Mike Atkinson

Otway The Movie – Broadway Cinema, Thursday August 29.

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

Originally published in the Nottingham Post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview: The Afterdark Movement

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

Originally published in the Nottingham Post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tagged with:

Splendour Festival 2013 – Wollaton Park, Nottingham

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

Originally published in the Nottingham Post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tagged with:

Interview: Fists

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

Originally published in the Nottingham Post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tagged with:

Interview: Great British Weather

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

Originally published in the Nottingham Post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tagged with:

Interview: Cantaloupe

Posted in features, interviews, Nottingham Post by Mike A on June 19, 2013

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

“So, what sort of music do you play?”

If your work tends towards the leftfield end of the spectrum, you might come to dread this question, especially if asked by well-meaning relatives or less clued-up colleagues.

“I always end up giving vague descriptions and saying it sounds quite krautrocky” says John Simson (better known as Simmo), keyboard player with Cantaloupe. “Then people look at me and think: what’s that? So I always end up saying: you know the video games you played when you were a kid? It sounds like that. And they seem to get that.”

“You normally end up going: we’re really boring rock music” says Dave Stockwell, who contributes guitar and bass. “Then they stop talking. Otherwise they want to hear it. Then they go: what is this music? What are you doing? Like, is this pop music?”

In Cantaloupe’s heads, the answer is a firm yes. According to Simmo, “it’s just dancey, fun instrumental pop.” “We try to make it unpretentious and enjoyable, for us as well as everybody else”, Dave adds.

This still doesn’t account for Cantaloupe’s fondness for unusual time signatures, though. For all its bright, melodic accessibility, Splish, the lead track on their new single, is in 10/4 time. It’s danceable enough – but the closer you listen, the trickier it becomes.

“That’s definitely one of the challenges we like to take on”, says Simmo. “Doing something in an unusual time signature, so that when you listen to it, it has a totally natural rhythm and flow. But if you start breaking it down, maybe you see more complex things at play. Being an instrumental band makes it easier to take that on, because it’s hard to get vocals into an unusual measure, in a way that makes any sense.”

“Instrumental music is quite associative”, he continues. “When you have lyrical music, there’s a narrative there, which sets emotional boundaries. With instrumental music, you’re more reliant on hinting at things. So you get bands like Boards Of Canada, who have these almost nostalgic sounds, like something remembered from your childhood. I think with instrumental music, you’ve got to tap a lot more into that association and memory. One thing I never want to do is sound explicitly retro, but we definitely take cues.”

The three members of Cantaloupe came together last year, following the break-up of Souvaris, the band they had all played in for the past twelve years. Thanks to the contacts which they made over the years, they were recently able to book a full European tour.

“Half the tour is just us staying with friends”, says Dave. “You’re treated so well over there. You get fed really nice food, and you get really nice booze. We’re taking a half empty van and we’re going to come back with cases of wine.”

“I brought 36 bottles back the last time we went”, Simmo admits. “And that was just one out of six people.”

Continental Europe holds a special appeal to Cantaloupe. “It’s a different mentality”, Simmo explains, “because they haven’t really had fifty or sixty years of pop music culture, especially alternative music. It’s a bit more special to them. You get a much greater mix in the audience, for example.”

“There are stories we’ve got from touring Europe before, and the experiences we’ve had of meeting people”, says Dave. Take the case of Stanislav the Spanish artist, for instance.

“We were playing in the middle of nowhere in Spain, at two o’clock in the morning, in a theatre. Stanislav couldn’t afford to buy our record, so he went home, picked out an oil painting that he’d done, and insisted on paying us with an oil painting.”

“Unfortunately, we don’t get that kind of thing over here that often – and when you do, it’s normally a little more of a scary experience. But because you’re abroad, it seems much more charming.”

Cantaloupe release their new single Splish / Wet Dog on limited edition 12” vinyl and digital download on 17th June.

Tagged with:

Dot To Dot Nottingham – Sunday May 26th

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

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

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

The Gorgeous Chans, Acoustic Rooms

The Gorgeous Chans, Acoustic Rooms

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

Great British Weather, Stealth

Great British Weather, Stealth

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

OneGirlOneBoy, Stealth

OneGirlOneBoy, Stealth

I Am Lono, Stealth

I Am Lono, Stealth

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

Saint Raymond, Rock City

Saint Raymond, Rock City

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

Ady Suleiman, Rock City

Ady Suleiman, Rock City

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

Grey Hairs, Rock City Basement

Grey Hairs, Rock City Basement

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

Kagoule, Rescue Rooms

Kagoule, Rescue Rooms

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

Indiana. Rescue Rooms

Indiana. Rescue Rooms

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

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

Tagged with:

Alt-J – Nottingham Rock City, Monday 13 May

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

Originally published in the Nottingham Post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rudimental – Nottingham Rescue Rooms, Thursday April 26

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

Originally published in the Nottingham Post.

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

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

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

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

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

Public Enemy – Nottingham Rock City, Tuesday April 24

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

Originally published in the Nottingham Post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suede – Nottingham Rock City, Thursday 28 March

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

Originally published in the Nottingham Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Origamibiro – Nottingham Contemporary, Friday 22 March

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

Originally published in the Nottingham Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tagged with:

Girls Aloud – Nottingham Capital FM Arena, Tuesday 19 March

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

Originally published in the Nottingham Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This feature originally appeared in the Nottingham Post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tagged with:

Justin Bieber – Nottingham Capital FM Arena, Saturday March 2

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

This review originally appeared in the Nottingham Post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This review originally appeared in the Nottingham Post.

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

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

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

Tagged with:

Interview: I Am Lono

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

This feature originally appeared in the Nottingham Post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tagged with:

I Am Kloot – Nottingham Albert Hall, Monday February 18

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

This review originally appeared in the Nottingham Post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jake Bugg – Nottingham Rock City, Friday February 15

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

This review originally appeared in the Nottingham Post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tagged with:

Interview with Kagoule

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tagged with: