Bryan Ferry at Hampton Court Palace, 21 June 2017

On Wednesday 21 June a few of us headed down to Hampton Court for a bit of musical nostalgia. Bryan Ferry, once the lead man in Roxy Music, for which we will revere him forever. Set lists from earlier shows suggested that the Roxy catalogue was getting a bit of a revival on the current tour. This could only be a good thing…

And it was a good thing. In fact it was the Main Thing, which just happens to be the song they kicked off with. From Roxy’s 1982 coffee table classic, “Avalon”. The album that people, who would never otherwise have listened to Roxy Music, bought in 1982 and beyond. Smooth, sophisticated, a bit melancholy, but not too depressing. Perfect for the yuppie dinner party. It was a Bryan Ferry album really, as everything from the late 70s onwards was. And it was one of the albums that sums up music in the 1980s. I rather like it, by the way. I was an 80s twenty-something after all.

We took our seats, four rows from the front, with our “free” plastic glass of champagne (80s yuppies, yah?) after a pleasant Lebanese meal in East Molesey, the other side of the river from the palace. Called Mezzet, and on Bridge Street, if you are ever down that way. It’s the manor of my good pal DC, who arranged the evening. And it started well with “The Main Thing” and “Slave to Love” and then just got better and better. Song three was one of my favourite ever Roxy songs – “Ladytron”, from their first album. The spooky synth intro one of their finest moments. The classic “Out of the Blue” followed that. We were in for a good evening.

We saw Bryan in this same venue ten years before. At that time he was promoting his album of Dylan covers. Only one song from that got an outing this time: “Simple Twist of Fate”. But we did also get a cover of Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane”, which gave one of the two excellent guitarists, Chris Spedding (he of “Motorbiking” fame, and session man par excellence, rumoured to have played the riff for the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the UK”) a chance to play his best licks. The other guitarist was Jacob Quistgaard, who did a very good Phil Manzanera impression, adding his own style to the solos and riffs too. His outro to “Ladytron” was awesome.

There was an interval of sorts when Bryan went off to change – white shirt to black shirt! – and the band played an instrumental, which showed off their talents. The star was saxophonist Jorja Chalmers, who has been with Bryan’s band for a while. She has a bit of that Roxy Music style – not quite conventional – and played some brilliant sax fills. Quite why she didn’t just stay at the front all the time I don’t know. Maybe Bry didn’t want her stealing the limelight. There was also an excellent violinist, Marina Moore. She stayed firmly in the shadows, but did all the bits that embellished Roxy songs even before Eno left and was replaced by an actual violinist, Eddie Jobson.

It should be noted also that, even at the tail end of a sweltering London day, with temperatures over 30 degrees, Bryan Ferry did not discard his jacket. Ever stylish, even as he creeps into his seventies. Wow, yes, his seventies, and he puts on a show like Wednesday. I’m in awe, and hope I keep as well when I reach that age – a bit to go yet!

But anyway, after that interval, with Bryan in all black, the show went from good to unbelievable. First, my favourite “Avalon” tune, “Take a Chance with Me”, all melancholy elegance. And then a trio which made any true Roxy fan go home in ecstasy. First and third, songs from the first album, “Re-make, Re-Model” and “If There is Something”, all rock’n’roll weirdness; and in the middle, the greatest song. The lights dimmed, Bryan at the keyboards, semi-lit, shadowy. So appropriate for the song, “In Every Dream Home a Heartache”. The bizarre ode to an inflatable doll. Decadence and sadness, in equal measure. As good a rendition as I’ve ever heard.

That kept us Roxy aficionados happy. Now it was the time for the rest of the audience. Just as we saw when Roxy played at the O2 in 2011 the place truly came alive when the band played the first bars from that coffee table classic album “Avalon”. This time it was “More Than This”, followed by “Avalon” itself. My friend, who calls himself “Dood” when he comments on my blogs, said in an email that it was a Pavlovian reaction from the forty and fifty-somethings. Suddenly all these people launched themselves from their seats, headed for the front and danced! And yeah, it was infectious. The vibe was good. No moshing, of course. Not in Hampton Court Palace. But Mum and Dad dancing par excellence!

And the hits just continued. Back to the 70s, but recognisable to all. The iconic “Love Is The Drug” – dim the lights, you can guess the rest – the even more iconic first hit “Virginia Plain”, the highly danceable “Let’s Stick Together”, the frantic “Do the Strand” (one of the very greatest Roxy songs, with the immortal line, rhododendron is a nice flower, which DC, Dood and I chanted in unison, to the bemusement of people around us) and then, the final touch, the John Lennon song which Bryan has made his own, “Jealous Guy”. Played almost as a metal classic with the soaring guitar from Jacob. An anthemic end to a brilliant concert, the second half in particular just being a rush of wonderful songs and memories.

I veer around in my musical preferences. As any reader of this blog will know, I love Honeyblood more than anyone else at the moment, and their show last week was awesome. This was a total contrast, but I enjoyed it just as much. Roxy Music are one of the greatest bands in my musical story, and Bryan Ferry and his superb band kept the music of Roxy, and more besides, truly alive tonight.

PS. Didn’t have my trusty digital camera with me, so photos are from my iphone 5S. But they give you an idea, I hope.

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Reflections on Radiohead at Glastonbury 2017

After staying up to 2am watching the BBC coverage of Glastonbury, and then getting up quite early to watch the Lions lose to the All Blacks, I’ve been having a lazy Saturday. Amongst other things, playing Radiohead and reflecting on the concert on the Pyramid Stage last night. For me, it was a triumph, a journey through the back catalogue, with an emphasis on “OK Computer”, which was released 20 years ago. 20 years ago! But there was a sense from when the cameras panned onto the crowd, and from all the usual nonsense on social media, that a lot of people weren’t all that impressed.

Why was that? Well, really, because it’s Radiohead. In my view the best band in the world, and the most original and innovative over the past, say, twenty years. But if you don’t get them, they are not always an easy listen. Not since “OK Computer” really. Because that was followed by “Kid A” and that changed everything. The moment when the guitars lost their dominance, replaced by all manner of electronic bumps and squeaks. I guess that was the problem for the uncommitted in the Glastonbury audience: there were guitars, but not always as they would wish to hear them – building up to an anthemic, singable chorus. (This is why Coldplay are the ultimate modern Glastonbury headliners).

The two hour show was a greatest hits show – for the Radiohead aficionado. I mean, for me it was close to perfect. All those “OK Computer” songs (7 of them) and most of the best Radiohead songs since then, like “Pyramid Song”, “Everything in its Right Place”, “Idioteque” , “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” and “Nude”. And songs like “Mxyomatosis” and “Bloom” are now regarded as Radiohead essentials too. And we had maybe my two favourite songs from “The Bends” – “Fake Plastic Trees” and “Street Spirit (Fade Out)”, and my best two from the new album, “A Moon Shaped Pool”, namely “Daydreamer” (which opened proceedings) and “Ful Stop”.  So no complaints from me!

But I could sense that restlessness when the band probed the more obscure and discordant reaches of their incredible back story. As they are entitled to do and will always do. Radiohead have never pandered to the obvious, and that is one of the things their followers love. At last year’s amazing Roundhouse shows, they kicked off with five straight songs from the new album. Each was greeted as an old favourite. Not many bands of long standing could do that.

But even Radiohead will give an audience a bit of what they need, and we got “Paranoid Android”, “Fake Plastic Trees”, “Creep” (now fully rehabilitated) and, finally, “Karma Police” at the end. Oh, and “Lotus Flower” too, just to show that Radiohead do what they want. I was begging the TV at the end that the show would finish with “Karma Police” – they couldn’t possibly leave it out, could they? No, of course not. And the crowd lost itself and kept singing that chorus for some time after the band had left the stage.

There will be a lot of debate about where this Radiohead set ranks amongst the great Glastonbury sets. I’d have it pretty high, and one which will rise in the rankings with the passage of time, I suggest.

Others may disagree!

(By the way, if you’d like to see my take on the whole Radiohead back catalogue, other than the most recent album, my book “I Was There – A Musical Journey” has 16 pages on the band. Available on Amazon and Kindle).

