Kagoule as the support, eh? Aargh, just my luck. The last time I saw them play – Lacehouse basement, December 2013, an “in the round” set which placed us inches from their speakers – the experience left my ears ringing for weeks. Since then – and please, I mean to cast no slurs upon Kagoule’s art – I’ve not been able to hear them without suffering some sort of psychosomatic relapse. Yeah, it’s been an issue.
They start with Monarchy, their oldest song. Singer/guitarist Cai Burns wrote it five years ago, aged fourteen. A couple of years later, the trio broke through with the uncharacteristically lilting Made of Concrete, won a contest to play Rock City, and signed to Denizen. For a while, they seemed shackled to another new band, Kappa Gamma: similar age, same Rock City contest, same label, even the same initial letters. Kappa Gamma have since dipped from view, but Kagoule have been slowly stepping up. They’re on Earache now, and Gush, their debut single for the label, came out at the end of last year.
They may not be as noisy as the average Earache act, but Kagoule are still a good fit. For a teenage act, they’re more in thrall than most to the alt-rock boom of over twenty years ago – Fugazi, Unwound, the Pumpkins – so their place on the veteran label’s roster somehow underlines that lineage.
I’ve seen this band many times over the past few years. They’re less doleful these days, and they’ve grown bolder, spikier, more sardonic. The newer songs take more twists and turns. I was expecting them to have grown heavier and doomier, but mercifully that hasn’t happened. We only need one Swans.
They still play Made of Concrete, Lawrence English is still an uncommonly fine drummer – the glue that binds the band together – and bassist Lucy Hatter still has that song where she sheds her mask of inscrutability and starts screaming seven shades of hell. They’ve played stronger sets than this – Lucy has monitor problems, Cai vows never to use his guitar again – but on a big night at a sold-out Rescue Rooms, they feel like the right band at the right time.
It’s been nearly two years since I last saw Sleaford Mods: upstairs at the same venue, supporting I Am Lono, their second album as a duo (Austerity Dogs) just out. A few months earlier (to re-phrase John Cooper Clarke, an act they are often compared to but sound nothing like), its predecessor (Wank) had soured the mood of the newly self-celebratory Nottingham music scene like a fart at a birthday party. Whether born of righteous outrage or plain old trolling, its parochial pot-shots hit the mark, finding favour on the fringes and – against the odds – drawing the duo towards the spotlight, pariahs no more.
Side Two of Austerity Dogs was more or less a vinyl reissue of Wank, but with Side One, you sensed a widening of the net, a broadening of the scope, and a gathering focus for the fury. Jason Williamson had been ranting over loops on tiny stages for years, but Andrew Fearn’s arrival added vital new ingredients: a shared mindset, the right beats, the perfect onstage foil.
Two years, two more albums, countless limited edition singles, hundreds of gigs, an unexpectedly devoted pan-European fanbase, a hardback book, reams of column inches, a Guardian editorial, a fistful of placings on year-end critics’ lists and a smattering of press spats with UK rock royalty later, the Mods have returned in triumph, selling out the Rescue Rooms and earning a heroes’ welcome – however belated some of those welcomes might be.
Their return might be triumphant, but it’s anything but triumphalist. If anything, Williamson looks nervier these days: his movements more staccato, his demeanour less arrogant hard-man, his stage positioning more side-angled than head-on. Has all this acclaim humbled him? It’s a viable possibility.
He has developed a new tic, constantly flicking the back of his head in a singular, changeless manoeuvre. There are other tics, more sparingly deployed: puckered kisses, cheeky tit-squeezes, belly-flashing shirt-flicks, regal waves to the gallery. They ape the moves of a narcissistic rock star, but with an off-kilter, truncated timing that renders them as arch performance art. Beside him, Fearn does his usual: pressing play on a stool-mounted laptop, chugging bottled lagers, grinning, shuffling, mouthing along with key lines, the Yang to Jason’s Yin.
They’re on for exactly an hour, counting the encore. I’m told the atmosphere is less intense than at the last headline show at Spankys. Barring a few diehards down the front, this set of punters remains largely stock still, but they’re no less appreciative. A lot of scenester faces from, ahem, “back in the day” are here, dotted around the edges. Better late than never, right?
They open with Bunch of Cunts, from the latest EP. As opening salvos go, it couldn’t be more perfect. The energy levels rise for Jolly Fucker (“elitist hippies, arrogant cunts, Ian Beale tight trunks”), and they rise again for McFlurry (“I got a Brit Award! I got a Brit Award!”). By the time we get to the double sucker punch of Jobseeker and Tied Up In Nottz (“Hello Derby!”), the room is on fire.
Unlike their recorded versions, tracks have a habit of ending with repeated chants. “Smash the fucking windows!” brings Tied Up In Nottz to its climax, and “sack the fucking manager!” shuts Fizzy down. Dedicated to managers everywhere, Fizzy hits a special nerve. Most of us have worked for a “cunt with the gut and the Buzz Lightyear haircut, calling all the workers plebs”, and so has Jason – until a few months ago, when his rising fortunes as a Sleaford Mod enabled him to quit his day job with the council. It must have been the sweetest of victories.
Doubtless mindful of his captive audience, Jason gets Andrew to cue up an unscheduled track from Wank. Inspired by LeftLion’s 2011 music scene cover shoot at Rock City, Showboat blasts the hometown posers and careerists. “I heard the rule was: move to London. I heard the monkeys get the train. I ain’t a showboat, but you are, and I’ll die laughing my tits off in your face.” It’s the nearest we get to a “how d’you like me now, suckers?” moment.
Pubic Hair Ltd deals another kiss-off, this time to the Wellers and Gallaghers of this world. “Who gives a fuck about yesterday’s heroes… it’s not a pyramid, you’re not a fucking Pharaoh.” The Wage Don’t Fit closes the main set, then they’re back for three more. Fearn hands one of his beers to the front row, and Tweet Tweet Tweet ends the hour on the highest of highs.
Rock City next, then? There seems no reason not to.
Set list: Bunch of Cunts, Middle Men, Jolly Fucker, A Little Ditty, McFlurry, The Demon, Jobseeker, Tied Up in Nottz, Routine Dean, Tiswas, Fizzy, Under the Plastic and N.C.T., Showboat, Pubic Hair Ltd, The Wage Don’t Fit, 6 Horsemen (The Brixtons), Five Pound Sixty, Tweet Tweet Tweet.
The Rescue Rooms is one of the jewels in the crown of a city that punches above its weight in music venues.
Capacity: 450. Upstairs, a separate performance space (the Red Room) holds 100.
Who plays there: Critically acclaimed bands on their way up, with the odd heritage act or tribute band along the way – the likes of Rudimental, Pere Ubu, Chvrches, John Murry, Fuck Buttons, 65daysofstatic, London Grammar, John Newman, Public Service Broadcasting and Low have appeared in the past year or so.
Originally published in the Nottingham Post.
Downsized from Rock City at the eleventh hour, Stornoway adapted to their reduced circumstances with good grace; they’re more of a Rescue Rooms band in any case, and the comparative intimacy of the room suited them well. Entering to the strains of the original Dr Who theme tune, they preluded their first song, Farewell Appalachia, with a delicate arrangement for triangle, torn newspaper, wood block and axe. It’s doubtful whether this would have worked so well on a larger stage.
Although they’ve been playing together since 2006, and releasing records since 2009, this was the band’s first visit to Nottingham, we were told. To mark the event, front man Brian Briggs had done some prior research, and he duly declared himself impressed to be performing in the birthplace of “cat’s eyes, HP sauce, shin pads and genetically modified tomatoes”.
Seeking to add spice to I Saw You Blink, a well-worn old favourite, Briggs had also been casting around for a song from a Nottingham band, whose lyrics he could work into the tune. “As I’m sure you are painfully aware, there aren’t many bands to choose from”, he told us, blithely unaware of the city’s reviving musical reputation. A snatch of Lightning Bolt might have been fun, and even Billy Don’t Be A Hero might have raised a smile, but we had to settle instead for KWS’s cover of KC and the Sunshine Band’s Please Don’t Go. Oh well, never mind.
A six-track mini-album, You Don’t Know Anything, was released a fortnight ago, and three of its tracks found their way into the set list. The best of these was Clockwatching, a rousing early highlight which collapsed into cacophony before the final refrain, like an explosion in a farmyard. Later in the set, the droll lyrics of the title track – “I’ve less energy than a stick of a celery” – raised chuckles in the crowd.
Stepping away from the mikes for an unamplified four-song sequence, Briggs performed November Song on his own – “the noise of the air conditioning you can imagine to be the wild winds”, he quipped – before gradually being joined by the rest of the band, their guest fiddler and their guest trumpeter. Again, such intimacy would have been impossible at Rock City, but here it drew perhaps the loudest applause of the night, particularly following the gentle hoedown of We Are The Battery Humans.
Perplexingly, the band’s most recent full-length release, Tales From Terra Firma, was poorly represented in the set list – it would have been particularly good to have heard Knock Me On The Head and Invite To Eternity, for example – but on the whole, the audience warmed most to the oldest songs, softly singing along to Boats & Trains and Fuel Up, both from the first album.
Pitched somewhere between Noah & The Whale’s folk-pop and Belle & Sebastian’s chamber-pop, with a fondness for nature and wildlife imagery that makes them naturals for the outdoor festival circuit, Stornoway have carved a serviceable niche for themselves. They’re clearly sensible and grounded fellows – perhaps a little too sensible and grounded at times, with a tendency towards pious over-tidiness that could do with keeping in check – but they do what they do well, at a level of success that should sustain them for a good while to come.
Set list: Farewell Appalachia, Clockwatching, I Saw You Blink, Boats & Trains, When You Touch Down From Outer Space, The Ones We Hurt The Most, Fuel Up, November Song, Josephine, You Don’t Know Anything, We Are The Battery Humans, Watching Birds, You Take Me As I Am, The Great Procrastinator, Zorbing.
Originally published in the Nottingham Post.
It’s been a long time since we last heard from Nina Smith. For most of this year, she has been lying low, working on new material and developing a new sound, which sees her shifting away from acoustic pop and heading in a more soulful direction.
Having taken such a long break from performing, Nina needed to come back with a bang. Booking the main stage of the Rescue Rooms was a bold move – it’s the first time she has headlined there – but as she stepped onto the stage in front of a packed room, to wild applause, it was clear that the risk had paid off.
As an introductory video explained, Nina has forged a more “grown-up” approach to her songwriting and presentation, with a fuller, richer and funkier sound that draws inspiration from Alicia Keys, Carole King and Nineties R&B. With a new four-piece band, two new backing singers, and a brand new set of songs, she had set herself the task of effectively re-inventing herself in public.
Quirkily stylish in a black polka-dot top and crimson velvet hotpants, Nina radiated personality, warmth and charm, connecting with the room in an instant, and displaying a keen commitment to her new material. “Tired of closing curtains, I want to open up to sunshine”, she sang on Waiting For You, a song about hanging on to hope in an unrequited love affair – but the words fitted the occasion, too.
