Mike Atkinson

Dot To Dot Nottingham – Sunday May 26th

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rescue Rooms, Rock City, Stealth by Mike A on May 30, 2013

Originally published in the Nottingham Post. Photos by Martyn Boston.

Around 45 Nottingham-based acts played this year’s Dot To Dot festival, doubling last year’s total and demonstrating that the city’s music scene has never been in better shape. From the main hall of Rock City to the tiny stages of Brew Dog and the Jam Café, local talent was everywhere to be seen.

The Gorgeous Chans, Acoustic Rooms

The Gorgeous Chans, Acoustic Rooms

At the Acoustic Rooms bar, teenage six-piece The Gorgeous Chans opened the festival with a sprightly performance, pitched somewhere between Vampire Weekend and Paul Simon, which sat well with the glorious sunshine outside.

Great British Weather, Stealth

Great British Weather, Stealth

They were followed at Stealth by the equally youthful Great British Weather, whose astonishingly accomplished set became one of the talking points of the day. Fronted by a slender, quiffed and bespectacled singer in an alarmingly gaudy leisure shirt, their playing was taut, muscular and spacious, characterised by chiming, resonant guitar figures and a strong grasp of dynamics.

OneGirlOneBoy, Stealth

OneGirlOneBoy, Stealth

I Am Lono, Stealth

I Am Lono, Stealth

Later at Stealth, OneGirlOneBoy and I Am Lono both offered dark, claustrophobic melodrama, matching abrasive guitar with icy electronics.

Saint Raymond, Rock City

Saint Raymond, Rock City

The main hall of Rock City filled early, giving a massive boost to the Nottingham acts which opened the line-up. “I thought there would be literally five people here!” said Callum Burrows, better known as Saint Raymond, as he reached for his cameraphone. Despite performing solo, he won over the crowd with effortless charm and instantly memorable tunes.

Ady Suleiman, Rock City

Ady Suleiman, Rock City

The same held true of Ady Suleiman, whose acoustic R&B has been gaining momentum nationally. A newly developed sense of showmanship has transformed the formerly reserved singer, whose vocal prowess goes from strength to strength.

Grey Hairs, Rock City Basement

Grey Hairs, Rock City Basement

Between these two acts, Grey Hairs fired up the Rock City basement with brutal, primeval energy, dragging late night rowdiness into the mid-afternoon.

Kagoule, Rescue Rooms

Kagoule, Rescue Rooms

In the early evening, a packed Rescue Rooms played host to two of Nottingham’s most hotly tipped acts. Kagoule delivered a stunningly effective set, inspired by Nineties alt-rock, and cheered on by members of Dog Is Dead in the front row. Backed by a newly formed band, and fresh from triumphs at Dot To Dot in Manchester and Bristol, Indiana was in her element in front of a home crowd, dissecting the darker side of relationships with twisted glee, and enjoying every minute.

Indiana. Rescue Rooms

Indiana. Rescue Rooms

While tanked-up revellers roared along to Britpop classics on the outside patio, the Acoustic Rooms brought welcome respite. Battling with an obstinate guitar, Gallery 47 might have described his set as “a nightmare scenario”, but he soon silenced most of the chatter, most notably with a fine cover of Bob Dylan’s It Ain’t Me Babe and a brilliantly sung, expertly plucked rendition of Duck Footprints. Following his set, rising soul star Harleighblu gave us a stripped-down, up close and personal performance, superbly backed by Ben James on sparse, bluesy guitar.

Although national acts dominated most of the night-time line-ups, The Corner on Stoney Street continued to fly the flag for Nottingham music, culminating in a second appearance for Kagoule and a closing set by their label mates Kappa Gamma. Later still, Dog Is Dead DJ-ed at the Rescue Rooms, and Kirk Spencer brought the festival to a conclusion, with an early morning set at Stealth.

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Alt-J – Nottingham Rock City, Monday 13 May

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rock City by Mike A on May 19, 2013

Originally published in the Nottingham Post.

Alt-J aren’t a band who normally bring moshpits to mind. An Awesome Wave, their Mercury Prize winning album, is a studied, reflective and delicate piece of work, which places them on the artier wing of indie-pop. It’s a far from gloomy affair – the melodies are bright and dextrous, and the often unfathomable lyrics conceal flashes of wit – but with a tempo that rarely rises much above mid-paced, it’s hardly an album to rock out to.

So what was it about this mild-mannered, neatly groomed band’s carefully rehearsed and precisely delivered performance that tipped the main floor of a sold out Rock City into a seething, chaotic frenzy? Perhaps the relative lateness of the hour had something to do with it; following two support acts, and ample opportunities for the crowd to visit the bar, Alt-J didn’t take the stage until a quarter to ten. Or perhaps this was simply a crowd that was hell-bent on having a good time, regardless of the source material.