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lovelondonscenes 133 – Vauxhall Bridge/St George’s Wharf at low tide

Took this shot last Wednesday on the way into during our heatwave, which we all moaned about of course. I really like this scene – there’s something surreal about the architecture – always reminds me of Star Wars. And the low tide and big blue sky seemed to combine to give a sense of clarity and space. Some people hate St George’s wharf – not me though.

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Honeyblood at Koko, Camden, 16 June 2017

I’d been waiting for this one with real anticipation, ever since it dawned on me that Honeyblood had made two of the finest albums that I have heard for a long time. When I reviewed “Babes Never Die”, I was just getting into them. Since then I’ve hardly listened to anything else (only Slowdive made inroads). I love the combination of punky rhythms, great pop melodies, with plenty of singalong moments, feisty lyrics and some real melancholy soul – celtic soul. And for all the rock’n’roll exuberance, the two tracks which have resonated with me most are two of those with the celtic soul – “Hey, Stellar” and “Cruel”, poignant songs about breaking up, coping with life’s messes. Sung with such tenderness, regret and in “Hey, Stellar”’s case, defiance, by Stina Tweeddale.

I was even a bit worried that the band might not live up to my expectations, which were so high. After all, they are a fairly young band, and this show at Koko in Camden was their biggest yet. And there are only two of them – Stina (lead vocals and guitar) and Cat Myers (drums and vocals), so some of the electronic embellishments would have to be pre-programmed or left out. No need to worry! They were brilliant and the crowd responded in kind. A great atmosphere in a great venue. Koko is the old Camden Palace and still is a club as well as concert venue. It’s well looked-after, has all the old ornate trimmings – and decent air conditioning, which was good for a warm evening in London.

The band played sixteen songs – see the playlist at the end – with everything from “Babes Never Die”, except closer “Gangs”, and all their best loved songs from the first album, “Honeyblood” (how I missed that when it came out in 2014 mystifies me). They started with “Justine, Misery Queen”, upbeat and poppy, despite the title. That went straight into the rumble of “Choker” from the first album. And great songs just kept on coming! The set was cleverly paced, and showed the band have real confidence in what they are doing, leaving what I would guess are now their two most popular songs, “Ready For The Magic” and “Babes Never Die”, to the encore. And what an upbeat send off that was. Euphoric!

A highlight for me, being a sucker for that celtic soul, was the trio in the middle of the set, the beautifully despairing “Walking at Midnight”, then “Cruel” and “Hey, Stellar”. So glad they played both of them. I was rather worried that at least one of them might not make the cut if the emphasis was on the rock’n’roll. It was nice bit of pacing – a respite of sorts before they cranked up the rock and the chanting with a finale of “All Dragged Up”, “Sea Hearts”, “Super Rat” and “Killer Bangs”. Three of those are from the first album – “Sea Hearts” the exception – and the message there is, if you fall out with Stina, watch out!

And then that encore. The surf punk of “Ready for the Magic” – the first Honeyblood song I heard, which hooked me right away. And the pure celebration of “Babes Never Die”, towards the end of which Cat left the drums and descended into the crowd, with Stina on the stage, grinning, waiting to finish off the song. A lovely end to the show. Throughout the performance Stina and Cat were declaring how much it meant to them. They were in awe to have got this far, and wow, it must be amazing for any band, especially in their early days, to find so many people responding to the music they’ve put their heart and soul into.

A joyous evening – the essence of rock’n’roll, with a dash of celtic soul. There isn’t much that’s better! Can’t wait to see Honeyblood again at Latitude. The Sunrise Arena is going to be heaving!

Here’s the setlist. Not often I can reel off all the songs played in an evening. Just goes to show how much I’ve been listening to Honeyblood!

Justine, Misery Queen

Choker

Love is a Disease

Biro

Fall Forever

Sister Wolf

Walking at Midnight

Cruel

Hey, Stellar

(I’d Rather be) Anywhere but Here

All Dragged Up

Sea Hearts

Super Rat

Killer Bangs

Encore

Ready for the Magic

Babes Never Die

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Have you Heard? – (82) “Slowdive” by Slowdive

Slowdive are a band who were cast as part of the “shoegaze” movement on the early 1990s. Music in which the guitars drifted and occasionally roared, and the vocals were dreamy. Haircuts were floppy. I was not averse to this music, but for some reason I never got into Slowdive. I liked Ride and My Bloody Valentine (who were a bit more discordant), loved the Cocteau Twins, who would have influenced the shoegazers, and also enjoyed some of the bands who followed, with related sounds. Sigur Ros, British Sea Power for instance. But still, somehow, Slowdive never got on my radar.

Until we decided to go to Field Day in Victoria Park, Hackney this year. That was last Saturday. Slowdive were the headline indie band and I thought it might be worth hearing their latest album, “Slowdive”. The first for 22 years.

And I’m so glad I did check it out. I love it, and it has finally made me listen to something other than Honeyblood! It’s an album of big sounds, dreamy vocals (still), a real majesty. I really like the guitar sounds. They build, they chime and then they roar. All those bands I mentioned earlier are in there – so too, Coldplay and U2. These are all recommendations by the way. I love all those bands.

I’ve been listening to the album a lot since Field Day. I’ve found it quite moving. Like so many great albums there is an underlying melancholy, but it is expressed in those big, ethereal sounds. (I limit myself to only one “ethereal” in any review!). Highlights switch around, as with any great album, but I do love “No Longer Making Time”, which starts slow and just builds, guitars chiming and then gushing, roaring. Is it anguish, or celebration? “Sugar for the Pill” chimes beautifully, and “Star Roving” is the (relatively) fast one. The one that the boys were moshing to last week. It’s got a beat to it. “Don’t Know Why” is the closest thing to the Cocteau Twins. Some prog-folky vocals to start, before those chiming, surging guitars take over. And last track, “Falling Ashes”, works from a similar piano refrain to a similar effect as Radiohead’s “Daydreaming” from “A Moon Shaped Pool”.

It’s the atmosphere created by the guitars that do it for me. Like they do for the great U2 albums, for Sigur Ros, for Coldplay even. The vocals add humanity and enhance that sense of immersion. The guitars, though, are the thing that take you on the journey.

The band have a show at the Roundhouse on 13 October. It’s not sold out yet, but when I bought a ticket today there weren’t all that many left. Worth checking out if you like what I’m describing.

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A summer songs playlist

A friend at work asked me for a summer playlist. It’s on Spotify. A bit of a mix of the breezy, the dancey, the sultry and the chilled. Open to suggestions for additions!

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Field Day festival, Victoria Park, Hackney, 3 June 2017

On Saturday, my friend Jon and I went up to Hackney in East London, Victoria Park to be precise, for the Field Day music festival. It’s the first time either of us had been, although it has been well-established for many years now.  It was just a one day festival this year – it used to stretch across the weekend, I think. The music is quite a mixture – with a strong dance and rap element, as well as a bit of indie and folk. It’s for 18s and over, and was heavily the 18-35 age group – I felt much more of an outlier than at Latitude or End of the Road. But hey, who cares, we’re all there for the music.

3 June will, sadly, be etched on our memories now as the day of the latest hideous terrorist attacks, this time on London Bridge and around Borough Market. Places I know and love. We got to hear about it just as we were leaving, at 11pm. Immediately the euphoria vanished, to be replaced by a familiar feeling of bewilderment and sickness. How can this be? I did wonder whether I should be writing about something which, on one level, is so trivial, in the circumstances. But we have to continue celebrating life, and this is what I have always done in this blog. So, this is my celebration of a wonderful day, until we got that news.

It was a beautiful sunny day for the most part. Got a bit chilly late on, but the sunshine meant all you ever had to do, if there was a time when no-one was on that you were really keen to see, was to settle down on the grass by one of the stages or tents, with a pint, and just chill. Blissful. My highlights of the day were drawn from the indie side of the bill – Julia Jacklin, Whitney, Slowdive and Thee Oh Sees, but before I come on to them I just want to say a little about the dance and electronica. This was probably the most popular attraction. There were seven stages, clustered around the two ends of the space allocated to the festival. The western end was mainly dance, and featured the enormous “Barn”. An extraordinary structure, as you can see from these photos, from outside, early on, and inside, only at about 2.15, when it was already packed, when a Berlin techno band called Moderat were on. They were pretty good, by the way.