Elsewhere, Why Can’t I Sleep dealt with conflicting emotions at the end of a relationship, a theme that was revisited for I Wish, the eighth and final song of the night. There were more unrequited longings in This Love – “your heart’s not for sale, but I stole it” – while on Come Home (“let me show you, this is how it’s done”) and I Can’t Read You, Nina asserted her desires more explicitly. “You should come a little closer, take your clothes off”, she teased on the latter, drawing mid-song cheers.
Musical influences ranged far and wide. Opening the set, Love To Leave’s light reggae backbeat served the song well, and those Carole King influences came to the fore on Scars, a stripped down number for voice and piano.
Overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the crowd, Nina couldn’t thank us often enough. There will be another chance to catch her performing for free this year, at the Royal Concert Hall on Tuesday December 3rd. In the meantime, she can take pride in this triumphant comeback, which opens a highly promising new chapter in her career.
Originally published in the Nottingham Post.
Girls In Hawaii are a top five act in their native Belgium, who have yet to make much of an impact over here. Regrouping after the death of their drummer in 2010, they have just released their third album, Everest. It’s an understandably melancholy and subdued affair for the most part, which stands in marked contrast to the six-piece band’s muscular and varied live set. Whenever you think you’ve got the measure of them, they’ll throw in something unexpected: a funky keyboard vamp, a discordant howl, a big pop chorus.
Midway through the set, the two keyboard players abandon their posts, bringing the number of guitars on stage up to five. Wired to identical amps, two Telecasters are played in unison, fattening the sound; a simple but effective trick, which is repeated for the set’s closing song. By this stage, the formerly mild-mannered singer has vaulted one of the speaker stacks. Bathed in red light, his tambourine worn like a crown, he yells unintelligibly into an old-fashioned telephone receiver, as the band crank up the energy levels to a breathtaking degree. Nobody saw this coming. It’s a stunning moment.
The mood lightens for the headliners, who preface their set with a public information film of their own, warning us of the perils of Wafty Mobile Phone Camera Video Disorder: a welcome and hearteningly effective piece of propaganda.
Borrowing the words of Lord Reith, the founding father of the BBC, the title of Public Service Broadcasting’s album – Inform Educate Entertain – spells out their mission. Blending sound samples and video footage from vintage public information films with live drums, keyboards, guitars and banjo, they mash the past up with the present, with wit, style and dexterity.
To the right of the stage, the tweed-jacketed and bow-tied J. Willgoose, Esq. manipulates the sonic elements, looping and layering his live instruments, and punching sound samples from his array of kit. Even the stage banter is pre-recorded (“we have always wanted to play” – long pause – “Rescue Rooms”), including retorts to hecklers (“we’ve all had a few”). To the left, Wrigglesworth’s gleeful live drumming powers the set, while in the centre, Mister B controls the visuals, beaming pre-recorded and live footage onto two giant screens and two rickety towers of antique television sets. Completing the boffin look, all three performers sport the same thick-rimmed spectacles.
Two new tracks are performed, both of them in Dutch (“it seemed like the logical next step”), and featuring footage of the world’s biggest ice-skating race. Elsewhere, dandies in boutiques form the backdrop for The Now Generation (“how about these slacks?”), while Night Mail pays tribute to our most recently privatised public service, and Spitfire quotes from The First of the Few, a fictionalised account of the airplane’s construction that served as a morale-booster during World War Two.
It’s high-concept stuff, but there’s nothing too academic or remote about it either; “entertain” takes priority over “inform” and “educate” throughout, and the players clearly don’t take themselves too seriously. It’s difficult to see how they can sustain their act in the long-term, as its novelty is a large part of its appeal – but as of now, it’s a raging success, and a delight to witness.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Later at Stealth, OneGirlOneBoy and I Am Lono both offered dark, claustrophobic melodrama, matching abrasive guitar with icy electronics.
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.
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.
Between these two acts, Grey Hairs fired up the Rock City basement with brutal, primeval energy, dragging late night rowdiness into the mid-afternoon.
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.
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.
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.
Although this was a sold-out show, punters were still thin on the ground as Clean Bandit took to the stage. This didn’t dent the enthusiasm of the six gold-clad performers, whose innate sunniness was a joy to behold. They were a disparate bunch: a hooded keyboardist, a classically trained violinist and cellist, and a troupe of three singers – plucked from a community singing group in Kilburn – who alternated lead vocals.
The diversity of the line-up was reflected in the music, which gleefully plundered genres like a latter-day Basement Jaxx, and with comparable wit and colour. Tracks would sometimes halt for chamber-music breakdowns, which quoted naggingly familiar classical pieces. This worked so well, that you found yourself wondering why nobody had attempted it before.
As it’s still early days, there were a couple of covers: a mash-up of Gangsta’s Paradise and Survivor, and a rousing take on SBTRKT’s Wildfire that seemed to seal Clean Bandit’s popularity in the ever-filling room. Forthcoming single Mozart’s House closed the set. It’s an absolute corker of a track, boosted by a clever, compelling video, which deserves to do well.
For such a mature-sounding act, Disclosure’s youth still comes as a surprise: Guy Lawrence is just into his twenties, and his brother Howard is still in his late teens. A clean-cut pair, with an unaffected, boyish enthusiasm, they stationed themselves at diagonally facing consoles, beneath a custom-made, back-of-stage lighting rig and diamond-shaped projection screens.