By the third number, Tessellate, the moshers were running riot, bellowing along to the decidedly unanthemic lyrics (“triangles are my favourite shape, three points where two lines meet”) and raising their hands into the same shapes en masse (on Apple computers, the band’s name represents the keyboard shortcut for a Delta symbol).

“I hope you’re all looking after each other, because it’s starting to get nasty out there!” said keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton after Dissolve Me, a song that was supposed to be about calming down. His words seemed to have the opposite effect; less than halfway through the next number, Fitzpleasure, a sizeable circle had been carved out in the middle of the floor, ready for the body-slammers to pile in.

Later in the set, Matilda was transformed into a terrace anthem, and by the time that the band reached Ms, supposedly a dark lullaby (“close eyes, open, close again, forget and fall asleep”), a lone shoe could be spotted, surfing the crowd from side to side. Was this standard behaviour for an Alt-J gig? The band’s bemused smiles suggested that it probably wasn’t.

Away from the main floor, older elements of the audience responded very differently. Although equally rapt, they stood motionless, savouring the beauty of the playing. These were the broadsheet readers, the Later with Jools viewers, the Mercury Prize demographic.

For those less intimately familiar with the material, perhaps the evenly paced set lacked a certain amount of light and shade; it could have done with a bit more drama, and a bit more passion. And at a mere fifty-seven minutes, two or three more songs wouldn’t have gone amiss, either. But why quibble, when geeky art-rockers are treated like rock gods? This was Rock City at its best.

Rudimental – Nottingham Rescue Rooms, Thursday April 26

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rescue Rooms by Mike A on May 3, 2013

Originally published in the Nottingham Post.

Along with fellow travellers such as Disclosure and Duke Dumont, Rudimental are breathing fresh life into the upper reaches of the singles chart. Breaking the stranglehold of the increasingly indistinguishable R&B/Eurohouse club bangers which have dominated pop for too long, their take on dance music draws influences from classic house, UK garage and drum & bass, with an emphasis on soulfulness and songcraft. It’s an eclectic, multi-cultural brew, which reflects the band’s diverse backgrounds.

As a live proposition, they worked brilliantly, energising the crowd from the moment that they took to the stage, and generating a powerful, unifying rapport. Although vocalist John Newman was absent on the night, the three singers – Sinead Harnett, Tom Jules and Ella Eyre (who also performed a support set) – did a fine job, swapping lead vocals and sharing the front of the stage with their irrepressible MC, DJ Locksmith.

The set spanned a wide range of musical styles. The moody deep house of Spoons flowed seamlessly into Baby, lovingly duetted by Sinead and Tom. Hell Could Freeze flitted between Tom’s uptempo rapping and Ella’s slow-burning, Erykah Badu-styled balladry, before morphing unexpectedly into Skream’s disco-tinged remix. Taking the place of Emeli Sande, who contributes a couple of guest vocals on the band’s forthcoming debut album Home, Ella laid gospelly vocals on top of its closing track Free: a pop-rock chugger with an instantly memorable chorus.

A crowd-pleasing cover of The Fugees’ Ready Or Not slid into a furious drum & bass workout, which segued straight into the opening refrain of Rudimental’s first chart-topper, Feel The Love. It was a stunning moment, which raised energy levels through the roof.

Another cover kicked off the encore: Paramore’s Now, performed as a medley with Bob Marley’s Sun Is Shining. Then, at last, it was time for the biggest track of all: Waiting All Night, this week’s Number One single in the UK. It’s not often that a venue of the size of the Rescue Rooms gets to play host to a current chart-topper, so we relished the treat. The ovation was thunderous, and the band looked visibly moved. “We’ll never forget tonight”, said Locksmith. A truly special show.

Public Enemy – Nottingham Rock City, Tuesday April 24

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rock City by Mike A on May 3, 2013

Originally published in the Nottingham Post.

In 1987, Public Enemy burst onto the scene amidst a blaze of controversy, sending shockwaves through hip hop with their brutally uncompromising approach. Last week, alongside the likes of Rush, Heart and Randy Newman, they were formally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Back then, they were seen as dangerous, disruptive radicals. Now, against all the odds, they have ascended to the status of revered elder statesmen.

Inevitably, some of that early rage has been blunted. As a front man, Chuck D is an almost affable figure these days, communing with the crowd rather than confronting them. Shed of their fake Uzis, the ever-unsmiling, largely motionless Security of the First World seem less like a paramilitary troupe, and more like the butchest go-go boys in showbiz.

Even Flavor Flav looked somewhat altered. The cap was gone, revealing mini-dreads beneath. And where was his trademark clock? Deposited at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we were told, in accordance with a long-standing pledge. The clocklessness didn’t last long, though. A replacement had been sourced, and it was soon whipped out and pressed into service.

