Jack Garratt at Hammersmith Apollo, 24 November 2016

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Jack Garratt recently played two nights at Hammersmith Apollo. I saw the second show. He was at Latitude in 2014 in the i-Arena tent in the Woods. It was clear something was going on. It was packed and the reception was incredibly positive. There was an obvious James Blake link as he does a similar thing with the bass and the electronics, taking a sound in a direction that challenges the tune, but makes it a lot more interesting. And it’s particularly powerful live.

He’s recently released an album recently called “Phase”. Part of it brings together some of his earlier EPs, and, not surprisingly, features what might be his biggest song so far, “Worry”.  It feels like James Blake meets Disclosure, with a touch of Of Monsters and Men when he goes for the big chorus. No wonder he’s selling out Hammersmith Apollo.

On the night he started with “Coalesce” – a powerful piece with a big chorus. He was playing drums and keyboards at same time – impressive. Maybe a bit pre-programmed, but apart from two occasional backing singers this was a one man show. The lighting was dramatic too.

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At Latitude, Jack was excellent, but he was still the techno-geek. That was part of the attraction. But now he is a real showman. Engaging the crowd, making sure those choruses hit the spot for today’s youngsters. And they sure did!

He is a multi-instrumentalist as well as a good singer – his falsetto sounds a bit like Prince – and let us know how good he was when he played an interlude on keyboards and guitar of intros from great pop songs. Including Nirvana, Bon Jovi and Beyoncé!

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The encore had a lovely contrast. First “My House is your Home”, which, on record, is quite a jazzy piece. He introduced it with a paean to his fiancé who is an American Muslim. He didn’t name Trump, but the crowd got the gist.

And then “Worry” – what else? Anthemic and the perfect ending.

A great concert – one which touches a lot of bases. Great music and musicianship, but also an ear for what goes down well today.

Jack Garratt has got it nailed on.

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(A version of this review originally appeared on Little Indie blogs).

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Sportsthoughts (155) – Deadly December!

December, rather than April, is the cruellest month when it comes to the Premier League – for managers. With the transfer window in January looming in January, chairmen start to question whether they want the current manager in post to spend more of their money. If the team is in the bottom few, or simply underachieving, they might just think, now is the time to act.

So let’s look at the bookies on the next manager to go. These are the top five at Ladbrokes. The odds vary across bookies, but the order is largely the same.

4/6 Alan Pardew, Crystal Palace

10/3 Bob Bradley, Swansea

4/1 David Moyes, Sunderland

9/2 Mike Phelan, Hull

14/1 Slaven Bilic, West Ham

Hardly surprising that these are the bottom five in the league.

So Alan Pardew is the red hot favourite. I think he’s a good manager, and he’s done pretty well at Palace. But they ended last season badly, spent a lot of money in the summer and have just lost six games on the trot. They are 17th – one place above the relegation places. Enough to merit the sack? I wouldn’t say so; but Pardew has a bit of a reputation for starting well at clubs and then winding people up a bit. I don’t know whether it’s happening at Palace, but perhaps we shouldn’t forget he was one of the favourites for the England job when Big Sam got it.

But, of course, I want to concentrate on the fifth manager on that list. It’s our man, Slaven Bilic at West Ham. How can this be? He came in last season, replacing the sullied Sam Allardyce. He did really well, the team was excellent and we ended up 7th, having threatened briefly to make the top four. Dimitri Payet lit up our football lives.

And now we are fifth bottom. What’s happened?

Well it’s West Ham. Fantastic opportunity to move onto great things as we move into the Olympic Stadium, cheap rent and all. Time to get serious.

Fifth bottom!

One point above the relegation zone.

Oh blimey, plus ca change, as they say in Essex.

What’s gone wrong?

