Saturday, 27 June 2009

Madness – Gatcombe Park

The last (and only other) time I saw Madness was at college in France in ooh err… about 1980 or something. Needless to say the French didn’t get them at al so it was like a show to the gaggle of Brits down the front. Now almost thirty years later here they are, the first band to play Princess Anne’s gaff, Gatcombe Park just up the road for home.

Well off we went Mr and Mrs Me and Mr and Mrs International Decorator Supremo, armed with our picnic and comfy(ish) chairs. The picnic had to be consumed before entering the ‘arena’ as of course they wanted to rip everyone off for as much cash as possible from the yeuky drink and ghastly food stalls – should have known. But never mind, it was a splendid sunny evening after a torrentially wet morning and the lad texted in to say all was dry and funky down at Glasto.

Reggae-lite has never been a big thing for me and so Aswad were never likely to light my fire, but they were OK in a rather monotonous sort of way – it must be said that others around me clearly found them much more to their taste, so I guess it was me…

The crowd was that odd mix of Range Rover Sport crowd and others who, perhaps thirty years ago, were probably more of the skinhead persuasion, but everyone was in good humour and there was much jiggling of tattoo covered flesh alongside the Boden types more sedate wiggles.

Not to be robbed of any of the atmosphere we moved into the throng for the main talent portion and waited the arrival of the Lads. Despite clearly being a bit older than they were they still looked the part in dark suits and shades. The sound was blasting for an open air gig and was mercifully pretty spot on, OK the obligatory bass heavy but with enough ‘top’ to make it all a pretty fair sounding show.

Of course there was more than a smattering of the oldies which they blasted out with gusto and aplomb – truth be told they sounded pretty tight and together. There were a few songs from their recent CD which sounded fair enough, the only duff song of the evening being the title track to their new CD, the Liberty of Norton Folgate. Now this might sound just fine on the CD but was an unwise choice last night – too long, a little complex and not anywhere near enough bouncy enough for the occasion. The end of the show wound up with all the good expected items, Our House, Baggy Trousers, Night Boat to Cairo – fair took me back it did!

All in all though a great fun time, 5000 bods a-dancing and a-jiggling, some rollicking good tunes and a fine way to spend a summers evening – I wonder of Princess Anne was shaking her booty? No, I guess not, just counting I the ackers.

Madness web site

Madness Myspace

Aswad Myspace

Friday, 26 June 2009

Fleet Foxes - Wolverhampton

This was the second time of seeing the Foxes on what feels like their never ending touring of their eponymous album. First off in Bristol and this time in Wolverhampton. The main differences being that in Bristol all I could see was an exotically hatted hippy type in front of me, and this time we had a pretty ace view right up front behind a mercifully short Chinese bunch, and secondly that Wolverhampton was one of the hottest gigs I have been to for an age. Sweltering.

Support was from The Clientele. I have a sneaking suspicion that one of their albums was on one of my wish lists – you know the ones that somehow you never quite end up getting. I just didn’t feel that they quite took off on the night, maybe on occasions just a little too downbeat and gentle, didn’t quite connect with the crowd. A couple of songs flew a little but overall I felt that this wasn’t really their night. I imagine that they would repay a little closer attention on their own not the rather tough gig of supporting someone like Fleet Foxes

The Foxes have been taking their rather wonderful sound around all over the place for a good twelve months on what must be an exhausting round of tours and festivals. It must be hard to try and keep the material sounding fresh of you play it every night, and of course its easy to forget they only have and EP and one album to their names; excellent though the are.

This was a pre-Glasto gig and they seemed relaxed and on good form, as ever taking good time to get the tunings right, no undue haste, and a good smattering of backchat between stuff. Given their recent success they still come across as being slightly surprised by it all and a little bashful – all very endearing. They played just about all their tracks all met with rapturous applause and a small whistling competition form some of the crowds off to one side. There was the running joke about cries of ‘Where’s Stephen’, answer, ‘He’s coming’ which Mr Pecknold obviously views as some ancient and arcane British tradition

Amid the familiar were a few new tracks, all sounded great, especially the solo offering from Pecknold that sounded like an old time tune (maybe it was, who knows). Despite claiming to be a little hoarse he was in fine voice, as were the rest of the band , all of whom have very effective pipes, not least Josh Tillman on drums. The harmonies were all spot on and beautiful.