Flav has become quite the multi-instrumentalist of late. His drumming might have been basic, but he succeeded in holding down a steady rhythm while firing out a rap, while his bandmates took a break. And as a bass player, he didn’t do badly at all. “Flav, how low can you go?” we chanted, as he plucked and gurned, baring his metal teeth. To which one answer might have been: frolicking with Brigitte Nielsen on reality TV? Still, that’s water under the bridge, and maybe revered elder statesmen are now due some respect.

As for recently deceased stateswomen, that proved to be quite a different matter. “Ding dong, the wicked bitch is dead”, Flav hollered, to hearty cheers. This earned a pantomime scolding from Chuck (“That’s disrespectful!”), but Flav wasn’t to be silenced. “She didn’t give a f*** about real people”, he added, to further cheers.

Rock City has always held a special place in Public Enemy’s hearts. As Chuck reminded us, they debuted Bring The Noise here in 1987, in one of Rock City’s most legendary shows. The affection was returned by a series of guests from the front row. Stephanie’s word-perfect delivery of Don’t Believe The Hype was spotted, and she was hauled up for an impromptu performance. A few minutes later, local rapper Duke01 added a guest verse on Fight The Power. “I got to be careful”, said Flav. “People are coming up here and taking my job!”

Unlike most hip hop acts, all of Public Enemy’s music was generated live on stage – most notably by their brilliant turntablist DJ Lord, whose quickfire cutting of Smells Like Teen Spirit was a wonder to behold. The screeching sample that dominates Rebel Without A Pause might have been dialled down on the night, but few other concessions were made to middle aged mellowness.

The set ended with the Shirley Bassey-sampling Harder Than You Think, which became the band’s highest charting single last year, having been used as the theme tune for the BBC’s coverage of the Paralympics. It was a fittingly triumphant climax for an act who, twenty-six years down the line, have finally come in from the cold.

Kirk Spencer – Wonderland EP

Posted in LeftLion, singles reviews by Mike A on May 2, 2013

Originally published in LeftLion magazine.

For his first EP release since The Shanghai Underground in 2011, Kirk Spencer has teamed up with three local singers, for a five-track offering that combines bassy, mostly downtempo, sometimes trap-inspired beats with atmospheric, richly worked arrangements that cast a bewitching spell. There are still a few trademark Eastern touches – a sitar here, a chant there – but these are no longer the most dominant components of Kirk’s sound. Instead, on lead track Kukcu, Safia May invokes the dreamy tone which characterises the EP: “Where do you go when you close your eyes?” Louis Scott takes over for A Kid, an initially unhurried meditation (“nowhere to go, but it doesn’t matter”) which is accelerated by the arrival of a benignly twinkling, almost EDM-style synth riff. Long-time collaborator Marita also returns for the brooding yet affirmative Life On The Island, which pits her prayer for survival against icy swirls and ominous bass thuds.

Download this EP.

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Hot Coins – The Damage Is Done

Posted in album reviews, LeftLion by Mike A on May 2, 2013

Originally published in LeftLion magazine.

Four years in the making, The Damage Is Done is the work of Danny Berman, best known in Nottingham as Red Rack’em, and now based in Berlin. Its ten tracks offer “an estranged homage to late 70s NYC anti-culture”, with a mood that reflects the austere, angsty, recession-hit and pre-apocalyptic gloom of a period where post-punk met choppy new-wave funk and early electro. First single Geek Emotions sets the mood, as a desultory spoken vocal complains that “I never get to go to anything, overlooked and underpaid, on a string”. Elsewhere, New Beat carries echoes of Yazoo’s synthy burble, and Leathered nods towards the dark side of Italo. The clouds part for the final three tracks: the lengthy, beatific Roadtrip is almost cheerful, and I Ching (described as “David Mancuso having tantric sex with himself in a NYC loft”) soundtracks the post-club comedown.

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Rob Green – Learn To Fly EP

Posted in LeftLion, singles reviews by Mike A on May 2, 2013

Originally published in LeftLion magazine.

Rob Green is a born entertainer, whose irrepressibly buoyant eagerness on stage shines through in all his recorded vocal performances. Available as a free download via his website, the Learn To Fly EP is an instantly delightful representation of his talents. Magnetic kicks things off: an accusing scold, with a smile on its face. On the title track, a gently acoustic intro bursts into life with rippling piano and supportively cooing backing vocals, as Rob states his personal mission: “Wasting no more time pining, ambition climbing, got to change my state of mind.” Things get faster and funkier on Playing With Fire, with breakneck verses and playfully staccato jibes at Rob’s errant lover; indeed, it’s hard to think of any words rhyming with “fire” that aren’t spat out along the way. Finally, live favourite Over And Done delivers the ultimate kiss-off: “It’s been all of the pain, but none of the fun”.

Download this EP for free.

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