Confessions Of A Music Addict – November 2011
November started for me as kind of a continuation of October, specifically the last night of BRITISH SEA POWER’s month long tour. It’s been an exceptional year for the band who stand way out in front of my “most seen” list: their ten years celebration gigs in May in a village hall in Sussex; a great European tour in October which they delved deep into some of their lesser known corners of repertoire; a brilliant album and two even better collections of wildly creative alternative versions. Their last gig of 2011 proper (Tue 1st) saw them at the top of their live game in Brighton’s Concorde 2, not generally one of my favourite venues but worked on this occasion. They’re going to be taking some time out in 2012, writing some new material and not playing live apart from a residency in Brighton (“Krankenhaus” at The Haunt, first Friday of each month starting 6th January).
Another band of Cumbrian origin WILD BEASTS were right at the top of their game, too – I missed their Manchester Cathedral gigs but caught their headline set at Leeds’ Constellations Festival (Sat 12th). Now in its second year, this is a multi-venue hop with a useful difference given that it’s November – all four venues are in the Leeds University students’ union building. Local relative newcomers HOOKWORMS had kicked it off at 2pm with some Krautrock-droned spacepop; New York’s EXITMUSIC impressed and caused me to use the word “gothgaze”; ISLET blew fuses in people’s heads and VESSELS – the missing link between 65daysofstatic and Mogwai – were another highlight, but the set of the day was a blistering 23 minutes from Austin, TX trio RINGO DEATHSTARR.
This had come the night after FROM THE KITES OF SAN QUENTIN’s EP launch at Salford Sacred Trinity Church – with sci-fi flavoured projections onto a translucent screen across the altar, and the glorious acoustics of the place (I much prefer it for gigs to the larger and recently more popular St. Phillip’s) their twisted dystopian-future blend of trip-hop, dubstep and proggy psychedelics has never sounded so all-encompassing. And a few days before that (Tue 8th), Band On The Wall hosted one of the best gigs of the year for new experimental sounds: great sets from ALEXANDER TUCKER and DATE PALMS before German pianist NILS FRAHM headlined, holding the place in awe. Picked up his latest album “Felt”, a beautiful thing which straddles the lines between post-rock, ambient and classical. It was created with a piece of felt between the hammers and strings of his piano, a technique he initially adopted so as not to disturb his neighbours before discovering it lent the music a fascinating kind of intimacy.
There was some great local stuff going on here in Manchester too: Bonfire Night showcased three of the city’s best emerging indie / guitar bands in the form of OPTIONAL WALLACE, MOUNT FABRIC and THE SLOW READERS CLUB (reviewed here at the time) at the Star & Garter then it was a quick taxi to Salford’s Islington Mill to catch the final gig by electro band MAY68. Shame to see them call it a day. Bit of a bonus in the form of support ORGAN FREEMAN though – not in the conventional sense, but you know, sometimes you don’t want serious; sometimes you just want to watch a bunch of lads in shorts abusing each other and two drum kits with talcum powder and doing a song which appeared to be called “Cock Goblin”.
There was a Roadhouse appearance from ultra-lo-fi, darkly trippy and (oddly) both left-handed surf duo THE BELL PEPPERS; and two typically enjoyable nights at Steve Shy’s Stroke Club (Gulliver’s, generally the first and third Thursdays of the month) which between them boasted guitar noise from WARM WIDOW, the much talked about DIRTY NORTH (who aren’t letting it go to their heads at all, but seriously get better every time I see them, and they’ve always been good) and outstanding punk-girl-with-one-keyboard JEZABELLEZZA. Described (not by me, but it’ll do) as “a young anarchist Victoria Wood” (!) this pink-haired underground star in the making played a new song about the summer looting which managed to speak more sense about it than most politicians could muster, and was funny too.
It’s not all about the young people, though. MAGAZINE (Academy 1, 4th) and WIRE (Academy 3, 16th) were so ahead of their time back in the day that they haven’t dated at all. Wire never pander to anyone’s desires but their own, so you’ll never get a greatest hits set and I wouldn’t have them any other way. Magazine do do the nostalgia thing for the most part, but then (a) who could possibly complain when a set includes such all-time classics as “Song From Under The Floorboards”, “Shot By Both Sides”, “Permafrost” (I could go on), and (b) they have made a new album this year and it’s actually one of the best reunion-after-a-long-break albums I’ve heard, effectively carrying on from where they left off 30 years ago. A little sad that Barry Adamson is no longer with them, but still worth seeing.
ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE brought their hairy Japanese noise-blasted take on the Hawkwind/Gong blueprint to Ruby Lounge (7th, with Manchester’s own GNOD playing a very dark, space-doom-psych support set) and then there was the truly bizarre spactacle that was THE FALL playing “in the round” at the Royal Exchange Theatre (20th). Thankfully the chaotic performances and Smith awkwardness reported from earlier in the tour were ditched in favour of a solid set. The sound in there’s great for gigs – promoters HEY MANCHESTER have a few more planned – and there was another well chosen local support here in the shape of Salford’s MR HEART, a female trio who mix abrasive guitars with crystal-sharp vocals and deep rhythms that echo both Fugazi and British post-punk.
That Fall gig came in the middle of a rather unusual few days’ live music experience: on the Monday (21st) it was the second sit-down gig in a row (am I getting old?) when JOSH T PEARSON played at the Royal Northern College of Music. Now I know Josh divides opinion; I can see how some people find him rather self-absorbed or get frustrated with his elongated between-song rambling. He played about seven songs over the course of about 90 minutes; he tried to chat up girls in the crowd, told jokes of varying quality (one of which was about goat sex, which is probably not regular subject matter in the RNCM’s theatre), and did several false starts to songs. In short, he was Josh and he was brilliant – there are few people on this earth who can touch the soul so evocatively using nothing but a voice and a guitar.
Although British Sea Power’s tour had come to an end, three members of the band appeared at the Crunch Festival in Hay-on-Wye (Fri 18th) playing an acoustic set. In general I’m not a massive fans of bands “going unplugged” – I like effects pedals, noise and electronics too much – but when it’s a band you love and have seen a lot, it can be a nice bit of something different. The festival itself was decidedly odd, self-described as a festival of art and philosophy (and by me and my mates as “the poshest festival ever”); aside from a few musical acts in the evenings most of the events – taking place in the literary village’s little theatre and a collection of marquees around it – were things like a debate entitled “‘Awake In The Universe – What gives art the ability to raise us from emotional and intellectual slumbers and where is its edge currently to be found?” and a film “Can money awaken culture? Documentary tracing Dubai’s wildly ambitious plans to create a culture from scratch”. If I had more annual leave from work and indeed cash at my disposal, some of these might have been really interesting, actually, but not this time. The music bill was nothing if not eclectic and we’d have loved to stay to see how these literary types dealt with POLINSKI the following evening – the solo project of Paul Wolinski from 65daysofstatic, his album “Labyrinths” has rarely been far from my stereo this past month and is highly recommended if you like creative, post-rock-inspired electronica – but we had places to be…
A lovely drive through the rich autumn colours and imposing, misty mountains of central Wales brought us to a rather different destination for PURESSENCE at Wrexham’s Central Station venue (Sat 19th). Whilst not the best I’ve seen them, partially due to dodgy sound for parts of the set and indeed the fact that it was one of those “early doors” gigs that finish at 10pm to accommodate a club night, the more recent material from this year’s “Solid State Recital” more than stands its ground alongside the older stuff. Their two-night Manchester residency at Sound Control (16th-17th December) is selling well and highly recommended, I’ll be reviewing at least one of the gigs.
One of the things I disliked about Central Station – in common with lots of other modern purpose-built gig-club venues, especially (though not exclusively) those name-sponsored by the likes of O2 and HMV – was the TV screens dotted around the place advertising upcoming events on a loop. Especially insulting to a band like Puressence who make clear stipulations as to their lighting requirements. (My friend – a fan not connected to the band in any way – actually went and asked if they could be turned off during the set, and amazingly they did, so always worth a try). And this isn’t the only thing wrong with a lot of UK venues…
I spent a fortnight on the Continent recently, enjoying gigs in such places as Die Pumpe in Kiel (a pumping station built in 1929 for the disposal of sewage in the Kiel Fjord, abandoned after the War and revived as an independent arts centre in 1979, the room-sized pump preserved in what’s now the main bar); Forty Kleparz in Krakow (a real fort, part of the old city wall); the Botanique in Brussels (where you walk through the botanic gardens’ leafy indoor Orangerie to reach the dark circular domed Rotunda where the gigs take place) and Bremen’s Tower (from the outside a nondescript club in the ground floor of a dull city centre office block; inside all done up like a medieval castle keep). I could go on – if you’ve ever played or attended gigs in continental Europe in the sort of 150 to 500 capacity range you’ve doubtless been to some fascinating and individual places. I look at bands’ pictures from such trips and can often spot where they were, whilst I have collections of pictures from gigs across the UK where I’d stand no chance of naming the soulless identikit nightspots. Luckily Manchester and Salford are still blessed with some alternatives, although the last weekend of November is possibly not the greatest time of year to spend three consecutive nights between bare brick walls…
Antwerp Mansion is about as close as it comes in the UK to those glorious semi-squat venues you get on the Continent – one of those big old houses in Victoria Park (a couple of minutes off Rusholme’s curry mile) built in the 19th century for the emerging merchant class, most of which have been turned into hotels or student residences, broken up into flats or simply bulldozed. This one wasn’t, and had been standing abandoned until it was taken over in 2009 by a bunch of artists and musicians who saved the building from both structural collapse and “greedy property developers who wanted to level it for horrible prefab flats”. Now fully legal and licensed, there are regular live music events as well as mixed arts all-dayers; I was down there on Thursday 24th with AIR CAV – the band I managed between 2007 and 2009, although they do a great job of it themselves these days. Their debut album “Don’t Look Indoors”, which they made entirely themselves, is released on 5th December (LTW published the first review of it way back in the summer) and this gig saw them play some of its highlights as well as two brand new songs – we’ll have to wait for album two for recordings of those! Genuinely one of the albums of the year, though, and I’m not just saying that.
