capital FM Arena, gigs, Nottingham Post by Mike A on March 10, 2013

This review originally appeared in the Nottingham Post.

By all accounts – including his own – Justin Bieber’s nineteenth birthday celebrations hadn’t exactly gone according to plan. “Worst birthday”, he tweeted in the early hours of Saturday morning, having left his own party after just a few minutes.

Concerned “Beliebers” rallied round. There are over 35 million of them, so it was quite a huddle.  By Saturday afternoon, a hashtag was trending: #OperationMakeBieberSmile.

Queuing outside the Capital FM Arena in their thousands, Justin’s Nottingham fans had been placed on a historic mission. This was their hero’s first performance as a nineteen year-old, and his emotional well-being was now in their hands. Were they up to the challenge?

As historic missions go, this was a tough one. Many had queued for over nine hours, eager to secure the best possible spot inside the venue. The support acts – Australia’s Cody Simpson, and Justin’s fellow Canadian Carly Rae Jepsen – kept the troops entertained, but as the expected twenty minute gap between Jepsen and Bieber stretched into an eighty minute slog, even the most dedicated diehards could be forgiven for wilting.

Where was Justin? And why the extra hour’s delay? Was he still sore after the party that never was, and throwing a backstage teenage strop?

We may never know. It certainly wasn’t the fault of the Arena itself, whose organisation of the whole event deserves a special mention; other venues could learn a lot from their informative approach, and their genuine concern for the welfare of their young guests. “We cannot control when an artist is ready to go onstage”, they explained.

Naturally, none of this dampened the screams of delight when Justin finally took to the stage. And despite the lateness of the hour, he still performed his full set, stretching way beyond the expected 11pm curfew.

As entrances go, this was one of the most spectacular that the Arena has ever seen. Attached to a truly enormous pair of grey wings, the star of the show emerged high up at the back of the main stage, then sailed gracefully down to a waiting spotlight at the very front of the long extended stage, narrowly avoiding a forest of outstretched hands. Fireworks popped, lasers flashed, ticker-tape shimmered. It was quite the moment.

Opening with forthcoming single All Around The World, a high-energy stomper with clubbed-up beats, Justin and his troupe launched into the first of many well-drilled routines. But where was that all-important #BieberSmile?  The staging was faultless, but what of the man? Still playing it cool behind his shades, he was difficult to read.

“Don’t throw things onto the stage”, he chided us after the second number, pointing at a stray T-shirt that could have caused a nasty slip. At this early stage, he felt less like a fantasy boyfriend, and more like a cross prefect. The mission wasn’t getting any easier.

The pace slowed for Catching Feelings, a rather lovely Michael Jackson-style ballad from last year’s Believe album. Although Bieber doesn’t yet have an out-and-out pop classic in his repertoire – a Baby One More Time or a Billie Jean, that the rest of the non-Beliebing world can fall in love with – Believe marks a clear step forward artistically, as he begins to move away from the toothsome teenpop that first made his name.

Tellingly, three of those early hits, including the winsome Eenie Meenie, were bundled together in an early medley, clearing the decks for the all-new Bieber 2.0. The trademark fringe went ages ago, replaced by a neat quiff, and tattoos appear to be springing up on an almost weekly basis; the owl on the left forearm looked particularly fetching.

Other musical highlights included Die In Your Arms, an old-school soul number with a slight Bruno Mars touch, and an affectingly sincere acoustic performance of Be Alright, accompanied by a lone guitarist. Justin strapped on a guitar of his own for Fall; at other times, he could be found behind a drum kit or a grand piano.

A missed cue led to a somewhat lacklustre Never Say Never, and a slight but significant sagging of energy levels in the room. This wasn’t good enough for Justin (“We’ve got to get it back to a ten, and I think that was a nine”), and we were duly urged to scream our loudest screams for Beauty And A Beat. The strategy succeeded, as the star worked the dance track as hard as he could. If he had seemed a tad diffident at the start, he was certainly firing on all cylinders by the end.

For One Less Lonely Girl, a lucky fan was hoisted onto the stage, placed on a makeshift throne, crowned with flowers, and fondly hugged. Others might have collapsed into hysterical sobs, but Justin had chosen well; this one kept her dignity, and beamed with amazed delight.

“You can do anything you want to do in life”, Justin told us, introducing the title track to Believe. “There’s nothing holding you back.” Inspiring words indeed, but perhaps a few of his fans could have shown a little more restraint during the final encore. Having peeled off his sweat-soaked vest and hurled it into the crowd, a newly topless Justin suddenly had a full-blown scrap on his hands. Reverting briefly to prefect mode, he stopped the band and resolved the dispute, then launched straight back into Baby, his best known hit.

And yes, he was smiling at last. #OperationMakeBieberSmile had been successfully concluded, and our boy looked like the luckiest nineteen year-old in the world. “Thanks for being there for me tonight”, he tweeted after the show. “You got me smiling. Love you. Thank you.” Justin, the pleasure was all ours.

Set list: All Around The World, Take You, Catching Feelings, One Time, Eenie Meenie, Somebody To Love, Love Me Like You Do, She Don’t Like The Lights, Die In Your Arms, Out Of Town Girl, Be Alright, Fall, Never Say Never, Beauty And A Beat, One Less Lonely Girl, As Long As You Love Me, Believe, Boyfriend, Baby.

I Am Lono / Sleaford Mods – Nottingham Rescue Rooms, Tuesday February 26

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rescue Rooms by Mike A on March 10, 2013

This review originally appeared in the Nottingham Post.

If Arthur Seaton had grown up listening to Mark E. Smith and John Cooper Clarke, maybe he could have fronted a band like Sleaford Mods. Then again, there’s never been a front man quite like Jason Williamson: scathing and surreal, funny and furious, with a stage manner that combines bitter, eye-popping outrage and casual, hand-in-pocket indifference. Behind him, Andrew Fearn confines himself to pressing Start and Stop on the laptop, and supping from a can of Red Stripe. You could call it Performance Art, but they probably wouldn’t thank you for it. They might have you believe that the music was cobbled together in five minutes, but Jason’s razor-sharp timing and faultless delivery suggests quite the opposite. “Boris Johnson and The Cheeky Girls shut down the underground!” he rages, with absolute conviction. For a moment or two, you find yourself in full agreement.

By the time that I Am Lono take to the stage, the upstairs space at the Rescue Rooms is jammed to capacity. They have a single to launch, and this is their biggest show to date. Behind them, live visuals are mixed from the back of the room by the Kneel Before Zod Video Club. There are clips from slasher movies and fantasy animations, and archive footage from the Soviet Union. During one track, a variety of items are fed into an industrial shredder: trainers, lemons, female sanitary products and cans of Pepsi.

Like Sleaford Mods, I Am Lono are an electronic duo, but there the comparisons end. Their songs are dark and introspective, informed by paranoia and claustrophobia, and yet their live sound opens up magnificently, drawing you into their world. David Startin’s guitar adds thrashy textures to Matthew Cooper’s keyboards, programmed beats and doom-laden vocals, evoking comparisons with late Seventies pioneers such as Suicide and Cabaret Voltaire. The set builds in intensity, from the four-to-the-floor throb of Leland (the A-side of the new single) to the climactic set closer, Why Everything Is Made Of Fives, proving that paranoia and claustrophobia can be curiously uplifting as well.

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Interview: I Am Lono

Posted in features, interviews, Nottingham Post by Mike A on March 10, 2013

This feature originally appeared in the Nottingham Post.

They might describe their music as “claustrophobic, pounding and paranoid”, but in the flesh, I Am Lono are an affably untroubled pair of souls – or so it would seem on the surface, at any rate.

According to Matthew Cooper, who sings and plays the keyboards, the claustrophobia is a by-product of the duo’s creative environment. “We write all the music in the basement, and it is very claustrophobic. There are no windows. The dehumidifier is the only bit of moisture that we get close to.”

Guitarist and co-composer David Startin agrees. “Every time we write anything, we have these speakers that really enclose us. It’s a very direct way of writing, so we’ve always got that element.”

“I think we’re both very sensitive people”, adds Matthew. “It’s difficult not to be paranoid.”

The pair met through sharing music and books, and their mutual admiration for the crazed “gonzo journalism” of Hunter S. Thompson gave them their name. In his early Eighties memoir, The Curse Of Lono, Thompson finds himself in Hawaii, attempting to cover a marathon. A fishing trip ensues, and Thompson lands a huge marlin, which he clubs to death. Believing himself to be a reincarnation of Lono, the Hawaiian god of fertility and music, he screams “I am Lono!” as he slaughters the fish, before going into hiding from angry islanders.

There’s another cultural reference in I Am Lono’s debut single, which will be launched at the Rescue Rooms on Tuesday. Lead track Leland is inspired by a character in David Lynch’s early Nineties drama Twin Peaks. Possessed by a demonic spirit, Leland Palmer, the small town’s seemingly mild-mannered attorney,  is eventually revealed as the murderer of his daughter Laura, solving the central mystery of the show’s first season.

With that in mind, the song’s chorus – “Oh Leland, I want your love” – makes for a disturbing tribute, but as Matthew explains, “It has a sort of tension to it, that I liked. There is the ambiguity of the name, as it’s not definitely a male name, but also there’s ambiguity with Leland as a character. In a way, the song is a cry for innocence.”

It’s also a prime example of David and Matthew’s love of soundtrack music. John Carpenter is another inspirational figure – “Escape From New York is one of the best soundtracks ever”, says David – and before the band formed in early 2011, Matthew mainly worked on soundtracks for independent film makers.

Visuals are an important component of their approach; Matthew does all the artwork, and the pair are “very much in control of what we want visually”. At the launch, visuals will be provided by a member of the Kneel Before Zod video club, who regularly screen “old B-movies and slasher movies”. The intention is for these to be mixed with live visuals on the night.

As a further inducement, advance ticket purchasers will be able to exchange their stubs for a free copy of the vinyl single. This pairs Leland – their most “four-to-the-floor” and dance-derived composition to date, with a “1978 New York” feel to it – with the thrashier, more guitar-driven In Silence, which David describes as having “a Pixies-esque early Nineties kind of feel; that kind of sonic power that pushes out.”

A digital release is also planned, although David and Matthew are less enthused about the format. “With downloads, it does feel more like a rental – a partial ownership of music”, says Matthew. As for making their music available on Spotify, he is decidedly lukewarm. “One million hits, and you can’t even buy a pizza.”

Support on the night will be provided by another electronic duo, the gloriously splenetic Sleaford Mods, whose acerbic social commentary stands in contrast to I Am Lono’s more enigmatic approach. “We’ve not got a song that will bring down the government”, says David. “Not yet”, he adds. Well, you never know.

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I Am Kloot – Nottingham Albert Hall, Monday February 18

Posted in Albert Hall, gigs, Nottingham Post by Mike A on March 10, 2013

This review originally appeared in the Nottingham Post.

“This is our first sit-downer of the tour”, said I Am Kloot’s John Bramwell, gazing out over a packed Albert Hall. “Not that we’re experimenting on you, or anything.” But given the suitability of this former Temperance Hall, with its late Victorian architecture, magnificent pipe organ and churchy acoustics, it was hard to imagine the Manchester trio having quite the same impact in a more typical stand-up rock venue.

The Albert Hall doesn’t stage many gigs, so this felt like a special occasion, as if an exception was being made. The artwork to I Am Kloot’s sixth and latest album, Let It All In, had been hoisted up at the back of the stage, almost obscuring the organ behind. It was a bold stroke for such an unassuming act, but the band’s fortunes have taken a marked upturn in recent years: a Mercury nomination for their 2010 album Sky At Night, and an unprecedented Top Ten placing for the latest release, just a few weeks ago.

“Some of you have been sticking with us for some time”, Bramwell observed. “By the looks of you, anyway”, he added, to laughter. “And we appreciate it.” A genial front man, with a relaxed manner and a droll turn of phrase, his stage patter had a welcoming effect, making us all feel like a part of the show.

As the epic, twenty-two song set progressed, the chatty asides ebbed away, leaving Bramwell’s songs to do all the talking. There was plenty of fresh material to digest, including the recent single Hold Back The Night, the lilting, Beatles-esque Masquerade, and the bitter, lovelorn Bullets – but Sky At Night provided many of the most outstanding moments, with songs that seem to have accrued extra power over time. Three of these closed the main set: Lately, a show-stopping Radiation – which left the audience briefly dumbstruck – and Proof, their anthem for lonely drinkers everywhere.

