We kick off a new weekly series giving you the lowdown on everything you need to know about the UK’s best venues with a trip to the East Midlands.
Capacity: 2,450 in the main room, 300 in the basement.
Who plays there: Big names from Rock City’s past include Nirvana, Oasis, David Bowie, REM, Guns N’ Roses and Blur. The roster is slanted towards rock, as the name would imply, but other genres still get a look in; to the disgust of regulars, Blue played here in 2013. The NME tour is an annual fixture, as are the Dot to Dot and Hit the Deck festivals, covering indie and rock respectively. Other recent acts include Two Door Cinema Club, the Deftones, Foals, Bastille, Suede, Public Enemy, Alt-J, the 1975, Johnny Marr, AlunaGeorge, Gary Numan and Disclosure.
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.
Alt-J aren’t a band who normally bring moshpits to mind. An Awesome Wave, their Mercury Prize winning album, is a studied, reflective and delicate piece of work, which places them on the artier wing of indie-pop. It’s a far from gloomy affair – the melodies are bright and dextrous, and the often unfathomable lyrics conceal flashes of wit – but with a tempo that rarely rises much above mid-paced, it’s hardly an album to rock out to.
So what was it about this mild-mannered, neatly groomed band’s carefully rehearsed and precisely delivered performance that tipped the main floor of a sold out Rock City into a seething, chaotic frenzy? Perhaps the relative lateness of the hour had something to do with it; following two support acts, and ample opportunities for the crowd to visit the bar, Alt-J didn’t take the stage until a quarter to ten. Or perhaps this was simply a crowd that was hell-bent on having a good time, regardless of the source material.
By the third number, Tessellate, the moshers were running riot, bellowing along to the decidedly unanthemic lyrics (“triangles are my favourite shape, three points where two lines meet”) and raising their hands into the same shapes en masse (on Apple computers, the band’s name represents the keyboard shortcut for a Delta symbol).
“I hope you’re all looking after each other, because it’s starting to get nasty out there!” said keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton after Dissolve Me, a song that was supposed to be about calming down. His words seemed to have the opposite effect; less than halfway through the next number, Fitzpleasure, a sizeable circle had been carved out in the middle of the floor, ready for the body-slammers to pile in.
Later in the set, Matilda was transformed into a terrace anthem, and by the time that the band reached Ms, supposedly a dark lullaby (“close eyes, open, close again, forget and fall asleep”), a lone shoe could be spotted, surfing the crowd from side to side. Was this standard behaviour for an Alt-J gig? The band’s bemused smiles suggested that it probably wasn’t.
Away from the main floor, older elements of the audience responded very differently. Although equally rapt, they stood motionless, savouring the beauty of the playing. These were the broadsheet readers, the Later with Jools viewers, the Mercury Prize demographic.
For those less intimately familiar with the material, perhaps the evenly paced set lacked a certain amount of light and shade; it could have done with a bit more drama, and a bit more passion. And at a mere fifty-seven minutes, two or three more songs wouldn’t have gone amiss, either. But why quibble, when geeky art-rockers are treated like rock gods? This was Rock City at its best.
Originally published in the Nottingham Post.
In 1987, Public Enemy burst onto the scene amidst a blaze of controversy, sending shockwaves through hip hop with their brutally uncompromising approach. Last week, alongside the likes of Rush, Heart and Randy Newman, they were formally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Back then, they were seen as dangerous, disruptive radicals. Now, against all the odds, they have ascended to the status of revered elder statesmen.
Inevitably, some of that early rage has been blunted. As a front man, Chuck D is an almost affable figure these days, communing with the crowd rather than confronting them. Shed of their fake Uzis, the ever-unsmiling, largely motionless Security of the First World seem less like a paramilitary troupe, and more like the butchest go-go boys in showbiz.
Even Flavor Flav looked somewhat altered. The cap was gone, revealing mini-dreads beneath. And where was his trademark clock? Deposited at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we were told, in accordance with a long-standing pledge. The clocklessness didn’t last long, though. A replacement had been sourced, and it was soon whipped out and pressed into service.
Flav has become quite the multi-instrumentalist of late. His drumming might have been basic, but he succeeded in holding down a steady rhythm while firing out a rap, while his bandmates took a break. And as a bass player, he didn’t do badly at all. “Flav, how low can you go?” we chanted, as he plucked and gurned, baring his metal teeth. To which one answer might have been: frolicking with Brigitte Nielsen on reality TV? Still, that’s water under the bridge, and maybe revered elder statesmen are now due some respect.
As for recently deceased stateswomen, that proved to be quite a different matter. “Ding dong, the wicked bitch is dead”, Flav hollered, to hearty cheers. This earned a pantomime scolding from Chuck (“That’s disrespectful!”), but Flav wasn’t to be silenced. “She didn’t give a f*** about real people”, he added, to further cheers.
Rock City has always held a special place in Public Enemy’s hearts. As Chuck reminded us, they debuted Bring The Noise here in 1987, in one of Rock City’s most legendary shows. The affection was returned by a series of guests from the front row. Stephanie’s word-perfect delivery of Don’t Believe The Hype was spotted, and she was hauled up for an impromptu performance. A few minutes later, local rapper Duke01 added a guest verse on Fight The Power. “I got to be careful”, said Flav. “People are coming up here and taking my job!”
Unlike most hip hop acts, all of Public Enemy’s music was generated live on stage – most notably by their brilliant turntablist DJ Lord, whose quickfire cutting of Smells Like Teen Spirit was a wonder to behold. The screeching sample that dominates Rebel Without A Pause might have been dialled down on the night, but few other concessions were made to middle aged mellowness.
