Monthly Archives: May 2013

Gig review; Pips and Recovery at Zoso 17/5/2013

I wasn’t going to review this gig at one point; it’s not as if I’ve never blogged about Pips and Recovery before and I was going to struggle to find anything new to say. Two weeks later I’ve changed my mind. There are two reasons for this; firstly that my 100% record with Recovery gigs looks set to come to an end with their next gig. The second was a chance comment from Mike Holmes before the gig which I later followed up.

Starting with the venue. Zoso was formerly Katana, a small bar tucked on a side street around the back of Parliament Street leading to the Royal Hall. I had been there once before in 2008 to see Faces Of Dorian (featuring – of course – Jonny Skinner and Andy Crick) but I must admit I needed to use googlemaps to remind myself where it was. Zoso itself seems to be a satellite of Rehab and I think the plan is to hold regular live music nights. Just hope they don’t run out of Amstel next time; Heineken doesn’t agree with me – but I digress and there is much to discuss.

He wasn’t playing but Joe Flanagan of the Four 45s certainly knows how to make an entrance. Early in the evening the lights mysteriously went off, leaving the atmosphere slightly more intimate than was intended. Power was restored the same instant Joe bounded into the room, almost as if he’d yelled, `Let there be light`. Of such scenes are legends made.*

Recovery were back to their original line up with Andy Crick standing in for an absent Matt Jones. They were on were later than scheduled but that gave an opportunity for the drink to flow (always a good thing). There were no massive surprises in the set (and therefore not much I can write) but their cover of Sweetness was again a highlight, Modern Army grows in complexity with every performance and I’m Not Turning (normally their slightest song) had a best ever outing.

As for Pips there is even less to say. We know what to expect by now; they delivered – and then some.

But we need to return to Recovery and that chance comment of Mike’s. Before the gig he told me that Jonny and Andy Crick had recorded a song called Drive and that I ought to check it out. So I did …

There are actually two version of this song to be found on Jonny Skinner’s soundcloud and one features Andy Crick on cello. However after several listens I’ve decided I prefer the solo acoustic version and that’s the link I’m going to give here.

You need to give this a few listens; it won’t grab you the first time. But after a few plays its power is beyond description. I could analyse what might be going on here; is this defiance through gritted teeth or the sound of somebody giving in despair and nothing else but I’ll let you form your own opinions.

I can be honest now. Recovery have always lagged slightly behind the other Harrogate bands of the hours, lacking the songs of the Four 45s and the sonic originality of Pips and SiP. Drive shows that Recovery can not only draw level, that might yet be able to surpass their rivals. This song is too good to leave as a Soundcloud demo; also is it possible that now Andy Crick is out of Littlecrazy he might be able to play a part in the band, even if not as a full member?

Going off at a tangent; one of the few false notes at a Recovery gig happened at Harrogate Theatre when Skinner made a dismissive comment about my all time favourite singer – Bruce Springsteen. It’s curious that The Boss has written songs not entirely dissimilar to Drive but given the comment he can hardly be an inspiration. Again it needs a few listens but compare the two and see what you think.

* There’s a `He’s not the Messiah` joke in there somewhere.


IV Play – ten years on part 2

A lot can change in ten years. Any 22 year old walking along Station Parade, Harrogate from the Stray on the opposite side of the road from Waitrose in 2013 might be forgiven for ignoring the derelict building under Chez la Vie restaurant.That derelict building was once Carringtons nightclub, Harrogate’s premier nightspot for many years. Now Carringtons is a memory, strafed into ruin by the triple attack of the smoking ban, the credit crunch and the new drinking laws which changed the balance of power in Harrogate’s nightlife.

However Carringtons played a critical role in the IV Play story. When we last saw them they were fresh from winning the Battle of the Bands at that same venue, however the sound was still unpolished and work was needed.

Five more Carringtons gigs followed during which the band, in front of the eyes of their fans, became seriously good. Between shows they released their first EP, found a guest female vocalist and almost won a TV talent show. It’s a long story – so let’s tell it.

Firstly the songs. Like a lot of great bands IV Play had a pet cover which became their own. For them it was Zombie by the Cranberries; a song Liam Gray would take with him long after IV Play and which I can’t now associate with the original band (and I bought the single in 1994) such is the way he made it his own. Also on the initial setlist you had Promises Lies, My Mind’s My Own, Cloned, 35 Miles An Hour (which necessitated a line up change as Dawson switched to guitar and Nader to keyboards) as the core numbers and Rose, Smoke, Call Em Girl and So Surprised as the supporting tracks. Oh – and Pick A Letter.

It’s funny how the simplest songs strike the strongest chord with fans. In IV Play’s case it was Pick A Letter. Given that the band would write far more complex and adventurous songs it’s hard to say why this one is still the one fans remember. Maybe it was because it’s quite a nasty lyric in places `steal from a store, throw your garbage to the floor because someone else will pick it up`. Maybe because (unlike a lot of IV Play songs) the audience could sing along without having to follow Liam on the high notes. Maybe – well who knows, but Liam and Nader still get asked for this one today.

Cloned, Pick A Letter and Promised Lies were the songs on the first EP which was made available at Mixmusic on Oxford Street, somewhere else that got lost in the wind of time. I remember going in to buy my copy and the lad behind the counter put it on at the request of a couple of girls while saying he preferred his music heavier. Carringtons gig number two (for me) was the CD launch. Gig number three was filmed by Yorkshire Television (to my knowledge the only filmed gig – does the footage still exist). This third gig featured acoustic support from Revolv including that stunning version of It Never Stays and my first introduction to a few names familiar to readers of this blog.

Gig number four was very different, featuring just Liam and Nader on acoustic guitar and a seated, candlelit decor. It was this gig that introduced Emma Swales, a girl who is sometimes written out of the IV Play story. Emma was just sixteen at the time and blessed with a powerful and strident voice that could compete with and at times outclass Liam’s. she was arguably the star of that night. By the time the next full electric gig rolled around she was an honorary member of the band, sharing lead vocals on the new song that opened the night – Pete’s Palindrome, one of the greatest IV Play songs of them all, certainly Nader’s finest lyric and the most frustrating omission from their recorded work. Before that night IV Play had impressed me, now they overwhelmed me. The previously thin sound was now vast and boomy, the band may have lost the chance to play at Party In The Park to an anemic female singer but this was now a vocation for them, not a hobby.

Emma’s involvement with the band didn’t last beyond that Autumn and she suffered some cruel comments at times, mainly from jealous female fans. How important her role was is open to debate but it’s possible she offered a different dimension for Nader’s songwriting and allowed the band to take more risks.

But this is how IV Play stood in the summer of 2003. Of course, the Carringtons gigs didn’t end with the last song; there was a club night that followed and plenty of alcohol to consume. These were great, crazy days for all concerned – let’s face it life never gets better than that window of opportunity between maturity and responsibility. If anything seemed possible for IV Play, it also seemed possible for their friends and supporters. Of course time gives and time taketh away. We were all constantly spinning a giant roulette wheel without knowing it and sooner or later the time would come for all of us to collect our winnings or pay our debts. But that would be for another time and in the summer of 2003 ignorance (and innocence) was bliss. We didn’t just hope we were on the verge of big things, we were certain that we were. Such was summer 2003, the first summer of IV Play.

NOTE – 17 came on the Ipod the instant I finished typing this. Talk about timing.

Mark Owen; The Return Of The King

Starting with the obvious question, yes – that Mark Owen.

It’s curious how somebody who has featured on ten number one singles (singing lead vocals on two), taken part of the highest grossing tour of all time, won a celebrity reality show and was routinely voted sexiest man on the planet for most of his early twenties can be so little known. Of course people think they know Mark Owen; the little one out of Take That with the rather strange voice but that’s probably just about as far as it goes.

The Take That story is of course well told. The Mark Owen solo story is considerably less so, however it’s hard to seperate the two. Both tales are surprisingly hard to contextualise but paradoxically also suffer when taken out of context.

Even those who despise Take That with a passion have to concede that they had the luck of the devil throughout their career. They were hardly overnight sensations and when super stardom did hit it was at the most inconvenient time as they’d exhausted an albums worth of material and had to vanish from the limelight to produce more. A year later the bubble should have burst and indeed almost did (when did you last hear Love Aint Here Anymore or Sure) but they silenced a lot of their critics with Back For Good. Perhaps it was inevitable that when individual members tried to go it alone the wheels finally fell off.

Mark Owen himself was the first member of the band to release an album (although the third to release a single) and could only reach number 33; the decision to pitch his solo career at the Christmas market a bad miscalculation. A few months later Gary Barlow would find that what worked for George Michael a decade before wouldn’t work for him in a very different cultural climate and it’s conveniently forgotten that Robbie Williams’ debut album vanished from the charts to the bargain bins in three weeks until Angels proved a truly extraordinary save. In context 1997 was a troubled year for music generally; seen through the prism of the year’s two defining events – Blair’s election in May and Diana’s death in late August – the Britpop bubble had exploded leaving scorched earth behind it; the revolution hadn’t happened but the Live Aid generation would never regain their commercial clout. The Spice Girls were the sensation of the moment but their legacy is solely in the contents of tittle tattle magazines such as Heat and Grazia.

Of course Take That are now back together and the devil has not deserted them. A comeback tour that should have attracted limited interest on the nostalgia circuit filled stadiums. New material should have been a step too far but it returned them to the top of the charts. The fact that Robbie Williams was ultimately forced to return almost as a supplicant speaks volumes.

But what of Mark Owen?

In early 1997 I bought that flop album in the HMV sale. I was sixteen. I can actually remember picking that record up from the sale racks, however why I did so remains a mystery. Maybe it was idle curiosity; the reviews had generally been better than the sales. On first listen I didn’t think it was that bad. Over the twelve months that followed I fell in love with it. WHY? Do you expect me to be able to answer that? It is a flawed record in many ways, a couple of gooey ballads (including Child, absurdly chosen as the first single) and a second half that’s generally better than the first. The fact is that sixteen years after I first heard Green Man I could spend ages analysing it. Ultimately it’s a very warm, inviting piece of work that cheers me up everytime I hear it. If nothing else it sounds nothing like a Mark Owen album should sound like which begs the question what should a Mark Owen record sound like?

Those who loved Green Man (and I wasn’t the only one) had to wait seven years for a follow up. It took victory in Celebrity Big Brother to make it happen but with Four Minute Warning Mark Owen defiantly delivered the goods. For a moment it seemed like he would finally get his due but again a well reviewed album made no impact and Mark Owen’s solo career went under again. It was a shame as the album, In Your Own Time, is stuffed with fantastic songs. Once again I shall resist the temptation to go into detail in an already lengthy blog.

For album number three, released a mere two years later; he barely tried. How The Mighty Fall was released on his own label and promoted through a tour of small venues. This album definitely needs a blog to itself. In many ways it’s a crude record with little instrumentation or production than the crack of Mark Owen’s voice. It’s also curiously downbeat, the sound of a man staring in the mirror trying to convince himself that he’s looking okay. Like Green Man before it, it needs a few listens but the rewards are beyond extraordinary. In 2005 Mark Owen was 33, resigned to the fact he might never be a superstar again and reflecting on how big a deal this is.

Eighteen months later Take That were at number one with Patience.

Which takes us to 2013 and the fourth Mark Owen solo album, due for release on 10th June. In some ways the planets have re-aligned themselves the way they were supposed to be. Robbie Williams remains a superstar away from his former band but there is no longer the bitterness of old. Gary Barlow was the star of the Jubilee celebrations and is finally the establishment figure everybody said he would be. And Mark Owen …

… early indications are not promising. The first single is not racing into the Itunes top ten, the video is not going viral on Youtube. I had no difficulties in getting presale tickets to the opening night of the tour. Maybe alone among the Thatters Mark Owen still has something to prove. There must surely be determination. There must also be doubt. It haunts the magnificent lead single just as, with hindsight, it’s haunted everything he’s ever done in his solo career. This time … here’s hoping.