Sunday, 27 November 2016

Even Bohemian Teenagers Need a Recreation - Sam Duckworth Flies Without His Cape

Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it. Everybody's doing it. Reprising their classic albums for live performance, that is.

Tonight I will be experiencing all the "Dah, da-da, da's" of The Fratellis' Chelsea Dagger for the first time in many a year as I watch them perform their debut album Costello Music in its entirety, ten years after release. Next month Kula Shaker dust down their robes to celebrate 25 years since K introduced Govinda and Tattva into common parlance. And on Friday night just gone Norwich Arts Centre played host to Get Cape Wear Cape Fly's Sam Duckworth treating us to a complete play-through of all the songs from 2006's The Chronicles of a Bohemian Teenager. Duckworth has also ditched his superhero associations, and now performs as Recreations with his band The Magnetic South. After having gotten my head around Mica Levi's band Micachu and The Shapes having morphed into Good Bad Happy Sad and confusing the hell out of me when they supported Savages at the UEA on Wednesday, this is all getting almost too complicated to keep up with. No wonder we old-timers need the familiarity of a classic album performed in track order, just to restore some order to our frazzled brains.

Savage Island

Friday night at the Arts Centre kicks off with local psych-punks Savage Island, a five-piece familiar to followers of the Norwich music scene for their rollocking shanties infused with Middle Eastern tinged melodies, trumpets, saxophones, various percussion enhancements, and some primal screaming. Yes, they sing as well, though it is the climactic instrumental numbers that normally get us moving early on into their sets. A great opener to any night, even if a lot of tonight's audience were a little tardy in arriving at the venue.

Dan Allen

Dan Allen is next up. Enormously popular in Norwich and beyond via his band Ducking Punches, Dan is performing a solo set tonight, his first back in normal shoes since breaking a leg during the filming of a video with the Punches in September.

Followers of the band have now bulked out the auditorium to give Dan support, and to sing along with some of the familiar songs. At this point I have to raise my arm and admit to never having seen Ducking Punches live before. Not through a lack of trying, it's just that the band don't play Norwich that often, being kept busy touring throughout the UK and Europe. I am impressed. Not only is the voice big and filled with passion, but the guitar playing seems to echo the sentiments contained within the songs. I am genuinely moved by some of the lyrics, and the issues of suicide, friendship and mental health that are being dealt with here. Top man.

Sam Duckworth fronts up a band that contains the usual guitars, bass, keyboards and drums/percussion, but in addition features two trumpets on one side of the stage and a flautist and violinist on the other. These players collectively form The Magnetic South, the appendage to Duckworth's Recreations, and producing all the flair and accompaniment required to bring the Bohemian Teenager songs back to life, ten years after the album's initial release.

There is a lot of pent-up energy in Duckworth. Thirty-something life has not dulled the fire in his belly, and the band serves as a melodic and rhythmic anchor to his bounding vocals and strident guitar strumming. The issues dealt with in the original release - poverty, multi-cultural tolerance, and social care seem even more relevant today, yet the Magnetic South manage to beautifully harness and enhance the mood without diluting the message. Today's issues of Brexit, Trump and mass migration somehow seem wholly relevant to this ten year old album, and the track Get Cape Wear Cape Fly with its observations of over-consumerism could not be more appropriate to today's Black Friday orgy of spend. 'Open your eyes, as you don't need to buy'.

I am a sucker for a well-blown flute (god, that sounds like a line from American Pie - "there was this one time, at band camp..."), and the haunting trumpets on Once More With Feeling provide exactly the right amount of lump-in-the-throat special-ness. Yet Duckworth is still able to hold court alone with his guitar, and his message.

We appear to have plenty of singers in the audience, all prepared to contribute some beautiful harmonies from the floor. As the final track, the ironically titled Chronicles of a Bohemian Teenager (Part 1), builds to its climactic conclusion the refrains sung back from the floor build with it, and continue long after Duckworth and the band have left the stage, and the house lights have come up. Let's hope that the sentiments of this evening still resonate into the next morning and beyond. - Facebook page for Savage Island (formerly known as Juke & The All-Drunk Orchestra) - Facebook page for Dan Allen's band Ducking Punches - Facebook page for Recreations and The Magnetic South

Friday, 25 November 2016

Lightscape, Kingdom Keys, Franko Fraize, and The Everlaine - and Twisted Melons All Round.

