Mike Atkinson

Clean Bandit – Bodega, Sunday October 20

Posted in Bodega, gigs, Nottingham Post by Mike A on October 26, 2013

Originally published in the Nottingham Post.

Uniquely for a dance-based collective, Clean Bandit started life as a string quartet at Cambridge University, making them light on urban credentials, but heavy on musical prowess. Strings still help to define their sound, courtesy of violinist Neil Amin Smith and cellist Grace Chatto, and quotes from familiar classical pieces pepper their songs, adding melodic sweetness to the electronic thump.

The four core members were joined by two female vocalists on stage – their names were never revealed – for the opening date of their first headline tour, at a sold-out Bodega. This wasn’t Clean Bandit’s first Nottingham gig – they supported Disclosure at the Rescue Rooms in March – and they’ll be back again next month, supporting Bastille at Rock City.

The twelve-song set opened with Rihanna, the B-side of the last single: an instantly popular and well-recognised choice, although the sight of actual live strings did appear to take some punters aback. Mixing these acoustic instruments with amplified electronics can present a technical challenge, so the band had taken no chances, bringing their own sound desk with them. The investment paid off, and the sound mix was faultless.

Plenty of the set was familiar to the crowd; even the comparatively sombre and commercially under-performing Dust Clears, the most recent release, drew cheers of recognition and a mass singalong. A cover of SBTRKT’s Wildfire also went down a storm. Of the as yet unreleased tracks, the uplifting Nineties-tinged diva-house of No Place I’d Rather Be proved to be a clear winner in the room.

Later in the set, a double run of slower songs dipped the mood, causing conversation levels to rise. Order was restored by a walloping version of Nightingale, whose mid-song bass drop and Disclosure-esque beats ignited the main floor.

Mozart’s House, the biggest hit to date, was saved for last. It’s an endearingly daft track, with a wry spoken intro (“So you think electronic music is boring? You think it’s repetitive? Well, it is repetitive…”), a chamber music breakdown and a rapped lexicon of classical terms, which sails close to being a novelty song. If Clean Bandit can shake off the novelty tag without losing their delightful sense of fun and their anything-goes approach to music-making, they could be headlining bigger venues in the near future.

Natalie Duncan – Nottingham Contemporary, Saturday October 19

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham Post by Mike A on October 26, 2013

Originally published in the Nottingham Post.

Ahead of Natalie Duncan’s first hometown show in many months, four-piece band Cecille Grey stilled the busy room, with an atmospheric and reflective performance. Their sound has more in common with American indie-folk singers – Neko Case, Cat Power, Feist – than with homegrown acts, making them a unique proposition on the Nottingham scene. The set concluded with Stories, a track from their self-released EP You Me, whose jazz-tinged vocal cadences brought Joni Mitchell to mind.

Before hitting us with brand new material, Natalie Duncan and her band warmed us up with Sky Is Falling and Lonely Child, two of the most memorable tracks from last year’s debut album, Devil In Me. Looking elegant in black, with striking jewellery and a bold, side-swept haircut, she immediately struck you as someone who has matured as a performer, and who now feels significantly more comfortable in front of an audience.

Although as passionate as ever in her delivery – vocally, she has never sounded stronger – most of the old glumness has gone. These days, she will smile, chat and joke between songs, putting us at our ease instead of drawing us too far into her web of gloom.

This shift in mood was reflected in Natalie’s first two new songs of the evening. I See Colours is possibly her most straightforward and immediate composition to date, and no less powerful for it. “The world was black and white, but now I see colours raining over me”, she sang, and the message couldn’t have been more clear.

This was immediately reinforced by Warmer In My World, whose title should be self-explanatory. If Natalie gets her way – which is still a matter for negotiation, we were told – it should be the title track for the next album.

Three more new songs – Moon On The Bridge, Night Owl, Will We Be Strong – were performed solo at the keyboard, as the band took an offstage breather. Night Owl had only been written two days earlier, and Natalie wryly admitted to a certain recklessness in performing it so soon. She needn’t have worried; the song was spell-binding.

The band returned for a smoky, bluesy Black Thorn, followed by Keep Me Safe – another immediate crowd-pleaser, with a rousing, gospelly climax – and Over Again. For the encore, Natalie returned to another old favourite. “Then you can go and leave me in uncomfortable silence”, she sang, bringing the show to a cathartic conclusion. Ignoring the prophecy, we cheered her to the rafters.

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Harleighblu album launch – Nottingham Contemporary, Friday October 18

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham Post by Mike A on October 26, 2013

Originally published in the Nottingham Post.

Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, the promoters of Harleighblu’s Friday night album launch at Nottingham Contemporary, chose their support acts wisely. First up was local lad Ady Suleiman, who is also enjoying a landmark year, with appearances at the Glastonbury Festival and on the Radio One playlist. Accompanied by Ed Black on guitar, and performing without the safety net of a rhythm section, he delivered a crisp set of acoustic R&B that showcased an impressive vocal command and a razor-sharp sense of timing.

Special guest MC Supernatural – a veteran of the New York hip hop scene, who holds the world record for the longest continuous freestyle rap – charmed the swelling crowd with a warm-hearted and hugely entertaining display of his skills. His quickfire impersonations of Busta Rhymes, Slick Rick, Biggie Smalls and DMX drew roars of laughter, as did his closing freestyle session, in which he grabbed items from the crowd – lipstick, beer, vaseline, you name it – and incorporated them into his non-stop rhymes, never missing a beat.

Interrupting an effusive opening speech from organiser Parisa Eliyon, for fear of bursting into tears before the show had even started, Harleighblu strode onto the stage wreathed in smiles, and eager to entertain. This was her second album launch of the week – “we’ve got London out of the way” – and the 21 year-old’s delight was plain to see. “I’ve even seen my liitle bobble head in HMV”, she grinned, gazing wide-eyed at the packed room and declaring that “this is absolutely mental”.

Released last Monday, Harleighblu’s debut album Forget Me Not is a shrewdly sequenced collection, which divides into two contrasting halves. At the start, we find her struggling to set herself free from a toxic relationship with a charismatic and charming cheater. Wise to all his tricks, and refusing to play the role of victim, she nails him with devastating eloquence. In the second half, as the mood switches from gritty funk to swooningly orchestrated neo-soul, a new love enters her life, bringing fresh hope for a better future.

Songs such as these require dexterity and range, and it was a delight to witness the singer rising to the challenge with such consummate ease. Opening with the withering Enough Now, and following it with her mocking re-interpretation of Annie Lennox’s Who’s That Girl, she commanded the stage, expertly fusing the roles of soul diva and jazz chanteuse. Her regular six-piece band surrounded her, supporting her vocal flights with empathy and precision.

Ending the eight-song set on a gentle note with the wistful Let Me Be, the players returned for a thrillingly funky extended jam. Joining them on stage, Supernatural took on the role of musical director, coaxing the band members into unscripted breakdowns and solos, and making the homecoming homegirl blush with his tributes: “Nottingham’s queen… better than Amy Winehouse!”

It was a suitably climactic end to a triumphant show, celebrating Harleighblu’s achievements and launching her career onto the next level. “Absolutely mental”, it might have been – but it was thoroughly deserved, too.

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M People – Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, Wednesday October 16

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Royal Concert Hall by Mike A on October 26, 2013

Originally published in the Nottingham Post.

They may not have released any new material since the end of the Nineties, but M People have never really gone away. For their first full UK tour in eight years, the band are celebrating the twentieth anniversary of their breakthrough second album Elegant Slumming, with a greatest hits set. That said, it was a little strange to hear them repeatedly thanking us for the last twenty years, when they actually formed in 1990 – but, hey, who’s counting?

The evening started with a likeable support set from Tunde Baiyewu of the Lighthouse Family, whose smooth vocals and relaxed, benign manner instantly found favour. Opening with the crowd-pleasing Lifted, Tunde switched between old favourites and brand new material, ending with a rapturously received High.

Accompanied by fellow founder members Shovell on percussion and Paul Heard on keyboards, and backed by a further five musicians and two singers, M People’s Heather Small burst onto the stage in a blaze of gold lurex, as the players launched into One Night In Heaven. Her trademark “pineapple” hairdo is long gone – she wears it straight and long these days – but Heather’s unique vocal style is as recognisable as ever. She has some curious intonations, which are easy to caricature – step forward, Miranda Hart – but they give her voice both character and charm.

You won’t find much anger, heartbreak, or edginess in an M People song ; rage and pain just aren’t their style. Instead, they’re big on self-empowerment; we are forever being encouraged to stand strong, to reach for the skies and to believe in ourselves. These sorts of messages have become common currency in modern pop, but they were less common twenty years ago – so in this respect at least, you could argue that M People were ahead of their time.

In other respects, modern pop has left M People behind. Towards the end of their chart career, the club culture which helped to shape their sound had already moved on, leaving them working a formula that was beginning to tire. Tellingly, the current set list includes all the hits from the first four years, but just three from the final four years.

Among those older hits, the catchy piano-house of Renaissance was an early highlight, and Heather did a beautiful job on the band’s cover of the CeCe Rogers classic, Someday. Following a lengthy mid-set lull, as Heather changed into a silver trouser suit and the remaining players noodled on for rather too long, flagging spirits were revived by a rousing Open Your Heart and a super-extended Sight For Sore Eyes, which showcased Shovell’s percussion skills. And although fellow founder member Mike Pickering was absent on stage, saxophonist Snake Davis deputised in fine style, peppering the songs with fluid solos.

A three-song encore climaxed with the evergreen Moving On Up, whose defiant, I-will-survive sentiments finally gave Heather a chance to bare her teeth and show some scorn (“take it like a man, baby, if that’s what you are”).  A delighted crowd showed their love, the players took their bows, and the night finished on an exultant high, giving us all a much-needed twenty-first century shot of vintage Nineties optimism.

Set list: One Night In Heaven, Renaissance, Excited, Angel Street, Colour My Life, Someday, Search For The Hero, Natural Thing, Don’t Look Any Further, Open Your Heart, Sight For Sore Eyes, How Can I Love You More, Just For You, Itchycoo Park, Moving On Up.

Amber Run – Bodega, Thursday October 10

Posted in Bodega, gigs, Nottingham Post by Mike A on October 26, 2013

Originally published in the Nottingham Post.

Formed at Nottingham University in December 2012, Amber have made remarkable progress over the past few months. Noah, their debut single, was played on Radio One, Radio Two and 6Music, and playlisted by Radio One last month. The band’s fourth and fifth gigs were at the Reading and Leeds festivals, and an appearance at the Theatre Royal for Nottingham Rocks soon followed, backed by a 14-piece orchestra.

For Amber’s first headline show – still only their eighth as a band – the timing couldn’t have been more auspicious. Only last week, they became the latest Nottingham act to sign with a national record label (RCA Victor), bringing the current total up to seven, and giving the city’s thriving music scene yet another boost of confidence.

All of this good fortune ensured a near-capacity crowd at the Bodega. Friends and fellow students filled the front half of the floor, while industry figures and scene regulars squeezed in at the back. For many, it was the first opportunity to witness these overnight sensations in the flesh, and an atmosphere of eager curiosity duly prevailed.

Opening with Heaven, the forthcoming second single, Amber launched confidently into their nine-song, 45 minute set, setting the bar high for what was to follow. It was hard to believe that they are still such a young band – some are 19, others have turned 20 – and harder still to match their comparative inexperience on stage with the polished professionalism of their playing.

A sound choice for a major label debut, Heaven is a powerfully surging track with a yearning, heartfelt vocal, skilfully navigating various twists and turns before coming to rest on unaccompanied vocal harmonies. (“Now that heaven is on fire, and the world’s technicolour, I’ll be chasing angels all my life.”) Lyrically, it felt like a bold and optimistic statement of intent.

Little Ghost, one of the strongest tracks on the Noah EP, was followed by a couple of numbers that were introduced as “old songs”. Although this seemed a strange claim for such a new act, at least one of them (Stone) dated from singer Joshua Keogh’s pre-Amber solo career. Some of the audience clearly recognised the track. Perhaps they had seen him perform it at Splendour in 2012, when Joshua opened the LeftLion Courtyard stage – just as Jake Bugg had done in 2011.

See You Soon built up the energy levels, paving the way for the instantly memorable Spark, which showed all the signs of being a future festival anthem. By the end of the song, both the band and the crowd were chanting along to its central refrain: “Let the light in, let the light in”. It felt like another of those “great things are about to happen” moments.

An extended version of Noah closed the set. As the fans at the front sang along from the first line of the first verse, the observers at the back exchanged meaningful glances. This is how followings are built.

“It’s been a real graduation for us”, said Joshua towards the end of the show. Since all five band members have just dropped out of their final year at university to concentrate on the band full-time, it’s also the only graduation that they’re likely to get. But with the likes of Bastille and Kodaline making it big this year, there could well be a place waiting for Amber’s similarly pitched, but musically and lyrically weightier approach. If they can be this good after less than a year, then in a year’s time, they could be spectacular.

Note: At the time of this review, Amber Run were known as Amber.

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Splashh / Charlie Boyer and the Voyeurs – Spanky Van Dykes, Nottingham, Thursday October 3

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Spanky Van Dykes by Mike A on October 26, 2013

Originally published in the Nottingham Post.

It’s the first night of the tour, and Charlie Boyer and the Voyeurs have only made it to the venue in the nick of time. Within minutes of their arrival, they’re into the first song of their support set, lined up along a low stage that is all width and little depth. Centre partings and all-black outfits predominate, save for a trend-bucking keyboardist in a figure-hugging floral scoop-neck.

Viewed in a certain light, and at a certain angle, Boyer bears a fleeting resemblance to a young Ray Davies. His dour, faintly vexed demeanour is shared by the rest of the band, none of whom seem to be having much of a good time.

This is a shame, as the songs themselves are far from dour. Sometimes they spin off halfway through, into psych/space-rock territory. When this happens, it works very well indeed. At other times, particularly towards the end, the playing inches towards Quo/Creedence-style boogie. This is also pretty effective. If the players ever manage to break through their collective self-consciousness, it could be doubly effective.

It’s harder to gauge the stage presence of the headliners, as Splashh are practically invisible to all but the front row, illuminated only by the groovy Spankys light panels behind them. Happily, their sound is so immersive, and their playing so focussed and cohesive, that you can live without the visual distraction.

They’re significantly more echo-drenched on stage than on record, which does help to blur some perilously weedy vocals. Sonically, this is the rough equivalent of those last few mouthfuls of a Sunday roast dinner, when all the elements on your plate have fused into one flavoursome whole. This is, of course, the best bit of the whole dinner, so it’s a neat trick to extend the sensation over a full set.

There’s a lot of wanting going on in Splashh songs. On Vacation, they “wanna go where nobody knows”. On Need It, singer Sasha Carlson is itching for escape: “I wanna ride away, I’m leaving today, I want it today.” And then there’s recent single All I Wanna Do, whose title should be self-explanatory. Performed immaculately, it’s possibly the highlight of the set. There are also some new songs, including the episodic Peanut Butter And Jelly, which builds its energy by switching between radically different tempos.

A super-extended reworking of Need It ends the set. “We’ll try to keep it going for as long as we can”, they promise – and true to their word, a two-chord bass and drum breakdown gradually soars off into the stratosphere, boosted by abstract guitar textures and jet-plane-taking-off synth rumbles. Having spent the song talking about their need for escape, it’s almost as if they have managed to construct their own getaway. What better way to end a set, and start a tour?

Nottingham Rocks – Nottingham Theatre Royal, Saturday September 14

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Theatre Royal by Mike A on October 26, 2013

Returning to the Theatre Royal for a second year, Nottingham Rocks showcased four of the city’s most promising young musical talents, backed by a 14-piece orchestra under the direction of arranger Jonathan Vincent. Remarkably, most of the performers are still in their late teens, and none are over 21. For all of them, the evening presented a unique opportunity: to adapt their material to the demands of an orchestra, and to present themselves to a largely older audience, in a more formal setting than usual.

Georgie Rose and her three-piece band opened the evening in fine style, blending Georgie’s country-tinged balladry and strong songcraft with ambitious, dramatic arrangements. Channelling the spirits of Johnny Cash and Stevie Nicks, the 18-year old rose to the challenge with calm confidence.

