Greenman Festival 2016

[Listening soundtrack:  Blink of a Nihlist – BC Camplight]

Day 1 – Thursday

It’s been two years since I last went to a festival which involved camping , and this was my first visit to Greenman, a festival with a tendency to get a bit sploshy. So with a mixture of excitement and trepidation we set off on the long drive to the Black Mountains, laden down with clothing to suit every possible weather condition, including snow. At least we didn’t have the bother of erecting a tent having taken the Tangerine Fields option… Yeah I know it’s a sign of middle class sloth, but worth it not to have all that extra gear to drag around.

Arriving around teatime on Thursday and gear safely stowed in our tent, we set about orienting ourselves. As festival sites go Greenman really is a bit special, with its main stage nestled in a natural hollow and set against a spectacular mountain backdrop. It’s a compact site, with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, so we spent an hour or so poking about the various stages and stalls before making our way up the the Far Out big top to see what was happening, basking in the late evening sunshine.

With just one stage running for the first night, the Far Out was understandably rammed. We arrived to catch the end of King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s set making a big racket to an appreciative crowd. There seems to be an almost endless stream of Aussi psyche bands of whom King Gizzard seem to be the latest flavour of the month. I mean it’s fine and I guess if we had been down the front it would have been quite fun, but from the back it all sounded a bit Deep Purple meets Jethro Tull to my ears.

As King Gizzard came to and end the big top quickly cleared allowing us to bag a space at the front for Thursday headliners Wild Beasts, who are neither wild nor beastly. My feelings towards Wild Beasts are a bit odd, when I hear them on the radio I’m not entirely sure whether I like them or not. However I have seen them live a few times and always find them entertaining and enjoyable company; it must be my affection for Kendal mint cake. They are on good form as always and seem to have brought their fan club with them judging by the crowd of people near me singing along to every single word. Their current slinky electronic sound doesn’t translate as well to the festival environment as some of their older material, so closer of All The Kings Men turns into a mass bouncy singalong. All in all it felt like a nice gentle start to the festival weekend, and we returned to our tent excited about what the next day had to offer..

Day 2 – Friday

Friday arrives with a wet splodge. After a night of heavy rain we awake bleary and a little bit damp. I am immediately dispatched to procure cups of tea from the Community cafe, and have a crafty Welsh cake before embarking on the muddy trek back to the tent. We eventually sort ourselves out and headoff to the main festival site for brekkers before plotting our days entertainment.

First act of the day for me is Stephen J Adams on the tiny Walled Garden stage. The Broken Family Band were one of my favorite bands of the noughties; sharp, witty, often dark and cynical lyrics allied to great tunes, lent a slight Country tinge courtesy of Adams voice. He was in fine form today, despite the drizzly weather, backed up by a second guitarist, his set a mixture of songs old and new, plus a couple of obscure covers. Tears of Happiness, a song about Satanism and kind of an answer song to the old BFB track, Living in Sin was a real highlight, and I found myself singing along wildly. As ever his black sense of humor was to the fore in his between song banter; proclaiming, before the song Togetherness, that at least we now know who all the racists are… And where they live. He seemed to be really enjoying himself, and I saw him wandering round the site with partner and child several times over the weekend so clearly was making a weekend of it.

Next we head over to the main stage for Meilyr Jones, and as if on cue the clouds part and the sunshine floods down upon the Mountain Stage. Tall, thin, shoeless, dressed like he’d forgotten to take off his school uniform, and very Welsh, Meilyr was about to win the day at Greenman. Kicking off with the upbeat Dexys-like burst of How to Recognize a Work of Art, the addition of a trumpet player to the live line up makes all the difference. Great tunes allied to a hugely likeable stage presence makes for the perfect Friday afternoons entertainment. Angular like Jarvis, but without the sleeze, he was a non-stop ball of energy; his foray into the audience seeming perfectly reasonable rather than an annoying affectation. After an ebullient Featured Artist Set closer he hung around the the front of the stage, selling CDs and t-shirts, signing autographs and chatting to everyone. And as he went, the sunshine went with him.

In the olden days, when I was a youth, I had a cassette of songs taped off the radio. Yes that’s right kids, taped, no  YouTube, no Spotify, no iTunes in the olden days. I played it all the time until it eventually broke…I was heartbroken. On the cassette there was a song called The Backyard by Miracle Legion. I knew little about the band but loved that song, it’s lyrics fondly remembering a simpler, more innocent time. In later years, when flicking through record shops I always looked out for them but there just didn’t seem to be any material available to buy. A brief Google search suggested that singer Mark Mulcahy had a life, both personal and professional, filled with tragedy. So my expectations of ever seeing them live were pretty slim.

Always suspicious of reunions I was not filled with confidence as they stumbled on stage; a post arrest Radovan Karadzic, Casey Jones, a fat Dennis Quaid and a Vegas card sharp. However, I could not have been more wrong. Mark Mulcahy demonstrated more life, soul, passion and fire in the belly than I could have hoped for. He danced and jiggled around the stage, his voice strong and rich, sounding like a man half his age. When they played The Backyard, well there were tears in my eyes.

We next wandered up to the Far Out to see Kamasi Washington. I have been enjoying his triple album, The Epic, this summer, so was particularly  looking forward to seeing him live. However I have a complicated relationship with jazz, and unfortunately watching Kamasi confirmed all of my worst fears about live jazz.  Firstly I struggle with instrumental music live, I need the central focus provided by a singer; but I guess that’s my problem, not theirs. Secondly they do the Jazz thing. You know, when one player takes a solo and everybody else stands back and looks on admiringly. Frankly they all seem to be having a far better time than the audience. So sadly, I never made it to the end of the set and bailed early to search of food.

After a sit down in the chilled out Babbling a Tongues field and some sustenance we had to make a decision on which headliner to see. Neither James Blake nor Lush were really floating our boat, so we opted for Kiran Leonard in the walled garden. It’s frightening that someone so young can be so musically gifted. After a couple of false starts Kiran and band launched into a wild and woolly version of Pink Fruit, the standout track from his last album. I am not entirely sure how he does it, I have never seen fingers move like that on a fretboard. Performance-wise, it is clear he is still a young man who has to learn how to really engage with an audience, but given time he has the talent to do something truly great..

 

Day 3 – Saturday

As I poke my head out of the tent door (do tents have doors?  Just openings really.) , I felt a bit like Noah after the first day of the flood. It was time for a rethink on the day’s schedule. What we really need are some indoorsy things. So what better way to start the day than Pete Paphides & Bob Stanley’s fiendishly tricky pop quiz in the Babbling Tongues tent. This has multiple advantages as it provides a pleasant spot to sit down, on proper chairs, enjoying cups of tea and bacon sandwiches as well as being a right laugh. While not being in the prizes we achieve a respectable mid forties score and avoid the worst of the morning’s downpour.

As the rain abates slightly to a drizzle we decide to put up our hoods and venture outside. First up is BC Camplight in the walled garden. Philadelphia raised, Manchester based singer songwriter BC Camplight plays piano led pop in the classic tradition of Harry Nilsson, Elton John and Ben Folds. This is a surprise from a former musical compadre of War on Drugs and Kurt Vile. I can’t believe he has only just come to my attention because he is utterly brilliant and delivers a real shot in the arm to a damp Saturday. Looking like the lost Blues Brother and fuelled by Jack Daniels he is a real force of nature and every song sounds like your new favorite. Finishing on a wild cover of Nilsson’s Jump into the Fire he puts a massive smile our rain soaked faces. However, I do worry about how long he can keep up this pace, given the bottle of Jack he manages to put away in a sixty minute set.

Next I head up to the Far Out to catch Cavern of Anti-Matter, former Stereolab man Tim Gane’s Neu-esque outfit. Motorik drumming, weird bleepy electronica and psyched out guitar licks are just the ticket. I close my eyes and am immediately transported to mid-70s Dusseldorf, which considering I am in a field in Wales is some achievement.  It’s  odd juxtapositions that make festivals fun, so going directly from a set of driving Krautrock noodling to see Sheffield’s finest son John Shuttleworth is about as big a leap as it is possible to make. JS is hilarious as always but leaves us with an ear-worm that we are still struggling to shift a week later, ‘…I can’t go back to savory now, that shepherds pie was stunning, but I’m half way through me pudding…’.

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Next we venture out into the pouring rain to watch The Magnetic North in the Walled Garden. A super-group of sorts comprising Carnival leader Erland Cooper, Gorrilaz/Verve axe slinger Simon Tong and folktronica goddess and all round genius Hannah Peel. This was on our must see list come rain or shine. Prospect of Skelmersdale,  inspired by Simon Tong’s experience of growing up in a New Town and its later integration with the TM community has been playing in our house all summer. Live they are even better than we could have imagined, playing a mix of songs from the Skelmersdale album and the earlier Orkney record. Erland and Hannah in particular, have incredible stage presence. It has to be said, they have a sexual chemistry of the ‘get a room’ variety, but do sing the sweetest harmonies. Accompanied by a string section, songs build to epic crescendos, soaring into the sky and taking us with them. A cover of George Harrison’s Run of the Mill almost moves me to tears. The rain poured down but oddly it just added to the atmosphere of what was probably my favorite performance of the weekend.

 

Damp and emotional we decide to that ourselves to a couple of rather excellent Bloody Marys and a sit down under the trees….maybe it was my mood, but I swear it was the best Bloody Mary I have ever tasted. In a choice of headliners, I forego Laura Marling’s folk stylings to see Battles in the Far Out. I arrive in plenty of time to get a good spot near the front and, sensibly, deploy my ear plugs. The on-stage set up seems more frantic than usual; it later transpires they have driven overnight from Poland and only arrived forty five minutes before they were due to start. Understandably there is a slight delay to proceedings, but it allowed me some time to observe the world’s most laid back security team chatting and taking selfies with the crowd.

Built around the thunderous tub thumping of former Helmet drummer John Stanier, Battles are a ferocious live band. Drum kit front and centre, with a crash cymbal seemingly eight foot in the air, they make a wonderful racket. An underlying dense wall of odd noises and keyboard stabs, unearthly guitar effects allied to driving rhythms that seem to twist in all directions yet remain centred around a relentless driving beat, they sound like the best party on some far off alien planet. When they play Atlas, the ‘hit’, the crowd lifts off with them, bouncing along like demented fools. It was a brilliant performance and so very different to anything else I saw over the weekend, leaving me buzzing and elated.

Day 4 – Sunday

Don’t hold your breath, but I think it has stopped raining. Usually by the last day of a festival weekend I am on my last legs, running on fumes. Surprisingly we are all feeling in pretty high spirits this Sunday. We start the day with kedgeree and breakfast stew in the Babbling Tongues tent and watch the Mojo interview with Belle and Sebastian. Despite best efforts of the interviewer to bugger it up they make for an interesting interview while we make our plans for the final day.

We catch Genghar on the Mountain Stage; they don’t exactly set my world on fire but are entertaining enough. We decide to check out The Moonlandings next at the Far Out, but get distracted by something far more interesting. While passing the Round the Twist bar we noticed a small queue of people and decide to investigate. On hearing the unmistakable sound of Ezra Furman sound checking inside we immediately join the queue and are lucky enough to witness a small intimate secret gig. On a tiny stage, just Ezra and his guitar, in front of a small crowd, he delivers a short set of songs touching on his, sexuality, gender and self esteem issues. It sounds like a downer, but it really wasn’t, rather it was genuinely moving. A surprising cover of You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman gives some idea where his head is at right now. At the end of the set @realearthmother managed to grab the set list, narrowly beating a too slow hipster to the punch. Amateur. Ezra kindly autographs it afterwards and chats away for a while with J & P, which I am sure pressed all of the wrong social anxiety buttons for him. It was yet another highlight of a wonderful weekend of music.

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To close out our festival weekend it is a triple whammy in the Far Out; Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Ezra Furman & the Boyfriends and Grandaddy. 

First up is UMO a band we have seen several times before and it has to be said tonight did not show them at their best. The first time I saw them they had a lightness of touch  which  seems to have been lost somewhere along the line. Firstly they appear to have an new drummer in tow, who while perfectly adequate lacks the swing and feel of Riley Geare. I am not sure whether this is a permanent personnel change or an enforced one, but if anyone knows the story I’d be happy to hear it. One of the highlights of previous performances was Riley’s wild drum solo section; they try the same trick tonight but it just feels leaden. One of the biggest issues I have is that their live set seems to have degenerated into schtick; the drum solo bit, the keyboard solo bit, the bit where Ruban sits cross-legged on the stage, the bit where Ruban climbs up the scaffolding. It is a real shame as Multi Love was one of my favourite albums of last year. Nonetheless the crown seem to love it and I guess they were okay, its just that I have seen them when they were so much better.

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Next up is Ezra Furman & the Boyfriend’s full band set and the difference between this and the earlier intimate solo set could not be more marked. I am pretty sure Ezra doesn’t want the ‘voice of a generation’ tag, but if he continues to deliver exhilarating performances like this it’s going to stick. It’s been two weeks now, so forgive me if I’m hazy on details, but in my mind he started off with a blistering Tell ’em All to Go to a Hell (set-list FM begs to differ). Anyway it felt like a statement of intent and the rest of the set followed in a similar vein. All the frailties of earlier seemed to float away, replaced by a confident forthright young man with things to say; Body Was Made dedicated to all the queers. The Boyfriends have become a lean, tight unit, honed to perfection by a relentless few years on the road. They sound like a cross between the E Street Band and The Attractions at their feral 70s best. A shout out to all the folks who supported them over the years in sweaty dives up and down the country reminded me of the first time we saw him in the damp and dingy York Duchess. Ending on a celebratory and chaotic cover of Jackie Wilson’s (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher made this feel like a real headliners set. Maybe next year.

After all of the euphoria of Ezra’s set, it felt like a tough act to follow, and if it had been another high octane band it could have fallen on it’s face. So how do you follow something like that; simple, it’s dumb, it’s Grandaddy. This is a band I had pretty much given up on ever getting to see live, having been on hiatus for so long  but a sighting of Jason Lytle playing Hewlett’s Daughter alongside Giant Sand at Stewart Lee’s ATP gave me some hope.

They were really the perfect way to end this festival for me. Their sleepy eyed Texan wooziness and lullabies for the soul bring us gently back to earth,  enveloping us in a warm comforting hug. They played all of the hits too, AM180 and Summer Here Kids being standout tracks for me. Ending on the long, weird and impossible He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’ s the Pilot was a bold move but fitted the mood perfectly, Jason Lytle’s heartbreaking lilt creating that special piece of magic that is required to end a festival.

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Happy and elated we gathered to watch the ceremonial burning of the Greenman and fireworks display. I couldn’t help but reflect  on what an incredible weekend of music it had been. I hadn’t seen everything I would have liked to (missed Malcolm Middleton, missed Whitney, missed Ryley Walker, missed Belle & Sebastian, missed Tindersticks) but hey if you tried to watch everything it would become a trial rather than a pleasure. And festivals are one of life’s real pleasures; you turn off the outside world for three or four days and enter a fantasy place, where your only concerns are what to watch and what to eat. More of that please.

 

My gig year ~ 2014

2014 has been a pretty incredible year for gigs. I’ve seen some bands for the first time, some I thought I’d never see, plus the occasional visitation from the past. So I thought, for my benefit as much as anything else it was worth summarising and reflecting…don’t worry this isn’t the prelude to mid-life crisis or breakdown or anything, it’s just a list. People seem to like lists.

1st Feb 2014
Wave Pictures ~ Deaf Institute, Manchester

I am a very much a latecomer to the Wave Pictures party, but having been introduced to them for the first time last year, they have become one of my favourite bands. The intimate environment of The Deaf Institute was the perfect place to see them for the first time. Effortlessly they charmed and beguiled, smiling through a set of old and new material finishing on a mass singalong to Like Smoke. I was mesmerised by the guitar playing of David Tattersall; how he coaxes such a beautiful noise from nothing more than a cheap guitar/amp and an expression of wry amusement, is beyond me. The first gig of 2014 was going to take some beating.

David Tatersall

David Tatersall

14th Feb 2014
Ezra Furman & The Boyfriends ~ York Duchess

Valentine’s Day… I am struck by the notion of a romantic day in York, followed by dinner and a gig from an artist neither of us has seen before. What could possibly go wrong. Well the weather for one. After a day of rain-lashed wanderings followed by dinner in the only place we could get into (a bar festooned with Shed 7 memorabilia) we wandered into the damp smelling basement of The Duchess, tired and bedraggled.

Then things started to improve immeasurably. The support band The SoSo Glos where punky, fun and sincere. But the main event was something else. Ezra Furman, a bundle of wired yet vulnerable eccentricity, born to entertain had us spellbound from the start. It was a struggle to convince @RealEarthMother that she couldn’t adopt him. The Boyfriends are a tight backing band, full of personality, adding colour and shade to Ezra’s songs of desperation, depression and attempted suicide. I admit that doesn’t sound like a recipe for a fun night out, yet oddly it is. Such is the sense of fun and showmanship with which the whole thing is delivered you cannot help but walk away smiling.

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1st March 2014
The National ~ 6Music Festival, Victoria Warehouses, Manchester

Against all odds we managed to get tickets. As festivals go it was an odd one; the venues didn’t seem to work that well. The second stage was too small and difficult to see and the main stage seemed too big. We caught a couple of other acts; Likke Li, Kieron Leonard, Wild Beasts, but I was only really interested in The National. Somehow we managed to snake our way through the crowd and get ourselves s good spot near the front.

This was my fourth time seeing them so I knew what to expect; they do know how to put on a good show. On a foliage covered stage they did exactly what it is they do best; delver a set of intense, opaque and emotionally poignant songs set to rich and complex musical arrangements. Matt was in a particularly intense mood it seemed, stalking the stage, smashing mics, kicking bottles of wine, forgetting lyrics and inevitably crashing into the crowd and climbing gantries. The final Vanderlyle encore was a mass singalong of adoring fans. A great night…. Just s long cold walk back to town due to nonfunctional trams to contend with, but these are the things we do for the bands we love.

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8th April 2014

Lloyd Cole ~ Parr Hall, Warrington

Almost forgot this one. An intimate acoustic set, with support also from Lloyd Cole; it was clearly a tight budget. It never ceases to blow my mind to find artists I saw on Top of the Pops are now driving the length and breadth of the country, armed with just a guitar, to play arts centres and village halls. But, I’m happy they do. As you would expect, the classic Rattlesnakes songs (Perfect Skin, Are You Ready to be Heartbroken) drew the most applause, and there is nothing wrong with that. Lloyd was pleasant company for an hour or two, armed with just a guitar, some stories and some songs. Sometimes it’s nice just to be entertained. The only thing that was hard to bear is his uncanny likeness to Jimmy Carr.

12th April 2014

British Sea Power ~ Sheffield Leadmill

How I had managed to go through life without giving BSP so much as a second glance is beyond me. I’m sure the odd track must have entered my consciousness from the radio, but they are honestly not a band I had ever been driven to listen to. So this was very much a voyage into the unknown. It was clear this was a band with an obsessive fan base – the bloke who’d driven up from Norwich and attached himself to us on arrival being a case in point.

But it was a fun night full of songs unfamiliar to me, delivered with passion and commitment to a clearly adoring crowd. Anthems that don’t belong in stadiums would be my best description; rousing, uplifting, occasionally sad. The night was made for me by the two giant dancing bears crowd surfing above my head for the encore. Splendid.

British Sea Power

British Sea Power

18th April 2014
King Khan & The Shrines ~ Brudenel Social Club, Leeds

Some gigs can be deeply moving experiences, which take you on a journey, make you think about your life, drag up deep buried feelings, leave you feeling battered and bruised, but somehow better for it. This was not one of those gigs. For those not familiar with the King’s work… Well try to picture a tall, paunchy Indian man, with a Jason King moustache, naked except for a pair of gold pants, a crown and a cloak, playing dirty but catchy 60s garage rock. Can you imagine that? Because that is exactly what you get. Certainly one of the most out and out fun gigs I have ever been too, the kind that want to make you laugh and dance at the same time. A super tight rock ‘n’ roll band, with horn section, they ripped the roof off the Brudenel. The band spending as much time in the crowd as on the stage, you had to keep on your toes as we were nearly decapitated when the keyboard player decided to join in the fun…jumping into the crowd with his organ over his head. Pound for pound the most fun you will see on stage all year.

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1st May 2014
Shearwater ~ The Deaf Institute, Manchester

Another band about whom I knew absolutely nothing before seeing them live. To be fair apart from a single song on a mix-CD I’d heard nothing by them. Perched up above the stage on the tiny balcony of The Deaf Institute seemed absolutely perfect tonight. Jonathan Meiburg is warm and engaging, full of stories between the songs. The songs are predominantly covers, drawn from their Fellow Travellers album of songs by artists they have toured with, interspersed with a few originals. The arrangements are complex and compliment Jonathan’s rich tenor voice. Wonderful backing vocals and keyboards from transposed Manchester local Jesca Hoop as well. Finishing on Clinic’s Tomorrow was a big highlight, leaving us feeling happy like we had just been given a massive hug.

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13th May 2014
Teleman ~ Deaf institute, Manchester

Steam Train Girl had been spinning round my head for the best part of a year since stumbling upon it while browsing Spotify, so I was looking forward to this a lot. Led by former Pete & the Pirates/Tap Tap man, Thomas Sanders Teleman are a particularly English confection. Songs seem to float into the ether like clouds of steam, delicate and slight. But there is so much going on, bubbling just below the surface, 23 Floors Up demonstrating there is more muscle here than you might think. The set is declared over when they eventually run out of songs and it seemed wrong to request anything from his Pirate days. All in all an enjoyable well composed set and certainly a band to be a watched.

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17th & 18th May 2014
Neutral Milk Hotel ~ Albert Hall, Manchester

So this was a turn up for the books. I have written about this elsewhere on my blog, but it bears repeating, I genuinely never imagined I would ever see this band live and then I see them three times in a year. Go figure. And what a venue to see them in…a beautiful old Wesleyan chapel, long abandoned, hidden away above a dodgy night club, undiscovered for decades.

So we saw them twice. First night we watched from upstairs on the balcony and it was wonderful to hear those songs as they were meant to be heard for the first time. It was emotional. The only off putting aspect was the Gestapo like stewarding staff, stomping round in a threatening manner enforcing Jeff’s no photo policy with zealous glee. So for night two we headed downstairs and got as close to the front as we could, preferring to watch Scott and Julian rather than Jeff, who when not singing can seem a bit cold and distant. Once again it was a wonderful immersive experience, those twisted, tragic songs worming their way into my subconscious exactly as they did they first time I heard Aeroplane. Sublime.

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28th May 2014
War on Drugs ~ Manchester Academy

WoD seem to be topping all of the EoY polls this year and there is no doubt it has been a breakthrough year for them. I admit I remain unconvinced. I certainly don’t actively dislike them, they are perfectly fine radio fare, they just don’t push my buttons for some reason. So I wasn’t exactly dragged to this, I always like to keep an open mind. To be fair they put on a good rock n roll show, a smidgen of Springsteen here, a sprinkle of Crazy Horse there. Adam Granduciel is clearly a fine guitarist, and one partial to a wig out…although in the spirit of democracy he did let the 2nd guitarist take a solo, just the one mind. It was entertaining enough, but did little to change my opinion.