The set ended with the Shirley Bassey-sampling Harder Than You Think, which became the band’s highest charting single last year, having been used as the theme tune for the BBC’s coverage of the Paralympics. It was a fittingly triumphant climax for an act who, twenty-six years down the line, have finally come in from the cold.
Originally published in the Nottingham Post
It’s hard to believe that Suede have never played Rock City before; even front man Brett Anderson had to check with the crowd, just in case a stray Nottingham date had slipped his memory.
In truth, we could be forgiven for feeling a wee bit shunned. Suede’s last gig here was at Trent Polytechnic in October 1992, just after the release of second single Metal Mickey. It was one of those rare occasions when an audience could be observed singing along, word perfect, to tracks that hadn’t yet been released: a clear sign that the band were destined for imminent greatness.
Greatness duly followed: chart-topping albums, an unbroken eleven-year run of hit singles, and a career that is widely credited as inspiring the Britpop boom. But by 2003, the band’s creative spark was dimming. A seven-year hiatus followed, broken by a reunion show in 2010 that was supposed to be a one-off.
Three years on, Suede are still a going concern. They’ve yet to stage a full UK tour – but with a big London show imminent, in support of their comeback album Bloodsports, a warm-up date was quickly needed, and Rock City fitted the bill. After all these years, it was a welcome recognition.
The eighty-minute, eighteen-song set was evenly divided between new material and old favourites. It opened with the first three tracks from Bloodsports: a bold move, which thrust the band firmly into the present day. Then it was onto the classics: Animal Nitrate, Metal Mickey and We Are The Pigs, all sounding as fresh and vital as ever.
The three founding members might be in their mid-forties, but middle age hasn’t blunted their focus. The playing was sharp and lean, and Brett Anderson remains a compelling, energising presence, barely touched by the aging process.
During Killing Of A Flash Boy, one of Suede’s many great B-sides and a big fan favourite, Anderson sunk out of sight, mobbed by the crowd. “Yeah, thanks for that”, he spluttered at the end of the song, surfacing with a wry grin, his shirt torn open to the navel.
Three of the new songs, taken from the quieter end of Bloodsports, had never been played on stage before. Although it would have been great to have heard some of the big ballads from Dog Man Star, they punctuated the set effectively, and were respectfully received. Two of them – Faultlines and Always – paved the way for the final salvo of the main set, which ended with the thrilling double whammy of Trash and Beautiful Ones.
Conducted by a demonically beaming Anderson, the crowd bellowed along, reconnecting with the mad mid-Nineties hedonism that Suede had documented so well. “We’re trash, you and me, we’re the litter on the breeze”, we roared, as if 1996 were only yesterday. It was a suitably messy climax to a truly magnificent show, from a legendary band who are right back at the top of their game.
Set list: Barriers, Snowblind, It Starts And Ends With You, Animal Nitrate, Metal Mickey, We Are The Pigs, Sometimes I Feel I’ll Float Away, Hit Me, Filmstar, Killing Of A Flash Boy, Faultlines, Always, So Young, Trash, Beautiful Ones. Encore: What Are You Not Telling Me, For The Strangers, New Generation.
This review originally appeared in the Nottingham Post.
And so, it came to pass: on the day that Jake Bugg was announced as the first ever Nottingham act to headline Splendour, our first homegrown act to top the album charts duly became the first ever Nottingham act to sell out Rock City. Oh, and let’s not forget the small matter of a potential Brit Award, for British Breakthrough Act; voting closed on the day of the show, and the results will be revealed on Wednesday. And yes, that would be yet another first for a Nottingham act.
Never mind selling out Rock City; Jake could probably have filled the Arena as well. It’s hard to believe that just over twelve months ago, he was coming to the end of a residency at the Glee Club, but the eighteen-year old’s rise has been astonishingly sudden, blindsiding many seasoned industry observers.
He’s becoming a bit of a style icon, too. There have been gigs for Burberry, fashion shoots for FHM, and in the Rock City foyer, anyone eager to get the Bugg Look could buy branded polos and button-down check shirts.
Inside the packed main hall, two things immediately struck you: the extraordinary buzz of cheerful anticipation, and the sheer diversity of the punters, which ranged from up-for-it teens to beaming fifty-somethings, and even a few senior citizens. And this was a proper city crowd, as well; quite unlike the studenty throng who had turned out for the NME tour three days earlier. Family members were there in force, along with film director Shane Meadows, BAFTA-winning actress Vicky McClure, some of the lads from Dog Is Dead, and a crew from Radio One.
Stepping out to a homecoming hero’s welcome, Jake began his set in a low-key fashion, with a solo rendition of Fire. The band struck up for Kentucky, taken from the Taste It EP, and augmented with a hint of Duane Eddy-style twang.
Trouble Town brought the first of many throaty sing-alongs, followed by the next single Seen It All, a world-weary tale of drugs and violence. Simple As This nodded towards early Dylan, while the anthemic Slide bore comparison to Jake’s new mate, Noel Gallagher.
As promised, there was a new song, Slumville Sunrise. Powered by a dirty, speedy rock riff, it was a musical cousin of Lightning Bolt and a lyrical cousin of Trouble Town – are Slumville and Speed Bump City the same place? – which climaxed with a fantastic rhythm-and-blues guitar solo.
A solo acoustic section – Someone Told Me, Country Song, Note To Self – calmed things down, in preparation for the final run of singles: Two Fingers, Taste It, and the ever-thrilling Lightning Bolt. For the encore, a stripped-down version of Broken was given added power by the crowd, whose voices swelled up for each chorus. A storming cover of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues closed the set, leaving the hall on the highest of highs.