With scarcely half a dozen gigs to their name – two of them at last month’s Reading and Leeds festivals – Amber are making astonishing progress. Commanding the stage like seasoned professionals, they brought uptempo rock energy to Heaven and the epic Little Ghost. Powerful orchestral stabs brought out the drama in Spark, and current single Noah, recently playlisted on Radio One, was a triumphant climax to the set. Great things must surely lie around the corner.

After a shaky start with Enough Now, Harleighblu’s set quickly improved, powered by the 21-year old soul singer’s warm stage presence and creamy, luxuriant vocal delivery. The gritty, hip-hop tinged neo-soul of her forthcoming début album was re-cast as sultry supper-club jazz, evoking comparisons with Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. Receiving its live debut, Love Like This was boosted by a dreamily shimmering, Nelson Riddle-style string arrangement, turning the song into an instant classic.

Stepping away from his band, Saint Raymond’s Callum Burrows was faced with the challenge of marrying his rough-edged, decidedly blokey indie-rock with the controlled discipline of an orchestra. It could have been a car-crash – but as the sparky Everything She Wants converted to sprightly chamber-pop, and the reflective This Town blossomed into a mini-symphony, it became clear that the risk had paid off. Encoring with the hook-laden Fall At Your Feet, Callum left the stage beaming.

Although an impressive night in most respects, it wasn’t always a smooth and seamless ride. Compared with last year’s immaculate performance, the orchestra sounded ragged at times, exposing an awkward gap between the players at the front and the back of the stage. Perhaps a longer rehearsal period would have helped to iron out the wrinkles.

The evening was also in sore need of an on-stage compere, who could have introduced each act more fully, creating a stronger sense of occasion.

As for the four acts themselves, each should take immense pride in their achievements. As Georgie Rose said after the show, “Tonight was beyond special. One of those lifetime moments.”

Note: At the time of this review, Amber Run were known as Amber.

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Fuck Buttons – Nottingham Rescue Rooms, Wednesday September 11

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post, Rescue Rooms by Mike A on October 26, 2013

Originally published in the Nottingham Post.

For an experimental act with an unprintable name, Fuck Buttons have made remarkable progress. Last summer, two of their tracks were selected to soundtrack Danny Boyle’s Olympics opening ceremony. A year later, they headlined the Park Stage at Glastonbury – going head-to-head with the Rolling Stones – and their third album, Slow Focus, recently entered the lower reaches of the Top Forty.

Following the eerie, doomy, abstract electronica of The Haxan Cloak, whose set climaxed with brain-scrambling waves of ear-splitting noise, Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power took up their positions, facing each other over of a vast array of kit, and launched into Brainfreeze, their forthcoming single.

Live silhouetted images of the duo were superimposed onto computer-generated graphics behind them, offering a hypnotic visual accompaniment to the equally immersive soundtrack. Each epic track bled into the next, the transitions marked by shifts in the graphic themes.

Combining dance-derived dynamics with grinding noise/drone squalls, the music often teetered on the brink of euphoria, without ever fully surrendering to it. A fidgety, pummelling Tarot Sport got sections of the crowd moving, as did a soaring, comparatively melodic Olympians and an almost funky The Red Wing.

A small drum kit was briefly pressed into service at the start of Colours Move, the sole surviving track from the first album, Street Horrrsing. And although there were no vocal lines as such, indistinct shouts and yelps were blended into the mix; at one point, the pair looked as if they were yelling at each other over a bad phone connection, trading indecipherable private messages.

The set list was mostly unchanged from Glastonbury, except for the final track of the main set: Hidden Xs, which also closes the current album. A descending melodic chime played over and over, while synapse-frazzling whirrings, buzzings and blastings rained down upon us. Tinnitus was never so magnificently induced.

The Great Hip Hop Hoax – Broadway screening, Thursday September 5

Posted in Broadway, film reviews, LeftLion by Mike A on October 26, 2013

Originally written for LeftLion.

Following the success of Sound It Out, which took a fond look at Teesside’s last surviving record shop, Nottingham director’s Jeanie Finlay’s latest documentary, The Great Hip Hop Hoax, is now on general release across the UK. A day before its commercial opening night in Dundee, the original home of its central characters, Broadway hosted a special screening and Q&A, hosted by Sarah Lutton, programme advisor for the London Film Festival.

As Jeanie Finlay explained, the film-making process was littered with obstacles. Its two protagonists were no longer on speaking terms, and securing permission to film their story proved to be a lengthy uphill struggle. Given the breathtaking scale of the deception which the movie documents, this is perhaps scarcely surprising.

Thirteen years ago, Billy Boyd and Gavin Bain were a pair of talented and ambitious hip hop MCs, seeking a foothold in the music industry, but constantly thwarted by the mere fact of their Scottishness. At an audition for Warner Brothers, they were practically laughed out of the room, dismissed as “the rapping Proclaimers.”

However, once Boyd and Bain decided to re-invent themselves as Silibil ‘n Brains – a bratty, hell-raising and downright obnoxious skate-rap duo from Huntington Beach in California – doors that had previously been closed suddenly swung open. Signed up in 2004 by showbiz mogul Jonathan Shalit, manager of the likes of Charlotte Church, Myleene Klass and N-Dubz, they soon found themselves larging it in London on a hefty advance, widely tipped as rap’s Next Big Thing.

Throughout this time, Billy and Gavin – neither of whom had ever visited the USA – played their Silibil ‘n Brains roles to perfection, fooling everyone they met and never letting their meticulously constructed personas slip for a second. Consumed by their alter-egos, they partied hard and behaved atrociously, as Gavin’s obsessively captured video footage demonstrates. The mask only threatened to slip once: backstage at the Brit Awards, as a bemused Daniel Bedingfield perceptively queried Billy’s Californian accent. (“But I thought you were Scottish?”)

If the era of social media had dawned a few years earlier, Silibil ‘n Brains wouldn’t have lasted five minutes; one tweet from a former classmate, and the game would have been up.  But as the deception continued unchallenged, the internal tensions grew, ultimately reaching a breaking point which torpedoed Billy and Gavin’s friendship.

Cutting between archive footage, present-day interviews with the chastened and reflective pair (conducted separately, and spread over several years), and Jon Burgerman’s comic animated re-stagings of certain key scenes, the film skilfully tells a story that is by turns funny, shocking, touching and agonising. Having wormed their way into a subculture that sets great store on “keeping it real”, the fakers had unwittingly signed a Faustian pact – and while their downfall might have been inevitable, their failure to foresee it lends them an “innocents abroad” quality that even the worst of their excesses cannot fully smother.

For Jeanie Finlay, “trying to navigate between two known liars” was an immensely challenging process, as she sought to unpick the truth from a pair of unreliable witnesses whose mutual hostility remained undimmed. “I felt like a terrible divorce lawyer”, she confessed, fielding questions after the screening.

The tale does have a happier coda, though. The Great Hip Hop Hoax received its world premiere earlier this year, at the SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas, and both Gavin and Billy flew over with Jeanie for the occasion, reunited for the first time since their bust-up. Buoyed the renewed interest, they are now rumoured to be working on a comeback album. Perhaps there’s a loophole in that Faustian pact after all.

Interview: Tindersticks (Dave Boulter)

Posted in interviews, LeftLion by Mike A on October 26, 2013

Originally published in LeftLion magazine.

One of their three founder members lives in Prague, another in Antwerp, another in France, and they collectively left town over twenty years ago. And yet to many, Tindersticks are still seen as a Nottingham band. Ahead of the release of their tenth studio album, Across Six Leap Years, keyboardist Dave Boulter talked to Mike Atkinson about the band’s Nottingham roots, and about their recent re-invigoration as a working unit.

Home towns have a habit of claiming kinship. But do we have any legitimate claim to seeing you as a Nottingham band, over twenty years after you left?

I suppose so, in some ways. The media still refer to us as a Nottingham band, and it’s kind of stuck. But by the time we became Tindersticks, we had left Nottingham anyway, so it’s not even as if the band originated from Nottingham, in that way. But everybody comes from somewhere, and I think Nottingham’s as good a place as any to come from.