Well, let’s stay calm – it’s still early days. Two or three wins on the trot and we’d be mid-table. We are in a run of tough games against the top teams: Spurs, Man Utd, Arsenal next weekend. And against the first two – both away – we played pretty well. 2-1 up against Spurs until the last few minutes – lost 3-2. Early goal against Utd – drew 1-1 and held on well. In fact, whenever I’ve seen them on the TV, they’ve looked pretty good in spells. But the defence has lost concentration at crucial moments, far more than last season. Other players have dipped in form, notably the two play makers, Payet and Lanzini. Or maybe you just notice them more because they were both so good last season.

People say the team has struggled to adapt to the new stadium – I daresay that is true. Probably hasn’t helped that fans have been at odds with each other, over things like standing in seating. (It’s all seating – sit!). You hope that will all sort itself out.

The problem is mostly on the pitch. Porous defence, lacklustre midfield, toothless attack. The latter despite the fact that the club spent a lot of money on forwards like Andre Ayew, Sofiane Feghouli,  Simone Zaza and Gokhan Tore, none of whom can command a place in the starting eleven, despite all being internationals. (Who can forget Zaza’s penalty miss for Italy in the Euros?). And of course big Andy Carroll is injured – he never manages more than five or six games. Such a shame, as he is awesome when he gets fit.

The rumours have started to circulate about Slav getting the sack before the window, but all the possible replacements mentioned in the stuff I’ve read are completely unrealistic. And why would we would to get rid of Bilic? He’s a fine manager. Transformed us last year. Brought the smile back to people’s faces. And took us to a creditable league placing.

Unless there are bad things going on behind the scenes – and that wouldn’t seem in keeping with Slav – we must stick with him. We have talented players. We need to get more out of the forwards; the defence needs to tighten up – and good signs were shown against Man Utd. And the midfield needs to believe.

I’d say it is getting there. Home to Arsenal will be hard. And it’s one of the two games I don’t want the Gunners to win each season. I expect defeat in this one because they are so good right now and more resilient than in recent seasons, although they haven’t been at their best recently.

And then we’ve got Liverpool away. Oh my God!

We are paying the price for poor results against teams we should have beaten earlier in the season. But should have never washes. You have to do it! We have four crucial matches after the challenge of Arsenal and Liverpool. Burnley, Hull, Swansea, Leicester, taking it to 31 December. If we fail in more than one of them we are in serious trouble.

And Slav will be out.

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Gengahr at the Courtyard Theatre, Shoreditch, 25 November 2016

Tonight, after a couple of beers to see off a Kiwi colleague who’s heading back to New Zealand, I went to see my favourite indie band of recent times, Gengahr. Always such a great band live, and, as you’ll know if you follow this blog, I loved their debut album from 2015, “A Dream Outside”. I made it my top album of the year.

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The show tonight was a mix of established favourites and new songs. The new stuff sounded pretty good, with that same combination of sharp, twisted melodies and strident riffs. Looking forward to the new album, whenever it comes out. And the “old” stuff – well they just couldn’t go wrong. “Heroine”, “Bathed in Light”, “Embers”, “Fill my Gums with Blood”, “Dizzy Ghosts”, and, as a parting shot, the anthemic “She’s a Witch”, followed, as an encore, by my very favourite Gengahr song, “Powder”. That woozy vocal and those awesome guitars. Just love it.

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Singer and guitarist Felix Bushe

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Lead guitarist John Victor, floppy indie fringe dissolved in the heat!

The set was short but sweet – less than an hour. But what a good hour it was. As I always say about this band, they deserve to be huge. They’ve got an enthusiastic following, which gave the Courtyard a great atmosphere tonight. Can they make the next step?

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We await that second album.

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“I Was There – A Musical Journey”. Now on Amazon and Kindle!