Friday’s (25th) brickwork was that of Salford’s Islington Mill which five years ago was a lot like Antwerp Mansion is now, strewn with residue from its former uses and a bit “rough and ready”. These days it’s a fantastic mixed arts centre with a nicely done up entrance foyer… The live room still has that DIY feel to it though with ancient living-room furniture scattered under the exposed pipework: this particular night saw it in the hands of the FAT OUT TIL YOU PASS OUT promotions people who specialise in the experimental and leftfield, avant-garde metal, post-anything, doom and anything else your Take That or Coldplay fan workmates would probably not even recognise as music. In short, they are brilliant – and so are Scottish instrumental post-rockers REMEMBER REMEMBER (associated with Mogwai’s Rock Action label) who headlined, and indeed oddly-named local art-punk-garage-fuzz duo MARIA AND THE GAY who opened the night.
Saturday’s bricks (26th) were the altogether more commercialised venture that is THE WAREHOUSE PROJECT, which has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 2006 in the freezing and then only recently closed Strangeways Brewery. This is its fifth and final season in the Store Street car park under Piccadilly station – it’ll be shifting to pastures new and as yet TBA for 2012, and tonight’s session is a mixture of live acts and DJs from R&S Records, the crowning glory of which is JAMES BLAKE. In the space of a year, he’s gone from producer little known outside of hipster circles to a proper pop star with a top ten album, Mercury nomination and screaming girl fans! It’s a great set though, from a man whom I have always considered a whole lot better live (accompanied by a guitarist and drummer) than on record; opening support VONDELPARK also worth a mention for their beautifully understated dark pop. There are still tickets left for a few of the remaining sessions including the final lie music event featuring Foals and Tom Vek on New Year’s Eve-Eve, i.e. 30th December.
Last gig of the month was a charity do at the Comedy Store on the 28th, raising funds for pioneering life-prolonging treatment in America for a four-year-old British girl with inoperable brain stem cancer. I don’t normally do those big charity things but then this one was firmly pitched at Manchester’s music fans, with tickets from just ÃÂ£20 and intimate semi-acousric performances from three local former Mercury prize nominees. EVERYTHING EVERYTHING proved (as indeed they did this time last year wth their stunning orchestra-backed RNCM show) they’re so much more than just another indie band – with just acoustic guitars and muted drums behind them their trademark multi-part harmonies sounded incredible. I AM KLOOT had an amiably shambolic time of it, plagued by stuff not quite working they still managed to turn in an excellent set, and Johnny Bramwell’s between song banter was, as ever, probably a good deal funnier than some of the professional comics who normally grace this stage.
The event was headlined by BADLY DRAWN BOY: although I’ve never claimed to be a massive fan – I don’t own all his albums and sometimes live I’ve thought he dragged on a bit – I still consider him an incredible and somewhat underrated songwriter. I don’t know what it is about “Born In The UK” that can bring tears to my eyes; maybe it’s just that it’s a song about my own generation and the stuff we remember (my partner was born on the same day as BDB, and I’m only a couple of years behind them). When you’ve bought tickets for something at least partly to support the cause, it’s great when the music turns out to be this good.
December is often a quiet time for gigs, although this year’s looking like anything but. See you back here next month for exactly which ones…