When you were working here as Asphalt Ribbons in the late Eighties, how did you find Nottingham, in terms of what it had to offer musicians? Was it a stimulating and supportive creative environment?

I think it was the opposite in some ways. Nottingham just didn’t have the kind of infrastructure that places like Manchester and Liverpool had, and there wasn’t anyone to help you. You did a radio session for Radio Trent, and that was about as much help as you got. But in terms of artistic support, it was great. There were a lot of really interesting bands around, and a lot of really talented musicians. But I think everyone tended to get to a level where they filled a pub, and they did that three or four times, and then they just split up or moved on. So it could be frustrating. But at the same time, there was a lot of really great music being made in Nottingham, and it’s a shame that a lot of it never broke out and got anywhere else.

I’ve been told that the Nottingham music scene in the Nineties could be quite a bitchy and competitive place, and that there wasn’t an awful lot of kinship between musicians. What was it like in the late Eighties?

Probably very similar. Quite often, we’d play some venue, and most of the audience would be people from other bands. They would stand there with their arms folded, looking at you and not really wanting to be impressed, not wanting to clap. But it’s just what you expected. We didn’t really know anything else, and it didn’t bother us. We kind of hated Stuart’s band, The Desert Birds. [Stuart Staples, lead vocals] They were one of the better bands, but even though we liked the music, we would never let them know that. We always used to stand there, looking unimpressed.

You had Craig Chettle in your band for a while. He’s now a major player in our creative community, but what was he like as a guitarist?

As a musician in general, he was great. I suppose he was a bit of a legend. He started very young, and he was a great all-round musician. We did a lot of demos at his house; he had a little 4-track or 8-track recorder in his bedroom.  So it’s interesting to see him develop into what he’s become. He became our sound engineer as well, so we’ve had lots of different involvements with Craig.

The opening track (Chocolate) on your last album, The Something Rain, is an extended monologue which you wrote and delivered, describing a Friday night out in town.

It was a night out in Nottingham. It’s 99% true, except for the punchline. It wasn’t a cross-dressing man in the end, but she could have been either way for a while.

There are three locations in the monologue. You start off in a bar with a pool table, then you go to a place which has something of a reputation as a gay pub, then you end up in a club which sells onion bhajis. Can these be specifically mapped to locations?

Yeah, the pub that we always used to go to was called Jaceys, so that’s where we started. Then to have a quieter drink on a Friday night, we’d go round the corner to the Lord Roberts. And then up to The Garage. On the top floor, they used to have a little food place, which basically only did two things: chips and onion bhajis. They had a weird system where you paid for your food and got a cloakroom ticket, and then they’d call out the number. I think a lot of people tried to rip them off, so it didn’t last that long.

Do you ever return to Nottingham?

I was born in St Ann’s and my family still live there, so I go back and see them probably four or five times a year, depending on what’s happening.

You’ve only played Nottingham twice as Tindersticks: at The Old Vic in 1993, and at the Albert Hall in 2003. You’ve been visiting us at ten year intervals, so I think we’re due another one.

I definitely always want to play there, but it’s all down to offers, and what you can actually do. We’d want it to be something special, so we don’t feel like just going to the Rescue Rooms, and I think we’re not quite big enough to do Rock City, although I’ve always wanted to play there. The Albert Hall felt like a perfect place for us to play, but it was quite difficult to arrange.

We recently did a film soundtrack tour in the UK, and we were hoping to play the Royal Concert Hall. It was the only chance we would get to play there, because it was a sponsored tour of lots of theatres like that. It’s somewhere that we’d definitely say yes to. And on the last tour, we were hoping to play at St Mary’s Church in the Lace Market, but it just couldn’t work logistically.

Let’s talk about your new album, Across Six Leap Years, which is a collection of re-recordings of previously released tracks. Is this in lieu of doing a Best Of, or a Greatest Hits?

I suppose so. We got to a point where we felt like we wanted to celebrate twenty years of Tindersticks, and it felt more exciting to re-record some of the songs that we either felt we were playing better, or that we wanted to reintroduce to people. It just felt like something nicer to do, to make it more special. It was also easier in terms of licensing, because we’ve had three different record labels over the years.

Was it a question of methodically sitting down and replaying your entire catalogue, or did songs just emerge?

A lot of it was songs that we’ve always felt attracted to, or that we’ve been playing recently on tour. You have to do the things which feel right for you, and I suppose that’s why we didn’t pick so many obvious songs. We tried to pick the songs that feel the best between the band as it is at the moment.

Did you consciously have to blot out your memory of how they were originally recorded, and re-imagine them from the ground up?

The process started from the songs that we were playing on tour, and they grew in a way of their own. With some songs, we had a feeling that we’d gone beyond the original recordings. We didn’t need to think about how they worked, because we knew we could play them better. With others, it was more about showing our personality as it is now, and forgetting about the way it was.

Dickon Hinchliffe used to handle your arrangements, but he’s no longer with you. How are they worked on nowadays?

We farm some out, and we also do a lot more of them ourselves. On the last album, we made a conscious effort to not have any real strings. When we began, Dickon was a violin player, and he added his own personality. I think one of the reasons that we split up with him was because we were getting a bit too heavy on the string arrangements, and they were swamping the music in some ways. It was very hard to find the original motivation and drive of the band, and I think it’s something that has come back – especially on the last album, which feels very similar to how we felt twenty years ago.

Your music is known for having a kind of lugubrious, melancholy quality, and it tends to be quite downtempo. Are you never tempted to rock out? Do you never bash through a Pixies song in rehearsals?

In our minds, half of our songs do sound like The Pixies! People generalise a lot, and I can understand that, but I think we’ve had our moments, especially recently. That’s another thing about the re-invigoration of the band. We have become something different. People who maybe discount us in that way are shocked when they come to see us live, with the way that we actually are these days. But I suppose it’s the music that has always motivated us. We grew up in the Seventies, and even with punk, the only fast punk band for us was probably The Damned. You grew up in a certain way, and the music naturally comes out in a certain way.

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One Bomb – The Takeover EP

Posted in LeftLion, singles reviews by Mike A on October 26, 2013

Originally published in LeftLion magazine.

Formed in early 2012, One Bomb blends the talents of Si Tew (keys, synth, bass, a background in downtempo/electronica) and Shookz ( beats, samples, FX, a background in drum & bass), fusing elegant melodic textures with tougher dancefloor beats. This, their debut release, slots neatly alongside Disclosure and Rudimental’s new-school deep house, but with certain key features that are all One Bomb’s own: they’re particularly fond of punctuating their rhythms with subtle staccato string jabs, or of overlaying their breakdowns with rippling whooshes and breezy swoops. Lead track Take Over pits Aja’s vocals against Jackdalad’s rap, while Gave Me Hope takes its time to build, placing Jasper’s vocal samples over a pared-down groove. The sublime Train Tracks is the standout cut, with Wreh-Asha adding a melancholic twist to the euphoric glide, while Roll This Dice takes similar ideas into rougher-edged territory, aided by Aja’s commanding, fiery vocal.

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Otway The Movie – Broadway Cinema, Thursday August 29.

Posted in Broadway, film reviews, Nottingham Post by Mike A on October 26, 2013

Originally published in the Nottingham Post.

He might be known as “Rock and Roll’s Greatest Failure”, but John Otway has a knack of coming up trumps. Originally booked into one of Broadway’s smaller screening rooms, unexpectedly high advance sales ensured that Thursday’s one-off screening of Otway The Movie – a home-made, fan-funded documentary, charting his chaotic forty-year career in the music business – was bumped up at the last minute, to the biggest room in the house. On learning the news, his audience cheered him to the rafters.

I had been booked to introduce the film, and to talk with the great man on stage after the screening. Upon arrival, I was led into the main bar, where Otway was already holding court with some of his fans – an uncommonly eager and supportive bunch. We shook hands. An awkward conversational pause ensued. “Have you done this sort of thing before?” he asked. Oh, he’s a sharp one.

John stayed at the back of the room for my preamble, which compared and contrasted the resourcefulness of the Otway fan base – they all but invented crowd-funding, many years ago – with the more limited opportunities on offer to the fans of One Direction – who had an opening night of their own to attend, round the corner at Cineworld.