Jake’s a man of few words, and stage patter just isn’t his style, but you could sense his quiet delight throughout the show, as those heavy-lidded eyes coolly absorbed the whole spectacle. “It’s been a real pleasure to play here tonight”, he told us, “and I hope you’ve all enjoyed your evening.”
Unspoilt and unfazed by his sudden success, Jake continues to grow as a performer, adapting to the demands of a larger stage without compromising the qualities which have won him so many new fans. Those big arenas? It’ll be no sweat at all. He’s here for the long haul, and Nottingham will continue to be here for him too, cheering him every step of the way.
Set list: Fire, Kentucky, Love Me The Way You Do, Trouble Town, Seen It All, Simple As This, Slide, Slumville Sunrise, Ballad Of Mr Jones, Someone Told Me, Country Song, Note To Self, Someplace, Two Fingers, Taste It, Lightning Bolt, Broken, Folsom Prison Blues.
Coming at the end of a landmark month for Nottingham music, which has seen three city acts gain national recognition for their talents, and the first ever chart-topping album for a local artist, the Branch Out Festival offered a perfect opportunity to savour and celebrate the rich diversity of the current scene.
Over the course of ten hours, over fifty acts performed at seven different venues, all for free, leaving punters spoilt for choice as they dashed from venue to venue, programmes in hand.
The day began at Nottingham Contemporary, with a mystery “Blackout” performance in The Space. Guides led us – ten at a time, hands on shoulders like a conga line – into total darkness, with strict instructions to leave phones switched off. As no advance notice was given as to the performers, our ears were our only guides.
Eerie electronics morphed into pounding dance beats, which ebbed away into a field recording from a New York subway station. A male voice – John Sampson of Swimming – sung plaintively over a piano backing. A female voice joined in, and gradually took over, her soulful torch songs flowing into each other without a pause. For many of us, the voice was almost instantly recognisable; this was the wonderful Natalie Duncan, stepping away from her regular set list and delving into her massive stockpile of unrecorded songs. There is something very special about listening to such heartfelt music in the dark; it frees up the emotions, allowing for a very direct connection with the artist. A great start to the day.
From 3pm onwards, other venues started to open their doors. Over at Broadway, acoustic singer-songwriters were the order of the day, kicked off by Frankie Rudolf and Joe Danks, and concluded by Hannah Heartshape and Hhymn, the sole band on the line-up.
In the Basement of Rock City, Parks were an early highlight, delivering a crisp set of tuneful indie rock to an appreciative crowd. Practical Lovers were an altogether darker proposition, with their doomy electro powerfully sung by the vaguely alarming Jack Wiles.
A quick hop around the corner took you to Stealth, and another line-up that focussed mainly on guitar bands. This proved to be the rat-run of choice for rock fans, who could stop off at the Rescue Rooms bar between sets. Those who enjoyed Boots Booklovers, I Am Lono and Pilgrim Fathers were busily spreading the buzz, while one of this reviewer’s personal highlights of the day came from the brilliantly acerbic Sleaford Mods, whose bitter verses decrying their more fame-hungry fellow artists drew mid-song cheers. Meanwhile, the upstairs floor of the club played host to a vast line-up of hip hop MCs, including local legends such as Cappo, Jah Digga, 2 Tone and Karizma.
Offering a more relaxed ambience, the Alley Café provided gentle respite from the mayhem. A similarly easy-going vibe prevailed at Antenna, where spectators could dine at their tables while watching the acts, supper-club style. The Antenna programme was hosted by Dean Jackson, from BBC Radio Nottingham’s The Beat, who interviewed each act before they took to the stage. The superb line-up included Gallery 47, back in the game after a long break with a terrific clutch of new material, as well as the hotly tipped Ady Suleiman and Georgie Rose. Later on, Natalie Duncan stepped in for an absent Liam Bailey, followed by the ever-popular Nina Smith and the sublime Harleighblu, who offered tasters from her forthcoming album.
By 7pm, the crowds were peaking at Stealth and Rock City. There was turbo-charged ska from Breadchasers at Rock City, then a quick dash back to Stealth, now jammed to capacity, for two of the most eagerly anticipated sets of the day from teenage indie-rockers Kappa Gamma and Kagoule. It was a joy to witness how quickly both bands are developing. Once rather static on stage, Kappa Gamma are now firing on all cylinders, the players crashing around the stage and hurtling into each other, without ever sacrificing the complex precision of their material. And if you timed it right, you could also have caught a storming Rock City set from Captain Dangerous, a raucous four-piece backed by a string quartet, like an Anglicised version of The Pogues.
On the other side of the Market Square, the Malt Cross did brisk trade throughout the day, with sets including Chris McDonald, Cecille Grey and Will Jeffery. Topping the bill on the mezzanine stage, We Are Avengers delivered a more peppy, sparky and uplifting set than you might have expected from their more downtempo recorded work. They were followed by Injured Birds, premiering cuts from their just released debut album, and showing us just what could be done with a ukulele as lead instrument.
With sizeable turnouts at all the venues, the scale of the festival felt just right – although a shuttle bus wouldn’t have gone amiss, to relieve the strain on our aching soles. Everywhere you went, you ran into friends, eagerly filling you in on the acts you had missed, all sharing in the excellence of the day. Let’s hope that this becomes a regular fixture in years to come.
