Honeyblood at the O2 Academy, Leicester, 2 May 2019

Yesterday I went up to Leicester to see Honeyblood play at the O2 Academy, which is located in the grounds of the University. It’s just down the road from Leicester De Montfort Hall, which has a special place in my heart, as the first venue I ever used to go to see gigs, back in the mid 70s. It was mostly a diet of rock and metal back then: Status Quo (my first ever gig), Budgie, Uriah Heep, Rory Gallagher, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the amazing Sensational Alex Harvey Band, amongst others.

Why Leicester when I live in London? Well, when the tour was announced, there were no London shows, or at least not until 31 October. Halloween… and the latest deadline for Brexit!  So, taking advantage of my retirement, I decided to go to a couple of shows outside London. I chose Leicester because, apart from some business meetings, I haven’t been there since my schooldays (I was at school in a place called Oakham). And the other choice was Edinburgh, on 3 June, because it was near the end of the tour, it’s Stina’s hometown, and I really like Edinburgh! As it happens, there are now a couple more London appearances: a record launch at Rough Trade East on 25 May and a slot on the bill at Citadel Festival in Gunnersbury Park on 14 July. The latter is home turf – I can walk there in twenty minutes, which will be nice. And, as a bonus, they’ll be at Latitude too.

The tour coincides with the build up to and launch of the new album, “In Plain Sight”, on 24 May. The first three songs to be released from that – “The Third Degree”, “Glimmer” and “She’s a Nightmare” – are all great, catchy songs. “The Third Degree” took us back to the sixties; “Glimmer” is a bit of a glam stomp, and my favourite of the three; and “She’s a Nightmare” could easily be on “Babes Never Die” – it reminds me a bit of “Sister Wolf”. “She’s a Nightmare” is about the night terrors Stina suffered after coming off touring “Babes Never Die” and relaxing. The album, she says, is about how she has been reappraising things over the past year. She was certainly in a bit of a mess at the beginning of 2018, by her own admission. It will be interesting to see how that all comes through in the new album.

So, I was expecting a show heavy on new songs at the O2 Academy. Maybe a bit less punky – again that is what Stina has been saying in interviews. But actually, it was the opposite. Drummer Cat Myers is no longer in the band – I think she got a gig with Mogwai, which is interesting – and a bassist* has been added. The addition of a bassist makes sense – it frees Stina up a bit and adds more heft to the live sound. I’d thought there might even be a keyboard player – but not yet. The result, last night, was a sound that sounded even more raw and rocking than usual. Possibly my perception was shaped a little by being near the front and not far from one of the speakers. And I’m not sure the sound was that great either – there was a fair bit of interchange between the band and the mixing desk through the evening. But Stina is getting a deep and dirty sound from her guitar, which was evident in both the sessions I’ve heard previously, including one with Shaun Keaveny on 6 Music last week. It sounded great in the sessions; live it took me a moment or two to identify some of the older songs.

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The show was a nice mix of all three albums. The three new songs mentioned above all sounded good live. “Glimmer” was a real highlight. There were a couple of other new ones. I didn’t catch their names, but Setlist FM from Cambridge suggests they were called “Gibberish” and “Take the Wheel”. Strangely, the riff in the latter reminded me of “Touch the Leather” by Fat White Family. My hearing does play tricks a bit at live shows! There was a big representation from the first album – including “Biro”, which I don’t think I’ve heard live before. I thought that encapsulated the push for that raw, rocking sound. But it might also be because this really is Stina’s vehicle now, and that first album is clearly very personal. First albums always are. “Babes Never Die” was correspondingly under-represented, though we got “Sea Hearts” right at the start, a rather messy rendition of one of my favourite songs, “Hey, Stellar”, and, of course “Babes Never Die” and “Ready for the Magic” at the end. Hooray! Cambridge had “Walking at Midnight” too, but unless I have had a memory blank, it didn’t feature at Leicester. I’m not sure what was going on with “Hey, Stellar”. Stina missed a few of the lines, and it felt like the timing wasn’t right. Might have been those sound issues – or maybe the new band still needs a bit of time to gel. I also sensed that the band may have been a bit disappointed about the turnout – the place wasn’t much more than half full, and I saw Stina and the drummer looking a bit concerned as they peered into the venue from outside while the support band, Feet, were on. A very positive crowd and a nice atmosphere, but Leicester doesn’t seem to have twigged on fully to the wonders of Honeyblood yet. I guess long tours must be up and down things – not every night is going to be a blazing success. I expect a very different reception at Edinburgh!