The movie combined plentiful archive footage- Otway has always been a keen documenter of his own life – with classroom scenes, in which the sixty-year old cult hero instructed a bunch of bemused-looking teenagers on how to make it in the music business.

Coming from someone who had to wait 25 years between his first and second hit singles, this might have seemed a bit rich, but Otway is a born survivor, with an unshakeable belief that all will turn out well in the end.

Otway’s second brush with the charts, thanks to a brilliantly orchestrated campaign that took on the vested interests of the music industry and succeeded against all the odds, was explained in detail. Woolworths, who were still a very big deal back in 2002, had refused to stock his second hit, Bunsen Burner, even when it entered the charts at Number Nine. A few years later, as we were cheerfully reminded, the retail chain went bust, in a stroke of divine justice which brought the biggest cheer of the night.

As the lengthy credits rolled, listing the many hundreds of crowd-funding fans by name, John joined me onstage for a chat and an audience Q&A. He had turned down the offer of a table and chairs (“far too serious”) in favour of perching on the edge of the stage.  (“That’s more punk rock, isn’t it?”)

Once in front of an audience, the amiably low-key fellow I’d met earlier transformed into the effortlessly hilarious character that we knew and loved. It felt as if he was coming into his own, and becoming more fully himself. Perhaps that would account for his insatiable appetite for performing; after all, it has been a full twenty years since he celebrated his 2000th show.

Knowing what you know now, asked one fan, would you have rather lived the life of the superstar you never became, or has your chequered career enriched you in ways that success never could? “That’s the most stupid question I’ve ever been asked!” Otway replied. “OF COURSE I’d rather have been a superstar! That’s all I ever wanted!”

John’s other great knack is for inspiring his fans to mobilise and campaign on his behalf. For his fiftieth birthday, they gave him a second hit single. For his sixtieth birthday, they gave him a movie: premiered in Leicester Square, taken to the Cannes Film Festival, and soon to be eligible for a BAFTA. And so it was that I found myself, hypnotised by his spell, bravely launching a campaign to get him onto the main stage at Rock City. (“Who’s in?” I yelled. “We are!” they replied.) Well, many stranger things have happened. DHP, please take note.

When all is said and done, perhaps the wisest words lie in the movie’s subtitle. John Otway isn’t rock and roll’s biggest failure, he isn’t its worst failure, and he most certainly isn’t its most hopeless failure. He is far more than that. He is “Rock and Roll’s Greatest Failure” – and for that, we must salute him.

Interview: The Afterdark Movement

Posted in interviews, Nottingham Post by Mike A on October 26, 2013

Originally published in the Nottingham Post.

This time last year, The Afterdark Movement were riding on the crest of a wave. As champions of Future Sound of Nottingham 2012, they had the honour of opening the main stage at Splendour, and a debut EP, ADM, had just been released.

Twelve months down the line, the fresh-faced newcomers have matured into one of Nottingham’s most widely respected bands, drawing admirers from the urban scene and the live gigging circuit alike.

Released this weekend, their new EP Six Minds represents a significant progression in the Afterdark sound. Last time around, Bru-C’s raps dominated most of the tracks, but on the new material, singer Natalie steps forward and claims equal billing, exhibiting a new-found vocal confidence.

“I’m fine with that,” says Bru-C, who also runs a parallel career as a grime MC. “I think we’re more of a full band, and I don’t really see myself as the star.” The first EP was recorded not long after Natalie’s arrival turned the five-piece band into a six-piece, and so it was a case of slotting her into material that had already been written – but this time around, she had the opportunity to compose her own vocal parts.

Perhaps softened by Natalie’s soulful approach, Six Minds is also a less angry affair than its predecessor. “It’s definitely not as dark as the one before”, Bru-C admits. “We still have that dark element”, says guitarist and “chief organiser” Marty, “but Bru-C’s lyrics are trying to bring positive vibes as well”.

At the start of this week, a video was released for Days Go By. It’s the most ballad-like of the five new tracks, with a mournful quality that contrasts sharply with the full-tilt gyspy ska of Clean Lenses, the party tune that closes the EP.

The video was shot around the band’s home town of Long Eaton. “It’s a very suburban video”, says Bru-C. “It’s very groggy; just a typical day in the British life.” There’s no grand concept to the filming, which essentially lets the song speak for itself, and the same holds true for the EP as a whole.

Moving away from the tightly themed approach of ADM, which told an ever-darkening story, Six Minds is all about variety. “Every single person in the band is completely different, and I think it shows”, says Marty. “You’ve got a bit of everyone in every track. That’s why we’ve called it Six Minds, because that’s literally the message we’re putting out. It is six completely different minds.”

Although this wide spread of tastes and opinions can cause conflict during the creative process, it also represents one of Afterdark’s greatest strengths. “Everyone has their say, and it gets heated at times”, says Marty. “But if you all get along, all happy-dappy, you will not be a good band. Everyone’s got a lot of passion, and you can tell that especially when we’re live.”

Tomorrow night, there will be a chance to witness some of that passion, as the band launch their EP by headlining a seven-hour, three-stage mini-festival at The Maze. “We know and we talk to a lot of artists”, Bru-C explains. “We’ve kept in touch with people we’ve played with, right from when we started, and I’d say that at least a good 40% of the people playing are good friends of ours.”

With well over twenty acts performing, from acoustic singer-songwriters (Georgie Rose, Esther Van Leuven) to soul/r&b artists (Marita and the Peaches, Tasha Dean), and with open mic rap battles in the front bar, live graffiti art in the yard, dance DJs until late (Rubberdub , Tumble Audio) and even an acapella choir, the event represents the full spectrum of Afterdark’s musical interests and connections. The band themselves will be the last live act to perform, at around 11.30pm, before the DJs take over.

“You get certain scenes in Nottingham”, says Bru-C, “You get a scene that goes to all the live band nights, and you get a scene who go to Rubberdub, Tumble Audio, the house nights, the dubstep, the drum & bass. I’ve got a feeling that the crowd is going to change. It will be a big contrast, as it goes from eight to twelve, and then from twelve to three.”

“It’s a big contact network for people as well”, Marty adds, as we contemplate the possibilities generated by getting such a wide range of people together in the same building. “People linking in with other people; that’s what it should be like. But it’s just going to be a party. All good vibes, all good people.”

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Splendour Festival 2013 – Wollaton Park, Nottingham

Posted in gigs, Nottingham Post by Mike A on October 26, 2013

Originally published in the Nottingham Post.

Although Splendour has always offered a platform for local talent, it felt as if Nottingham musicians all but took over this year’s festival. Fifteen acts were spread over Wollaton Park’s three stages, including an unprecedented four acts on the main stage.

The festival opened with a tremendous set from The Gorgeous Chans, who won their place on the main stage thanks to the annual Future Sound of Nottingham competition. Swelling their ranks to a mighty ten-piece, including two saxophones and a four-piece percussion section who darted all over the stage, the band instantly proved themselves to be worthy winners, with a cheerily uplifting sound that sat somewhere between Vampire Weekend and Paul Simon’s Graceland.

Opening the Jagermeister stage, Ferocious Dog picked up where the Levellers ended last year, with their rambunctious brand of folk-punk. Then it was a quick dash back to the main stage for one of the city’s most prominent rising stars: Indiana, fresh from performing at Glastonbury and singing to the Queen at the BBC. “This is surreal – I thought I couldn’t talk – there’s so many people!” she giggled, casting her eyes up the hill. Current single Smoking Gun and future single Mess Around confirmed her extraordinary vocal talent.

Saint Raymond is normally a solo act, but in honour of the occasion, Callum Burrows recruited three new band members for his set, which drew a sizeable crowd to the Jagermeister Stage. The performance climaxed with his two most popular tracks, Bonfires and Fall At Your Feet. Rob Green followed, promoted to the Jagermeister following his exceptionally well-received performance last year. A born showman, Rob’s sunny personality and rapid-fire vocal precision connected effortlessly with the crowd.

