Monthly Archives: April 2013

REVIEW – Strangers In Paradise, The Story part 2

Context is everything. When Strangers In Paradise released The Story part 1 in early 2012 nobody was sure whether or not this was simply a side project for the Mosby brothers while D’Nile took a break. Steve Mosby was already established as a key player on the Harrogate music scene with a reputation as a guitarist of the first order – but at the same time he was always a support player; first to Jonny Skinner in Revolv and then to Liam Gray in D’Nile. Could he cut it as a frontman?

Twelve months and a bit later a lot of these questions are answered. Readers of this blog will know that the Harrogate music scene has gone supernova with no less than four great bands in the ascendancy. Strangers In Paradise may not be the most attention seeking of the four but they’re arguably the ones leading the way; their first EP came out before they’d even played a gig and now – while their rivals haven’t got any further than soundcloud or youtube – they’ve made another.

Except that – with hindsight – The Story part 1 now sounds like the band making a few demos while getting to know each other. It feels very polite and civilised now. I’m sure we all know a few people who are very shy and self effacing at the start of the evening but after a few drinks they’re dancing topless in the middle of the club. Strangers In Paradise might well be that person – Part 1 was the start of the evening, Part 2 is the party well underway.

There’s six songs here; one short instrumental and one rap led track but which leaves four new songs proper. Everything is louder this time, everything hits that bit harder. Strangers In Paradise always sound like they’re cutting loose but at the same time everything is under control. They are like acrobats; there’s now safety net but they know what they’re doing.

It’s now obvious that to call Steve Mosby the frontman is slightly misleading. He is the dominant figure but Andy Mosby and David Williams are hardly support players. This is a group effort and it’s sometimes to believe that only three people are making this complex sound. The sonic effect is what impresses and it will take a few listens for the songs themselves to come into focus; the effort is of course well worth it. However the opening lines of Land Of Later On are pretty hard hitting (I won’t spoil the treat).

If there’s a criticism (and it’s hardly the bands fault) it’s that the EP doesn’t quite capture the excitement of seeing SiP live – Phoenix Odyssey which blew me away at The Alex seems a bit flat here by contrast.

The Story Part 2 is available from iplayatnight at a very reasonable £3 (less than a pint of beer). Here’s a link The site is not very user friendly and the download didn’t appear immediately – however the customer service was top notch. It will be necessary to do a bit of tweaking on Itunes to get the album properly in your library. However that’s a minor gripe.

PS – Fans of Strangers In Paradise will be aware that this EP marks the end of David Williams’ involvement with the band. However I am also told that a new drummer has been recruited and with a new mesh of personalities will come a slightly different sound. The Story Part 3 is already eagerly awaited.


The End Of An Era, Our Future No Clearer?

This blog takes its title from Wonderland by Simply Red; Mick Hucknall’s comment on the state of the nation in 1991 and one of the few decent songs this otherwise cloying band has authored.

The defining event of recent weeks has been the death of a frail 87 year old with dementia. I refer of course to the passing of Margaret Thatcher although it should be noted that she left office almost a quarter century ago and her public life was curtailed by declining health a decade ago. Therefore her actual death was pretty much the full stop, not a final chapter.

This hasn’t prevented some extreme reactions from both sides. The Cameron government have only just stopped short of declaring a period of national mourning and rewarded Mrs Thatcher with the first ceremonial funeral for a political (as opposed to royal) figure since Winston Churchill. Meanwhile, the hard left have reactedwith street parties and effigy burning.

I must admit both sides  have riled me. The left because they have played into the hands of the right wing press and detracted from coverage of the human cost of Thatcher’s policies. Quiet reflection would have given a more potent message than apparent glee at somebody’s death. The establishment because not even Thatcher herself (hopefully anyway) would have claimed that she was not a partisan figure. She was a politician and she remained a politician, she did not transcend politics and it is deeply insulting for Cameron, Osbourne et al to pretend otherwise.

Which takes us to the main thrust of this blog; the Thatcher related sideshow that dominated the headlines in the gap between the obituaries and the funeral. I refer to the internet campaign to get Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead to number one which led to much muttering about disrespect and whether the BBC should have played the song during the chart countdown.

We’ve been here before of course – or have we? Comparisons were made with God Save The Queen by The Sex Pistols and Relax by Frankie Goes To Hollywood as examples of the charts vs decency. And these comparisons are rather insulting. Thirty five years on from the Silver Jubilee the question of whether The Sex Pistols were outselling Rod Stewart that week is still hotly debated. As for Relax, helped by the fact that in 1984 the only way people could hear this banned record was to buy it (today they’d watch it on Youtube instead) it remains the seventh biggest single in the history of the charts. Ding Dong, by contrast is from a film over seventy years old and lasts less than a minute. Nobody is buying it on its artistic merits and the likelihood is that it will be lucky to stay in the top forty this week.

As an aside, if I’d decided to play the `let’s get an offensive record to number one` game I might have gone for Margaret On The Guillotine by The Smiths which would have had the added effect of embarrassing David Cameron, a self confessed Smiths fan.

But is this really the best we can do? An era defining but divisive leader dies and we respond with Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead. Would it have been great if a rising musician somewhere could have written a song highlighting the dark side of the Thatcher years (the mining communities left to rot, the fact that the Argentine dead were ultimately warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, the fact that the Thatcher administration were the architects of Section 28 and the Hillsborough cover up) and then rounded up a few mates to really make something of it. Get that to number one and maybe, just maybe, it might have enough artistic merit to stay there. That could really have left a nasty taste in the mouth of Thatcher’s mourners.

Battle Of The Bands final 31/3/2013

Where to start with this one?

My personal highlight of the Battle of the Bands actually came in the last semi final when Recovery took to the stage. They opened with Modern Army but Matt Ramsden’s backing vocal seemed buried, as if his mic was turned off. I remember thinking that this was all about to go wrong. Then they launched into a cover of Foo Fighters `All My Life`.

Jonny Skinner admitted afterwards that the first time he played that song he almost passed out. It is a difficult song to cover; a four minute sonic burst of activity where the vocal barely lets up. However Recovery did it; Skinner maintaining the tension perfectly while the two Matts played off against each other. The theatrics were helped by two rather hyperactive twins (Skinner – `whatever you guys are on, I want some`) who chose that moment to lead the dancing.* A second cover in succession, `Sweetness` by Jimmy Eat World, again executed brilliantly, kept the momentum going and when the band switched back to their own material the crowd stayed.

By the way, yes they were cover versions. So what?  The Rolling Stones first single was a Chuck Berry cover, the second a Beatles hand me down and the third a Buddy Holly song. Nobody compained then.

But I digress. I’ve been proud to follow Recovery from the beginning, they’ve impressed me a few times but this was the first time they’d blown me away. I honestly thought there would be no justice if they didn’t win, as it was they didn’t. However they did progress to the final.

The week before Pips had won their semi final (as a wild card after a previous unsuccessful attempt). Thus the final pitted the following bands against each other.

Recovery. The Superlatives. Pips. The Wilde.

Note the order. Every week the bands drew lots as to who would play first and last and it was noticeable that every heat I attended the winners and runners up always came from the last two bands on stage. There were some obvious reasons for this. Voting slips couldn’t be handed in until the end but new arrivals could pick up slips at any point. Therefore the early bands had the struggle of keeping their fans there while anybody arriving halfway through could only see half the bands and still vote. It was never clear how the final votes were divided but for commercial reasons the audience vote had to matter.

So the odds were against Recovery who were missing Matt Jones. Petch of Pips stepped into the breach (six gigs – four bassists, including two of Pips) but something of the band dynamic was always going to be missing. However the band did turn in a best ever performance of Modern Army and this grower of a song lingered in my head throughout the rest of the evening.

The Superlatives were probably the band whose sound was least to my taste. However they had attitude, verve and songs as well as a tremendous reservoir of energy – three way drum solo at the end was a thrilling touch and I wouldn’t have begrudged them victory.

Pips next. I’ve reviewed this band several times already so I’ll just say this band get better with every gig, they know they’re something a bit different and very exciting, and slowly the world is starting to learn.

There’s no point in creating false suspense here as most people will know the result. The Wilde were the band who pushed Recovery into second the previous week and in the final they did the same to Pips.

I’ve not been able to find out much about The Wilde. They appear to be a Knaresborough based, formed recently from the remnants of two previous bands. Their sound is a mash up of pop rock and punk with a hint of ska and this isn’t a very good description but the best one words can manage. When they hit the stage Rehab was the most packed I’d ever seen it, the alcohol was hitting the bloodstream of those present and the party was beginning. I’ve mentioned the slight advantage of the final band before but the good will could still be punctured. The Wilde needed to deliver and deliver they did. Although – and it’s hard to be entirely objective here – their songs weren’t as fully formed as those of Recovery and The Superlatives and their sound not quite as distinctive as Pips, there was something beyond words that carried their set. Perhaps it was just being the finale of a superb night of music but something about The Wilde’s set felt like a call to arms.

And finally; on the night I was going to write something about faith, hope, love and rock and roll but it doesn’t sound as good two weeks later and sober. But you get the idea.

* it could only end in tears. I hope his leg wasn’t too badly hurt.

Gig review Four 45s/ Pips/ Jonny Skinner – The Alexandra, Good Friday 2013

In typical AMZ1981 fashion I wrote about this evening saying that Pips followed by the Four 45s was a line up that would put most festivals to shame. As usual I exaggerated. Slightly. Very slightly.

Leaving aside the fact that both are local bands featuring a former work colleague there are some interesting similarities between the two. Both are bands I saw for the first time when I’d gone to see the support act. Perhaps more significantly, while both have definite influences, they share something in common in that it’s near impossible to say who they sound like.

More to the point this was a double bill of bands I honestly really wanted to see. I was sure this must have happened before; however on reflection I don’t think it has.

Before we get stuck into the review a mention has to go to Mr Jonathan Skinner who was roped into the line up at short notice when one of the original acts cancelled. As I’ve said before being the guy with an acoustic guitar is never easy but Jonny’s powerful roar was more than adequate for the occasion and the song selection was interesting (how many people are going to know a track from the latest Stereophonics album)?

Pips are definitely Harrogate’s most original band of the moment. Seeing them multiple times is essential, once you know what to expect you realise how tight the playing is and how the interplay between the band (all take their turn on vocals) is so carefully choreographed. The band took the brave decision to leave out Justice – their showstopper and best song (almost their only song in the conventional verse, chorus, lyric sense) and allowed complex jams like Bumblefunk and Soul Katz to carry the night. Given that they were obliged to provide an encore I think they succeeded.

With Pips putting on such a great show it should have impossible for anyone to follow. However the Four 45s, as readers of this blog will know, are not just anyone.

The main question I find myself asking about The Four 45s these days is how long Harrogate can hold them and how long it will be before the band are pressured into dropping their day jobs and doing this permanantly? And after that comes the more troubling question of how long such a potent brew can continue without being contaminated by commercial demands (IV Play, the band I still most frequently compare The Four 45s to, learnt this the hard way)? In the meantime …

To an extent The Four 45s depend upon three core songs; Encore Tricolore, Did You Hear The Wind Blow and Johnny Says; however at every gig there’s a supporting number that stands out; it was Paradigm Apocalypse at the Cockpit and tonight it was Lucio.

And there was a crowd as well. This was the start of a bank holiday weekend at one of Harrogate’s largest pubs and as such went beyond the usual Thursday night gig regulars. The revellers wanted a party, the Four 45s gave them one, I’ve rarely seen them so animimated and fired up as they were for the entire set.

All too quickly, it was over. The Alex soundsystem kicked back in and many of the audience (not me) stepped outside for a fag and a reminder that this Easter was more like Christmas, particularly when the Arctic wind made itself felt. Later they would disperse to other bars and clubs, to private house parties and to wandering around town wishing the night didn’t have to end and the sound of two great bands wouldn’t have to fade from the ears and memory. This was a time, a place and a moment. The time is now, the place is Harrogate and the moment belongs to the Four 45s and Pips.