PHOTO GALLERY by Martyn Boston >>> (more…)
Originally booked to play the Rescue Rooms, SBTRKT were swiftly bumped up to Rock City, due to a level of local demand that seemed to take them somewhat by surprise. This was the biggest date on the duo’s current tour, and their awestruck wonder at the near-capacity crowd was a true pleasure to behold.
Fuelled by the unprecedented lashings of love in the room, Aaron Jerome (the masked drummer) and Sampha (the knob-twiddling singer) rose to the challenge and delivered a masterful set, which infected the crowd with the same sense of wide-eyed delight.
Placed early in the set, current single Hold On triggered the first of many massed sing-alongs, despite its decidedly downbeat lyric (“You’re giving me the coldest stare, like you don’t even know I’m here”). Based on their recorded output, you might not have had SBTRKT pegged as a sing-along kind of act, but this wasn’t a night for moody introspection. Even the darker, more abstract passages went down a storm, and their sure grasp on dance dynamics never faltered.
Although there were only two players on stage, and although most of the music was electronically generated, there was nothing sterile about this show, which left you in no doubt of its essential spontaneity. Sounds were looped and twisted at will, and Aaron’s live drumming added a vital extra dimension.
Closing with Wildfire – their best-known track, championed by both Radio One and 6Music – the lads opted for the Drake remix, complete with taped vocals from the unsurprisingly absent rapper (who will be here in his own right on April 25th). And for the encore, they dragged their excellent support act Disclosure back on stage, for an unscheduled jam on one of the teenage brothers’ own tracks. The experiment worked a treat, ending one of the best nights of live dance music that Rock City has seen in a long, long time.
NME Awards Tour: Two Door Cinema Club, Metronomy, Tribes, Azealia Banks – Nottingham Rock City, Tuesday February 14
The annual NME tours have an almost unerring knack of placing the most hotly tipped acts at the start of the bill. Last year, The Vaccines showed us what they were made of, and this year it was the turn of New York rapper Azealia Banks, currently surfing a wave of positive press and hipster hype on the strength of just one single.
Feisty and foul-mouthed, with a quick-fire, helium-voiced delivery that bears immediate comparison with Nicki Minaj, Azealia’s appearance and demeanour stood in striking contrast to her material. Sweet and demure in her high-necked, pussy-bowed blouse and sober black trousers, she could have been on her way to a job interview, rather than the stage of a sold-out Rock City. Her smiles softened the sweariness, making it almost seem wholesome.
The cheers which greeted penultimate number Liquorice – a collaboration with Nottingham dance artist Lone that reworks his club hit Pineapple Crush – suggested that plenty of punters had already sussed the local connection. It was the perfect gateway to 212, the eye-wateringly explicit track that started the ball rolling for Azealia towards the end of last year.
Making up for the disappointment of their cancelled support slot with Dog Is Dead in December, Camden indie-rockers Tribes switched the mood in an instant, carrying the open-minded crowd with them. Although there’s nothing remotely ground-breaking to be found in their music, which treads the path forged by Oasis and the Manics, and followed by The Libertines and Kasabian, the four-piece brought authority and drama to their performance, which felt a good deal more convincing than their recorded material.
With an easy swagger that evoked Keith Richards in the early 1970s – and a haircut to match – front man Johnny Lloyd did commendable justice to coming-of-age anthems such as We Were Children and When My Day Comes, and to the unexpectedly affecting Sappho. Tribes might have their limitations, but they also know how to make the most of what they’ve got.
To a certain extent, the opposite proved true for Metronomy, whose third album (The English Riviera) won them many new fans in 2011. It’s a charming and characterful collection, which wistfully evokes the spirit of the Devonshire coast where band leader Joseph Mount grew up.
Drawing on their past as a more overtly electronic, dance-influenced act, Metronomy shifted the landscape of the new songs, replacing sunshine with strobes, and adding a measure of dance floor wallop. Despite this, something about their performance still fell short. Mount might be a gifted writer, but his diffident delivery did the songs no favours, and the chance to make a direct connection with his audience was lost.
No such problems blighted the riotously well-received set from Two Door Cinema Club, who were clearly the act that most had come to see. In the two years since the release of their debut album, they’ve made steady progress on the touring and festival circuit, building their following in the old fashioned way. Although this was their first appearance at Rock City, they’ve been regulars at the Bodega Social Club for several years, and their delight at having made the transition was written all over their faces.
To the uninitiated, there doesn’t seem to be much variety in what they do. The songs are full of rollicking good cheer, tailor-made for mass participation. Tempos are invariably fast and firm, and the same distinctively chiming, trebly guitar runs dominate every arrangement. It’s indie-pop at heart, but its grasp of dance dynamics makes it incredibly effective in a live setting.
“Who’s here on a date?” asked Alex Trimble, reminding us it was Valentine’s night. A scattering of hands shot up, joined by a sea of fists after the follow-up question: “And who’s alone and single?” Well, perhaps a sweaty night at Rock City isn’t most people’s idea of a romantic evening. But if so, then no-one had told the couple who held each other’s gaze through the chorus of What You Know, mouthing its chorus to each other: “I can tell just what you want, you don’t want to be alone… yeah, you’ve known it the whole time.” Meanwhile, the rest of the crowd heaved, moshed and roared, ending the long night on the highest of highs.
Becoming only the second Nottingham act ever to play a full headline show at Rock City, Dog Is Dead returned to their home town on Saturday night, topping an all-local bill and facing a packed house. It was a perfect way for the band to end their year, which has seen them signing to a major label, gaining national radio play and press attention, playing larger venues and festival stages (including a riotously well-received set at Splendour over the summer), appearing on E4’s Skins, and releasing plenty of fine music along the way.
Stepping in to fill the gap left by Tribes, who pulled out of the gig due to an injury, Kagoule opened the show in impressive style, visibly growing in confidence throughout their set. The vintage Sonic Youth t-shirt worn by singer Cai Burns gave you a clue where their influences lay, as the trio drew on elements from early Nineties grunge and shoegaze, mixing them with a modern sensibility and a youthful approach. Still only in their mid-teens, the band made good on the promise of their debut EP Son, adapting to their new surroundings with commendable maturity.
Kappa Gamma were up next, their slot on the bill secured by winning a competition in which local music experts, the voting public – and finally Dog Is Dead themselves – selected the act which they felt most deserved a place on the Rock City stage. The band also claim Bruce Forsyth as one of their biggest supporters – and while this might have come as a surprise to Brucie himself, who was more focussed on hosting the Strictly Come Dancing final than cheering on a Nottingham indie band, a generous supply of Forsyth face masks helped to perpetuate the illusion.
Kappa Gamma’s complex, powerful math-rock made them the ideal warm-up act, and the crowd responded with heart-warming enthusiasm, moshing furiously and cheering them to the rafters. Barely known at the start of the year, they will have won many new fans, and a bright future surely awaits them in 2012.
By the time that Dog Is Dead took to the stage, anticipation had reached fever pitch, and the band were duly greeted like homecoming heroes. Opening with their third single River Jordan, the set mixed familiar favourites with some brand new tracks, which offered a taster for the forthcoming debut album.
This was also Nottingham’s first chance to welcome new drummer Dan Harvey to the band, following Lawrence Libor’s departure in August. The sole non-native musician on the bill – he’s a Doncaster lad – Dan’s delight was clear for all to see.
That aside, all the familiar elements of the Dog Is Dead sound were in place: Trev’s sax, Joss’s keyboards, Rob’s calmly commanding vocals, those soaring, almost church-like five-part harmonies, the chiming guitar runs, the insistent melodies, and the anthemic choruses.
Of the older songs, Young was the inevitable mid-set highlight, its chanted refrain (“Hold your breath and count to ten, we’re losing touch, we’re losing friends”) bellowed back at the band by the whole room. The current single (Hands Down) and its B-side (Burial Ground) closed the main set, leaving us in no doubt as to the encore.
As the opening bars of Glockenspiel Song rang out, Rock City erupted into full-on delirium. Fists pumped the air, heels pounded the floor, and a thousand voices belted out the lines that adorn the back of the new t-shirts: “We are a mess, we are failures, and we love it!”
“If the bells don’t ring in our home town”, sang Rob Milton, “they’re just cheats and liars”. The next time that the lads headline Rock City, perhaps we should be putting St Mary’s Church on standby. In the meantime, let’s congratulate Dog Is Dead on a remarkable year, and wish them every success for the year to come.
For someone who dominated pop so totally in the early Eighties – in 1981 alone, he had seven singles and three albums in the charts – Adam Ant’s legacy has been unfairly overlooked. A drawn-out battle with mental illness didn’t help; between 1996 and 2010, the former star played just one live show, and it seemed unlikely that we would ever hear from him again.
Just over a year ago, Adam started to make a few tentative returns to the spotlight. The gigs were low-key at first, but they were enough for the word to spread: against all the odds, the man had found his form again.
Expectations were therefore running high for last night’s show, which attracted a mixture of fans from the cult punk band days, nostalgic forty-somethings, and a fair number of curious younger observers. A few had gone the whole hog, plastering white stripes across their faces in tribute to Adam’s signature look.
Their efforts were more than matched by the 57-year old legend himself, who was decked out in a huge, feathered pirate hat and a gold brocade jacket, with a black cross daubed on one temple. The “dandy highwayman” of 1981 had returned to life; bespectacled and a little thicker round the waist, but still instantly recognisable. A trim little moustache completed the look. It was impossible not to be reminded of Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, until you remembered that Adam was the originator, not the imitator.
In place of The Ants, backing was provided by The Good, The Mad & The Lovely Posse (“they’re good, I’m mad”), which featured two drummers (how could it not?) and the burlesque performer Georgina Baillie, no stranger to unwelcome press attention herself. (You might remember her as the girl in the centre of the Brand/Ross/Sachs hoo-hah.)
Instead of opening with one of the big hits, the marathon 27-song set began with an obscure track from the early days of The Ants: Plastic Surgery, from the soundtrack of Derek Jarman’s 1978 punk movie Jubilee. It set the tone for much of what followed, as Adam reconnected his pop career with his formative punk roots. Almost all the hits were there – Stand And Deliver, Goody Two Shoes, Antmusic – but so were the early singles, album tracks and B-sides. The B-sides in particular were a real treat: Beat My Guest, Kick, Fall In, a blisteringly brilliant Red Scab, and a deliciously kinky Whip In My Valise, surely a blueprint for much of Suede’s early material.
Compellingly energised throughout – hollering and strutting and baring his teeth, and ripping his T-shirt half-open during Kings Of The Wild Frontier – the singer only stumbled once. Introducing his 1995 single Wonderful as “the only love song I ever wrote”, Adam struggled his way through the song, which sounded awkwardly at odds with the rest of the set. He recovered with a brand new song, written in tribute to the late rockabilly singer Vince Taylor: a fallen star, who never recovered from a descent into drug abuse and madness.