 

Finally! All the tweaks and formatting done. The page index revised, then revised again.  “I Was There – A Musical Journey”, the story of my musical life, is now available on Amazon and Kindle. You can see the Amazon page at this link if you are a UK reader:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/I-Was-There-Musical-Journey/dp/1535070633/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480157280&sr=1-1&keywords=I+Was+There+John+Sills

Wherever you are, just go to Amazon books and type I Was There John Sills into the search box. Amazingly, it’s there! And you can preview the first couple of chapters, in Kindle format.

The print copy isn’t the cheapest, but it’s value for money – you get 752 pages. It’s a book you can dip into, to read about your favourite artists – a lot of them will be there, unless you only like prog rock! Or there might be people you don’t know about, who might interest you. Or you can read the whole story, enjoy the narrative, share with me a love of music and what it means to our lives.

And it’s the perfect Christmas present for any music-obsessive friends or family members!

So please have a read and tell your friends about it if you think it’s any good.

Many thanks for your support for this blog over the years – this moment is the culmination of all the effort, the reason I began in 2011. I’ll keep blogging of course – already have two more concerts to tell you about. And there are more publications in the pipeline…

Yours in music.

John

 

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“Born to Run” (the autobiography) by Bruce Springsteen

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Bruce Springsteen is responsible for the best record I ever heard – “Darkness on the Edge of Town”. He is responsible for the best concert I ever saw – Wembley in 2013, when he played the whole of “Darkness on the Edge of Town” out of the blue. And now, I think he’s just gone and written the best autobiography I ever read. It’s called “Born to Run”, after his most iconic song, and the album many would say is his best.  I guess I was always going to like this book, unless it had been truly badly written. But it’s brilliantly written, and I love it!

It’s everything you’d expect of a book written by Bruce (and he did write it himself – can you imagine Bruce having a ghost writer?). Honest, passionate, graphic, heroic, inspiring, moving, and just downright fascinating for someone like me, who has had Bruce’s music as a soundtrack to his life since his late teens. Did I say honest? Searingly so – about his relationship with his father, his attacks of depression, his inability to handle relationships with the women he loved, until Patti came around. Did I say passionate? Inspiringly so – the love he expresses for music, the E Street Band, his family, bowls you over. There’s a lovely story near the end when he has been invited to sing “Tumbling Dice” with the Rolling Stones at one of their concerts, in Newark, New Jersey, Bruce’s home state. He’s invited to a rehearsal at a New York studio. He’s a teenage boy all over again, living the dream, getting to play with some of his heroes. The setup is simple, no-nonsense. The Stones, despite everything, are still a rock’n’roll band. Bruce gets to sing the second verse. Just one take. He admires the chemistry in the band, how Keith Richards plays off Charlie Watts’ drums. Putting the roll in rock’n’roll, Bruce writes. I love that. Still the fan, still in love with music despite his fame and fortune.

You see that in his shows, of course. Three and half hours, or more, of relentless, passionate, entertainment. You get value for money at a Bruce concert – and you get value for money with “Born to Run”. Five hundred pages, which remind you why you love music, and find the same meaning, inspiration, solace, passion, joy in it as Bruce Springsteen does. Bruce’s music has always spoken to me, and so does this book.

If you aren’t a fan of Bruce’s music, you might not get quite as much out of it as I did, but I think you could still enjoy it for what it is – a fascinating, engrossing account of how a working class lad from New Jersey decided he was going to make it in the world of rock’n’roll and never let up – not even when he realised his dreams.

The Boss.

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Have you Heard?- (80) “The Sound of Crying” by Prefab Sprout

I don’t know if you’ll all know Prefab Sprout. They are an English band, who shone brightest in the 1980s, led by singer and all-round musician Paddy McAloon. They were indie I guess, but with a touch of Steely Dan about them, and an appreciation of the history of pop music. Best known for songs like “When Love Breaks Down”, “King of Rock’n’roll” and “Cars and Girls”, which had an appreciative dig at Brice Springsteen’s staple themes. They were clearly fans.

I was listening them today, as I put together what I hope are the final touches to my music book. Prompted by listening to Blue House, whose song, “Ear to the Door”, I wrote about the other day. I chose the Greatest Hits, a compilation which deserves that epithet. They are all top quality tunes. And one song was “The Sound of Crying”. It’s from the mid-80s, but sadly its themes about a world gone mad, refugees at their wits end, are as relevant today as they were then. Especially after the week we’ve just experienced, which leaves us in a greater state of uncertainty than for a very long time.

It’s a lovely song too. I hope you enjoy.

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Whitney and Julia Jacklin at Koko, Camden, 10 November 2016

Last night my friend Jon and I went up to Koko in Camden to catch up with a couple of bands who were at End of the Road but we missed. Julia Jacklin, an Aussie singer whose sound could be described as Americana, and Whitney, who I had down as soulful indie until last night, when they felt like much more.

Unlike a lot of concerts, we made absolutely sure we got there for the support. In fact I was happy at the prospect of Julia being the highlight. She alone was worth the ticket.

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I really like Koko as a venue. A nice size. Ornate balconies. And memories, memories… Once the Camden Palace, home of the New Romantics and then early hip hop. A haunt of mine in 83/4. Oh yes! White socks and grey loafers; stripey, baggy denim trousers…

Julia Jacklin and band were excellent. As is her debut album, “Don’t Let the Kids Win”. The set was a bit short, but she played a good mix of her upbeat numbers and the solo songs – just her and her electric guitar. I really like her sound. There’s a bit of Sharon Van Etten in there. Courtney Barnett, maybe, on the rockier ones, and a voice as beautiful as the likes of Emmylou Harris, Lindi Ortega and Daisy Vaughan. (The last two are personal benchmarks for beautiful voices, if you don’t know them). Expressive, but delicate too.

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A great start to the evening, and I look forward to seeing her headline at the Scala in March next year.

And then Whitney. Wow, just wow! At End of the Road, I bought a two CD Rough Trade compilation of bands appearing at the festival. Whitney’s “No Woman” was the second track on the first CD. What a lovely song. Wistful, restrained and full of that beautiful sadness. Sung in falsetto by front man Julien Ehrlich. I bought the album, “Light Upon the Lake”, and liked it. That soulful indie, but with the falsetto reminding me of the Bee Gees, which distracted me a bit.

So last night I was ready for a quite enjoyable show. How wrong I was – it was awesome! So uplifting. Music, I quickly realised, which was rooted in the very best of Van Morrison – “Moondance”, “Tupelo Honey” sprang to mind. And even “Astral Weeks”, for the falsetto. Throw in a bit of “Nashville Skyline” Dylan, The Band, early Steely Dan and some sweet R&B and you might he getting towards the sound. In fact there was a cover of a song from “Nashville Skyline”: “Tonight I’ll be Staying Here With You”. The band looked like university geeks and played like a dream. So tight, spare and uplifting.

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And Julien – a real character. He sang that falsetto, he played the drums, wore his hood up all show, glugged from a bottle of red wine between songs – how did he keep time? – and celebrated his parents being there. He was talkative, unlike most singers these days, engaging and kind of intense. There was a lot going on inside his head, I thought.

And that joyous sound, the falsetto a truly soulful complement.

Koko was packed – mostly 20-somethings. A lot of people knew about Whitney, and Jon and I both asked ourselves how we didn’t hear of them until End of the Road.

And “No Woman”, well wow again. Three songs into the encore, the last song of the night. Introduced by Julien as a song about getting a girl and losing her immediately. With a wry laugh. And then a beautiful ballad turns into an anthem. The whole crowd singing – the verses as well as the chorus. I think Julien was pretty overwhelmed by the end of the song – the effects of the wine maybe, but also the reaction of the crowd. They are still a new band. How good it must feel.

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And now I know how good they are live, I’ll be back again. At every opportunity. Whitney are a wonderful celebration of the soul, the spirit of music.

Hope they are at Latitude next year!

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