A Newcastle evening, with Slaves at the O2 Academy

7 November 2018

Went up to Newcastle to see my daughter at Uni.

Took in a concert while I was there.

Chose Slaves at O2 Academy because Amyl and the Sniffers were the support.

Aussie punks.

Brilliant at End of the Road.

They pulled out!

Went anyway.

Dinner with my daughter.

A pint in Brewdog, working on a poem about the colour green.

Missed the support bands.

The balcony bar was a trestle table.

Carling cans or wine.

Had some white – borderline sweet.

The music on the PA was surprising.

Included Whigfield’s “Saturday Night”.

Good Gawd!

Slaves came on.

Lights flashed, drums were bashed, vocals lashed.

In yer face, rhythms pounding.

Singer shouting, guitarist leaping.

A father and young son near me, heads nodding.

In unison, rather touching.

Below, the teenagers moshing.

Don’t know many of the songs.

But they rock!

They were brilliant at Latitude a couple of years ago.

So I knew they would be tonight.

“Feed the Mantaray” was awesome.

A great rock’n’roll band, Slaves.

With a lot to say.

Very loudly.

Afterwards the streets were busy.

With the youngsters queuing for the clubs.

I felt old.

But loved it too.

The energy, the optimism of youth.

Palpable.

Back to the Premier Inn.

A glass of Pinot Grigio.

Reading a book on the iPad.

Shall I say what it was?

Ok, “Crazy Rich Asians”.

Reading it for a book group discussion.

Not my thing, but kind of amusing.

Filigree lightness.

Across from me, a bloke asleep.

With half his beer in front of him.

Nodding occasionally.

A member of staff woke him up.

He smiled and fell asleep again.

I had another glass of Pinot Grigio and carried on reading.

A good evening.

In its own way.

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lovelondonscenes 149 – Battersea Power Station re-emerges

On Sunday I walked along the Thames from Wandsworth Bridge to London Bridge. I was pleased to see that part of the route by Battersea Power Station is now open, so you don’t have to divert along the roads quite as much. And you can get close up. Still a way to go, but it is going to be brilliant in the not too distant future.

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lovelondonscenes 148 – London Wall, in the City

Inspired by the excellent “London Nights” photo exhibition at the Museum of London , which I saw a week or so ago, I took this shot and turned it into black and white. It was 6 o’clock in the evening.

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“Bob Dylan – The Words of the Songs” at Wilton’s Music Hall, 5 November 2018

On Monday I went along to Wilton’s Music Hall in the East End to see a “Dead Poets Live” show, in which three actors – Toby Jones, Sheila Atim and Robert Sheehan – performed the songs of Bob Dylan. Without the music. The poetry of Bob Dylan. The tickets for the show were a retirement present from a friend, Annabelle, even though she doesn’t like Bob Dylan! Or didn’t. She might explore a few of the songs after what we saw on the night.

Dylan, of course, recently won the Nobel prize for literature, which many purists hated. I thought it was great, and well-deserved. And if you ever needed proof of the power and profundity of words, this was a night that provided it. This wasn’t an evening that concentrated on the obvious “protest” songs, or many of his well-known songs at all; but a range of songs that focused on relationships – lost loves mainly. Lost but not forgotten. A touching example of that was a song called “Most of the Time”, which came from the 1989 album “Oh Mercy”. It was hailed at the time as a return to form for Dylan. The album was produced by then in-demand producer Daniel Lanois, who specialised in echoey atmospherics and had worked extensively with U2, amongst others. Dylan describes the recording of the album in New Orleans in his autobiography “ Chronicles Volume 1”. The process was difficult, but the outcome was probably the best album since “Desire” in 1976. “Most of the Time” is a song about getting over someone – or maybe not. Toby Jones read this one beautifully, with a touch of sad humour. His phrasing was such that each most of the time stood on its own, a wistful reflection on the claims that went before that everything was fine, really.

Most of the songs/poems were read by one of the actors, but in a few they combined, which gave the pieces another dimension. One, “Brownsville Girl”, which I didn’t know, really came to life when Sheila Atim, sitting at the piano, sang the choruses. It’s a song from the 1986 album, “Knocked Out Loaded”, one of those which I studiously avoided at the time. When I got home I listened to the song – it’s very long and a bit too gospelly for my liking, but I can see the appeal. As a spoken word piece, with just the chorus in music, it worked really well.

