Sunday, 11 December 2016

Goodbye Allo Darlin, 10 December, 2016

Photos taken from the middle gig of Allo Darlin's three farewell gigs, before the band is over:

There was a great sense of emotion from the offset - as I entered the bar, second song in, late from being lost in the rain, the band's set was being piped through speakers in the former ex-servicemen's members club bar, and I heard Elizabeth Morris's voice crack.

The set was a really nice mixture from Allo Darlin's history. It was lovely to see the band having a lot of fun on stage, smiling and laughing, joking with each other. At one point, Elizabeth ensured that guitarist Bill's Stephin Merritt-style solo singing was supported with a huge, warm round of applause and cheers. The band recounted memories from their tour bus travels, and thanked their parents for their journeys from the Antipodes to be part of the festivities.

The Moth Club is a fantastic venue, with its gold, shimmering stage backdrop, glittering ceiling, and cosy old bar. The place was packed to burst, and I was stuck by the door, the person everyone had to squeeze past. I grinned and bore it, just one of those things and most folk were polite about it. Gradually, I found myself moving further in bit by bit as more and more people traversed to bar or conveniences. A third of the way into the gig, I found a space to settle and relax in, able to dance and sing a bit and feel immersed in so many of fond, old songs I've known and loved for a few years.

It was 2012 when I first saw the band live - Easter weekend sunshine casting light on Elizabeth in giant sunglasses, singing in front of Rough Trade record shop near the Portobello market, celebrating Record Store Day. I felt like I'd found the meaningful, melodic and personable indie band that had been absent in my life since Tilly and The Wall stopped touring the UK about five years before. My friend bought the album Europe on the spot, after the soaring set.

Allo Darlin became a band I treasured, and whom I could rely on to tour regularly. I saw them throughout the years, most memorably in the back room of Herne Hill's Half Moon pub, which felt like indie gigs of the 90s, captured that spirit. I created the print version of this blog, sold it in fanzine format on the night of the gig. I was inspired to create the fanzine, amidst the rush of the band's songs carrying me away around the year 2012.

Another memorable Allo Darlin gig was at the student bar at Kings College, when it felt like the band were on the brink of fantastic, big things. I spotted a longtime NME journalist at the gig and was sure the band ought to make a front cover - but the corporately curmudgeonly lot only gave the band an enthused live review. The band went on to play bigger things, including at The Scala.

Last night at the Moth Club, I was having a really nice time, feeling it was a cheerful farewell to a beloved band.

But as I raised both arms to photograph the band (as above) in high spirits, wanting to capture the fun, a complete stranger suddenly came from behind me, placed both their hands firmly on both my hips, lewdly whispering 'ooh, hello, how are you?' in my ear, as they brushed too much and too long past me to get out the door. It was done in such a casual, overly "friendly" manner that anyone who'd seen it probably assumed it was someone I knew well/my boyfriend. And that's what left me shocked, feeling sickened, and stuck to the spot. No stranger has the right to get that close. This is my body. I turned around to show my dismay and fear as the man went past. I turned around again, to see if anyone had witnessed what had happened, to see if they shared my dismay, would ask if I was all right. No one acted whatsoever. I was alone. That shocked me further, upset me more.

I thought about trying to continue enjoying the gig, not let things be ruined. But it was impossible. I spent a few confused, sad minutes with the gig just washing over me, unable to identify any songs anymore. Despite me hating it happening, the tears started pouring, angrily. I had to leave.

It only occurred to me then, in the horrible confusion of things, to seek help from staff. I had seen friendly security about but they had been no where in sight at that point. I went to the bar and spoke to staff. They immediately radio-ed to security who turned up in seconds. They were professional and fast acting, listening to me, acting on the incident. But I had no chance of finding the culprit by this point. Security were friendly but firm about the incident, saying to contact them if I saw the culprit or if anything were to happen of the sort again.

I went back into the gig, tried to enjoy the end. By now things were joyous, the band linking arms, bowing, smiling: you could read each, individual tee-shirt spelling out: ALLO DARLIN LOVE YOU. There was a big singalong with ukulele.

But I just had to rush out of the building and get away, get home. Tears and upset. The incident had ruined the gig for me. I didn't even get to buy the band's farewell single as intended.

But I wanted to post my photos, and write the good things I enjoyed from the night. It's just a sad fact that some people have no idea that they have no right to cross the boundaries of complete strangers, to make people feel like an object, humiliated and vulnerable. That's not what gigs are about. And it certainly has nothing at all to do with the brilliant band Allo Darlin who spent many years making shining bright indie pop that lit up lots of lives.