So, I really enjoyed the show, but I feel there may be better to come. I’m looking forward to the next instalment, which for me will be Rough Trade East on 25 May. In the meantime, I’ll soon be off to Nashville and Memphis for a couple of weeks, with a large helping of country and soul in prospect!

*I’d name the bassist and drummer if I could find their names anywhere! Stina did introduce them, but I struggle to discern what people say at most gigs. I’ll keep looking, for reference in future reviews.

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lovelondonscenes 161 – A Hammersmith Sunset

I’ve been meaning meaning to post this one for ages. In fact, since I took the photos towards the end of January this year. Not the first pictures I’ve taken of this part of the river; but it is perfect for that setting sun, as you look west.

Some of these images are not apparent to the human eye at the time; but when you point the camera on zoom into the heart of the sun you get some weird and wonderful results!

 

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Pom Poko at the Lexington,10 April 2019

Pom Poko are from Norway. They are an interesting band. A short description of their music would be post-prog-punk. In other words, lots of time changes, all sorts of guitar noodles and some wild riffs. Sounds familiar, but also like nothing else. They all met at the Trondheim Music Conservatory. Their debut album, “Birthday”, was released this year. Marc Riley on BBC 6 Music is a big fan, which is where I got wind of them, and thought their concert last Wednesday at the Lexington, on Pentonville Road, was worth a shot.

And wasn’t it just! It was really pretty amazing. Just so exhilarating. The proggy parts were harder-edged than on record and the punky rhythms were just awesome!  Singer Ragnhild was terrific. She had real charisma – bounced around a lot, smiled a lot too. Effervescent would be a good description. Guitarist Martin made the distinctive sound. Never changed guitars – just piled on the riffs and the variations with aplomb. Fuzzy, discordant, but razor sharp too. The rhythm section of Ola and Jonas held down all those time changes and created the incessant beat.

The whole thing was great. They started, I think, with two great blasts: “”Theme #1” and “My Blood”. Near the end, “Crazy Energy Night” lived up to its name. It was just such fun, made so in large part by Ragnhild’s engaging attitude.

I came out of the concert thinking, when can I see them again? Answer: End of the Road in August/September and then the Scala in October. Can’t wait!

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Ward Thomas at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, 3 April 2019

Ward Thomas are two sisters from Portsmouth, Catherine and Lizzy, who are one of the UK’s leading country performers – country with a big pop inflection. They released their third album, “Restless Minds”, this year. It’s bursting with infectious pop tunes – the country roots are still there, and show themselves especially in the ballads; but this is a pitch for the mainstream (bearing in mind that their previous album, “Cartwheels” did get to No 1 in the charts!) In that respect they are like a lot of American country artists; and, back home, my favourite, Catherine McGrath, is moving the same way. I saw the band at Latitude in 2017, on the main stage at 2pm. They put on a good show, but it’s hard to make that much of an impression in those circumstances.

They played the Shepherd’s Bush Empire last week. It was the day after Amyl and the Sniffers at Heaven. Talk about a contrast! I went with some friends who were keen on the band. I wasn’t really sure what to expect – I found the new album likeable, but maybe just a little bland, a bit shiny, for my tastes. Especially the more up-tempo numbers. But live, I have to say, they were excellent. Catherine and Lizzy are an engaging duo and they had a very slick band behind them. The backdrop and lighting was simple but striking. And the set was well-paced, varied and just very entertaining. All those pop numbers on “Restless Minds” came across powerfully, with plenty of opportunities for singalongs – “I Believe in You” was one standout. From time to time they slowed down the pace and played some lovely ballads, including three on the trot mid-set, which featured just Catherine and Lizzy and their guitarist. The songs were “Cartwheels”, the title track from their previous album, and “No Fooling Me” and “Deepest You”. The set was predominantly songs from the new album, but the crowd was certainly familiar with them. I think my favourite song is “Hopeless”, which is a bit of an anthem – you could imagine it in a Coldplay or Taylor Swift set.

The main set ended on a high, with “No Filter” and “Never Know”. They came back for a couple of songs: the closing ballad on the new album, “This Too Will Pass” and then the celebratory “Carry You Home” with support band, the Wandering Hearts, joining them on stage. A joyous end to a rather uplifting show, which, I have to say, exceeded my expectations, whatever they were. Quality entertainment.

A few more photos. Catherine left, Lizzy right, on the first one.

Ballad time.

Encore!

 

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Amyl and the Sniffers at Heaven, Charing Cross, 2 April 2019

I first came across Amyl and the Sniffers at End of the Road last year. They were a lot of fun – an Aussie potpourri of punk and metal. Think Sex Pistols, Ramones, AC/DC and Joan Jett and you’d get there. Back in September it made me feel rather nostalgic for my youth.

