lovelondonscenes 147 – View of Waterloo Bridge from the Hayward Gallery

Kath and I went to hear some poetry from Carol Ann Duffy and others last night at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Part of the London Literature festival. Beforehand we had a drink on the terrace bar at the Hayward Gallery. It overlooks Waterloo Bridge. I liked the way this scene captured the sky turning pink (yeah, I’ve enhanced it just a little) and two iconic aspects of London: the modern buildings and the red buses.

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Wolf Alice and Idles at the Roundhouse, 17 October 2018

(Photos not great because I forgot my camera and the iPhone couldn’t get close enough on zoom – but hopefully better than nothing!)

On Wednesday I went with my friends Dave and Tony to see Wolf Alice and Idles at the Roundhouse, after the Q magazine awards. In theory Dave and I had seats in the balcony to observe the awards ceremony, but the stationary queue put me off when I arrived and we settled for a beer in the Oxford Arms in Camden High Street before our customary Japanese at Sushi Salsa on Camden Lock before a concert in these parts. Highly recommended!

Wolf Alice are a band that I love. Idles are a band that I admire, particularly live, though there is only so much of their relentlessness that I can take in one go. Wolf Alice have just won the Mercury Music Prize for their second album, “Visions of a Life”. I was really pleased to see them get the prize: first for their own sake, but second because it’s about bloody time an indie band got recognised. For too long the judges have been trying to show how cool they are, and indie guitar rock probably hasn’t been cool in the eyes of the media since the Strokes released their first album “Is This It?” in 2001.

Idles as support had a fairly short set. They were shrouded in shadow a lot of the time, and the thing that stood out was the big screen with their name on it. They were their usual in-yer-face selves – one guitarist in his underwear, the other a throw back to the 70s, bassist straight out of ZZ Top, vocalist Adam Talbot declamatory. My favourite lines are still those in “Mother”, my favourite song: the best way to scare a Tory is to read and get rich! They are a great live band, no doubt. Dave thought their look was a bit mixed up. I said that was a good thing. They don’t conform to a uniform look. Punk but not punk.

Wolf Alice were on another level. They just get better and better. This is the fifth time I’ve seen them, and I can say unequivocally that it was the best yet – and that is against a high bar. Clearly buoyed up by the Mercury Award and Best Live Act in the Q Awards too. They played a set evenly balanced between their two albums. First album “”My Love Is Cool” is the poppier, the one with the best tunes. Number two is deeper, veering into 70s rock, but very rewarding as the layers are revealed. And live, it really comes alive.

The opening four songs were awesome. All real favourites – of mine, and the crowd. “Your Love’s Whore” got things going – an anthem. Then the punk thrash of “Yuk Foo” and the punk pop of “You’re a Germ” – both great rock’n’roll songs. And they were followed by one of the true pop songs, “Don’t Delete the Kisses”. This one got some of the women climbing on shoulders and showing their appreciation. I still think the beat resembles something from the Pet Shop Boys.

Ellie Rowsell is undeniably the focus of the band on stage – singer, guitarist, icon. She chose a grey suit for this show – with the regulation DMs, as far as I could tell. She’s a great singer, able to sing beautifully and to give it a good rant where necessary. And like the whole band, with the experience they now have, she exudes a real confidence. The musicianship was top notch: they rocked but did the subtleties just as well. They have got it all.

It was all so good, but I have to give special mentions to “Fluffy” which is such a great tune, with great live dynamics; and “Visions of a Life”, the long piece, the title track of the second album, which is the epitome of the 70s rock sound. On record, I didn’t really warm to it initially – there was a bit too much Black Sabbath and even a touch of the dreaded prog in there. But last night really revealed its strengths. The band really went for it. The guitars were rocking. The drums were pounding. Heads were banging. It was the evening’s highlight. Live comes alive!

I can’t now remember which song prompted Ellie to wade into the crowd and do a bit of surfing, but it was probably “Visions of a Life”. Couple of photos here.

A truly exhilarating experience, even up in the comfortable seats with our pints of Red Stripe. Wolf Alice are now unquestionably one of the best bands around.