After spending Wednesday evening at the UEA for the highly anticipated return visit of Savages to Norwich - a gig that had several fellow reviewers described as their best live experience ever, I am back on the trail of Norfolk bands tonight at Norwich Arts Centre. Local promoter Twisted Melon has organised a a night headlined by Lightscape, and supported by Kingdom Keys, Franko Fraize, and The Everlaine. It promises to be a night that showcases three of the regions top alternative rock bands, together with Thetford's own rapping Danny Dyer - the irrepressible Breckland Ska-Man himself, Mr Franko Fraize.

The Everlaine

The Everlaine join the other three acts on this, the final night of a short tour by Lightscape and Kingdom Keys. I have seen them once before, almost two years ago when they opened for The Rumble here at the Arts Centre. The lineup appears the same, but the confidence of their playing has advanced beyond recognition. Vocalist Ellie's voice has so much power and clarity - even though she is dwarfed visually by the towering presence of Ryan on guitar, she can really carry a tune. That voice reminds at times of The Gossip's Beth Ditto, although you would never confuse the two in real life. I also love an energetic bass player, and Charlie provides that in abundance. He obviously gets plenty of E-numbers in his diet, but plays some tasty licks. Drummer Tom keeps a lid on things with some tidy and consistent stick work. I've no idea what an 'everlaine' is, but I really love this band.

Franko Fraize

Franko Fraize is now almost a local legend since having supported Mike Skinner in 2012, Rudimental in Thetford Forest earlier this year, and by dropping his famous Oi,oi's everywhere from BBC Introducing to the Reading and Leeds Festivals. Tonight, he seems more excited about being asked to turn on the Thetford Christmas lights than any of the above. He and his band did not arrive in time for a proper soundcheck, and are more concerned about organising a pint on stage than worrying about the levels. And this is why we love Franko. Yes, he may sometimes seem a bit cocky and laddish, but his enthusiasm, quick wit and energy are genuinely infectious. You simply cannot imagine him waking up one morning at home and announcing that he fancies a 'quiet day' in front of the TV. Respect.

Kingdom Keys

Kingdom Keys are a six-piece rock influenced band who formed in 2015. The six-track debut EP Beyond What You See reveals some lovely melodic tracks, led by the vocals of front man Sam Cook on acoustic guitar. Live on stage it becomes a little more congested, and the best sound mix actually comes when Cook swaps guitar for tambourine. Once again, there is a lovely bass sound, this time provided on the five-string by Jay Harrison, sporting what looks like a pair of Christmas slippers. Yo ho ho!

Will Overton - Lightscape

Headliners Lightscape have certainly pulled out all the stops in the presentation of this final show on their Autumn tour. Behind them is a large banner featuring their name and logo. Appropriately enough for a band with such a name, the spotlights, trackers, strobes and floods have been arranged and programmed to deliver a lights show worthy of any band to have played the Norwich Arts Centre. Copious amounts of smoke have been billowing out from the rear of the stage since the doors opened, meaning that the lights pierce the darkness with a power and intensity that Trinity House would be proud of. The band benefits enormously from the talent and experience of singer Will Overton. I remember Will from the EDP Next Big Thing competition way back in 2005, and from his band Lot 55 which he formed soon after. The highlight of their set is undoubtedly provided by the big guitar riffs and the echoing vocals on their new single Running, but sometimes it is a case of less is more, and I would love to hear some of those fine melodies in a more stripped-down form sometime, and without the smoke and illuminations. But, for those who were born to rock, this was a great way to end the evening.

All four acts tonight demonstrated once again what a wealth of musical talent we have within the county of Norfolk. When will the rest of the country wake up and give one of our bands a real break? Thanks to Twisted Melon Productions and Tristan Hinnis for a fine evening.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Adore Life, and Adore Savages. And the Good Sad Happy Bad. Enjoy It All.

I have patiently waited three and a half years for Savages to return to Norwich. Back in May of 2013, just after the release of debut album Silence Yourself, they played Norwich Arts Centre on a Saturday night. The Son and his then fiancé, now wife, were coming up for the weekend, and I tried interesting them in tickets. I failed. Instead, and in order to make some kind of a point, I bought the album from HMV whilst we were out shopping, and played it non-stop for the remainder of that weekend.

Fast forward to the Spring of 2015 and the line-up announcements for Latitude Festival are being made, and even though I know I will end up buying a ticket, I am still waiting for that one name that will tip me into action, and have me reaching for my credit card. One was Warpaint. The other was Savages. Warpaint, playing on the main Obelisk Arena immediately before Manic Street Preachers and Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds on the Sunday failed to leave a lasting impression. Savages, playing the day before inside the huge marquee that was the Radio 6 Music Stage, engulfed and overwhelmed me with their earth-shattering  and audience-consuming brilliance. I was in the front row of that audience and was left feeling that I had been part of a musical messianic experience.