Along with “Most of the Time” my highlights were the versions of “Visions of Johanna” from “Blonde on Blonde”, “Tangled up in Blue” from “Blood on the Tracks” and “Isis” from “Desire. The first two of those I founded incredibly poignant. They are songs I love, and stripped back to just the words, the poetic form, the sadness, the regret, was palpable. “Isis” is an epic story as it is sung – Dylan the storyteller at his best. As the spoken word, it was truly compelling.

There was a compere, James Lever Rowse. He introduced the pieces and explained their meaning afterwards. We didn’t really need that, as the meaning is wrapped up in our individual perceptions, but he did offer some interesting insights. And, assuming he had some hand in the curation of the show, then massive credit to him.

So is Bob Dylan a poet, or just a simple troubadour? He has often liked to claim the latter. But he is unquestionably both, and a lot more besides – spokesman for a generation, etc, etc. Tonight’s show was evidence of that.

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4 days, 4 concerts – The Pixies, Palace Winter, Goat Girl, King Crimson

Last week was one of those musical weeks. A concert pile-up. A highly influential grunge pioneer, an Aussie/ Danish purveyor of melodious pop, an alt-punk up-and comer and to cap it all, a 70s prog behemoth. The latter was, it is fair to say, against my better judgement, but it involved a good night out with the lads, so was worth a few moments of ennui and alienation!

The bands and venues were: the Pixies at the Roundhouse; Palace Winter at Oslo, Hackney; Goat Girl at Koko, Camden; and… King Crimson at the Palladium. I’ll take them in turn.

Pixies, Roundhouse, 31 October

The Pixies played five sold out nights at the Roundhouse, with photo ID checks to get in – to battle the touts. They are a very influential band in the indie world, but I assumed that they were essentially a cult band. Wrong, clearly; and the age range proved that. Plenty of old timers who remember their 80s/90s hey day, but a lot of youngsters too, who ensured some pretty extensive moshing when the riffing broke out, as it did for pretty much every song! The concert featured two of their late 80s works, each played right through. The first was “Come on Pilgrim”, a mini-album that I wasn’t that familiar with; the second was the first full album, 1988’s “Surfer Rosa”. A real indie/punk classic. Naturally it gets a mention in “I Was There – A Musical Journey”. Here’s what I wrote:

The best songs were extraordinary: edgy, strung-out, punky and rocking. Black Francis’s voice was slightly disturbing. They were masters of the slow-quick-slow sound. A bass heavy, scratchy build up and then a wall of riffs. The best was “Where is my Mind?”. The title said it all. The verse had a piercing guitar squall, firing over Black Francis’s jittery vocals, and an eerie howl. “Bone Machine” was a stuttering wreck of a song, with a jagged guitar ripping it up. You can hear so much that came later in these songs, be it Nirvana, or early Radiohead, or PJ Harvey, or QOTSA, or even U2, as they evolved their Berlin sound in “Achtung Baby” and “Zooropa”. In fact, it was pretty much de rigeur to cite The Pixies as an influence if you were in an indie band in the 90s and 2000s.

Three of the original band members were still there: frontman Black Francis (real name Charles Thompson), the nattily-dressed lead guitarist Joey Santiago and drummer David Lovering. The band reformed in 2004, having split in 1993. Bassist Kim Deal left again in 2013, and has been playing with her other great band, the Breeders. On this tour, she was replaced very ably on the bass by Paz Lenchantin. She and Lovering played some really tight, driving rhythms, which gave the music its remorseless dynamism.

The show kicked off with “Caribou” and it set the tone for the whole evening. Those punching beats, Black Francis’ howl and hardcore riffs and Joey playing a few tricks with his guitar. The unfamiliarity of “Come on Pilgrim”, apart from “Caribou” and “Nimrod’s Son”, didn’t stop it being engrossing, especially with the excellent array of screens and obscure, arresting graphics, in classic Pixies style. There are a lot of Latin American references on both the albums amid the general weirdness – product of Francis’ travels in that part of the world. No Latin beats though.

“Surfer Rosa” then took things to greater heights, starting with that awesome opener, “Bone Machine”. “Where is my Mind” was anthemic; and maybe the best chorus singalong was for “Gigantic”. Quite an easy one that! The punk mayhem of songs like “Oh my Golly” and “Something Against You” was quite something too. The Pixies really do have simple but immense power in their live sound. Masters of their craft. Francis didn’t say a lot – in fact he didn’t say anything – but he didn’t need to. The music spoke for itself. The encore was three songs, but not a run through of some of the Pixies’ other great songs like “Monkey Gone to Heaven”. But, to my delight, they did play the majestic Planet of Sound”, maybe my favourite Pixies song of all.

None of my friends who came along – Jon E, Dave and Tony – knew the band that well. But they all loved the show. They recognised the sheer class of the Pixies – still at the top of their game.

Palace Winter – Oslo, Hackney

Regular readers of this blog will know that I love this band. I’d seen them twice this year, prior to this gig, first at a short promotional show at Rough Trade East, to mark the release of their new album “Nowadays”; then at Latitude, where they got a great reception at the Sunrise Arena. Palace Winter are essentially Australian singer and guitarist Carl Coleman and Danish keyboard player Caspar Hesselager, augmented by another guitarist and a drummer. They specialise in songs with soaring melodies, washes of electronica and driving beats. Their first album “Waiting for the World to Turn”, released in 2016, was a masterpiece. It made my top ten of the year, and is an album I still listen to a lot.

The set tonight erred towards the new album, but there was still room for a few old favourites like “H.W.Running”, “Dune”, “Positron” and, in the encore, the magnificent “Soft Machine”. “Positron”, with its guitar/keyboard wig out, is the perfect song to end a set. Out on a high. From “Nowadays” I particularly like “Empire” and “Take Shelter”, though overall it doesn’t quite match its predecessor (at least not yet – Palace Winter songs have a habit of growing on you). There were a couple of songs near the end of the main set that went on a bit: got, dare I say it, rather too prog for my liking. But this was another really enjoyable show, with Carl his usual bouncy, engaging self, and Caspar quietly providing the swirling sounds that paint Palace Winter’s musical picture.

Goat Girl – Koko, Camden

South London’s Goat Girl released their debut album, “Goat Girl” earlier this year. They can do punk, but it’s rather more than that. The songs are all pretty short. They slur, twang (a hint of rockabilly) go a bit reggae and then break out in some punk riffing. The subject matter is discursive, unsettling, sometimes just plain weird. Not much love but plenty of lust and disgust. The most straightforward rock’n’roll song, “The Man”, is an example of that. The brilliant “Country Sleaze” is another

They rattled through the album and one or two other songs in about 45 minutes. Singer/guitarist Clottie Cream managed the odd smile – after all, they had just about sold out Koko and the more boisterous members of the crowd were managing to mosh to quite a few unlikely candidates. Highlights included “The Man”, which raised the tempo in mid set, two of those twangers, “Cracker Drool” and “The Man With no Heart or Brain”, and a rousing “Country Sleaze” at the end.

There was clearly no encore planned, as music came back on the PA. However, the lights wavered and then it went dark again. And the band came back on again. One of them said, “We haven’t got any songs left, we’ll have to play something again. What would you like?” There were various shouts, then they settled on a stripped back version of a less well-known song, “Lay Down”. And that was that.

Goat Girl’s music is perhaps an acquired taste, but it is worth acquiring. The new album is a grower and the live show reflects its bite.

King Crimson – Palladium

And so to the old prog rockers. Not as stereotypically so as, say, Yes or ELP, but still purveyors of strung-out, overblown, over complicated songs that rarely manage anything like a tune. Just my view, like. After all there were a few thousand greying, balding blokes (and a few women) nodding their heads approvingly through the nearly three hour show. Yes, three hours! There was even an interval.

King Crimson do have a certain credibility because of guitarist and band leader Robert Fripp, who has a CV that takes in many great bands, including collaborations with David Bowie, Eno and U2. He’s a man to introduce some edgy, left-field guitar to your sound. He’s in his 70s now, and didn’t really act like band leader, sitting to one side of the band with headphones on all the time. No words were exchanged with the audience. Actually no-one really interacted with the audience, or, with the exception of the three drummers, with each other. Having said that, they all looked pretty chuffed at the end, taking photos of the enthusiastic applause. It was a bit like being at a classical concert really: listen intently (with added head-nodding here) and show your appreciation at the end. And definitely no photos.

On the positive side, the musicianship was very accomplished, the drummers were pretty amazing – between them they must have had every piece of drumming kit known to man – and there were some decent jazzy bits which weren’t so different from Miles Davis’ forays into jazz rock. And “21st Century Schizoid Man” was fun at the end. It has a recognisable riff and a chorus!

Perhaps some of my fellow attendees – same as for the Pixies – will offer the alternative take on the show, in which it will be one the most brilliant examples of musical virtuosity they have witnessed for many a year. And who’s to say who’s right and who’s wrong? That’s the joy of music.

But give me Goat Girl any day!

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Kacey Musgraves and Soccer Mommy at Wembley Arena, 27 October

Now this is what you call the dream ticket! Soccer Mommy, featuring Sophie Allison, are one of the best new bands around, with a great full debut album, “Clean”, which will be in the high reaches of my top ten for 2018. And then Kacey Musgraves: well, what can I say? With Lindi Ortega, my favourite country singer, and responsible for one of the best albums of this year, and many others:  “Golden Hour”. An album that I have played more than any other in 2018, one that means a lot to me. With four songs – “Slow Burn”, “Oh What a World”, “Happy and Sad” and “Golden Hour” – that have become something of a soundtrack to my life and the decisions I have taken in 2018. So, yeah, you could say I was looking forward to this night!

The concert was held in the cavernous Wembley Arena – not my favourite venue by any means, but big enough to house all the people who wanted to attend. It wasn’t quite a sell-out, but it was pretty full. Somehow, despite buying the tickets months ago, I contrived to get two seats in the second back row! The upside was that it wasn’t full there, so Kath and I had room to find the best view. The sound was good and Kacey Musgraves’ stage show was beautifully lit, with large screens to enhance the viewing experience. And it was unusually easy to get a beer, so what was not to like?

I’ve seen Soccer Mommy twice this year: first at a packed Moth Club in Hackney in March and then in an equally brimming Tipi Tent at End of the Road in September. The band is the vehicle of Sophie Allison, who sings about love, anguish, anger – life basically. The sound is indie/Americana, with added sensitivity and some beautiful melodies.  A sound I like: Faye Webster, Snail Mail, Sharon van Etten amongst others sing and play in a similar vein. Amber Arcades aren’t too far removed either. Wembley Arena was quite a step up in size for Soccer Mommy, but there was a decent sized crowd, and a few people who were familiar with their music. She joked about the “two or three” who were. The set was mostly from “Clean” unsurprisingly, including what are almost old favourites now:  “Your Dog” (a real put down of men who expect subservience), “Cool” and ”Last Girl”. They opened, as usual, with “Henry”, a tuneful mid-tempo piece. And, in what was an eight song set, Sophie went solo for two songs near the end. One was the lovely “Still Clean”; the other her cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire”. A lot of artists have covered this song – there’s a real pent-up passion, frustrated desire in there. Sophie strips the song right down and lends it a restrained beauty. It was quite a brave song to sing in the big arena, to an audience who would know the original but not her version. But it worked wonderfully – a moving movement. The first of many! The set finished with a band version of “Scorpio Rising”, another song that Sophie sang solo at End of the Road. She talked a lot more than usual too, introducing most of the songs. A good move, acknowledging that many people wouldn’t know much about her. A great start to the evening.

And then Kacey… oh my God! At the top of the stairs, swathed in beams of light, acoustic guitar, the first bars of “Slow Burn” starting up. Did I have a tear in my eye – of course I bloody did! Such a wonderful song. I’m alright with a slow burn, taking my time, let the world turn… apparently she wrote the song under the influence of LSD, which may explain the line we can take a walk and look at all the flowers. So the show started on a high and just stayed there all night.

The set was a generous hour and three-quarters. Every song from “Golden Hour” got an airing. To hear them all live, with a very slick band, and fantastic lighting and effects was a wonderful experience. Perhaps my favourite song of all, “Oh What a World”, lost the rather unnecessary vocoder effects and was stripped back to its country essence. A song about wonder, happiness in love. How could it not be truly moving? Because I became rather attached to those four songs I mentioned earlier, there have been times when I neglected the rest of the album. But it is all a treat – Kacey’s move into a more pop-orientated sound for sure, but so many beautiful, touching melodies – and sentiments. After “Slow Burn”, for example, we had “Wonder Woman”, “Butterflies” and “Lonely Weekend” in succession. The crowd all stood up and never sat down again. It was a celebration. By “Merry-go-Round”, one of the great songs from her debut album “Same Trailer Different Park”, Kacey let the crowd sing a verse on their own. And from the tone you could tell that most of the voices were female.

Kacey seemed genuinely humbled by having such a large audience – this is her first arena-scale headlining tour. Like Taylor Swift before her this year, she naturally had things to say about the mad world in which we live at the moment. And of course love was the answer: cue “Love is a Wild Thing” with colourful natural scenery as a backdrop. Before “Happy and Sad”, she talked about that melancholy you can feel when you’re having the time of your life, because you know it won’t last. To which the answer can only be, enjoy the moment, carpe diem. Easier said than done sometimes. Her short tribute, “Mother”, sung alone in darkness, was very touching too. Especially when that segued into “Oh What a World”!

There were a couple of guest appearances. First, during the main set, was from Tom Chaplin of Keane. Kacey is a big fan of their music. They sang a song from Keane’s first album called “Somewhere Only We Know” (the song, not the album). I’d rather forgotten about Keane, though I do own the album. There was a lot of hype around them at the time. The second guest was Sophie Allison, which was nice. She came on during the encore for a cover version of “Tearing Up My Heart” by NSYNC. (I only know this thanks to Setlist FM!). They made a bit of a contrast those two: Sophie in her stoner girl gear, Kacey in her spangled red, white, yellow and blue outfit – a sort of American flag without the stars? But they are two of the same heart, singing about the same things.

The run-in at the end of the main set featured a dance-along “Velvet Elvis”, the aforementioned “Happy and Sad”, a suitably cosmic “Space Cowboy” and finally, the song that probably made her name, “Follow Your Arrow”. The video showed a bit of Kacey from that time, in her cut-off jeans and white cowboy boots (see the cover of “Same Trailer Different Park”). That song established her as a country singer who was not going to fall in line with the Nashville norms for women. Country in sound, but not in mind. Of course she is now venturing further from the country sound too. Following the Taylor Swift template to a degree, though I can’t really see Kacey going quite as wholeheartedly into dance/R&B. “High Horse” is her biggest step in that direction, and appropriately that was the last song of the show. That sent everyone away in upbeat mode. There was a lovely version of “Rainbow” to start the encore too – Kacey’s plea for tolerance and respect for all. A fitting finale for a show that was full of love and joy.

I’ve been fortunate to see many great shows this year, some big, some small. I love them all. But Kacey Musgraves was up there with the very best. With able assistance from Sophie Allison and Soccer Mommy. A wonderful evening.

A few more photos from Kacey’s show below.

 

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Menace Beach at Oslo, Hackney, 25 October 2018

Menace Beach are a Leeds band, who released their third album , “Black Rainbow Sound”, a couple of months ago. I didn’t know much about them until I saw them on Thursday, at Oslo in Hackney. I went along with Jon G, whose suggestion it was. I gave the new album a listen on Spotify before I went, and liked it. It’s a spacey blend of pounding guitars and wailing synths, with a bit of a Kraftwerkian feel. Singer Liza Violet’s dreamy vocals waft over the motorik beats, giving it an other-wordly feel. There is definitely some inspiration from the synth-pop sounds of the 80s and 90s, but I also likened them a bit to New Young Pony Club, whose album “Ice Cream” I rather enjoyed in 2007 . Most of all though, the fuller songs reminded me a lot of Hookworms; and there is a connection there apparently, through previous producers.

Onto the show. It was really good! I can’t say a lot about the individual tracks they played, as I’m not familiar enough with their music, but they did include “Black Rainbow Sound”, the album’s title track, which features Brix Smith, once a member of The Fall and wife of Mark.E.Smith, who now tours with her own band, The Extricated. That’s where the Hookworms analogy was at its strongest. Liza Violet and fellow singer Ryan Needham stood centre stage, playing their synths, occasionally picking up a guitar. I’m pretty sure “Satellite” featured – I like the looped synth sounds on that one. Likewise “8000 Molecules”, an electro-ballad which really suited Liza’s voice. The light show was good too: lots of stark lines and dots enveloping the main part of the stage. Again, very Kraftwerk, if simpler; but very effective. That, and Liza’s stage persona, gave it just the right level of alienation! Meanwhile the rest of the lads in the band drove the pulsing sound on.

So, an enjoyable show, and great to discover another interesting band. Thanks to Jon for that. Further Spotify research beckons!

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