After returning for encores, initially solo from Mr Pecknold, during the break as the band set up for the final encore, Blue ridge Mountains, a personal favourite, a cry went up that Michael Jackson had died. A surreal moment that no-one quite believed until others confirmed. Not quite a President Kennedy, Princess Diana or Elvis moment, although some will think otherwise, it will mark out this show in my list of gigs. A sad and tragic loss although probably foretold in the stars and destiny, he was never going to be an old guy now was he?

A roaring good gig from a top notch band with humanity and an understated gratitude. I note that after the gigs between now and September there will be no more until the new album is finished, lets hope its not too long – although methinks they deserve a rest from the road for a bit

The Clientele web site

The Clientele Myspace

Fleet Foxes Myspace

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Idlewild - Post Electric Blues

This has been a bit of a marathon new music week, and the third new CD to plop through the letterbox was the oh-so eagerly awaited new Idlewild offering.

Having fallen out with, walked away from, or somesuch, their last label they decided last year to self-release their next (and sixth?) Idlewild album. They asked their fan base if they would pre-order the album in return for an early copy of it, some free live downloads and a mention on the poster included with the CD. How could I resist? And lo and behold there is yours truly printed for all the world (perhaps with a magnifying glass) to see. I know its a bit tragic, but it does instill a small sense of ownership and an unfounded closeness to the project.

Another case of being anxiously eager to listen, but worried that it might disappoint. Not a bit of it, a rollicking good set it is . It would appear that being released from the shackles of a label has done them some good; the set feels free-er, lighter of touch and less laboured than the last outing; they even sound as if they were enjoying themselves!

There is good mix of quieter tracks that have some of the hallmarks of more recent Woomble work of a folkier vein (including the voice of Heidi Talbot and John McCusker on violin), and then again some up-and-at-em stuff with the Scottish inflections and more than a whiff of former greatness. Of course for those of us visionary enough to get the pre-order CD there is an extra track, No Wiser, as another reward for our committment and patience.

If this sort of fan based financial primer to fund music actually works then it does seem a good alternative model to getting tied down by a label. They must feel much more in control of the whole thing although they too have had to carry the problems that ensue like the pressings getting stuck in the Czeck Republic and so forth.

I can only hope that the advent of the regular release in September will see them back on the road to promote it - it should sound very fine live I would have thought. I didn't catch it at their Dingwalls residency but they were on exemplary form for the night we were there - more of this please!

I might have stuck up a track here to listen to but they asked very nicely in an accompanying note with the package, not to push the music around the web and so erode their investment - you can't help feeling supportive of this when you know they have had to go out on a limb to get this CD released.

Here's to a continued return to form for Messrs Idlewild

Monday, 15 June 2009

World of Fox – Everything is for the Best

Seems my case of folkiness is showing no signs of abating – does this mean I shall have to grow a beard if only to stand around stroking it meaningfully (or is that just a bit pervy?). Anyhow my latest folky thang is the improbably named World of Fox, aka Simon Fox, ex-post-rock guy, now all gentle and acoustic.

I got to Mr Fox via the Scott Matthews gig (ah, quite brilliant) where the support was James Summerfield (splendid chap) and scurrying around various places stumbled across World of Fox with whom JS apparently collaborates and who produced the latest Summerfield product… phew

Right, the duly purchased CD, Everything is for the Best arrived post haste with a Post-It Note from Mr Fox (ah don’t we all love to feel that its personal!). Unashamedly folk with a capital F it’s another charming (word of the week, see the My Sad Captains post – must buy a Thesaurus for alterative words).collection of songs written, played and sung by Simon Fox – clever so-and-so.

What makes it a little sharper of edge than some offerings is the often present reminders of a rather more rocky life – the underpinning scratchy electric guitar of Idiocracy and later tracks on the CD

Anyhoo its all jolly good stuff and well worth eight quid of anyone’s money, so go and get yourself a copy! He’s up and playing at the Moseley Folk Festival in Brum at the start of September along with his pal James Summerfield – also playing are the unutterably brilliant McClusker, Drever and Woomble (ah the joy)

World of Fox website

World of Fox Myspace

Moseley Folk Festival

My Sad Captains – Here & Elsewhere

I have been waiting for MSC debut CD for a long time now. Having first heard them on the defunct Music Exchange between Steve Lamaq (Radio 1) and Nic Harcourt (KCRW) and then seeking out a handful of download tracks (see posts passim) I have been awaiting more in a rather impatient manner. Well at last their first full length item is here.

You know how it is sometimes that waiting in anticipation can leave you a little deflated when the product arrives? Well I am afraid that this was my first feelings on listening through Here & Elsewhere. Nothing really wrong but then again not the euphoric thrill I had been hoping for these long years. Not wanting to admit to disappointment I left writing a post for a few days and kept spinning the disc.

Now a few more plays in I feel a bit different. Initially I was going to say that the album finishes more strongly than it starts, but I am not so sure anymore. Truth is that this is a bit of a slow burner for me, gradually giving up its charms – and it is a charming set of tracks. I knew Bad Decisions, All Hat and No Plans and Ghost Song of old but now Good to Go, You Talk All night and Hello Bears have also plugged themselves in.

The things that make MSC so charming (there we go again) may well be the things that failed to hit an immediate punch. They still sound, like they did on early demos, as if they have rather haphazardly thrown it all together in their bedrooms; the Pavementesque vocals, the sense of reaching the end of songs almost by accident at times, the jingly jangly-ness of it all.

But a few listens reveals the really rather good songs, and a greater sense of purpose than is apparent at first glance. It has an odd combination of jolly summeryness and a whiff of melancholia – not at all unpleasant and I suspect it will become all quite endearing and more durable than I feared on first listen. Bless the little blighters – now how about heading somewhere westward for a show or two?

MSC Myspace

MSC website

Stolen Recordings website

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Scott Matthews in Wolverhampton

Scott Matthews debut album made a big impression on me when it was first released, being on heavy rotation during a French holiday. I missed a couple of chances to see him and regretted not making more of an effort.

The advent of his second CD, Elsewhere, saw Scott hit the road again, this time with a couple of ‘intimate’ show in his hometown of Wolverhampton. So I snapped up a couple of tickets and went along with the 'international decorator supremo'

Intimate it certainly was, Newhampton Arts Centre squeezed in perhaps 80/100 people onto comfy(ish) chairs around table-clothed tables with tea lights (when did they stop being nightlights?). We nabbed a table right up front, feet from the modest stage, with a couple from Cannock Chase – there seemed an unhealthy obsession with Jelly Belly jellybeans, I am not quite sure why…

James Summerfield provided support for the night – a sweet voiced, folky singer-songwriter and served up a very pleasing set, slightly shyly delivered with a little light-hearted banter. I do so enjoy someone performing on their own, no gizmos or gimmicks, just a sense of their real talent. Of course CD’s were purchased from James at the make-shift merch stand in the hall, duly signed in case of future mega-stardom

Back at our seats for the main event (oh and two bottles of Speckled Hen at £4 the pair… not the nutso prizes of your regular gig bar). Scott shambled through the crowd and onto the stage – like a crazily talented cousin playing for the family in the front room. Clearly pleased to be back playing his home town, Mum and dad in the audience and no doubt sundry other friends and family

The set was punctuated with jokey comments ( not least about it being a ‘fu**ing good start’ to discover his guitar was wrongly tuned for the opener), unhurried re-tuning and more domestic vibes with everyone at their tables all being chatty and sociable with one another, a strange but welcome and comfortable ambience

Live and alone Scott plays beautiful, delicate and emotional guitar with his extra-ordinary voice (seemingly at odds somehow with the body from which it emanates) showing what a substantial talent he is. If anything I prefer the stripped back versions of his newer songs, with their greater immediacy and emotional punch

Of course there were welcome selections from the first CD, including the stunning ‘Elusive’, which not unnaturally got some of the greatest reactions of the evening. Surprisingly some of the more obvious tracks from the new CD didn’t get an airing, perhaps not being as appropriate for this solo, acoustic approach

Well, trekking up the M5, with all the related joys, on a Friday evening was well worth the effort. An unusual, personal gig of beautiful music performed with skills and integrity. Give me a gig like this anytime over dozens of over-blown stadium shows – this is what live music should be like

James Summerfield MySpace

James Summerfield Website

Scott Matthews MySpace

Scott Matthews Website