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14th May 2014
British Seapower performing From the Sea to the Land Beyond
Sheffield Crucible

Not a gig as such, but I felt worthy of inclusion due to BSP’s involvement. Performed as part of Sheffield DocFest this documentary about the Sea and its relationship with the British people, with a live soundtrack by BSP was something quite special and moving. This was an almost silent film made up of old archive footage detailing the lives of the sea, sea life, sailors, fisherman, lifeboatmen, factory workers and all other manner of connected working life. BSP with their backs to the crowd, but facing the screen, providing a soundtrack which was sad, rousing and elegiac in the very best ways. Simply wonderful…. If they opportunity ever comes up to see this live then please do so.

17th July 2014
Afghan Whigs ~ Manchester Cathedral

It’s always nice when a sinner comes to church. Gregg Dulli has lost none of his muscular alpha male charisma, and time seems to have done little to mellow him. The Afghan Whigs’ return was about as good as anyone could have hoped for. Bold and magnificent in every way.

Preaching to the converted...

Preaching to the converted…

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22nd July 2014
The Chills ~ Brudenel Social Club, Leeds

It must be over 20 years since I last saw The Chills. I was visiting a friend at college in Portsmouth, following a painful dumping. To cheer me up he got me drunk and we bunked in to watch The Chills. As far as I can make out I was pretty much the only person I knew who liked them; but I would play Kaleidoscope World to death for anyone willing to listen. In a weird way I think they encapsulate everything I love about music; catchy 60s garage band inspired tunes, coupled with a deeply resonant emotional lyrics. Plus they came from New Zealand, which may as well have been the moon.

Martin Phillips is certainly not the youthful presence I remember, a little road hardened to look at these days. But once he starts speaking the old naïveté is still there. Even by Brudenell standards they are a shambolic bunch; bits of non-functioning equipment, set lists out of sequence, long stumbling pauses between songs. Slick is not a word which troubles them greatly, and that is the essence of their charm. I watch the whole thing wide eyed and I love this. Pink Frost is still one of the saddest songs ever written and it is a struggle to choke back the tears. I doubt whether this will be featuring on many folks gig of the year lists, but for and hour or so tonight I was a very happy boy.

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16th August 2014
Neutral Milk Hotel ~ The Forum, London

So it all seemed too good to be true; and it was. ATP present Jabberwocky…. All of your favourite bands under one roof in docklands, with NMH headlining. Tickets purchased – check. Hotel booked & paid for – check. Train tickets booked and paid for – check. Then with less than a week to go, ATP cancel. They’ve not sold enough tickets and they’ve spent all of the cash they have brought in from ticket sales, so refunds are tricky. What’s more, they show no remorse, just a long whiny list of excuses as to why it was everybody else’s fault except theirs. Utter bollocks and bullshit to a word. Those useless fucks will never get another penny of mine. Wankers.

Anyway, NMH picked up an alternate gig at The Forum supported by The Ex. They were both excellent.

29th-31st August
End of the Road Festival ~ Larmer Tree Gardens, Dorset

I’ve blogged about this so, I shall stick to the highlights.

5. Watching Unknown Mortal Orchestra stood inches away from Sean Lennon
4. The Flaming Lips soundcheck
3. John Grant, icy, majestic, emotional
2. Ezra Furman in a red mini dress dashing through the crowd to sing from the old Victorian stage
1. Gene Clarke No Other Band… Possibly the last ever performance, and one which I will never forget. The hairs on the back of my neck still stand up at the memory.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Wayne Coyne ~ the soundcheck which turned into a show

Wayne Coyne ~ the soundcheck which turned into a show

Ezra Furman ~ sunglasses

Ezra Furman ~ sunglasses

John Grant

John Grant

Gene Clarke ~ No Other Band

Gene Clarke ~ No Other Band

 

22nd September 2014
Ezra Furman and the Boyfriends ~ Band on the Wall, Manchester

Ezra Furman has certainly been the find of the year for me. Great songs, super tight band, committed and full of wired, unpredictable twists and turns. We first saw them back in Feb and it’s clear from tonight’s performance that a year on the road has taken its toll. They are still mesmerising to watch but they seem ragged, tired and a bit tetchy tonight. Ezra in particular looks strung out and on the verge of exhaustion – I do hope someone is keeping an eye out for his well being. Despite looking a little frayed round the edges, the songs suit this and they deliver another knock out performance.

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26th September 2014

Liverpool Psychefest, Camp & Furnace, Liverpool

Another year on and back to PsychFest. To be fair this is less about the music and more about having a weekend away in Liverpool, enjoying the city, catching up with friends and catching the odd band. Musically speaking it’s a bit of an odd one. There seems to be a hard line definition of what counts as Psyche (loud, droney, slow) and little room for light and shade. So I shall just list my highlights, as there were a few bands where we bailed after one or two songs….

1. Big gins in the Mad Hatter Brewery…. okay this has nothing to do with music. It was however a welcome oasis at times; somewhere to sit back on a comfy sofa (in what is basically a garage) with a refreshing drink and watch the world pass by.

2. Les Big Byrd: Loud, aggressive garage rock for sure, but also a lot of fun. A singer with the best side burns since Mungo Jerry and a band festooned with lights, they brought a blast of madness and energy to proceedings.

3. Mazes: Once again with an early slot on the Saturday, I was worried they would end up with two blokes and a whippet watching, but a reasonable crowd made the effort. They were tight and sharp and sounding much more slick and road savvy since EOTR. Bouncy, bright and full of fizz they never fail to make me smile….can’t help wondering if Jack’s other outfit Ultimate Painting might have been better suited to this festival though.

4. Grumbling Fur: Another band that don’t really fit the PsychFest identikit, and were a welcome breath of fresh air. The words ‘we are now going to play some improvised music’ would normally send me running for the hills, but actually there was nothing to fear. Alexander Tucker  sat at a table making strange electronic noises from a  variety of weird and wonderful devices, while Dan O’Sullivan plays fuzz base, frequently Hendrix style with the guitar behind his head. Think an experimental Depeche Mode, but in a good way. Marvellous.

5. Islet: I know nothing about them other than they are Welsh, funky and had a habit of running through the crowd. They are top fun. Go see.

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10th October 2014

Grant Lee Phillips & Howe Gelb – Deaf Institute, Manchester

I think we ordered tickets for this back in March… one of those gigs where you just think, ‘well that sounds interesting’. I knew of Grant from his late 80s/90s Grant Lee Buffalo guise as well as his earlier involvement in 80s Psyche revivalists Shiva Burlesque. Howe I know from Giant Sand, a band who have been round since the ark and I’m ashamed to say I’ve never listened to. This was one of those gigs you go to with zero expectations and ends up being an absolute delight. Grant was warm and funny and open to requests, while Howe spent as much time (if not more) regaling the crowd with weird anecdotes than he did singing. A night of warmth, humour and beautiful songs delivered by a couple of old battle hardened troubadours; it left us with a warm glow that lasted for days.

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1st November 2014

The Wave Pictures ~ First Chop Brew Arm, Salford

Step 1… find the venue. As we wandered around some waste ground under the railway arches we spotted a dim light  and a few equally confused wanderers peering out into the darkness. Up some rickety stairs through a tiny bar, then down a tight corridor to what can only be described a tin shed with a makeshift stage. Welcome to the First Chop Brew Arm… this looks like the perfect venue for The Wave Pictures. Support is from a boy(guitar) / girl (drums) duo called Schwervon! They are excellent fun, snappy Jonathon Richman-esque tunes interspersed with beat poetry and interpretive dance. I recommend them highly.

The Wave Pictures are ostensibly there to play Artistic Vice, a cover of a Daniel Johnston album they have recorded and is only on sale at gigs. They were DJ’s backing band a few years ago and David Tattersall shared a few stories from that tour, the most amusing being that DJ kept calling him Roger Taylor (from Queen). In reality it is a mixed set with plenty of Wave Pictures originals, old and new, thrown into a mix. This will be the third time I have seen them this year, and I think this is the best I have ever heard them. David’s solos more intense and thrilling than ever, and as a band they really suit this ramshackle venue. Towards the end Franick puts down the bass to accompany David on a few songs on the mandolin (Frandolin). I love this band so much… why aren’t they as big as U2?

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6th December 2014

Metronomy & Teleman – Albert Hall, Manchester

The final gig of 2014 was very much a last minute decision. To be honest I never used to get Metronomy. They were one of those bands which I filed away under the ‘not really for me’ category. But the Love Letters album this year has really got under my skin. It’s echoes of old Phil Spector girl groups coupled with end of the pier organ and complex, human lyrical concerns just grabbed me a big way. Also their performance at Glastonbury this year (watched on TV) was a real highlight. Tonight they are supported by Teleman and boy have they beefed up their sound since I saw them back in May. Thomas’ voice is still light as a feather, but the songs overlaid with layers of electronic noise sound fierce and raw in this big room. A summer of festival sets has taught them a trick or two.

Some bands are just about the music. Four hairy blokes in plaid shirts…what more do you need? Well Metronomy are a band who understand how to put on a show; it may be unfashionable amongst the hipsters, but I like a band who try to entertain. Every detail was perfect. The white boxed in keyboards with a built in light show, the slick white suits, the choreographed (sort of) dance moves; all designed to make you smile…and move your feet. A set drawn heavily from the last two albums is delivered with verve, humour and proper showmanship and the crowd love every second of it. The only slightly wobbly moment came when Joe Mount described the lovely old Albert Hall as ‘shabby chic’. They even manage to throw in a cover of Here Comes the Sun; a wonderfully perverse choice for a chilly December evening. They ended on the punky thrash of of You Could Easily Have Me and totally go for it, with amps turned up to 11…a perfect end to the set. The final gig of 2014 was a bit special, I hope 2015 has as many surprises up its’ sleeve.

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EOTR 2014 ~ Day 3: Falling asleep at the wheel

End of the Road Festival 2014, Larmer Tree Gardens, Dorset

[Writing Soundtrack: With Light & With Love ~ Woods]

Firstly, and by way of apology, sorry this is taking so long. Also, sorry if this one is a bit hazy; its been a few weeks and I have the memory of a gold… er… oh you know those shiny orange things that float around in tanks. You get the picture. Anyway, bear with me, it will all be over soon.

Day 3 of a festival is always a tough one; especially if like me you think camping is the devil’s work. I have had some wet and miserable Day 3’s, where it has been more about fighting off trench foot and getting to the end of the day without murdering a juggler. However, today is going to be different. Today we do this thing with minimum effort and maximum enjoyment. Well that’s the plan anyway.

Things get off to a good start; it’s dry. Not just dry, it’s sunny; one of those perfect late summer days, bright sunshine & little fluffy clouds drifting slowly past. This bodes well. A look at the clash finder indicates that there is lots to see at the Garden Stage today, so we   decide to throw a couple of camping chairs over our shoulders and find a nice spot to park up and watch the day unfold in relative comfort. Following a leisurely breakfast, this is precisely what we do.

First up in the garden is Futur Primitif, the nom de plume of Daniel Lefkowitz. He used to be in The Low Anthem, a band who I admit never really crossed my path, but they seem very popular at EOTR so a reasonable crowd has parked up to watch him in  the warmth of the early afternoon.  He takes the stage, thin and unshaven, in an old suit jacket and carrying just an acoustic guitar and clearly at this early hour, very hungover (possibly still drunk). This is just what I need to break gently into the day. Actually, I should digress a moment here. Because what I really needed happened a few minutes earlier when the question was posed ‘would you like a Bloody Mary?’. The answer obviously was yes…. if you are ever asked that same question, the answer should always be yes. Very nice Bloody Marys they were too, from the groovy little cocktail bar at the back of the Garden, very spicy and no scrimping on the vodka. Frankly I’m spoilt now; any festival which doesn’t have a cocktail bar just isn’t going to cut it for me any more.

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Future Primitif ~ well oiled

 

Anyway, seated in comfort with a delicious alcoholic concoction in hand seems the perfect way to watch Futur Primitif. Long rambling songs about life, and how not to live it, politics and pain, all delivered with a wry humour and an acerbic eye for the absurd. Just a man and a guitar, he is an interesting stage presence; slightly edgy with a hint of future self destruction, but not without warmth and has a real ability to connect. At one point a child joins him on stage to join him on a duet of Pale Blue Eyes… however this is post-Bloody Mary, so maybe I imagined this. A great way to start the day, this was my favourite song of his set…

 

After this I wander off to the Library stage to try to catch Viv Albertine discussing her autobiography. It is a tiny stage and there is a big crowd so it is impossible to see, however I hang around outside and listen to the interview. She is honest and funny and really seems to enjoy talking about it rather it just being a sales pitch for her book. A story concerning Johnny Rotten and a failed blow job, leads to a lady in front of me, young daughter in hand slipping away with the words ‘er… i think it’s time too find the loo’. Bawdy stories aside, her tales from the front line of punk can’t help be anything other than inspirational and I can’t wait to read her book.

By this time the sun is high in the sky and it has turned into an absolutely glorious sunny day. Perhaps influenced by Mr Lefkowitz I grab a sneaky early afternoon flagon of foaming ale and head back to the Garden. I am tempted to watch John Cooper Clarke in the Big Top but the lure of a nice sit down in the sunshine is just too tempting. Next up is Daniel Rossen from Grizzly Bear doing a solo set. He had been wonderful with the Gene Clarke No Other Band on Friday so I was intrigued anyway. In fairness he has a pretty torrid time of it, enduring some horrendous sound problems with his guitar and looks pretty stressed throughout. But the voice is still strong and rich and reminds me a bit of Harry Nilsson. A perfect accompaniment to a sunny afternoon.

Daniel Rossen

Daniel Rossen

 

Sometimes just finding a spot and letting the day unfold is the best way to enjoy a festival, and today is shaping up quite nicely. Yo La Tengo arrive and set up on the little singing stage at the edge of the arena to do a largely improvised set. In fairness unless you are near the front somewhere it is difficult to hear everything,  but they seem to be on good form, accepting requests & questions from the crowd and bantering happily. At one point even doing a spot of synchronised dancing. Visually it is a lovely spot to play, but we decide to offer our camping chairs to a nearby couple and make our way forward and get a good spot at the front for Woods.

Yo La Tengo

Yo La Tengo

 

A theme of the weekend for me is seeing for the first time many bands who I have only discovered, or been introduced to, in the past year or so, and Woods very much fall into that category. This can be a bit perturbing, as you have a picture in your head of what a band looks like.  On record they seem like the ultimate west coast folk rock band; strummed acoustics, 12 string jangle, wild wigged out electric guitar, all present and correct. So I was expecting to see a bunch of hairy doped up CSNY clones shambling onto the stage. It comes as a bit of a surprise to see they appear to be fronted by a high school supply teacher. Appearances can be deceiving though, as they proceed to unleash a set of sun dappled psych-folk which is the perfect accompaniment to the baking hot afternoon. Lead vocalist  Jeremy Earl proving himself to be no mean guitarist either, swapping acoustic for electric and indulging in some impressive axe work on a wild and wooly With Light and With Love. A perfect Sunday afternoon festival band in many ways, and a real highlight of the day.

Woods

Woods

Feeling a little weary, the early afternoon alcohol intake making it’s presence felt, we head back to the tent to drop off the camping chairs. A quick nap turns into a rather big sleep so sadly we miss much of the early evening entertainment, from the Felice Brothers and Yo La Tengo’s main stage set. But hey, you can’t watch everything right? We manage to get our act together and head back into the arena later in the evening. We grab some food and hear the early part of Wild Beast’s set drifting over from the Woods stage. They seem to have attracted a decent crowd, which is pleasing, as the have been around for a while and this is a big gig for them, so I am sure it must be the icing on the cake for what has been a very good year.

Making our way back to the Garden we find a suitable vantage point to watch our final band of the weekend, White Denim. I last saw them play years ago, when still a three piece, and they tore apart the tiny Ruby Lounge with a set of ‘amps to 11’ raucous garage rock. Even then it was clear to see they would go onto bigger things. Subsequent albums have seen them develop and expand their sound to incorporate aspects of jazz, folk, & latin, played at sometimes deafening volumes and laced with a healthy dose of good old southern rock. As they launch into Pretty Green from Corsicana Lemonade it is interesting to see just how much singer/guitarist James Petralli has developed as a front man.He has never been the most chatty or engaging of characters, but there is no doubting his immense stage presence as he seems to channel the spirit of every classic rock performer of the last forty years. It has been a weekend of great guitarists (Tattersal, Nielson, Earl) but Petralli is the full package; rich and soulful on the more complex recent work and ferocious on the early stuff from Workout Holiday. To be honest, I had been feeling pretty ropey before this, but it is a testament to the healing power of rock music that this really lifted my spirits. So glad I saw them, a perfect end to the festival.

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 So thats it. Three days of sunshine, music and good vibes & better people; I’m glad to say that my first End of the Road was an amazing one. I hope there are many more. Now its just the tricky task of negotiating the journey home, locating a Little Chef (hopefully manned by an actual little chef) and then easing back in to the dull reality of the workday grind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EOTR 2014 ~ Day2: King of the Road

End of the Road Festival 2014, Larmer Tree Gardens, Dorset [Writing Soundtrack: Ezra Furman & The Boyfriends ~ Day of the Dog] Saturday arrives slowly. Very slowly. After a long and exhausting Friday the lure of an airbed, sleeping bags … Continue reading

EOTR 2014 ~ Day 1: It’s the end of the road as we know it, and I feel fine…

End of the Road Festival 2014, Larmer Tree Gardens, Dorset [Writing Soundtrack: Ores & Minerals ~ Mazes So, here’s the thing, I had made a solemn vow not to do any more outdoor festivals which involve camping. Too wet, too … Continue reading

Neutralised

Neutral Milk Hotel, Albert Hall, Manchester, May 17th & 18th

Like many people I came to Neutral Milk Hotel late; way after they had ceased to be a going concern. I think I picked In The Aeroplane Over the Sea up in Fopp because I liked the sleeve. It was a few weeks later when I got round to listening to it in the car. That CD remained in my car on repeat for the next three months, working it’s magic on me. I fell hard.

