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.

Queen & Adam Lambert, First Direct Arena 20/1/2015

Firstly, one of my resolutions for 2015 is to review every gig I go to, be it a stadium extravaganza or somebody playing to ten people and a dog at the local pub. Secondly, in the case of this one I have been there before https://amz1981.wordpress.com/2012/07/16/weekend-gig-review-part-1-queen-adam-lambert-hammersmith-apollo/

Of course, a lot can change in two and a half years. At the Hammersmith in 2012 Queen & Adam Lambert were pretty much toeing the water to see if a well received guest spot could work as a full length show. As ever there were the usual mutterings about how a former American Idol runner up could dare step into the shoes of Freddie Mercury, let alone hope to fill them. It wouldn’t have been Brian May and Roger Taylor’s first misfiring attempt at keeping the brand alive.

The rest, as the cliche goes, is history. The Adam Lambert collaboration has re-established May & Taylor among rock’s touring elite and everybody involved had earned the right to strut.

It occurred to me during the show that anybody born in November 1991, the month Freddie Mercury died, is now 23 and thus past graduate age. Many in the audience (albeit some in the company of their parents) were considerably younger. Queen are now in the position the Beatles were in the nineties; a touchstone for a generation who only know the story and the songs and didn’t have the pain and pleasure of watching the band’s career wax and wane before the flame was extinguished.

A vast shroud decorated with the Queen logo decorated the roughly cylindrical stage as the audience took their places. As the 20.30 stage time approached there were occasional bursts of applause from members of the audience who seemed to be able to see things that myself and my friend couldn’t. Finally the house lights went out and the opening bars of One Vision began, even through the stage was still shrouded. Next the unmistakable silhouette of Brian May was seen, blown up to full height by the giant screen on the other side. A second later the curtain was sucked away to reveal Queen and Adam Lambert in all their glory.

What followed was a two and a half hour rip through most of the hits and obviously Queen have more hits than just about any band bar the Beatles. Early highlights were a truly thunderous version of Another One Bites The Dust and Lambert performing Killer Queen while sprawled out on a sofa at the front of the stage. The middle section saw Lambert absent as Brian May and Roger Taylor took their solo spots. As at Hammersmith Brian May performed Love Of My Life acoustically with archive footage of the great man joining him for the climax. It’s too easily forgotten that Queen albums gifted May & Taylor solo spots and 39 from A Night At The Opera remains a fan favourite; bringing all the performers (bar Lambert) to the front of the stage was a fine way of introducing the supporting musicians (which once again included Roger Taylor’s son Rufus). Roger Taylor’s solo spot involved a slightly irrelevant drum solo and a passionate performance of These Are The Days Of Our Lives that was one of the highlights of the night.

But while May and Taylor were rightly given star billing, when Adam Lambert was on stage your eyes were fixed on him and him alone. We can only speculate on what Freddie Mercury would have made of his legacy but Adam Lambert is a shining example of what he made possible – maybe it’s taken until now for May & Taylor to fully embrace that side of Queen’s image. If the show sagged slightly in the middle the momentum was regained by a magnificent Radio Ga Ga and a fine rip through I Want It All before the inveitable Bo Rhap and an encore of We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions to finish.

Not so much criticisms but constructive feedback; my personal favourite The Show Must Go On (played at Hammersmith) was the surprise omission (along with A Kind Of Music). Innuendo remains the only really well known track not performed at either show. Obviously the public want the hits but the slightly more hardcore fan would enjoy unknown gem It’s Late or Brian May’s solo showstopper Resurrection given the full Queen treatment. Not the band’s fault but I’d have enjoyed some of the show more if I hadn’t been forced to watch it through the lens of someone else’s phone. There’s also the hope that when Adam Lambert resumes his solo career (a cult figure on these shores but in America the first openly gay man to have a number one album) he’ll get a proper band behind him and make 21st century rock music – ask Rufus Tiger nicely Adam and you might have a drummer for starters.

Finally thought. The original incarnation of Queen ceased in 1991. They last toured in 1986. At the end of the day it’s impossible to truly compare Queen with Queen + Adam Lambert. This is Queen for the 21st century and a show that must be seen.

IV PLAY TEN YEARS ON – YOU GOT TO WIN YOURSELF SOME GRATITUTE

I’ve just realised I haven’t picked up my blogging pen since July and haven’t touched the IV Play story since February. Obviously this is because – contrary to the impression the blog may sometimes give – I do have other things to do with my time. However it’s a shame I wasn’t able to mark the tenth anniversary of IV Play’s golden Spring. Suffice to say that two moments stand out. The first was a gig at the Tiger’s Lair in Hull (the second of two) which may just stand as the band’s finest performance. That gig saw the debut of Felt Tip Pen, the last truly great IV Play song and maybe the best song they ever put their name to. Like Gimme Shelter by the Rolling Stones thirty five years before (and the two songs are almost equals in my eyes) it began with a guitar intro that was worth the money on its own, the fact that the rest of the song was a killer was almost incidental. Felt Tip Pen (like Pick A Letter before it) is a song about empowerment, picking yourself off the ground and not being beaten down by things that don’t ultimatelymatter. However while Pick A Letter was cheeky and wistful, Felt Tip Men was a four minute blast of melody and defiance.

The second magic moment was the farewell party at Carriages in Knaresborough before the band set out for London; as a fan, listening to 17 play over the beer garden as the sun set is something I’ll remember forever. Because that day, although we didn’t know it, something ended for good.

There’s a myth about pop and rock music that is almost as old as rock and roll itself; the myth of boy (or girl) writes songs, forms a band and conquers the world. It doesn’t happen like this. Much as we might sneer at Simon Cowell the fact is that Elvis could not have happened without Colonel Tom Parker and Beatlemania owed as much to Brian Epstein’s marketing skills as Lennon and McCartney’s century defining talent. Perhaps the youtube era may finally be changing that but we’re talking about 2004 and IV Play (known as Mile High by this point but we’ll continue to refer to them by their local name) had come so far on talent. Now they would have to work with people who – like David Essex thirty years before – were gonna make them stars.

To my regret I never got to see any of their London gigs and never shared in the London adventure, nor did I really see the band’s sound change as it was moulded by people who claimed to know about these things. And I should add, maybe they do. Rock music is ultimately showbusiness and it’s a cruel industry. There’s no denying it.

However the band did have something to build to, namely a key spot on the Silver Bear concert in aid of Children in Need. Held at the Clapham Grand, a former theatre turned nightclub/ music venue, it gave them a platform to showcase themselves and – critically – gave them something they could invite their Harrogate fans to.

The show itself wasn’t quite the big deal the organisers seemed to think it was. The bill was a curious mix of other up and coming bands and contestants from the BBC’s Fame Academy reality show (a forerunner of The Voice and just as missable). This latter category consisted mainly of also rans singing along to backing tapes but one contestant Peter Brame (the token indie bad boy of the show and the Frankie Cocozza of his day – and just as quickly forgotten) was billed as the headliner which, given the TV exposure, wasn’t entirely unreasonable.

Except here our heroes scored what might have been their final triumph. The Harrogate fans were told that the band would play one set about fourth from the end and there would be no encore. However when word got around that IV Play had brought a coachload of fans with them and greatly swelled the audience by doing so they were promptly promoted to headliners and Brame relegated to second on the bill. Suffice to say he ended up the villain of the day, getting some stick on the messageboards for choosing to walk out into the audience and detract attention from the singer performing at the time. He subsequently managed a little burst of vitriol in his set when she said that, `he pitied the person who had to follow him` (which ten years on could be seen as bravado for his fans rather than a dig at another act).