In the evening we tried to see Flying Lotus on the “Resident Advisor” stage. Only 8 o’clock, but it was rammed, and we stood outside for a bit. That got boring, and we returned to our indie roots, so missed Aphex Twin in the Barn. Pretty amazing by all accounts, but it clashed with Slowdive anyway, and I really wanted to see them.

We got there quite early – about 12.45 – and thought we might be the only people watching Manuela, an indie band I’d heard recently on Marc Riley, at one point. But a few more turned up!

They played some sharp rhythms and had some interesting lyrics. I associated them a bit with a few  other bands I like, like Teleman and Blue House. I’ll be checking out their music. We then caught the end of Aine Cahill, playing a Irish folk/pop mix. Lovely singing and music, maybe erring a little on the bland side for me, and I thought Aine could wave her hands around a bit less. After that it was the outrageous punk meets Adam Ants and Fat White Family of HMLTD. They’re great live performers. Looked like a cross between Goth and the New Romantics. I think they could wow the festivals this summer. Probably wouldn’t buy the music, but a terrific show. Made me laugh.

Then what I was there for. Julia Jacklin. Got to the Shackleton Arms tent quite early and had a place quite near the front. Julia sang her familiar set of wonderful, spare, folky and poppy Aussie Americana songs. Maybe a bit more subdued than when I last saw her at her own show at the Scala, but still a joy, especially when she played “Motherland” and “Don’t Let the Kids Win” in sequence.

After that, it was London rapper, Loyle Carner, in the sunshine, on the Eat Your Own Ears stage, same as Manuela. The main outdoor stage. He bounced on stage in a Juventus shirt (European Champions final that night) and kept bouncing. A lot of his music is about the lyrics. They were hard to decipher, and the beats and delivery got a bit samey, so we moved on after about 20 minutes. No disrespect – a good artist, and went down really well. Just not something I needed to watch for an hour.

We then flitted around a bit. Tried a bit of Jon Hopkins’ DJ set in the Barn – not quite as good as I would have hoped. The best dance thing was an outdoor place called the Bandstand, where a succession of DJs were playing what were probably quite familiar tracks and a lot of people were just dancing.

We then settled in the sun by Eat Your Own Ears again and enjoyed Rae Morris. I wasn’t familiar with her music. It’s poppy electro, and was really enjoyable. She could have been American, but is actually from Blackpool. Respect!

We tried Arab Strap next. Singer Aidan Moffat roamed around like an angry bear, while all sorts of noise was going on. There could have been times when I really liked this, but I was going through a slight energy dip and didn’t really get too much from it.

Next though, another highlight. Back to Eat Your Own Ears for Whitney. Saw them with Julia Jacklin at Koko last year. Uplifting music, with a strong early Van Morrison influence. A really tight band, with a sense that they are about to fall apart, because of singer/drummer Julien Ehrlich. But they never do, and he is brilliant, notwithstanding the fact he necks red wine (and Red Bull this time) all the way through. Ending with the wonderful “No Woman”, of course. An anthem.

After the brief attempt to see Flying Lotus, we headed back to the Crack tent for Slowdive. Essentially the indie headliners. They were a “shoegaze” band in the late 80s/early 90s, but passed me by for some reason. But they have reformed and released a new album, just called “Slowdive”. I bought it, and it’s really good. I love the big, shimmering guitars and the harmonies. They bring to mind Sigur Ros, Cocteau Twins and even, for me, Espers. But some of these bands might have been influenced by them, first time around. They were superb, and there was a real atmosphere, enhanced by all the lights and dry ice. I’d say, for me, it was the best show of the day. They are on at the Roundhouse in October, and I will have to try to catch them there. In the meantime, I’ll be exploring the back catalogue.

And then, well, Thee Oh Sees. Totally awesome at End of the Road, a revelation. Visceral rock’n’roll.  And same again really. No surprises, just the most amazing energy. How the two drummers keep going and keep time together for an hour I don’t know. It’s primal stuff. On record, there’s quite a lot of psychedelia, which doesn’t really rock that hard. But live… aaargh! Great end to a brilliant festival. I can never get a clear photo of main man John Dwyer, because he is going crazy most of the time. So here’s the blurry one!

And with the band, who all look quite ordinary, though they ROCK!

Yeah. We love rock’n’roll. We love music. We love togetherness. We love celebration. We love London. No terrorists will ever change that.

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