On a dank Wednesday in November, Savages return from a Summer of outdoor festival shows to play the Nick Raynes LCR in Norwich, an indoor warm-up if you like for their show at Brixton Academy on Friday. With their second album, Adore Life, having been nominated for the Mercury Prize and adding a new testament to their gospel of post-punk revivalism, how will tonight's UEA gig compare?

There is some confusion about the support act. We are expecting Mica Levi (she of Micachu and The Shapes, and composer of that tingling and award-winning soundtrack to Jonathan Glazer's 2014 film Under The Skin, starring Scarlett Johanssen), yet the set times indicate that the openers will be Good Sad Happy Bad. Even as the three-piece combination of guitarist, drummer and keyboards/vocalist take the stage the penny has not dropped, and no introductory bones are thrown in our direction. Theirs is a relatively lo-fi sound, some neat keyboard effects, competent vocals, but driven along by some really tight drumming and some proficient, but almost nonchalant, guitar work from the far side of the stage. As the set progresses their is little in the way of song introductions or namechecks, and I have to admit that there is nothing that is instantly recognisable.

Mica Levi

Only afterwards, when it is too late, do I remember that Good Sad Happy Bad was the title of Micachu and The Shapes' 2015 album release, tracks off which would have been played during their visit last October to Norwich Arts Centre. What Mica Levi, Raisa Khan and Marc Pell have only gone and done is changed their band name to that of their last album. The clues were all there, I simply failed to acknowledge them. Were these the tracks that made up their opening set, or was it all new material? I am embarrassed to have to admit that my memory is not that good, and I have not heard Good Sad Happy Bad enough times to be able to conclusively answer that question. I apologise for not realising that the tousle-haired figure in baggy trousers and leather jacket was actually Ms Levi, or recognising the other two members of the band. But perhaps that was the point? By coming on stage and impressing us as much as they did in a semi-anonymous way, Levi and Co. had achieved their objectives. Making me wonder that this trio was some French small-town indie punk band plucked from obscurity by Jehnny Beth and Johnny Hostile could have been part of some cunning complicit Gallic plan. Who knows? I'm just glad that the truth became apparent in time for me to write this review. They have left me feeling good and sad and happy and bad.

The floor of the LCR has bulked out a little but is by no means full, even by the time the lights dim and a live recording of Leonard Cohen's 'A Thousand Kisses Deep' serves as an apt and moving introduction to Savages' entrance. Over at The Waterfront (the other UEA Students Union venue) The Damned are performing as part of this year's 40th anniversary of punk celebrations, and may have siphoned off part of tonight's potential audience. Oddly though, the audience demograph here seems depleted on undergraduates and late-teen/twenty-somethings, not the 1976 punk nostalgics.

 In fact, to those of us old enough to have seen The Damned back in the late seventies, Savages' front woman Jehnny Beth, with short dark hair slicked neatly back, dressed in black and white and performing against a monochrome stage, bears a striking resemblance to a young Dave Vanian. Like the Transylvanian prince of punk before her, Beth prowls the stage like a predatory panther, surveying her audience, making direct eye contact and engaging in one-on-one acknowledgements. But, unlike Vanian, she is not out to shock or alienate. In the true spirit of Adore Life tonight's performance is all about communion. It is about love and life, and loving life. It is still strongly aligned with taking no shit, and standing up for each other, but is also about beauty and sex and passion. Very French. J'adore.


Whilst Jehnny Beth snakes her way around the stage, she oozes style and works her voice into a primal force that we may try to label as Siouxie or Patti Smith-like, but in reality has now formed its own unique ipseity. Meanwhile bassist Ayse Hassan conjures deep throaty notes out of her instrument that are released with devastating precision. She bounces on her toes during the up-tempo songs, and sways seductively during the moodier passages, but always seems to know instinctively when to temper her playing so as not to swamp Gemma Thompson's frequent forays into spiraling swirls of sustained distortion, which themselves return to roost on majestically melodic passages. And perched on the plinth above them all is the beautiful Fay Milton on drums - the closest there can be to a percussive paradise, sometimes overlooked but so, so instrumental in powering the essence of the Savages sound.

The band plays for what must be an hour and a half, during which time we probably heard each and every song off both Silence Yourself  and Adore Life (although I don't remember hearing the gentler and sensitive Marshall Dear). There is the, by now, obligatory journeying into the audience by Jehnny Beth during Hit Me, a kneeling excursion that is curtailed only by the localised concentration of raised arms. Despite earlier calls for the entire audience to move forwards and fill the open spaces on the sunken dance floor of the LCR, many still remain at their vantage points atop the surrounding raised areas.

For those who chose to throw themselves into the small but tight mosh area in front of the stage this must have been an amazing performance, one to remember for years to come. After all, you never glance behind you to check what is happening at the back of the room. Viewed from slightly further back, and reporting as an objective observer, I would have to say that this audience was not quite as universally energetic as was present at Latitude, and Brixton will surely go absolutely ballistic on Friday, but let not that detract from Savages' determination to put on a good show for the good folk of Norfolk. Just remember that, as in life, the more of yourself that you are prepared to put into a Savages show, the more you will get out of it. Adore Life, and Savages will adore you. As those that today are nursing their bruised and battered bodies will testify.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Kristin Hersh at Norwich Arts Centre - No Muses Were Thrown in Tonight's Performance

There is an oft quoted adage from those in 'the business' - You should never meet your hero. Well, I'm not really in 'the business'. I work on the box office at my local arts centre as part of their volunteer team, and I submit unpaid reviews to a popular local listings magazine and website. Essentially though, I remain a music fan who could not play a musical instrument to save a rowing boat, let alone the Titanic. My chances of actually meeting a 'hero' still remain as distant as discovering that the moon really is made of cheese.

The next best thing, then, is getting close. Now, by getting close I do not mean that creepy, sinister, hanging around, stalking kind of thing. I just mean that I prefer that potential chance of seeing a hero in a 20/20 vision setting, as opposed to on a giant video screen at an arena gig or festival. Smaller venues sometimes do throw up that opportunity. Tonight was one of those opportunities.

Kristin Hersh first came onto my radar in the mid-eighties when the eponymous 'Throwing Muses' album was released, a couple of years before a certain Kurt Kobain and his band really re-ignited a UK post-punk audience's interest in American reactionary rock music. Together with Tanya Donnelly the Muses gave the musical transatlantic equilibrium a much-needed West-East restorative kick in the balls.

So, here I am, at Norwich Arts Centre on a Monday evening for a much-anticipated evening with Kristin Hersh. I am still not quite sure what to expect. Billed as 'An Evening with Kristin Hersh', this could be anything from a curated interview with musical interludes, to a full-blown gig.

So, what we actually get is a beautifully structured mix of songs performed by Kristin, a series of lyrical readings, and the occasional verbal interlude. It is a solitary display, yet remaining at times somehow slightly detached from us, the audience. She admits that she had been warned about playing 'new' songs, that they were a sure-fire way to alienate an audience, but that is not the case. We show our appreciation in the usual way, and enjoy the between-song readings from the book (whilst appearing unclear whether or not to applaud these as well). Her voice is laid-back Southern perfection, a tortured but strangely detached and desolate reconstruction of Cobain and, dare I say it, Cerys Matthews (albeit without the Welsh lilt). She picks at and strums her gorgeous chestnut and cream Fender with self-assured familiarity, and uses the bottom two strings in a rich and sonorous manner, creating at times the illusion of bass guitar riffing.

What we do not get is any extended interaction, confession or anecdotes from her 35 years in the music business. There are a couple of introductions - Detox is preceded by a story about feeding copious amounts of gazpecho to the local hookers, and Sno Cat prompts a story about storming out of the house after a verbal fight, but most of the set is simply an ordered procession of lyrical readings alternating with personal songs. And who could be disappointed with that?

We leave at the end of the evening with the satisfaction of having been in the presence of a musical hero. Yes, she is also a mother to four kids, and may have had a complicated back story, but she has chosen not to share that with us. This was not a soul-bearing performance, but a performance based on soul. And I absolutely loved it.

Kristin Hersh's latest release is a hardback book of essays and lyrics, with two CD's included. 'Wyatt At The Coyote Palace' is available from Amazon at , and from all good retailers.

A Tilting Sky with No Høly Men

A real tug of loyalties on this November Saturday night. A choice of several excellent gigs in the city, and a visit from The Daughter from London meant that I needed to keep all my options open and flexible. But, after a bracing walk along the North Norfolk coast which included an outdoor lunch at the Beach Café at Overstrand and a pint of al fresco San Miguel on the pier at Cromer, we had formulated a plan. She would spend the evening with friends at a bar in the city, and I would check out The Tilting Sky night at Norwich Arts Centre.