But for most of the audience Brame was forgotten almost as soon as he stepped on stage. The waiting was finally over and IV Play were on stage. They opened with Tell Her, a song new to the Harrogate audience but which had them jumping along just like the old days. The rest of the set list was largely drawn from the latter half of the Harrogate days with no songs from the two EPs and Pete’s Palindrome the only relative oldie featured, although Call Em Girl – a song largely dropped in 2004 – made a surprise comeback. The sound had evolved to become heavier and more pop orientated and perhaps it lacked some of the variety and originality of old. With hindsight you could feel the presence of those who were involved with the band but didn’t follow them on stage. Talent is any band’s bread and there’s an old saying about daily bread I won’t repeat here.

At the time didn’t matter. The audience expected, IV Play delivered. Nobody seriously believed it would be for the last time but for many in the audience, it was. They demanded an encore and they got one. Peter Brame’s fans had already vanished into the smoke, the Harrogate mob stayed to hail their heroes. There was only so long the farewells could be dragged out and the coach was waiting. Nader followed on board and asked for the microphone to thank everybody for coming. Matt, dressed in a white shirt and black, stood by the door watching the fans depart. The coach set off back for Harrogate and it was over.

For Liam, Nader, Matt and Jonathan the endgame was beginning and with hindsight they might have known it. However belief is not something that is earned easily and on that Autumn night in 2004 the faithful believed like never before.

Keep The Candle Burning

This is going to be a strange blog for me. There’s going to be no waxing lyrical, no hyperbole and certainly no exaggeration. For once I’m just going to tell it like it is.

If I have any followers here they’ll know all about the band Recovery who have now quietly disbanded. However Jonny Skinner and Gav Ramsay are still making music together and have recently formed a new band – The Omega Era – and I’m looking forward to seeing them when the time comes. However this is not what has been occupying Jonny Skinner’s time recently.

Have a look at http://www.theastrust.co.uk The story is there and there’s little reason for me to repeat it here. There are also some things that it’s impossible for a childless man such as myself to fully empathise with, although that said I became an Uncle last year and even that has altered my outlook more than I thought it ever could.

Skinner was one of the first to commit himself to the campaign and his song, Keep The Candle Burning, has been in the works for some time. This Monday it arrived on Itunes following a launch night at The Den in Harrogate that I was unable to attend. Capitals are now used for emphasis IT COSTS 79p WHICH IS NOTHING REALLY AND IT’S FOR A GREAT CAUSE – PLEASE BUY IT.

But it is a terrific song. I must admit that I wasn’t bowled over by the demo version that’s been circling but with a bit of production it sounds fantastic and, let’s face it, there isn’t a lot of passion in music these days. Here there’s nothing but.

I believe that Gav Ramsay plays on the record which makes it a de facto Recovery/ Omega Era single. I also think it’s Jonny’s first recorded work since Revolv’s EP which was a hell of a long time ago.

A great song can still change the world. At the very least it can give people hope and raise funds aplenty. Please check it out. Hopefully there’s going to be a lot more activity around Thea’s Trust and I’ll do my best to keep you updated.

Keep the Candle Burning - Single, Jonathan Skinner

REVIEW – THE FOUR 45s TAKE TWO

Let’s face it, when a band you love splits up there’s a moment of reflection when you wish it wasn’t so; then you realise that you wouldn’t be happy if they were staying together for the sake of it and start to wonder what the individual members might do next. So it was with the Four 45s; Harrogate’s greatest band since IV Play a decade before and fronted by three distinct performers and songwriters (supported of course by a drumming powerhouse). What would they do next? Last Friday 30th May – at the Henshaws Friday Night Mix – we got the answer.

I missed the first band, Heaven’s Waiting Room and entered halfway through Fauns, not a band I’d come across previously but who offer a well crafted and entertaining brand of party rock. Next up were Hellfire Jack who are one of the most acclaimed Harrogate acts of the moment. I’d be lying if I was to say they were entirely to my taste but they offer an intense rock experience; despite being one guitar and drums they are arguably Harrogate’s heaviest band.

The Four 45s Take Two is essentially the band minus Joe Flanagan but with Hannah Slater whose other band, Set Sails, headlined Henshaws on my last visit. If you imagine the Beatles minus John Lennon but with Tina Turner on vocals – well it’s hardly an exact comparison but you get the idea (and let’s face it – you’d give good money to see that). What the band may have sacrificed in blokish attitude they’ve gained in vocal power.

Before the show I wondered how the Four 45s material would translate to a female fronted act. The answer was that they didn’t try and that this was a set of all new material. One could quibble that there should have been a new band name as this was arguably a bigger stylistic departure than Van Halen post David Lee Roth or Black Sabbath post Ozzy but, as I said, it’s a quibble. The important question is whether it was any good.

And the answer – as if there was ever any real doubt – is yes. It will take a few visits for the songs to come into focus but Nick Turner remains Harrogate’s most gifted songwriter of the moment with Rufus Beckett not far behind – the wordplay and depth that made the Four 45s Take One so great is still there. However a song is only ultimately as good as the performer and Hannah Slater is a striking and passionate performer (not forgetting Nick McTague in the engine room).

So same name but a different band and a different experience and the Four 45s remain a band not only worth seeing but believing in. If this is just the beginning …

Week ending 23/4/1994

I’ve just realised I haven’t picked up my blogging pen since February. It’s not been for want of unfinished drafts or great bands to write about (Colt 45 – remember that name, they’re great). However for this blog I want to revisit a certain fixed point in time, namely the chart that was broadcast on the 17th of April 1994.

The most interesting point about that week’s top forty wasn’t actually at the top where The Artist Not Calling Himself Prince At The Time dislodged Take That to claim his only UK number one with The Most Beautiful Girl In The World. It was all the way down at number 31 where a certain band called Oasis made their top forty debut.

The song in question (Supersonic) had been doing the rounds for a few weeks before that; I’m sure I first heard it on The Chart Show, probably in the Indie Chart rundown. In those days it was the standard for indie hits to graze the bottom end of the top forty and there was nothing to suggest Supersonic was any different. I did wonder at the time whether it might climb to twenty something the next week before falling back, however it didn’t.

Of course we all know what happened next. That summer Oasis singles were going top ten, a year later they were going head to head with Blur and a year after that they were headlining Knebworth having blown the doors off British rock. But this couldn’t have been foreseen at the time and context is everything.

So what else was selling that week in April 1994? Four places above Oasis was a new entry by two former Byker Grove actors (Ant)hony McPartlin and (Dec)lan Donnelly who were also making their top forty debut – their single Why Me managed to hold its 27 position the next week before dropping out but they hardly looked like future superstars. More significantly the Pretenders entered a place above with I’ll Stand By You; now a classic but also the last time Chrissie Hynde* mattered. Dance star Crystal Waters had a new entry at 17, reggae artist CJ Lewis was at eleven with his mangling of Sweets For My Sweet which would rise to a number three peak (weren’t the charts much more fun when records used to climb but I digress).

Which takes me on to the two top five new entries that week. At five were the Crash Test Dummies with Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm and a place above were Erasure with Always.

Mmm x 4 was like marmite, even for rock fans, you either loved it or hated it with its deadpan baritone vocal and whimsical lyric. Personally I liked it. The melody seemed beguiling and it’s tale of schoolyard outsiders struck a chord with my thirteen year old self. Even its detractors had to admit it was different.

Two years before Erasure had scored their biggest hit with an EP of Abba covers and Always was their first new material since (a remixed old song to promote a hits album split the two). A deceptively simple synth ballad with a gloriously proposterous video (singer Andy Bell as a Chinese warrior duelling a mythical beast) this was one of the country’s biggest and most consistent pop acts making a grand comeback. Could Andy Bell and Vince Clarke have known that just two years later blokey indie rock would rule the airwaves and that their camp antics would look at best ridiculous and at worst hideously dated?

I liked Always. It ended up on Now 28 which soundtracked that year’s French holiday for me and it was one of my favourite tracks on that compilation. However come early 1996 I was blasting out (What’s The Story) Morning Glory with the rest of them. And yet, twenty years on, I found myself wondering if there is some truth in the argument that – for all their early magnificence – Oasis sucked much of the glamour out of British rock. Erasure (and their eighties contemporaries) challenged convention with overt sexuality and theatricality, Oasis (and the hundreds of bands who aped them) did so by boozing to the max and being free with their fists. It wasn’t as if glamour was missing from rock at the time; the shade of Ziggy Stardust still lingered and Suede began the year as its bright new hope. However by the end of the decade no guitar band would dare wheel out the heels and eyeliner and in 2014 little has changed.

It’s hard to put my finger on what exactly went wrong but prior to 1994 rock and theatre almost seemed to walk hand in hand. Now they barely look at each other. Would an overtly gay couple be welcome at an Oasis concert (even in 2014 and if that band were still going) – not to accuse the band of homophobia but I think we know the answer? And rock fans would look a bit out of place supporting the likes of Scissors Sisters and Lady Ga Ga – acts influenced by Erasure. That chart in 1994 was a moment in time indeed.

 

*Midway through writing this blog I switched my attention to facebook to see an advert for her debut solo album – interesting coincidence.

REVIEW – Friday Night Mix at Henshaws 21/2/2014 (Red Ocean Nectar/ Pips/ Set Sails)

It’s a frequent complaint about Harrogate that, although we have the bands, we don’t have the venues. Granted, things aren’t helped by sad bastards who move next to places that have hosted live music for years and promptly complain to the council, but opportunities to establish regular live nights are missed. Therefore when somebody tries to break the mould we need to shout about it. Henshaws College, led by Rufus Beckett (of the Four 45s) are definitely breaking the mould with the Friday Night Mix. It’s early days yet but last Friday showed what could be a good template for regular events with young musicians opening for more experienced bands. Henshaws itself makes an attractive venue although I think we need the longer evenings to roll around in order to appreciate that.

I only caught the end of Red Ocean Nectar’s set, specifically their cover of Sweet Home Alabama (given Neil Young’s influence on music as we know it I do find it slightly ironic that the younger generation know him best from a group of rednecks slagging him off but I digress). Red Ocean Nectar appeared to be receiving an enthusiastic reception from the crowd and will be playing in the Battle Of The Bands on March 9th (in the metal heat apparently, even though they’re not a metal band).

`This is wierd shit … and it’s about to get wierder` – I think these were Petch’s words early into Pips’ set. I might have to start bringing a notebook to these things, if I didn’t look daft enough already. Anyway, Pips are familiar to readers of this blog, however it’s the first time I’ve seen them since their break last year and I can safely say that they remain as inventive, unique and (best of all) as fun as ever. A couple of observations; having followed this band for a while what was at first primarily the Petch show is now more a group effort and all the better for it. Secondly, a band needs an audience and Pips were well served by an unexpected moshpit which they fed with Justice – still the best five minutes of their act.

Set Sails are a band I don’t know much about, however I was quite pleasantly surprised to discover afterwards that this was their first gig and the songs (with the exception of an Evan Dando cover for the encore) were all originals. Every band has to start somewhere – it will be interesting to see how Set Sails develop.

One last thing. If there was some great music going on inside there was also plenty of activity outside; I overheard a mass singalong to Bohemian Rhapsody and Red Ocean Nectar’s fans clustered outside living for the moment reminded me of what is arguably rock music’s defining lyric; `the amusement park park rises bold and stark/ kids are huddled on the beach in the mist/ I want to die with you out on the streets tonight in an everlasting kiss`.* The charts may give the impression everybody is digging Sam Smith’s antiseptic garbage with its canned finger clicking but it was rock and roll that made this country great and at Henshaws last Friday the spirit of rock and roll was alive and well.

* Shame on you if you don’t know it.

IV PLAY TEN YEARS ON – The Call Of Fame

When we left the IV Play story the band had just released their second EP. With hindsight we know that there was never to be a third. However in January 2004 anything seemed possible. The word was now spreading beyond Harrogate and a few agencies were starting to take interest. It’s a common story and – unfortunately – it’s where too many bands start to go wrong and IV Play were to prove no exception. But there were still the best part of twelve months to come before that.

Ignoring the fact that every town probably had their local heroes, not just Harrogate, in theory everything seemed perfect for IV Play. It did appear like they might have to swallow their pride and be marketed as a pop, rather than a rock, act but both arenas seemed perfect for them. The biggest pop band of the moment (albeit in a badly slumped market) were Busted and they would abdicate during the year for McFly. On a more credible level the biggest selling rock album of the year was Hopes and Fears by Keane. IV Play were a band who could easily straddle both camps. Maybe, just maybe, if the band had been left to their own devices without industry meddling this would have happened.

We now require a digression into Mark Owen, for this is where his story intersects with that of IV Play. To save typing my thoughts on his underrated solo career can be found here https://amz1981.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/mark-owen-the-return-of-the-king/

While IV Play were gathering steam in Harrogate Mark Owen had won Celebrity Big Brother (which was a little bit more of a reccomendation at the time than it is now) and used it as a springboard for relaunching himself with the hit single Four Minute Warning. However a second single and the album had flopped despite reasonably enthusiastic reviews. At this point in January 2004 Owen had split with his label and was looking to go it alone. At the same time it was his management company who had taken an interest in IV Play. I’m not sure exactly how the introductions were made but it led to Mark Owen attending a showpiece concert at Bar Med.

In early 2004 Bar Med was arguably Harrogate’s second biggest nightclub after Time (formerly Jimmy’s, now the King’s Club). 2014’s revellers now know it as Viper Rooms (it was briefly Ministry Of Sound between the two). On 30th January IV Play’s followers queued outside to see the band play arguably their most high profile gig. Ironically the bridge that forms between anonymity and fame could already be seen; for the first time there was a hierarchy in the IV Play faithful – family and close friends relaxed with the industry figures in the VIP room while others waited in the cold for Bar Med to open the doors.

With hindsight I wonder how many of us knew what an important gig this had to be for the band. I’m sure no amount of beer and flattery could mask the nerves and the necessity of delivering this one show. I doubt the industry figures cared what a good show this band could put on at Carringtons or the Alex, for them the proof would have to be in this gig. Perhaps for this reason; from the perspective of the hardcore, this would actually prove to be one the weaker gigs. To be fair Bar Med wasn’t an ideal venue; attractive to the eye but lacking the acoustics the band needed.

The band came on stage in a cloud of smoke to the strains of `O Fortuna` and launched into the songs that were familiar to many in the audience but which several others were of course hearing for the first time. It should be noted that there was a guest musician; a fifteen year old girl came on stage to play violin on a reworked 35 Miles An Hour (arguably the band’s most undervalued song) and piano on Seventeen which was still a headache to reproduce live.

I think ten years on I can safely say that if there was one occasion where I should have pulled a sickie at work it was that night. As it was a 5.45AM start the next day I had to leave the gig early so not only did I not get a chance to meet the celebrity fan – by all accounts Mark Owen came out into the club proper and chatted to revellers afterwards – but it was one of the few gigs where I missed the after party. Bar Med, 30/1/2004 was a difficult gig but the band delivered. The signs ahead still pointed upward.

A final memory of that gig and one where I had to check with Liam’s Mum that I hadn’t misheard. When introducing Mr William, Liam dedicated the song to, `Andrew Zigmond – thanks so much for coming to the gigs`. Ten years on my reply would be the same, `No worries Liam. When I think something’s worth believing in I’ll see it through to the end.` And I suppose that’s why I’m writing this blog in 2014.