ADDENDUM: Can anyone tell me if Elizabeth Morris will continue singing? She was a fantastic part of Tender Trap as well as Allo Darlin, and has one of my favourite ever female singing voices. I would miss her voice heaps.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Sincerely, L. Cohen

Leonard Cohen was the master of raw emotion, of inspiring raw emotion. The intimacy of those early songs, and how I felt when I first heard them in callow years, remain with me. The melodies, the cadences, the rhythms so haunting and so richly unique. His music has been a constant to me - and it feels so personal, subtly powerful. He conveyed with power and with poetry: the quiet, the gentle, the majestic, the sorrowful, the lamenting, the lugubriously humorous.

MC Asher Senator @ Merton Arts Space, Wimbledon Library, 20 October, 2016

Libraries do incredible things. Who would expect to be treated to a live reggae MC, after hours, in the reference library? And all for free.

Asher Senator is a man who influenced generations of musicians in reggae, hip-hop, R'n'B. I know he's a big deal, because when I met up with my brother - a DJ and hip-hop and dub fan who's been through the 80s and 90s - his smile said it all when I handed him a signed book! -
Asher's vibrant energy, wit, and warm personality brought the house down. A great sound system backed him as he performed old favourites.

Live performances were interspersed with fantastic old tales from his years working with Smiley Culture. Whilst Smiley Culture is sadly no longer with us, the friendship was relived via all the anecdotes of friendship in youth, starting up in music, and jetsetting. As Asher pointed out, if you were a new MC in 2016, you'd just turn up to the club with your USB stick with your backing track, plug in and go. Back then, Asher and Smiley had to build their own sound systems from scratch, lug their gear around in dodgy old bangers, and got into scrapes.

My favourite story was hearing about the duo's acquaintance with a man who owned a field of the green stuff. Cue a song featuring the lyric: 'Me no wake for 24 hour' !

These days, Asher runs a charity for kids getting into multimedia arts, and it sounds like he's doing a noble job, inspiring future generations, anew.

Asher is a joyous bloke, and it all came through with the songs, readings, and stories. Listen to the songs, buy the book!

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Brix And The Extricated, Live at The Lexington, London, 4 November, 2016

My fourth time seeing Brix And The Extricated play live. [Click here for an older live review]

Tonight at The Lexington, Brix's entrance was dramatic, she sparkled from head to foot in shining headdress, glittering eye make up, twinkling gold guitar strap, and (hopefully faux !) fur coat. I have to admit to feeling emotional, even tearful - I think it was feeling overwhelmed and glad to be bestowed a female heroine, centre stage, at last. Decades of gig-going, but back in my teens and the most part of my 20s, what I would have given to have a rock goddess of a frontwoman/role model...! Chrissie Hynde has had a similarly powerful effect, in my 30s, and [I wrote about that here]

The songs and Brix's singing are so powerful. The strength of her voice, so commanding. There were only two moments where Brix lent a slower, quieter quality to her voice (as heard in The Adult Net). Primarily, Brix is unafraid to be loud and insistent, and to sing in a talking punk or rap style, and deliver everything with intent, dead serious. At one point, in a new song, she was pointing, and reaching out to the audience from lowdown, in-your-face, in a 70s punk style: confrontational, or just wanting to demand a direct communication with the audience, on our level.

With Steve Hanley's expert bass, we've obviously got another legend of The Fall. The full band sound is huge and rhythmically spectacular. Hearing songs like 2 X 4 - that rockabilly influence was one of the key things to draw me to The Fall. I'd play along, in my bedroom, with newly bought electric guitar, frantically, inspired. Now I'm dancing along, propelled in awe.

Big New Prinz is the pinnacle of the night, once again. But this time it is epic. We're led in with a slow, swirling intro, wondering what's coming next - Brix whispers the words, and we're taken aback when the song suddenly explodes into action. Winding and grinding on, hypnotic trance effect successful, the song then plays out to its end with every band member leaving one by one. First, it's Brix, and I have to smile that it's her walking out of a song a bit early and not Mark in his trademark nonchalant style. Then the instrumental chords and rhythms dwell magically, before guitar is gone... leaving only that monumental bass with drums. I think we could listen to that legendary sound all night, but soon it slows to an end, and we're left transfixed.

Watching Brix perform, again and again, as I have done, I come away feeling blessed by her confidence, self-assurance. She may be singing songs she wrote in her time in The Fall where Mark E Smith tyrannically ran the show, but now she's the frontperson, she's centre-stage. She's the star.