 

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Amber Arcades at the Dome, Tufnell Park, 10 October 2018

Amber Arcades are a Dutch band, and the vehicle for singer and guitarist Annelotte de Graaf, an ex-civil servant. I can relate to that! I first came across them at the End of the Road festival in 2016, when I found their jangling Euro-melodies quite captivating. I even likened them to Velvet Underground and My Bloody Valentine, although later, I realised that Canadian band Alvvays were a closer comparison. These are all very good recommendations, and I loved their debut album “Fading Lines” so much that I made it my top album of 2016, pipping long time front runner “A Moon Shaped Pool” by the mighty Radiohead. It was the honest choice – I’d played Amber Arcades’ album incessantly after discovering it.

Since then I’ve seen the band three times: twice in Hackney, at the Moth Club and Oslo, and also at the Roundhouse, supporting Grandaddy. Always good, though perhaps a little nervous in the support slot at the time. Time moves on and the second album, “European Heartbreak” has just come out. It’s a mellower work than the first album; less guitar orientated. Maybe even more European. By which I mean lovely, tuneful, slightly melancholy melodies. Part of the album is genuinely a lament for Europe, and what looks like its gradual demise as a political entity, with the perfidious Brexiters leading the way. The song “Goodnight Europe” reflects this, without being too explicit.

I was listening to the album on repeat this week, ahead of the concert at the Dome in Tufnell Park, trying to familiarise myself. Early favourites were “Hardly Knew” and “Oh My Love (What Have We Done?) which had a First Aid Kit vibe. “Where Did You Go?” had the best guitar; while how can you resist a song called “Self-Portrait in a Car at Night”?

So I was hopeful I’d recognise most of the songs. And the preparation paid off, because the main set at the Dome was predominantly from the new album. In fact, the only song from “Fading Lines” was “Right Now”, the second tune played.  Annelotte and the band, who I think were all new except for the lead guitarist, played with a confidence and swagger which was a step up from the previous shows – the product of a couple of years on the road and the benefit of a fine new album. Annelotte, resplendent in the baggy gold outfit which she wears on the album cover, relinquished her guitar from time to time, just to sing… and dance. She had more guitars too. The keyboard player also embellished the sound with a bit of trumpet – that French jazzy sound.

The Dome – a nice, medium-sized venue – was pretty full, though it was good to have a little space to manoeuvre. There was a really positive atmosphere – people were loving the music and the band were enjoying playing it. The bass player in particular was really giving it some. At one point he jumped into the crowd, though there was no mosh pit for him to surf on! Maybe one day.

Last song of the main set was the rousing “It Changes”, a jangling bit of Americana (with a strong REM feel) which was released in between the two albums, and surprisingly didn’t find its way onto the new album. Or maybe not surprising – it would have been an outlier in terms of sound and feel. The band then came back for four more songs, which, I’m glad to say, included two of my shimmering guitar favourites from the first album, title track “Fading Lines” and the album opener “Come With Me”. The show ended with “Baby, Eternity”, which starts mellow, but allows the guitars to let rip. Live, that was the moment for a bit of a wigout. The spirit of Velvet Underground remains!

Who knows how far Amber Arcades and Annelotte de Graaf will go. “European Heartbreak” has been getting four star reviews in the British press, which is encouraging. Fingers crossed it’s just the start. A wonderful band, and one I will go to see at every opportunity, for sure.

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The She Street Band at the Scala, Kings Cross, 4 October 2018

The She Street Band are an all-female Bruce Springsteen covers band. They played a short session at Latitude this year at the Guilty Pleasures dance night on Friday/Saturday. That one was a greatest hits selection; the show at the Scala gave the band a chance to show their true Bruce colours. And it was a total celebration!

Bruce’s music means a lot to me, and has done since I was a teenager at university in the late 70s. It’s fair to say that, to an extent, it is boys’ music – not from the perspective of who likes it, but from the narratives in the songs. Those narratives of anger, loss, hope, celebration, redemption. Music as the way of expressing those feelings and as the redeemer, the healer. So, I liked the idea of a band of seven women taking that music and giving it their own take, without changing lyrics to reflect gender. Some people might not (I know some!) but to me that is the joy of music – it can be interpreted through so many lenses – our personal lenses.

Another striking thing about last night was that the Scala was not full of old-timers like me and my mate Tony, although there were a few of us. It was predominantly 20 and 30-somethings, and they knew all the words! I like that: the music of Bruce passing down through the generations.

