The Staves at Wilton’s Music Hall, 24 March 2015

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Another Staves concert, but one with a difference. This one was all about the new album, “If I Was”, which was released on 23 March in the UK. The album is produced by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and has been getting a different level of promotion than before. The Staves are stepping up!

The Wilton’s Hall concerts, on Monday and Tuesday, weren’t part of a big tour; they were more celebrations of the launch of the album. And they played the whole of the album, in sequence. From start to finish. It was absolutely brilliant. Wilton’s Hall is in the East End, just – about ten minutes walk from Tower Hall. It’s an old music hall, which is being renovated. The structure, the potential, looks great; but right now it’s bare brick walls and sticking out wires. That’s fine – it will be amazing when it’s finished. And the acoustics, not surprisingly, were good.

I think I can say that this was the best Staves concert yet. Their voices are as wonderful as ever. The harmonies are more complex. There is greater depth to the music. It’s more electric – and more American. I’d wondered where they’d go after “Dead And Born And Grown”. I thought they might go a bit folk-prog, in the way that the last song, “Eagle Song”, hinted at. But I think the direction has shifted west; maybe not surprising, as a lot of the album was recorded in Wisconsin, with Justin Vernon at the controls.

Really, it was very, very good. “The Blood I Bled” took over where “Eagle Song” left off. The harmonies on “No Me, No You, No More” were extraordinary. And Jessica introduced “Let Me Down” beautifully.

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I loved “Damn It All”, which starts as a lovely atmospheric ballad and then shifts to a stuttering electric beat and defiant chorus slowly building. Something quite dark about the second half. It’s good on record, but live it was awesome. I think they could take this song to all sorts of places in the future.

“Teeth White” had an infectious Americana feel and the flagship single, “Black and White”, which I’d initially been a bit wary of – a bit too Corrs-like? – came alive, with the vocals really letting rip. One of the highlights. I have had a reappraisal!

Yeah, the whole thing was wonderful.And then, to cap it all, Justin Vernon came on and sang with the girls. I’m struggling to recall how close to the end – I think it was “Make It Holy”, but I could be wrong.

The reason why I’m blurry is because Justin came back again, and I just can’t forget that. It was the first song of the encore, when the four of them sang – and played – the most beautiful rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire”. Oh my God! Not just the Staves with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, but they sang one of Bruce’s great songs!

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Then we had the lovely “Facing West” and, appropriately, to finish the night, “Eagle Song”, the most ambitious track on the first album. Setting a bar for the follow up. Though prog has not been the direction followed.

Such a good concert. Such a good album. I’m pretty sure you are going to hear a lot more about The Staves.

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Have You Heard? – (63) A BBC 6 Music selection

Since finishing my music book I’ve been listening to a lot more new music, mainly via BBC 6 Music, a brilliant music station. Not only do all the DJs play great music, but they put most of it on what they call the Playlister. To listen to this you have to access Spotify; if you have it I would really recommend the BBC 6 Music Recommends playlist, an amalgam of the DJs’ favourites.

From this list and a few others I’ve heard on the station, here are ten tracks well worth listening to right now. Three videos to help you along.

Hotfoot by Doldrums. Punching electro.

Prison Blues by Romare. A jazzy, soul electro thing.

Not Real by Stealing Sheep. A sparky pop confection.

Flutter by The Unthanks. A really beautiful, atmospheric piece by a band that are folkies at heart, but are embracing new sounds. At the same time this has a sixties, almost James Bond-like feel.

Don’t Take My Soul by Jane Weaver. A quirky pop beat and a lovely voice over it that quivers and shakes.

Back To You by Twerps. Not a great name for a band, but this is a good indie, lo-fi rock’n’roll song.

Better Man by Spring King. A great shouty rush of Strokes-like rock and punk.

Animal by Moon Duo. This is 70s psychedelic rock speeded up. Hawkwind looms large; Hookworms from recent times too.

New York, New Dorp by SBTRKT featuring Ezra Koenig. Jazz rap that has a strong feel of Prince. All good!

Feverhead by Barringtone. A really catchy pop-punk thing.

There are loads more. But all these tracks are worth trying in whatever way you access music. I’ll come back with more in the future.

Enjoy!

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Sportsthoughts (129) – A crazy end to the Six Nations Rugby!

Well, what a great, breathless end to the Six Nations rugby! England 55-35 up against the French, needing another six points to take the title on points difference, from Ireland and Wales. A minute left on the clock. A rolling maul, pulled down by the French. No penalty try or penalty given. Not sure why – I kind of trust ref Nigel Owens, who had a superb match. Ireland win it. So close…

It has been a good tournament. England, Wales and Ireland very evenly matched. England beat Wales at the Millennium Stadium impressively. Ireland beat England in Dublin, equally impressively. Then Wales beat Ireland at home, both sides slugging it out for supremacy. Technically the best game of the tournament, though England’s today must rank as the most exciting.

And what a joy it is to see England playing such free-flowing rugby. Still flawed; too many errors at times. Should have hammered Scotland last week; then they’d have been well clear on points difference. The last pass just wasn’t working. But getting there. Really getting there. So much young talent coming through. Jonathan Joseph, the Bath centre, perhaps the most notable addition this season; but the form of young fly half, George Ford, also Bath, has made us forget the absence of Own Farrell completely. There is real competition for places in all parts of the team. Finally, it looks like England’s larger rugby-playing population is starting to show. I know, just from my own club team, Harlequins, that we have players like flanker Jack Clifford coming through and sure to play for England in a couple of years. And an awesome centre called Joe Marchant, who just starred in the U-20 World Cup for England. There will be similar potential in all the big teams.

Anyway, well done to Ireland. My rational self says that they probably are the best of the European sides just now. A bit more clinical than either England or Wales. But the differences are marginal. And injuries to key players may affect them more when it comes to the World Cup.

Yes, all thoughts turn to the World Cup in the autumn, in England. New Zealand are hot favourites of course. South Africa next. But then Australia, England, Wales, Ireland are on a par. And France will get their act together – they have so much talent, and know how to do well in World Cups. As do England and Australia; Ireland and Wales less so.

There will plenty of twists and turns before mid-September. Key players in all teams will get injured. Some will lose form, other young stars will demand inclusion. And once it starts, who knows? England may not even get out of their pool. The fact that they’ve been grouped with Wales and Australia shows there was no fiddling of the draw. It is verily the Group of Death!

So fingers crossed that home advantage sees us through.

The Six Nations gives me a lot of cause for optimism, especially that performance against France today.

Can’t wait!

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lovelondonscenes – 91

On Sunday, I went to the Royal Academy, in Piccadilly, to see the Rubens and Diebenkorn exhibitions. Both really interesting, though they didn’t blow me away.

I liked the weird objects in the courtyard too, intruding on the domain of Sir Joshua Reynold’s statue.

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Who can resist a crazy mirror? Brings the child out in all of us!

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lovelondonscenes – 90. Breakfast at the Walkie Talkie!

The Walkie Talkie, 20 Fenchurch Street, is one of those iconic skyscrapers that have grown up in the City of London and nearby, in recent years. Since the start of the year, you can go up top to the Sky Garden, to look around and eat and drink. On level 36 (of 37) is The Darwin Brasserie, and I went there with my good friends, Dave, Jon and Tony, for breakfast last Friday, before our annual “Virtual Cheltenham”, where we enjoy the Gold Cup and other races, without actually going to Cheltenham.

It is an extraordinary experience, for the views of London. The Shard is higher; but from this one, you get to see the Shard from an unusual angle too! And the breakfast was pretty good. Recommended for a trip – you have to book in advance.

A few photos. Starting with an earlier, nearby Monument.

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First sighting of the Walkie Talkie.

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The lift takes you to level 35, and from there you walk up to 36. I stopped on the way to view three examples of the monumental. The Nat West Tower, once the tallest, the Cheese Grater and the Gherkin. The Nat West never got a nickname; then again, what could it be?

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Looking down on Tower Bridge.

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Two views from my breakfast table.

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Looking West – or is it North, given the bends in the river?

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The cafe below. Level 35.

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Like I said at the beginning, at the top of the Walkie Talkie, you get a different view of the Shard. You have to be there to get the full magnificence.

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Looking East, towards Canary Wharf.

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Coffee table chic!

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It’s worth a visit!

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Have You Heard? – (62) Two electronic gems, by Redlight and Beat Spacek

Two great electronic tracks I’ve heard recently on the ever-brilliant BBC Radio 6 Music.

Redlight I know nothing about. Just heard “Gold Teeth” on Tom Ravenscroft last Friday and thought, I must have this. Robotic electro describes it.

Beat Spacek, “Modern Streets”,  I first heard on the 6 Music playlister, where the DJs all put a few current favourites on a playlist on Spotify. The music is a tremendous summary of what’s going on these days, outside the mainstream pop world. The Beat Spacek sound reminds me a bit of the music of The Acid, whose “Liminal” album I loved last year. I downloaded the album, “Modern Streets” and really like the variety, as well as that throbbing, distorted bass, which permeates the music.. You can make a link, too, with those artists like Burial, who make music that conjures up images of London at night, waiting for the night bus in the rain.

I hope these YouTube links work outside the UK. If they don’t, both tracks are really worth checking out by other means, if you like leftfield electronic beats.

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The NME Awards Tour, The Forum, Kentish Town. 4 March 2015

When I saw this gig advertised, I thought, I have to go! Not designed for the oldsters, obviously, but there was a great option. Sit in the circle and watch the youth going ape below. And they did! In a big way.

Four bands: all indie/punk in spirit. Palma Violets, Fat White Family, Slaves, The Wytches. Originally, The Amazing Snakeheads were scheduled to appear. But they split up. Shame – really enjoyed their performance, supporting Jack White, last year. And the album, “Amphetamine Ballads” is good.

So we started with The Wytches. They are from Brighton, a bit psychedelic and live, very noisy. The guitars thrash. At times it’s speed metal. Went down well with the crowd. Still early days for the band, a bit to learn about stage presence; but a powerful sound.

IMG_2232Next, Slaves. They were awesome. They were at Latititude in 2014, on the Lake Stage, in the evening but still daylight. It was a good sound, but inevitably, some of the impact was lost if you were sitting on a grass slope a hundred yards away. Tonight I got the full impact. And it was good. The spirit of punk really was revived. Guitar and drums, just the two of them; raw rock’n’roll. Lots of shouting – and humour. Really excellent.

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IMG_2236Then Fat White Family. They were extraordinary at Latitude last year, on the i-Arena stage. They play a warped rockabilly blues rock’n’roll. They are from London, but probably should be from Mississippi. There are hints of Captain Beefheart, but also Iggy and the Stooges. With a bit of British punk thrown in. Highly entertaining. Slower than the other other bands, so less moshing in the crowd; but I think they were appreciated.

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IMG_2249And the Palma Violets. I’d listened to them before, as NME hyped them up for a while. And I liked the indie/punk sound – quite a bit of Strokes, like a lot of recent bands. Live, though, they were on another level. It totally rocked. Relentless rock’n’roll. For an oldster like me, so many echoes of The Clash – and The Libertines. Not bad bands to sound like. It was absolutely brilliant, so energising. And, needless to say, the crowd in the front twenty rows or so went crazy. It was great watching them, saying to oneself, that was me once upon a time.  I don’t think that’s regretful; it’s actually loving seeing a new generation getting down to the same hardcore rock’n’roll as I enjoyed in my youth. Wonderful to know that the spirit lives on.

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Punk, metal, indie, whatever. Rock’n’roll never dies!

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