It can be a tough listen for the uninitiated, but once it finds it’s way into the ancient primeval part of your brain it’s difficult to shift. It’s dense poetic lyrics, part adolescent sexual fantasy, part twisted body horror, all watched over by the ghost of Anne Frank and sang with a voice teetering on the edge of complete abandon. Set against a musical background almost steampunk in it’s oddness; fuzzy acoustic guitars, singing saws, esoteric brass and even bagpipes, all meshing together to form something strange and beautiful. It’s difficult to put a finger on it, but I react to this album the same way I react to a Rothko painting; a pure unfiltered emotional response. It’s sad and melancholic, sometimes almost revelling in it’s own sense of disconnectedness…. But then we all feel like that sometimes, don’t we?

After a bit of online research I came to realise that NMH were a long defunct outfit, and their singer/songwriter Jeff Mangum was rumoured to be a reclusive almost hobo-like character, homeless and sleeping on people’s floors. It seemed unlikely I would ever get to see him in the flesh. So when I saw he was curating ATP in 2012, it was a done deal, I had to be there. I have to say it is my favourite festival experience, the Elephant 6 crowd were all warm and enthusiastic and made it a completely welcoming experience.

There was however one thing which irked me. Jeff played two sets that weekend. The first, on the Friday, was wonderful, haunting, emotional and euphoric. It left me feeling like I’d been through intensive psycho-therapy… A bit bruised but ultimately happier. There was however huge anticipation about the Sunday evening; a full band revival surely? Sadly that wasn’t to be, it was Jeff again, solo. Amazing once again, but I couldn’t help feeling a little cheated. Would I ever get to see Neutral Milk Hotel the band?

On hearing that Neutral Milk Hotel had announced some US dates, and would be playing some of the big European festivals, I was understandably itching for news of further dates. When the word came out that they would be playing a limited number of UK appearances, well the anticipation was desperate. We were worrying for days prior to the tickets going on sale that we wouldn’t get any. Because in the minds of the faithful they are bigger than Springsteen, rather than a tiny little cult band. So after all the waiting, for two nights in Manchester, I finally get to see the band I had been desperate to see for so long.

First a word about the venue, Albert Hall, Manchester. A Wesleyan chapel, abandoned for many years, hidden away upstairs above what was once Brannigans nightclub. Beautiful tall stained glass windows along each side and across its vaulted ceiling, a broad sweeping balcony and high stage in the shadow of an amazing pipe organ, I could not have picked a more appropriate venue.

Being typically English, I tend not to show great excitement at things, preferring restraint to obvious ebullience. But I confess waiting for the band to come on stage, my heart was beating faster. At the appointed time Jeff Mangum stumbled onto the stage; long beard, peaked cap and army surplus coat, he bore a closer resemblance to an Ozarks meth runner than a rock star. He didn’t say much, just began to strum this first simple chords of The King of Carrot Flowers Pt 1, and as his voice stretched out into the darkness for the first time I knew this would be everything I had hoped it would be.

Out of the wings the rest of the band crept onto the stage, picking up archaic instruments and allowing the cacophony to build as they kicked into Pt 2. Hearing a crowd of 2000 people singing ‘I Love you Jesus Christ!’ can be an odd experience for an atheist like myself, but by this time I was already locked into Jeff’s fantastical world. The band are the essence of anti-rock star, anti-image, looking like they had strayed in from a homeless shelter or another dimension. The bear-like Scott Spillaine with his Father Christmas beard, blasting beautiful haunting sounds for an array of ancient brass instruments. The man-child Julian Koster bouncing around in his bibbity bobbity hat, wrenching thunderous noises from his bass, and his singing saws all terrifying and sad. Behind the drums Jeremy Barnes, extravagant of moustache, stroking the drums, sometimes with the sensitivity of a jazz drummer, and sometimes like Thor in a bad mood.

No new material, but they do work their way through a mix of songs from On Avery Island and In the Aeroplane Over The Sea, filling them with fresh cacophonous fizzy energy. Holland 1945 is raucous and acoustically punky, Gardenhead is weird and arty, Two-headed Boy breaks my heart in a million pieces. The rest of the band leave the stage as Jeff strums the sad chords of Oh Comely. It’s dense impenetrable lyrics, full of foetuses and sugary sweet machines. It’s the poetry, the sheer joy in the sound of words that gets me as I close my eyes and submit to the emotion of it.

The main set finishes with Snow Song Pt 1, all drones and noise, interspersed with flashes of melody and crazy jazzbo drumming from Jeremy. Then quietly they troop back to the wings as we whoop and cheer, and try to catch our collective breath. After a short break they return for the final few songs; a carnivalesque Ghost and a Two Headed Boy Pt 2. Finishing with the beautiful nursery rhyme that is Engine they quietly leave the stage to return to whatever strange planet it is they come to leaving a Manchester crowd euphoric and emotionally drained.

So that was it. After all this time, two night of the band I had waited so long to see. Did it live up to expectations? More than I can adequately describe. ATP at Minehead was incredible, but this was something else entirely. It was everything I could have imagined, a wild steampunk cacophony filled with brutal, terrifying beauty. Those songs continued to reverberate around my brain for days afterwards. I shall be seeing them again in August at Jabberwocky; I’m sure it will be great, but whether it can live up to this is another story. All we need now is for Jeff to bury a few demons and start writing again.

Oh and by the way, that CD is back on my car stereo… I think it will be there for a while.

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