And the She Street Band last night, with plenty of time to play, showed that they are true Bruce aficianados. They played with love, energy and sheer joy. And they had the crowd, myself included, responding in kind. They came on to “Born in the USA” and joined in the singing with the crowd with huge smiles on their faces. Coincidentally, that has been the introductory song for both the concerts I’ve been to this week. See my Muncie Girls review for the other. And then it was bang into a glorious “Thunder Road”, with the crowd singing along to every damn word! It was a sensational feeling. And it continued that way. Here’s the set list in full, for Bruce nerds (of which I am unashamedly one).

(Born in the USA)

Thunder Road

Rosalita

Two Hearts

Because the Night

Cover me

Candy’s Room

Prove it all Night

Tenth Avenue Freeze Out

Hungry Heart

Grown’ Up

Tougher than the Rest

Darkness on the Edge of Town

The River

Sherry Darling

Jackson Cage

Bobby Jean

Badlands

Dancing in the Dark

Born to Run

I feel like punching the air just writing that lot out!

So many highlights, but I loved “Tougher than the Rest” and “The River” (playing that one for the first time on this tour I think). The country-style harmonies at the beginning of “Two Hearts” were great, and any band who can do justice to the dark songs of “Darkness on the Edge of Town” (my favourite album of all time) really does have Springsteen in their blood. And those last three: what can I say? Like I said at the beginning, a total celebration.

So, if you are partial to a bit of Bruce, check out the She Street Band. They will not let you down!

 

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Muncie Girls at the Borderline, Soho, 1 October 2018

Muncie Girls are a punk band from Exeter, fronted by Lande Hekt, whose songs power the band. They recently released their second album, “Fixed Ideals”. It’s an excellent album, which will be in my top ten for 2018, no doubt. I came across it in an unusual way. I was asked to review it for a website called Punk Archive. Take a look at my review if you are interested. Because of that I read the PR blurb with interest and, as a result, didn’t just enjoy the riffs and the sound, but listened closely to the lyrics. Lande is brutally honest about the challenges she has faced in her own life, and is trenchant about today’s politics and social mores. All of this made me like the band even more. Their sound is best described as punk pop, some of it quite American, but the ethos is pure punk from those early days. The Clash would be proud of Muncie Girls.

Because I liked the album so much, I had to try to see them. And they were playing the Borderline in Soho, just off Charing Cross Road. I like it. Quite small, but a nice size for up-and-coming bands. Last time I was there it was for Catfish and the Bottlemen would you believe? Only problem is a large pillar in the middle of the room that blocks a few views. But if it holds the roof up, that’s OK, I guess!

Just before the band came on they played Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”. When the show finished it was “Dancing in the Dark”. Did this mean something? I hope so! Bruce’s music, which I love so much, is a mixture of anger, hope and redemption through music; and maybe that is what inspires Lande as she writes her songs.

I haven’t quite managed to put names to all the songs so that I can instantly name them in the live environment, but I’m pretty sure they started with “Locked Up” from the new album and then went into “Learned at School” from the first album “From Caplan to Belsize”. The titles of both albums are taken from Sylvia Plath poems, which tells you where Lande is coming from. Overall the set was a fast paced punk delight, the songs a rousing call to protest and dance. The audience was there with the band. A great vibe.

Five songs in was my favourite tune. The opener for “Fixed ideals”. It’s called “Jeremy” and is a hard-hitting put down of her father, who seems to have deserted his family when they were quite young. And has also become right wing in his politics.  Quite a few of Lande’s songs are also about how her family have supported her through her life. It is powerfully felt. When I first heard “Jeremy”, I loved the lines, I’m so angry I want to get a tattoo, that says fuck Jeremy Clarkson and fuck you too. Taken aback too – are you saying this to your Dad in public? It was interesting therefore that Lande introduced this song by saying that she was nervous about ever singing it. I can understand that. But her songs are articulating her anger and anxiety, which is part of what makes them so resonant.

The whole show was a bundle of energy, melody and great rock’n’roll. Recent single “Picture of Health” was a highlight, as were “Falling Down” and “Isn’t Life Funny?” And I was glad to see Lande slow down the pace and sing “Hangovers”, which is about… hangovers. And regret.

