Monday, 22 February 2016

Girls Names on a Sunday - Well Worth Remembering

I very nearly didn't make it to Norwich Arts Centre last night to catch Belfast band Girls Names' return to Norfolk (they played at Epic Studios about eighteen months ago). After a lunchtime session in Cromer, followed by bidding the son and his wife a bon voyage back to Hampshire, it would have been so easy for me to merely curl up on the sofa in the company of a glass of wine and a DVD. With the glorious benefit of hindsight, and having since been totally blown away by Girls Band, I am now gratified that I made that supreme effort to grab a coat and get myself down to St Benedicts Street for what has become my 'gig of the year' so far.

To be honest, the motivating force and deciding factor for my coming out was probably the presence of Norwich punk renegades Dog's Dinner as opening support. A band that is still exploring and identifying their own abilities and direction, this was the third set I have seen them play and their confidence and maturity is blossoming triffid-like as singer Josh, along with Tom, Tod and Jacob, achieved a reactionary yet moody stage presence enhanced under a blanket of blood-red lights. This is post-punk pop balanced with youthful awareness that is refreshingly poised ready to fight back at consumerism and the establishment. If you are looking for a local band to adopt as your own personal 'next big thing' you won't go far wrong by claiming the Dog's Dinner as your own.

Gross Net - I'm really sorry, Phil but I should have done my homework and realised that you are also the man that makes the tortured guitars come to life within Girls Names. When you walked onto the stage at Norwich Arts Centre, kick-started the sequencer and start singing I initially sucked in a lungful of air and braced myself for thirty minutes of self-indulgence. How wrong I was.

 Philip Quinn is indeed none other than the talented guitarist with tonight's headline band, and Gross Net is his side project / alter-ego. Once he picks up the guitar and begins to coalesce with, and gradually overwhelm, the programmed track, I realise that we are setting off on an entirely different trajectory. With Nick Cave looks and growling neo-Teutonic vocals, his performance assumes a life of its own with the guitar's soaring dynamics and intricate layering before being cast aside again for a barrier-defying communion amidst the audience, bringing the set full-circle yet introducing an intimacy that contrasted dramatically with the isolated figure that initially greeted us on stage. Crescendo-like tracks, screaming vocals and great atmospherics all leave me gasping for more.

When Girls Names do take the stage Quinn's cover is blown for those who were not already in on the secret, but it is now the turn of Cathal Cully to take centre stage on  guitar, Korg and vocals. Quinn retreats physically to stage left but maintains an indomitable sonic presence. Gib Cassidy takes up drums to provide a consistent and marauding beat that anchors both guitar parts firmly together and Claire Miskimmin provides the most dynamic bass playing that I have experienced in ages. At times she pulls out riffs the like of which take me back to the very early Stranglers albums.

The cumulative effect is a blistering assault on the eardrums, and even the Norwich Arts Centre 's usually muted stage lights are breaking out into sporadic outbursts of funneled strobing. We are on a psyched-out journey through the industrial landscapes of Bowie's Berlin and New Order's Movement, whilst combining energies and atmospherics reminiscent of Cooper Temple Clause from the first throes of the 21st century. This is a musical representation of Europeanism which somehow seems wholly apt for reminding us of the fight against growing nationalism. Girls Names are vibrant proof of the individual powers harnessed and unleashed through symbiosis and collaboration.

This is also an example of how a band's stage performance is capable of taking on a life of its own, extrapolating itself beyond the realm of the studio tracks. This is a throwback to a bygone age when the live performances defined a band's reputation. Girls Names are brimming with live creativity, weaving their material into a co-operative cacophony that blows away the cobwebs of the day, leaving a glorious rock and roll glow in the soul as we leave the venue and make our way home. A rare quality, but one that is wholly welcomed.

So thank you to Dog's Dinner, not only for another great set, but acting as the impetus that tipped the scales and got me out here tonight. I owe you guys one!

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Hinds at Norwich Arts Centre - Oh Deer!, Oh Deer!!, Oh Deer!!!, Oh Deer!!!. Let me explain...

I so, so wanted to love Hinds. I earnestly desired them to blow los calcetines off the world of rock and roll - not just for Madrid, not just for Spain, but for the benefit of the whole Spanish speaking world (400 million voices incidentally, making it the second most widely spoken language on the planet). I love the Spanish culture, its food and its beautiful linguistic fusion of Iberian and Celtic cultures.

What we needed was an authentic Spanish rock and roll band. Someone who could do for Soberano what Jack Daniels had done for Tennessee. Someone who could champion Spain on the musical map of the world in the same way as The Rolling Stones had done for Great Britain, The Doors had done for California, and Lordi had done for Finland. Perhaps Hinds were destined to be that Iberian rock and roll act?

Unfortunately not. Not yet, anyway. But perhaps we are expecting too much, too soon?

Hinds had started off promisingly enough in Madrid in 2011 as The Deers. Then, in January 2015, an un-named, but phonetically-and-similarly sounding, band from Canada cried "Foul!" (not, fowl) and forced them, via a writ, to re-name themselves.

 Whilst female deer are known as 'doe' ( as in Julie Andrews' immortal "doe, a  deer"), The Does certainly does, and would, cause certain problems as an alternative band moniker, even when a doe's a deer, a female deer. Re-naming themselves Hinds to distinguish themselves from the male deer, stags or harts, was a clever move. The name has both the punch and kick in quantities that these four Madrileñas could have only wished for, and would surely need.

And so to 2016, and the UK tour of Hinds, prior to setting off for the United States. The album, Leave Me Alone, is out, and we are three dates in as the band roll in to a cold and foggy Tuesday night at Norwich Arts Centre.

Opening act are New York band Public Access TV, not to be confused with J.Willgoose Esq. and his space-racing Public Service Broadcasting outfit. This four-piece, formed less than two years ago have already created quite a ripple on both sides of the pond, and over here have been picked up by Zane Lowe, NME and a couple of the broadsheets. To be honest they sound a bit too much like The Killers a bit too much of the time, but they play and sing with a spirit and a coolness that makes it all forgivable. The lead singer John Eatherley struts his stuff in squeaky clean sneakers, and looks like a biopic actor playing Mark Zuckerberg playing a rock star. The Ramones they ain't, but they have the confidence and the swagger to impress our Norwich crowd (even if they did call us Nor-wick).

There's quite a boisterous male element in the audience tonight, so Hinds are guaranteed an enthusiastic welcome from the moment they walk on stage. Vocalist Ana Perrote senses the whiff of testosterone in the air and milks it from the start. Her coquettish smile and sexy wiggle of the hips has the young menfolk of Norwich in the palm of her hand from the opening bars of Warning With The Curling, and she knows it.

Unfortunately, to be real rock and roll superstars you also have to have the songs to back up the stage presence, and that is where Hinds perhaps let the side down. To be fair, they actually sound better live on stage than they do on the debut album, Leave Me Alone, and songs like Bamboo and Trippy Gum become glorious pop anthems when sung back by an enthusiastic audience, although the latter still steals that same riff from The Killers' I've Got Soul But I'm Not a Soldier. Fat Calmed Kiddos sounds like Cliff Richard's Living Doll and when, on Chili Town, Perrote sings "I'm flirting with this guy 'cause all your friends are shy" there are frissons of Arctic Monkeys lyricism from I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor, as well as having the effect of racking up the alpha-male sexual tension.

And, of course, that is what this entire set becomes. One enormous prolonged anthropological exercise in flirtation and sexual ritual. Girl smiles at boy. Boy struts and postures. Girl is impressed. Boy does more. To the point that these poor late-teenage/early twenty-something males are so pumped up by their own testicular secretions that they are bouncing over the safety barriers and having to be restrained by security. And the band is loving it!!!

Certainly Hinds have all the ingredients (apart perhaps from their songs and their musical ability) to energise an entire army of conscriptable age at every gig they play this tour (It will be interesting to hear if they did actually make it down to The Mischief for after-party tequilas as they promised from the stage). For me they were wholly adequate entertainment for an après-ski party in the Sierra Nevada, or a teenage TV series - their music and their band-wagon is certainly far more Josie and The Pussycats than Savages.

But, for a large part of the audience here tonight, they came, they played, and they conquered. And, for that, I salute them.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Re-arrange the following words - ROPE, STORE, PONY, UP, SECOND, SINGLE, LAUNCH

Well it's a trick. You don't actually need to re-arrange them, but it would probably only make sense as a headline had you already known the following :-

1) ''Rope Store' is the name of a popular contemporary yet retro-infused band based in Norwich,

2) 'Pony-Up' is the name of a regularly promoted music night at Norwich Arts Centre featuring exciting new bands and artists, and with very reasonably priced admission.

3) A 'single' is what bands would release in the days before i-Tunes, MP3, and Spotify. It was a 7" vinyl record with one song on each side. Sometimes a second, or even third, single would precede the release of the 'album' -  up to six songs on each side of a 12" vinyl record. Nowadays any new song receiving extended promotion or enhanced radio play can be referred to as a single without need for any form of physical product to be made available for purchase.

So, if you put the three together, you would understand that we had 'Rope Store' appearing at a 'Pony-Up' night on Saturday to launch their follow-up single. And yes, as they are a retro-influenced band, they do still release 7" vinyl records. Simples.

But, because this is a 'Pony-Up', we still have two support acts to enjoy before 'Rope Store' take the stage.

Mr David Viner

First up is the very formal-sounding MrDavid Viner who sits on a chair and sings, whilst at the same time playing an acoustic guitar. He was originally spotted back in 2003 whilst selling merchandise for The Von Bondies. Their front-man, Jason Stollsteimer, heard his songs and signed him to his own record label. His songs appear to cover the darker side of life, like love, death and drinking, so when his song for Valentines's Day is introduced as 'I Love You', we have already worked out that it will probably cover death and drinking as well. It is. It's actually called 'I'd Love to Kill You'.Seriously though - David Viner's songs have a dark wit and lyricism that holds our attention for the full thirty minute set. Nick Cave meets Jake Thackeray.


Essex band Superglu have already played at Norwich Arts Centre on several occasions over the last year, and we love their energy and enthusiasm. They've even bought along a Go-pro camera to record tonight's audience and performance, but haven't worked out how to make it work. It doesn't spoil our enjoyment one iota, and there is also a big new backdrop featuring the new logo and colourway. Their best known song Diving Bell is saved for last, but new song Latvians is showcased alongside tracks from their EP Horse.


Rope Store have again played Norwich Arts Centre before in the last year, as well as gigs at The Murderers and an initial single launch at The Brickmakers last December for All of You ( ). They write all their own material, and take inspiration from everything retro from the Shangri-Las to Style Council. And they release proper singles on proper vinyl, which they record themselves on analogue equipment in their own studio. How's about that then pop-pickers? Not 'arf.

Tonight's launch is for That's Not Good Enough and even if the pressing plant again have again failed to deliver the goods in time for the launch, Jason, Gemma and the band run through another magical set that takes inspiration from the sixties, seventies and eighties. Dominic and Ciarán from local funk jazz and soul collective Lobster join in for the second half of the set, adding even more richness and depth with the extra saxophone and trombone added into the mix.

Rope Store

So, even if we couldn't buy either of their singles (at least it gives us time to save up for a record player) we can at least troop through into the café-bar of the Norwich Arts Centre and let Jason entertain us on the decks until it's time to go home.


'Like' Mr David Viner at

'Like' Superglu at

'Like' Rope Store at

Monday, 1 February 2016

Norwich's Next Big Thing 2016 - the rundown on this weekend's two semi-finals

Over 100 local music acts applied to be a part of this, the 11th annual Next Big Thing competition, organised by Future Radio with the support of  Outline Magazine and Open Live. From these, fourteen were chosen and invited to compete in two semi-finals with three acts from each semi-final, (together with an extra 'wild card' winner), going through to compete in the final on March 5th for a £500 cash prize provided by Access to Music. As well as the cash, it is the kudos of winning such a prestigious local competition that attracts such a high standard of entrants, meaning that both semi-finals become showcases for the variety of musical talent currently based in this region.

Acts were invited to upload a maximum of three original tracks with the applications for entry, although at what stage one becomes primed as being ready to be considered as the 'next big thing' and at what point one's level of recognition and success precludes you from entering the competition is not quite clear. Certainly previous winners of the competition would not be expected to re-apply, hence the reason why a certain Mr Sheeran did not send in his three tracks this year.

I arrive for the first semi-final having only seen two of the acts previously perform live, and whilst each act has its own entourage of friends and family in the audience, it will be the judges that have the final say in who goes through to the final, and their decision will consider the submitted tracks as well as the live performances. For the purposes of this blog, I have therefore included the internet links as made available via the Future Radio webpage, together with my brief notes from each evening and some rather dubious quality photographs.

Ben Male - 20 years old but apparently with already seven albums under his belt, Ben has the privilege of opening the first semi-final. He's a quality act with a great voice, and his opener 'The Drugs Will Kill You' will obviously strike a chord with a pharmacist like myself. It's just a shame that he hadn't had time to come up with a title for his third song, so instead mused on the fact that he couldn't find an orchestra to play on the recording for £5 and a bag of chips. 7/10

The Beelips - Introduced by compère Dean Tucker as Chris and Jamie who 'eek out dark electronic pop with the help of computers', the boys actually perform their three songs with a traditional four-piece guitar and drums line-up, which kind of confuses the hell out of me. Listen to them on Bandcamp, though, and it all starts to make sense. 5/10

Catnip and Claws -  Possessing without doubt the best stage name since Roobarb and Custard, electronic 'naughty-step' musician Emma Catnip is suitably attired with cat motifs on her top and jacket as well as on her laptop. Whilst some of her beats don't quite meld together seamlessly, and I had already seen the aerobics video footage elsewhere, there is some enthusiastic grooving occurring in the audience in front of me. The recorded tracks, together with the whole moggy thing going on is strangely addictive. 6/10

Young States - Initially mis-read this one as Young Skates, which may be excusable as their re-interpretation of good old-fashioned grunge and rock would certainly work as a soundtrack to half-pipes, bowls and decks on skateparks across the country. Really pleasing to see an all-girl rock band coming through the ranks - two of the girls have only just turned 18, and one of them already looks and moves like a female Kurt Cobain. Not sure whether they are yet ready to win the competition, but they win me over. 7/10

Clyde Automaton - My God! What a surprise. I'm not the biggest fan of electronic or sampled music, but this guy blows me away. He is the 21st century heir to the throne of Fatboy Slim, dropping dubstep beats instead of big-beat and acid-house, and absolutely loving it on stage. This is so entertaining, I just want him to carry on all night. 9/10

Lobster - I have a lot of affection for Lobster. They have an enormous amount of stage presence, a great singer in the shape of Molly Holdom (although tonight battling against suspected glandular fever), and an infectious enthusiasm that oozes out of sax-player Dom Trevor and the rest of this nine-piece band. Any youngsters that can get it on with classic jazz, funk and soul have my vote for a great live show. Can they make the leap to being radio-friendly as well? 8/10

Savage Island - Another act that I have had the pleasure of seeing live, the first time was supporting the Bosnian rockers Dubioza Kolektiv at Norwich Arts Centre, where they fitted in so well I could not believe they weren't also from the Balkans. There's trumpets, guitars, keyboards and saxophones combining to produce a thrilling climax to tonight's semi-final. But once again, does their charisma extend beyond a live show? 8/10

The judges choice of three acts from the first semi-final was (in no particular order) Clyde Automaton, Catnip and Claws, and Savage Island, and these will appear in the final, which will be staged in Open's main Banking Hall, rather than here in the more intimate Club Room.

Twenty fours hours later and we are back for the second semi-final, and another seven acts all hoping to be crowned Next Big Thing 2016, and receive that £500 prize from Access to Music.

Compèring tonight from Future Radio is Robbie Powell who whips up a frenzy with each and every call to 'Make Some Noise!', contrasting with Dean Tucker's repeated instructions the previous night to 'Go to the bar and get a drinkie-poo!' - it's a game of  'Compare the Compère'.

So these were the acts that performed on Sunday, together with their internet track-links (although some of these tracks may not be those actually submitted to Future Radio) :

Dazy Crown - The name may sound like it should be a female singer, but this is actually a four piece indie band led by Canadian singer-songwriter Thomas Little. Sounds a little bit like Vampire Weekend with neat melodies and hooks delivered pleasantly enough. 6/10

Luke Peter Foster - I do like Luke's gentle blend of spoken word and electronic beats, which occasionally ramp up the angst and emotion with some rap-style couplets and rhymes. The trick is to get the sound balance just right for the live show - his lyrics are too good to risk missing out on.  5/10

Midnight Zoo - It's been a pleasure watching this band develop throughout 2015. Forget the label of being the next Joy Division hanging around their necks like millstones - these lads are increasingly acquiring their own distinctive sound. Brave move to premier a brand new song tonight. 8/10

Aplah - another electronic act, but with an eye very much on the dancefloor with an anthemic set that drops the beats in just the right places. A bit too like David Guetta in places, but just right for cranking up for a banging weekend. 5/10

Maya Law - I first saw 16 year old Maya at a Sonic Youths showcase a couple of months ago, and was blown away by her voice, and the way her songs switch tempo and rhythm so effortlessly. She is so nervous she nearly descends into a fit of giggles at one point, but believe me, she absolutely smashed it here at Open tonight. 10/10

Happy Coloured Marbles - A big entourage of fans present to cheer on this rock band that rise to the occasion with a blistering three-song set that nearly takes the roof off Open's Club Room. Very much in the same vein as new boys from Essex, The Bohicas, Happy Coloured Marbles is a perfect accompaniment to a few lagers down the pub. 7/10

Real Life Charm - This seven-piece 'arts collective' with only one guitar between them are, quite honestly, a little bit too clever and complex for my simple tastes. The sound is almost symphonic, and the vocals delivered with an intensity that demands to be admired. The real 'musos' will love them. 7/10

So after a final twenty minute interlude when the judges compared notes, cogitated and generally scratched their collective heads Kate Roma from Future Radio came on stage and announced that the second trio of acts to make it to this years Next Big Thing Final would be (again, in no particular order) Dazy Crown, Real Life Charm, and Maya Law. She also announced that the seventh act in the final would be the jazz-funk-soul ensemble Lobster, who win their place by way of the competition's wild-card.

Really looking forward now to the final at Open on Saturday March 5th, with those seven acts all appearing on the magnificent Banking Hall stage. Best of luck to all seven.