Ginny Dix

First up was Ginny Dix, who I first saw at the Waterfront Studio earlier this year supporting London-based electronic duo Avec Sans. Some of you may remember her as vocalist with Norwich band Freyr, who reached the finals of the Next Big Thing competition back in 2013. There is an honesty and resonant intensity in Ginny's voice that really works well sat behind her keyboard on stage at the Arts Centre, drawing the audience in from the bar within seconds of starting her set. She switches to guitar for one song, but it is the voice that really draws you in. There are contemporary reference points that include Oh Wonder and Alpines, although a cover of Chase and Status' Alive bowls a curveball on a wicket of downbeat dreampop. The trick of creating a 'ghost' male vocal accompaniment is particularly effective. An impressive performance, although she does have a tendency to sing much of the set with eyes apparently closed.

Sadie Nencini

Sadie Nencini has progressed in leaps and bounds since I saw her perform her first ever live performance at a Sonic Youths showcase back in March of this year. Now she is on the main stage, and whilst still showing a few signs of nervous apprehension, and there are a couple of misplaced notes in her first song, once those spritely butterflies are exorcised what is revealed is a voice of confection that lies somewhere between Suzanne Vega and Camille Dalmais. The hip hop and folk compositions are delivered with cajon accompaniment from friend Jack, and the result is a seductive blend that imagines millennial lounge-act Nouvelle Vague switching from punk classics to rap covers. Caramel, the song title featured on the badges being handed out tonight, is not the Vega composition, but a rather lovely Nencini original which reminds a little of those Cabrakid / Maya Law collaborations. Very promising.

Rory Hill

Singer songwriter Rory Hill has come a long way since those heady days of two-minute pop pleasures served up amidst the pleasures of The Radical Tearoom. The Kabeedies were a dynamic post-punk indie band, fronted by vocalist Katie Allard but featuring Rory on bass and songwriting duties. After Katie left, The Kabeedies morphed into Keep Up, but tonight we have Rory and his resonator guitar performing a wonderful solo set of Americana-inspired songs - a mostly down-tempo selection that covers all the traditional bases of broken hearts and breakups. There is a cover of Townes Van Zandt's classic Pancho and Lefty, and a final, more upbeat, composition that was inspired by actually being in a relationship. Rory has a wonderfully textured voice that manages to combine properties of both gravel and silk - a real revelation to anyone who has not heard him outside of The Kabeedies. A true talent.

Andi Sapey  - No Høly Men

Tonight's headline act is Norwich trio No Høly Men - vocalist Alexandra Hill (yes, brother of Rory), drummer Nigel Aono Billson, and guitarist Andi Sapey. All three are lecturers at Norwich University of the Arts, but Andi is also a familiar figure to thousands of us for his amazing photographs taken from the pits of countless rock concerts and music festivals. Tonight the lenses point the other way as I point my modest Panasonic compact in his direction during this bill-topping performance.

Like the three previous acts, No Høly Men impress me tonight by the massive improvement since I last saw them. Their slot at the launch night for Norwich Sound and Vision was safe and moody, in a Radiohead kind of way, but tonight turned into a passage of rite into the realm of something much more tangible and exciting. True, the dramatic introduction sequence lost some of its impact when it subsequently transpired that Andi's pedal board had not been connected correctly, and Andi himself seemed to regret having had that last pre-set gin and tonic, but the three of them absolutely raised their game tonight.

Alex Hill - No Høly Men

As well as a headlining show this is also an EP launch, although there are no physical copies to purchase (this is 2016, my dear). Instead we are given postcards similar to those shoved through the letterbox to say that you have missed an Amazon/Royal Mail/UK Mail delivery. But, instead of instructions for arranging collection, we are given a series of web links to obtain exclusive access to tracks Exhale, This Is All and Shake. A neat, generous and effective marketing device.

No Høly Men

The performance itself really gave each of the three performers space to shine amidst the dark stage backdrop. Nigel is undoubtedly the stabilising backbone of the trio. His drumming provides exactly the right amount of anchor to keep the boat safely tethered whilst Andi copes with any remaining shafts of (unwarrented) self-doubt. Alex's vocals, once unleashed, have the capacity to transcend time and have moments when we are shipped back to the days of goth-punk and the sound of Siouxie and the Banshees. Andi, with trademark blond foppy locks, DM's and black rimmed glasses looks every bit the guitar hero kitted out in white shirt and black suit. But it is when the drums, the vocals, and the guitar all come together in perfect synchronicity that the magic is created. It may not have been technically perfect throughout, but there were many moments when I genuinely believed we were experiencing something rather special. The audience were on-side right from the start, and there was obviously a lot of love in the room for these three high-profile faces from the Norwich arts community, but the applause was genuine, warm, and well justified. Onwards and upwards.