Over at LeftLion magazine’s Courtyard stage, Future Sound of Nottingham runner-up Sam Jones opened the proceedings, followed by OneGirlOneBoy’s dark, dramatic synth-rock and Ryan Thomas’s dusty blues. Georgie Rose drew big cheers when introducing Twenty Mile Road, a country-tinged lament set on the road from Mansfield to Nottingham. Her set ended in fine style with the excellent L.O.V.E. Later acts included Injured Birds, Joel Baker and the penultimate Nottingham act of the day, Harleighblu, whose classy mix of languid soul stylings and don’t-mess-with-me-mister assertiveness brought a welcome touch of mellowness to the early evening.

Paving the way for headliners Maximo Park and the unexpectedly magnificent Peter Hook and The Light, teenage trio Kagoule provided one of the home-grown highlights of the day, with an astonishingly powerful and accomplished set that twisted Nineties post-grunge/alt-rock influences into fresh new shapes.

Back at the main stage, West Bridgford’s Dog Is Dead played their fifth Splendour in six years, causing scenes of utter pandemonium as the teenage moshers down the front kicked up a literal storm, their feet sending clouds of dust into the air. Who needed dry ice?

“We have to remind Nottingham every time: it’s not a Slayer concert”, said singer Rob Milton, surveying the chaos with cool amusement. The mania even infected keyboardist Joss Van Wilder (the clue is in the name), who launched himself into the crowd on two occasions, clambering back each time in increased states of disarray.

Augmenting their line-up with a five-piece gospel choir, who added yet more delicious harmonies to the mix, Dog Is Dead powered their way through seven familiar songs and three brand new ones, ending with perennial anthem Glockenspiel Song and a stunning Teenage Daughter.

Performing his first ever festival headline set, Jake Bugg took the packed hill in his stride, unfazed as ever by his mushrooming success. Well, when you’ve just played the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury and supported The Rolling Stones at Hyde Park, what fear could Wollaton Park possibly hold? It was all a far cry from his bottom-of-the-bill appearance at the Courtyard stage two years ago.

Like Dog Is Dead before him, Jake treated us to three unrecorded new compositions. One was a Gallagher-esque mid-paced rocker, featuring a dazzling guitar solo, another had more of a country feel, perhaps inspired by recent trips to the US, and the third was Slumville Sunrise, a super-fast piece of rockabilly skiffle.

A three-song solo acoustic section calmed most, if not all, of the crowd, ending with a glorious rendition of current single Broken. Then it was into the final run of bangers: Two Fingers – Jake’s fond but firm kiss-off to Clifton – a rattling Taste It, and an extended Lightning Bolt which could have lasted twice as long.

Jake’s triumph set the seal on a landmark event for Nottingham music. This was a public celebration of our scene’s coming of age, drawing on genres across the musical spectrum and demonstrating just how far we have progressed in recent years. Where Jake Bugg and Dog Is Dead have led, others are certain to follow. Next year, will there even be space for out-of-town acts? We can but dream!

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Intervew: THePETEBOX

Posted in interviews, LeftLion by Mike A on October 26, 2013

Originally published in LeftLion magazine.

What were you doing this time ten years ago? What was life like?

Since that time, I’ve slowly been rubbing away my memory – replacing it with new endeavours, and with loads of drugs. (Laughs) This time ten years ago, I was just starting to beatbox. I was hearing these good beatboxers – Killa Kela, Rahzel – and I was finding as many people to learn from as possible. So I was building the foundations of my musical career.

How the hell do you learn to beatbox? Are there manuals and instruction videos, or do you have to work things out from first principles?

Back in the day, all I had was these amazingly well recorded live shows, from the best beatboxers in the world. You have to tell yourself that even though it sounds mental and impossible, you can do it. But there wasn’t that much resource for actually breaking it down. Now, on YouTube, you just type in “beatbox tutorial” and there will be a detailed, in-depth visual explanation.

So because there wasn’t a rulebook, you had more freedom to develop your own style.

I think that’s still valid now. People are going to sound different. Even a guitar will have a different tone, or a different feel, from another guitar – and then it’s down to the guitarist. Anyone can play a G chord and a C chord, but someone might write a beautiful, seminal song using those chords. It’s the same with beatboxing. There’s the physical element of creating a sound – like making noise out of your instrument – and then there’s the more metaphysical, spiritual side of it, where you arrange the music. So it’s unique to everyone, although a lot of beatboxers do sound the same, and they bore the fuck out of me.

When did the looping come along?

I just heard another beatboxer, MC Xander. He posted on some forum, just going: oh, I’ve got this looper thing, and here’s what I’ve done with it, and he was amazing. That was my first exposure to that technology, and it came at the right time, because I was starting to get a little bit bored. I felt a bit limited with beatboxing. The shows were great, and getting that crazy response from the crowd was fulfilling, but not really in a musical sense.

You may have routines and cool sounds, and you’re able to do things that people don’t understand and are therefore really interested in, but you don’t have songs, for people to emotionally connect to. So when I found out about these loop pedals, I could actually start to arrange songs and music. More than that, all of a sudden your sound is ten times bigger. Frequency spectrum-wise, you’ve now got everything going on. You’ve got the bass and the drums, which are constantly going, and then you’ve got some harmonies and trumpets over the top, and then you can sing as well. So all of a sudden, you sound like a full band.

And you use guitar as well. Was that something that you added later?

I always had this double personality in my head. I was a guitar player, and that’s my favourite instrument. I write songs, and I sing about love and weird stuff – and then I beatboxed. I was in these drum & bass and techno and hip hop clubs, and I even used to speak a bit different when I was on stage. (Laughs) It was a long, slow journey to reconnect and reconcile these two sides. They were both as valid as each other, but they each seemed like completely different worlds.

The first time I did it, I did a Pixies cover, of Where Is My Mind. I was like: everyone’s gonna hate this. Beatboxers are gonna go: that’s not really beatboxing, there’s nothing technically great about that. And then the Pixies fans will think that I’ve murdered one of their songs.

But that video was your tipping point, wasn’t it?

It went massive; it went viral. Even the Pixies put it on their website, so that was a good validation. I got Simon Ellis to film it; he’s a local director from Nottingham and he’s brilliant. It sounds really simple, because he’s just filming me – but the way he’s done it, with the depth of field and the slow camera movements, is just beautiful.

Before then, my highest viewed video was about 25,000, over three years. With this one, I put it up, went to bed, woke up, and it was on 7,000 views. By lunchtime, it had gone up to about 25,000. By the end of that night, it was on 100,000, and within a week it had half a million views. I didn’t do anything.

That’s quite encouraging, because your views rely on individual internet users seeing something, liking it, and wanting to share it with their friends.  It’s quite organic, but also quite gutting, because it’s entirely non-replicable. You can’t go: well, I’ve had a viral video now, so I’ll just make another one. There’s no rhyme or reason for making it happen again. You just have to hope that what you make resonates.

Your Future Loops album came out last year, with a corresponding set of performance videos, featuring four originals and five covers. How did you select the covers?

The covers are just bands that I really fucking love. It’s as simple as that. So it’s Nirvana, Pixies, Crystal Castles, MGMT. They’re my favourite bands.

When I arrange a cover, I don’t listen to the original and work it out. I just play it as I remember it. That means that when I listen to the original, mine sounds nothing like it! Everyone’s like, you’ve totally made it your own, but I’ve just done it a bit wrong.

You also did a Beach Boys song, I Get Around. I heard it was a childhood obsession.

I had a 45 minute tape, and with my dad’s CD player, I recorded I Get Around over and over and over again. I had an entire tape on this little Walkman, and I’d just listen to the song over and over. So it was quite apt for the “Future Loops” concept.

What have been your recent gigging highlights?

I just played a festival in Lithuania, and that was mega, just brilliant, and a packed house. I toured Russia at the end of last year. It’s quite daunting when you’re travelling to another country for a headline tour. You’re like: who the fuck is going to come and see me? But at the same time, YouTube has this global reach. So, yeah, packed out shows every night – to see me! (Laughs)

Wasn’t there a time when you played Abu Dhabi for Formula One, and it was a total five-star treatment?