Monday, 17 October 2016

The Future is Female

My last spate of gigs was dominated by bands with women leading or involved: Brix and The Extricated, Flatmates, Colour Me Wednesday, Fear of Men, Poetic Pilgrimage, Belly, Honeyblood, Chorus Girl, Dream Nails. And my future live plans all look predominantly female too: Brix and The Extricated, Popguns, Honeyblood, Allo Darlin, and (with luck) The Pretenders... It's damned exciting times for music. Much of this is serendipity. A new wave of female-centric bands has arisen, and I'm grateful. It's not that I'd ever consciously shun male music (impossible), as that would make no sense - it's just that it seems like there is a new mood, new opportunities, new vision.

Things feel creative for women. Music is so disparate now, music-press-invented movements are not really an option anymore. Homegrown/DIY is where it's at - which is necessary. There feels more space, more voice for women. The internet has offered more of a platform for women's issues to be highlighted and taken seriously (Everyday Sexism, Safe Gigs For Women, both excellent, vital campaigns). Fanzines/zines are being picked up by a new generation, giving new voice and spreading the word about important issues like never before. The closure of so many small venues, the erosion of corporate music media voices has left room for lots of incredible, community-instigated projects to crop up: DIY Space For London, and gigs in similarly autonomously spirited/run places; benefit gigs are back (the Conservative government are crushing funding for women's refuges, for example and projects like Loud Women gigs are raising funds).

All of this is for celebration.

'Nobody's telling me I can't
Nobody's telling me I shan't
No one to say "you're doing it wrong"
I'm at my best
I'm Where I Belong''

The Pretenders:

Sleeper's fantastic final album

Britpop revivals don't often centre on the many women involved in that mid-90s musical movement. This seems ironic as Sleeper's frontwoman, Louise Wener, famously wore a T-shirt that read: 'Another Female Fronted Band'.

This post is for anyone who doesn't take Sleeper seriously. They wrote fantastically melodic songs that stand the test of time, Louise Wener's voice is wonderfully strong, and there was that effervescence of guitars-in-the-charts, typified by those ebullient times, that hasn't been replicated since. Sleeper also wrote some tenderly sad, slowly lovely, epic ballads that really resonate even more with me today.
I've always defended Sleeper, baffled at detractors. But I never bought that third, final album - until last month. It was with a mixture of trepidation and glad, keen eye that I picked it up in Guildford Record Collector. The cautiousness was only borne of recalling the music press savaging it in reviews in the late 90s, which I'd believed. I'd always quite liked She's a Good Girl as a single, and I have it on tape somewhere. But there was a real feeling of a shift at the time, things felt a touch darker somehow. Maybe it was the serious look of Lousie Wener in the video, and the song's overall sound and mood change. I was still in my teens and I wanted the overt fun. We'd been used to the cheeky winks and knowing grins that dominated Britpop (I cringe at all that now), so this new seriousness, this maturity of sound was perhaps something I wasn't quite old enough to appreciate. I was used to instant pop, light-hearted hooks, something that inspired a bop.

I can really appreciate the shift, now. Listening, now, to Pleased To Meet You, there are still a few of the old hallmarks, like Stephen Street's chirpy, overly parpy horns and the seesaw, two-beat guitar slicing, both of which Blur also anointed their mid-period records with; plus Louise Wener singing in her wry, sly way, and all the romantic scenarios.

There's a lot more to Pleased to Meet You, though, and that's why I felt drawn to writing this blog. It's an album I'm really (pleased!) I bought. I had forgotten just how fabulously bursting with pop splendour Romeo Me, another single, was - that song is current favourite on repeat play. There are also some obviously great, pop hits like Firecracker and You Got Me, which are both sing-along perfect.

Sleeper re-enact the slow, woozy balladry of The It Girl's closing trick (Click...Off...Gone), with a slew of awe-inspiring songs at the end of their last album: Because of You (dub heavy beats, interlaced with sweet-sad strings and a really haunting vocal sweep), then there's Nothing Is Changing, which is one of those Autumnal, late-night songs that muses in dramatic melancholy. The album actually decides to end on one of their older style, all-out pop songs, with merry synths, brilliant bass, and a cracking chorus.

I can't help but feel that Sleeper - and Louise Wener as focal, vocal point - get judged far too often, and too harshly, on their more overtly (but not that frequent) 'wink and a nod' type songs - the songs about relationships that have unabashedly 'forward' choruses (how dare a girl/woman state those sorts of things and feelings!) - when the slower ballads are really quite moving, touching; incredible.