So I’d been looking for an opportunity to see the band again. I bought their album “Big Attraction and Giddy Up” in the meantime; but, to be honest, it really just told me that this band are all about the live experience. I liked a couple of songs a lot – “Cup of Destiny” and “I’m Not a Loser” – but otherwise, on record they sounded a bit run-of-the-mill.

Fast forward to last Tuesday, when my friend Tony and I went to see the band at Heaven, at Charing Cross. They had a couple of support bands, whom I’m afraid we missed. First, we definitely planned to be in the pub; second I’d hoped we might catch a bit, but mistimed it. Amyl and the Sniffers came on at 9.45 and launched their onslaught of punk and metal riffs. Singer Amy Taylor plays the part of rock front person to a tee, and guitarist Dec Martens is a walking classic, with the mullet, the riffs and the poses. The rhythm section eschewed T- shirts early on. All the clichés, you might say. But if you like this kind of music, then they are a perfect distillation.

Beyond the two songs I mentioned above, I couldn’t tell you what they played. It doesn’t really matter. They just rocked. Amy did a fair bit of crowd surfing, but wore her parka for the last go, as her top seemed to find itself undone on the previous incursions. She swigged what looked like champagne (or Prosecco?), although she had a bit of water too. She expends a lot of energy on stage, for sure. The boys shout the choruses and lay down those riffs and rhythms. It is rock’n’roll. Nothing more, nothing less.

They played for about 45 minutes. That was enough. It all gets rather exhausting, even when you are standing at the back, supping a lager.

So, if you have a penchant for punk and 70s/80s metal, go and see Amyl and the Sniffers. Otherwise, stay well clear!

A few more photos. In keeping with the punk ethos, I didn’t crop or improve them. They are what I managed to capture over the heads and into the lights on the night.

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Tiny Ruins at Bush Hall, Shepherd’s Bush, 27 March 2019

Tiny Ruins are a New Zealand band whose sound, I guess, could be described as folk-rock. On record, the gentler, folky side prevails, led by the lovely voice of Hollie Fullbrook. Live, there is more rock – some interesting guitar twists, some powerful rhythms. On Wednesday they played at Bush Hall in Shepherd’s Bush, West London. They are promoting a fine new album called “Olympic Girls”, released earlier this year.

I first came across Tiny Ruins on the Garden Stage at End of the Road in 2018. It was one of the early afternoon shows that become something of a revelation. I was very taken then by Holly’s singing and those guitars. The song I really loved was one called “Old as the Hills”, which is from their 2011 album, “Some Were Meant for Sea”. They have been going a while. A well-respected band, but maybe one that won’t ever become massive. It’s a sound that appeals to me, but there’s an understated air about it which is never going to pull in a huge number of people. It’s enough to make a living out of the thing you love though, so why not? And the affectionate reaction they received at Bush Hall showed that they are held in high esteem.

Holly started nervously, and said that she always does. She relaxed visibly as the concert went on.  There was a section midway through the concert which I particularly enjoyed, when they played a favourite tune from the 2014 album “Brightly Painted One” called “me at Museum, You in the Wintergardens” and then “School of Design” from “Olympic Girls”. Both lovely, reflective songs. Others which I’m pretty sure featured included “Holograms”, “How Much” and “Sparklers” from the new album. They finished with the track “Olympic Girls”, which is up there with their best. They came back for two mellow songs, including another old favourite, “Straw from Gold”.

On record Tiny Ruins make music that you can relax and reflect to. They fulfil a role for me that the Staves and This is the Kit have played in the past: music to soothe the soul. Live, the guitar twists bring to mind another folk-rock band I enjoyed a few years ago called Espers. Whatever happened to them?

Tiny Ruins, though, keep on keeping on. And good luck to them. A very likeable band, and one I’ll watch out for in the future. In the meantime I’ll enjoy “Olympic Girls”, which is well-placed to make my top ten for 2019.

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Have you Heard? – (90) “Crushing” by Julia Jacklin

“Crushing” is the second album by Julia Jacklin, an Australian indie/folk singer, whose first album “Don’t Let the Kids Win” was a real favourite of mine in 2016. I first caught a glimpse of her and her band at End of the Road in September 2016, and have seen her quite a few times since. “Don’t Let the Kids Win” was a beautiful, wistful album threaded through with a real pop sensibility, as well as melancholy. The underlying music was fairly simple and gave plenty of space for Julia’s expressive vocals – she has an impressive range.