That was bonkers. I’d just been touring with Swimming, supporting Carl Barat around Europe. It was a budget affair, with five of us piled into a little hotel room. We’d have to sneak in through the windows. Then I flew straight from Bologna on the last date of the tour. I arrived in Abu Dhabi, someone met me at the end of the plane, and I didn’t have to go through customs. They were like, welcome to Abu Dhabi, here’s your phone, which you can keep, and that’s your car, and that’s your driver – anywhere you need to go, he’ll be waiting outside. We got in, and it was this posh BMW with those blackout things that go up. Then we went to this fucking seven star bonkers hotel, and Sophie Ellis Bextor was there, chilling in the foyer. I was like, who do they think I am, Kanye West?

The first night, I was invited to go out and watch Flo Rida. When the Formula One’s on, they have these huge pop-up clubs, and I was playing in one of them. They’re like huge mini-stadiums, with all these tiered tables. Prince played there. I was on my own, and they said: Mister Petebox, here is your table. There was a massive bottle of Grey Goose, and I’m like, sweet, does anybody want any?

I played my show the next day, right before the headliner, who was a huge local superstar. So I was there for 30,000 people, and they were all fucking hanging on everything I was doing. The next day: VIP booth at the Formula One. Dynamo was in front of me, and I had my lunch with Gabrielle.

To top it off, I had a girlfriend for the weekend who was this Brazilian model. I finished my show, and everyone was going, oh, there’s this Brazilian model looking for you. And I’m wandering round, and I met this beautiful girl. She said: Petebox! Oh man, I watched your stuff, I’m a singer, I love your music! I was like, please come this way to my dressing room, would you like a drink, or some fruit? I did actually have all this stuff. And then I was like, what are you doing later? I’ve got VIP tickets to see Prince, do you want to come? I’ll have my car pick you up.

And then, after three days, I left and went back to normal life. I was amazed at what was going on. Nothing was anything that I was expecting, or used to.

It’s funny, because I might be lying. You don’t know that. I always think about that. I was at my best mate’s wedding the other day, and I was like the vicar – I was delivering the ceremony. I turned down about three shows that day, but around 10 o’clock, I was like, I’ve got to go. I was dead emotional to leave, because there was all your friends and family and loved ones. So I’m going round to everyone saying goodbye, and they’re partying to the early hours, and I’m just driving on my own to this festival. And I just thought: they know I’m going to do a gig, but no one really knows what it’s like for me. It’s a weird thing.

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Marita – Just Me EP

Posted in LeftLion, singles reviews by Mike A on October 26, 2013

Originally published in LeftLion magazine.

If Kirk Spencer’s Wonderland EP, on which Marita guested, offered a vision of peaceful solace in the heart of the city, then Marita’s Just Me – released simultaneously, co-produced by Spencer and bearing some of his sonic hallmarks – reveals the darker flipside. Throughout its five tracks, Marita prays and pleads for release – both from “the city, so diverse though I feel so alone”, and from her own inner struggles – and yet that release never comes, leaving her suspended in fretful claustrophobia. “I need to be at peace with my mind”, she intones, while fidgety beats, restless electronic pulses and deep bass drops trap her in their web. “I’m going to fly away, I’m going to find a way”, she sighs – but we feel steadily less inclined to believe she will succeed. By the final track, Shackles, her dreams feel drained of purpose, as skeletal beats and woozy sonic backdrops dissolve around her.

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The Cult Of Dom Keller – self-titled album

Posted in album reviews, LeftLion by Mike A on October 26, 2013

Originally published in LeftLion magazine.

Part-assembled from reworked EP tracks and part-funded via a successful Kickstarter project (although the £1000 “have a date with our manager” pledge went unclaimed), The Cult Of Dom Keller’s debut album offers a long-awaited treat for fans of heavy psychedelic noise. It opens with the grungey Wild West twang of Swamp Heron, which steadily accrues intensity before unleashing a searing acid-rock guitar solo, couched in feedback and effects. Keyboards make their entrance with Eyes, whose vocals are mixed relatively high – you can even catch the odd lyric – before being submerged in swampy reverb for most of the remainder. The exultant squall of Worlds marks Side One’s midway high-point, but by the start of Side Two, things have taken a doomier turn. You Are There In Me nods towards Crystal Stilts’ lysergic garage rock, Nowhere To Land picks the pace up, and the journey ends with All I Need Is Not Now, an epic, all-consuming drone.

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Interview: Fists

Posted in interviews, Nottingham Post by Mike A on October 26, 2013

Originally published in the Nottingham Post.

Most mothers, when hearing their daughters performing live on national radio for the first time, must surely feel a certain surge of pride. But there can’t be many who would actually ring up the radio station, in the middle of the performance, to urge them to give up their day job. According to BBC 6Music presenter Marc Riley, who passed just such a message to Fists drummer Theresa Wrigley during his live interview with the band, it was an unusual occurrence.

“I don’t know if he was being sarcastic or not”, says Angi Fletcher, who sings and plays guitar with Fists. “I think it was a great surprise to us all that she rang in.”

“That was our first proper radio session” James Finlay explains. “It was an incredibly daunting experience. Because it was live, you would assume that the BBC would sit down and prep you about what you can and can’t say on the air. So they were incredibly trusting. You turn up, there’s a fridge full of Staropramen, and they just tell you to relax, and they’ll get you in a minute.”

Rather like the BBC’s breakfast television studio, the radio studio was visible to the public through a large pane of glass. “There was a man pressed up against the glass while we were singing, which was off-putting” says James. “You find your mind wandering – looking at the clouds and stuff, and forgetting about the reality of being live on air in front of a million people.”

A few days before the 6Music session, Fists headlined an all-day gig at the Boat Club, to mark the imminent launch of their debut album Phantasm. It was the band’s first gig in over a year, following an extended period of writing, rehearsing and recording the album.

The recording sessions took place in a floating studio inside a lightship, moored opposite London’s O2 Arena. They were produced by Rory Brattwell, who has previously worked with the likes of The Vaccines, Palma Violets and Veronica Falls. “His rates were incredibly cheap,” James admits, “but he’s got an incredibly large live room for London. He likes to work with independent bands that are a bit unusual. He could be charging a lot more money for his work now, but he did us a good deal.”

As regards the album’s title, Phantasm was already on the shortlist when James and Angi moved into their new house, only to find a copy of the soundtrack from the 1979 horror film of the same name sitting on their new mantelpiece. “To me, that says: well, we’ve got to call it Phantasm now” says James. “But there’s no meaning, necessarily.  It’s just a sexy word.”

“I like the fact that it sounds like an amalgamation of the words phantom and orgasm”, says Angi.

The album’s eleven tracks run the full gamut of Fists’ influences, from skiffle and rockabilly through to punk rock and alt-rock, with a dash of country along the way. Thanks to a particularly fertile creative patch, Angi emerged as the record’s chief songwriter, although each track goes through several stages as band members pitch in with ideas.

Cinematic references abound. Straw Dog, the punkiest track on the album, brings Sam Peckinpah’s violent 1971 thriller to mind, while Wasted steals a line from the musical Bugsy Malone. Then there’s Gasp, which was inspired by Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a documentary about the oldest cave paintings ever discovered. “The way that Herzog talks about being in this cave, you just become consumed by the romance of it” says Angi. “This caveman was drawing sabre toothed tigers and mammoths. They were just outside his door. I couldn’t get over that.”

When writing Flaneur, James looked to the street culture of 19th century Paris. Flaneurs “were people who would stand in the street and allow street society to wash over them, as a way of feeling the movement of the world. They would write poetry based on that experience. So they would basically live in the street, and not really do anything. They would just exist there, and allow the movement of society around them to influence the way they wrote.”

Perhaps there’s something of the flaneur ethos in the way that Fists operate as a band. Unfazed by their recent brush with the national airwaves, they prefer to regard their music making as a “lifestyle choice”, rather than a career path.

“It’s something that we’ll be hopefully doing for the rest of our lives” says James. “We’re quite ambitious, in the sense that we don’t want to be playing in a pub in Sherwood doing Kings Of Leon covers. We want to be writing stuff that reflects our lives, and where we’re at. The record is all over the shop in terms of styles, so we’re not trying to define an identity, although we probably do that anyway. We’re just listening to music, and trying to contribute to culture, and express ourselves, and make that part of our lives.”

Phantasm is released by Gringo Records and Hello Thor on Monday July 8th.