Based on the evidence of this magnificent show – performed with dashing, if damaged, panache and cheered to the rafters by a rapturous crowd – Adam Ant looks to have escaped that kind of sorry fate. It was truly heart-warming to see him back where he belonged: on stage, tarted up to the nines, standing and delivering, and bringing smiles to the faces of his reunited “insect nation”.
Set list: Plastic Surgery, Dog Eat Dog, Beat My Guest, Kick, Car Trouble, Zerox, Ants Invasion, Deutscher Girls, Stand And Deliver, Puss ‘N Boots, Kings Of The Wild Frontier, Wonderful, Vince Taylor, Whip In My Valise, Desperate But Not Serious, Antmusic, Cleopatra, Never Trust A Man (With Egg On His Face), Goody Two Shoes, Vive Le Rock, Christian D’Or, Lady, Fall In, Red Scab, Prince Charming, Get It On, Physical (You’re So).
For once – and this doesn’t happen too often, so it’s worth noting – the teenage girls and the broadsheet music critics are of one mind. Katy B’s shrewd mix of underground dance with mainstream pop has enough club credibility to please the purists, enough musical weight to impress the Mercury Prize judges, enough tuneful accessibility to delight the pop fans, and enough warmth, heart and energy to ignite a live audience.
She has visited us a couple of times before: at Trent University with Magnetic Man, and at the Rescue Rooms, five months ago, where the crowd was even more overwhelmingly young and female than it is now. Katy and MC Tippa, her long-time stage collaborator, have been playing a game on the current tour: who can shout the loudest, the girls or the boys? Every night, Tippa has been trying his hardest to score a win for the lads (“Just once, guys – please!”), only to be trounced by the deafening screams of Katy’s ladies.
“Who here was born in the Eighties?”, asks Katy. There are a few cheers. “And who here was born in the NINETIES?”, she continues. Ouch, my poor eardrums. “In that case, your mum and dad were probably making love to this one”, she grins, introducing a cover of Inner City’s classic house anthem Good Life, oblivious to the winces of those of us who were dancing to it the first time round.
Released almost exactly a year ago, Magnetic Man’s album still casts a strong spell over Katy’s crowd. In common with both of her support acts – rapper P Money and a re-emerging Ms Dynamite, back in the game after an extended maternity break – Katy appeared on the album, and the mere mention of its name drew wild applause. Perfect Stranger is the track in question. In Katy’s hands, the bowel-quaking dubstep of Magnetic Man’s original is given a lighter, friskier, but no less powerful treatment. It’s typical of Katy’s approach, which seeks to convey her love of club culture to a mass audience, and which celebrates the joy that can be found on the dancefloor.
It was no surprise to see Ms Dynamite back on stage for the encore, duetting with Katy on their shared hit Lights On. The two artists share the same infectiously sunny approach to performing, and the smiles from the stage spread through the whole room, leaving us on the highest of highs.
The new lease of life which has infected Nottingham’s music scene over the last few months shows no signs of slowing down this autumn. Dog Is Dead’s next single is due out next month, as is the second album from Spotlight Kid. Kirk Spencer was recently playlisted on Radio One, Jake Bugg is recording for his debut release on a major label, and Swimming’s new album is scheduled to appear in November. As for Ronika, whose third EP comes out at the start of October, things are shaping up very nicely indeed. Her last release (Forget Yourself/Wiyoo) brought her to the attention of the national press, and music blogs have been buzzing with previews of In The City, one of the tracks on the next release.
Despite all of this increasing visibility, we’ve seen very little of Ronika on stage this year. But with her live London debut imminent, and a handful of other dates just announced, it looks like that’s all about to change. The first of these dates took place in Rock City’s basement on Thursday night, to a mixture of Gary Numan fans that had decided to stick around after his set in the main hall, and students who had arrived early for the weekly club night Tuned. It was a fairly low-key affair, and in some ways a warm-up for next week’s London show, but none of this dimmed the strength of Ronika’s performance.
Accompanied by Jack and Martin from 8mm Orchestra on guitar and bass, Ronika gave us a seven-song set, starting with Do Or Die from the first EP, and ending with an as yet unreleased track called One Thousand Nights. Her delightful brand of Eighties-influenced dance-pop translated well to the stage, and she proved herself to be a captivating presence, with a sweetly assured vocal style. The hook-heavy One Thousand Nights already sounds like a future hit single, and Ronika already looks like Nottingham’s next star.
Their styles might be very different, but their sounds are equally distinctive. And last night at Rock City, we were afforded the privilege of witnessing two of this country’s finest bass players – Norman Watt-Roy and JJ Burnel – billed side by side.
An increasingly Dickensian-looking Norman, his features contorted with concentration and delight, played alongside Wilko Johnson, his former cohort in Ian Dury’s Blockheads. Wilko first made his name as part of Dr Feelgood, the band whose malevolent energy helped pave the way for the punk revolution. Although Wilko cuts a somewhat more benign figure these days, his legendary thousand-yard stare and his choppy duck-walk survive intact. And although the two old friends barely looked at each other on stage, their instinctive rapport shone through, over the course of thirty-five splendid minutes of supercharged rhythm and blues.
If much of the first wave of UK punk was underpinned by a certain strain of moral righteousness, then The Stranglers were always a band who kicked against the rules. As if to remind us of the controversy which always seemed to surround them, they opened their set with the 1977 album track I Feel Like A Wog: a bitter blast against racial prejudice, whose deployment of a term of abuse that fell from common usage thirty years ago still has the power to shock.
However, there’s a fine line between the iconoclastic and the puerile, and by reviving the almost equally ancient Two Sunspots – a silly ode to a prominent part of the female anatomy – the band teetered on the brink of crossing that line. The track’s jaunty bounce sat strangely in the middle of a rather subdued section of the set, which felt geared more towards the diehard fans down the front than the less expert folk at the back.