Having heard Sleeper's final album Pleased to Meet You, I feel like I really do cherish Sleeper ever more. I feel like that album pointed towards a solo career for Louise Wener - but I can't help but feel that women got fewer chances like that than the men of that indie era (maybe this will change?). It's the same with Justine Frischmann - she could have done something really cool in a solo musical guise, I'm sure. It comes to mind that maybe it was only Sophie Ellis Bextor that kept on, solo, and her band, Theaudience, were in the strange - but good - sort of lull after Britpop.

In essence: Sleeper are to be reassessed seriously, now. Reformation and a gig would be very welcome. Not only did I not get to see Sleeper live in 1995 (or 1996, or 1997, or 1998) when I was a fan, but I reckon Louise Wener ought to be recalled and influence a new generation with it. What Do I Do Now remains one of the lyrically and melodically best songs of Britpop, so I must leave you with that!

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Chorusgirl, live @ The Finsbury, London, 12 October, 2016

One of the best new indie-pop bands to come from Fortuna Pop, and of recent times. I am hooked on the bright and melodic, chorus-pedal-laden brilliance of Chorusgirl, and glad of their being around right now.

This was a free gig, which also introduced me to Dream Nails, who were bouncy, giddy fun - the kind of female-gang, punk-pop we took for granted in the mid 90s. I've just been reading about their feministic drive and zine-making, which makes me love them even more.

Interview with Chorusgirl over at Godisinthetv.

The Chameleons, live @ The Crauford Arms, Milton Keynes, 28 July, 2016

Spellbinding gig in a small city - just a couple of photos of Mark Burgess for now, still need to write up my thoughts!

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Love of Reggae

Better known as Prince Buster, Cecil Bustamente Campbell was a pioneer of bluebeat, ska and rock steady.

With the sad news of his passing, I felt it was high time I wrote about my love of reggae (on this blog that's mainly about indie rock). It's a genre and a longstanding passion of mine that few of my friends and family are aware of, to be honest. I've been building up a small but precious collection over the years.

I know that my draw to reggae can be pinpointed back to the reggae pop hits of my teens in the early 90s - It Keeps Raining, as covered by Bitty McLean was one of the first singles I bought on tape. Baby I Love Your Way by Big Mountain was a massive smash hit song of one of the greatest summers of my teens, a song that my classmates used to sing by the swings at lunchtime. Shine by Aswad was another perfect August summer's day burst of pop. All this gloriously upbeat, warmth and all these lilting, bass-happy, love songs being around grounded me in my love of reggae.

Maybe what cemented it all, was years later, after turning to guitar music, getting into The Clash, feeling and appreciating reggae's influence and also their use of dub bass and reggae time signature in their punk songs. The Clash's cover of Pressure Drop was pivotal - and many of the songs on the band's first album too (particularly, their version of Police and Thieves - although I'm aware that this wasn't received well by Jnr Murvin and Lee Perry - and their own White Man in Hammersmith Palais. In their later catalogue, of course, the almighty Guns of Brixton, surely their pinnacle feat).

The legendary imprint, Trojan Records brought out some superb boxsets of compilation series, really accessible stuff suited to the curious beginner. There was Rock Steady, collections of Dub and so on. Those boxsets were 3 discs, and came cheap, between £6 and £12 in shops like Fopp and HMV. Island Records brought out a great compilation called Islands in the Sun, too. They've been my education - covering great breadth of artists and versions. 70s and 80s films like The Harder They Come and Babylon were also influential to me (I even had to track down one of the films on VHS from eBay as it was yet to come out on DVD).

One book I would recommend is: Young, Gifted and Black, The Story of Trojan Records, for setting the historic scene and naming the important figures and a look-back on the context for reggae's development. I've seen books like The Rough Guide series which look useful too, for learning your stuff.

I love digging around at record fairs, discovering specialist record shops - Soul Brother Records in Putney, Honest Johns in Kensal, and People's Sound on the once infamous All Saints Road in W11. I have a few albums on vinyl, but it's a costly genre as it sounds best on wax.

I thought it was long overdue that I write a music blog post about my all-time favourite reggae songs. Mostly, rock steady, as I've come to realise that along with dub, it's my favourite genre.

Pat Kelly: Somebody's Baby:
A song that can always raise me up - and I love the female power of it, and the use of patois - Queen of The World, by Lloyd & Claudette:

Of course, Pressure Drop by Toots and the Maytals:

The Harder They Come, by Jimmy Cliff:

Johnny Too Bad, by The Slickers:

Dub from Jnr Murvin:

007 (Shanty Town), by Desmond Dekker:

Rudies All Around, by Joe White:

Rock Steady itself, from Alton Ellis:

And the mighty Al Capone, by Prince Buster: