The Hanwell Hootie 2018

Saturday 12 May. Hanwell Hootie 2018 already! This is the music festival in West London where a lot of the local pubs open their doors to a variety of bands, some local, some quite young, others much-travelled and well-established. It seems to get bigger and better every year; it was helped last year by the establishment of two outdoor venues at Sandy Park and the Viaduct Meadows. And the weather was dry. This year it bucketed down until about 9 o’clock, which meant there weren’t so many people outdoors, and all the pubs were rammed again.

The programme of bands looked really interesting – there were so many I fancied seeing; and, of course, it meant choices had to be made. I went with Jon G and a few his friends: Chris, Richard and Andy. Kath decided the weather didn’t justify subjecting herself to a variety of mostly punky sounds, which is what Jon and I were favouring.

We started at the Viaduct meadow at 4.15, to see Rews make a triumphant return after playing an excellent set last year in one of the pubs. The tent was full. Jon and his mates stood at the back; I went round the side and got pretty much to the front, but right by the speakers! My ear was ringing for a while afterwards. Rews are Shauna Tohill on vocals and guitar and Collette Williams on drums and backing vocals. They make a great rock’n’roll noise, with plenty of catchy riffs and choruses. And they play like they are absolutely loving it. They got an afternoon crowd going, and did it with smiles on their faces. Highlights, as always, included “Shake Shake” and “Miss You in the Dark”, but the whole set was a lot of fun. Catch them if you can.

Next up was an all-woman local punk band called The Tuts. They were playing in a pub called the Prince of Wales. It was packed by the time we got there, half an hour before the show. It was hot. We stood up the end of the pub where it was a bit more airy and watched the Middlesborough/Villa Championship play off semi. When the band started we moved closer, but couldn’t see them at all. So we moved back and listened while watching the football. Chris decided to push to the front. He came out at the end waxing lyrical. From where we were they sounded pretty good – very much in the 70s punk mould, with a pop sensibility. I could have sworn that I heard the riff to T.Rex’s “Solid Gold Easy Action” at one point! Chris said that the singer was a bit like Poly Styrene, which is a pretty good recommendation. Will have to find out more.

Then it was over to the Grosvenor, which is an excellent pub at any time. Good range of beers. It is a bit more spacious than the Prince of Wales, and wasn’t so stifling. We got there in good time for a young band called My First Moustache. They are all old school friends of Jon’s son, Louis. There were quite a few of them – three guitars, bass and drums, keyboards. Very clearly led, though, by singer and guitarist Ffion Murphy, in retro Arsenal shirt. They started with some speedy choppy riffing and Ffion’s echoey vocals (a bit low in the mix) and I thought Duds must be an inspiration. But then they went into a long ambling passage of music, with some interesting soloing from Ffion, and I thought, hey, this lot have really got something going here. And so it went on throughout the show. One minute high speed punk; the next, something that could have been off Roxy Music’s first two albums, when Eno was manipulating the synthesisers. Intriguing and really engaging sounds. I thought they were seriously good. If they can team up with a decent producer, they could make some pretty amazing music. And I don’t just say that because they were Louis’ mates. They were seriously good. Excitingly different. They got a fantastic reception (admittedly from quite a few friends and relatives!) and came back for an encore when they played a weird Spanish punk thing, which was like nothing else they’d done and a lot of fun. Great stuff.

We had a real buzz about us after that, even as we trudged through the rain to the Kings Arms, on Hanwell Broadway, to see Hollowstar. This was a choice of Chris’s, and veered from our template for the evening. They had a more traditional rock sound – in fact it was straight from the early 70s. Think Free, Deep Purple, Budgie even. Now this was the music I loved before punk blew most things away in 1976-77, and I still have a soft spot for it, especially Free and Bad Company. But I found the sound a bit too formulaic on the night, even though the band were very good and got a rousing reception from a capacity crowd. I withdrew to the bar to avoid the jostling and just enjoyed it, in a rather non-commital way. There was no surprise when they did a cover of Free’s “Wishing Well” – and they did that great song justice. So, if you still love a good bit of 70s blues-rock, check out Hollowstar. They won’t let you down.

The tempo was upped for the next band, Fizzy Blood, from Leeds, in the Viaduct Meadow. It had stopped raining, but was pretty damp. We got there in time to catch the end of the previous set, by Desert Mountain Tribe, described in the Hootie blurb as alternative rock, a heavy trance sound, psychedelic. Well, the last track sounded pretty good, and soared as the guitars got going. Think I might have enjoyed them, so more exploring to do. As for Fizzy Blood, well they just rocked hard. In your face, hard core riffing, shouty punk, aggressive and incredibly energetic. It was brilliant! A comparable band, who are doing well at the moment, is Idles – certainly in terms of the sound. This is music made for moshing, and there was a bit of that. We all tried to avoid this rather mad-looking hulk as he started bouncing around, but it was all good natured. An energising show. I checked a bit of Fizzy Blood on Spotify today. Inevitably it’s not quite as raucous as when played live. But I’d happily go to see them again.

At 10.30 and quite a few beers through the evening, that was enough for me. Jon and Chris went back to the Price of Wales to see a punk band called Blackwaters, whose photo looked like they could be like another up-and-coming band, Shame. Put I was all punked out after Fizzy Blood, and got home just in time to see the voting for the Eurovision song contest. What a contrast!

Give me the Hanwell Hootie any day. A great event, and a huge credit to all the organisers, venues, sponsors and bands. It has become an essential part of the London music scene, and is a celebration of an area which, squeezed in between Ealing and Southall, is normally in the shadow of both. But it has always been a home of good music, and is the base of Marshall amps. That is pedigree.

My highlight was undoubtedly My First Moustache, but Rews and Fizzy Blood were also, in their different ways, both uplifting expressions of the spirit of rock’n’roll.

Rock on, Hootie!

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lovelondonscenes 144 – The London Eye from the Tattershall Castle

Like the proverbial London bus, you wait for ages for a lovelondonscenes – I’m sure you’ve been getting desperate – and then two turn up at once. This one is from Thursday evening. Taken through a window at the Tattershall Castle, a floating pub on The Thames alongside Victoria Embankment. Popular with the tourists, but also locals. It’s big, has a nice outside top deck and plenty of bars. And spectacular views, especially at night.

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lovelondonscenes 143 – Notting Hill Gate station

Ended up here by accident here a couple of weeks ago. Heading to Victoria on the District Line. They changed the destination to Edgware Road, but I was too engrossed in my book and music to notice! Until I looked up…

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Catherine McGrath at Bush Hall, Gengahr at Koko: 2/3 May 2018

I went to a couple of concerts last week. Two of my favourite artists of recent years; both making their way, and getting better all the time. First, on Wednesday 2 May, was Catherine McGrath at Bush Hall, Shepherds Bush. Second, on Thursday 3 May, it was the turn of Gengahr at Koko, Camden. Bush Hall sold out; Koko close to it.

I’ve seen Catherine McGrath a few times since coming across her at Latitude last year. The most recent was her first headline show in London, at Camden Assembly in March this year. Bush Hall was a step up on that. And I’d say that this was the most confident I’ve seen her, and the band. Success begets success. Her debut album is due at the end of July, and there’s a promotional tour in September. That could be the real breakthrough moment – she certainly has the songs, the voice, the persona. One of the highlights of Wednesday’s show was the new single “Wild”. It’s a song that she was singing back in Latitude, but it has now been beefed up with Taylor Swift-style pop sheen. And she has now dropped the preamble – the story of the bloke who took her to a Coldplay and spent all his time texting his ex-girlfriend. It’s all there in the song anyway. Her introductions have always been endearing, but there were far fewer on Tuesday. The only two that survived were for “Cinderella”, her first Nashville song, and one of her loveliest tunes; and “Ellsworth”, a cover of a song by the country band Rascall Flatts. It’s a beautiful ballad, and one of the songs that got her into country music back in Northern Ireland. I found it the most moving moment of the concert on Tuesday.

She played all the top songs. “Just in Case” and “Starting from Now” were the openers. Hell Would Have to Freeze Over” was introduced with a smile as a “classic” (it is!), and the set closed with the celebratory and defiant “Talk of this Town”. She has reached the point now when she can ask the audience to sing the chorus – she is developing a real fanbase, and it is youthful. This augurs well for her future success.

Catherine was was fulsome in her thanks to the audience for this being a sell-out show. She is still pinching herself about her success. But this, I think, is just he beginning. She is going to be big.

Gengahr have just released their second album, “Where Wildness Grows”. I made their debut album, “A Dream Outside”, my top album of 2015. It was the best indie guitar album I’d heard since The Strokes’ first two albums in the early 2000s. And “Where Wildness Grows” may be even better.  It has a layered, incredibly melodic sound, with those bursts of wild guitar from John Victor, which work so brilliantly live. And of course, there are Felix Bushe’s distinctive falsetto vocals, which add a fragility to the melodies; and, with some of the guitar, give the music a psychedelic feel at times. The outstanding tune, on the first few listens, is “Carrion”, and live, it was awesome, the set closer. Pulsing beats and some magnificent guitar.

The concert on Wednesday had a great mix of both albums – they almost alternated between the two. I liked that: they weren’t just promoting the new album. And the band played with a real elan. They know they have made a superb second album, and are proud to be playing it. The crowd were really enthusiastic: again I sensed that they are developing a strong and dedicated following. Mostly people in their twenties, I’d say. I did feel rather in a minority age-wise, but was happy to be so.

So many highlights, but standouts included: “I’ll be Waiting”, “Mallory” and “Before Sunrise” from the new album, and “Heroine”, “She’s a Witch” (of course – still the singalong song) and a lovely “Lonely as a Shark” in the encore from the first – before the mighty “Carrion”.  There was also an interesting take on “Dark Star” from “A Dream Outside”. An instrumental normally, Felix now added vocals, and it worked well. A kind of breather, amid the euphoria. My only disappointment was that they didn’t play “Powder”, which has always been my favourite song. The best guitar wig-out of all. But you can’t have everything. This was a powerful, uplifting show. Gengahr are a very, very good band. And “Where Wildness Grows” will be vying for No 1 slot in my 2018 albums of the year.

So two very different concerts, but one thing in common: they have great futures ahead of them. They must!

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Girl Ray at Heaven, Charing Cross, 18 April 2018

The week before last I went to Heaven, under the railway arches at Charing Cross station, to see Girl Ray. Heaven is best known for being a gay club, but it also hosts music gigs –  Idles were playing there the night after Girl Ray –  and it’s a great space for it. Holds about a thousand, I believe. It wasn’t sold out, but it felt quite close, with a nice bit of breathing space.

Girl Ray are Poppy Hankin on vocals and guitar, Sophie Moss on bass and Iris McConnell on drums. Live they are supplemented by a guitarist/key board player, and a few people who come on briefly with violins and sax (I think – I’ve left it too long to write this review!). It was Marc Riley on BBC 6 Music who introduced me to the band last year, and I saw them at Latitude too – where I thought they were excellent, though a little nervous at first (but hey, playing at Latitude when you are making your way…). We missed them at End of the Road, as they played on washout Sunday. But I really enjoyed their debut album “Earl Grey”, and made it No 8 in my Top Ten of 2017.

So I was looking forward to this show, especially as the show I had planned for the night before – Goat Girl at The Garage in Islington – had to be cancelled when the drummer, Rosie, got scalded by boiling water on a ferry coming back from Dublin. Hope she recovers soon. Obviously terrible for her, but also for the band, as they have just released their debut album, “Goat Girl”.

Girl Ray’s sound is wistful and jangly, in the way that Velvet Underground were sometimes wistful and jangly, especially when Nico was with them. I keep on thinking it has a 60s French jazzy pop feel, though I couldn’t actually give you an example of that sort of thing. But there is also a funkiness to some of the riffs, which really comes to the fore on the guitar workout on a song called “A Few Months” on debut album “Earl Grey”. That immediately makes you think of the Isley Brothers in full flow on “Summer Breeze” or “That Lady”. Great songs.

The show at Heaven was really good. I thought I could see and feel a real step up in confidence in the band, developed through the classic experience of playing lots of live shows. Poppy sang well and played some excellent guitar. It is her choppy riffs which give so many of the songs a jaunty feel live, even if most of the lyrics are pretty miserable. And she let rip with the solos, not only on “A Few Months”, but a new song, which I think was “Rock 2”. As I heard those two, I thought, this is a band that actually draw a lot of inspiration from early 70s rock and funk. In an interview with the Guardian a while back they talked of their love for the music of Todd Rundgren. That could take them anywhere.

They played all the best songs, like “Just Like That”, “Stupid Things”,  “Trouble”, “Mondays Tuesdays”, “Don’t Go Back at Ten”, “Ghosty”. Or at least I think they did! My problem is that I liked the first three in that list so much that they got on a couple of favourites playlists, which I play all the time, and I never quite got around to putting name to tune with the others. Something I am prone to doing. It even happens with Radiohead!

So, Girl Ray are already very good, but I got a real sense that the band will fill out their lo-fi sound as they develop, and become a pretty sophisticated rock band. But with that feminine sensibility – so they won’t be strutting around the stage, legs astride, guitars thrust who knows where. The second album is going to be very interesting.

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My novel: “The Decision”

I’ve written a novel. It’s called “The Decision”. It’s now available for sale – direct from me at the moment. Like to know what it’s about? Here’s a summary;

“The Decision” is a novel about politics, the environment, relationships and the conflict of loyalty between family and cause. It is set in 2027, in a post-Brexit, post-UK England, in which an authoritarian government has taken power in a parliamentary coup supported by the establishment, after three chaotic years of socialist rule. The environment has taken a significant turn for the worse, and rising sea levels have led to a decision to flood the Fenlands – a return to its marshy origins. A war between NATO and Russia staggers on in the heartlands of the Ukraine, a useful tipping ground for refugees and the unemployed.

The narrative revolves around a kidnap attempt at Wembley before a major football final. The would-be perpetrators are an underground group which goes by the name of HOPE – the Holistic Organisation for the People and the Environment. They are led by Charlie Mowbray: in his early thirties; a late starter in the world of left wing protest, but charismatic enough to rise quickly to the top. “The Decision” is his story, and the story of his family: parents James Arnold and Olivia Mowbray, siblings Will and Susan. Will is a journalist, stuck near the frontline of the war in Ukraine. Susan is a civil servant, torn between her distaste for the Authority and her sense of duty. She, like all of her family, becomes embroiled in Charlie’s adventure.

Charlie regards himself first and foremost as an actor, not a political leader. He is inspired, at school, by Henry V, and his leadership journey follows a similar pattern. It is he who must take The Decision.

I’m charging £6 in sterling plus £2 postage in the UK; £5 postage for the rest of Europe. Elsewhere will depend on the country. Dollar equivalent: $8.35 for the book, based on the 25 April exchange rate in the Economist. Euro equivalent: €6.85.

If you’re interested in buying a copy, just email me with your address, at johnsills808@gmail.com. I’ll reply, confirming the cost and with details of the account to which you can send the money. Once I’ve got the money, I’ll send you a signed copy. Afterwards I will delete your address from my emails and will not retain it anywhere. The book is professionally printed and bound.

It will available online at some point, but I’m just going to see if I can find a regular publisher first. So this is the first edition – the Director’s cut!

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Belfast Part Three: To the Coast

In this third part of my Belfast blog, I’d like to share some of the photos I took on the stunning North East coast, Co Antrim. The location for many a “Games of Thrones” scene and (a bit further west than we went) Luke Skywalker’s desolate home in the last couple of “Star Wars” films.

The absolute highlight was, of course, the Giant’s Causeway. An incredible geological phenomenon. The outcome of a cooling lava flow millions of years ago. The myth behind the place is a story of two giants: one in Ireland, the other in Scotland. They would hurl insults at each other across the sea. The Scots giant was bigger and threatened to come over and kill the Irishman. He built the causeway to do so. As he made his way to the Irish giant’s home, the latter hid in his child’s room, dressed as a baby. His wife let the Scotsman in, and offered him tea. As the giant supped, he heard snoring in the baby’s room. He went in to look and saw the giant baby-like, asleep in the bed, red beard and all.  “If the baby is that big, then how large must the Irishman be?” the Scotsman cried, as he fled from the house. He ran back over the causeway to Scotland, destroying it with each retreating step. Which is why all that is left is what we, today, call the Giant’s Causeway.  Well, it is a myth…

 

This looks to be where the causeway stopped after the Scottish giant trampled it to bits!

Dunluce Castle. May have been used for “Game of Thrones”. Should be!

 

Next stop, Bushmills distillery for a spot of lunch and whiskey tasting!

Not hiding – the seats were very low! Top malt was a twelve year old single malt matured in port casks and available only at the distillery.

Next, heading back to Belfast now, along the coast road, was Carrick-a-Rede, famous for its Rope Bridge. I have a terrible head for heights where sheer drops are involved, so I declined the walk across it. Kath wasn’t that keen either. But there was lots of other amazing scenery to enjoy – and a “Game of Thrones” moment.

Actually, on zooming the camera in for this picture of the rope bridge, it didn’t look that bad… or did it?

There’s a disused quarry, which doubles up as a relief car park, which was the scene of some “Game of Thrones” action.

Another “Game of Thrones” scene, in the coastal town of Carnlough. The mist had come down by then.

Finally, a brief stop in Carrickfergus, which I associate with the beautiful folk song, sung by Van Morrison, amongst others. There’s a castle, and inevitably there is a statue of King William of Orange. Next to the funfair.

The coast road was amazing, often right next to the sea, We went through some beautiful glens too. The mist made taking photos from the bus window pointless, but it made me want to go back soon – when the sun is shining!

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