The show was only about 45 minutes, including encore. That’s OK, it’s high energy and I’m sure that it is pretty intense for Lande to be singing about some of the things she does. My second favourite tune, “Fig Tree” didn’t get an airing – the guitar in that reminds me of the Strokes, which is a big recommendation. But it was a great 45 minutes, and I hope Muncie Girls go on to bigger and greater things. Lande Hekt is a real star.

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lovelondonscenes 146 – Down by Vauxhall Bridge

I had a little bit of time to kill between going to the Tate and seeing some friends on the evening, so I wandered down to a favourite location, the Riverside pub by Vauxhall Bridge. It’s a good place to sit outside and watch the world go by. I got a beer and went through my notes for my follow-up novel to “The Decision”. Deciding what scene to start with. Getting started soon. It was about 6pm and the sun was blazing across the Thames. I took a few shots with my iPhone, facing upstream into the sun. Battersea Power Station lurking in the background.

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Catherine McGrath at the Scala, Kings Cross, 18 September 2018

Catherine McGrath released her debut album “Talk of this Town” in July. It’s a great album, and I reviewed it in an earlier blog. It got to No 13 in the UK pop charts and No 1 in the UK Country charts. She’s now on tour promoting the album, and last night was her London gig, at the Scala in Kings Cross. A venue I really like. Compact you could say, but you get a good view and the atmosphere is always great, in my experience. I went along with my friend Hannah, from work, who shares a love of country music. There aren’t that many people around who do. Catherine McGrath isn’t hard core country. She has some strong pop influences – Taylor Swift is the most obvious – and this is part of her appeal to what is a relatively young audience: mainly twenties, some thirties, and a few oldies like me.

I’ve seen her five times previously, after being so impressed by the first performance I saw, at Latitude in July 2017. Not so long ago, really; and man, she has come on so much since then! She now has a full band, and last night they were really slick and confident. The strength from having an album that they are proud of. So many great tunes: some that rock, a few anthems, some lovely ballads. An hour or so of pure joy. And she was clearly enjoying it so much: pride in her songs, the appreciation of the crowd, who knew so many of the words, an atmosphere of celebration. A real feelgood hour or so.

The new album featured heavily, obviously. The show kicked off with four upbeat numbers, musically. Lyrically, less likely. Catherine’s songs, in true country fashion, are mostly could/should have been me or post break-up, plus a few optimistic/anxious maybe we can make its. The songs were “Good Goodbyes”, “The Edges”, “Lost in the Middle” and “Thought it was Gonna be Me”. Love them all, but “Lost in the Middle” is especially infectious. Escaping into music. Then the first confessional, introducing “Enough for You” – being happy in yourself, not reliant on the approval of others. Another one with a rocking chorus. That was followed by the lovely “Don’t let Me Forget”, which featured a duet with Hunter Hayes on the album. And then an actual duet – with her sister Mary, who’d been the first support act. (We missed her unfortunately). It was a cover of a song by Shania Twain, called “You’re Still the One”. Aaaah, the singing was just beautiful! A talented family.

Time to go upbeat again with “old” favourites “Just in Case” and the big one, “Hell Would Have to Freeze Over”, which didn’t make it onto the album. The excellent “Good at Love”, in between the two, held its own. Another confessional next: “Dodged a Bullet” – all about coming out of a relationship. We were just getting over that one when Catherine started singing Coldplay’s “Fix You”. And so tenderly! After a couple of verses it segued, of course, into “Wild”, which is set in a Coldplay concert. It was one of the songs Catherine played at Latitude. It’s now a massive favourite. Wish it was me, wish it was me!  That was the end of the main set.

We had two songs in the encore. A beautiful, simply played “She’ll Never Love You”, with people getting their phone torches out, like the old lighters aloft. An anthem. And then, inevitably, what has become Catherine’s theme tune, “Talk of this Town”. A riposte to her doubters back home in Northern Ireland. And a joyous tune. Loved by the crowd – they took over the chorus at one point. A lovely way to end the show. Defiant, optimistic. As Catherine McGrath should be. She has come a long way over the last year. I don’t think we’ve seen the end of her ascent. She is a star.

We queued up afterwards to say hello to Catherine. And get photos of course! Here’s one of them. I’ve been rather privileged this year: Lindi Ortega, Faye Webster and now Catherine McGrath. All thanks to my friends of course!

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