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Interview: Great British Weather

Posted in interviews, Nottingham Post by Mike A on October 26, 2013

Originally published in the Nottingham Post.

It might still be early days for Great British Weather – recently described, and with good reason, as “Nottingham’s best kept secret” – but the band’s seventeen year-old singer Andrew Tucker already has the air of a natural front man. Armed with a sharp haircut, a good leather jacket and a ready wit, he takes to being interviewed like a duck to water.

Sitting beside him, bassist Lewis Belle offers a gentler, more grounded presence. “You’re more reserved, aren’t you”, Andrew muses. “You’re the cool bass player; you’re redefining the stereotype. But when you do speak, it’s useful. It’s just measured.”

“I don’t want to come out with reams of bullshit”, says Lewis. It’s kindly meant.

Andrew considers the personalities of the other two members of the band: Tom the guitarist and the other Tom, who drums. Tom the guitarist is “a man of extremes. His feelings will spike and dip all over the place. He’ll either really love something, or he’ll just go: no, don’t want to do it.”

As for Tom the drummer, “He’s very assertive. It’s not a flaw. But whereas Lewis and I try to be a bit more diplomatic, [Tom and Tom] speak their emotions.”

It’s a combination which seems to be working. With each band member  bringing different influences to the table, Great British Weather have forged a sound which is distinctly their own, fusing post-punk, math-rock and psychedelia with chiming guitar runs, funky basslines and inventive drumming which occasionally nods towards hip hop.

“I still like that angular stuff, like Gang Of Four, A Certain Ratio and Orange Juice” says Andrew. “In terms of lyrics, I like good songwriters like Morrissey and Elvis Costello. My dad used to be in the folk scene, but I’ve not really inherited that. I think I’ve gone away from that totally. But I listen to a bit of Bob Dylan.”

When you’re in your teens, getting some distance from your parents is all part of the process. To this end, Great British Weather have recently graduated from the Tucker family living room to a dedicated rehearsal space, above The Maze on Mansfield Road. “You don’t feel like an edgy band when your mum’s making meatballs”, says Andrew. “That’s not a complaint, by any means”, he adds, with telling haste.

As for the new space, “It’s a sick little place. We’ve got fairy lights on the ceiling, and there’s a spotlight with multi-colours. So we turn the main lights off and get a bit of an atmosphere going.  You can see the lights from your pedals, and you go into a little trance.”

Although an EP was recorded in the band’s early days, almost two years ago, Andrew would rather it was forgotten about. “We listened to it in the car on the way back, and I thought: if this cropped up on the radio, I would turn it off. And you shouldn’t think that about your own music.”

“You should be your own favourite band”, agrees Lewis. “So please get rid of it now!”

Work has already begun on a new EP, with two tracks recorded at Confetti studios. It’s evidence of the band’s renewed focus, after a fairly quiet 2012. Their most recent gig, at the Dot To Dot Festival, became one of the talking points of the day, and expectations are running high for next Tuesday’s gig at the Rescue Rooms, supporting OneGirlOneBoy.

Talk turns to Andrew’s lyrics. He doesn’t discuss them much with the rest of the band – “I try to ignore them myself”, says Lewis – but he acknowledges that this can cause confusion. Take their latest track, for instance.

“We’ve just written a song that’s currently named Phil Taylor. Even though it’s a criticism of organised religion, it’s named after a darts player. So there’s been a bit of a miscommunication.”

“It does sound more like a darts song”, Lewis mutters.

The band’s current set closer is a powerful track, centred round a chanted refrain: “I wish I was alive in the space age”.  There’s less room for confusion here, as Andrew explains.

“If I was being pretentious – and I will be, because I never miss an opportunity – I was watching some old videos at college, from the Fifties and Sixties, showing what they thought the world was going to be like in the 21st century: oh, we’ll be living on the moon. So it’s a nostalgia for a future that was promised, but never happened.  We’ve got smartphones, and we were promised jetpacks. Larger than that, it’s disenchantment with everyday mundane life. There you go: pretention over, I’m done. It’s a tune. What more does it matter?”

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Pentatronix: Sabar Soundsystem featuring Si Tew and Ling Peng / Sura Susso / Haiki Loki – Nottingham Contemporary, Friday June 7

Posted in gigs, LeftLion, Nottingham Contemporary by Mike A on October 26, 2013

Originally written for LeftLion.

Appropriately enough, given Sabar Soundsystem’s roots in African music, the premiere of Pentatronix was preceded by two African performers with Nottingham connections.

Haiki Loki left Ethiopia, her country of birth, at the age of twelve. Once resident in Nottingham, she now lives in London, where she has recorded an album for July release. An elegantly self-possessed performer with a warm, silky vocal style, she fronted a three-piece troupe, holding the audience rapt with her self-penned soul/jazz compositions.

Music as quiet as this can sometimes get lost in large stand-up venues, but Haiki’s subtly commanding presence warded off any such dangers. Stepping forward, she perched on the edge of the stage and sung about leaving her comfort zone, to a stark, bluesy backing that evoked some of the spirit of early Everything But The Girl. A toddler’s gurgle briefly broke the spell. Haiki stooped down and asked her name. “I want you to come to every gig”, she grinned.

Later, during an Amharic song, learnt on an extended visit to the singer’s birthplace, a girl of six or so threw graceful ballet shapes in a corner of the room, lost in her own world. Elsewhere, old Nottingham friends smiled, waved and traded quips with the stage.

This easy-going homecoming mood was challenged by the final song, inspired by George W. Bush’s presidency (“I can see there’s evil in your eyes”), but when rage sounds this seductive, mellow good humour can’t so easily be dented.

Sura Susso plays a Gambian kora, handed down from father to son over many centuries. It’s made from calabash and covered with cowhide, with a long mahogany neck and twenty-two nylon fishing strings. Before beginning his set, Sura demonstrated the essential kora technique. His left thumb strummed the bassline, his right thumb picked out the melody, and his two forefingers added rippling improvisations.

A sound hole, cut from the calabash bowl, doubled as a repository for tips. “Please show your appreciation”, we were urged, smilingly. “It’s usually with money, but there’s no pressure. We take credit cards. You can swipe…”

You wouldn’t think of playing a kora in public, without already being a virtuoso. Schooled in his instrument since childhood, Suro is unquestionably a master player – but more than that, he is a born performer. Kora music can sometimes sound arid and ornamental, but in Suro’s hands, it was given added passion, variety and depth. His playing ran the full gamut, from gentle and reflective to intensely rhythmic and whoop-inducingly frenetic. A first class performance.

Pentatronix is a new collaborative project, in which Mikey Davis’s Sabar Soundsystem – a sizeable percussion troupe, with African drums and bespoke tubular chimes – is augmented by the classical Chinese playing of Ling Peng and the electronic beats, samples and basslines of Si Tew.

The fusion might sound unlikely, but actually it’s logical. The Sabar chimes follow a five-note pentatonic scale, making them ideally suited for Ling’s Chinese melodies, and Si’s background in electronic dance music makes him a natural partner for Sabar’s percussion, which aims to evoke the feel of modern dance music acoustically.

At the front of the stage, surrounded by stacks of kit, Si and Ling forged their own rapport. Ling would conjure up an exquisite melody, on her zither-like guzheng or her bowed, python-skinned erhu, and Si would sample it, treat it and echo it back. Around and behind them, a shifting array of players, led by Mikey Davis and featuring Biant Singh on tabla, pounded seven shades of merry hell out of their combined arsenal. The effect was tumultuous, uplifting and energising. Naturally, dancing became the only valid response.

It wasn’t all perfect. The tablas needed to be mixed higher, especially when their job was to augment a particularly brutal beat. The beautiful-looking guzheng was underused, and removed from the stage too early. There was the occasional moment when the specially commissioned compositions seemed to teeter on the brink of chaos – but the sheer glee of the players, and of the unstoppable Mikey in particular, swiftly put paid to any potential logistical pitfalls.

Arts Council funding brought the Pentatronix project into being, but the troupe are on their own now, seeking to take their show onto the festival circuit. This is the sort of thing that would work brilliantly in the open air, whether in sunlight or moonlight, as all who witnessed it could testify – so let’s hope that this Contemporary show was the first of many more.

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