Monthly Archives: February 2015

Sundowners/ She Drew The Gun/ Four 45s/ Strawberries – Oporto Leeds, 10/2/2015

The streets of heaven are (apparently) paved with gold. In pretty much the same way the pages of facebook are paved with bands I had the fortune to see once. This will be remembered as the week a drunken rapper stormed the stage of the Grammys demanding that a cult rock artist should hand over his award to a million selling RnB one in the name of artistry – as rightly pointed out Beyonce requires about thirty songwriters and producers to get anything done. It’s a good thing I’ve always considered Beck overrated or God knows what I’d be writing (Kanye’s trap was quite cleverly baited). But I digress and there is much to discuss. I mentioned it in the first place because Kanye talked of artistry and last night served as a reminder that there is plenty of true artistry going unnoticed.

The venue was Oporto on Call Lane in Leeds. I’m slightly ashamed to admit that until this gig I wasn’t aware this long established venue existed. In terms of its wooden flooring, neon lit decor and slightly limited space (not a criticism) it reminded me of Harrogate’s Blues Bar if that venue was two rooms rather than one. I should perhaps add that the Hot Dogs (free during February 2015 apparently) looked very tasty, but again I get sidetracked.

The first band of the evening were the Strawberries, a recently formed outfit from Hyde Park in Leeds. They describe themselves as a psychedelic blues band and the first thing that strikes you about them are the garish sixties style outfits modelled not just by the vocalist and guitarist but also several members of their entourage (interestingly not so much the bassist and drummer). Given that it was easy to say what they looked like it was harder to say what they sound like; the best I can manage is a hybrid between Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd and early The Who although some of their stylings owed more to Britpop. At any rate, whatever it was, it sounded good with added approval for the fact that Strawberries are a new band. Definitely one to watch.

The Four 45s were up next and, as regular readers will have gathered, were the reason for my being there. This was my second time watching Four 45s Mark II – it is slightly unfair to compare them to their earlier incarnation. It is noticeable that the band now have a rockier feel as opposed to their previous indie sound. Curiously they’re arguably a more complex band now due to the vocal interplay between Hannah Slater and Rufus Beckett on some numbers and the fact that a female vocalist singing songs penned by male songwriters will always throw up a certain ambiguity (I’m assuming Nick Turner and Rufus Beckett remain the main songwriters – apologies if I’m wrong). Hannah herself reminded me of Gwen Stefani at the helm of No Doubt (hopefully she won’t be offended at the comparison) and the fact that she has a second job fronting folk rock group Set Sails shows her versatility as a vocalist. The Four 45s were Harrogate’s best band and Harrogate best band they remain.

Next up were She Drew The Gun. This band weren’t listed on the facebook page for the event and it’s not entirely clear whether what we saw was the full act or a stripped down acoustic version. At first I thought it would be hard to review but the combination of poetry and visual projections made this the most striking section of the night and certainly the most intense. More than the other three acts on the bill, She Drew The Gun’s set lingered in my mind after it ended in a burst of echo. I’ve lingered over this next sentence as there was something here that I just couldn’t pin down; maybe rock music should be about that passing moment that forces you to return in the hope of another glimpse.

One complaint here – not the band’s fault. I would have enjoyed the early part of the set more if not for the people talking loudly at the back of the main room. FFS there’s a band playing semi acoustically and there’s a bar area on the other side of the curtain if you want to talk. Rant over.

Sundowners are a psychedelic rock (their words) outfit from Liverpool embarking on a headline tour to promote their new album. With two female co-vocalists they struck me as reminiscent of Nicks/ McVie era Fleetwood Mac in their less commercial moments; in fact if Stevie Nicks ever did an album of Stone Roses covers you sort of have the idea. It may take a few listens of their album for the songs to come into full focus and I can’t be sure how many of those in Oporto had come specifically to see them (and thus heard the songs before) but what is certain is that Sundowners had the whole audience moving as one and their sound was beguiling enough for newcomers not to want it to end.

So a cold Leeds night in February, three bands (Four 45s need to be treated seperately) that I may or may not get to see again. Rock music is hard to write about tbh (no wonder many critics resort to cliche and/or pretension) but there’s no substitute for the music itself. Why do I write these blogs? I suppose it’s to spread the word that so much great music and artistry is out there if only people would go out and find it.

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GIG REVIEW – Morain, Warehouse 23 Wakefield, 7/2/2015

I’ve said this before and I’ll keep on saying it, because it’s one of my rules for life. The best band you’ll ever see could be playing the gig of their lives anywhere at any time. It’s your responsibility to do your best to be there. This is why I often go to gigs on impulse and the fact that two of my favourite bands of the moment (including the one under discussion shortly) I discovered entirely by chance bears this out.

It began when I saw McFly at the Leeds 02 Academy in March 2012. The support band that night were Dive Bella Dive who impressed me enough for me to see them play the Cockpit in September of that year. The support band that night were Morain and I remember collecting a flyer from one of their members after the show. That flyer told me that their EP, Are We Lost, was available to download for free. So download it I did.

I download a lot of stuff so it’s relatively hard for anything to take root on my main playlist but one song from Are We Lost did. That song was Animals, a deceptively straightforward pop rock song with a ear worming blast of a chorus. In a way there wasn’t an awful lot about it, it was just a good piece of songwriting performed well. The rest of the EP dwelt in Animals’ shadow but Are We Lost itself showed that Animals wasn’t a happy accident.

In the Spring of 2014 and two one off releases later the band launched Worlds Apart, their second EP. While the lead track, Who Would’ve Known, was a worthy follow up to Animals it was on the second `single` that – for me – Morain rose beyond very good and towards greatness. That song was Alive.

I’d be lying if I said Alive was anything madly original; rock songs about breaking out and making the most of life while it lasts are almost as old as the genre itself. However there is something about this particular song that made me pay attention. Whether it was the beguiling melody or the aching purity of the chorus (or in part due to the haunting video that accompanied it) this was a song to fall in love with and listen to again and again.

Saturday just gone was the first chance I’d had to see the band play since that night in 2012. I’ll skirt over the journey through to Wakefield from Harrogate (delayed overcrowded trains, my looking for an exit at Wakefield Westgate that no longer existed, my best friend forgetting to remind me that when I insist a certain way is right I’m invariably wrong) but it was well worth it, even if we just got there as Morain were starting and had to leave pretty much as the set finished. I was also a bit surprised that more people didn’t turn out to support this band in their hometown; their loss I suppose. The set was largely drawn from the two EPs (Animals was dismissed as `an early song we’re probably playing for the last time`) and Alive was inevitably the highlight. However there was a new song, Sattellites, that ran it close and suggests that Morain are a band just getting started.

It’s hard to describe a bands sound without relying on cliche (the paragraph about Alive has too many adjectives for my liking). The band they remind me of most is early U2 although I’m not sure they’d appreciate the comparison. There are also shades of Coldplay but with a sharper edge (I should add that I’ve always considered Coldplay overrated). Morain certainly have a stronger classic rock and a less of a punk feel that many new bands I see. I hope that they can continue to perform and develop and that they can find a producer to really do them justice (Daniel Lanois are you reading this – okay almost certainly not).

And finally if you want to hear more please check out http://morainmusic.com/ where the aforementioned free downloads can be found.

GIG REVIEW – Seth Lakeman, Harrogate Royal Hall, 29/1/2015

This particular gig was a bit of a shot in the dark for me. I didn’t know that it was on until I read an interview in the Harrogate Advertiser and wondered whether I should check it out. A combination of favourable circumstances (not doing anything that night or the next day, best friend interested, show not sold out) meant that I found myself picking my way through the ice towards the entrance to the Royal Hall. Far from being a sell out (at least when I bought the tickets, the hall did seem full) I’d actually got pretty good seats. Aside – I used to have endure school speech days at the Royal Hall and the prize winners used to sit towards the front. Fifteen years later I sort of made it.

Getting back to the point; Seth Lakeman – I knew the name but very little else. I knew he was in the folk rock tradition with a top ten album to his name a few years back. I listened to his latest single, The Courier, which sounded promising. I should add here that I went through a bit of a folk rock phase about five years ago when I enjoyed Stornaways’ debut album and – even more so – Johnny Flynn’s excellent record Been Listening. So I was looking forward to this and it certainly proved an educational evening.

The opening act were Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin, new names to me but winners of best duo at the 2014 BBC Folk Awards. During their set I couldn’t help admire both their knowledge of England’s folk heritage and the craft with which they made it something of their own. What a middle aged audience in a conservative sound made of eulogies to early trade unionists and the Tolpuddle martyrs unfortunately has to pass unreported here.

At the risk of stating the obvious recorded music is a relatively new fad and for centuries songs have endured due to the oral tradition. It occurred to me during the evening that the Beatles and the Stones took their lead from the blues of the deep south and the vast majority of the best known `country rock` singers (Bob Dylan being a not entirely perfect example) are American. There is an English folk rock tradition of course (Fairport Convention among others) but it always has been a very much a niche genre. British rock sits distinct from American rock mainly due to British bands (often not overtly) drawing on the music hall tradition. So what I heard from Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin lingered in my mind perhaps more than the headline act did, even if it was as an acquired taste.

Seth Lakeman opened with the afore mentioned The Courier, the only song of his I knew. This is a fine song, sleek, unsettling but (critically for me) nudging more towards rock than much of his stuff. The set that followed veered (perhaps a little too wildly on occasion) between foot stomping stormers and bleaker, more romantic moments. Unfortunately I can’t note individual highlights as I don’t have the song titles to hand. The most interesting point may have been when Lakeman performed a song written recently by a D Day veteran (his only song) which, while haunting on more than one level, curiously offset the spirit of the support set.

By the end of the night the audience were rightly on their feet (two particularly energetic ladies had a little dance in the aisles) and the applause was well deserved. I’ve been to enough gigs to recognise true artistry when I see it. To be honest this was a hard review to write (if not for my pledge to review every single gig I go to this year I might not have tried). If it comes over as slightly lukewarm let the record show that I downloaded two Lakeman albums the next day.

I’ve struggled over my last sentence, trying to describe how I felt when I exited the Royal Hall into the treacherous January ice. My night ended with a post concert pint in the familiar surroundings of Monteys Rock Cafe musing over the folk tradition and how it informs the music I love but also with the sense of having escaped something oddly and wrongly conservative.