Three additional musicians wandered on and off the stage, adding keyboards, extra guitars, brass, woodwind and accordion. All six players returned for the encore. The audience stayed standing, light bulbs lit up the backdrop for the first and only time, and current single These Days Are Mine brought this exceptional night to a rousing, exultant conclusion.

Set list: From Your Favourite Sky, Morning Rain, Northern Skies, Bullets, Shoeless, Masquerade, Hey Little Bird, Let Them All In, Some Better Day, The Same Deep Water As Me, Hold Back The Night, At The Sea, Astray, No Fear Of Falling, I Still Do, Fingerprints, To The Brink, Mouth On Me, Lately, Radiation, Proof, These Days Are Mine.

Jake Bugg – Nottingham Rock City, Friday February 15

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rock City by Mike A on March 10, 2013

This review originally appeared in the Nottingham Post.

And so, it came to pass: on the day that Jake Bugg was announced as the first ever Nottingham act to headline Splendour, our first homegrown act to top the album charts duly became the first ever Nottingham act to sell out Rock City. Oh, and let’s not forget the small matter of a potential Brit Award, for British Breakthrough Act; voting closed on the day of the show, and the results will be revealed on Wednesday. And yes, that would be yet another first for a Nottingham act.

Never mind selling out Rock City; Jake could probably have filled the Arena as well. It’s hard to believe that just over twelve months ago, he was coming to the end of a residency at the Glee Club, but the eighteen-year old’s rise has been astonishingly sudden, blindsiding many seasoned industry observers.

He’s becoming a bit of a style icon, too. There have been gigs for Burberry, fashion shoots for FHM, and in the Rock City foyer, anyone eager to get the Bugg Look could buy branded polos and button-down check shirts.

Inside the packed main hall, two things immediately struck you: the extraordinary buzz of cheerful anticipation, and the sheer diversity of the punters, which ranged from up-for-it teens to beaming fifty-somethings, and even a few senior citizens. And this was a proper city crowd, as well; quite unlike the studenty throng who had turned out for the NME tour three days earlier. Family members were there in force, along with film director Shane Meadows, BAFTA-winning actress Vicky McClure, some of the lads from Dog Is Dead, and a crew from Radio One.

Stepping out to a homecoming hero’s welcome, Jake began his set in a low-key fashion, with a solo rendition of Fire. The band struck up for Kentucky, taken from the Taste It EP, and augmented with a hint of Duane Eddy-style twang.

Trouble Town brought the first of many throaty sing-alongs, followed by the next single Seen It All, a world-weary tale of drugs and violence. Simple As This nodded towards early Dylan, while the anthemic Slide bore comparison to Jake’s new mate, Noel Gallagher.

As promised, there was a new song, Slumville Sunrise. Powered by a dirty, speedy rock riff, it was a musical cousin of Lightning Bolt and a lyrical cousin of Trouble Town – are Slumville and Speed Bump City the same place? – which climaxed with a fantastic rhythm-and-blues guitar solo.

A solo acoustic section – Someone Told Me, Country Song, Note To Self – calmed things down, in preparation for the final run of singles: Two Fingers, Taste It, and the ever-thrilling Lightning Bolt. For the encore, a stripped-down version of Broken was given added power by the crowd, whose voices swelled up for each chorus. A storming cover of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues closed the set, leaving the hall on the highest of highs.

Jake’s a man of few words, and stage patter just isn’t his style, but you could sense his quiet delight throughout the show, as those heavy-lidded eyes coolly absorbed the whole spectacle. “It’s been a real pleasure to play here tonight”, he told us, “and I hope you’ve all enjoyed your evening.”

Unspoilt and unfazed by his sudden success, Jake continues to grow as a performer, adapting to the demands of a larger stage without compromising the qualities which have won him so many new fans. Those big arenas? It’ll be no sweat at all. He’s here for the long haul, and Nottingham will continue to be here for him too, cheering him every step of the way.

Set list: Fire, Kentucky, Love Me The Way You Do, Trouble Town, Seen It All, Simple As This, Slide, Slumville Sunrise, Ballad Of Mr Jones, Someone Told Me, Country Song, Note To Self, Someplace, Two Fingers, Taste It, Lightning Bolt, Broken, Folsom Prison Blues.

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Interview with Kagoule

Posted in features, interviews, Nottingham Post by Mike A on March 10, 2013

An edited version of this feature was originally published in the Nottingham Post.

Amongst the three members of Kagoule, there’s little discernible love for the garment which gave them their name. “We own probably none”, says singer and guitarist Cai Burns. “There’s at least three in my house”, admits bassist Lucy Hatter. “We just said it as a joke”, explains drummer Lawrence English, “but then we thought it might be alright.”

If you hear a band name often enough, it takes on its own meaning. Think of The Smashing Pumpkins, one of the band’s key influences, and gourd-related violence will rarely spring to mind. Likewise, it’s unlikely that you’ll link Kagoule with lightweight, foldable anoraks for too long. And besides, they’ve customised the name with a kooky K. Like Kriss Kross, or Kool and the Gang.

That’s pretty much where the kookiness ends, though. Despite their youth – they’re all seventeen, and in their final year at college – Kagoule are a remarkably level-headed bunch, with a clear-sighted dedication to their craft. Of the three, Lawrence is perhaps the most assertive, business-like one. Lucy tends to express the firmest opinions, while Cai has a thoughtful, dreamy reticence that marks him out as the main songwriter and front man.

The band formed two years ago. Lawrence knew Cai from school, Cai and Lucy were already a couple, and Lucy was friends with Lawrence’s sister, “so it all linked in quite nicely”. After serving the usual apprenticeship at “dodgy Maze nights”, the big break arrived in December 2011, when they were asked to open for Dog Is Dead on the main stage of Rock City. “It was the first proper gig”, reckons Lucy. “The first gig that wasn’t awful”, adds Lawrence.

The set was a triumph, opening the door to a host of new opportunities. “It made things more professional”, says Cai. “It made us feel like an actual band, and it got us into contact with a lot of people.” The band gigged regularly throughout 2012, appearing at festivals such as Dot To Dot, Y-Not and Branch Out. Denizen Recordings took them under their wing, giving them access to experienced management and state-of-the-art recording facilities. And now there’s a single, their first physical release, which will be launched at The Chameleon on Saturday night.

The tracks in question – Monarchy and Mudhole – are two of Cai’s earliest compositions, “so it seemed right to release them first”. Monarchy was written when he was just fourteen. It’s drawn from personal experience, but he declines to explain further, as “it can ruin it for some people”. Mudhole “is some fiction – I like to make up stories.” “It’s easier than writing a book”, says Lucy.

Musically, the band are inspired by the alt-rock of the early-to-mid Nineties: the Pumpkins, Nirvana, Fugazi, and Cai’s favourites, Unwound. “It’s so much better than what’s out now”, Lucy asserts. “It’s the most recent good music, I’d say.” “We didn’t really go for a Nineties sound”, says Cai. “We got compared to those kinds of bands, then we started listening to that music. After that, we realised that’s the music that we all really like.”

Once their studies are completed, the trio intends to take a year out, before thinking about university. “We’re not going to miss that opportunity”, says Lucy. An album is in the pipeline, and most of the tracks are already written. At the end of the month, they’ll be embarking on a mini-tour with label mates Kappa Gamma, with dates in Leicester, Leeds and Manchester.

Time for one final question. If Kagoule were given the opportunity to soundtrack a TV ad, what product would they choose to endorse? Pampers, says Lawrence, quick as a flash. Guns, says Lucy, without even a hint of a smile. Cai considers this longer and harder than the others, before opting for talcum powder. Nobody even thinks about lightweight, foldable anoraks.

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Interview: James Waring of The Invisible Orchestra

Posted in interviews, LeftLion by Mike A on March 10, 2013

An edited version of this interview was originally published in LeftLion magazine.

How did the idea for Invisible Orchestra get off the ground?

It’s been a culmination of things, over the years. Playing with lots of different people, meeting lots of different musicians. Everybody’s been in their own bands, wanting to get a bigger project together. And it’s also having a lot of music written that doesn’t actually suit the band I’m in [Royal Gala], and that would suit a much larger band. Then I met Martin, who plays the double bass, and we went on a tour together in Holland. I thought I’d really like to be in a band with Martin. And I just kinda got obsessed with it. It kept building and building. I know loads of brass players, and I’d probably got twenty people in the band by the time I booked the first gig, at the Arts Theatre. People were saying: I think it’s a bit short notice, I don’t think we’ve got enough time.

How far in advance did you book the gig?

I’d got about three and a half months, and we’d got about fifteen minutes of music together. So by having a date booked, it became a thing. I wanted a theatre, because I wanted to put on a proper event: a show, rather than a gig.

I saw a few people in the audience who were clearly Arts Theatre regulars. They looked a bit shell-shocked, that their Am Dram venue was turning into this maelstrom of excess.

(Laughs) Yeah, everybody was wasted and dancing off tables and chairs in the aisles – they were literally dancing in the aisles. The girl behind the bar was crying her eyes out, because she’d got three hundred people in front of her, all wanting a drink, and she was the only bar staff on. The theatre had a massive shock. I was telling them all along that it would be busy; it wasn’t going to be like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

How did you go about matching your tunes to the singers?

I didn’t approach some of the singers until we’d got the tunes done. I try not to have anything to do with the lyrics. That comes from the singers. What I do is to instigate things generally. I don’t write everybody’s parts, although I’ll remember everybody’s parts, even if they forget them. I’ll perhaps write a loose rhythm, ideas for percussion, the main brass line. Then they’ll get together and write around the idea that I’ve got. With some other people, I will write their complete lines. I might suggest something to Martin on the double bass, but he’s experienced enough just to know what it needs straight away. With Percy Dread, who’s been doing roots reggae for forty years, I asked him to do it, and he came along with a reggae tune. He’s been playing music for longer than I’ve been born, but I was getting him into the idea of doing a completely different style, but still in his own voice.

It was a very dramatic and unexpected start to your set. I was expecting Jools Holland-style good times from start to finish, but then Percy came on like this prophet of apocalyptic doom!

Percy’s a great guy, and he’s doing another song with us, for the next show. A lot of people are guests, but Percy’s like a proper member of the orchestra. At the rehearsal studio, the gates are locked and people have to ring me from outside, then I’ll go and fetch them. But somehow, once we start playing a song at rehearsals, Percy will just turn up, every time. He’ll walk straight in and start singing. I don’t know how he does it!

It must have been a huge departure for another of your singers, Ed Bannard from Hhymn. It would have taken him well outside his comfort zone.

I’ve known Ed since I was about 19. I knew him when he was in Skinny Sumo, and we’ve always been around each other. I wasn’t quite sure if he’d do it, but I think he enjoyed it in the end. For that particular song, I wrote all the music, and then Ed came in. To be honest, it took him about two rehearsals, and then he kind of nailed it.

Does everyone in the band come from Nottingham?

We’ve recruited a few people from further afield, but most people come from in and around Nottingham. Justin, the Hammond player, tours with Bad Manners quite a bit. He’s got a Grammy. He’s also played for Lee “Scratch” Perry. So, including all the vocalists, there were twenty-eight of us last time around.

Was it a logistical nightmare, getting all these people in the same room at specific times?

It was, but then it wasn’t so bad for the gig, because we knew that we’d be loading at 12, and we were paying the theatre from 12. We’d not finished some of the tunes on the day of the show. The percussion section sorted out some of Hannah Heartshape’s tune while we were sound checking. We only had about an hour with Natalie Duncan. She came to sound check, and we had a bit of a chat. So before the gig, we were as excited as anybody else to see how it sounded.

How did it feel when you were actually up on the stage?

It felt fucking great, to be honest with you. Everybody was hugging each other afterwards. It was a really, really fantastic feeling. Everybody put in such a lot of hard work, sacrificing their time. A lot of people had cancelled gigs to come. After the show, I said that we should take a break for a month or so. That lasted about a week. Then people were asking: when are we rehearsing again? So we organised the next practice a bit earlier than we intended – and everybody turned up!

What’s the plan for 2013?