Then again, The Stranglers have never been about cosy nostalgia. Still very much a creative unit, they gave an airing to some unreleased new material – including the wistful Freedom Is Insane, in which JJ assumed the character of a disillusioned soldier, longing to escape to a desert island.
As for the classics – of which there were plenty – Nice ‘N’ Sleazy showcased JJ’s playing at its inventive best, his bass acting as the track’s lead instrument. Always The Sun drew the loudest vocals from the crowd, and No More Heroes raised the noisiest cheers – not least for Dave Greenfield’s one-handed keyboard solo, performed as he coolly downed most of his remaining glass of beer.
Special mention should also be made of the impromptu duet between JJ and guitarist/vocalist Baz Warne, hamming their way through Marlene Dietrich’s Falling In Love Again as the roadies fixed a piece of beer-soaked kit. “You’re still a c—” said Baz, pointing at the beer-chucker, “but you’re a nice c—”. Perhaps the “men in black” are mellowing after all.
On record, Crystal Castles are an awkward proposition. Their screechy, scratchy electronica is shot through with a primitive punk rock attitude, resulting in a musical blend which strives to be both uplifting and menacing – but the bratty petulance of their approach can get in the way, reducing the music to a tinny, ugly mess. However, as last night’s storming show clearly demonstrated, if you’ve only heard Crystal Castles on record, then you haven’t really heard them at all.
On stage, the three performers – singer Alice Glass, keyboardist Ethan Kath and their touring drummer Christopher Chartrand – are shrouded in smoke and strobes to the point of near-invisibility. When we do catch sight of Glass, it’s still difficult to read her. She is a mesmerising performer, who certainly isn’t afraid to engage with her crowd – standing on their shoulders, passing round a bottle of liquor, then launching her body onto their outstretched arms – and yet she somehow remains cool, aloof, unknowable.
Vocally, Glass is just as hard to fathom. Buried in reverb, her toneless squeaks and squawks barely count as singing at all – and yet they sit perfectly on top of Kath’s thunderous backing tracks, which add whole new dimensions of power to the indie-electro originals.
It’s this scaling up of the band’s sound which makes the show such a success. Tracks such as Crimewave (from the first album) and Baptism (from this year’s follow-up) are transformed into dancefloor-friendly juggernauts, which are ecstatically received by the mostly teenage audience. (Curiously, certain sections of the crowd mosh even harder to the slower tracks.)
With little to focus our attention on stage, it’s the audience rather than the performers which create the atmosphere. Alice Glass and Ethan Kath are merely the catalysts, giving us no more and no less than we need. On paper, it shouldn’t have worked. In reality, it was an unqualified triumph – perhaps even the gig of the year.
Adapting a classic soul template for the ears of a new generation has become one of pop music’s great traditions. Amy Winehouse did it in 2007; Duffy repeated the trick in 2008; and this year, to the surprise of those who had followed his early career as a hip hop artist, Plan B has successfully reinvented himself as a soul-based storyteller, scoring a chart-topping album (The Defamation of Strickland Banks) in the process.
Although a return to his hip hop roots is reportedly on the cards in the near future, the 26-year East Ender is sticking to his winning formula for now. Opening his 14-date autumn tour in Nottingham last night, Plan B took to the stage in a sharp suit and tie, fronting an equally slick looking band. Two diva-esque backing singers completed the line-up – although you might easily have missed them, tucked away in a dark corner and barely audible in the mix.
Instead of sticking to the narrative sequence of his album, which traces the arrest and wrongful imprisonment of his Strickland Banks character, Plan B shuffled the order of the tracks, interspersing them with older material and a couple of brand new songs. His 2006 single Mama (Loves a Crackhead) re-surfaced as a mash-up with the Hall and Oates classic, I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do) – a cute enough rendition, although it did rather obscure the lyrical power of the original.
As for the new stuff, first night nerves forced a restart of Make Me Your Religion (“so new that I forgot the words!”), but the track proved to be an impassioned belter, which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the album. The same held true for Every Rule: a lothario’s lament, which cast Plan B as a “male slag”, imprisoned by his bad boy reputation.
The big hits were saved for the end of the set, led by an extended version of Prayin’ which switched from blaring soul to choppy reggae for its final section. As there was barely time for an encore (“the landlord’s chucking us out!”), the brilliant courtroom drama of She Said was followed almost immediately – and appropriately, given that we had passed the 10pm curfew – by a rip-roaring, no-holds-barred Stay Too Long. Red-faced from the exertion of his final, climactic rap, his suit jacket still neatly fastened and his tie not even fractionally askew, Plan B acknowledged our thundering ovation and scarpered.
For a pop group with only two hit singles to their name, and an album which has been around since last May, Noisettes have shown remarkable staying power. The singles have each notched up around six months on the charts, and the album continues to sell well to this day. With no new product to promote – indeed, only one unreleased song got an airing last night – the band are back on tour, surfing the wave of their continued success.
“Rock City, at last! It’s taken us five years”, exclaimed singer Shingai Shoniwa, clearly delighted to be with us. (The band were in fact booked to support Maxïmo Park last May, but never showed up.) Shingai radiated pop star glamour, topping her black and white outfit with a banana worn as a headdress. No matter how hard she threw herself around the stage – even leaping barefoot into the crowd on occasion, and dancing her way right to the back of the main floor – the banana stayed securely fixed, a triumph of engineering.
If you have only seen Noisettes soundtracking the credits on TV chat shows, then you might have expected a polished but somewhat tame show. In the face of Shingai’s astonishing performance, any such expectations were swiftly trashed. Part coquettish showgirl, part rowdy rock chick, her commitment to having the best time possible on stage was all-consuming and awe-inspiring. She could make the transition from pop starlet to mainstream light entertainment personality any time she liked, and achieve even greater success – but right now, such temptations are clearly the last thing on her mind.
For the first song of the encore, Shingai reappeared at the top of one of the balcony staircases, perched precariously over the railings. “I have no fear”, she warbled, leaning backwards until her entire upper half hung upside down over the crowd below. Seconds after the song finished, she was back on stage. “Ooh, someone tried to cop a feel!” she squealed. “That’s OK, because I’m single…”
“You’re the best crowd we’ve had”, gasped guitarist Dan at the end of the set, visibly overwhelmed by our warmth. Meanwhile, Shingai launched into an impromptu rendition of Dame Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again, rasping the lyric in an exaggerated Cockney accent. “I know we’ll meet again, some sunny day – HAVE A BANAAANA!” And with that, she was off.
Having just released their fourth album One Life Stand – their most mature and consistent sounding record to date – Hot Chip are back on the road again, consolidating their success on last summer’s festival circuit. For this tour, the five full-time members have been joined by their original drummer Rob Smoughton, who took centre stage for a reworked version of Alley Cats from the new album.
Guitarist Al Doyle also has a new musical role, having learnt to play steel pan especially for the tour. This slotted well into the band’s current sound, which draws percussive influences from Caribbean soca and the burgeoning “UK Funky” dance scene. These influences came to the fore on new numbers such as the excellent We Have Love, which climaxed with a powerfully insistent Italo-Disco workout.
The set reached a peak of intensity halfway through, with a fine run of crowd pleasers: Ready For The Floor, current single One Life Stand, and a storming version of Over And Over. These set the mood for a dance-oriented second half, as the crowd lost itself in the superbly crafted wash of sound. Hot Chip may not be the most demonstrative of performers, but they displayed a precise, instinctive grasp of dancefloor dynamics, sending ripples of pure pleasure across the room.
Thieves In The Night, the new album’s synth-laden opening track, started the show, while its closing number Take It In brought the main set to an exultant conclusion. At the end of the two-song encore, the players took a formal bow. For the audience, it had been an uncommonly good-natured and joyous experience, served up by a band operating at the peak of its powers, which left most of those who witnessed it wreathed in smiles.
After touring with Telekon in 2006 and Replicas in 2008, it was only logical that Gary Numan should turn his attention to 1979’s The Pleasure Principle: his third album, and the first release under his own name. On the penultimate date of their autumn tour, Numan and his band devoted the first half of their set to a complete run through of the album, in its original track sequence.
Guitars were banished from the line-up, in favour of a synth-dominated sound that remained faithful to the original. With four keyboard players on stage, including Numan himself, the album’s somewhat thin production sound received a significant boost. The only snag lay in the running order, which worked in favour of the stronger songs on Side One, and to the detriment of the weaker material on Side Two.
The set hit a high point with a glorious three-song run: Complex (dedicated to the late Paul Gardiner, Numan’s original bassist), Films (as sampled by several hip hop artists, including Nottingham’s P Brothers), and M.E. (best known for providing the killer riff on the Basement Jaxx’s Where’s Your Head At). But as for Cars – one of Numan’s unassailable classics – its impact was diminished by the two similar-sounding tracks which preceded it, resulting in a curiously muted reception.
For the second half of the set, the synths were wheeled off and the guitars were brought in, as the band reverted to the grinding industrial rock which has characterised their work over the last decade. Interestingly, it was the newer material which galvanised the crowd, who roared along with every word – proving (if proof were even needed) that artistically speaking, Numan is in no way a spent force.
A reworked version of Are ‘Friends’ Electric closed the main set, combining soft piano sequences with raucous stadium chants. (Bellowing along with the central synth riff is evidently common practice at Numan gigs.) It provided a fittingly climactic end to a truly superb show, from one of synth-pop’s great survivors.
In the nine months since White Lies last played Rock City, sandwiched between Florence and the Machine, Friendly Fires and Glasvegas on the annual NME package tour, their live reputation has steadily grown. A successful summer festival season has won them many new fans, as last night’s capacity turnout demonstrated, and it was heartening to discover how much the band has gained in confidence and stage presence, in such a short space of time.
They’ve been compared with the likes of Editors and Interpol, and it was easy to see why: there’s a similar sense of bleak grandeur, and a shared tendency to pitch dark lyrical themes against rousing, anthemic melodies. The playing was clean, sharp and concise. Emotions were never overplayed; arrangements never sagged or dragged.
Although not a particularly demonstrative front man, Harry McVeigh displayed an intuitive grasp of stage craft, and an ability to connect with his audience without resorting to the usual bag of crowd-pleasing tricks. His eyes said it all: scanning the room, sensing the energy that was being returned to him, and lighting up with pleasure. This whole experience is clearly still new to him, and it was a delight to see him relishing it.
The 67 minute set was bookended by surefire crowd pleasers, opening with Farewell To The Fairground and closing with Death (a more uplifting track than its title might suggest). Material from the chart-topping album To Lose My Life was augmented with an older song (You Still Love Him) and a Talking Heads cover (Heaven). But if one song defined the night, perhaps it was the album’s title track, which took all the band’s key themes – love, fear, hope, faith, death – and placed them into a fist-pumping anthem of the first degree.