So I was looking forward to this new album, and seeing her live again, after a break of a year or so. When I heard it was called “Crushing” I immediately thought it was going to be, if anything, even more melancholy than the first. The word can mean a lot of things. If it was the title of a metal album it would be all about stomping enemies into the dust, or something equally preposterous. It could be construed as having crushes; but you kind of knew that with Julia Jacklin, it would mean that she had felt crushed by something or someone, and wanted to sing all about it. And so it proves.

There’s a really interesting interview with Julia in the excellent Loud and Quiet magazine, Issue 131. And yes, “Crushing” is primarily about the breaking up of a long term relationship and the aftermath. It is incredibly sad in places, heart-wrenching; but there is also defiance, a claiming back of herself, the tentative steps towards a new life, and some hope. You listen to the lyrics, imbibe the melancholy sounds and take in Julia’s intense, fragile singing, and it’s hard not to feel the hurt along with her. But, but… it’s not miserable or whingeing. It’s not depressing. It’s too beautiful for that. It’s ultimately uplifting. You feel with her, and associate with the defiance and hope, as well as the hurt.

It’s an album that you have to listen to a few times, to get beyond the downbeat aspect to it. But there are things which jump out straight away, as well as the revelations from repeated listens. The first song I heard was a single, “Head Alone”, which is one of Julia’s Americana sounds, and has some defiant lyrics about how she doesn’t want to be touched all the time, how you can love somebody without using your hands. A song for our times, and one in which Julia demonstrates her vocal range, effortlessly. The next single was another upbeat one soundwise, “Pressure to Party”. This one really rocks along, and, like “Head Alone” is post-breakup, part of the recovery. Fighting the pressure to just get out and be “normal” again. I’ll open up the door and try to love again soon. But when I first heard the whole album, the song that jumped out and got me first time was “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You.” It is just so heartbreakingly sad, but also has a couple of wonderful, fuzzy guitar breaks, which are straight out of the Neil Young songbook – or to draw a more recent analogy, Angel Olsen, on her mighty song, “Sister”. Angel’s song had a really long solo at the end; I really wanted the second break on “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You” to be the same. It isn’t, and I’ve got over the disappointment – it’s still my favourite song on the album. In fact it’s my favourite song of the year so far. It gets me every time.

The breakup was hastened by an incident on a plane apparently, when Julia’s boyfriend was arrested for smoking in the toilets. The opening song of the album, “Body”, tells the tale in some detail. She sings in a deep, mournful tone. There’s something hypnotic about it. A song full of loss and regret, but also some of that defiance: heading into the city to get my body back. Fear too, that some photos of her body might one day find themselves on the internet. Another song for our times.

As with “Don’t Let the Kids Win”, there is a strong sense of family in Julia’s songs. There’s a wonderfully touching line in “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You” which goes, I want your mother to stay friends with mine; and the song after that is called “When the Family Flies In”. You know it’s bad when the family flies in. This is real life. I’ll be interested to see how Julia handles it on stage. She says in her Loud and Quiet interview that it all happened some time ago, so she feels detached from it now. But can you really be? I’m missing her London show because of other commitments, but I’m glad to say she’s on the Latitude bill, so I’ll be able to see how some of the new songs are portrayed there.

There are three more songs I want to mention. They are part of the recovery sequence, but there is still a lot of anguish. “Good Guy” is a plea for affection: tell me I’m the love of your life just for tonight, even if you don’t feel it. Conversely, “Turn Me Down” doesn’t want to go that far. There’s a really affecting moment towards the end of the song as Julia’s voice goes as high and vulnerable as it can, as she implores the person in question not to tempt her. The interview says that she found this very hard to sing and kept on breaking down in the studio. You can sense the hurt as you listen. It’s a lovely song at the same time though. “You Were Right” takes a firmer stance – the resistance begins. It’s about saying, yeah you were right about how cool that place was, and I can go there on my own now. The closest thing on the record to a f*** off song. Appropriately it’s one of her more uptempo tunes.

You can listen to this album and just enjoy the melodies, the rhythms and the beautiful singing. You don’t have to wallow in the lyrics and feel the pain. But the pain is there, along with the defiance and determination to get things back on track. And to stay in control. Her body seems to be a metaphor for that control in a few of the songs, and she says in the interview that she thought about calling the album “Body”. Actually, I think “Crushing” works as well. In one sense she has been crushed; but she’s dealing with it, and she’s getting the crushes again. Exposing yourself on a record in this way seems pretty brave to me, although she’s far from the only one who does. So much of the great music has come from artists sharing their pain with us. Julia Jacklin’s “Crushing” stands in that fine tradition.

Here’s a lovely rendition of “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You” which is on YouTube. So good!

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