I’ve just booked a show at Nottingham Contemporary on Easter Sunday, March 31st. We’ve got the whole of downstairs: The Space, and also the café bar. The line-up starts off with a barbershop quartet, then we’ve got Rollo Markee and the Tailshakers , a swing-blues band who I went on tour with. There’s also DJ Switch, who’s been three times the world DMC champion. He’s also the only DJ ever to play at The Proms, at the Royal Albert Hall. It’ll be like a family thing; we all know each other. We’ve had a lot of support from the Contemporary, and from Ste Allan of Dealmaker. So it will be a lot easier than last time, when we had no funding, no backing, a shell-shocked venue…

We’re also trying to confirm a show at The Scala in London at the moment, and there are a few more London shows in the pipeline as well. We’ve got a booking agent who has been looking for suitable festivals – and for realistic festivals, as this is not the sort of thing that we can go on tour with, unless there’s a lot of help and a lot of forward planning. There’s also a new Royal Gala album, which is coming out pretty soon; all the tracks have been recorded. And Invisible Orchestra have recorded five tracks at Paper Stone, who backed us without hearing us. They just trusted us.

How does this project differ from what you do in Royal Gala?

You get to work with a lot more different people. I’ve been working with Royal Gala for six years. Stylistically, they’ve become a lot more electronic, and a lot more dancey, which was our original plan anyway: to be a dance act.

Perhaps Royal Gala are more groove-based, whereas Invisible Orchestra are more song-based.

I suppose so. We are writing songs, that’s true. And we can go slow in the orchestra as well. Royal Gala are usually on late at a festival, with everybody off their heads, all dancing. We tried putting in a slow tune, and people just stopped dancing.

So the orchestra gives you a chance to explore a different range of emotions.

Yes, a complete range. Within your hour of set, you can have a whole show of emotions. We have been exploring that a lot more for the next gig. I want to work with more vocalists, and I’ve been talking to a few people. There will also be more people in the band; I’ve increased the strings, and there’s a sousaphone player and a really amazing trumpet player. I think there are seventeen in the brass section now.

Do people get you confused with The Hidden Orchestra, who are a completely different act?

Well, there’s fucking thirty-two of us now, so if they want to meet us outside in the car park, we’ll kick the fuck out of them!

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LeftLion: The Lion List

Posted in features, LeftLion by Mike A on March 10, 2013

We asked fourteen local music experts to select the top ten Nottingham bands and artists they were excited about in 2013. We then collated their results and picked out the dozen that came up most.

This is not a ‘best of’ or ‘most likely to’ list. It’s a mixture of established acts and newcomers who our panel believe are on the verge of doing something interesting musically this year. In alphabetical order we have…

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Grey Hairs – F.S.D.T. / Cheerful / Forehead

Posted in LeftLion, singles reviews by Mike A on March 10, 2013

Originally published in LeftLion magazine.

Although they started as more of a side-project than a serious concern, Grey Hairs have almost unwittingly turned into one of the hottest acts in town, proving there’s often a lot more mileage in happy accidents than carefully laid masterplans. Hard on the heels of their One Hundred Breakfasts EP – a collection of early-days demos, available for free from Bandcamp – this three-track 7-incher showcases the band at their primitive, brutal, smart-plays-dumb best. If you’ve ever seen them live, then lead track F.S.D.T. (“Fuck Shack Darts Tournament” – don’t ask) is the one that will have stuck in your memory. It starts on a single chord, and stays there for what feels like forever, building the tension while singer James/The Cup screams something about “treble twenties” (that’ll be the darts, then) and “waiting for the pain to stop”. Thus, when the second chord finally arrives, it feels – momentarily, at least – like the most thrilling moment in music, ever.

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Joe Danks – Bear On Ice EP

Posted in LeftLion, singles reviews by Mike A on March 10, 2013

Originally published in LeftLion magazine.

Born into a musical family – his parents’ band, Wholesome Fish, have been plying their trade since time immemorial – Joe Danks has been surrounded by music all his life. Now aged 17, he is quickly coming into his own as a characterful singer-songwriter and an engaging performer. Inspired by the likes of Neil Hannon, Elliott Smith and Nick Drake, Joe’s songs offer wry, doleful observations on love and life, with lyrics that veer from open-hearted straightforwardness to intriguing obliqueness. Stylistically, we’re in acoustic-folk territory, skilfully arranged and performed – most notably by Joe’s mother Beth, whose melodic fiddle playing offers a sympathetic, touching counterpoint to her son’s expressions of teenage angst. This is particularly evident on the upbeat Hook Line and Sinker, whose nautical metaphor is extended on the yearning, lovelorn Buoyancy Aid. Elsewhere, Bear On Ice is mysterious and sombre, while More Than Milk hides an unexplained riddle within a break-up song.

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