Relying on pre-recorded elements as little as possible, the pair brought a properly live feel to their music, which was augmented by Howard’s bass guitar and Guy’s percussion. Cuts from the forthcoming debut album, of which there were many, slotted seamlessly alongside tracks such as Boiling – an evenly furrowed glide that updates house and two-step garage for a new generation – and current hit White Noise, whose instant-recognition factor lifted the whole room.
Adding live percussion to electronic dance music is an approach that can be fraught with peril, as anyone who ever witnessed dodgy bongo players at tribal house nights could testify, but Guy’s crisp, to-the-point embellishments served the tracks well. By adding cymbals and cowbells to an elongated, dubbed-up version of Running, the Jessie Ware remix which helped make Disclosure’s name, the track felt re-invigorated and renewed.
The biggest whoops of the night came for the brothers’ breakthrough hit Latch, which closed the show. Although far from typical of Disclosure’s sound in rhythmic terms – it’s less of a skitter and more of a march – the track’s popularity proved to be unmatched. The retina-burning backlights rotated and flashed; the head-shaped logos shimmered, seemingly in mid-air; and a happy, equally youthful crowd hollered along, turning the love song into an anthem of collective good cheer.
This review originally appeared in the Nottingham Post.
If Arthur Seaton had grown up listening to Mark E. Smith and John Cooper Clarke, maybe he could have fronted a band like Sleaford Mods. Then again, there’s never been a front man quite like Jason Williamson: scathing and surreal, funny and furious, with a stage manner that combines bitter, eye-popping outrage and casual, hand-in-pocket indifference. Behind him, Andrew Fearn confines himself to pressing Start and Stop on the laptop, and supping from a can of Red Stripe. You could call it Performance Art, but they probably wouldn’t thank you for it. They might have you believe that the music was cobbled together in five minutes, but Jason’s razor-sharp timing and faultless delivery suggests quite the opposite. “Boris Johnson and The Cheeky Girls shut down the underground!” he rages, with absolute conviction. For a moment or two, you find yourself in full agreement.
By the time that I Am Lono take to the stage, the upstairs space at the Rescue Rooms is jammed to capacity. They have a single to launch, and this is their biggest show to date. Behind them, live visuals are mixed from the back of the room by the Kneel Before Zod Video Club. There are clips from slasher movies and fantasy animations, and archive footage from the Soviet Union. During one track, a variety of items are fed into an industrial shredder: trainers, lemons, female sanitary products and cans of Pepsi.
Like Sleaford Mods, I Am Lono are an electronic duo, but there the comparisons end. Their songs are dark and introspective, informed by paranoia and claustrophobia, and yet their live sound opens up magnificently, drawing you into their world. David Startin’s guitar adds thrashy textures to Matthew Cooper’s keyboards, programmed beats and doom-laden vocals, evoking comparisons with late Seventies pioneers such as Suicide and Cabaret Voltaire. The set builds in intensity, from the four-to-the-floor throb of Leland (the A-side of the new single) to the climactic set closer, Why Everything Is Made Of Fives, proving that paranoia and claustrophobia can be curiously uplifting as well.
Originally published in the Nottingham Post and Metro. Photos by Laura Patterson.
A month after topping the album charts with his debut album, in its first week of release, 18 year old Clifton lad Jake Bugg returned to Nottingham in triumph, for his big homecoming show at the Rescue Rooms.
We knew this one was going to be special. As the gig had sold out months in advance, all those present were aware of their good fortune, making for a charged atmosphere of eager anticipation. If Adam Ant hadn’t been booked next door at Rock City, Jake Bugg’s fans could easily have filled the larger venue. (The good news: he’ll be headlining there in February. The bad news: the show is already sold out.)
Jake’s success has a special significance for Nottingham. Almost unbelievably, he is the first home-grown act ever to score a Number One album; an achievement which is long overdue, to put it mildly. Nurtured by a supportive, confident and ever-expanding music community within the city, his success has shown other local acts that anything is possible. On the front of the council house, they even put banners up in his honour.
At a time when mainstream pop music has increasingly painted itself into a corner, endlessly recycling the same stale bag of tricks, Jake’s traditionally styled songcraft feels timely and fresh. He’s only a day older than Justin Bieber, but an old soul lurks within him, channelling the values of classic artists from past decades, and adapting them to the concerns of a younger generation. In this respect, the tracks which played over the PA system before the show told their own tale: Bob Dylan, Oasis, The Stone Roses, Nick Drake.
Unfazed as ever by his sudden good fortune, Jake took the homecoming hero’s welcome in his stride. “It’s great to be back”, he murmured, his expression betraying nothing more than a steady focus on getting the job done. Stage patter just isn’t his style, you see. Songs were prefaced with nothing more wordy than “this one’s off the album”, or “you should all know this one”.
Backed by Tom Robertson on bass and Jack Atherton on drums, Jake delivered a fifty minute, fourteen song set, which took in all of his singles, most of the album, and all four tracks from the Taste It EP. Unlike the album, which starts with the rockers and winds down into the acoustic ballads, the set list was a more satisfyingly structured affair, flowing neatly from one mood to the next.
It started with Jake on acoustic guitar, strumming his way through Kentucky and Love Me The Way You Do from the EP. Second single Trouble Town raised the temperature, its opening lines quickly picked up by the crowd for the first of several throaty singalongs. It was the first reminder that, for all the council-sanctioned banners, Jake makes for an unlikely civic ambassador. Lines such as “Stuck in speed bump city, where the only thing that’s pretty is the thought of getting out” are hardly the stuff of tourist brochures, and many of his lyrics cast a jaundiced eye on the harsh realities of urban life.
The boy is developing nicely as a rocker, too. Swapping to an electric guitar for the heavy, brooding Ballad Of Mr Jones, he launched into a blistering, bluesy solo, suggesting a talent that is only just starting to make its presence felt.
Switching back to the solo acoustic ballads which first made his name locally, Jake hushed the crowd with a piercingly delicate rendition of Someone Told Me, followed by the equally lovely Note To Self and Simple As This. Then it was back to the rockers, climaxing with the big crowd pleasers of the night: Two Fingers, Taste It and Lightning Bolt.
Chants of “We are Nottingham!” brought the band back to the stage, threatening to drown out the opening bars of Country Song. Dropping his cool at last, Jake even cracked a broad smile: a rare event, but the occasion demanded nothing less.
This time last year, Jake Bugg was quietly working his way through a late night residency at the Glee Club. In twelve months’ time, he could be selling out arenas, maybe even with an award or two under his belt. With that in mind, it was a real treat to witness this rising star for maybe the last time at such close quarters, bringing it back home and making us all feel proud.
Old age sits well with Daevid Allen, the 74-year old leader of Gong, who has steered his ever-fluctuating troupe of psychedelic space-rockers for most of its 43 years on Planet Earth. White-haired and twinkly-eyed, he cuts something of a hippy Gandalf figure these days; indeed, it’s hard to remember him any other way.
Gong were last heard of three years ago, when Allen reunited with guitarist Steve Hillage for 2032, the band’s strongest album since their 1970s glory days. Hillage has moved on since then, and a new line-up has been recruited, including Allen’s son Orlando on drums. Orlando’s mother Gilli Smyth, better known to Gong fans as Shakti Yoni, was also billed to appear, but illness sadly prevented the 79-year old poetess from adding her unique “space whisper” to the five-piece line-up.
Shorn of female energies, and also devoid of the floaty synthesiser burbles that helped to define their sound, the band headed in a more muscular, rock-based direction. But although this was a very different Gong from the incarnation that toured in 2009, the players did full justice to Allen’s back catalogue, performing two lengthy sets that took us on a journey through their celebrated Radio Gnome trilogy, interspersed with older and newer selections.
Tracks from Flying Teapot, the first part of the trilogy, dominated the first set, combining whimsical mythology with almost nursery rhyme-like chants and refrains. (“Banana, nirvana, mañana… “) Excerpts from the next episode, Angels Egg, closed the first set and opened the second, preparing the way for the epic, hypnotic intensity of Master Builder from the concluding chapter, You.
From there, we spun back in time to the classic Camembert Electrique album, then hopped forward to Gong’s 1977 punk-inspired single Opium For The People: rarely performed in recent years, and an utter treat to behold. This segued into the blistering mantra Dynamite, which mutated into calls to “free Bradley Manning, free Julian Assange, free information” – a reminder that Allen’s counter-cultural revolutionary spirit has remained undimmed by the passing of time. Cocking a cheerful snook at the 11pm curfew, the band concluded with You Can’t Kill Me, a defiant ode to survival that suggests that Allen fully intends to carry on space-rocking into his eighties, and well beyond.
Two nights on from Alice Cooper’s Halloween Night Of Fear, another face-painted veteran of so-called “shock rock” brought his act to town. Now seventy years old, yet still best known for his 1968 chart-topper Fire, Arthur Brown’s performance style provided the blueprint that the likes of Cooper, Kiss and Marilyn Manson later adapted, while his unearthly falsetto screech set a pattern that innumerable heavy metal vocalists have since followed.
Backed by a feisty band who looked young enough to be his grandchildren, Brown made his entrance in a face mask, lifting it to reveal an impressive make-up job beneath. Presenting himself as the living embodiment of a truly free spirit, his energies and vocal prowess undimmed by the passing of the years, he launched into a typically theatrical, hugely entertaining set, which ran the gamut from progressive rock to cabaret and blues, with a touch of tango along the way.
The set list included several selections from The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, the 1968 debut album which made its name. Tracks such as Spontaneous Apple Creation, with its climactic line “…and five million people ate one strawberry!”, could have sounded dated in their whimsicality, but the youthful vigour of the band breathed new life into them. Other highlights included splendid covers of I Put A Spell On You and The Green Manalishi, and a rendition of Brown’s 1967 debut single Devil’s Grip: the first single ever played on the John Peel Show, as we were proudly reminded.
The players were joined at the side of the stage by Victor Peraino from Detroit, who had played keyboards with Brown’s early 1970s prog rock band Kingdom Come. Reunited with Brown for the first time in 39 years, Peraino added his parts via an iPad, which he brandished as proudly as any axeman would wield his guitar.
The main set climaxed with the celebrated opening sequence from the Crazy World album. At the point where Fire Poem segues into Fire’s call to arms (“I am the god of hellfire!”), Brown paused for a bizarre spoken digression, which somehow managed to include Adam Ant, Lady Gaga and his own mother, prophesying that “you will have to sing this song almost every day for the rest of your life”. There are, of course, far worse fates to endure. Having been granted the keys to the kingdom via this one classic song, it was clear that Brown wore his burden lightly, remaining the master of his own unique and colourful domain.
This time last year, Jack Peachey was riding the crest of a wave. Retaining the name of Gallery 47 from a previous band, but recording and performing as a solo artist, his album Fate Is The Law had earned good reviews, and his name was beginning to be tipped for wider success, beyond the supportive confines of the regular Nottingham gigging circuit.
But then, with appalling timing, disaster struck. Clobbered by an illness that he couldn’t shake off, Jack’s strength was sapped for months on end. Worse than that, the condition had attacked that most precious asset, his voice. For three whole months, the singer couldn’t even speak. And yet, agonisingly, the offers continued to roll in, offering him opportunities that no artist would ever normally turn down. Laid up and lying low, by necessity rather than choice, Jack entered what he now freely admits was a period of personal emotional turmoil.
Finally, over a year since his last live show, Gallery 47 returned to the upstairs stage at the Rescue Rooms, supporting headliner Rachel Sermanni. Friends and well-wishers were thick on the ground, and an atmosphere of warm goodwill prevailed.
As the space filled with that instantly familiar combination of piercing, reedy vocals and intricately curling and tumbling guitar lines, it swiftly became clear that those long months of inactivity hadn’t left a single dent on Jack’s performing skills. A ring of seated supporters formed at his feet, settling in for the ride. Smiles met smiles, reverberating around the room.
The man himself was in a relaxed, good-humoured frame of mind, shrugging off the oppressive heat and offering us background context for some of his newer songs. Waiting For My Girl dealt with the immediate emotional aftermath of relationship, when you know that you’re supposed to “move on”, yet stubbornly refuse to do so. Mister Baudelaire was a song about critics. Another song addressed the events of the past year, with some baldly candid lines that hung in the air (“Oh no, what about the DHP show, feel I’m falling down”), and other passages that defied straightforward interpretation – for as Jack explained, when you’re feeling sick and all you can do is scribble lyrics, then some pretty strange metaphors can emerge. On Invasion, another new composition, the lyrics faded away halfway through the song, replaced by wordless – but no less communicative – keening and wailing.
Unlike certain other talented young acoustic singer-songwriters from this city, Jack’s cheerfully uncool demeanour is never going to win him fashion spreads in FHM magazine, or showcase gigs for casual clothing companies – but if there’s any justice in the world, his remarkable talents shouldn’t be hidden from wider public recognition for too much longer. In the meantime, a five-track EP, Dividends, is due out soon as a free download. “That’s because I can’t be bothered to sell anything”, Jack grinned, doling out the last remaining copies of his album to anyone who wanted them. But as nice as it is to receive freebies, we can only hope that his gifts soon find their true and deserved reward.
Before headliners Dutch Uncles made their appearance – upstairs at the Rescue Rooms, in the implausibly named Red Room (it’s actually green) – a couple of local acts took to the stage. First up were Boots Booklovers: five young lads from Beeston, who have been getting their name increasingly known around town this year. Earlier this week, they were announced as finalists in Nusic’s competition to find a support act for Dog Is Dead at Rock City in December, having finished in joint first place in the public vote stage of the contest. They’re a fresh-faced bunch, with neat, buttoned-up collars and instruments that still look a bit too big for their slender frames. The Eighties-slick singer and the Fifties-quiffed drummer have the best haircuts, the lead guitarist and the bassist look like brothers (perhaps they are), and the five-piece comes across as a closely-knit unit with a pleasing sense of purpose. Jangly indie-pop often sounds best when the ideas are slightly ahead of the execution, and if that sounds like a sly dig, then it’s not meant to be. It’s usually a sign that the band are pushing themselves hard as songwriters and arrangers, and in this case, the signs are already clear: this is a band with a future.
Perhaps it was because Infinity Hertz opted to play in darkness – only the drummer was visible, his upper body illuminated by the titchy kaleidoscopic visuals on the back wall – but it was harder to get a handle on what the second act of the night were all about. According to the band’s Facebook page, their stock in trade is “altruistic alchemypop skip-hop shoowave”, so perhaps there’s no point in trying to slot them into a genre. Still, the silhouetted gloom was an apt match for the dour intensity of the music, and in particular for the doomy, somewhat mannered vocals of the lead singer. In place of Boots Booklovers’ freshly laundered neatness, the five members of Infinity Hertz looked more dishevelled, and perhaps less well-nourished. The first band were cheered on by their beaming mums and dads; the second band were stared at by their cool mates. It was a striking contrast.
Opening with the pounding, piano-led title track from their critically acclaimed second album Cadenza, Dutch Uncles had the suddenly swollen crowd on their side right from the start. Led by the appealingly awkward Duncan Wallis – a tall, twitchy fellow, with the slight stoop of someone who has perhaps become used to dodging low ceilings in poky venues – the Manchester five-piece rattled confidently through their forty-five minute set, negotiating the tricksy twists and turns of their material with consummate ease. Their music bears comparison with the math-rock of Foals, Everything Everything and Dirty Projectors, but there’s a pronounced funkiness to them as well, which stops them becoming too cerebral and dry. There aren’t many bands who could successfully inject rock’s punch and dance music’s groove into a re-working of composer Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint, as they do on recent single X-O, but Dutch Uncles are no ordinary band. “It feels like we’ve righted a wrong”, said a delighted Wallis at the end of the set, “because our last couple of gigs in Nottingham were a bit shite”. They can’t come back soon enough.
Right now, Nottingham’s Atticus Anthem are having a bit of a moment. Last Saturday, they appeared in session on BBC Radio Nottingham’s The Beat: always a prestigious moment for a local band, and a clear sign that they’re on the right track. And with their debut EP (Slow Down Gracetown) due out in three weeks’ time, they took to the Rescue Rooms stage as if it were their natural habitat.
Boosted by the support of friends and family in the audience, and with singer Bjorn Franklin’s birthday also to be celebrated, the stars aligned perfectly for the band, who delivered a skilful, well-crafted and compelling set. You could tell that the players had rehearsed long and hard for this show, and there was a pleasing precision to their performance, which was lifted by Johnny Marchetta’s chiming, echo-laden guitar sound and a spot-on sound mix.
As a front man, Bjorn Franklin combined soft-spoken courtesy with throaty passion. His vocals commanded full attention during the quieter passages, before soaring high and hefty for the band’s many anthemic, festival-friendly choruses.
Having honed their craft to such a high standard, Atticus Anthem now need to concentrate their energies on developing a more unique, characterful sound, that shifts them away from the classic U2/Kings Of Leon template. If they can tear up the rule book and inject a little more colour and risk, there’s no reason why they couldn’t one day return to the Rescue Rooms as headliners.
As for fellow Nottingham rockers The Money, fortune has been smiling on them over the past few months. After winning the Future Sound of Nottingham contest at Rock City in July, they opened the main stage at the Splendour festival in fine style, looking for all the world like seasoned regulars. With that victory under their belts, wowing the Rescue Rooms should have been well within their grasp – but there was no escaping the realisation that last night’s show was far from their best.
Despite being crystal clear for the opening act and the headliners, something went markedly awry for The Money’s sound mix, which was sludgy, indistinct and over-loud. Perhaps thrown by this, they came close to fluffing the intro to their first (and best) song, Looks Like Rain – and from that point on, they never fully recovered their usual cracking form. Things more or less came together for the final song of their short set, but it still wasn’t enough to galvanise the muted crowd.
The night ended with a capable, likeable but ultimately unremarkable set from headliners The Morning Parade, a five-piece band from Essex who had played The Bodega earlier this year. While their sound certainly scaled up to the demands of the Rescue Rooms stage, they hadn’t quite accrued sufficient audience numbers to justify the larger space.
This being the first night of their tour, the lads were eager to debut many new songs from their forthcoming album, but the set didn’t fully take flight until A&E, the single which caused all the excitement the last time round. The band work best on songs like this, where they can maximise their energy levels and deliver at full tilt. But on the more reflective pieces, perhaps a lack of familiarity from both sides of the stage dampened some of their effect.
Ron Sexsmith looked confused. He thought he had played the Rescue Rooms before, but he barely recognised the place. Had something changed, or was it just his failing memory?
His bewilderment was understandable. Now fully refitted and refurbished – even down to the disgusting old toilets, whose passing will not be mourned – the venue looks smarter and more spacious. The bar has been moved to the back, making the auditorium wider and less cramped. There’s a new raised viewing platform along the left hand wall, and the balcony can now be accessed directly from new stairs on the right hand side. Best of all, especially for latecomers to busy shows, the stage has been raised. The lighting has been upgraded, the acoustics are spot-on, and the venue has the air of an old friend who has been given a sleek makeover.
These were ideal conditions to greet the return of one of Canada’s most acclaimed singer-songwriters, whose long career has been given an overdue boost this year, due to a strong new album (Long Player Late Bloomer) and a BBC4 documentary. Although he remains under the radar sales-wise, Ron Sexsmith is widely regarded as something of a “songwriter’s songwriter”. His fans include Paul McCartney, Elton John and Ray Davies, and his songs have been covered by Emmylou Harris, Rod Stewart, Michael Bublé and Feist.
Tousle-haired, moon-faced and stocky, Sexsmith is an understated performer, whose focus is on songcraft rather than showmanship. Stylistically, his music adheres to classic country-rock values, with a certain Anglophile twist that suggests a familiarity with Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello and Dave Edmunds. Gifted with an outstanding knack for melody – the opening track on his new album (Get In Line) has a tune that can lodge itself in your head for days – Sexsmith has a particular penchant for redemptive love songs, which suggest that love can save us from darkness and ease us through troubled times.
Fans old and new absorbed the lengthy set with fond reverence, warm applause, and the smiles of people who felt fortunate to have unearthed such a special talent.
Two years ago, demoralised by poor sales and scant recognition, The Pierces were ready to throw in the towel. At that precise moment, the gods deigned to smile upon them. Coldplay’s bassist called up from out of the blue, offering to produce their fourth album, You & I. Liking what they heard, and spotting its commercial potential, their UK label went for the big push. Radio Two lent its support, as did stations such as Magic and Smooth.
All of a sudden, after over a decade in the business, The Pierces have become a “buzz” act. Last week, only Lady Gaga and Adele sold more albums in this country. And this week, by way of preparation for the summer festival circuit, the two Pierce sisters, Catherine and Allison, embarked on their first ever headline tour.
Curiously for an act who are currently at Number Four in the albums chart, The Pierces hadn’t quite managed to fill the Rescue Rooms to capacity. (Perhaps their new-found “adult contemporary” audience were too busy putting the kids to bed.) In terms of scaling up as a live act, these are still early days for them, but the duo seemed ready to embrace the challenge. Catherine (the plump-lipped platinum blonde) was all rock-chick glam and pop-star allure, while her older sister Allison (dark-haired and demurely frocked) counterbalanced the pouts with a gentler, more measured approach. The contrast was an effective one, but Allison did at times seem distracted, even faintly perturbed. If something was bothering her, then she didn’t succeed in fully disguising it.
The new album might be characterised by a glossy West Coast sound that evokes comparisons with Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac, but as the live set demonstrated, The Pierces have a wider range of influences at their disposal. The show opened with the greasy, grungey riff of Love You More, and it closed with the wry, deadpan satire of Boring – one of several songs that draws its inspiration from the sisters’ experiences at the fringes of the fashionable New York indie scene. Introducing I Put Your Records On – a rock star girlfriend’s lament, if ever there was one – Allison warned us of the perils of dating a musician. Given that Catherine was once engaged to one of The Strokes, it seemed strange that Allison took a rare lead vocal on this particular song, but perhaps the lyric was better served by a measure of emotional distance.
The new fans responded warmly to current radio favourite You’ll Be Mine (or “the one-two-three song”, as more casual listeners have been calling it), whilst the scattering of longer-term admirers were cheered by the inclusion of three numbers from the duo’s unfairly overlooked third album, Thirteen Tales of Love and Revenge. A surfeit of production sheen marred the new single Glorious, but this was offset by the exquisite two-part harmonies of the quietest number, The Good Samaritan.
After the show, Allison and Catherine headed straight for the merch stand for an extended meet-and-greet, which they threw themselves into with unforced enthusiasm. Second chances are rare in the cutthroat world of pop, and their gratitude was well-placed. And on the evidence of this delightful show, their delayed good fortune was equally well-deserved.
Noah and the Whale have a particular fondness for the Rescue Rooms. Charlie Fink, their lead singer and songwriter, made his professional live debut there, supporting the Swedish act Loney Dear. Since then, his band have become regular visitors. They’re probably big enough to graduate to Rock City by now, but they have stuck with the venue, cramming their fans tightly into the sold-out space.
Capacity gigs at the Rescue Rooms can be a lot of fun, but only with the right act and the right crowd. Noah and the Whale are a fairly diffident bunch on stage, and their supporters tend towards the mild-mannered. Consequently, last night’s show never really caught fire. Heads nodded, necks strained, but arms and feet barely twitched.
This subdued mood was partly a consequence of the way that the set was structured, with all the gentler, more romantic material shunted into the first forty minutes. Introducing Rocks and Daggers, the first uptempo song of the night – but the twelfth song on their set list – Fink even apologised for not warning us in advance. Lulled into submission, the crowd were slow to shift gear.
Originally bracketed with Mumford and Sons as ambassadors of a so-called “new folk” movement, Noah and the Whale have broadened their range with each release. Their second album, The First Days Of Spring, was a downbeat collection of heartbreak songs, inspired by Fink’s break-up with former band member Laura Marling. Few of its tracks have survived into this year’s tour, but the slide guitar-driven My Door Is Always Open was a mid-set highlight. Curiously, the album’s opening title track closed the main set, its misplaced optimism (“I’m still here hoping that one day you may come back”) sounding all the more poignant.
For their third and latest release, Last Night On Earth, the band have looked towards more American influences. It’s clear that they’ve been listening to Lou Reed, and maybe Springsteen and Tom Petty as well. Their knack for honing timeless, easy-on-the-ear melodies is as strong as ever, even if some of those melodies do seem a little familiar: the verses of L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N. bear more than a passing similarity to The Kinks’ Lola, and the driving riff that powers the chorus of new single Tonight’s The Kind Of Night could have been sampled from Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet.
Inevitably, the loudest cheers were reserved for the biggest hit. If the breezy, happy-go-lucky and increasingly unrepresentative 5 Years Time is starting to feel like an albatross round their necks, the band didn’t show it. It’s the sort of song that’s best enjoyed on a sunny afternoon at an open air festival, not in a tightly packed club on a chilly evening – but just for a few minutes, we caught a brief, cheering glimpse of the summer to come.
At the moment, Katy B’s audience is overwhelmingly teenage and female; at last night’s sold-out show, there were barely any male faces to be seen in the first few rows, which was a rare sight indeed for a venue like the Rescue Rooms. And yet, given the surprisingly traditional nature of her live line-up – the just-turned 22-year-old’s six-piece band included a live drummer, a percussionist and a two-man brass section – you sensed she could be one Jools Holland appearance away from breaking through to an older constituency.
For while Katy’s musical roots might be planted in London’s clubland underground, both her live sound and her onstage performance style suggested a readiness to embrace the wider world. The pre-programmed electronic beats were dialled down, the bowel-quaking dubstep basslines were dampened, and a lighter, sweeter, more fluid – and arguably more feminine – approach prevailed.
As for the girl herself – now halfway through her first headlining tour, and clearly relishing the long-awaited opportunity to introduce herself to her fanbase – any concerns that Katy might have been a touch “too cool for school” were instantly banished by the warm, beaming, petite figure who bounded on stage to greet the room and glad-hand the front ranks. Blending the measured professionalism of a BRIT School graduate with the unforced glee of a natural communicator, she worked hard to charm us, and to connect with us.
Unlike so many of today’s dance-pop divas, whose experiences of being “in the club” probably don’t extend far beyond the VIP section, Katy brings the knowledge and enthusiasm of a true clubber to bear on her music. “I love raving”, she told us, explaining that her love of dance music stems from those moments when an entire dance floor becomes unified by a single, shared feeling, and that her mission as a performer is to recreate those moments for a live audience.
A case in point is Perfect Stranger, which Katy recorded in collaboration with the dubstep act Magnetic Man. Although the song could be read as an account of a one-night stand, it’s actually – as she explained to us in some detail – about catching a stranger’s eye in a crowded club, and realising that both of you are feeling exactly the same emotions. It’s one of the defining pop vocal performances of the past twelve months, and its singer did it full justice on the night, galvanising the crowd into fist-pumping delirium.
Appropriately enough, the set closed with Lights On, which was dedicated to anyone who has ever wanted to carry on dancing at the end of a club night, when the house lights are back up and most punters are already queueing for their coats. “This has been the best show on the tour so far”, we were told. The pleasure was all ours, Katy.